Tag Archive for COE

Wesleyan Facilities, Custodial Staff Celebrated through Performance

Rivera and Porquillo worked together, wiping down tables and vacuuming floors. They began with just introducing themselves

Last spring, Tamara Rivera ’21 job shadowed SMG employee Maria Porquillo, who has worked for more than two decades at Olin Library. Once a week, Rivera met Porquillo at the library to observe her movements and rhythms, and ultimately choreographed a piece for Porquillo to perform on stage. This fall, students will participate in a similar multidisciplinary dance project titled “WesWorks.”

Every day the workers of Wesleyan’s facilities staff labor to keep the University going in the most fundamental ways. Their work can often be invisible but without properly ventilated performance spaces, clean laboratories, and functional classrooms, just to give a few examples, the University would grind to a halt.

An upcoming multidisciplinary dance project titled “WesWorks” takes the rituals and movements of their days and creates choreography that transforms the ordinary, mundane, and skillful movements of work into a performance accompanied by live, original music and stories told in the workers’ voices. The performance will take place outdoors on Andrus Field in mid-October.

“I hope the community leaves with an elevated understanding of what our staff does. This is a celebration of our employees and a recognition of a workforce that’s often not recognized,” said Jennifer Calienes, interim director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

“Wesworks” builds on seven years of Forklift Danceworks’ engagement with Wesleyan through the College of the Environment and the Center for the Arts and was developed through a series of residencies and intensive course collaborations over the past year and a half.  During the Spring 2021 semester, students job shadowed facilities workers, learning just what it took to the keep the campus running smoothly.

Mikaela Marcotullio ’23 job shadowed SMG employee Lloyd Jones in Usdan University Center.

This fall, Allison Orr, the choreographer and artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, distinguished fellow in the College of Environment, will teach her ENVS376 course—The Artist in the Community: Civic Engagement and Collaborative Dancemaking from which students will learn techniques of community art practice and help develop and support the “WesWorks” performance.

Ostfeld ’10, MA ’12 Named a “40 Under 40”

Rosemary Ostfeld

Rosemary Ostfeld

Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’12, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies and public policy, was named to Connecticut Magazine’s 2021 “40 Under 40” list.

The 32-year-old from East Lyme, Conn., is the founder of Healthy PlanEat, a new sustainable food-tech startup that helps farmers who use sustainable growing practices sell their farm-fresh goods (whether fruits or veggies, cheese or oysters) directly to local customers.

Farmers using Healthy PlanEat—which enthusiastic members of the community helped start via a crowdfunding campaign—can upload inventory, set distribution options, and manage incoming orders. Customers can purchase food to pick up at the farms themselves, at farmers markets, at pop-up shop locations, or for delivery.

Ostfeld currently works with 14 USDA Certified Organic and Northeast Organic Farming Association Farmer’s Pledge farms in Connecticut and has plans to expand Healthy PlanEat throughout the Northeast.

She completed a BA/MA in biology and earth and environmental sciences at Wesleyan, an MPhil in environmental policy, and a PhD in land economy at the University of Cambridge as a Cambridge Trust Scholar. Her doctoral research focused on exploring the impact of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder initiative designed to improve environmental sustainability in the palm oil industry.

This spring, she is teaching CSPL 239: Startup Incubator; E&ES 197: Intro to Environmental Studies; and ENVS 125: Community Gardening.

Students’ Essays on Infectious Disease Prevention, COVID-19 Published Nationwide

cohan

More than 25 students in Fred Cohan’s Global Change and Infectious Disease course have had op-eds published in media outlets nationwide. Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (pictured), assigns the op-ed writing as part of his course and offers students extra credit if they are able to get their work published.

As part of the BIO 173: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, Professor Fred Cohan assigns students to write an essay persuading others to prevent future and mitigate present infectious diseases. If students submit their essay to a news outlet—and it’s published—Cohan awards them with extra credit.

As a result of this assignment, more than 25 students have had their work published in newspapers across the United States. Many of these essays cite and applaud the University’s Keep Wes Safe campaign and its COVID-19 testing protocols.

Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (COE), began teaching the Global Change and Infectious Disease course in 2009, when the COE was established. “I wanted very much to contribute a course to what I saw as a real game-changer in Wesleyan’s interest in the environment. The course is about all the ways that human demands on the environment have brought us infectious diseases, over past millennia and in the present, and why our environmental disturbances will continue to bring us infections into the future.”

