Our Favorite Stories and Videos of 2023

Tufts Now staff look back over the year and share their personal highlights

At the end of the year, we ask the Tufts Now team to pick the favorite pieces they wrote or produced—and what those pieces meant to them. Read on and learn more.

Algorithms Have Put the AI in Painting. But Is It Art?

Back when public access to artificial intelligence was new and scary, rather than commonplace and scary, I had the chance to do a roundtable discussion with four faculty members from SMFA at Tufts about what AI might mean for the world of art. They all thought that AI would mean big economic challenges for some kinds of artists—particularly illustrators. But they also compared this new technology to past inventions that many people warned would destroy art, such as the camera. Will we look back in 50 years and wonder what all the handwringing was about?

Almost as fun as hearing from these thoughtful, open-minded artists was having the excuse to play with an AI art generator to illustrate the story. Because these generators are trained on troves of existing artworks, they are pretty good at creating new works in the style of well-known artists. I asked Midjourney to imagine Jumbo the Elephant as he would have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Vermeer, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol. Turns out that Jumbo makes a good muse. The AI’s take on Vermeer was my favorite—just what I would have expected if the baroque artist had been able to fit a pachyderm in his Delft studio.

But the outtakes from these AI paintings were both hilarious and bizarre, like a three-armed Mona Lisa. What was the AI thinking? Was it thinking?

By now, many people have now had the chance try out chatbots for creating art, making memes, or writing work emails. As Cristobal Cea, one of the SMFA faculty, put it when he asked a generator to do its version of his artworks, “I like mine better.” —Julie Flaherty

At Tufts Dental, She Stood Alone

Tufts Dental College Class of 1942 on the steps of 416 Huntington Ave. Esther Kaplan Colchamiro is first row center.

The Tufts Dental College Class of 1942, with Esther Kaplan Colchamiro standing in the center of the front row. Photo: Tufts Archival Research Center

I was happy to have the opportunity to discover the life and career of 104-year-old alumna Esther Kaplan Colchamiro, the only woman in the School of Dental Medicine’s class of 1942. At a time when few women pursued dentistry—and few dental schools would accept them—Colchamiro, a tiny, enormously self-assured young woman from the Bronx, arrived at Tufts; earned her degree; and went on to become a giant in the world of public health dentistry. 

And while her relatives are of course proud of her stellar career, what they most wanted to talk about was her devotion to her family; her supportive husband; her ability to make people, particularly children, feel treasured and at ease; and her delicious homemade cookies (which she even brought to professional conferences!).— Helene Ragovin

Campus Projects: The New, the Improved, and the Big Reveals to Come

Students at the opening of renovated Hodgdon Food-on-the Run, Tufts

A new and improved Hodgdon Food-on-the Run reopened this fall, with ever-popular "grab-and-go" choices on the menu. Photo: Alonso Nichols

One story I look forward to every year highlights summer capital projects that keep the Tufts campuses evolving and growing, and often in ways that go well beyond my imagination. That was true this summer, when the bounty of projects spanned athletics, on-campus housing, and dining services, as well as for older academic buildings undergoing top-to-bottom renovations.

I couldn’t have managed to corral facts about each project without the help of capital planners, project managers, and community relations staff who answered my countless questions about who, what, when and, most importantly, why.

It’s a challenge that feeds my fascination with how the physical environment of Tufts keeps evolving. Over my 30-year Tufts career, I’ve seen the dramatic metamorphosis of the Medford/Somerville campus—not just transformation, but metamorphosis. I checked Merriam-Webster to make sure that word is right, and one definition seems to fit: “a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances.”

I recall the campus I saw in 1995 and the steady arrival of new facilities that followed—among them Tisch Library, Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center, Granoff Music Center, the Science and Engineering Complex, Joyce Cummings Center, and the Steve Tisch Family Sports and Fitness Center.

