Lauren Rubenstein

Director of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Behind the Beard: Cooper ’79 Captures Images, Stories of Professional Santa Clauses

santa book

Ron Cooper ’79 is the author and photographer of We Are Santa.

A couple years ago, Ron Cooper ’79, a retired corporate executive-turned-travel, documentary, and portrait photographer, was in New Mexico to photograph cowboys, Civil War re-enactors, gunslingers, and snake-handlers. After completing the shoot, one of the subjects asked if he could show Cooper a very different character that he also portrayed.

“I agreed and he went to change. He came back as Santa Claus in a terrific Western-style Santa suit, complete with bolo tie. As it turns out, he had a side gig during the holiday season as Santa Claus at a shopping mall in Albuquerque,” Cooper recalled. “Not long after that, I saw a news story about the Charles W. Howard Santa School, a venerable institution that’s been around since 1937 and has trained hundreds of professional Santas. Then I learned that Santa Claus is the most photographed character in the world. I’ve always been interested in meeting and photographing people who follow their passions, especially when those passions take them outside of, or beyond, the realm of their daily lives.”

Wickham ’21 Awarded Rhodes Scholarship for Post-Graduate Study

Fitzroy "Pablo" Wickham is the Jamaica 2021 Rhodes Scholar.

Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham is the Jamaica 2021 Rhodes Scholar.

Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21 has been named the Jamaica 2021 Rhodes Scholar.

The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest, and one of the most prestigious, international scholarship programs in the world. Each year, it provides about 100 fully-funded scholarships to students around the world for post-graduate study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. According to the website, the “Rhodes Selection Committees are looking for young people of outstanding intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service.”

At Wesleyan, Wickham is a double major in theater and neuroscience and behavior. At the University of Oxford under the Rhodes Scholarship, he plans to pursue an MPhil and DPhil in neuroscience. Later, he plans to attend medical school and ultimately hopes to establish his own neuroscience research laboratory and practice in Jamaica.

Wickham’s selection as the Jamaica Rhodes Scholar was announced by Jamaica’s Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, on Nov. 22.

Wickham grew up in a single-parent household in the Jamaican countryside, on the northern part of the island in the parish of St. Ann. He and his sister were raised by their mother, Florence Wickham, a high school mathematics teacher. Wickham notes that St. Ann is birthplace to such acclaimed talent as world-renowned musician Bob Marley; political activist Marcus Garvey; and father of the U.S. Vice President-elect, Donald Harris (Kamala Harris reportedly spent her summers there), yet “remains very underdeveloped and rural, boasting a rich agricultural history.”

After completing fifth and sixth grade in North Carolina, Wickham longed to return to the United States for college. He chose to attend a small liberal arts school given his interest in both neuroscience and theater, and said Wesleyan’s generous financial aid package made it possible for him to afford college in the U.S.

Wesleyan Jeopardy! Contestants Remember Longtime Host Alex Trebek

J.R. Mannetta Jeopardy

Many Wesleyans have competed on Jeopardy! over the years. J.R. Mannetta ’13, right, is pictured on the Jeopardy! set in January 2020 with host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8. Read more about Mannetta’s experience.

Jeopardy! fans around the world are mourning the passing of longtime host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8 at age 80. According to The New York Times, Trebek had hosted the show consistently since 1984, missing only one episode during that time—on April Fools’ Day in 1997, when he swapped places with the host of Wheel of Fortune as a gag.

Many Wesleyans had the opportunity to compete on Jeopardy! over the years. Below, some reflect on their experiences and share remembrances of Trebek.

J.R. Mannetta ’13 competed on Jeopardy! in January 2020.

When you go on Jeopardy! you don’t actually speak with Alex until the episode is recording and they do your interview segment. Which is my way of saying beyond that conversation I didn’t interact with Alex much. He does do Q&A during commercial breaks and despite obviously not being at 100 percent physically he was still very much with it mentally. He still had a very quick wit and is bitingly funny.

