Author Archives: Christy Honsberger

About Christy Honsberger

Associate Director Alumni Relations

TEST for JUNE 2017 – STRUGGLE, THEN METAMORPHOSIS

I was not the most confident lad as I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one fine August morning in 2006 in front of the Crissey Hall listening to our new enthusiastic head soccer coach welcome us freshmen into the family. These new freedoms and new rules (or occasional lack thereof) were a lot to take in. I didn’t dive flawlessly into the current, quickly hammering down strokes and adjusting to the flow. I belly-flopped, gasped for air, and skimmed the surface for the nearest flotation device. Life at K for my first two years was a constant struggle to keep up and find some sort of balance, some sort of identity.

First-year fall term I was a nervous sweaty wreck, concerned with what everyone thought of me and worried I would screw up. I tried to blend in, which wasn’t always easy. My first-year seminar, “Visions of America-On Stage,” was taught by Ed Menta, and he pushed me from my comfort zone. Normally I would sit in the back of a classroom and observe, taking notes like a mad court stenographer but never really interacting. That didn’t work with Ed. He demanded we take on characters and not only read plays but also interpret and analyze them, more closely than I ever had before. He forced you to question and to face the brutal limits of your adolescent level of understanding. It was after my first paper in Ed’s course that I realized K wasn’t going to be an easy road. I had considered writing my strongest subject and was abruptly taken back when I found a C- written in red pen at the top of my paper.

I realized I had to be more careful and critical of my work. But I didn’t want to put in the time and effort it would take. There were always people in every one of my classes that were smarter and caught on quicker. I didn’t take the time to learn from my mistakes. For the remainder of first year I was searching for answers but not the method or path to find the answers.

And by the middle of sophomore year I was fed up with my college life. I didn’t like my mediocre performance in class and on the soccer field, and socially I felt invisible. I’d been denied a three-month study abroad program in Spain for the spring.  Nor would I be allowed to live off campus with my soccer mates during junior year.  I was in a hard place.

I’m not sure what exactly clicked, but something began to change sophomore spring term. It started with little risks. The voice within me grew stronger and I started questioning outward. I worked up the courage to pipe up more in classes. I socialized outside of my soccer circle and got to better know the wonderful mix of eclectic students. In our spring outdoor practices and scrimmages I tried different positions and showed my versatility. It dawned on me that I needed a broader perspective on each part of my life before I could identify what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I was looking at myself differently, not in an overly critical way but instead evaluating goals I wanted to accomplish, examining the paths I could take to reach them, and then forming and executing my plan within a realistic time table. By no means did I have one of those enormous desk calendars for my room where I could fill in every single waking hour of my life, but I did find harmony in a semi-chaotic balance of opportunity and cost, and I picked my battles properly. By the time I was half-way through my junior year my work was improving and I was finding balance. My last two years at K were the best of my life.

Bryan Rekowski ’10 (center) during Hornet soccer days

Bryan Rekowski ’10 (center) during Hornet soccer days

By senior spring term I was walking confidently through the sun-filled quad. I was smiling more often. I had finished my final two soccer seasons as team captain and started every game. I made Dean’s List and completed a major in economics and a minor in religion. I participated in on-campus and off-campus events and held strong friendships beyond the circle of my teammates. Those have endured to this day. I still get goose bumps thinking about those last spring days—discussing the financial crisis in Professor App’s senior seminar, throwing a Frisbee or football around the quad, and raucously cheering on the men’s tennis team to another MIAA championship.

K is not a school for everyone. But for me it was the place to learn more about myself and how adaptive I could be. I learned I can jump into the unknown without a lick of experience and rise, ready to take on the world.

Today, at age 29, I work as a senior sales representative at a two-billion-dollar logistics company. It had 250 employees when I started and has grown to an operation of 2,500 employees at 10 offices nationwide. I multi-task daily, providing cost and problem-based solutions to a multitude of customers in a variety of industries. I’ve learned to question even the processes we’ve put in place and to absorb all of the knowledge I can to make insightful and innovative decisions. I push myself to learn what is new and to live outside my comfort zone. (Thank you, Ed Menta!) When I look back, I don’t think about doing anything differently. I smile, and hope that some young nervous first-year student like me will be lucky enough to experience the full metamorphosis that K can offer.

More BeLight

Different Drum – Unconventional long-distance boyhood lessons on the 2,000-year-old mridangam led to an interesting K journey for Rohan Krishnamurthy, class of 2008. Today the prominent musician is providing those lessons himself, and much more.


Becoming the Change – K’s first ever international conference on civic engagement (24 colleges, 11 countries) makes the case that civic engagement and the liberal arts in higher education compose the combination to change the world.


Eating Dearborn – Everyone eats. One way to celebrate our differences in a way that affirms what we share in common is to explore one another’s food and its influences. A grandson of immigrants did that in Dearborn, Michigan.

Uncommon Reading

Before first-year students even arrive at Kalamazoo College they are shaping their class into a cohesive educational community. By way of K’s Summer Common Reading program, now in its 15th year, incoming first-years read the same book at the same time, connecting not only with their classmates through this common-but-uncommon experience but also with the many faculty and staff and the significant number of current students who also read the book and together share their insights afterwards.

The 2013 Summer Common Reading author Vaddey Ratner greets a Stetson Chapel audience with the namaskara, a Buddhist hand gesture that evokes utmost respect and adoration for the divine in everyone.