Tufts has indeed undergone a “striking alteration,” one clearly made possible by visionary leadership and generous philanthropy. It’s rewarding to be able to share this remarkable progress with Tufts Now readers and hopefully, no matter where they are in the world, they will have a renewed appreciation for the vibrant life of the university. —Laura Ferguson

Getting into Tufts

view of the campus green

Watch the video of students getting good news about getting into Tufts.

As the university’s social media strategist, some of my favorite pieces and projects are the ones that end up being the favorites of our followers. These are often the pieces that create a deep connection between the university and its audiences, and highlight the similarities that exist across generations of Jumbos.

One such case was this reaction video that was shared to the university’s social media channels following students’ acceptances into the Tufts Class of 2027.

Working with the Office of Admissions team, we encouraged students who were accepted into Tufts via the Early Decision I, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision processes to record their reactions to receiving their acceptance emails and sharing them with the social media team—part of a larger plan to help us recognize and celebrate the newly accepted students to the Tufts community.

As you can see, these examples of user-generated content were then mashed together to create a short video where viewers can see firsthand the emotions, excitement, and overall joy that came with being accepted to Tufts. It captured a special moment for accepted students, and I’m thankful that those featured were willing to share this for all Jumbos to see. —Mark Daly

How Scientists Are Solving the Mystery of Aging

a woman with white hair stares into the camera

For a phenomenon as old as time, aging remains remarkably mysterious. But experts across Tufts University are working to change that. Photo: Alonso Nichols

This summer and fall, I was the editor for a package of stories on the science of aging, and the writer for the main story tackling the current research and thinking around getting older. I had never gotten the chance to dive so deeply into one topic from so many different angles, from investigating why some bugs age (and what that tells us about humans) to reexamining our most basic language and concepts around age.

I was learning constantly, with expertise coming at me from all possible directions—from the researchers giving guidance on diet, oral health, and cognitive changes as you get older, to the editors, writers, and photographers helping me shape and build a type of package that was new for our team.

Exploring aging in this manner paved the way for great conversations with colleagues and friends and transformed not just how I write about the topic, but how I personally see aging and even (in some ways) how I live my life. Working to share some of that paradigm shift was a meaningful and engaging process, and a direct experience of the sheer power of science meeting storytelling. —Monica Jimenez

How Virtual Reality Can Help Relieve Chronic Pain

Nancy Baker wears a virtual reality headset and hand controls, waving her arms in the air, with an iPad nearby showing what she is seeing.

“VR has this real potential to encourage movement in people with chronic pain where they might be otherwise afraid to move,” says Nancy Baker, here demonstrating a VR headset, while what she sees plays on the nearby iPad. Photo: Alonso Nichols

It’s not often you get to play virtual reality games when reporting stories—but this was one. I found myself one afternoon in the lab of Nancy Baker, a professor of occupational therapy, talking about studies she’d done using immersive VR to see if it could help people who suffered from deep, chronic pain. The VR had worked in a small number of cases, giving temporary reprieve from excruciating pain. After we talked, she suggested I try out the VR to get a sense of the experience, so I put on the wraparound goggles, while she monitored what I saw on nearby iPad.

It was disorienting at first, trying to “touch” things in this virtual world, my hands wrapped around controllers. But I soon got the hang of it, slicing dive-bombing fruit with a light saber—as long as I concentrated. And that’s apparently a key mechanism for cutting the pain. The sensation of pain is created in the brain, and when it’s very distracted, the pain is felt less. It was a hopeful story—and I’m looking forward to Baker’s next report on progress in the field. —Taylor McNeil

Inauguration of Sunil Kumar

Obviously, the inauguration of any new president is very exciting, but for me it had a personal connection: I met President Sunil Kumar on his very first day on campus. From the beginning, he was always such an authentic and caring person (and really funny!), and I wanted to make sure that was represented in the video I made for his inauguration, which was part of the inauguration package page on Tufts Now.

