Corrina Kerr

5 Questions with . . . Laurie Nussdorfer

Laurie Nussdorfer is a professor of history, letters and medieval studies at Wesleyan. She says popes who reigned as rulers and bishops of Rome between 1550 and 1650 helped preserve notarial records.

For this issue, we queried Laurie Nussdorfer, professor of history, letters and medieval studies and author of Brokers of Public Trust: Notaries in Early Modern Rome (published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2009). She supplied her answers in writing, of course.

Q:  How did the idea for the book begin?

A: Daniel Rosenberg ’88 wrote a senior honors thesis in the History Department about the historiography of literacy (how historians had interpreted and investigated the ability of people to read in the past). I was one of the readers of this fascinating thesis, and it occurred to me that one could ask similar questions about how people had learned to use writing, even if they couldn’t write themselves, in the past. I work on the city and people of Rome in the period between 1500 and 1700 so naturally

Wesleyan Press Book Wins L.A. Times Award

Practical Water by poet Brenda Hillman was awarded a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry. The theme of the collection is water, including “Taoist water, baptismal water, water from the muses’ fountains, the practical waters of hydrology from which we draw our being—and the stilled water in a glass in a Senate chamber.”

The competition’s judges state that Practical Water is Hillman’s “finest book,” in which “she creates an urgent new poetry for our moment.”

Barth Receives NSF Grant for Cognition Research

Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, will be conducting a series of studies with children and adults in the Cognitive Development Laboratory at Wesleyan to investigate abstract and perceptual magnitude biases.

Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, was recently awarded a five-year, $761,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “magnitude biases in mathematical cognition, learning, and development.” Barth will be conducting a series of studies with children and adults in the Cognitive Development Laboratory at Wesleyan to investigate abstract and perceptual magnitude biases.

The grant, which begins this year, comes from the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. The program is only available to non-tenured faculty. Barth’s colleague Anna Shusterman was awarded a CAREER grant in 2009.

“The psychology department is thrilled about Professor Barth’s accomplishment,” says Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

Faculty Collaboration of Art, Words, Spans Decades

David Schorr (Photo by Phyllis Rose)

One works in translating languages; the other translates words into images. Together they are about to take audiences through a centuries-old world of lechers, louts and libertines, among others.

Norman Shapiro

Norman Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, and David Schorr, professor of art, have been collaborating together for more than 20 years to bring ancient French verse and tales to life for an English-reading audience. Their most recent effort is a re-issue, La Fontaine’s Bawdy: Of Libertines, Louts, and Lechers (2009 by the Black Widow Press), a book they will be discussing and signing at on May 5 at Broad Street Books in Middletown at 4:30 p.m.

The two professors have Wesleyan to thank for their partnership, having first met when they both arrived on campus in the 1970s. Shapiro calls Schorr “the ideal person” to illustrate his translations. Schorr’s expressive animal illustrations, including versatile woodcuts, sumi-e drawings, and line drawings, bring the tales to life.

“David’s illustrations are wonderful,” Shapiro says. “They are not stodgy and he has a way of looking at the fables and book pages with a different eye.”

Study Identifies Successful Binge-Eating Treatment


Professor Ruth Striegel-Moore discovered that more than 63 percent of participants had stopped binge eating at the end of a self-guided 12 week program. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

Binge eating can cause depression, lead to excessive weight gain and potentially cause long-term damage in binge eaters. But a new study shows that a simple, self-guided 12-week program can decrease binge eating for up to an entire year – while reducing costs of treatment.

Conducted by Ruth Striegel-Moore, the Walter A. Crowell University Professor of the Social Sciences, professor of psychology, and researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and Rutgers University, the study was aimed at finding a way to effectively treat sufferers from this disorder that affects about 3 percent of people in the United States.

“People who binge eat, eat more than other people do during a short period of time and they lose control of their eating during these episodes,” Striegel-Moore, the study’s principal investigator, says. ” Binge eating is often accompanied by depression, shame, weight gain, and loss of self-esteem, and it costs the health care system millions of extra dollars. Our studies show that recurrent binge eating can be successfully treated with a brief, easily administered program. That’s great news for patients and their providers.”

An internationally-recognized expert on eating disorders, Striegel-Moore said that Kaiser’s involvement gave her the ability to gather comprehensive data that she would not have otherwise been able to access.

The study’s results showed more than 63 percent of participants had stopped binge eating at the end of a self-guided 12-week program. In contrast,  approximately 28 percent of non-participants ceased their binge eating behavior. However, what may have been most interesting, most of the participants in the 12-week program reported that they were still binge-free a year later.

“This unique study gave research training opportunities to numerous Wesleyan students who conducted all of the interview assessments for literally hundreds of participants,” Striegel-Moore, who said that hundreds of individuals had to be interviewed to ultimately find the 124 participants. “I do not think there is another liberal arts institution in the country where students have this kind of hands-on involvement in such clinical research.”