“It gives the students something to talk about, something besides ‘where are you from?’” says Dean of the First Year and Advising Zaide Pixley. “It’s all part of the teaching moment.”

Pixley helped launch and expand the Summer Common Reading program in 1999 and subsequent years.  “I love to read,” Pixley says. “And I wanted to give students a way to enter the world of ideas.” In 2000, with the support of the Provost’s office and Student Development, the program became official.

“The first book we chose was Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver,” says Pixley. “But we didn’t ask the author to come to campus. We soon decided that should be one of the criteria—that the author be here for orientation, meet with the students, and later, if possible, return for that class’s commencement.”

The book of choice in 2000 was Independence Day by Richard Ford, an author whom then-Provost Greg Mahler knew personally and had invited to attend. Writer-in-residence Diane Seuss, Professor of English Andy Mozina, Mahler, and Pixley were the original members of the committee that chose the books and organized the events. Membership on the committee has changed over time. Associate Professor of English Marin Heinritz was a member for many years and was responsible for bringing to campus journalist David Finkel, the program’s first nonfiction writer. Neither she, Seuss, nor Mozina are active members of the committee today, but Pixley’s presence has been a constant.

Is the reading experience relevant, even (or especially) when a book’s protagonist differs significantly from the predominantly 18-year-old readers?

“Oh my,” Seuss chortles, recalling the first-year students meeting the Ford. “A student asked Richard Ford how he expected young people to relate to his middle-aged, white male real estate agent protagonist. His answer: ‘Are you a Danish prince? If not, then don’t read Hamlet!’”

Mozina nods. “I’ve seen great discussions happen. I often see the energy grow during the course of the author’s time on campus, with students saying that now they understand and like the book a lot better than they thought they would, or did initially. By the time some authors left, the students seemed ready to adopt them.”

As the criteria for the book choice developed, Pixley made one point immoveable.

“The author must come to campus,” she says. “We look for someone who makes a good guest, who is an engaging speaker and enjoys interacting with students. That’s what makes our summer reading program different than the programs at many other schools—the presence of the author.”

Committee members meet to discuss new and upcoming authors that fit the bill.

“New book and author choices are challenging,” Pixley admits. “We have no flexibility on dates. They have to be here when the first-year students come in. We look for books that have been nominated for prizes, books that are being talked about. Although she isn’t on the committee this year, Di [Seuss] is very plugged in, she has 2,000 Facebook friends and they are almost all writers. An A list and a B list begins to take shape, and we get student peer leaders involved, too.”

Committee members read lots of books and talk about authors who might be an appropriate and feasible guest. Criteria include the content of the book, of course, the way in which it can represent a boundary-crossing for the students, and an author who is willing to be here and participate in person. “We all keep our eyes out for ‘the next big one,’” said former committee member Seuss, “often finding the perfect fit with a younger author on the rise, like Chimamanda Adichie, who visited us with her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and has since won the Orange Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and a MacArthur Fellowship.”

Gail Griffin, professor emeritus of English, has been involved with the program since its inception. She adds: “We’ve often joked about it: either the day before or the day after an author visits, she or he will get a MacArthur award/Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award nomination. The track record is quite amazing; it defies logic.”

The 2014 Summer Common Reading author NoViolet Bulawayo signs books after her Thursday evening reading. More than 300 students waited in line to speak with Bulawayo, and she signed everyone’s book.

“It has to be good literature,” Pixley states. “We look for something that is engaging to young people and doesn’t come with 400 pages of footnotes. Coming of age themes are good, and we want a book that is intercultural in some way, and that doesn’t have to mean that the book has to be about different countries. Detroit can have a different culture from Kalamazoo, too. We look for books that can foster intercultural understanding.”

The book choice of summer 2014 covers that cultural boundary, in fact. Incoming members of the class of 2018 read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. The 2013 debut novel depicts the impossible situation of the person in exile, in this case a child leaving a beloved homeland beset with political turmoil and violence, poverty, starvation, and illness. As she grows to adulthood in a new place she realizes that she is caught between two cultures without being home in either. Bulawayo won the 2014 PEN-Hemingway Award, the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, and the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2014. The novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

Anna Gough ’15 is a first-year experience coordinator along with Bryan Olert ’15. Both experienced the value of bonding over a book that often pushed their comfort zones.

“I still think about the book we read when I was a freshman,” Gough says. “In 2011, it was The Good Soldiers by David Finkel. I would never have picked it up on my own.”

“It’s really the whole idea of liberal arts,” Olert, a history major, adds. “The Summer Common Reading program challenges you to read outside of your field, all over the field.”

Now seniors, Gough and Olert helped plan all of this year’s first-year events, and both consider the reading program their favorite.

“As an English major, it was fun to organize something I enjoyed so much in earlier years,” says Gough. “I felt like I was a part of creating the future for the new students.”

“And it’s great job experience in event planning, networking, organizing,” Olert adds.

Beginning to end, the Summer Common Reading program has drawn together not only freshmen, but the entire campus, as older students find themselves picking up the chosen book as well, wanting in on the hot topic of the campus. Faculty and staff are involved, too, teaching to the book or participating as discussion group leaders.

“The program asks a lot of faculty,” Pixley admits. “Yet K faculty members are always game. I’ve been asked—how do I get people to read the book and lead discussion groups? People here are willing to step out, willing to try new things.”

