Alumni

Alumni news.

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Gottlieb ’94, Scolnik ’78, Shanok ’98

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Northampton, Mass., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Uncontrolled Spread book coverScott Gottlieb ’94, Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic (Harper, 2021)

Since March 2020, the news cycle has been riddled with despair, conflicting information, and false theories. Even with vaccines, social distancing, and masking, COVID-19 isn’t going away, and the next pandemic could be around the corner. Since our realities have changed so much, it’s hard to pinpoint where and when exactly the United States (and the world) went wrong in handling the COVID-19 crisis, and what the best steps are moving forward. In his new book Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic, physician and former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb addresses everyone’s most pressing questions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and consolidates his answers into a strong, cohesive narrative.

Gottlieb offers a path forward that is hopeful yet urgent, compelling his readers and the American government to be proactive about preventing a future crisis that could be even more devastating than the one we’ve already experienced. Using historical knowledge, epidemiology, and political science, Gottlieb forms a strong argument that will leave readers with a clearer understanding of the world we’ve been inhabiting and a more urgent mission to improve its future.

Scott Gottlieb is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as the twenty-third commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administrator and is a contributor to CNBC and a partner at New Enterprise Associates. He is a member of Wesleyan University’s Board of Trustees. He is on the board of directors of Pfizer Inc. and Illumina, Inc. He lives in Westport, Connecticut.

Bery ’21, Haddad Share Climate Action Plan Study with United Nations

bery haddad

Sanya Bery ’21 and Professor Mary Alice Haddad spoke at the United Nations Innovate 4 Cities Conference Oct. 14.

In a new study linked to her 2021 high honors thesis, Sanya Bery ’21 discovered that cities that house universities have a significant likelihood of adopting ambitious climate action plans.

“It is clear that as plans become more ambitious, there is a higher concentration of university cities, and as plans become less ambitious there is a lower concentration of university cities,” she said. “[These cities] efforts will be critical to the world’s effort to combat climate change.”

Bery, who majored in government and environmental studies, is currently collaborating with Mary Alice Haddad, John E. Andrus Professor of Government, on a peer-reviewed article that includes Wesleyan and Middletown climate topics, and on Oct. 14, the duo presented Bery’s findings at the United Nations Innovate 4 Cities Conference.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that CO2 emissions must reach net zero by 2050 to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of global climate change. Cities alone, according to the IPCC, emit more than 70% of the world’s emissions.

In order to study climate action plans, Bery took a tangible, qualitative approach to measure the “ambitiousness” of the action by creating a scorecard. She explored a dataset of 169 cities, nationwide, that are signatories in the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. This was in addition to her thesis, where she looked at 66 cities with fewer than 100,00 residents.

Betts Hon. ’21 Named a 2021 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow

Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. '21 (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. ’21, who delivered Wesleyan’s Commencement Address for the Class of 2021, received a MacArthur Fellowship this month. (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

At the age of 16, Reginald Dwayne Betts was arrested for armed carjacking. He was sentenced to prison—where an unknown person slid a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets under his cell door.

It was this book that sparked a love for poetry and led to his lifelong interest in literature.

“I spent nine years, writing every day, reading every day, imagining that words would give me the freedom to sort of understand what got me in prison,” Betts said. “And when you’re trapped in the cell—literally— words are your only lifeline. And I committed myself to using them to find some semblance of hope.”

Now an award-winning author, poet, and lawyer, Betts—a 2021 Wesleyan Honorary Doctorate of Letters recipient—is the latest Wes alumnus to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Colloquially referred to as a “genius” grant, the fellowship is awarded annually to 25 talented individuals “who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The honor comes with a $625,000 unrestricted award.

Wesleyan’s Englehart ’69 Makes Life in Comics

Steve Englehart ’69

It’s Spring 1966. Steve Englehart, a first-year Wesleyan student, is hanging around his dorm when one of his floormates thrusts a copy of Spider-Man at him saying, “You have to read this. This is great.”

Like many students his age at that time, Englehart read comic books as a child but thought that he’d grown out of them. They were considered “downmarket”—a lot of them weren’t particularly good.

Englehart read it through in one shot and sensed something very different than the wooden characters and corny storylines he encountered as a kid. Marvel had gone through a renaissance in the 1960s, embracing newfound depth and complexity in its storytelling. “I loved what (Spider-Man creator) Stan Lee was doing, the irreverence and the world-building with all of the characters interacting with each other,” he said.

The seeds for an unusual career path were being planted.

