The Senior Thesis Exhibitions have begun! I just came back from the Zilkha Gallery where I was so impressed by the intensity, humor and high level of skill evident in all the work on display. Congratulations to Allison Kalt, Ilyana Schwartz, Anna Shimshak, Tiffany Unno and Christina You.
It’s the season for senior thesis writers to be burning the midnight oil. In a couple of weeks these projects will be handed in to advisors and multiple readers, and then it will be the faculty burning the oil as we carefully read through the arguments, stories, proofs, and poems on which students have been working for the last several months.
Many students preparing recitals, plays and exhibitions have already had to complete their work so that it can be scheduled for performance and display. Yesterday I checked out the student senior exhibitions in the Zilkha Gallery, and boy was I impressed! My first impression was of Sienna Perro’s subtle yet disturbing photographs of funeral homes. Her sober approach to the material only heightened the emotional power of the work. I had a chance to chat with Kuan-lin Huang about his wonderful installation. Kuan-lin used sculpture, sound and projected images to call to mind the tension between individuality and submergence in the group. I didn’t meet the other artists, but I was mightily impressed by the architectural installation (Gil Sunshine), the magically realist painting of family correspondences (Elizabeth Chabot), and the minimalist cartography installation (Johnny Tan). I think the work will be up for a short part of Sunday afternoon (April 1). The next wave of senior exhibitions opens on Tuesday.
My afternoon on Saturday was enriched by a marvelous concert that was part of Sam Long’s senior thesis in music and environmental studies. Sam’s band, The Honey and the Sting, played original music composed in response to the Connecticut River Valley.
The music was gorgeous, and the lyrics were smart, funny and evocative. Jess Best 12, Mel Hsu ’13, Howe Pearson ’12 and Gemma Smith ’12 gave heartfelt and compelling performances. Although I know the band members had originally wanted to perform outside (with bike-generator powered amplification), the vibe in the Chapel was just right.
Some mighty vibes these days in Memorial Chapel. Last week’s Think Big lectures featuring an all-star faculty line-up was exciting, provocative and fun. Joshua Levine ’12 and his comrades Hannah Vogel ’13, Jack Hoskins ’12, Max Nussenbaum ’12 and Maxwell Hellmann ’13 did a fabulous job organizing the event.
Don’t they look like they are thinking BIG? Pictured here are Leah Wright, Rich Adelstein, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Matt Kurtz, Jeanine Basinger and John Finn. In their 9 minute talks, the profs talked about what engages them most as researchers and teachers. I had a great time moderating the event. There will be more pics and videos posted soon.
Taiko drumming seems to be happening at various places on campus this weekend. And last night I also got to hear a staggering performance by Dylan Griffin ’12 of Schubert’s Impromptus and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Listening to Dylan play, I was so happy to be at a university at which student performance is so seriously accomplished and so highly valued!
In my last blog I wrote about several senior thesis projects on which Wes students have been working. Here are some others:
In art history, Erika Siegel is writing a history of Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscaping plan for the Capitol grounds in Washington, a plan much influenced by the Civil War. Anne deBoer‘s thesis combines her majors in art history and environmental studies. It is on the use of water technology in recent major works of Sir Norman Foster, with an emphasis on how Foster’s architectural designs deal with questions of sustainability.
The CSS seniors have, as is often the case, an eclectic crop of senior projects. A couple of years ago I read Chan-young Yang’s excellent CSS thesis on Francis Fukuyama’s understanding of civilization and history, and now Nick Quah is examining Fukuyama on the idea of a transhuman future. While Nick is pointed toward the future, Han Hsien Liew is doing a thesis (with history) on medieval Islamic political thought. Kathlyn Pattillo is writing on the role of the South African teachers’ union in educational reform, while Charmaine Chen is studying blogging and political change in China. And I was surprised to find a CSSer writing a film, but that’s what Mac Schneider is doing. His screenplay is about the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver.