“We prepare the peer leaders and discussion leaders, write a lesson plan, host the guest, and do all of the often complex negotiations with agents and publishers to bring the next writer to campus,” Seuss says.

“I can tell you that very few people comprehend the work involved,” says Griffin. “In choosing the book, in negotiating with the writer to come to Kalamazoo, in organizing the visit and the sub-components of the visit, in turning around the students’ submitted questions and consolidating them for the author, in shepherding the author around. That detailed, thoughtful, exhausting work is what has made the program go.”

While the committee does prepare a lesson plan and suggested questions for the discussion group leaders, Pixley says that “everyone is free to improvise as they see fit.”

Reading contemporary books rather than classics, Pixley says, is another aspect of the program that differentiates Kalamazoo College from other institutions that have started similar programs.

“The National Association of Scholars singled us out as being subversive in our book choices,” Pixley smiles. Challenging students to think and question, however, is part of the program’s goal.

Says Seuss: “Each book lands differently, and each entering class receives it in its own way. What I love is that the reverberations continue long after the writer has left campus; students live with the book, in one way or another, for the rest of their lives. Students in my first year seminar often refer back to the book or something the author said, and I hear seniors doing the same thing. Maybe the best sign of the program’s success is when we witness students struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“Our student body is more diverse than ever,” says Stacy Nowicki, library director at Kalamazoo College’s Upjohn Library and a member of this year’s committee. “We have students from many different areas in the United States and the world and from different socio-economic backgrounds. The Summer Common Reading book helps students learn to interact with someone different than themselves. It gives them entry to each other. This summer’s book is about the immigrant experience, and any student coming to Kalamazoo College may feel like they are immigrating to a new community. Through discussing the book, they can bring up their own issues.”

Nowicki joined the committee this year because of her involvement with the Reading Together program. Reading Together is administered by the Kalamazoo Public Library and has much in common with Kalamazoo College’s program. In both, an entire community reads the same book, joins in discussion, and meets the author.

“Success is [the] struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“The important thing is for students to feel connected,” Nowicki says. “It’s a good way for professors and staff to get introduced to the incoming students, too. I’m guessing in that way it helps retention. And the discussion groups help students learn how to express their viewpoints and defend them while listening to the viewpoints of others.”

Griffin adds: “If you lined up all the books that have been chosen, they cover an amazing array of contemporary writers and a mighty inclusive list of perspectives and issues of the sort that we want our newest students to begin thinking about: race, economics, global politics, gender, sexuality, nationality, international issues, American issues, immigration, ‘home’ and leaving home, you name it.”

Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the 2012 Summer Common Reading book, Once Upon a River, offers her perspective as a participating author. “It was a great honor and a thrill to have all the freshmen and many of the upper class folks read Once Upon a River. Kalamazoo College students are conscientious scholars and careful readers, and they had a lot of smart questions to ask. The world I presented in the book was very different from the world of the students, so it was interesting to see how they grappled to understand the choices my protagonist made, which were often so different from what they would have chosen. As an author it is always great fun to be surrounded by smart people who have read your book.”

Pixley smiles to recall some of the discussion around Campbell’s book. “Oh, I’m still hearing complaints about Margo, Bonnie’s character in the novel. Why did Margo do this, why did Margo choose that. But Margo had different circumstances in her life, and it was a different time. It’s wonderful how invested students can get.”

The interaction between author and students, all agree, can be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.

“So often their first reactions to the texts have been resistant, defiant, because the committee has rightly selected challenging texts at the forefront of current fiction, and that material is often difficult, not easy reads,” says Griffin. “And then you watch them come to terms with it, chew on it, hear the author, stand in line for hours to meet the author, and suddenly—the book is theirs. I have seen an incoming class become a class over three days because of this program.”

Seuss lists favorite memories of students interacting with authors: “Chang-Rae Lee flying out of New York City and joining us just a few days after September 11, 2001. The students starting a Chimamanda Adichie Adoration Facebook page. Junot Diaz’s sass. Vaddey Ratner talking about her childhood as a captive of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the way she greeted people with the namaskara, her beauty.”

Heinritz most strongly recalls the moments “students got turned on by what they’d read or something the authors said. Often, years later they would bring up something Junot Diaz or David Finkel had said about writing when they were on campus, and it would become part of the fabric of that day’s class discussions.”

She also cites the generosity of the authors. “So many of them agree to offer a craft talk for student writers while they are on campus,” Heinritz says. “David Finkel got real with journalism students about what the profession requires and where it is headed. Bonnie Jo Campbell gave practical advice to aspiring fiction writers.” Finkel even offered to read and critique Heinritz’ writing, “which he did and was very helpful,” she says. “I consider him a friend. I know Di has also developed this kind of relationship with a couple of the authors, especially Chimamanda.”

Pixley nods. She remembers many of those moments, and more. The Summer Common Reading program is her labor of love.

“It’s a thrill,” she says. “To hear an author reading to the students, and the students are so quiet, listening so carefully, that you can hear the pages turn.”