Englehart ’69 Creator of Newest Marvel Movie Hero

Shang-Chi

After nearly 50 years, Steve Englehart ’69 will see one of his original Marvel characters make its big-screen debut this fall. Englehart’s creation, martial arts master Shang-Chi, is the lead character of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” starring Simu Liu, perhaps best known for his work in the Canadian comedy “Kim’s Convenience.” The film debuted Aug. 15 in Los Angeles and will be released nationwide on Sept. 3.

Although Englehart was not involved in the movie production, he sees core elements of the backstory he created in the trailer for the upcoming film. In Englehart’s original story Shang-Chi is raised to be a premier martial artist and believes his father is a benevolent humanitarian. He discovers, however, that his father is in reality an international criminal (in early iterations his father was the fictional villain Fu Manchu). Shang-Chi commits to put an end to his father’s nefarious work.

“My bottom line is that if you take one of my stories and you treat it with respect, if you kind of go with what’s there, then you can make all sorts of changes along with the way and that’s okay by me because I understand it is a different medium, a different time,” he said.

“You Just Have to Read This. . .” Books by Wesleyan Authors Globus ’05, Isler ’01, and Pallant ’80

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Northampton, Mass., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Doro Globus ’05, Making a Great Exhibition (David Zwirner Books, 2021)

In this charming and colorful picture book, author Doro Globus ’05 and illustrator Rose Blake collaborate to introduce the art world to children, delving into the lives of everyone from painters and sculptors to art handlers and museum curators. The story is well-attuned to the diversity of artists and their art, showcasing a variety of mediums and styles and paying great attention to the people in the art world who work behind the scenes, like communications managers and museum guards. As all successful children’s book authors must be, Globus and Blake are adept at diving into the minds of children and answering the questions their young minds might ask about the art world.

Replete with friendly characters (like sculptor Viola and curator Cliff) and eye-catching illustrations, the book is the perfect introduction for any young folks interested in the inner workings of any part of artistic production or display, and as a bonus, is equally fascinating for adults!

Doro Globus ’05 is a children’s book author and managing director of David Zwirner Books, a publishing house that focuses on publishing high-quality art publications. She has worked in arts publishing for over 15 years and edited a number of notable books.

Emily Barth Isler ’01, After/Math (Lerner, 2021)

In her touching middle grade debut, Emily Barth Isler ’01 manages to tackle heavy topics with grace and nuance, while still being in touch with the younger minds of her intended audience. The novel tells the story of 12-year-old Lucy, who has just moved to Queensland, Virginia, from Kenton, Maryland. While any move can be harrowing, this one presents even more challenges for the precocious, math-loving narrator Lucy: her younger brother Theo recently died after suffering from a heart defect, and the town to which she is moving underwent a tragic shooting a few years before. As Lucy struggles through the tough transition—juggling her own grief with the grief of her new classmates and community—she turns to math, her favorite subject, for solace, comforted by its reliability and unchangeability.

Despite the gravity of the topics at hand, Isler manages to create a story that is ultimately enveloped in hope and love. For younger readers hoping to make sense of some of the darker sides of the world, it is a deftly handled and optimistic portrait of what it might mean to find comfort and courage in the midst of tragedy.

Emily Barth Isler is a children’s lit writer and a beauty and wellness editor. A former child actress, she has written award-winning episodic television for the web and several personal essays. After/Math is her debut middle grade novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Eric Pallant ’80, Sourdough Culture (Agate, 2021)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the process of making bread has become a regular source of comfort in many people’s lives. Many an Instagram post has proudly displayed a gorgeous loaf of sourdough, proclaiming baking bread as “life-saving.” But the culture of bread-making—and its link to human survival—is nothing new, as Eric Pallant points out in his new book, Sourdough Culture. In fact, sourdough—its origins, science, and flavor—go back hundreds of thousands of years, even when humans were primarily hunting and gathering as their main source of nutrition.

Pallant’s book is an impressive interdisciplinary study that draws upon the fields of history, archaeology, anthropology, chemistry and more, investigating the origins and science of baking sourdough, how it has changed over time, and its prevalence in our world today. Pallant even weaves in a few bread recipes. At the end of the book, Pallant sums up his project best: “Making good bread is a delicate balance of experimentation, scientific understanding, artistry, and history. The joy comes in eating the results.”

Eric Pallant is a professor of environmental science and the chair of the Environmental Science & Sustainability department at Allegheny College. A passionate amateur baker, he lives in Meadville, Pennsylvania with his family.

In Nature, Oppenheim ’02 Outlines the Importance of Creating an Intergovernmental Panel on Pandemic Risk

Ben Oppenheim ’02 says the way pandemics unfold over time and their impacts "have everything to do with our individual choices, our politics, and our ability to cooperate to help protect each other."