In history, Rachel Tretter is working on Judeo-Christian ascetic traditions and fasting in early modern Europe. BJ Lillis is writing on native American identity in New England, while Aaron Forbath is working on settlers on the Plains. Moving much closer to the present, Jisan Zaman‘s thesis looks at contradictions in US foreign policy during the Bangladesh War, focusing on the relation of the State Dept and the White House/NSC.
And here are three English department theses that could easily fall under the rubric of history or American studies – with two looking at recent Wesleyan history. Harry Bartle is working on the connection between Ralph Ellison and Lewis Mumford and their comparable reactions to the transformation of New York City in the 1940s. Bridget Read is using the archive of Wesleyan Professor Fred Millett, who taught here from 1937-1958, to examine larger trends in American history and questions about what it means to tell a true story about the past. Caroline Fox is writing on Race and Student Radicalism: Wesleyan, 1989-1990. Her essay is based on numerous interviews and archival research, and it is sure to produce a fresh understanding of that turbulent time.
In economics, Gil Skilman reports that there is a “bumper crop” of a dozen honors theses writers this year. More than anybody in the department can remember! Here are just two from that stellar group: Ali Chaudhry is doing an econometric analysis of something that governments often don’t willingly reveal: whether they are following a fixed or freely floating or managed floating exchange rate policy. Zachary Nguyen is studying the financial economics puzzle of why mergers and acquisitions leading to greater corporate diversification persist despite the fact that such diversification typically leads to lower stock values.
Of course, I’ve only mentioned a smattering of the projects being done as capstones this year. There are dozens more students preparing performances, working in labs, writing poems, stories and plays and many are helping each other out. In film, for example, most seniors are part of a crew on at least one film other than their own, and collaboration is a feature of much of the best work we see each year. I am hopeful that team capstones will be featured more prominently in future years.
A few nights ago, walking Mathilde around the Center for the Arts, I stumbled across some students taking a break. Sculptors, painters, printmakers and photographers are already working late into the night to prepare for their senior shows. And faculty artists, too, are burning the midnight oil. David Schorr has a show opening at the Davison Gallery in February, a show that will then open at Mary Ryan Gallery in Chelsea. Kari and I ran into David last night at the opening of Tula Telfair’s amazing painting exhibition, Out of Sight: Imaginary Landscapes at Forum Gallery in New York. We saw many colleagues at the gallery, and several students were there to celebrate the work of a great teacher and extraordinary artist!
In early January each year, many students (and more than a few parents) start wondering about the length of the Wesleyan winter break. The holidays are over, and yet the semester won’t start for another few weeks. Although the campus is quiet (and just now, very cold), there are students in the library, the gym and the science labs already hard at work. The winter sports teams have been playing and practicing as they get ready for intense conference competition, and science research continues regardless of whether classes are in session.
And then there is that special class of students busily working on their senior theses and essays. Though most of these won’t be due until April, the winter break is a crucial time to make significant progress on challenging research topics. I’ve asked around for some examples of theses and essays in various sectors of the curriculum, and here is a sampling. I’ll be adding more later in the week.
In Theater, Sarah Wolfe is working on a thesis project entitled “The Role of Women in the War Play: Euripides The Trojan Women.” In her essay, Sarah explores how adaptations of The Trojan Women have been used as anti-war plays in America, and she did her own adaptation with the play Lift Your Head, which was staged in December. Emily Steck examines “the world’s oldest profession” by focusing on female transgression and agency through the lens of the whore in the performances of Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes, Mae West, and Annie Sprinkle.
In Literature, Laura Bliss is writing about Wallace Stevens’s late poems, especially those collected in Transport to Summer. Laura combines creative non-fiction with more traditional literary critical analysis to explore the way Stevens treats the idea and experience of summer. This sounds particularly good right now! Brianna van Kan is writing a thesis about the underground culture of jazz in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s. She will bring together all three of her majors (Russian, COL and Music) for this project. Christopher Wade is doing a poetry thesis that involves translation, literary analysis, and poetry writing, focusing on two major Russian poets. Matthew Alexander is translating Lost Modern Love, a postmodern play by Lord Schadt that he will also direct in a spring production.
