CLASS OF 1997 | 2015 | ISSUE 3

Happy Holidays! After three years serving as your class secretary, I’ve figured out the most effective mechanism to hear from you…miss a cycle in the magazine. With our section left blank ’97ers, you have so much more to say the next go around (smile)!

Lucria Ortiz, Esq., joined the West Side Y in August as their senior director managing their development and communications team. It is a great career move for my friend who loves a good cause and reason to serve others. From the looks of Facebook, she, husband Chris Ebanks ’96, and their two kids are living life to the fullest and having fun along the way.

Brion Winston writes that he and wife Melanie Schoen are doing well. He is an interventional cardiologist and Melanie is a nurse in Albany. Together they raise organic grass-fed beef at their family farm with their two kids. You can learn more at

Charlotte E. Scott, Esq., checks in from Ukiah, Calif., where she is enjoying her law practice in Mendocino County and raising her children on a beautiful piece of property in the mountains about 45 minutes from town. Her daughter Violet just began kindergarten and Zara Rose is a feisty toddler. She sees Adriana Dakin ’96 on a daily basis, as their daughters are best friends at the same Waldorf elementary school.

In June, Trevor Griffey and Allison Perlman married during a civil ceremony and will host a formal ceremony in Seattle in 2016. Allison is an assistant professor of U.S. History at UC Irvine, and Trevor is a lecturer in U.S. History at CSU Long Beach. They reside in Long Beach, Calif.

Leah Ayanna Brown Johnson is proud to announce that after 12 years of building an organization in Harlem and then establishing and expanding it in Newark, N.Y., she has set her sights on her entrepreneurial endeavors. Be Equipped LLC is her for-profit entity focusing on coaching, training, and development. Ayanna is also working on her third book and you can check out her site:

Dr. Josh Arthurs, associate professor of History at West Virginia University has been awarded the 2015–16 Mellon Foundation Rome Prize in Modern Italian Studies. He, Malayna Bernstein, and their two boys are spending the year at the American Academy in Rome. He says, “It’s a big change from our regular lives as professors at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va.!”

Sadia Shepard shared, “I’m happy to be back at Wesleyan as a visiting assistant professor in film studies. My husband, Andreas Burgess ’01, and I continue to live between New York City and South Dartmouth, Mass., with our 3-year-old daughter, Noor Jehan.”

It was great to hear from Nikki Greene, who continues to enjoy her position as an assistant professor of art history at Wellesley, in what she describes as “passionately (read: ’frantically’) finishing my book manuscript.” Summer 2015 she ran into fellow Wesleyan alum Leigh Raiford ’94 while both presented at the Black Portraitures II Conference in Florence, Italy.

The managing director at the Long Wharf Theatre, Joshua Borenstein did notice that we didn’t have anything in the last issue! He’s married to Kate Hagmann ’98, and they have two beautiful girls who are 9 and 2. Settling in Connecticut, this past summer they visited Martha’s Vineyard, where they caught up with Sacha Shapiro Emerson, who has become an “islander.”

Excited to hear about other ’97ers, Andrew Frishman provided a quick update. He, wife Leigh Needleman ’96, 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter are living in Cambridge, Mass., often seeing Christian Housh and Laura Warren ’98. Laura’s son is in the same school with his daughter and they are neighbors, just a few blocks away from each other. Professionally, Andrew is the co-executive director of Big Picture Learning (, traveling to spread the word about “the need for a fundamental re-design/re-imagination of school, the education system and the importance of adopting more student-centered approaches.”

Ben Helphand is proud to announce that after 13 years of working for the conversion of an unused freight rail viaduct in Chicago, this summer they opened The 606 (, a multi-use trail and its centerpiece, the Bloomingdale Trail. The nearly $100M project features a three-mile-long elevated trail linking six access parks and weaving together four neighborhoods. The late Wesleyan trustee emeritus John Baird ’38 was one of the early leaders on the Bloomingdale Trail/606. Ben also dedicated Chicago’s first community-created and -managed nature play garden, The Jardincito, highlighting features borrowed from the natural world—boulders, play huts, a pebble pool and balancing logs. He, wife Dawn, and daughter, Selah spent the summer in Berlin, meeting up with Ben Rubloff ’98, his partner, Jennie, and new daughter, Juno, “eating kebabs in the city’s endless playgrounds.”

Semeka Smith-Williams wrote in to share that she is the lower-school diversity coordinator and kindergarten teacher at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn where she received the excellence in teaching award in the spring. The award acknowledges and celebrates the professional achievements of a master teacher who demonstrates consistent excellence through his or her ability to inspire and educate Packer students. “It was wonderful sharing this special moment with my family”—husband Sharif Williams ’95 and two daughters. Semeka also connected with Wes alums Nicole RodriguezRachel Rodriguez, and Jeneen Garcia at a Border Crossers event supporting Benny Vasquez in his efforts to bring social justice and equity work into schools and other institutions around NYC.

Aileen Nagle McDonough continues to run a communications company, 3am Writers. She and Michelle Driscoll went to Wes for the 2014 Shasha Conference on The Novel. This fall, Aileen also spoke at WordCamp Rhode Island and was chosen to be a “Speed Mentor” at the 2015 CWE Women Business Leaders Conference. Two of Aileen’s essays were published in Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England.

Jessica Shea Lehmann headed to New York to see Hamilton and hang out with Sasha Lewis Reisen. She teaches nutrition communications at Arizona State University, manages menu consulting with clients, and does some writing related to nutrition and food. She and husband Greg celebrated their 12th anniversary in November, and their boys—Oliver, Felix, and Adrian—are 9, 6, and 3 respectively. Jess writes that she missed the “reunion of Kappa Alpha Theta in August in Boston because Amy GorinSaskia Herz MowerJoanne MaxwellJulie PhilipsKalyna Procyk, and Lauren Porosoff were there.” But she is already making plans to come to our 20th Reunion in May 2017.

Matthew Way wants us to know his first feature film, The Genital Warriors, will be released in more than 100 countries and 19 languages “on the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, December 8th.” The movie will be available in the US on iTunes, Amazon, Google and Sony, as well as on BluRay and DVD. The ensemble film pieces together the three main characters’ fragmentary pasts, allowing their different perspectives and memories to meet and overlap.

The protagonists’ hero, John Lennon, comes back to life. Matthew says, “I wrote, directed and produced this film alone, an indie/underground/arthouse production, costing approximately $200K. It’d be great if you would take a moment to watch our trailer (” Matthew majored in molecular biology and biochemistry while also taking film and fiction/screenplay writing courses. After a year in Venezuela, he received a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to Hamburg, Germany, where he lived for 12 years while shooting the movie. Matthew is now mainly based in Berlin, Germany.

Cheers to 2016!

Kimberly King |