A second study by Striegel-Moore and her team, also published in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found that program participants saved money because they spent less on things like dietary supplements and weight loss programs.

This randomized controlled trial, conducted in 2004-2005, involved 123 members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan in Oregon and southwest Washington. More than 90 percent of them were women with an average age of 37. To be included in the study, participants had to have at least one binge eating episode a week during the previous three months with no gaps of two or more weeks between episodes, according to Kaiser Permanente.

Half of the participants were enrolled in the intervention and asked to read the book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn, a professor of psychiatry and expert on eating disorders. The book details scientific information about binge eating and outlines a six-step self-help program using self-monitoring, self-control and problem-solving strategies. This includes recording food that is eaten during binging episodes as well as the feelings experienced during those episodes. The author suggests using alternative behavior to resist urges to binge and outlines skills to help with binge eating triggers.

Participants in the program attended eight therapy sessions over the course of 12 weeks during which counselors explained the rationale for cognitive behavioral therapy and helped participants apply the strategies in the book. The first session lasted one hour, and subsequent sessions were 20-25 minutes. The average cost of the intervention was $167 per patient.

All study participants were mailed fliers detailing the health plan’s offerings for healthy living and eating and encouraged to contact their primary care physician to learn about more services.

The researchers then compared these costs between the two groups and found that average total costs were $447 less in the intervention group. This included a $149 savings for the participant. Total costs for the intervention group were $3,670 per person per year, and costs for the control group were $4,098.

5 Questions With . . . Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, is exploring lignin as a possible carbon source of biofuel. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

In this issue, we ask 5 Questions to. . . Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the 35th Peter A. Leermakers’ Committee.

Q. How did you get involved in biofuel research?

A.There seemed to be a compelling need for more scientists to look for alternatives to biofuel carbon sources beyond the ones that have already been researched, corn being a common, but problematic one.

Q. Can you explain what lignin is?

A. Lignin is the second most abundant polymer on the planet (the most abundant polymer is cellulose). Lignin is interwoven into trees, along with cellulose and hemicellulose, two sugar polymers. Lignin provides the structural rigidity.

Q. Why are you exploring lignin as a possible carbon source of biofuel?

A. more than 50 millions tons of lignin are produced each year. It  is an abundant waste product of both the biofuel and paper industries. Lignin is also found in municipal waste. My hope is to take the lignin and develop a means for recycling it into a biofuel

5 Questions With . . . Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

This issue, we ask 5 Questions to…Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology. Dierker provided us with some information on her research findings.

Q. How did you become interested in researching adolescents who smoke?

A: Early in my career, I was selected as a faculty scholar by the Tobacco Etiology Research Network. This network was a multidisciplinary initiative sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and was aimed at attracting junior scholars into the field in hopes of accelerating research into the causes and mechanisms by which experimentation with tobacco leads to chronic and dependent use.

At that time, as is the case today, smoking was the single largest preventable cause of illness and death in the United States. I was attracted to both the challenge and opportunity the field represented in terms of improving public health.

Q. Why is it critical to study adolescents and nicotine dependence/addiction?

A: The sheer toll of tobacco on the health and health care costs in the United States makes this an important area of inquiry. The fact that tobacco use begins almost exclusively during adolescence and often progresses to dependence even before adulthood means that smoking prevention can be best informed by research focused on this critical period of development.

Pat Tully: New University Librarian


Pat Tully was appointed the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)

Patricia Tully, who has been the interim university librarian since June 2009, was appointed the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian on March 1.

During her interim appointment, Tully has administered the Library with creativity and dedication and has shown the strong leadership needed in these challenging times.

Tully earned her B.A. in philosophy and graduated magna cum laude from Williams College; she earned her M.L.S. degree from the University of Michigan.

Tully brings a wealth of experience to Wesleyan, having served in both public and academic libraries.

“Many of you have worked with Pat during her terms as associate university librarian and interim university librarian, and are well aware of her impressive organizational skills, her dedication to Wesleyan, and her uncompromising commitment to support the scholarly work of faculty and students,” says Joe Bruno, vice president for academic affairs and provost. “I am delighted to have her continue in this important leadership position, and ask you to join me in thanking

Stemler Author of Tacit Knowledge Article

Steve Stemler, assistant professor of psychology, is the co-author of “The socially skilled teacher and the development of tacit knowledge,” published in the British Educational Research Journal, Feb. 24, 2010

Kauanui Keynote Speaker at Hawai’i American Studies Symposium

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, associate professor of American studies, associate professor of anthropology, delivered the keynote address during the Hawai’i American Studies Association Symposium March 11 at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Her lecture was titled, “A Sorry State: Hawaiian Nationalism and the Politics of Imperialist Resentment.”

Kauanui’s talk was co-sponsored by the University of Hawaii at Manoa.