Tag Archive for alumni achievements

Connecticut Magazine Names Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in “40 Under 40”

Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18, a leader and community activist in her hometown of New Britain, was named one of Connecticut Magazine‘s “40 under 40.” (Photo courtesy of Alicia Strong)

Connecticut Magazine included Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in its 2019 list of “40 Under 40,” recognizing her leadership in community activism. “With her firm convictions, Strong lives up to her name,” the magazine wrote.

“I am honored to be included in Connecticut’s ’40 Under 40′ Class of 2019. It is truly a testament to my hard work and dedication,” Strong said.

At 21 years old, Strong became the youngest person nationally to be given the title of executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), where she worked for less than a year before leaving to pursue goals outside of educating the general public about Islam. After leaving the council, Strong started a social media marketing firm in New Britain to help small businesses.

Strong will soon begin graduate school at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

Holtzberg ’79 Honored by American Folklore Society

Past prize winner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

Past prizewinner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

At its recent annual meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the American Folklore Society (AFS) named prominent American folklorist Maggie Holtzberg ’79 of Boston, Mass., as the 2018 recipient of its prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Prize.

The Botkin Prize is given each year by the American Folklore Society and its Public Programs Section in the name of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901–1975) to recognize lifetime achievement in public folklore. Botkin—eminent New Deal–era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938–1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress 1942–1945—has had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.

In its report, the 2018 Botkin Prize Committee praised the outstanding contribution of this year’s awardee, noting: “Maggie Holtzberg has surveyed, documented, and promoted public understanding of the traditional arts and heritage in three states.

Clark ’99, Bleeker ’07: Bully Pulpit Markets for a Better World

Andrew Bleeker ’07 (right) and Ben Clark ’99 were back on campus in March, hosting an employer information session at the Gordon Career Center to talk about their career paths and Bully Pulpit Interactive.(Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Andrew Bleeker ’07 (right) and Ben Clark ’99 were back on campus in March, hosting an employer information session at the Gordon Career Center to talk about their career paths and Bully Pulpit Interactive. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

(By Bill Holder)
When a progressive marketing and communications agency that has major Democratic organizations as clients—and ran the digital marketing operations for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton—decides to expand into the corporate world, one company you might not expect to be on the list is McDonald’s.

Yes, that’s the purveyor of hamburgers founded by the famously conservative Ray Kroc. But times change, and when McDonald’s wanted to tell the world about its new practices to improve environmental sustainability, the company turned to Bully Pulpit Interactive and founding partners Andrew Bleeker ’07 and Ben Clark ’99.

In doing so, McDonald’s selected a youthful firm known for its strength in digital communications. Bully Pulpit looks for a blend of Madison Avenue creative, Silicon Valley tech, and Inside-the-Beltway politics.

SHOFCO Recipient of Hilton Humanitarian Prize

Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09, center, are directors of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Kenya. On Aug. 22, SHOFCO received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. SHOFCO’s mission is to build urban promise from urban poverty. (Photo by Audrey Hall)

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a grassroots nonprofit organization directed by Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09, has been awarded the 2018 Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Selected by a distinguished panel of independent international jurors, SHOFCO will receive $2 million in unrestricted funding, joining 22 other notable organizations that have received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize over the last two decades.

Based in Kibera—one of the largest slums in Africa—SHOFCO was founded by Odede as a teenager in 2004 with 20 cents and a soccer ball. The organization describes its mission as catalyzing large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing community-wide critical services and advocacy platforms, as well as education and leadership development specifically for women and girls. In 2007, Odede met fellow Wesleyan student Posner, who was studying abroad. Together they devised the model that SHOFCO utilizes today.

Leung ’16 Awarded Prestigious Congress-Bundestag Fellowship

Melissa Leung '16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Melissa Leung ’16 is 1 of 75 Americans selected to participate in the 2018–2019 Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals, a yearlong fellowship for study and work in Germany. CBYX for Young Professionals provides opportunities for youth to collaborate, interact with new people and new ideas, and, ultimately, to become better global citizens and better leaders. The program annually provides scholarships to 350 Americans and also brings 360 Germans to the United States.

While in Germany, Leung will attend a two-month intensive German language course, study at a German university or professional school for four months, and complete a five-month internship with a German company in her career field (foreign aid). Participants are placed throughout Germany and have the opportunity to learn about everyday German life from a variety of perspectives.

Funded jointly by Congress (through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) and the German Bundestag, the CBYX program is a unique opportunity for young Americans to enhance their professional skills, as well as broaden their political and cultural awareness by experiencing life in another country. Leung will act as a citizen ambassador of the United States, helping to promote a positive image of the U.S. abroad and creating lifelong friendships and professional connections that will keep German-American relations strong for years to come.