Over the years, Cohan learned that he can sustainably teach about 170 students every year without running out of interested students. This fall, he had 207. Although he didn’t change the overall structure of his course to accommodate COVID-19 topics, he did add material on the current pandemic to various sections of the course.

“I wouldn’t say that the population of the class increased tremendously as a result of COVID-19, but I think the enthusiasm of the students for the material has increased substantially,” he said.

To accommodate online learning, Cohan shaved off 15 minutes from his normal 80-minute lectures to allow for discussion sections, led by Cohan and teaching assistants. “While the lectures mostly dealt with biology, the discussions focused on how changes in behavior and policy can solve the infectious disease problems brought by human disturbance of the environment,” he said.

Based on student responses to an introspective exam question, Cohan learned that many students enjoyed a new hope that we could each contribute to fighting infectious disease. “They discovered that the solution to infectious disease is not entirely a waiting game for the right technologies to come along,” he said. “Many enjoyed learning about fighting infectious disease from a moral and social perspective. And especially, the students enjoyed learning about the ‘socialism of the microbe,’ how preventing and curing others’ infections will prevent others’ infections from becoming our own. The students enjoyed seeing how this idea can drive both domestic and international health policies.”

A sampling of the published student essays are below:

Alexander Giummo ’22 and Mike Dunderdale’s ’23 op-ed titled “A National Testing Proposal: Let’s Fight Back Against COVID-19” was published in the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

They wrote: “With an expansive and increased testing plan for U.S. citizens, those who are COVID-positive could limit the number of contacts they have, and this would also help to enable more effective contact tracing. Testing could also allow for the return of some ‘normal’ events, such as small social gatherings, sports, and in-person class and work schedules.

“We propose a national testing strategy in line with the one that has kept Wesleyan students safe this year. The plan would require a strong push by the federal government to fund the initiative, but it is vital to successful containment of the virus.

“Twice a week, all people living in the U.S. should report to a local testing site staffed with professionals where the anterior nasal swab Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, used by Wesleyan and supported by the Broad Institute, would be implemented.”

Kalyani Mohan ’22 and Kalli Jackson ’22 penned an essay titled “Where Public Health Meets Politics: COVID-19 in the United States,” which was published in Wesleyan’s Arcadia Political Review.

They wrote: “While the U.S. would certainly benefit from a strengthened pandemic response team and structural changes to public health systems, that alone isn’t enough, as American society is immensely stratified, socially and culturally. The politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that individualism, libertarianism and capitalism are deeply ingrained in American culture, to the extent that Americans often blind to the fact community welfare can be equivalent to personal welfare. Pandemics are multifaceted, and preventing them requires not just a cultural shift but an emotional one amongst the American people, one guided by empathy—towards other people, different communities and the planet. Politics should be a tool, not a weapon against its people.”

Sydnee Goyer ’21 and Marcel Thompson’s ’22 essay “This Flu Season Will Be Decisive in the Fight Against COVID-19” also was published in Arcadia Political Review.

“With winter approaching all around the Northern Hemisphere, people are preparing for what has already been named a “twindemic,” meaning the joint threat of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu,” they wrote. “While it is known that seasonal vaccinations reduce the risk of getting the flu by up to 60% and also reduce the severity of the illness after the contamination, additional research has been conducted in order to know whether or not flu shots could reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19. In addition to the flu shot, it is essential that people remain vigilant in maintaining proper social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly, and continuing to wear masks in public spaces.”

Students, Alumni to Make Presentations at Geological Society of America Meeting

Wesleyan students, graduate students, and recent alumni will present research posters during the annual Geological Society of America meeting Oct. 26–30. The virtual event will allow for a five-minute presentation followed by a five-minute period to answer questions.

poster

Earth and environmental sciences graduate student Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21 will present their poster, titled “Freshwater Mussels in North America: Museum Collections and Pre-Industrial Biogeography,” at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 29. Their advisors are Ann Burke, professor of biology, and Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences. Listen to the presentation in advance online here.

Accelerating the Climate Revolution, Life on Venus Discussed at “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium

The 18th annual “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment was held on Oct. 16 and 17 in a virtual format as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend events.

