Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Newsmaker: Jill Strandson Cote ’01 collaborates to help students, teachers

“In my opinion, an excellent school is one that embraces the community in which it lives,” says Jill Strandson Cote ’01, who is a part of just such a community. She is a math specialist for grades one through three at the Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, R.I., among the state’s most densely populated and poorest communities. “I was drawn to the school’s commitment to teaching and challenging all students and including all families. Many people feel that poverty is a barrier to education, meaning that if you are poor, we should have a lower expectation for what you can achieve. At the Learning Community, we believe that attending a school that has high standards isn’t a privilege; it is a civil right.” A psychology and elementary education major while at Wheaton, Cote provides extra instructional services to students who need more support to perform at the national benchmark for their grade level, and works with teachers to help them set professional goals around improving reading instruction. She also plays an important role in the school’s collaboration with the local public school district. The Learning Community serves the same demographic population as the district public school system, but accepts students by lottery. In the true spirit of community, the charter school’s partnership provides coaches who share their instructional techniques with public school teachers. “In school systems, particularly larger urban systems, teacher voice and teacher leadership can get lost. …We need to equip them with the latest instructional strategies and create systems that will support the classroom teacher when students fall behind,” Cote says. This highly successful effort has drawn attention from the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as from NBC Nightly News, where Cote was featured in an interview conducted by correspondent Chelsea Clinton in the “Making a Difference” segment. The segment focused on the fact that charter school and public school teachers are working together in the best interests of children.

Newsmaker: Andre Obin’s noteworthy career in music

Electronic composer André Obin ’01 says, “My music is completely intertwined with my life experience. I’m constantly driven to create. It’s not so much something that I want to do as something that I need to do.” In keeping with his artistic vision, his electronic dance tracks are far from typical. A recent article in the Boston Globe described his style as “a hypnotic kaleidoscope of synth-noodling and hazy aesthetics.” Obin himself describes his tunes as bittersweet and authentic, saying that his work is always “from the heart.” His love of music began in his teen years, when he took up the bass guitar. His passion for music and his talent have led him to become an internationally recognized producer of dance singles and remixes, and a vocalist and guitarist for the rock band Endless Wave. The artist recently won in the category of Best Electronic Artist in the 2011 Boston Phoenix Music Poll and was nominated for the same category at the Boston Music Awards. Obin, who graduated from Wheaton with a degree in electro-acoustic composition, notes that his experience abroad was a major influence in his musical vision. “My interest in electronic music grew exponentially while I was studying abroad at Oxford during my junior year, because England was teeming with quality electronic music at the time. Always seeking to learn more, in recent years Obin has taken voice lessons at New England Conservatory and contributes vocals to many productions.

Newsmaker: Parker Tichko ’10 studies brain’s response to music

As a musician and composer, Parker Tichko ’10 believes in the power of sound. He works as lab manager at the Auditory Cognition and Development Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where music is always on the brain. Under the lab’s principal investigator Dr. Erin Hannon, Tichko manages research experiments that study the links between music and language, learning and perception, and works primarily with infants: “We observe how infants respond to specific sound patterns such as speech or music, and how such behavior is modified as a result of listening to cultural-specific music and languages. We also study how children from ages 4 to 12 perceive different types of meter in a variety of music, and whether short-term exposure to complex meters can influence their performance on certain listening tasks. We are also currently studying adults who speak tonal languages to understand how they perceive pitch information in both music and language domains.” His double major in music and psychology led to his interest in the role music plays in cognitive development: “The psychology of music has a rich history,” he says. “I’ve always been consumed by music, but I was pleased to discover a salient connection between my two interests, psychology and music, while at Wheaton.” Tichko’s experience at Wheaton prepared him well for a position in research, where his responsibilities include designing and running experiments, recruiting participants, and hiring and supervising research assistants. Guidance from Professor Rolf Nelson, the course “Lab in Cognition” with Professor Jason Reiss, and a senior seminar in music with Professor Guy Urban were instrumental in his path toward a career in psychological research, he notes. In addition to his work at the lab, Tichko also writes about music theory, cognition,  and popular and classical music on his personal blog: parkertichko.wordpress.com/.

Grillo’s jewelry makes a statement

Aria Grillo ’05“I knew I loved jewelry making and charity work, but I never thought I would create a career joining the two. It takes experience—and some bumps in the road—to get to that ‘aha!’ moment,” says Aria B. Grillo ’05. For her, that moment occurred when friends and coworkers started to request her custom-made jewelry. She decided to combine her creativity and her generous nature by creating her own company, Ciao Aria, which specializes in what she likes to call “gemerosity.” Ten percent of each purchase made is donated to a charity chosen by the customer. Her unique flair and charitable cause recently caught the attention of Marie Claire magazine, which spotlighted Ciao Aria bracelets in its December issue. Her bracelets were also voted one of the best 100 gifts of 2011 by popsugar.com. By day, Grillo, who graduated from Wheaton with a major in psychology and a minor in studio art, works at the NYU Langone Medical Center in the office of development and corporate fundraising, specializing in pediatrics, oncology and child life. Nights and weekends, she is busy beading and dreaming up new designs from her New York City apartment. Charity work is important to Grillo. In addition to donating profits from Ciao Aria, she also volunteers as a board member for Tuesday’s Children, a charity supporting children who have lost a parent to 9/11. Starting a small business was a challenge. As an artist, she found that “the hardest part was realizing I really needed to create a brand for myself, market the brand, and promote it. It can be very hard at first to promote a product when the product is really personal for you, or the product is you.” But Grillo has found the adventure to be deeply rewarding, saying, “Yes, it is possible to really do what you love to do as a career. It took me some time to figure out what I truly wanted to do, but if you have a passion, pursue it. We need more art and creativity in the world.” She says she is grateful for her Wheaton friends and professors, mentors whom she still calls for advice. To Wheaton students interested in selling their own fashions, she advises, “Wear what you make! I was approached by one of the editors at Marie Claire because she saw my bracelets and loved them.”


To see her jewelry and list of charities, visit ciaoaria.com.