SIDEBAR

Summer Common Reading Program Books

(1999 Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams)

2000 Richard Ford, Independence Day

2001 Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life

2002 Ha Jin, Waiting

2003 Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

2004 Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man

2005 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

2006 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

2007 Edward P. Jones, The Known World

2008 Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

2009 Rachel Kushner, Telex From Cuba

2010 Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor

2011 David Finkel, The Good Soldiers

2012 Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

2013 Vaddey Ratner, In the Shadow of the Banyan

2014 NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

Struggle, then Metamorphosis

Senior Sales Representative Bryan Rekowski

Senior Sales Representative Bryan Rekowski ’10

I was not the most confident lad as I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one fine August morning in 2006 in front of the Crissey Hall listening to our new enthusiastic head soccer coach welcome us freshmen into the family. These new freedoms and new rules (or occasional lack thereof) were a lot to take in. I didn’t dive flawlessly into the current, quickly hammering down strokes and adjusting to the flow. I belly-flopped, gasped for air, and skimmed the surface for the nearest flotation device. Life at K for my first two years was a constant struggle to keep up and find some sort of balance, some sort of identity.

First-year fall term I was a nervous sweaty wreck, concerned with what everyone thought of me and worried I would screw up. I tried to blend in, which wasn’t always easy. My first-year seminar, “Visions of America-On Stage,” was taught by Ed Menta, and he pushed me from my comfort zone. Normally I would sit in the back of a classroom and observe, taking notes like a mad court stenographer but never really interacting. That didn’t work with Ed. He demanded we take on characters and not only read plays but also interpret and analyze them, more closely than I ever had before. He forced you to question and to face the brutal limits of your adolescent level of understanding. It was after my first paper in Ed’s course that I realized K wasn’t going to be an easy road. I had considered writing my strongest subject and was abruptly taken back when I found a C- written in red pen at the top of my paper.

I realized I had to be more careful and critical of my work. But I didn’t want to put in the time and effort it would take. There were always people in every one of my classes that were smarter and caught on quicker. I didn’t take the time to learn from my mistakes. For the remainder of first year I was searching for answers but not the method or path to find the answers.

And by the middle of sophomore year I was fed up with my college life. I didn’t like my mediocre performance in class and on the soccer field, and socially I felt invisible. I’d been denied a three-month study abroad program in Spain for the spring.  Nor would I be allowed to live off campus with my soccer mates during junior year.  I was in a hard place.

I’m not sure what exactly clicked, but something began to change sophomore spring term. It started with little risks. The voice within me grew stronger and I started questioning outward. I worked up the courage to pipe up more in classes. I socialized outside of my soccer circle and got to better know the wonderful mix of eclectic students. In our spring outdoor practices and scrimmages I tried different positions and showed my versatility. It dawned on me that I needed a broader perspective on each part of my life before I could identify what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I was looking at myself differently, not in an overly critical way but instead evaluating goals I wanted to accomplish, examining the paths I could take to reach them, and then forming and executing my plan within a realistic time table. By no means did I have one of those enormous desk calendars for my room where I could fill in every single waking hour of my life, but I did find harmony in a semi-chaotic balance of opportunity and cost, and I picked my battles properly. By the time I was half-way through my junior year my work was improving and I was finding balance. My last two years at K were the best of my life.

Bryan Rekowski ’10 (center) during Hornet soccer days

Bryan Rekowski ’10 (center) during Hornet soccer days

By senior spring term I was walking confidently through the sun-filled quad. I was smiling more often. I had finished my final two soccer seasons as team captain and started every game. I made Dean’s List and completed a major in economics and a minor in religion. I participated in on-campus and off-campus events and held strong friendships beyond the circle of my teammates. Those have endured to this day. I still get goose bumps thinking about those last spring days—discussing the financial crisis in Professor App’s senior seminar, throwing a Frisbee or football around the quad, and raucously cheering on the men’s tennis team to another MIAA championship.

K is not a school for everyone. But for me it was the place to learn more about myself and how adaptive I could be. I learned I can jump into the unknown without a lick of experience and rise, ready to take on the world.

Today, at age 29, I work as a senior sales representative at a two-billion-dollar logistics company. It had 250 employees when I started and has grown to an operation of 2,500 employees at 10 offices nationwide. I multi-task daily, providing cost and problem-based solutions to a multitude of customers in a variety of industries. I’ve learned to question even the processes we’ve put in place and to absorb all of the knowledge I can to make insightful and innovative decisions. I push myself to learn what is new and to live outside my comfort zone. (Thank you, Ed Menta!) When I look back, I don’t think about doing anything differently. I smile, and hope that some young nervous first-year student like me will be lucky enough to experience the full metamorphosis that K can offer.

K River Anthology

-Tucky-Derby-Photo

Down the stretch at the K-Tucky Derby

Rose Kennedy and the K-Tucky Derby live on the same Kalamazoo College website—Story Zoo—separated by a decade or so, both upstream and downstream time’s river.

Every homecoming Story Zoo is open on the Quad or in the Upjohn Library recording studio, a chance for alumni, faculty, staff and students to share a K story that matters to them. Perhaps better than any other medium, the stories in aggregate articulate the joy and struggle, the grace and disorder, and the “serious quirky” that makes K what it is.

Some stories will move you, like the paean of David Kessler ’70 (An Arresting Exam) to the courage of former president Weimer K. Hicks. It changed David’s life.

Some are downright poetic, like the extended metaphor (coat-to-cape) of Pam Brown Gavin ’74 (10 Best for the Clueless).

Forgot what it was like the first Saturday in May at Angell Field? Let class-of-1985 friends Elizabeth (Fiore) Vogel and Carolyn Dadabay remind you of K-Tucky Derby. See if you can spot Carolyn in the video.

