A Yale startup has raised 75 percent of its $1 million target in the seed round of funding which began in February.
Founded by Ellen Su ’13 and Levi Deluke ’14, the medical technology startup Wellinks features a smart strap for scoliosis back braces called “Cinch.” The product is linked to a smartphone application via bluetooth, which allows users, their guardians and doctors to track data on how long the brace has been worn.
The device integrates monitoring and reward systems that aim to incentivize frequent use and dispel the social stigma of wearing a brace. The app also provides a platform for interpatient communication in hopes of fostering support systems among scoliosis patients.
The team is testing the product and preparing for its market launch slated for spring 2017.
“Not only have [Su and Deluke] been strategic in utilizing the resources and connections through Yale, but they have also worked diligently on developing their venture by traveling to conferences, consulting with doctors and interviewing patients and parents to develop the best device,” Yale Entrepreneurship Institute Communications Officer Brita Belli said.
The co-founders first conceived of the idea for Wellinks during a 2013 summer fellowship program held by the Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design. They developed the design into a business proposition through the YEI Fellowship the following summer.
According to Su, although the pair did not initially know what specific product they were going to create, they wanted to focus their research at the CEID on adolescent scoliosis, which can manifest during puberty and, if untreated, will lead to adult scoliosis.
Deluke, who had scoliosis as an adolescent, said he wore a brace for more than three years and underwent two surgeries. Research studies have shown that effective bracing could reduce the number of surgeries needed, he added.
Deluke said a major challenge for Wellinks are the high costs incurred through hardware manufacturing.
“Mistakes take longer to correct,” Deluke said. “Compared to a software company, if we make a mistake, it could cost a lot of money and many months of redoing things.”
YEI Director Jim Boyle described the startup duo as two of YEI’s and CEID’s strongest “undergraduate alumni” and ambassadors for innovation.
Michael Vitale, professor of pediatric orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, joined Wellinks as Chief Medical Officer earlier this year. Vitale said his role is to ensure the clinical applicability of the product and connect the co-founders with relevant resources in the field.
Vitale said there is great evidence that compliance and brace fit, data that Wellinks allows users to monitor, correlate with the success of the brace in stopping progression of the scoliosis. He added that using a brace decreases the chance of surgical treatment.
“There is a real need for this type of functionality, and the device promises to revolutionize bracing not only for scoliosis but also in many others areas such as sports injury or trauma,” Vitale said.
Vitale said interest in Wellinks Cinch has already “spread virally,” and that demand for such “smart braces” will skyrocket.
Deluke described support from YEI as the largest factor in the pair’s decision to transform the idea into a company.
“There is a big difference between creating a device to fulfill a technical goal and what it takes to turn that into a business,” Deluke said. “[YEI] helped us fill the gap through fundraising and finding the right mentors in their network that links teams with people in different fields.”
According to Belli, YEI’s other startups have also been faring well in their development. Chops Snacks, a Yale startup that develops all-natural beef jerky, received $25,000 after being admitted to the inaugural Chobani food incubator program run by the New York-based yogurt company. This June, Ancera, a Yale biotechnology startup focused on detecting food contaminants, raised $8.9 million in its first significant round of financing.
With the recent news about the University’s budget surplus, students all over campus are thinking about how we could put that money back into the University in order to best serve students and set the college in good financial shape for next year. You saw a few of our ideas in last week’s Doubletruck (http://yaledailynews.com/weekend/2014/11/07/what-would-you-do-with-51-million/) but alas, none of them passed President Salovey’s desk. But WKND’s mother always said: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Without further ado, here are the next best six ideas:
1: A Second Harkness Tower Made Entirely out of Legos
The going price for 100 2×4 Lego bricks is about $20. That means we can buy 255 million bricks. The tower is 266 feet tall and about 40 feet wide. That’s 7,112 bricks high and 383 bricks wide in length, 766 bricks wide in width. If it’s a pure column (we know what we’re talking about), that’d take over 2 billion bricks, which is over “budget,” so let’s say that we can eliminate three-fourths of the bricks by making it hollow and tapering it at the top, while still having enough to be structurally sound. And saving room for another set of absurdly loud bells.