From a technical standpoint, almost every person on the team contributed in some way to the final product. It was such a fun opportunity to approach editing in a fresh way, and really collaborate on a project that’s representative of a big team effort. —Jenna Schad

Step Behind the Scenes with BlackOut

When you see the BlackOut step team perform on stage, everything looks effortless. They move as a unit, mirroring each other in sight and sound with their claps, stomps, and steps booming throughout the auditorium. But even though it looks effortless, it’s anything but. This past fall, I wanted to see what it was like to be on the BlackOut step team as they prepared for the annual Break the Stage performance.

I dropped in on a few rehearsals during their “hell week” where they practiced each day to get their routines down pat and prepare the newest members of the group to take center stage. It was very impressive to not only see the choreography, athleticism, and focus each of the team members had—but also how much they supported, coached, and uplifted each other—and sometimes laughed so hard that they ended up on the floor.

I asked co-captain Jared Mitchell, A24, what it feels like to learn a new step routine, and he described it as “trying to push this really heavy object. It feels almost impossible. The entire process of getting it down is so difficult that when we finally do hit it, it’s like cutting butter. It feels easy and just feels really good.”

And even now, after recording hours of rehearsals, I’m still not sure how they do it. —Anna Miller

Thinking Inside the Box

Crossword puzzle spelling JUMBO

If you’re a lifelong word-game enthusiast, and you also happen to interview Tufts people as part of your job, what could be better than having a chance to interview an alumnus who creates crossword puzzles? Michael Berg, A94, got his start in an Ex College class, and this past March, he attained the Holy Grail of cruciverbalists (people who construct crossword puzzles), with the publication of a puzzle in The New York Times.

It was tremendous fun to talk with Berg, not only about the behind-the-scenes steps that went into devising that particular puzzle—and what happens once the Times crossword editors step in—but about being production editor for the Tufts Daily back in the day; his favorite undergraduate course; and our other shared wordplay passions (Spelling Bee, anyone?). Plus, he so generously created a really nifty “Brown and Blue’s Clues” crossword puzzle just for us. —Helene Ragovin

Tufts Offers Haven for Scholars at Risk

A composite of four photos shows Sima Samar, Mir Ahmad Shekib Mir, Volodymyr Dubovyk, and Vladlen Ushakov.

The current Tufts Scholars at Risk are, from left, Sima Samar, Mir Ahmad Shekib Mir, Volodymyr Dubovyk, and Vladlen Ushakov. Samar and Mir are from Afghanistan, while Dubovyk and Ushakov are from Ukraine. Photo Composite: Alonso Nichols

The toll of war weighs heavily on our world today, so I’m grateful when I can share stories of hope like this one. After writing about the round-the-clock efforts of Tufts community members who helped Afghans in peril flee their country when the Taliban took power in 2021, I followed up by talking with one of the men who fled, Mir Ahmad Shekib Mir. He ended up rebuilding his life right here at Tufts, living in Medford and working at The Fletcher School.

Mir told me, “I am the luckiest Afghan evacuee, because of one reason: Tufts.”

Through him, I learned that the Scholars at Risk program at the university was expanding to help other people in similar circumstances, and I decided to tell more of their stories. Given the unfortunate state of the world, I fear the need for the Scholars at Risk program may only grow. But I hope Tufts can continue to offer a safe haven for academics facing their darkest hours. —Heather Stephenson

Tell Me More, ‘Foods of the Future’

a robot arm holding an apple

Photo: Shutterstock

Being part of a team that says, “We would love for you to try [insert project name or type here]” is one of the reasons I feel so grateful I’m at Tufts. It’s the spirit of the institution, after all, which is “dedicated to the creation and application of knowledge.”

This year, after a professional development course in podcasting, I helped produce an episode of Tufts’ podcast Tell Me More. I was in charge of my segment, soup to nuts. It was such a rush to conduct an interview in a different way than I’m used to for written stories. It forced me to be even more present, since I knew that I—and a broad audience—would listen to it later.

