Staff

Fontanella Ebstein Reflects on 30 Years at Wesleyan

(By Ann Bertini)

Gemma Fontanella Ebstein is leaving her role as Wesleyan’s Associate Vice President for Advancement at the end of December, following a 30-year career at the University.

During her tenure, Fontanella Ebstein has helped the Office of Advancement expand and foster lifelong alumni and parent loyalty and support for Wesleyan. An important part of this work has come through facilitating local and global events, and overseeing the merging of Reunion and Commencement weekends (2000) and Homecoming with Family Weekend (1995). Fontanella Ebstein also led University Communications and the Gordon Career Center through leadership transitions, and has helped cultivate a culture of Wesleyan pride among her teams and anywhere her work has taken her.

“My entire time at Wesleyan has been spent under Gemma’s leadership and tutelage,” said Director of Special Events Deana Hutson, whom Fontanella Ebstein hired 21 years ago to help centralize Reunion and Commencement. “I have learned so much from her—from her innate ability to problem-solve through collaboration to the importance of empowering her team in a way that is genuine, nurturing, and respectful. I am so appreciative of how much she has contributed to my experience at Wesleyan and for the friendship that resulted from this journey.”

Mehr-Muska Speaks on New Book during Local Authors Program

On. Sept. 16, University Chaplain Tracy Mehr-Muska spoke about her new book, Weathering the Storm, during a Local Author Program on Mind, Body, Spirit at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

On. Sept. 16, University Chaplain Tracy Mehr-Muska spoke about her new book, Weathering the Storm (Wipf and Stock, 2019), during a Local Author Program on Mind, Body, Spirit at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

Mehr-Muska is an ordained Presbyterian pastor, board-certified interfaith chaplain, Coast Guard veteran, wife, and mother. Her passion for learning about and teaching resilience has been inspired by the strong and spirited people she has served and worked alongside while in the military and while ministering in a trauma hospital, prison, psychiatric hospital, university, and hospice.

Mehr-Muska is an ordained Presbyterian pastor, board-certified interfaith chaplain, Coast Guard veteran, wife, and mother. Her passion for learning about and teaching resilience has been inspired by the strong and spirited people she has served and worked alongside while in the military and while ministering in a trauma hospital, prison, psychiatric hospital, university, and hospice.

Gonzalez ’96 Named Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

Amin Gonzalez

Amin Gonzalez. (Photo by Adrienne Battistella)

Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez ’96 has been hired as Wesleyan’s new vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, President Michael Roth announced in an email to campus on July 17. He will begin in August.

Gonzalez, who was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Wesleyan, previously worked in the University’s Office of Admission as an associate dean in the late 1990s and 2000s. In this role, he selected, trained, and supervised the senior interviewers; coordinated the University’s fall Ambassador Program and supported spring yield efforts; served on the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and University Scholarship selection committees; and worked with the QuestBridge partnership team.

“Since Wesleyan is both where I learned to think critically as an undergrad and got my start in the admission field two decades ago, I’m incredibly excited and honored to serve as its next dean of admission and financial aid,” said Gonzalez. “I look forward to collaborating closely with members of my team, senior administrators, faculty, current students, alumni, and community partners to ensure Wes continues to attract, enroll, and graduate some of the most exceptionally talented, socially conscious, and dynamically diverse students from across the country and around the globe.”

Meislahn Reflects on Challenges of Her Career as Dean of Admission

"As my team knows, my mantra is, ‘If we are going to work this hard, we better be having fun!’ I certainly have," Meislahn said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Student success “is what has recharged my batteries over the years and kept me doing this wonderful work,”  Meislahn said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Nancy Hargrave Meislahn, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, will retire in September following the arrival of the Class of 2023, the 20th class she admitted to Wesleyan. In this Q&A, she reflects on the main challenges, changes, and highlights of her accomplished Wesleyan career. (Read her retirement announcement in this past News @ Wesleyan article.)

Q: You are the longest-serving dean of admission in Wesleyan’s history. How are you feeling ahead of your impending retirement?