I watched Jeopardy! religiously from high school to now and I can’t fathom what the show will look like without him.

Erhard Konerding MALS '82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82 retired as a documents librarian in Wesleyan’s Olin Library in 2015. He joined the University staff in 1972 and earned an MALS from Wesleyan in 1982. He was on the show in May 1994.

Contestants now take an online test to qualify, but back in the 1990s you would go to one of Merv Griffin’s casinos in Atlantic City and take a 10-question test. If you got enough questions right—I think it was seven or eight—they’d ask you back for a 50-question test and then for an audition. I went down to Atlantic City several times to take those tests. One day, I was sitting in the Star and Crescent at Alpha Delt and the phone rang. They asked me to come out to Hollywood and record the show.

When you film Jeopardy!, you show up at the studio in the morning with two changes of clothes. I was able to sit in the audience and watch until it was my turn. That first night, I was in second place going into the final question, and was able to bet strategically to end the night in first place. The second night, I was in second place but the third-place person was close behind me. I was doing the math frantically, and they finally said, “Erhard, we need a number from you.” My Jeopardy! career ended that night, but I won a trip to Hawaii.

Makomenaw Focuses on Resilience Building, Prevention in Student Mental Health

Angie Makomenaw

Angie Makomenaw is the mental health education and prevention coordinator at CAPS.

Angie Makomenaw, mental health education and prevention coordinator, joined Wesleyan’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in January 2020. She talks about her goals in this new position, the uniquely challenging circumstances affecting students’ mental health, and how CAPS is reaching and supporting students during the pandemic.

sleepYou are Wesleyan’s first mental health education and prevention coordinator. Please tell us about your role and what needs on campus you were hired to address.

This position was created out of an understanding of the importance of prevention in mental health. I am accountable for organizing initiatives for the Wes community in the areas of resilience building, holistic wellness, and suicide prevention. I am also responsible for program development, planning, and implementation, as well as assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of these programs.

Student mental health is always a need that Wesleyan takes seriously, but it seems the stakes are higher than ever this year. How would you describe the current climate and how it is affecting students?

​The combined impacts of the global pandemic, nationwide racist violence, and a contentious presidential election have resulted in unprecedented levels of anxiety and stress among students. This is why we are collaborating with our campus partners—WesWell, the Office of Support, Healing, Activism, and Prevention Education (SHAPE), and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL)—to provide virtual drop-in spaces. In recognition that our BIPOC students are being particularly affected by national and global events, we are offering two spaces per week specifically for these student communities so they can come together to provide and receive support. Only staff of color will facilitate these spaces. Two spaces per week are designated for student allies, and students attending these sessions will be able to receive support for themselves as well as talk more about how to be effective allies for BIPOC students. Two spaces per week will be offered as general drop-in sessions for all members of the Wesleyan community to come together. One of these sessions will involve structured mindfulness/mediation, and the other will be unstructured general support.

What is your advice for students—or anyone reading this—about coping with stress?

Stress is a natural reaction to an overwhelming situation. Just like taking care of our bodies by sleeping and eating well and exercising, it is important to take care of our minds. There are many ways this can be done: journaling, art, talking, taking recharging breaks. The CAPS team has put out videos with great advice on managing stress; see “Staying Well in the Midst of Social Distancing – Mental Health and Self-Care Routines with Dr. Visalli,” “Stress Management with Elena Cela,” and “Resilient Wellness with Dr. Kidkarndee, Tamanna Rahman, Sri Harathi, and Priya Senecal.”

Zimmeck Spearheads Launch of Important Online Privacy Tool

Sebastian Zimmeck,

Sebastian Zimmeck

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sebastian Zimmeck is leading a major initiative to help consumers gain greater control of their personal data online.

