Fearlessly Working for Change

This past weekend I got to spend some time with two young alumni who are fearlessly working to change the world. Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner Odede ’09 were back on campus (Kennedy is a trustee), taking a brief break from their leadership of Shining Hope for Communities. The two founded this organization when they were undergraduates, beginning with a school for girls and then a women’s health clinic in Kibera, Kenya.

Kari and I had seen them on television a couple of weeks ago in a segment of the PBS documentary A Path Appears. The film, created by Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, documents the work of change agents in various parts of the world. We were particularly moved by footage of the women’s health clinic, named after Johanna Justin Jinich ’10, a Wesleyan student who was murdered almost six years ago. Johanna’s memory is not only kept alive —  her spirit of care and energy is reinforced every day in Shining Hope’s good work in Kibera.

Here is a brief clip from the organization:


Jessica and Kennedy were talking with Bob Patricelli ’61, P’88, P’90, who has been key to establishing the Center for Social Entrepreneurship named in his honor. Many Wesleyan students at the Patricelli Center are learning the skills they need to build sustainable organizations that will make a positive difference in the world. They will be joining a long tradition of Wesleyan students who turned their education toward “the good of the world.”

You can find A Path Appears on iTunes, and you can learn more about Shining Hope for Communities here and here.

Africa Innovation Summit- Fri Nov 7

Olayinka Lawal ’15 and Ibironke Otusile ’15 are spreading the word about a conference they are hosting on Friday on the extraordinary development of economy and society in Africa.

NOVEMBER 7, 2014


Image: via http://innovation.itu.int/


Wesleyan’s African Students Association will host the first Africa Innovation Summit on November 7, 2014. With co-sponsorship from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and other campus partners, this event will provide a platform for exposure and conversation about the growth of innovation on the African continent, and it will celebrate those who are paving a new path for progress in Africa.

Event details

Friday, November 7, 2014
2:30-8 p.m.
Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center
75 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown, CT

$5 Wesleyan Students
$10 General Admission
Space is limited and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Free tickets are available to those who volunteer to help staff the event. Contact Olayinka Lawal ’15 to inquire.

Thank you to our sponsors: African Students Association, Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, African Studies Cluster, Office of Academic Affairs, WesleyanWorldWednesdays, African American Studies Program, and the Center for African American Studies 


2:30 p.m. Check-in and Keynote
3 p.m. Panel #1
4 p.m. Panel #2
5 p.m. Panel #3
6 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m. Dessert Reception hosted by the African Students Association

This schedule is subject to change. More complete details will be posted prior to the event, and a final program will be available upon arrival.


Hirut M’cleod ’00, World Bank

Children & Youth panel
Steve Kallaugher ’73, Young Heroes
Gabrielle Fondiller ’07, Hatua Likoni
Marina King ’16, Shining Hope for Communities
Moderated by Alice Hadler, Associate Dean for International Student Affairs

Healthcare panel
Tiffany Aquino, Unite for Sight
Shadrack Frimpong, Healthy Africa
Chelsea Tweneboah ’15, Cape Coast Regional Hospital, Ghana
Moderated by Laura Ann Twagira, Assistant Professor of History

Business & Development panel
Jim Brenner ’79, Broad Cove Partners
Mikako Tai ’11, Africa America Institute
Oladoyin Oladapo ’14, JooMah
Moderated by Anthony Keats, Assistant Professor of Economics

With video greetings from
Kathlyn Patillo ’12, African Leadership Academy

Others to be announced. Bios and photos coming soon.


Olayinka Lawal ’15 and Ibironke Otusile ’15


Wesleyan Environmental Start-Up Needs Workers

You may have seen the very cool “wishing wells” designed to provide water at campus events so that we can eliminate bottled water from campus. One of the creators of the water wells, Wesleyan senior Brent Packer, recently sent me the following message:

Wishing Wells is a budding environmental start-up born from a Wesleyan design competition. We’re expanding quickly & are looking for ambitious students to join our team.

Plastic waste is a serious issue. There is currently 100 million tons of plastic disintegrating in our oceans causing tremendous harm to marine life. The energy used to create the annual American demand for plastic water bottles uses enough energy to fuel 1.3 million cars for 1 year.

Universities across North America are stepping up to the challenge to eliminate plastic water bottle waste. Many, including Wesleyan, have banned bottled water from campus; however, they still have trouble hydrating guests at large campus events such as Reunion & Commencement, football games, music festivals, etc. Their only options were to rent/ purchase a high cost hydration structure or to break their commitment by purchasing thousands of water bottles… until now.