A: Definitely a bittersweet moment, but I’m ready. I’ve admitted 20 classes to Wesleyan and that should be enough—for me and for the institution. Time for new leadership! I firmly believe we are all replaceable and that change is good.

Q: During your tenure, applications to Wesleyan (including international student applications) have nearly doubled. To what do you attribute this impressive growth?

A: It was a clearly articulated strategic goal to double the international student population, and create a bigger “global footprint” on campus. So, we set out to work! We increased Wesleyan’s on-the-ground presence, expanding recruitment especially in India, Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, building on the very strong reputation of the Freeman Scholars program. We invited overseas counselors to campus and increased our engagement with international professional associations. It has been a team effort and extremely rewarding to see how we’ve been able to bring more students from all over the world to Wes.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Williams ’81 Named Vice President for Equity & Inclusion

Alison Williams ’81

Alison Williams ’81

Alison Williams ’81 has been hired as Wesleyan’s new vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX Officer, President Michael Roth announced in a campus email on March 26. Williams, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Wes and later served as an alumni-elected trustee in the 1990s, will begin on July 22.

She is currently the associate provost for diversity and intercultural education at Denison University. There, she is responsible for directing and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives across all sectors of the University, with a focus on faculty recruitment and retention and inclusive pedagogies. She also supports Title IX work at Denison, and has helped to increase consciousness on that campus about sexual violence and encourage reporting.

Previously, Williams worked as the associate dean of academic diversity and director of the Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin College. Prior to becoming an administrator, she worked as a chemistry faculty member for 24 years at several institutions, including at Wesleyan from 1997-99. On the national level, she serves on the steering committee of the Consortium for Faculty Diversity, and is a member of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Consortium.

Outside of work, Williams is a mom to two teenage children, a semi-professional oboist, and a die-hard fan of Cleveland and Ohio State sports teams.

In the email, Roth thanked the faculty and staff who worked to fill the role, and especially thanked Debbie Colucci for her service over the past several months.

“Debbie will continue in this interim role through June 30, and Alison and I look forward to her continued and valued contributions as Equity Compliance Director and Deputy Title IX Coordinator,” he wrote.

Faculty, Staff Earn Cardinal Achievement Awards

Cardinal Achievement Award winners were celebrated at a luncheon with President Michael Roth on May 14.

Cardinal Achievement Award winners were celebrated at a luncheon with President Michael Roth on May 14.

The following employees received Cardinal Achievement Awards in September 2018 through February 2019. These employees demonstrate extraordinary initiative in performing a specific task associated with their work at Wesleyan University. This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for their extra efforts.

The recipients are:

Hrissi Haldezos, associate director of student accounts, Student Accounts Office
Gina Driscoll, associate director of alumni and parent relations, University Relations
Noreen Angeletti, associate director, Student Accounts Office
Robert Mirabal, director of student accounts, Student Accounts Office
Penney Jade Beaubrun, assistant director for alumni and parent relations, University Relations
Mary Kelly, senior associate director, Continuing Studies
Jenna Starr, assistant director of alumni and parent relations, University Relations
Cathy Race, administrative assistant, Psychology Department
Tina Frazer, administrative assistant, Continuing Studies
Robert Spignesi, area coordinator, Residential Life
William Ollayos, area coordinator, Residential Life
Jennifer Collingwood, administrative assistant, Center for Global Studies

Wilson to Receive Prestigious Baldwin Medal

Barbara-Jan Wilson (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Barbara-Jan Wilson (Photo by Olivia Drake)

At the University’s 187th Commencement on May 26, Wesleyan will present the Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association, to Barbara-Jan Wilson.

For over 36 years, Wilson has been a stalwart in the Wesleyan administration and a driving force behind the University’s fundraising efforts. Beginning at Wesleyan in 1982 as the director of Career Planning, she moved on to serve as dean of Admission and Financial Aid in 1990, and then as vice president of University Relations from 1999 to 2018. Throughout that time, Wilson has been one of the University’s biggest champions and cheerleaders, boldly and convincingly making the case for the value of a Wesleyan education and the importance of giving back to the institution.