Ben Oppenheim ’02 says the way pandemics unfold over time and their impacts “have everything to do with our individual choices, our politics, and our ability to cooperate to help protect each other.”

Political scientist Ben Oppenheim ’02 thinks it’s only a matter of time.

“There’s this idea circulating that pandemics are a ‘once in a century’ problem because the 1918 flu happened about a century before COVID-19. But that’s just a random quirk,” Oppenheim said. “The next one could be next week. Or next month.”

A College of Social Studies major at Wesleyan, Oppenheim is currently vice president of product, policy, and partnerships at Metabiota, a business providing data-driven insights to help organizations manage infectious disease risk. Through epidemiological modeling, Oppenheim and his colleagues are able to estimate the frequency and severity of pandemics like COVID-19, and the numbers, he said, “are worrisome.”

“The best evidence we have suggests that COVID is not a once in a century phenomenon, but more like a 30-year event. That doesn’t mean we’ll experience a pandemic like COVID every 30 years, but that every year we have roughly a 3% chance of a pandemic as deadly as this (or worse) occurring. Over the next 25 years, it’s about a 50% probability of experiencing a pandemic on this scale—basically a coin flip,” he said. “There is of course some uncertainty in that estimate, but the crucial thing is that it isn’t carved in stone.”

Alumni Create Environment-Focused Summer School for Youth in Japan

Kotaro Aoki and Kota Uno

Kota Uno ’16 and Kotaro Aoki ’16 are co-organizing a summer school program in Fukushima, Japan to help youth share their thoughts and values regarding nature, climate, and the environment.

For a truly sustainable future, Class of 2016 alumni Kotaro Aoki and Kota Uno believe it’s crucial to teach people how to view—and properly “use”— nature.

“Education is the most important piece in solving the root cause of climate change and environmental problems,” Aoki said. “If we don’t change our mindset, the same problem continues to rise no matter how drastic changes on the surface are.”

After reuniting recently in Fukushima, Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic, Aoki, a philosophy major, and Uno, a College of Social Studies major, discovered a shared interest in climate change. They agreed that they needed to help youth discover a deeper interest and respect for their natural environment. After months of planning, the duo, along with several other Wesleyan alumni, organized an environmental education program for Japanese youth to take place this summer in Aizuwakamatsu, near Fukushima.

From Aug. 17 to 20, the Kotowari Aizu Summer School program will help youth learn the relationship between humans and nature and reimagine a way of life moving forward. Kotowari is a Japanese word that means “unchanging law of truth that governs humans and the environment.”

“We’re not attempting to promote a certain idealism, value, or message, such as ‘let’s protect our environment for the future generation,'” Aoki said on the program’s website. “This is because we value individual journeys to reach their own conclusions. To promote that individual process, we will expose the youth to diverse perspectives on environmental and climate crises and help them unearth their thoughts and values.”

The idea for the summer program originated after Aoki returned to Fukushima after spending three years in India practicing ascetic meditation in the Himalayas. He had hoped to bring back “the sense of awe and prayer to today’s world, which used to be at the center of human life for thousands of years.” Uno, who was working as an organic farmer in Fukushima, was learning alternatives for human beings and nature to co-exist.

“We each shared a conviction that climate change and other environmental problems originate from the way we are today in relation to nature, which is totally out of sync with what nature truly is,” Uno said.

The duo knew they’d need more manpower to start a program, so they recruited other likeminded Wes alumni—molecular biology and biochemistry major Jianyi Lu ’17; government major Kohei Saito ’09; College of Social Studies major Yusaku Takeda ’14; and government and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies double-major Shizuha Hatori ’18 to help organize and teach the school.

The inaugural summer school will be small—capped at 20 participants between the ages of 15 and 22. Topics will include moral dilemmas of climate change, creating “value” in the economy and how that impacts the natural world, technology in connection with natural resources, the distinction between humans and nature, and finding a potential deeper meaning of nature.

Participants will engage in outdoor activities and discussions to gain first-hand experience and be exposed to different viewpoints.

The program is currently supported by Earth & Human, an environmental NPO founded by Japanese actor Ebizo Ichikawa. The co-founders also are leading a crowdfunding campaign in which donors are connected to activity reports, access to online lectures, and a Aizu Nature Blessing Course.

“Together, the program aims to lay the foundation for the youth to think deeply and take action regarding the climate crisis,” Uno said.

The group is looking for like-minded collaborators. Email info@kotowari.co for more information.