Wishing Wells provide chilled, filtered water requiring nothing more than ice and a hose connection. From just a handful of Wesleyan events, these lost-cost structures have already saved over 10,500 water bottles. With backing from a Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship seed grant, we’re looking to spread this technology as effectively as possible. With ambitious plans to open-source publish our designs online, partner with Middletown manufacturers, and tour to neighboring Universities/ organizations, we need other students with the same entrepreneurial drive to make this happen.

Apply online @ wwells.org by November 1

Brent tells me that three “sleep-deprived seniors” have been getting the organization ready for the next level. They want to have impact far beyond Wesleyan, which will include: “open-source publishing our design plans online, partnering with a Middletown manufacturer to begin selling prefabricated Wishing Wells, and performing extensive outreach to other Universities/ organizations.”

Making the World More of a Home: Brighter Dawns, Minds and Shining Hope

The campus suddenly seems quiet in this period that is not yet summer but definitely post-semester. Faculty are busy grading, and many staff members are busily preparing for the Reunion and Commencement weekend to come. It’s a time of transition.

Many of our students have already started projects that have taken them far from the campus in Middletown. In no way can one say that these students have lived in a “bubble.” They have founded organizations that are already serving people around the world, and through the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we hope to be able to pass their expertise onto future generations of Wesleyan students.

Last week a group of students who started Brighter Dawns stopped by my office to talk about how their education will proceed once some of the founders have graduated. Brighter Dawns focuses on improving conditions for the very poor in Bangladesh. The organization’s website puts it this way: Our current goal is to make significant progress towards improving health and quality of life for residents of a slum in Ward 12 of Khalishpur, a city in Khulna, Bangladesh, by providing resources and education that spread effective sanitation, disease prevention, treatment during pregnancy and childcare, and other aspects of health in the community. Tasmiha Khan ’12 is the founder and Chief-Inspiration Officer of Brighter Dawns. Along with a stellar group of Wesleyan students, she has already begun to make a positive difference on a most serious issue.

Raghu Kiran Appasani ’12 has also been making an extraordinary contribution to addressing a serious issue through the Minds Foundation. Raghu and his team of Wesleyan students and professionals are dedicated to eliminating the stigma of mental illness in developing countries. They have a broad educational program to help communities understand the nature of mental illness, and they also facilitate access to treatment.

Kennedy Odede ’12 is the co-founder with Jessica Posner ’09 of Shining Hope for Communities, which has been building the Kibera School for Girls and the Johanna Justin Jinich Community Clinic in Kenya. Many Wesleyan students, faculty, staff and trustees have helped in this effort by working with the children outside of Nairobi or by raising funds for the organization here in the USA. There are many amazing stories that have come from the work of Shining Hope, but the Chair of the Parents Board, Baba Diana, puts it best: “The family that has an educated child…Their home has been built.”

Our students have been building their homes at Wesleyan for many years now, and in so doing they are also building shelters, schools, hospitals, and launch pads for thousands of people all around the world. Through their education, they are making the world more of a home for all of us.

Creativity and the Curriculum

For the last four years or so, we have been making a great effort to emphasize some of Wesleyan’s traditional strengths. For example, Wes students are known as having intense political concerns, and we have tried to find ways of making the curriculum more responsive to those interests. The Civic Engagement Certificate and many of the activities of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Center for Community Partnerships are helping our students find ways to make a difference in the public sphere. Provost Rob Rosenthal often speaks of the “engaged university,” and we are making progress in linking engagement with educational content.

Wesleyan students also are known for great creativity. Whether in Film Studies or Biology, the study of religion or the practice of artistic performance, Wesleyan students are innovative and productive. Nowhere is that more apparent than in musical performance. On Saturday night Jubilee was inspiring an audience in the Crowell Concert Hall, while in Memorial Chapel Aaron Peisner ’12 led a terrific chorus as part of his senior thesis work. Aaron had prepared choral music that spanned four centuries and several languages. The singers joined together in a labor of affection, intelligence and joy.