What punishments and penalties marked your K day or era? In the late 1950s being “campused” was the sentence for “late minutes.” Head Proctor Karen (Lake) DeVos ’59 met some good friends in “lock up.” And big changes were coming (French Influence to K: “Lighten up!”), originating from foreign study in France.

Some stories solve longstanding mysteries. The Student Observation Bureau. Remember? Well, it didn’t last long, but it sure caused quite a stir. Where, exactly, did it originate? Rachel Robinson ’85 finally reveals that secret (S.O.B.–Old Rules, New Prank).

So take some time and time travel—through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the aughts, the 10s and more. You’ll discover memories of great professors like Chen and Doc Stowe, Nelda Balch, T.J. Smith, Karyn Boatwright and Mickey McDonald, among others. You’ll recall small but vital details of the elements of the K-Plan: foreign study, career service, civic engagement and the SIP. Great parties (Beach Party) and enduring relationships (A Lifetime of Friendship).

Most stories are one to three minutes. There is one however, that is longer (about seven minutes), and it is worth the time: David Easterbrook’s (class of 1969) moving story about the delivery of a 20-year-old message from a Masai elder to the Kennedy family (When You See Rose Kennedy in the Market). In this day of social media and shortened attention span, please don’t miss the beauty of David’s “longer” lyric.

Whether your K story is the memory of an unforgettable moment, or the trajectory of your career, we want to hear it.  All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to contribute to the Story Zoo. Individual or group stories are welcome! Nor must you wait for homecoming or commencement. Feel free to record your own video, upload it to the video-sharing site of your choice (e.g. Vine or YouTube), and send us the URL.

The next campus recording is scheduled for Saturday, October 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire circle next to Stetson Chapel. All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to stop by the Cavern Fire Circle to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and to record your favorite K memory.

Retiring K Professor Celebrates Long Musical Journey

Jim Turner at work during a rehearsal

So much has changed in James Turner’s life since he traveled north from Florence, South Carolina. As Turner contemplates his retirement after 23 years as Professor of Music and Director of Vocal and Choral Activities at Kalamazoo College, and as he stares down impending minor heart surgery at the end of the summer, he takes a moment to contemplate the long road traveled.

Turner earned his bachelor of arts from Mars Hill College in North Carolina and his master’s in music from Louisiana State University.

“I was married back then, and working in my first teaching position,” Turner recalls his southern beginnings. “My wife and I both received threatening notes from the Ku Klux Klan. We were both teaching black children. I was eager to get out of that climate.”

Turner moved from Tennessee to Detroit to teach at Marygrove College. He was no longer married. Turner had realized, and accepted, that he was gay; it was time for a new beginning.

“I taught at Marygrove for 12 years and then applied for a position at a college on the west side of Michigan; I later learned I was turned down for that position because I was gay. So I took a partial appointment with the Bach Festival in Kalamazoo when there were only six people in the choir, and I met Barry Ross and Zaide Pixley there. They told me about a part-time position at Kalamazoo College. I applied, and President Jimmy Jones made me feel very welcome.”

Professor Emeritus of Music Barry Ross, who founded the Kalamazoo College and Community Orchestra in 1994, and Zaide Pixley, the now retired Dean of First Year and Advising, encouraged Turner to hang in for a full-time position. And it happened. Turner was put on the tenure track, and he also became Bach Festival music director and conductor as well as the conductor of the College Singers and the select Chamber Singers. He also frequently collaborated with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

Turner’s teaching of and enthusiasm for music has gone far beyond the campus borders of Kalamazoo College. He has fostered the love of music in high school students, for nearly 20 years, with the annual High School Choral Festival.

“I modeled the festival after a program I started back at Marygrove,” Turner says. “K’s festival today features 10 high schools, different ones each year, with 200 to 250 students participating, and every year we have a waiting list.”

The educational event celebrates the works of Bach and his contemporaries, as well as many 19th- and 20th-century composers. Students work with a nationally recognized master clinician and rehearse together in five choirs with singers from ten schools. Each choir performs for 20 minutes, then works with the clinician to further polish their performance.

“Whether these students grow up to be choral singers or not, what we learn from making music together is how to collaborate. That can have global importance,” Turner says.

In the summer of 2016, Turner was the recipient of the Arts Leadership Educator Award from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo’s Community Arts Awards.

More important than any award—and one of the great gifts of Turner’s long career—is all that he has learned from the students he has taught. “I admit I got caught up in traditional choir music for a while,” says Turner. “But when I was teaching women’s choirs at K, with many of the women not really having any background in music, the singers brought in different perspectives, social ideas, and they got me out of that traditional mode to try something new. One of my K students said to me, ‘I’m tired of always singing about Mary and Jesus.’ So we tried some women composers, sang an Emily Brontë poem, another by Emily Dickinson. We sang choral music with a tie to social justice. Teaching music to youth has gotten me out of my paradigm, out of my box.”

Even sweeter than an award for educational leadership are the words Turner recalls hearing from a K alumna.  “A philosophy student,” Turner says, “she had a goal to live on all seven continents. At the time, she was a short-order cook living in Antarctica, and she said that I had been the most influential professor during her time at K.”