On Oct. 7, Zimmeck and his collaborator, Ashkan Soltani of Georgetown Law, as well as a group of partner organizations that includes The New York Times, The Washington Post, Mozilla, and the parent company behind WordPress.com and Tumblr, among others, announced the beta launch of the Global Privacy Control (GPC), a new effort to standardize consumer privacy online.

As Zimmeck explains it, privacy regulations introduced in recent years such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have given consumers more rights to limit the sale and sharing of their personal data than ever before. The CCPA regulations give California residents a legal right to opt out of the sale of their data, and requires businesses to respect their preferences through a signal from their web browser. Zimmeck applauds this progress, but says it “doesn’t amount to much if it is hard for people to take advantage of their new rights.” That’s because there had been little progress on developing standards that allow users to signal through their web browser that they wish to opt out of having their data sold or shared. An early standardization attempt, Do Not Track (DNT), suffered from a low rate of adoption due to its lack of enforceability. In practice, this means users generally need to manually opt out of each site or app they want to stop tracking their data—something most users don’t go through the trouble to do.

According to a WIRED article on the beta launch, “the CCPA includes a mechanism for solving the one-by-one problem. The regulations interpreting the law specify that businesses must respect a ‘global privacy control’ sent by a browser or device. The idea is that instead of having to change privacy settings every time you visit a new site or use a new app, you could set your preference once, on your phone or in a browser extension, and be done with it.”

The idea for the new global opt-out started with Zimmeck, who last spring began building an extension for the Chrome web browser with his students called OptMeowt. Initially, Zimmeck worked with Wesleyan computer science students Kuba Alicki ’22, David Baraka ‘21, and Rafael Goldstein ’21. As the effort gained momentum, Daniel Knopf ’22 and Abdallah Salia ’22 joined as well.

“My students are doing an excellent job,” Zimmeck says. “I am mostly taking on the role as an engineering manager and the students are really the ones implementing the various technologies. I think it is also nice that the students are exposed to how things are done in industry, and that they can acquire real-world software engineering skills.”

“As of today, users will be able to set a global browser opt-out in browsers including Mozilla, Brave, and DuckDuckGo, as well as the DuckDuckGo privacy extensions for Chrome,” the WIRED article further explains. “The code necessary for businesses to respond to the privacy control is publicly available. Publishers who have signed on, most notably The New York Times and The Washington Post, have agreed to honor the signal.”

“For California residents, the global privacy control, if enforced by the attorney general, would have a very different effect than existing privacy controls such as third-party cookie blockers. Those settings have no power over what a website or app does with the data it collects directly from you. The global control, by contrast, would issue a legally binding order that, if violated, would be punishable by major fines.”

Indeed, briefly after its release, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted that “[t]his proposed standard is a first step towards a meaningful global privacy control that will make it simple and easy for consumers to exercise their privacy rights online. #DataPrivacy is the future, and I am heartened to see a wave of innovation in this space.” As Zimmeck told WIRED, “The time is right to do this,” adding that the American public cares much more about privacy than during the earlier DNT effort, and now there is finally law on their side. “I think it’s really important to not just theoretically talk about how this could work,” he said, “but also to actually do it.”

Additional coverage of the beta launch can be read on TechCrunch.com, Neowin.net, and Decipher.

 

Discovery by Chernoff and Students Challenges a Tenet of Evolutionary Biology

Barry Chernoff and students in University of Michigan lab

Barry Chernoff and students in his Tropical Ecology course conducted research at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, where they discovered two new species of fish that challenged an expectation from evolutionary theory.

As organisms evolve over time, changes in size—both miniaturization and gigantism—are a major theme. In fish, which are the specialty of Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, Professor of Biology and of Earth & Environmental Sciences, miniaturization happens in many lineages, though it’s not very common. Evolutionary biology has long held that this miniaturization is often accompanied by developmental simplification or paedomorphisis (becoming sexually mature while appearing juvenile-like).

chernoffLast March, just before the pandemic began, Chernoff and students in his Tropical Ecology course (ENVS/Bio/E&ES 306) took a trip to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is home to one of the largest scientific collections of natural history objects, or specimens, and allows visitors to work with their collections. There, they discovered two new species of fish from the tropics—one from Honduras and one from Colombia. In these new species, the data demonstrated the opposite of expectations from evolutionary theory: that miniaturization occurred with developmental acceleration. That is, the miniatures achieve adult morphology in a shorter period of time by accelerating the transformation from juvenile morphologies to adult morphologies.