2: Wenzels for Everyone!
Let’s say every Yale University student wants one Wenzel delivered each day at 1:00 a.m. until we run out of money. For each of our 12,223 undergrad and postgrad students, that’s 568 days straight of salty, spicy goodness.
3: The Longest, Lil Wayne-est, Expensivest Spring Fling Ever
Lil Wayne charges about $300k for, let’s say, a three-hour show. That’s $100k per hour. That means that, pending labor laws, we can hire him to perform 16-hour days from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at $1.6 million a day. We can do this for a solid month for $49.6 million. The other $1.4 million can be used for setting up the stage ($20k) and footing the bill for his cocaine habit ($1.38 million).
4: Beat Harvard at the Other Game
No matter how The Game turns out, we’ll still have a trick up our sleeve. Come February 1, our friends in Cambridge may change the channel when we buy six minutes and 22 seconds of ad time during the Super Bowl to promote the Yale Dramat’s new, avant-garde production on the depravity, the decline and the fall of Harvard.
5: A Whole Lot of Excellent Sheep
Farmer’s Weekly estimates the price of a heavy sheep at $156.36. That means we can buy 326,170 sheep, or roughly three sheep per New Haven resident. Deresiewicz would be proud.
6: Fiscally Responsible Reinvestment and Improvements
You might not know it, but a whole generation of startups is taking root at Yale. They’re developing apps for Android, the Google smartphone operating system, and have plans to meet with venture capitalists early next semester. With any luck, one of them will develop into the Next Big Thing, and Yale will finally have the tech-genius billionaire alumnus it’s been waiting for.
But before they get any funding, these fledgling companies will all get something else: a grade.
This is all taking place within Professor Daniel Abadi’s reimagined “Introduction to Programming” class, CPSC 112. After teaching it for years using only Java, Abadi has redesigned the syllabus around a group app development project meant to simulate launching a tech startup. He’s also worked with School of Management Professor Kyle Jensen to create an entirely new course, CPSC 113: “Programming and Entrepreneurship,” to be offered in the spring as an extension of CPSC 112. And while “Introduction to Programming” will retain its focus on computer science basics, its revamped curriculum and the addition of CPSC 113 have one goal.
“The purpose of the course is to better enable our students to go off and create the next Facebook,” says Jensen.
Student interest in practical computer knowledge and startup culture has existed at Yale for years, as shown by organizations like HackYale and Y-Hack. But Yale’s Computer Science department has long been known for focusing on theory rather than application. The entrepreneurial-minded revamp of CPSC 112 and the invention of CPSC 113 are a response to that demand. The question remains, though: Can a liberal arts education teach you to get rich quick?
The narrative surrounding computer science at Yale has been of a department wary of classes focused on entrepreneurship rather than academics. The department’s consistent refusal to accept course credit for HackYale, a student organization teaching programming basics and web design, has only contributed to that.
According to Alex Reinking ’16, who has taught for HackYale in the past, “The Computer Science Department has been reluctant to expand into things that aren’t computer science explicitly.”
Abadi agrees that some faculty were skeptical of moving away from pure fundamentals, but he specifies that the new course isn’t the result of a power shift within the department. Instead, he says there was simply no one willing to teach it.
Until Abadi came along, that is. As a Ph.D. student at MIT, Abadi worked part time on tech startups VoltDB and Vertica, the latter of which Hewlett-Packard bought for $350 million in 2011. At Yale, he founded Hadapt, a database-management startup that Teradata bought this July. Abadi says he doesn’t think anyone else in Yale’s computer science department has founded startups on a similar scale.
Though he had taught more theoretically based classes including CPSC 112 for several years, this summer, he decided to bring his startup experience into the class. Having gotten tenure last spring, he felt ready to try something more adventurous. After selling Hadapt in July, he took his proposal for the new CPSC 112-113 program to department chair Joan Feigenbaum and to James Aspnes, the DUS. Both liked the idea — “there wasn’t any kind of battle or anything,” Abadi says — and the administration approved the new course design in only two days. Abadi took the quick turnaround as a sign of enthusiasm from Woodbridge Hall, as did Feigenbaum.