Turner says he will miss the students who broadened his horizons as much as he broadened theirs. He will miss the many great friends he’s made in the K community. He lives now an easy walk from campus, but once his last day at K is done, he and his partner, Jack, will move to Fremont, “a small town with only four stoplights,” he says, “and a great place to maybe start a garden, raise rabbits, chickens and goats.”

First and foremost, Turner adds, will be a focus on his health. A recent diagnosis of a heart ailment has increased his appreciation for all the richness that life offers. He will heal to the sound of music, and when it is time, he will reconnect with his network of friends through music.

“Music, specifically singing, can change lives, even save lives,” he says. “Music is one of those few things that can connect us all, across generations, across races and ethnicities and all the differences of being people, and bring us together.”

In fact, music brought together several of Turner’s former students on the occasion of his final Concert by the College Singers and Women’s Chorus in May. “Tim Krause ’07 sent out the music for the last song for that concert,” explained Elizabeth Wakefield-Connell ’08, “so that all alumni attending could surprise Jim by joining in for that last song. We were there on behalf of the many students who sang for Jim at K. He is a wonderful teacher, conductor, and a good friend. K College will not be the same without him.”

Dream Work

The young people who come into the office of Sara Wiener ’03 often have nowhere else to turn for help. They are scared, anxious and sometimes living with families who do not fully understand them.

SaraWeinerPIC2

Sarah Weiner at the UMHS, where she heads the pediatric gender services office.

But they do know one thing: they want to be able to live a fully authentic life. They know the body they were born with does not house their true selves. And even in a day and age when public discussion about transitioning to another gender is more commonplace, the social stigma is still strong, and support systems oftentimes are shaky at best.

“The kids I see have been so distressed,” says Wiener. “Some say they’ve attempted suicide. Some are bullied at school. Others have hurt themselves. The stress on them is often incredible. Trans and gender non-conforming kids have always existed, but often in the shadows.”

Wiener, 34, is extending a much needed helping hand.

Since 2008, she had been working as a clinical outpatient psychologist at a Massachusetts medical center, counseling “medically complex” young people—kids with genetic disorders, poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, and other medical issues.  The work was satisfying, but she had a yearning to return closer to her native home of Plymouth, Michigan.

“So I approached the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and said, ‘You don’t have a pediatric gender services office, and I’d like to start that here.’”

The health system listened.

The UMHS, which for 20 years had been attending to the health care needs of transgender adults—one of the first hospitals in the nation to do so—agreed it was a good idea. Wiener got the job and early this year became UMHS’s manager of comprehensive gender services.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “It fits with who I am and my politics.”

The story of how Wiener landed in the growing world of transgender health care is a testament to the self-directed, lifelong style of learning championed so much at K. Wiener, who holds a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College in Massachusetts, had next to no formal training in gender dysphoria or transgender health care. During her graduate studies, she remembers exactly one course that dealt with gender issues, and then only in a cursory way.

“I got a bunch of books and journals and spread them out on a table and thought to myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’” she recalls. “But I knew I had the skills. K gave me the know-how to teach myself on my own. Embracing lifelong learning—that was kind of hammered into you as a K student. I was thinking of the College when I did this. And I did it.”

Research shows that about 80 percent of prepubertal children who identify with a gender other than that assigned at birth do not go on to become transgender adolescents or adults, she says. Instead, they may grow up to become gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The majority of adolescents in puberty who are struggling with their gender during or after puberty will go on to become transgender as adults, Wiener adds.

“It’s this constant voice telling them, ‘This is not me,’” she says. “For many people, it does not go away.”

She does a lengthy clinical assessment before making any recommendation for medical intervention, assessing the young person’s current functioning, family environment, any co-morbid mental health issues (PTSD, depression or chronic anxiety, trauma) and gender histories.

Young people enter her office looking for answers about everything from hormone therapy to surgical procedures. Their families—sometimes conflicted about how to address their child’s gender identity—also are a part of the consultation, receiving support from Wiener’s office as well. Any minor must have the consent of their parent of guardian before going forward with any therapy.

“Some parents have a hard time with what their child is going through,” Wiener says. “Some think it’s a phase the child will move through, or are having trouble accepting what’s going on. These parents need support, too. Here, we have a holistic approach.”

LuxEsto spoke with Wiener just a month after she started her new position. Already, she had seen young people and their families from across the state. In Michigan, there is only one other health care provider willing to prescribe hormone therapy to transgender young people, she says.

“Trans people want and deserve to be integrated. They often want or need specialized medical and any number of other support services. We can do that here.”

Wiener’s work also puts her on the front lines of the of the social justice movement for transgender rights and inclusion.

“It’s different from outpatient psychotherapy. When I did that work, the social justice advocate part of me wasn’t activated. I wasn’t making the kind of changes I wanted to help make. When I do this work, I feel like I am really making a difference—and it feels awesome.”

She’s already been emotionally touched by her work.

She remembers a father who brought his 6-year-old natal male child into her office for feedback regarding how to manage the child’s preferences for clothing typically associated with girls. The child came through the door “all dolled up,” Wiener says, wearing a pink dress, bows in his hair and clutching a magic wand.

“Dad came in looking for direction, wondering what he should do. After a thorough assessment, I was able to assure the father he was doing the right thing by supporting the child in the child’s unique gender expression. The relief I saw on his face was incredible, just that simple bit of advice ended up helping them both.

“I get to be a part of a young person’s life and help them become who they truly are, removing barriers so they can be their authentic selves and connect them with what they need. It’s an honor to see people become themselves. It is so rewarding.”