I’ve wanted to make sure that our curriculum is responsive to this energy from the student body. Last year I asked Charles Salas, Director of Strategic Initiatives, to think about how we should pursue the objective in Wesleyan 2020 of spurring creativity and innovation across the university.  He decided to focus on the disciplines represented in our curriculum.  The term “creativity,” of course, can be vague.  One department’s view can be quite different from another’s, so Charles met with a number of programs and asked them what creativity meant in their worlds and how they felt that they enhanced the creative capacities of their students. I hope many of you will read the full report, which gives a great sense of the discussions. Here’s the final paragraph, which gives a taste of what he found:

As for the discussions, I was struck by two things in particular.
(1) Regardless of how resistant faculty were to the subject of creativity in the beginning, it wasn’t long before that resistance dissipated. Faculty often remarked in the end that the discussions had been less predictable and more enjoyable than anticipated. It’s my estimation that faculty, in talking about their experiences in the classroom, found themselves in touch with their own passion for learning—itself a crucial if indirect contributor to student creativity. By modeling a passion for learning in the classroom, Wesleyan faculty spark the desire for such passion in their students—a desire that is necessary if students are to make use of the opportunity to develop their own creative capacities. And (2), many departments observed in passing that they viewed their seniors as more creative than their first and second-year students—observations indicative of the enhancement (purposeful or not) of student creativity across the curriculum.


Coming Home, Finding Family

The extended Wes family has gathered together this weekend, celebrating scholarship, athletics, teaching and all things Red and Black. The seminars were often full and always lively, and they brought together the great energy that characterizes the classes here. I ran into Orin Snyder  ’83, who had just come from a packed discussion, led by the Wesleyan Lawyers Association, of the changing legal network for social media. And Alberto Ibarguen ’66 P’97 HON’11 was equally enthused about his session celebrating 50 years of the Peace Corps. The history of the Peace Corps at Wesleyan spills naturally into our new PATRICELLI CENTER FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP. We cut the ribbon on the new Center on Saturday morning. Later in the day on Saturday I ran into some starry-eyed parents who were quite in awe of the presentation by Wes film faculty Jeanine Basinger, Scott Higgins and Steve Collins on “what makes movies great”! Jeanine was quoted extensively in this morning’s New York Times on Leonardo diCaprio (and a few days ago could be found in the Wall Street Journal). Our film folks are everywhere, but there’s nothing like seeing them on the home turf!

This weekend saw a grand celebration of the extraordinary work in experimental music by Alvin Lucier. Lucierfest brought out artists, musicians and writers who have been inspired by this pioneering composer and teacher. And speaking of things musical, I was delighted to catch Randy Newman’s benefit performance in the chapel on Friday night. We veered from ironic complicity to emotional commitment as he sampled his catalogue.

The efforts of our student athletes were so impressive this weekend, even if they left us saying, “wait ’til next year!” The cross country teams had very strong showings: the women were 6th of 40 teams  and the men were 9th of 44 teams. The women’s soccer team played well but fell to Amherst in the semi-finals of the NESCAC tournament. Our great goalie Jess Tollman ’15 kept the Lord Jeffs at bay for the first half, a fitting end to her strong first year. Our star forward Laura Kurash ’13 was named District Academic All American. This was our first time advancing this far in the tournament, and we are very proud of the women who battled all semester.

And speaking of a battle…our football team put up a mighty effort against the Purple Ephs in front of an enthusiastic homecoming crowd. We came very close to pulling off a great upset against Williams, thanks to a strong team effort. Matt Coyne passed for 192 yards, and star freshman running back LaDarius Drew ’15 was a workhorse despite the cast on his injured hand. Seniors Brett Bandazian and Jordan Greene had 10 tackles apiece, and our punter Jesse Warren ’15 had a world-class game. Coach Mike Whalen ’83 and the entire team are working together to build a great program. We are very proud of them!

All our athletes today are inspired by the great achievements of Wes students in the past. On Saturday night we inducted an all-star group into the Wesleyan Athletics Hall of Fame. When Moira James ’78, along with Dennis Robinson ’79 and the Athletics Advisory Council, came up with the idea of the hall of fame, I knew it would be a way of recognizing and reconnecting with our alumni greats. They also probably figured it would inspire contemporary success. And they were right!

I wish I were able to attend all the events, and it’s been a joy to welcome so many back to campus after a challenging week. Go Wes!


Late Afternoon A Cappella
Late Afternoon A Cappella

UPDATE: What a great thing to hear the many a cappella groups at the First Annual Stone A Capella Concert, celebrating Chip Stone ’49, p’79, P’82, GP ’11, GP ’15. A highlight for us was Chip and daughter Sarah Stone Maynard ’79 P ’11 singing a duet about the dangers of drugs to start things off.