“In general, the administration has been very eager for shaking things up a bit in computer science,” she says. “This, they see as a very good example of shaking things up, and I do too.”
According to Feigenbaum, Yale’s Computer Science Department is in the midst of a sea change, one that’s also being felt around the Ivies and the country.
Soaring enrollment in Yale’s Computer Science courses is well documented; Feigenbaum says her department is the “biggest of the small majors,” and its enrollment numbers could begin to rival those of academic mainstays like English or Econ during her tenure as chair.
Less obvious is the change not just in the numbers but the nature of Yale’s computer science students. Feigenbaum says that while the traditional CS major had learned to program before arriving at Yale and planned to continue doing so, the department now has to grapple with widely varying skill levels, backgrounds and intentions among its students.
“We have been, traditionally, a very narrow and deep major,” but now, she says, “We may want to broaden.” One possibility would be separate tracks for career computer scientists — what Feigenbaum calls the “geekus maximus” track — and those who want to learn computer science but do something else as a career.
Abadi’s course is the first step towards a broader focus, as the department adjusts to new demographics and new sources of interest. Abadi points out that the department’s last three hires, including himself, have all been “more on the applied side of things.” He attributes this to a deliberate strategy, and Aspnes agrees, saying that the new faculty addressed Yale’s traditional weakness in applied teaching rather than fundamentals.
As novel as the recent surge in interest might appear, computer science has been here before. It happened in the 1980s, when personal computers were still a novelty, and then again in the late 1990s during the dot-com boom. Yale students’ interest in the discipline has tracked those trends: Enrollment in “Intro to Programming” fell from 143 in the spring 2000 to 67 in spring 2002, after the dot-com bubble popped .
Feigenbaum thinks that this time, the increase in interest will be more sustained: Computers are a bigger part of everyday life than ever before. But the pitch for this new course isn’t technological literacy — it’s marketability. Computer Science has always presented a clearer career path than other majors — “We are educating people who are prepared to be professional computer scientists,” Feigenbaum says — and with the job market slow but the tech industry booming, students are looking to the discipline to learn marketable skills.
But professors and students alike are adamant that the immediate applicability of computer science, and specifically of hands-on classes like CPSC 112, isn’t at odds with a traditional liberal arts education.
“There has long been at Harvard, and I presume at Yale as well, this assumption that a liberal arts education is by definition not practical,” says David Malan, who teaches Harvard’s famous CS50 course, a hands-on introduction to computer science and programming. But he doesn’t think that’s necessarily true.
Feigenbaum agrees, questioning the notion that practical knowledge and lofty theory are even distinct from each other. Knowledge with real-world implications, she says, can be intellectually engaging.
Rafi Khan ’15, HackYale’s co-director, adds that computer science fits that description because “it’s exposing you to a new way of thinking, and expanding your mind in that way.”
Malan is careful to specify that his course isn’t just about practicality, though. Because while practicality itself isn’t at odds with the liberal arts, a course prioritizing technical skills over theoretical understanding might be. So while CS50 aims to teach students concrete skills, it also aims at understanding, according to Malan.
“The reality,” he says, “is that you can use a tool without knowing how it works.”
But that’s not why you go to Yale or Harvard. And while practical computer science classes teach real-world skills, teaching students how to monetize those skills is something else entirely. Those involved with the course acknowledge the potential tension.
“The real question is not, ‘Is there something wrong with acquiring knowledge that has practical value?’” says Feigenbaum. “The real potential controversy here is that we’re deliberately describing the course in terms of startup companies and venture capital and pitching a business plan.” One could ask, she says, “Why would you say any of that in an undergraduate course?”
For one thing, Feigenbaum says, that’s what students want to hear. Tech startups features prominently on social media and in popular culture, and with CPSC 112, she hopes the department can tap into that.
Aspnes says he didn’t consider the role of money in the course when approving it, while Jensen, the professor for 113, says he doesn’t worry that the business aspect of the class will conflict with academic values.
“The ventures people work on will embody their values,” he says, adding that a liberal arts education can actually be a competitive advantage for startups facing competition from tech-first schools like MIT.