Retirement’s No End-of-History for This K Prof

Asked why he is so interested in history, David Barclay, professor of history and the Margaret and Roger Scholten Professor of International Studies at Kalamazoo College, replies: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Barclay now calls himself a “sunbird.” He is locking up the door of his home in Kalamazoo one last time and moving back to his native sunny Florida, where he plans to continue exploring the lifelong question of why history, especially German history, has so drawn him in.

Photo of David Barclay, professor of history and the Margaret and Roger Scholten Professor of International Studies at Kalamazoo College.

David Barclay

Barclay taught history at Kalamazoo College from 1974 to his recent retirement. He is a scholar of 19th- and 20th-century political, social, and cultural history of Germany. For many years he served as director of the Center for Western European Studies at Kalamazoo College. He is the author or co-editor of seven books on German history, and, since 2006, Barclay has been the executive director of the German Studies Association (GSA), an interdisciplinary association of historians, professors of German language and literature, political scientists, art historians, musicologists, and other scholars from 29 different countries, all sharing an interest in the German-speaking world.

His retirement promises to be as intellectually active as his K days. “I’ll continue my work as executive director for the GSA for at least another four years, taking care of day-to-day operations,” he says. “And I have several more book projects underway.”

Those projects include a history of West Berlin from 1945 to 1994 and a dual biography of German emperor and empress, Wilhelm I and Augusta. Outside the subject of Germany, he’s writing a biography of his grandfather’s “favorite eccentric uncle,” a Civil War veteran who lived in Tampa, Fla.

“Family would say Uncle John was funny in the head, but I suspect post-traumatic stress disorder,” Barclay says. “Being a historian, I can reconstruct the puzzle pieces of his life. I’ll be digging through war time records, pension records, a diary by the company sergeant that mentions him frequently.”

If Barclay can’t (or won’t) give a firm answer on why he is so fascinated by history, he can quickly recall its roots in his life. He flashes back to childhood.

“When I was a kid in the 50s, there were these inexpensive history books for kids, called ‘Landmark Books,’ published by Random House,” Barclay says. “I still have a few copies. They were written by famous historians, but in language appropriate for kids. I devoured those.”

Gifts of history books from his grandmother, an inspirational 1918 graduate of the University of Chicago, and a father with an interest in history combined to launch Barclay on his pathway to becoming a historian himself. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from the University of Florida, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He was a graduate teaching assistant at both universities, and later taught at the University of Hanover in West Germany.

“I came to Kalamazoo College because they offered me a job,” he says. “The job market was terrible in 1974. I was in my final year of graduate school, writing a dissertation, and a professor sent my C.V. to K. I didn’t hear anything for months. It was July, insanely late, when they called me for an interview and offered me the job. Turned out I was fifth in line—they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Barclay gives a hearty laugh. He would become an icon of Kalamazoo College.  Among his proudest achievements are 13 years as director of the Center for Western European Studies, and winning ongoing Title VI grants for international education.

“To this day, although the Center is now closed, we were the only undergrad college who had such a stand-alone center for more than a single grant period of three years,” he says.

He worked with local magnet schools, organized a weekly international film series, ran a local community outreach television program, and headed interdisciplinary faculty discussion groups. Barclay also sat on two Kalamazoo College presidential search committees, ultimately selecting Jimmy Jones and Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran. In 2006-07, Barclay was named the George H.W. Bush/Axel Springer Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin.

“That was academic heaven, a highlight for me as an American historian,” he says. “Americans from various fields were invited to live and work in a villa in Berlin for an extended period of time.”

Barclay continues to travel to Germany, by now something of a second home. “I can’t imagine life without those near annual trips,” he says. “In Florida, I will live near an airport with a direct flight to Frankfurt.”

Barclay travels for pleasure, but always with an eye for how he might yet expand his knowledge and understanding of humankind’s evolution through time.

“I’m not particularly hopeful, however, that people will ever learn from history,” he says. “History is more of an oracle, as the Cambridge historian Chris Clark puts it. It rarely teaches us clear-cut lessons. What it does do—it situates us on a timeline. Living without knowledge of our history would be like waking up one morning an amnesiac. It’s a compass to orient us.”

Gooooaaaaaalllllllllll!

Two quick stories about our 18th president-elect—one about soccer; the other, students.

First. For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has attended every quadrennial World Cup soccer championship since 1986 except one: the 1990 tournament in Italy.

“Mexico wasn’t playing,” Gonzalez explains. “And a World Cup without Mexico is like a wedding without a couple,” he smiles, “still a great party but with the heart of the matter absent.”

Second. Gonzalez will begin his duties as President of Kalamazoo College on July 1. Until then he serves in the administration of Occidental College (Los Angeles, Calif.) as dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs. He wasn’t always an administrator. For 21 years–“the time of my life!”–he taught economics at Trinity University. He was a gifted professor, in part because he was so creative when it came to combining classroom learning with outside-the-classroom opportunities (often in different countries) where students could apply the learning. His students loved him. And now, former students, when they find themselves in L.A. for any reason, often reach out to connect with him.

“My secretary knows to always find time on my schedule for these students,” says Gonzalez, “a lunch perhaps or dinner with my family. Always! We both know that afterwards I’ll be happy and enthusiastic for at least a month!”