FDR Memorial by Bergmann ’76 Is a Tribute to Overcoming Physical Barriers

hope memorial

Meredith Bergmann ’76 created a bronze statue of late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a young girl with polio as part of the FDR Hope Memorial project on Roosevelt Island, New York. This is Bergmann’s eighth public creation, which debuted on July 17.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States

In 1932, wheelchair-bound Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first (and only) United States president to hold the top office with a severe disability. While the public was well aware of his paralysis, Roosevelt never let his illness hinder his efforts leading the country—exemplifying success, leadership, and especially perseverance.

Nearly 90 years later, Wesleyan alumna Meredith Bergmann ’76 is hoping Roosevelt can inspire the public once again. To honor his legacy, she’s created a larger-than-life-size bronze memorial of FDR, seated in his wheelchair, reaching out to shake the hand of a small girl with polio.

Located in Southpoint Park, just north of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, Bergmann’s addition to the FDR Hope Memorial project was an 11-year project in the making. The work was unveiled during a public ceremony on July 17.

“You Just Have to Read This. . .” Books by Wesleyan Authors Barry ’76, Rosenblatt ’87, and Taussig ‘03

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Northampton, Mass., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

coming to our senses coverSusan R. Barry ’76, Coming to Our Senses: A Boy Who Learned to See, a Girl Who Learned to Hear, and How We All Discover the World (Basic Books, 2021)

What is it like to gain a sense—say, sight or hearing—after spending your whole life without it? Is the transition seamless or disorienting? What can it teach us about the concept of human perception? Susan R. Barry explores these questions and more in Coming to Our Senses: A Boy Who Learned to See, a Girl Who Learned to Hear, and How We All Discover the World. The book focuses on two individuals who have experienced the aforementioned phenomenon: Liam McCoy, who was blind since infancy and then gained the ability to see after several operations when he was 15 years old; and Zohra Damji, who was deaf until receiving a cochlear implant at the age of 12. Liam and Zohra belong to a small group of people who have adjusted successfully to their new senses, albeit with lots of challenges.

Barry, who spent over a decade getting to know these two incredible people, profiles them with detail and compassion, unraveling their stories through both personal and scientific lenses. The result is a book that reveals the ways in which scientific knowledge is profoundly tied to our understanding of human nature. Neither scientists nor humanities-oriented readers will be left out of the intrigue of Barry’s fascinating prose.

Stern ’80 Hosts Retrospective Art Show “Stronger Than Dirt”

Friends (detail). 2002. Pastel, graphite. 42x26 inches.

Friends (detail). 2002. Pastel, graphite. 42×26 inches. By Melissa Stern ’80.

Melissa Stern ’80, an artist and journalist, is hosting a retrospective art show at the Lockwood Gallery in Woodstock, New York. Stern’s show is called “Stronger Than Dirt” and looks back at her past 20 years of work. A live opening took place from 5 to 7 p.m. June 12, and the exhibition will run until July 11.

Over the past year, Stern has served as a visiting lecturer and guest critic through Zoom. She has virtually visited The Everson Museum of Art, Pratt Institute, NYU, The Pelham Art Center, and Indiana University, among others.

In describing her art, Stern said on her website, “I work like a handyman cobbling together drawings and sculptures from elements found, borrowed, and imagined. I use a wide range of materials from encaustic to clay, pastel to steel. The drawings and sculptures, often made in tandem, resonate with one another, the ideas in one reinforcing the themes of the other. All of my pieces share a thematic thread. Childlike and goofy my figures live in a dream world, cower in relationships or stand tall in the face of adversity. They are at once dark and funny, expressive of the absurd world around them.”

“You Just Have to Read This . . .” Books by Wesleyan Alumni Dass ’69, Greenidge ’04, and Saba ’81

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Delaware, reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Being Ram Dass coverRam Dass MA ’54 and Rameshwar Das ’69, Being Ram Dass (Sounds True, 2021)

When Ram Dass, then known as Richard Alpert, was fired from his position as a professor of psychology at Harvard University for giving psychedelics to undergraduates in pursuit of a research project, his adventure-loving soul decided to use the initially disappointing dismissal as an opportunity and a path towards freedom. A few years later, he traveled to India, where he met his Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name of Ram Dass (which means “servant of God”). From then on, Ram Dass led a life of spirituality, teaching, leadership, meditation, yoga, charity, and yes, drugs. His posthumously published autobiography and memoir, which was co-written with his longtime collaborator Rameshwar Das ’69, provides a rich and detailed account of these events and more, starting from his early life, tracking his many transformations over the years, and even including some details about his time at Wesleyan.