Roth ’78, Amherst President Issue Statement on DOE’s Investigation of Princeton

On Sept. 24, Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth ’78 and Amherst College President Biddy Martin issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation of Princeton University surrounding racism and adherence to federal non-discrimination law:

Across the nation, individuals, families, communities, businesses, corporations, and educational institutions are coming to grips with the country’s legacies of slavery and racial oppression,  which stretch back over four hundred years. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education announced that it will be investigating Princeton University for possible misrepresentations in its reports of adherence to federal non-discrimination law because its president publicly recognized that historic racism has been embedded in the institution over time.

It is outrageous that the Department of Education is using our country’s resources to investigate an institution that is committed to becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism.

As presidents of colleges and universities, we, too, acknowledge the ways that racism has affected and continues to affect the country’s institutions, including our own. We stand together in recognizing the work we still need to do if we are ever “to perfect the union,” and we urge the  Department of Education to abandon its ill-considered investigation of Princeton University.

Michael S. Roth ’78, President, Wesleyan University
Biddy Martin, President, Amherst College


Jeff Abernathy, Alma College
Barbara K. Altmann, Franklin & Marshall College
Carmen Twillie Ambar, Oberlin College
Teresa L. Amott, Knox College
David R. Anderson, St. Olaf College
Lawrence Bacow, Harvard University
Bradley W. Bateman, Randolph College
Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College
Scott Bierman, Beloit College
Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University
Leon Botstein, Bard College
Elizabeth H. Bradley, Vassar College
John Bravman, Bucknell University
Mark Burstein, Lawrence University
Alison Byerly, Lafayette College
Michael T. Cahill, Brooklyn Law School
Roger Casey, McDaniel College
Kimberly Cassidy, Bryn Mawr College
Shirley M. Collado, Ithaca College
Marc C. Conner, Skidmore College
Elizabeth Davis, Furman University
Sean M. Decatur, Kenyon College
Kent Devereaux, Goucher College
Harry J. Elam, Jr., Occidental College
Margee Ensign, Dickinson College
Damián J. Fernández, Eckerd College
Jacquelyn S. Fetrow, Albright College
William L Fox, St. Lawrence University
Michael L. Frandsen, Wittenberg University
Jorge G. Gonzalez, Kalamazoo College
Jonathan D. Green, Susquehanna University
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
Philip J. Hanlon, Dartmouth College
Kathleen Harring, Muhlenberg College
David Harris, Union College
Majorie Hass, Rhodes College
Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers University
Joyce Jacobsen, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Paula Johnson, Wellesley College
Rock Jones, Ohio Wesleyan University
Cristle Collins Judd, Sarah Lawrence College
Thomas Katsouleas, University of Connecticut
Water Kimbrough, Dillard University
Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College
John C. Knapp, Washington & Jefferson College
Frederick M. Lawrence, Phi Betta Kappa Society
Hilary L. Link, Allegheny College
Maud S. Mandel, Williams College
Biddy Martin, Amherst College
Michael C. Maxey, Roanoke College
Kathleen McCartney, Smith College
Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity Washington University
Anthony Monaco, Tufts University
Kathleen Murray, Whitman College
S. Georgia Nugent, Illinois Wesleyan University
Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College
Lynn Pasquerella, Association of American Colleges & Universities
Laurie L. Patton, Middlebury College
Martha E. Pollack, Cornell University
Vincent Price, Duke University
Wendy Raymond, Haverford College
Ravi S. Rajan, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
L. Rafael Reif, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Suzanne Rivera, Macalester College
Clayton Rose, Bowdoin College
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan University
Peter Salovey, Yale University
Ruth J. Simmons, Prairie View A&M University
Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College
Clayton Spencer, Bates College
G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona College
Sonya Stephens, Mount Holyoke College
Tania Tetlow, Loyola University New Orleans
Lara Tiedens, Scripps College
Stephen E. Thorsett, Willamette University
Laura Trombley, Southwestern University
Laura R. Walker, Bennington College
Jianping Wang, Mercer County Community College
Wim Wiewel, Lewis & Clark College
Edward Wingenbach, Hampshire College
David Wippman, Hamilton College

