Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Preserving the past

Amy Halpern Degen ’82 leads charge to save Jewish cemetery in Poland

Amy Halpern Degen ’82Amy Halpern Degen ’82 is a stalwart believer in preserving the past, and honoring the lives before us. She has taken up the cause of saving one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Bialystok, Poland, which is at risk of fading into obscurity.

“I want people to understand what is happening in Europe in terms of Jewish memory. This project has given me hope,” said Degen, who majored in sociology at Wheaton and currently serves as a Holocaust teacher at Congregation Shalom in Chelmsford, Mass.

Although Jews lived in Bialystok for more than 400 years, “there is no visible sign of a Jewish presence, except for a few memorials where Jews were killed during the Holocaust,” Degen said. When the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, they murdered the Jews in town, and then destroyed their cemeteries, even stealing gravestones to use as building materials.

In summer 2016, Degen and her husband, who is a landscape contractor and stonemason expert, traveled to Bialystok to help restore the Wschodnia Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery is the resting place of an estimated 30,000 Jews. In the 30-acre space, approximately 3,000 tombstones are visible and remain in various states of disarray.

With eight other volunteers, the couple was able to set the stones and apply special adhesive to put the broken stones back together. They removed the grass away from the stones to expose them, scraped off dirt and moss, and washed and painted the lettering on the stones, Degen said.  [Read more...]

Small world

Angela Heffernan Toussaint ’86 and  Xue Zelda Zhao ’18Wheaton graduates are everywhere. Xue Zelda Zhao ’18 has found that out firsthand on more than one occasion. In summer 2016, Zhao, a chemistry and economics major and French minor from Suzhou, China, was attending Middlebury College’s French School. Who does she run into on the first day? Angela Heffernan Toussaint ’86.

They quickly realized their Wheaton connection.

“While chatting, we also found out that we had the same French professors at Wheaton, professors Cecile Danehy and John Walsh,” Zhao said.

“Zelda was taking an intensive course in preparation for her junior year in Paris,” said Toussaint. “We met at a French School party. I was floored when she told me she attends Wheaton. In addition, she is studying in Paris with the Sweet Briar program, which I did 32 years ago.”

 Said Zhao: “We had so much common language that we became very close during this intensive language program where we communicated in French only. We had lunch and dinner together in the dining hall often and she helped me a lot in French. She always cheered me up. I guess this is the Wheaton love.”

Finding success in the federal sector

Margaret ‘Meg’ Offit Gold ’85 excels in government career

Margaret ‘Meg’ Offit Gold ’85While a student at Wheaton, Margaret “Meg” Offit Gold ’85 was tasked with serving as a tour guide for visiting scholar and Foreign Service officer Curtis Cutter.

The history major did not know it then, but their meeting would spark a chain of events that propelled Gold into a successful career in the federal government.

“While spending the day with [Curtis Cutter], he asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’ and I told him, thinking that it was a longshot, that I would like to have an internship with a United Nations agency,” Gold recalled.

Fortunately for her, Cutter got in touch with Gold about a six-month internship at the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, in Geneva. She seized the opportunity, and “in many ways, it changed my life,” she said.

Gold—now a senior program analyst at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—has worked both overseas and domestically for various federal agencies. Both during college and in the professional world, she steadfastly pursued opportunities to further her career.

“I, 100 percent, took advantage of my liberal arts degree at Wheaton,” Gold said, adding that while a student she participated in study abroad programs in Kenya, South Africa and England—and even played field hockey on the women’s team.  [Read more...]

Making the case for rhinos

Betsey Brewer Bethel ’92 says education is key to saving rhinos

Betsey Brewer Bethel ’92 and Professor of Psychology Kathleen Morgan at the International Zoo Educator’s 22nd Biennial Conference.

Betsey Brewer Bethel ’92 and Professor of Psychology Kathleen Morgan at the International Zoo Educator’s 22nd Biennial Conference.

Betsey Brewer Bethel ’92, the executive director of E.A.R.T.H.—a nonprofit at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, Mass.—hopes to clear up misconceptions that endanger one of the oldest-living mammals on the planet: the rhinoceros. In the Huffington Post article “Rhino Royalty: World Leaders Shedding Light on a Nearly Extinct Species,” she shared staggering facts on the declining population of rhinos—attributing this decrease to a thriving black market for rhino horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine and as decoration. “I’ve had visitors in our discovery center at the zoo suggest that rhino horn is necessary in traditional Asian medicine. Many people are unaware that rhino horn is simply keratin, or finely compressed hair,” she told the Quarterly. Her article in the Huffington Post is part of efforts to separate fact from fiction, with the hope of saving these animals from extinction. “Education and awareness is key to changing people’s views. We need contact with nature to care about all life on this planet. Without an intimate connection, education, awareness and caring, our planet will forever change.” For many years, Bethel has teamed up with Associate Professor of Psychology Kathleen Morgan, who places Wheaton students in positions on the applied behavior analysis research team in conjunction with Southwick’s Zoo’s nonprofit affiliate, E.A.R.T.H. Ltd. “We feel that offering the students this opportunity helps them in their studies, and assures that they have an opportunity to become part of a growing community of wildlife educators and environmental stewards. Our planet faces many critical issues and the students today are our future leaders. We need to equip them with as many opportunities as possible, and to educate them in the many facets and aspects of wildlife conservation,” Bethel said. (For more information on Bethel’s collaboration with Morgan, read the Panorama