I learned all about the future of food while talking to Ryan Pandya, E13, the chief executive officer of Perfect Day, a precision fermentation company developing animal-free dairy products. Hearing the final episode and learning from my colleagues’ interviews was another joy. I look forward to participating in another episode someday soon. —Emily Brognano

Tufts’ 2023 Fulbright Grantees Fan Out Across the World

Tufts young alumni Emma Christman, Emily Lazorchak, Jeevan Palani, Temple Miller-Hodgkin, and Gabrielle Rivera with an illustration of a world map behind them. They all will be starting the Fulbright U.S. Student Program this fall.

This fall, from left to right, Emma Christman, Emily Lazorchak, Jeevan Palani, Temple Miller-Hodgkin, and Gabrielle Rivera will begin their experiences as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Photo Illustration: Momo Shinzawa

As someone who highly values the importance of global education after a semester abroad during my junior year of college completely changed my life, I was excited to have the chance to write about Tufts young alumni who are participating in the Fulbright U.S. Student program, a prestigious, year-long grant for recently graduated undergraduates and current graduate students to spend a year abroad conducting research, attending a graduate program abroad, or teaching English.

I had the opportunity to hear from five 2023 Fulbright grantees from Tufts who were, at the time of the article’s publication, on the cusp of embarking on their journeys across the world. While each Fulbrighter is from a unique background and has their own individual personal and career goals, it became clear that all five are accomplished, ambitious, and understand the importance of a global perspective.

Learning about the work that the Fulbrighters are doing and the time they are spending making connections in the communities that they are living in across the globe was inspiring—and gave me the travel bug. I wish those who I had the pleasure of interviewing for this article the absolute best and hope that their year abroad is life changing. —Sara Norberg

Tufts Wildlife Clinic: 40 Years of Impact and Service

This year, Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine celebrated 40 years of providing medical care for orphaned, sick, and injured New England wildlife. Headed by Maureen Murray, D.V.M., DABVP, V03, the clinic treats thousands of animals each year, from reptiles to birds to mammals, while publishing ground-breaking research and teaching the next generation of veterinary professionals. (Did you know Cummings School is the only veterinary school with a required rotation in wildlife medicine for fourth-year students?)

The Tufts Now story about the anniversary features a fantastic video by Jeff Poole, which takes viewers inside the clinic and shows the recent release of a peregrine falcon back into the wild. The story also has a graphic timeline with notable points from the clinic’s history that looks like it could have been torn out of Murray’s field notes journal.

To compose this package, we spoke with three directors of the Wildlife Clinic, dug through decades of photos and veterinary magazine articles, and interviewed clinic volunteers as well as key collaborators from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. It was a pleasure and a labor of love to shine a spotlight on such a deserving operation. —Angela Nelson


Why One Professor Stopped Flying to Help the Planet


Wistia Video URL

I recently had the extraordinary pleasure of collaborating with my colleague Julie Flaherty on a captivating story that struck a personal chord about my hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. The narrative revolves around Professor Parke Wilde, an agricultural economist at the Friedman School, who decided to forgo air travel to combat climate change.

What caught my attention was not just the profound environmental commitment but also one incredible journey he undertook. From Boston to Monterrey, a trip that typically takes eight hours, he traversed by land in five days. Intrigued, I felt compelled to meet Wilde and bring his story to life through video.

While filming and editing, I discovered the transformative power of one person’s choices. Wilde’s decision to alter his lifestyle left a lasting impact on me. As a Boston resident and a native of Monterrey, I now find myself inspired to embrace his challenge of traveling by land from Boston to Monterrey.

I invite you to watch the video and explore the expertly crafted story by Julie Flaherty, featured as an immersive masterpiece on Tufts Now. It’s more than just a story; it’s a testament to the incredible journeys one person can embark on, reshaping perspectives along the way. —Jandro Cisneros

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