Participants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 18–24, and have clear career goals and experience in their professional fields. Young professionals in STEM, business, agricultural, and vocational fields are especially encouraged to apply, though candidates in all career fields are eligible. This year more than 600 young professionals vied for a place in this prestigious program.

Six Ironmans In, Cooney ’83 Is Still Devoted to Supporting the Wes Experience

(By Karl Ortegon ’18)

Gretchen Millspaugh Cooney ’83, who played field hockey and swam at Wesleyan in the late ’70s and early ’80s, recently returned home to Philadelphia after competing at the Ironman World Championships in Hawai’i. The race is synonymous with a super triathlon: swim 2.4 miles, hop on your bike and cycle through 112 miles of terrain, and finish it off with a 26.2-mile marathon. No breaks.

For the World Championships, one can only compete by first racing in a qualifying Ironman prior, and going fast enough at the qualifier to secure one of a few slots designated for one’s age group and gender. Cooney claimed her spot at the Ironman Maryland in 2016 to punch her ticket to Kona for this fall’s World Championship.

Abel ’98 Builds Skate Parks, Community in the West Bank

Adam Abel ’98 (right) and his collaborator Mohammed Othman

Adam Abel ’98 has been a frequent traveler from New York City to Qalquilya, Palestine, in the past six years to join his colleague and friend, Mohammed Othman, in reimagining what “normal” might mean in Palestine. Their vision involves helmets, skateboards and a whole lot of concrete.

They call it SkateQilya, as a reference to the city in which their program began. And as its name might suggest, it’s an organization that offers skateboarding instruction. But Abel and Othman see skateboarding as much more than a recreational activity. SkateQilya teaches community building and art: it’s a way to transform perspectives, galvanize communities and teach children to express themselves.

To run these various aspects of the organization, Abel has leveraged his own individual skills and those of others. An installation artist and filmmaker, Abel teaches photography and video and serves as the program’s development director. Othman is the executive director and uses his talents to offer lessons in building community trust. To teach skateboarding they recruited Kenny Reed, a former professional skater, who has taught his skills worldwide.

Their curriculum is also coeducational, which is unusual in Palestine today. In fact, parents don’t hesitate to enroll their kids, especially their daughters. This is because SkateQilya provides a much-needed service in Qalqilya—structured and productive activity for youth.

Though now a nonprofit, the Skateqilya initiative actually began as something entirely different—an art installation. Back in 2011, Abel traveled to Palestine to research his project, Terra Infirma, which employed images from Google Earth to explore geographical, social and political divisions. Qalqilya, which the Israeli West Bank Barrier nearly encloses, became a subject of his project; from above it looks like a peninsula of dense concrete amidst a sea of Israeli farmland.

While visiting Qalqilya for his project, Abel learned that there was a skater there. This piqued his interest and he sought the help of a local guide. That guide was Othman. They traveled together to meet the skater and were stunned when the athlete showed them videos of himself and his fellow skateboarders “flying, [performing] hip-hop and beatboxing.” It was a unifying moment for Abel and Othman.

As an artist, Abel immediately felt the urge to document this unique collective of skaters. He posed the idea to Othman, but Othman felt hesitant at first. “[I was] an activist, not a filmmaker,” he remembers thinking. But Othman also was looking for a change of pace. Collaborating on the documentary project allowed him to improve his community while offering some relief from the tense politics.

However, as the two embarked on their documentary project, they became rapidly immersed in the lives of their subjects. They got to know the children and their families and it wasn’t long before they were constructing skate ramps out of plywood for the locals to use. Their documentary had begun to take a back seat to their community involvement and they quickly realized that building a skate park was not enough.

“If you just open up a skate park and leave it, how are kids going to get boards, how are they going to pay for boards?” asks Abel. “You can’t just build a facility; you have to do something more.”

From this vital question, SkateQilya was born.

Currently, with the help of their partners at Playgrounds for Palestine, an organization that has built playgrounds in Gaza and the West Bank for over 17 years, Abel and Othman are working on expanding their organization. They have just opened a second skate facility, in the village of Jayyous–just a few miles outside Qalqilya. This new skate park was built with the help of SkatePal, another organization that promotes skating in Palestine. Here, Othman and Abel plan to open a small computer center and expand their arts and community-building programs.

While Abel’s work has helped to strengthen the community of Qalqilya, it has also given him something in return—a close collaborator and a lifelong friend. “Mohammed and I have a very special relationship,” he remarks, “He is a son in my family and I am another son in his.”