Gilmore Featured in Venus Documentary

Martha-Gilmore

Marty Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, is featured in a suite of films exploring the past and possible future of the planet Venus, often called Earth’s “sister” or “twin” planet.

Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, is prominently featured in a recently released suite of five documentary films about the history, science, exploration, and possible settlement of the planet Venus.

In the films, Gilmore, who is co-coordinator of planetary science at Wesleyan, along with other experts in a range of fields, help to illuminate and elucidate the fascinating history and possible future of the second planet from the sun, commonly known as Earth’s “sister planet.” The suite of films was produced by filmmaker and space exploration advocate Dave Brody P ’24. The main feature, “Venus: Death of a Planet,” the special feature, “Cloud Cities of Venus,” and the three short films of the “Exploring Venus Series,” can be viewed online through early September, and on the MagellanTV (broadly available through various streaming platforms).

In February, two spacecraft mission concepts co-developed by Gilmore to study Venus received second-round backing from NASA’s Discovery Program. Both concepts, which were awarded $3 million each, would assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by examining its landscape, rocks, and atmosphere.

Gonzalez Discusses How COVID-19 Has Changed College Admission

Amin Gonzalez

VP and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez ’96. (Photo by Adrienne Battistella)

In late June, Wesleyan was among more than 300 colleges and universities to issue a joint statement, “Care Counts in Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19,” organized by the Making Caring Common Project and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The movement underscores a commitment to equity and to encouraging students to balance self-care, meaningful learning, and care for others. We spoke to Wesleyan’s Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez ’96 about this shared commitment, as well as how admissions at Wesleyan has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has obviously affected just about every realm of everyday life. How has it impacted high school students and the college admission process?

The disruptions caused by the pandemic have significantly set back students who were on a traditional trajectory of exploring colleges. Junior year spring is typically a launching point for students to research and visit schools, but this spring most college campuses were closed to visitors. With regard to their high school experiences, not only were academics and extracurricular activities interrupted—you can imagine the impact on student-athletes and talented musicians who plan to pursue these passions in college—but students were largely cut off from peers and adults who help them grow and think through important questions about their future. We’re also finding that inequities amongst students are being exacerbated by the pandemic, and that’s only going to become more pronounced over time.

Ryan’s Courses Teach Effective Communication with Diverse Audiences

Sarah Ryan

Sarah Ryan

Sarah Ryan is Wesleyan’s first associate professor of the practice in oral communication. She is an interdisciplinary scholar and attorney whose research explores public deliberation, civic participation, and criminal justice reform. We spoke to her about her distinctive interdisciplinary background and why learning communication skills is important for students’ future success.

Your position, associate professor of the practice in oral communication, is a new one at Wesleyan. Can you please explain the genesis of this position, and what it adds to the Wesleyan curriculum?

Sarah Ryan: In 2017, Wesleyan received a Davis Educational Foundation grant to create a regional consortium on best practices in the teaching of oral communication skills. Discussions during that initial one-year planning grant led to the development of my position. I was hired in 2019 to teach undergraduate courses in oral communication and to serve as a resource to faculty and staff who want to teach debate, group discussion, interpersonal communication, public speaking, etc.

What did you teach this past year?