In Music, Alan Rodi has written (that’s right, it’s finished) an opera about Mao Tse Tung. The characters are Mao, his wife, and a peasant couple who are trying to be good revolutionaries. Sean Curtice is composing a piano concerto in the style of Mozart, and writing a paper about the Mozart piano concerti. Lana Lana is writing a big paper on Amir Pasaribu, the first modern composer of Indonesia, in the sense of writing a distinctive music that combines European techniques and instruments with Indonesian techniques and instruments.
In philosophy Sid Issar is writing a comparative study of Spinoza and Bhagavad Gita. In Science in Society, Kelsey Vela is doing an empirical study of the ways that experimental psychologists report on the race of their subjects. Erin Kelly is using case studies to examine the evolution of federal drug regulations in mid-twentieth century America and the influence of these regulations on contemporary medicine. Chris Russell is examining the standards of justification applied to the evidential uses of forensic technologies in criminal and civil trials. Charlie Hanna is examining the introduction and reception of the most recent class of sleep medications, given FDA approval in 2001. He is charting the FDA approval process, the subsequent experimental and empirical reports on the medication, patients’ responses and media coverage.
As I said, this is just a sampling of some of the impressive work our students are doing for their capstone projects. I’ll be adding more examples that the Deans collected later in the week.
The last week has been a whirlwind of opportunities to see some of the best of student work at Wesleyan. I’ve enjoyed seeing the senior theses art exhibitions as they’ve gone up in the Zilkha Gallery (and there’s a greatest hits version now), and it is fun to see the work of this term’s drawing and painting students in their work spaces. Tula Telfair’s students will have work on display today, and the photography exhibition of work collected for Wesleyan by the late Puffin D’Oench continues in Davison Gallery through Commencement. The Davison collection is one of the jewels of our Center for the Arts, and we recently hosted the Friends of the Davison for a reception at the President’s House. The group raises money to acquire new works of art, and they have really helped keep the collection an important resource for the university. You can check out their blog.
I strolled over to Russell House last week to listen to the writing prize winners read from their work. It was a revelation, and I was deeply moved by the stories, essays and poems I heard. The pride and affection of the writing faculty for their students was so clear, as was the support of our ever-growing community of writing students!
There has been lots of film, music and dance across the campus over the last several days, and Kari, Sophie and I were fortunate to witness much of it. From Rent to African drumming and dance, from a cappella groups to Mark Slobin’s Yiddish theater production, I’ve been hearing and seeing some stunning performances.
Tomorrow our finals begin, and I think I’ll be hearing a lot of tapping on computer keyboards as students write and faculty grade exams and essays. Good luck to all!
As I tossed Mathilde the tennis ball yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the spray of crocuses that were pushing through the soil in the backyard. It still seemed freezing to this California-spoiled guy, but spring was beginning to show itself. It’s been a hard winter, but our campus promises to be in bloom very soon.
I strolled over to the Zilkha Gallery to check out the group show of studio art senior theses. Each week now there will be a new group of artists showing their work. Drew Broderick, Robert Eastman, Alyssa Hutton, Cameron Rowland, and Elizabeth Sonenberg provided me with plenty to think about, and marvel and smile at. I was impressed by the delicate drawing, adventurous three dimensional installations and strong political perspective. Photographs by COL senior Alana Perino are on display in the Zelnick Pavillion, and they succeed in giving a strong sense of place that is both strange and familiar.
On Saturday night I’d popped over to Crowell to hear the senior thesis recital of Daniel Henry, an extraordinarily talented trumpet player. In addition to his own vibrant, funky compositions, Daniel’s 9-piece ensemble played music in tribute to the great Lee Morgan. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire concert, but what I heard was stirring. The ensemble was cruising along, and the audience was clearly in for a great ride.
Seniors finishing their theses are hunkering down for the final stretch, and those folks won’t be seen much on campus for the next couple of weeks. But those presenting their final projects in theater, music, dance and studio art will be out in force. Check ‘em out, and cheer them on!