Abadi says he will make sure to say “fake money” and “fake stock” when discussing that part of the syllabus. Even so, “It may be a little stressful for some of the students; the social pressure may get intense. I don’t know what’s going to happen — obviously, it’s an experiment. If bad things happen, we can change the rules on the fly if need be.”
But entrepreneurial spirit is part of the classes’ new identities, try as Abadi might to model a benign version of the business world.
Marc Bielas ’18, for one, says he wouldn’t have taken the class if not for the new angle. The business potential of learning computer science has always intrigued him, he says. But, he continues, “I’ve never had the technical skills to create any of the applications I had thought of.”
Bielas says he likes the focus on turning ideas into profit. Undergrads will be in the workforce soon, he explains, and exposure to the business world can’t hurt. Like its designers, he sees CPSC 112 as a step towards Zuckerberg-like billionaire tech dropouts — something he thinks Yale lacks.
And despite her own reservations and others’, Feigenbaum is at peace with the focus on money and business.
“Whether there’s something inherently wrong with thinking about pitching or selling or the economic and business aspect of it, in an undergraduate course — I don’t think so,” she says, pointing out that Yale alumni in tech and other fields often go on to start businesses. But, she qualifies, “I guess the danger might be that some kids actually think there’s a good chance that they can go directly from writing one app to having a successful business. That might be a bit unrealistic.”
That thought, however, is part of what’s driving Yalies’ new enthusiasm for computer science. While the new 112 course will still focus on fundamentals despite its new structure, some students want immediate results.
Those sorts of students make up much of HackYale’s enrollment, and Khan acknowledges that HackYale’s courses “skip over” some fundamentals in order to get students’ ideas online as fast as possible. The group’s founders didn’t plan to launch students towards multi-million dollar IPOs, but some nonetheless see the program as the first step along the way.
“Oftentimes people come to us with startup ideas that they’re not able to implement themselves,” says Reinking. “That’s a really common reason.”
And according to Khan, that ordering of priorities contributed to the department’s initial hesitation to implement a more practical, HackYale-type course. Bay Gross ’13, HackYale’s founder, said in an email that while the department was receptive to the idea, he added that they were “perhaps overly cautious” in embracing what they thought might be a trend lacking in educational value and rigor. And even if the addition of a class like Abadi’s is a step towards a more practical education, Feigenbaum says the department will never teach students how to use computers without understanding how they work.
“The particular languages, they come and go,” says Abadi. “But the fundamentals, they’ve been around for 30, 40 years, and they’re not going anywhere.”
If all anyone did was think about commercializing their inventions, says Feigenbaum, no one would be able to invent anything. “I hope they understand,” she adds, “that they’re not going to get rich quick without putting in work.”
The Thiel Fellowship application opens with a challenge: “tell us how you would like to change the world.” The wording may sound bombastic, but the Thiel Foundation is not playing games. $100,000, and the chance to devote two years to an independent project, is at stake. Applicants must write two sentences to answer each of the following: what do you want to accomplish in the next 10 years? Two years? Three months? The punch-line: in order to apply, they must not have reached their 20th birthdays. Some students arrive straight out of high school, while others put their college studies on hold. In most cases, the winners board a plane to San Francisco and quickly immerse themselves in its culture of entrepreneurship.
When the Thiel Fellowship began in 2010, founder Peter Thiel caused a stir for his denunciation of the traditional educational system. “So many students are not getting the jobs they need to repay their debts, are moving back in with their parents, and the contract both signed up for is being revealed as false,” he told The American Interest magazine. Best known as the cofounder of PayPal and Facebook’s first investor, Thiel is a self-made billionaire who has started more companies than most people would dare to dream of. Though he followed a standard high-power educational path, with two degrees from Stanford University, the mounting college debt phenomenon and the lack of innovation outside the computer technology industry prompted him to advocate for an alternative model.