SR: This past year, I taught [courses titled] Diffusion of Innovation, Communicate for Good, and From Litigation to Restorative Justice. In Diffusion, students learned how to spread pro-social practices and technologies through planned communication. In Communicate for Good, students learned how to promote public good through storytelling, informational messaging, and persuasion. In From Litigation, students learned to negotiate for their own interests and collective gain.

You have quite an interesting background as an interdisciplinary scholar and attorney. Can you fill us in on your career path?

SR: As an undergrad at Capital University, I joined the debate team. My first topic was “more severe punishment for violent crime.” To win debates, we had to research policy, law, and ethics, and develop recommendations for change. I was hooked immediately. After graduation, I became an assistant debate coach and started graduate school at Ohio University. My master’s and doctoral work were on welfare policy and perceptions of women receiving government assistance.

One summer, I taught at a high school debate camp in Vermont and became close with my debaters. They urged me to come to their tournaments. They debated for the New York Urban Debate League (NYUDL). So, my college debaters and I started driving to New York City to NYUDL tournaments. Two years later, the NYUDL needed someone to run its after-school center. I landed the job, promised my PhD advisor that I would write a dissertation someday, and moved to the Bronx. During my time at the center, my students won the state championships and we traveled to Belarus on an international debate exchange. On the side, I wrote a public affairs curriculum for Baruch College.

Building an Antiracist Community

President Michael S. Roth and Vice President for Equity & Inclusion Alison Williams sent the following messages to the campus community on June 24, 2020:

To the Wesleyan community:

The virulent and deeply entrenched racism in American society is antithetical to the mission of Wesleyan University, and we pledge to redouble our efforts to combat that racism – on campus and beyond.

In thinking about how best to do this, we recently conducted a public conversation that included a panel of distinguished alumni with important experience in this area. The panel challenged the University to examine the barriers that prevent people of color on our campus from truly thriving and to think more critically about how we empower our students to become change agents – with respect to themselves as well as others. Many of us, especially if we belong to the cultural majority, have never had to think hard about race and are uncomfortable even talking about it, especially with people whose racial identities are different from our own. This can change. We can and must educate ourselves.

Human Resources (HR) is conducting interviews of departing faculty and staff to find out where we are falling short in creating an inclusive community. We are also interviewing African-American students to follow up on survey results that show that they feel less included as members of the Wesleyan community.

In order to create space for open and honest dialogue, the Office for Equity and Inclusion (OEI) and HR will be sponsoring workshops for supervisors on how to talk about race and racism.  Many on campus have already taken advantage of OEI resources to examine their own roles and positionality, and a number have explored their own implicit biases by taking the Implicit Bias Test.  Later this summer we will implement reading groups on antiracism for all who are interested.  The goal is to help participants understand how to combat racist behaviors – be they their own or those of colleagues.

Academic Affairs, in partnership with the OEI, is implementing new procedures for faculty searches to increase the diversity of both the applicant pool and finalists for positions – and to minimize bias in the vetting of candidates.  Departments, programs and offices across campus are working towards being more inclusive and antiracist; Cabinet members have already committed themselves to a process of self-reflection, study and action. Scores of STEM faculty, staff and students met recently to discuss the impact of race in their fields and how to better support one another in ways that are meaningful and sustaining. The Student-Athletes of Color Leadership Council has been in conversation with the coaches and administrators of the Athletic Department and has proposed a number of actions to make that department more inclusive. Students are planning several events including student forums in June and an action to support Black Lives Matter during the first week of classes in the fall.  Finally, the OEI will soon revitalize its Advisory board, offer intensive workshops to those who would like to become equity advocates, and launch a new web page with resources for those who want to do more to help Wesleyan become as inclusive as possible.

We have much work to do and the energy and will to do it. More announcements are forthcoming about further steps we’ll be taking to truly build, in the words of our mission statement, “a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”

Michael S. Roth
President

Alison Williams
Vice President for Equity & Inclusion/Title IX Officer