During the 18th annual "Where on Earth Are We Going? Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment," Jacob Scherr '70 (bottom left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt '04 (top right) served as keynote speakers of the event titled "Accelerating the Climate Revolution." Alys Campaigne

On Oct. 16, Jacob Scherr ’70 (left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt ’04 (center) served as keynote speakers of a discussion titled “Accelerating the Climate Revolution.” Barry Chernoff (right), the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology and earth and environmental studies, served as the event’s moderator.

COE

Five years ago this December, Jacob Scherr, an international environmental attorney, lit up the Eiffel Tower to mark the start of the “Climate Revolution” with the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, the signs of a changing climate have become more evident, and calls for action, particularly from young people, have grown louder in spite of the Trump Administration’s determination to withdraw the U.S. from its international leadership on this existential threat. Scherr shared his decades-long first-hand perspective of where we are today in the U.S. and worldwide in dealing with the climate crisis. “I feel confident that we’ve indeed built a strong global architecture that can stimulate transformative climate action worldwide once there’s the political will,” he said. “I hope that I can return to Wesleyan for my 55th reunion in person, and I hope all of us can celebrate, then, the accelerating climate revolution.”

Stewart Holds Annual Earth Day Rant on “Bending the Curves”

stewart earth rant

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant through the Zoom application. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

During his talk, Stewart discussed and compared how a car crash, storm, epidemic, and climate change vary in terms of mitigation, adaptation, perception, agency, cost to the United States, and deaths per 100,000 people. The current epidemic has cost the U.S. more than $2.5 trillion, whereas vehicle accidents amount to $277 billion per year (excluding indirect costs), and storms cause $30 billion per year in damages. All contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Now, time is extremely short . . . What are the mechanisms we can put into place to give ourselves a shot at retooling society in a sustainable way? Nobody knows. We haven’t figured that out,” he said.

Stewart pointed out one of the rare positive effects of the COVID-19 epidemic: It has slightly reduced the emission of carbon dioxide that leads to global warming.

“I’d like to say with the economy of the United States dramatically dampened . . . it’s possible that CO2 emissions will decline by 5 percent this year, owning to the cessation of much economic activity,” he said.

Stewart explained how a coordinated effort to reduce CO2 emissions would not necessitate such a large impact on the economy per unit of CO2 reduction, “but that the prospects are nonetheless daunting, and time is not on our side.”

Winston Named Honorary Fellow of the American Association of Teachers of German

winston

Krishna Winston retired from Wesleyan in 2019. She taught German studies for 49 years.

The American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) recently named Krishna Winston, Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita, an honorary fellow of the association. The fellowship is limited to 25 fellows worldwide.

Founded in 1926, the AATG has nearly 3,500 members and “believes that bringing the language, literature, and cultures of the German speaking-world to all Americans is a vital humanistic endeavor, which serves an essential national interest,” according to its website.

To receive this honor, Winston was nominated by 10 colleagues, with the nomination approved by the Honorary Fellows Committee and voted on by the Association membership at its 2019 annual meeting. According to the AATG, honorary fellows are “men and women of letters of international distinction who have contributed to the advancement of German studies in the fields of literary studies, literary criticism, linguistics, creative writing, translation, and second language acquisition.”

Iris Bork-Goldfield, chair and adjunct professor of German studies, made the initial recommendation. She’s known Winston for more than 20 years.

“Krishna has devoted her life to the German language and literature. With her many celebrated translations of works by Golo Mann, Siegfried Lenz, Peter Handke, and of course Günther Grass, just to name a few, she has enabled millions of English speakers to appreciate German literature,” Bork-Goldfield said in her nomination letter. “Apart from being a brilliant translator, Professor Winston has educated generations of American students as a teacher of German. She is a passionate teacher, deeply committed to her students whom she inspires to enjoy German literature, study abroad in Germany, apply for scholarships to teach and /or do research in German-speaking countries, and become engaged citizens.”

Winston, who retired from Wesleyan in 2019, recently published a volume of four film narratives by Werner Herzog, Scenarios III (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), and has just completed translations of a novel and an essay by Peter Handke. Her translation of the address Handke delivered upon receiving the 2019 Nobel Prize can be found on the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Prize website. She is currently working on another Handke essay.

Winston remains actively engaged in campus life. In the fall of 2019, she taught her First-Year Seminar “The Simple Life?”, and she continues to serve as an advisor to the Community Standards Board, support the University’s sustainability efforts, and participate in the nomination process for Fulbright, Watson, and Udall fellowships.