Yale has seen four students drop out to become Thiel Fellows. Selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants, all were part of the initial 2011 class of fellows. Their work demonstrates the possibilities of the alternative career path the fellowship promotes: Daniel Friedman started an online school for web development, Paul Gu designed an online platform for investing in people, Darren Zhu created a software to help diagnose cancer and David Luan ’13 has worked on improving robots’ understanding of their environments. All of them saw their Thiel funding run out this past summer. And while Luan reenrolled at Yale and graduated last spring, it does not look like the other fellows will be returning to college any time soon.
THE DECISION TO DROP
Those who press “submit” on the application are a self-selecting group. As any of the Yale fellows will tell you, independence and an inexhaustible drive are virtual prerequisites. For Gu, who learned of the fellowship through an online article, applying meant reconsidering the Wall Street finance job he had been on track to do for years. “I knew I wanted to try becoming an entrepreneur. This was the least risky way to do that,” he said. He realized the $100,000 would give him the chance to kick around ideas, and to make mistakes without the fear of ending up broke.
Gu’s computer programmer parents were not thrilled by his choice, but in many ways it was a calculated one: in Gu’s words, the start-up world offers a “level of success that’s unreachable in any other industry” — both financially and in terms of visible impact on the world. Indeed, after the high-profile success of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, what Gu termed the “post-Facebook generation” is increasingly populated by people who envision themselves changing the world while lounging around Silicon Valley.
It was on a plane from New York to Silicon Valley that Thiel and his coworkers first developed the idea to start a fellowship to encourage scientific and technological innovation. Looking around the San Francisco Bay Area, it was clear that people could rise to the top of the tech world without college degrees. With national college debt totaling over a trillion dollars (more than national credit card debt, according to Thiel Foundation President Jonathan Cain) the value of higher education is now up for discussion. “We wanted to reach promising young people before they become so locked into one particular path in their education or in their career,” Cain said. “Some ideas exist within a moment of time, and if you don’t act on them at the right moment, you may lose that opportunity.”
For some students, project proposals may not be fully formed, but the drive to see what they can create is enough of a motivator. Zhu, who was on track to study chemistry or molecular biology, wanted to break away from a structured academic environment in order to explore how scientific advancements can translate into real technologies. He already had extensive laboratory research experience, so “it was a good time for me to jump out and see the other side,” he said.
Breaking away from Yale was by no means a small decision, but Zhu, Gu and Friedman — the three Yale fellows interviewed — were ready by the time decisions came in. On the Friday they received the calls, Zhu was on the balcony of Harkness Tower, having just completed his weekly carillon ring. Gu and Friedman were both in the “Zoo,” Yale’s computer science lab. Gu wrote in an email, “We pretty much jumped into the air to chest-bump and promptly dropped our phones with the Thiel Foundation still on the line.”
THE ROUGH START
Though the entire pool of Thiel winners includes one entrepreneur who formed a company at 12 and a techie who worked at MIT labs at 13, most fellows arrive with a less clear sense of the professional world. Some floundering is inevitable. As Gu recalled: “I spent the first six months drifting from idea to idea.” Though the Thiel Foundation provides fellows with an extensive network of mentors — who advise them on everything from intellectual property to employee recruitment — the program is largely hands-off. “Most types of challenges that I dealt with up to that point of my life had been a challenge within the confines of a very specific system,” Gu noted. In the start-up world, the rules were less clear.
While Gu acknowledged that he had not been prepared to become a working professional, he said two more years of theoretical training in university would have made no a difference. “One thing that’s really valuable in a liberal arts setting is learning to think critically…but you can also learn that on the job,” said Zhu, who spent the beginning of his first fellowship year working on a robotics project with Luan. He explained that a job forces you to always ask: what is the best way to achieve a given task?
Sometimes, however, students are lacking in more technical abilities. Friedman spent a few months at a venture capitalist firm in New York before shifting to a product development studio in order to “slow down and spend a bit of time building skills,” he said. He taught himself how to code on the job, and it’s the pressures of a work environment that pushed him to do so. In practice, he said, you learn through time constraints: “a deadline, a real person evaluating your work.”
Looming over their heads was the possibility of failure — with a $100,000 safety net. According to Gu, eliminating the financial risk allowed them to undertake endeavors they might never have otherwise.