 

‘Very Fortunate’ Handler ’92 Featured on PBS Series Articulate

Daniel Handler ’92, featured in the PBS series Articulate, believes that children fare better by hearing the truth—rather than a sugarcoated explanation—about life’s difficult situations. (Photo by Meredith Heuer)

Author Daniel Handler ’92 enjoys a prolific career as a celebrated novelist, best known for using the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to publish A Series of Unfortunate Events. This 13-book series about three orphaned children and their increasingly tumultuous lives—which has been adapted for film, video games and, most recently, a Netflix series—established Handler as an appealingly sinister storyteller, a writer with a penchant for narratives without happy endings. The first episode of Articulate on PBS delves into some of Handler’s inspirations and how he came to develop his dark approach to children’s writing.

In the clip, titled “The Very Fortunate Daniel Handler,” he points out that one goal of his writing is to create worlds more exciting than the one we are offered. But while his stories teeter on the absurd and fantastical, they largely operate by exploring the tragic realities of the world we already inhabit—the kind of grim truths that children are already catching onto and, Handler argues, deserve to have addressed. As a young kid, with a father who had escaped Nazi Germany and a family that discussed war as a standard topic of conversation, it was made clear that the human experience could be dark and disastrous. A reflection of his upbringing, Handler refuses to sugarcoat misfortune or grief for his readers, regardless of their age.

Lillie ’74 Receives Higginbotham [Hon. ’96] Lifetime Achievement Award

Charisse Lillie ’74 was honored with the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her accomplishments, service and dedication to the legal profession and minority community. She initially met the late Justice Higginbotham while she was an undergraduate at Wesleyan.

Charisse Lillie ’74, an attorney, member of the business community, and a lecturer on issues of diversity and corporate responsibility, will receive the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award during the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Minority Attorney Conference, “Advocacy and Fundamental Rights for Changing Times.”

The award recognizes her accomplishments and dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service. Now the CEO of CRL Consulting LLC, she recently retired from Comcast Corporation, where she held senior-level positions. Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a civic leader, author, academic and federal appeals court judge active in efforts eliminate racial discrimination. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Wesleyan in 1996, delivering the Commencement address that year. He had also delivered Wesleyan’s Hugo L. Black Lecture in 1991, an annual series endowed by Leonard S. Halpert ’44.

Feldstein ’15 Wows in Broadway Debut

Beanie Feldstein ’15

Beanie Feldstein ’15

Actress Beanie Feldstein ’15 has made her Broadway debut as Minnie Fay in the sold-out, Tony-winning revival of Hello, Dolly! this past April. The role has her playing a fresh-faced shopgirl in this comedic musical theater hit about a meddlesome matchmaker named Dolly Gallagher Levi. Starring alongside the iconic Bette Middler and Broadway veteran Kate Baldwin, Feldstein is living out her childhood dream night after night in Broadway’s Shubert Theatre—and certain magazine outlets, such as Vogue, are asking whether we are seeing the next Middler in Feldstein.

Alpert ’82 Snags First-Ever Emmy for Outstanding Casting

Sasha Alpert ’82 won the Primetime Emmy Award for casting A&E’s Born This Way. (Photo courtesy of Bunim/Murray Productions)

At the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 17, Sasha Alpert ’82, CSA, was awarded the Emmy for the Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program for A&E’s original docuseries Born This Way.

The series follows seven young adults diagnosed with Down syndrome who pursue personal and professional success and try to defy expectations, according to A&E’s website.

Born This Way earned a total of three Emmy wins, going into the evening with six nominations. It was the television show to receive the inaugural award for reality casting, a move that recognizes the process of casting an unscripted show.

“I am thrilled to have won the first Emmy given for reality casting, and especially thrilled that it was for Born this Way,” Alpert said. “Bringing the story of young adults with Down syndrome to television has been an incredible experience. Many people have a story to tell, and by creating a show with a diverse group of people we vastly expand our ability to tell compelling stories.”

Alpert is known for her work in casting reality television shows, such as The Real World and Project Runway, as well as in producing numerous documentaries and specials for PBS, CBS, MTV, TBS, and Disney Channel. The winner of Primetime Emmy Awards, she has had 11 nominations, including a News and Documentary Emmy Award for her work on Valentine Road (2013).

Reyes ’17 Earns 2 Tech Fellowships

Mika Reyes ’17

With two fellowships, Mika Reyes ’17 joined the tech-savvy world of Silicon Valley and encourages other Wesleyan humanities majors to follow her path.

Mika Reyes ’17 has stayed busy since graduating just last May, as both a summer fellow with the Horizons School of Technology and a year-long Product fellow with the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) fellowship program. These prestigious programs have helped Reyes jump-start a career in tech.

The Horizons Fellowship immerses university students looking to become leaders in technology in a rigorous summer program that teaches them how to build web and mobile applications and connects them with mentors in the field: startup founders, technology executives, and engineering leaders. Horizons requires no prior programming knowledge and chooses a few members of every cohort for the Horizons Fellowship, which covers the cost of tuition and housing in San Francisco.