Yesterday felt like the first warm spring day since students returned from Spring Break, and it was great to see Andrus Field and Foss Hill fill up in the late afternoon. I’d begun the day with a visit to our pilot program at the Cheshire State Correctional Institution. VP Sonia Manjon and I visited Melanye Price’s class in political science, and I was struck by the seriousness with which the men were approaching complex issues in American political culture. Russell Perkins ’09, who helped get this program underway and continues to coordinate it, met us at the prison. It was important to see first-hand some of the issues that arise in a program that teaches liberal arts classes in correctional institutions.
For the last year or so Provost Joe Bruno and I have sponsored talks by faculty for their colleagues across the campus. The faculty lunch lecture yesterday was delivered with panache by Stewart Novick, one of our star professors of chemistry. Stew’s subject was astrochemistry, and he did a masterful job of explaining the “rich chemistry” of dense interspatial dust clouds — even to someone as chemistry-challenged as I! I was especially impressed by the interdisciplinary importance of the work for astronomy, physics and cosmology. The collaboration on this sophisticated research by undergraduate and graduate students was yet another sign of how our science programs are dedicated to the scholar-teacher model at the highest level.
Busy weekend on the horizon at Wesleyan. The senior theses art exhibitions at Zilkha gallery are always worth checking out. This week Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li have their recent work on display.
Baseball hosts Middlebury today and Saturday afternoon, and the softball team is at home against Hamilton. Men’s lacrosse is at home against the always strong Tufts team. Come out and support the Cardinals!
I have been traveling for Wesleyan a lot recently, and it’s always good to return home to campus. During mid March, though, the place is startlingly quiet. Many of the administrators take some vacation time before the final big push to Commencement, and faculty are busy grading papers or exams and trying to make progress on research projects. Looking out my office window toward Foss Hill, I see the physical plant staff (led by Dave Hall) getting the field ready for the baseball team, but otherwise there is little visible activity.
But many students have been extremely busy during the March break. Let’s start with the athletes. Baseball is off to a great start, winning its first eight games against an impressive variety of opponents. Julian Sonnenfeld ’11 has been hitting up a storm, as has Talia Bernstein ’11 on the softball team. Softball also won its first eight games! The tennis teams are also starting off strong, with Genevieve Aniello ’13 for the women and Michael Piderit ’12 for the men having fine early seasons. The lacrosse teams have been hard at work, with Teddy Citrin ’12 for the men and Jess Chukwu ’11 and Erin McCarthy ’10 for the women playing like scoring machines. Crew is rowing back in CT after a very successful southern swing.
My athletic activities are just to keep the pounds off, and in the gym yesterday I ran into Greg Hurd ’10, who just finished a great wrestling career at Wesleyan. But no rest for the weary, as he’s now hard at work on his senior thesis in Earth and Environmental Science. Greg has spent a considerable amount of time doing fieldwork in the Southwest and is now writing up the results. There are many thesis writers on campus making the final push. Art projects will be going up soon, and I especially look forward to seeing Gregory James’s ’10 installation. Rebecca Krisel ’10 is writing on counter-insurgency, while Emma Van Susteren ’10 is focusing on the slow food movement. Kalen Flynn ’10 is writing about holocaust historiography and its effect on how we think about the representation of the past more generally. These are just a few of the theses that young scholars, artists, writers and scientists are busy bringing to completion. No spring break for them!
Not all senior projects take the form of theses. Some are writing stories, essays, or engaged in community service projects. Sam Hart is majoring in Chemistry and Molecular Biology, but he decided to do an art project that brings together his scientific and aesthetic interests. In addition to building the piece, he has written a computer program that will bring his sculpture to life through moving color field patterns. Check it out in the Zilkha Gallery in mid April.
Good work is its own reward, but sometimes there’s more. Wes senior Liana Woskie has just won a Watson Fellowship ($25,000!) in support of her project entitled “Bringing Primary Healthcare Home: The Community Health Worker, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Tanzania, Lesotho. In the words of Cleveland Johnson, Director of the Watson Fellowship Program, “Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals.” No surprise to me that a Wes student is one of this year’s winners!
Congratulations to Liana and to all Wes students who are giving their all!