OFF THE GROUND
Zhu used Craigslist to find the cheap, four-bedroom house he and seven other Thiel Fellows shared during their first year in California. While celebrating move-in day with a game of midnight street soccer, they befriended the men parked outside: Steve Jobs’s security guards. In fact, they discovered that the Apple tycoon lived down the block, and Google co-founder Larry Page was just around the corner.
But Zhu is quick to stress that the start-up life is not all movies chalk it up to be. It is “highly volatile and incredibly uncertain,” he said in an e-mail. When the pharmaceutical industry began to cut funding for research and development, the lack of capital made Zhu’s original robotics project untenable. Instead, he turned to research on microorganisms, with the goal of improving diagnostic methods. The switch involved nothing short of building his own lab with an additional grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He had to be resourceful, finding an industrial workspace and picking up resources from liquidated companies. But as he ran into additional roadblocks, he shifted his focus to software. Progress has been fast: he has already developed a tool to detect malignant cancer cells in tissue sample.
Friedman and Gu have both caught on to the Thiel tenet that human capital is important. After meeting his co-founder, Darrell Silver, Friedman joked they spent a few months “dating,” figuring out whether they had similar goals and compatible skill sets. The website they eventually created, Thinkful, was inspired by his own experience learning to code. Paying customers can sign up for web development classes, through which they are guided by a personal mentor.
Thinkful transitioned from a little-known start-up to a full-fledged online education program in little more than a day. A month after it opened its virtual doors to a handful of new students, Friedman and Silver read that Citibank was laying off over 10,000 people. Within four hours, the team offered a free class to former Citi employees, and an hour later news of the opportunity was at the top of the Hacker News web page. TechCrunch, a prominent news source, published an article about it at midnight that same day. “Darrell and I were still at the office when the TechCrunch story ran, watching our real-time analytics as more people signed up than had been on our site in history,” Friedman wrote in an e-mail.
He is surprised by how quickly the online education system became a success. “A year ago, we were two guys in a room with no students,” Friedman said. Now, his company has a 60-person mentor team and has serviced over 500 people. Thinkful became the first Thiel Fellow company in which Thiel would invest.
Friedman is not the only one who has seen large sums rolling in. To date, Gu’s company, Upstart, has garnered $7.8 million in venture capital, with the help of Thiel’s company and others. Investors pledge financial support to people based on their online profiles, and in return they receive a percentage of each person’s future income. Like the Thiel Fellowship, the system allows people to take risks without accumulating crippling debt. So far, a little over 100 people have raised over two million dollars through his program. Gu himself ended up with $25,000 after creating a profile in which a smiling photo of him seated in front of a garage door is accompanied by the statement, “I’m looking to build products that make clever use of numbers to improve the world.” Though his main resume points are impressive, his profile’s tone is casual. He describes his tumultuous early childhood after moving from China, and notes in the quick facts section that “a side-goal of mine is to publish an essay on moral philosophy.” Behind it all is another calculation: in Gu’s book, exchanging a small percent of his future income for cash today is just good economics.
THE EDUCATION MODEL
Though college degrees still factor into success, as well-demonstrated by their inclusion in Gu’s projected-income calculator, Cain suggests that learning models are going to look very different just ten years down the road. Though the Thiel Fellowship only helps a handful of people each year, that has translated into the creation of over 50 companies and — after much publicity — started a conversation about the pitfalls of traditional career paths. Both Cain and the fellows admitted that the fellowships are not for everyone, but there’s a glamour that comes from entering the start-up world, especially if you’re under 20 years old. The appeal is multiplied by the young office vibe that Paul captured when he said that work and play no longer exist in distinct spaces; his coworkers are his roommates, so they occasionally play beer pong in the office and often discuss business at home. While the fellows’ former classmates were deciding a major, they were analyzing real-world data sets.
Apprenticeships have been around for centuries, but they are now being adapted to the digital age — in ways that are beneficial for young people. In the start-up world, “there’s not a lot of pre-set hierarchy or as much existing bias. It’s much more meritocratic, in that people can prove how much value they can add,” Gu said.