“For so many of us, Barbara-Jan represents the heart and soul of Wesleyan,” said Donna Morea ’76, P’06, chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. “Her genuine love for the institution is infectious, but it is the way that she makes us feel that is her greatest gift. She cares about our success, our families, and our lives. Barbara-Jan has hundreds, maybe thousands, of people like me who genuinely believe we are one of her very best friends. And we all are.”

Wesleyan Assumes Leadership of Center for Creative Youth

Wesleyan’s Center for Creative Youth (CCY), is a precollege summer residency program in the arts for students ages 14–18. Talented high school students from across Connecticut, the United States and around the world will gather for four weeks of intensive study in the arts.

Wesleyan’s Center for Creative Youth (CCY), is a precollege summer residency program in the arts for students ages 14–18. Talented high school students from across Connecticut, the United States and around the world will gather for four weeks of intensive study in the arts.

As first announced in October 2018, Wesleyan has assumed leadership of the Center for Creative Youth (CCY) as an official program of the University. The first CCY camps under Wesleyan’s management will be offered in summer 2019. For 42 years, CCY was held on Wesleyan’s campus, but run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). With state education cuts and the resulting financial strain experienced at CREC, CCY’s existence was in jeopardy. This transition to Wesleyan is not only the beginning of a bright new chapter for CCY, but the continuation of a beloved series.

CCY is a four-week precollege summer residential program. High school students from across Connecticut, the United States, and around the world gain hands-on experience in an advanced, progressive curriculum that focuses on performing, creative, and studio arts, while enhancing their critical thinking, interdisciplinary and multicultural learning, and leadership skills. Students leave the program with a better perspective on career and higher education choices. Approximately 60–100 students, ranging in age from 14 to 18, participate each summer. The program features daily arts classes in a variety of concentrations, including music, theater, creative writing, musical theater, and visual arts.

Employees on the Move

The Office of Human Resources announces the following hires, transitions, and departures between August and December 2018:

HIRES
Matt Glasz, director for annual giving, on Aug. 1
James Huerta, associate dean of admission, on Aug. 6
Emma Walsh, assistant director for internships and campus recruiting in Gordon Career Center, on Aug. 6
Michael Acosta, study abroad advisor in the Fries Center for Global Studies, on Aug. 13
Christian Camerota, director of editorial content strategy and creation in University Communications, Aug. 13
Aracely Montes, administrative assistant in chemistry, on Aug. 14
Jessica Tyler, web specialist in University Communications, on Aug. 27
David Chearo, chief of staff in the President’s Office, on Sept. 4
Joshua Blodgett, facilities business coordinator and rental property manager in Construction Services, on Sept. 10

Brommer Hired as Associate VP for Human Resources

Lisa Brommer

On Dec. 3, Lisa Brommer was hired as associate vice president for human resources, succeeding Julia Hicks, who retired in September. Brommer comes to Wesleyan from Colorado College, where she was serving as interim director of human resources. In her work at Colorado College, she was known for creating professional development opportunities for staff, improving recruitment processes to ensure a diverse applicant pool, building leadership capacity at all levels, and putting systems in place to identify and retain top talent.

Brommer received her BA at the University of Sioux Falls and her MA from the University of South Dakota and earned both her SPHR and SHRM-SCP designations from the Society for Human Resource Management.

“In my short time at Wesleyan, it’s been exciting to hear from many campus leaders and the HR team about how we can better serve the campus community and ensure that we are as strong in our support of campus as we can be,” she said. “Helping campus locate talent, develop talent, and retain talent is central to the HR team’s mission and will be our focus going forward. I’m encouraged by the support I’ve received from the HR team, Andy Tanaka, and the many colleagues who have welcomed me to Wesleyan, and I look forward to doing some awesome work here on behalf of our students, staff, and faculty.”