“Krishna Winston has been a great source of motivation and inspiration for everyone around her, in the US and in Germany,” Bork-Goldfield said. “Her lifelong dedication to promoting German, be it as a teacher or a translator, complemented by her and her social activism, makes her an ideal honorary fellow.”

Cohan in The Conversation: A Clue to Stopping Coronavirus

Fred Cohan

Fred Cohan

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In this article, Fred Cohan, professor of biology, Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, PhD student Kathleen Sagarin, and Kelly Mei ’20 explain how viruses like coronavirus—and several others over history—spread from animals to humans, what determines the size of the outbreak, and how behavioral modifications and technology can stop the spread.

A clue to stopping coronavirus: Knowing how viruses adapt from animals to humans

As the novel coronavirus death toll mounts, it is natural to worry. How far will this virus travel through humanity, and could another such virus arise seemingly from nowhere?

As microbial ecologists who study the origins of new microbial species, we would like to give some perspective.

As a result of continuing deforestation, “bushmeat” hunting of wild animals and caring for our domestic animals, the novel coronavirus will certainly not be the last deadly virus from wild animals to infect humans. Indeed, wild species of bats and primates abound in viruses closely related to SARS and HIV, respectively. When humans interact with wild animal species, pathogens that are resident in those animals can spill over to humans, sometimes with deadly effects.

Gilmore’s Paper on Venus’s Volcanoes Published in Science Advances

Martha Gilmore

Martha GIlmore

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a research article titled “Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine,” published in Science Advances Vol. 6 on Jan. 3, 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

At least some of Venus’ lava flows are thought to be <2.5 million years old based on visible to near-infrared (VNIR) emissivity measured by the Venus Express spacecraft. However, the exact ages of these flows are poorly constrained because the rate at which olivine alters at Venus surface conditions, and how that alteration affects VNIR spectra, remains unknown. We obtained VNIR reflectance spectra of natural olivine that was altered and oxidized in the laboratory. We show that olivine becomes coated, within days, with alteration products, primarily hematite (Fe2O3). With increasing alteration, the VNIR 1000-nm absorption, characteristic of olivine, also weakens within days. Our results indicate that lava flows lacking VNIR features due to hematite are no more than several years old. Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

The research was mentioned in Science Alert and Universe Today.

Students Use GIS Skills to Help Solve Environmental Problems

reed

In the Introduction to GIS course, Joshua Reed ’21 used governmental data to explore “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Fifteen Wesleyan students who were enrolled in the Introduction to GIS course this fall learned how to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve local problems in environmental sciences.

Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice of environmental sciences, taught the class and an accompanying service-learning lab component. After learning about the basic theory of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), data collection, data management, spatial analysis, visualization, and map preparation, the students were paired with a community partner or organization to assist them with an issue.

On Dec. 5, the students presented the results of their projects to their community partners and other students and faculty.

Joshua Reed ’21 worked with Wesleyan Book Buds, an Office of Community Service student group on a study titled “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Students Create Performances Based on Shadowing Physical Plant Employees

As part of the Introduction to Environmental Studies class, six students embedded themselves into the work lives of Wesleyan’s Physical Plant employees to learn the inner workings of campus.

Leila Henry ’23, Serena Aimen ’22, Tanvi Punja ’22, Molly Scotti ’22, Nina Criswell ’22, and Mikaela Marcotullio ’23 shadowed the Physical Plant workers for three-hour shifts every week throughout the fall semester. The experience concluded with performances on Dec. 5 that represented the culmination of that work.

The class was taught by Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, and the performances were curated with the help of Allison Orr, creative director of Forklift Danceworks and the Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment.

The second-annual project grew out of BUILD (2016), a dance thesis performance choreographed by Clara Pinsky ’16.

Photos of the class presentations are below and on this Flickr album: (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

NASA Supports Poulos’s Wildfire Research

Helen

Helen Poulos examines a high fire severity site.

Wildfires can transform forest ecosystems to varying degrees, depending on fire severity. While low-severity wildfires change plant community composition by killing short-statured trees and understory plants, high-severity fires result in top kill of above-ground vegetation. This variation in wildfire effects can have major impacts on post-fire vegetation composition and water stress.

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $300,000 grant from NASA on Dec. 5 to examine how forests can permanently change in response to high-severity wildfire in southeastern Arizona.