Though Friedman suggested that Yale, and other elite institutions, would always be safe, it is hard to say whether the university will support an increasingly outdated model of education. Alena Gribskov, the program director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, pointed out that there is an important place for entrepreneurship on campus. The increasingly popular academic-year Venture Creation Program and summer fellowships allow students who do not have $100,000 to test out their ideas before taking the risk of working on them full-time.
For Cain, the Thiel Foundation’s work is ultimately not about institutions of learning, but about the students they aim to help. “Blindly doing what society tells you works even more poorly than it did before,” he said. “It’s important to think clearly and rigorously about what you want in life.”
Correction: Oct. 21
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that participants in the company Upstart have raised over 200 million dollars. In fact, they have raised approximately two million dollars.
“When does time disappear for you? What does this tell you about your passions, your values?”
— Yale Grants & Fellowships, “Getting Started”
Dear Fellowship Committee,
This summer, I hope to hitchhike across the country, carrying with me only a pocket toothbrush, a bathing suit and a Glock .40 caliber gun. I chose this project for a number of personal and academic reasons.
I have chosen to wear only a bathing suit for eight weeks because my senior thesis is on the growth and development of the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) in the Arctic. Through the course of my research, I have learned what bowhead whales eat, how they reproduce and how they build homes in freezing water. But I have never had the opportunity to actually feel like a bowhead whale. By wearing a bathing suit, I hope to simulate the experience of being a creature of the seas. Though I will be on land, this will increase my understanding of my thesis subject and allow me to do better work in the fall.
The choice to carry a .40 caliber gun was not an easy one. I am PASSIONATE about gun control. I recently started an anti-gun lobbying group, which has yet to meet because I have a number of other extracurricular commitments, but I plan to start sending emails about it next week. I have never, ever held a gun. At first, I was deeply against the idea. But when I thought about it more critically, I couldn’t pinpoint why. I decided that before I made an argument for or against guns, I needed to actually EXPERIENCE carrying a gun. How will I feel, and how will others react? Because I am also an aspiring artist, I will regularly blog (with photos) about what people say and do in response to my gun.
I want to bring a toothbrush, because even as I immerse myself in this project — even as I travel with strangers and tuck a gun into the bottom of my bathing suit — I don’t want to forget who I am at my core. The toothbrush will remind me of my home in the suburbs of New York City. By using the same toothbrush under such radically different circumstances, I hope to examine my own privilege.
Finally, hitchhiking. At Yale, I have a Zipcar membership. Every time I swipe the plastic card against the front window of the communal car, I wonder to myself: Who are the other drivers who have Zipcar memberships? Where do they keep their cards? Can they find parking? By hitchhiking across the country, I hope to get a sense of the community of drivers in America. Where are we driving, as a nation? What is our speed? Will we arrive on time?
I am requesting $9,478 from the fellowship committee.
Harvard University’s endowment fell to $30.7 billion in the latest fiscal year after experiencing a 0.05 percent loss in investments.
The slight decline of the largest endowment in higher education is a substantial reversal from fiscal year 2011, when the school reported a 21.4 percent return on investments. Equities in emerging markets were hit particularly hard in the fiscal year that ended June 30, suffering a 17.43 percent decline, according to Reuters.
“The markets during the last year continued to be choppy and highly sensitive to unresolved macroeconomic headwinds,” Jane Mendillo, president and CEO of Harvard Management Company, said in a Wednesday statement.
Harvard is not the first Ivy League school to post a significantly weaker endowment return for fiscal year 2012. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania reported a 1.6 return on investments, and Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman said in a Sep. 13 interview with Bloomberg she expects the school to post a return of zero to 5 percent.
The slight gain, which brought the value of Penn’s endowment to $6.8 billion as of June 30, is significantly weaker than the 18.6 percent return the school saw in fiscal year 2011. Penn Chief Investment Officer Kristin Gilbertson said alternative assets such as private equity and real estate helped support the endowment in a year when international equities performed poorly, according to Reuters.
Penn’s figure is indicative of the weaker performances endowments across higher education are likely to register in the latest fiscal period than than they did last year. In a Sept. 13 interview with Bloomberg, Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman said the school will report a zero to 5 percent return on investments for fiscal year 2012.
Harvard and Yale, neither of which have released their own figures, have the largest endowments in higher education, valued at $32 billion and $19.4 billion respectively as of June 30, 2011.
CORRECTION: Sept. 22, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the University of Pennsylvania’s return on its endowment for fiscal year 2012. It was 1.6 percent, not 1.9 percent.
The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved New Haven’s $486.4 million budget in a 40-minute special meeting Tuesday night.
The budget — the product of almost three months of public hearings and negotiations between Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration and the labor-backed majority on the Board — was largely unchanged from DeStefano’s original proposal in March. Under the new city budget, the mill rate will decrease from 43.9 to 38.88, which officials said will reduce taxes for 70 percent of city residents.
“This is a responsible budget that advance our core priorities as a city while lowering taxes for the majority of New Haven residents,” DeStefano said in a statement after the vote. “This budget respects the financial challenges New Haven taxpayers continue to face, while at the same time advancing the four core missions of this City and my Administration.”
Aldermen maintained parts of the budget supported by DeStefano, including an increase in the number of police officers to 467, the elimination of 119 Board of Education positions, the construction and renovation at Helene Grant School and the New Haven Academy. But not everything stayed: a new police communications position, sought after by New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman, a property revaluation in 2014 and parking fees at Lighthouse Point Park were all cut from the budget. In addition, aldermen tacked on a schools study championed by Ward 5 Alderman and Board President Jorge Perez.
John Mazzuto ’70 — the former CEO of automotive chemical company Industrial Enterprises of America, Inc. and a Yale donor — was sentenced to between 1.5 and 4.5 years in prison Tuesday.
The former CEO was part of a $60 million stock fraud scheme, a portion of which was used to make a $1.7 million donation to the Yale baseball program in 2007. According to the Associated Press, Mazzuto entered a secret guilty plea in January 2011 to cooperate with authorities and testify against IEAM’s financial chief, James Margulies. Marguiles was sentenced to seven to 21 years.
“I committed a crime,” Mazzuto said. “It affected everybody around me. Family, friends, colleagues, all that’s been destroyed, and that’s hard.”
Per a January 2011 agreement with IEAM, Yale paid Mazzuto’s former company a $1 million settlement.
Next time they’re in New Haven, certain economists might consider stopping by Stephen Roach’s “Next China” class.
Roach, the former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said at a conference in Shanghai last week that speculation that the Chinese economy will enter a hard landing are “vastly overblown,” according to a report from Bloomberg. China has been controlling inflation well, Roach says — its banking system will not collapse, and its property bubble will not burst.
Roach pinpointed the increasing dependence on fixed-asset investment and the decline in private consumption as potential obstacles to economic growth, according to Bloomberg. Adding job opportunities and boosting wages would also stimulate consumption, and the economy.
“It seems that the $1.5 billion figure was a bit of a pipe-dream — offer lots of stuff, and see what people want to cherry-pick,” Primack wrote.
As of last fall, it appeared Yale did not have a similar plan to sell private equity holdings on the secondary market. Financial experts said selling previously established commitments can force an institution to accept poor prices and harm its relationships with fund managers.
The Yale Investments Office aims to allocate 34 percent of its endowment to private equity this fiscal year, while the Harvard Management Company’s policy portfolio includes a target allocation of 12 percent for private equity.
Nigel Hurst, senior vice president of human resources for HEI, told the News in November that a Yale representative informed him the University’s decision was motivated by “purely portfolio reasons.” Similarly, Golden said Princeton’s decision was “based purely on business reasons.”
“It would be absolutely wrong to infer that [the Princeton University Investment Company] had concluded that HEI was out of compliance with regulations or industry standards,” Golden said.
HEI first came under fire in fall 2008 when students at universities across the country decried its alleged mistreatment of workers and interference in workers’ efforts to unionize. Brown University decided to halt future investments in HEI on the recommendation of its investments responsibility committee in February 2010. The University of Pennsylvania, which only invested in the company’s first fund, announced in March 2010 it had no plans for future investments with HEI.