Love binds these two anecdotes—passion for soccer and passion for the outcomes of a particular kind of education we know as the K-Plan.

Example of the former: the London Olympics (2012) Men’s Soccer Tournament. After Mexico knocks out Japan in Wednesday’s semifinal to earn the right to face tournament-favorite Brazil in Saturday’s gold medal match, Gonzalez, having just watched the semifinal on television in Los Angeles, realizes he simply must be in Wembley Stadium in person on Saturday. No question! Also, no ticket for the match, no ticket for the plane, no reservation for a hotel in a very crowded city.

No problem.

Because within 24 hours, by some combination of dream, boldness and sheer luck, Gonzalez is indeed in London with all three. And on Saturday he’s in Wembley Stadium, midfield, 30 rows up. “The seat was so perfect,” he marvels. “I suspect it was some corporate sponsor’s whose representative couldn’t attend at the last minute.”

Mexico claims the gold medal in a 2-1 thriller; Gonzalez was there! and tears come unbidden whenever he recalls the memory. So, a great ending to a great adventure most thought Gonzalez crazy to begin? Yes, but the ending’s hardly the heart of the story. After all, things could have turned out differently in any number of ways.

The heart of the story is the boldness, the sharing of the adventure (he took along friends and family via social media) and the way that all the stars aligned to support his dream of being there. Sounds like the kind of undertaking only an undergrad who studied abroad his junior year (like Gonzalez did) would be likely to begin.

Gonzalez shared that story (and other outcomes of his study abroad, as well as more experiences of the last three decades, including his marriage to K alumna Suzie (Martin) Gonzalez ’83, that, unbeknownst to him, have prepared him for this presidency) in his first meeting with the Kalamazoo College community last month. Fluent in three languages (Spanish, English, and soccer, if one considers the sport a worldwide “language” with the capability of connecting people across differences) our 18th president-elect quoted a poet who wrote in a fourth: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

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Board Chair Charlotte Hall ’66 welcomes Jorge Gonzalez, K’s 18th president.

“I can imagine a Kalamazoo College even stronger than it is,” he says in that speech. “And it is an amazing place right now. [President] Eileen [Wilson-Oyelaran] has left it in a remarkable place. And I can imagine it even stronger. So I can’t wait until July 1 when I can work with all of you to make K a better place.”

K’s amazing because of the K-Plan, according to Gonzalez, which embodies a particular kind of education about which he is every bit as passionate as he is about soccer. The responsibility of a college is to graduate students who are ready for the world. And today, Gonzalez says, that world is being re-shaped by four major forces–technological change more rapid than ever before, growing international interdependence, diversity, and urbanization. The combination of the liberal arts and experiential opportunities to apply the liberal arts is the most effective education for today’s world because of the outcomes that combination yields.

Gonzalez describes the feeling of peace and belonging that a soccer fan experiences in an empty stadium, almost the way one might feel in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Someone passionate about education would feel the same in an imaginary and immaterial work of architecture shaped from the outcomes of the K-Plan. “That ’cathedral’ would include the ability to think analytically and critically,” said Gonzalez. “Outcomes include creativity and the capability to solve problems by drawing upon a variety of perspectives through the prism of different disciplines. And the ability to communicate effectively in writing and in speech, and to interact with people from many different backgrounds, which is both the workplace and the world.”

For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has dedicated his life’s work to that kind of an undergraduate education that results in those outcomes. No wonder he finds time for any of his former students. No wonder they seek him out. And no wonder he’s joyful for at least a month after every meeting with them. After all, more effectively than any other educational option, the liberal arts enrich a life.

(The cover story of the Spring issue of LuxEsto, which publishes the first week of April, is an in-depth feature of our 18th president.)

K Journey; Space Journey

It is a very long trip from Yazd, Iran, to Kalamazoo. But in 2010 Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti ’15 was able to negotiate its many twists and turns, as well as making the cultural adjustments associated with the journey. Now, five years later, he’s graduated from Kalamazoo College with majors in physics and chemistry.

Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti ’15 in front of the building where he spent a great deal of time during his undergraduate studies.

Next he will turn his full-time attention to an even longer odyssey—the 93 million miles traveled by the sun’s solar winds. When those winds arrive at Earth, our atmosphere and magnetic field usually deflect them. They re-converge, however, on the night side of our planet, where some interesting things take place, including the creation of what are called flux ropes.

Those are the phenomena and that is the field (magnetospheric physics, to be exact) that Mojtaba is studying at the University of Michigan this fall as he starts work on his Ph.D.

According to him, such a rarified area of inquiry would never have been possible had he not come halfway around the world to Kalamazoo College.

Yazd, a city of more than a million people, is situated in central Iran, about 300 miles south of Tehran. Mojtaba graduated from high school there, and even started college. But then he had conversations with his uncle, Hashem Akhavan-Tafti, who had come to the states after the fall of the Shah, then graduated from K in 1982 (and is now a member of College’s board of trustees).

His uncle encouraged Mojtaba to make the same migration, even though both men knew the journey involved a great many steps. The first was to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Because the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, Mojtaba had to travel to Turkey to file his application. He couldn’t leave Iran, however, until its government permitted him to do so.

Once he obtained his visa Mojtaba relocated to Howell, Michigan. There he spent three months on a farm with his uncle and Aunt SuzAnne. She is the person he most credits for helping with his acclimation to the West. “She is my best friend and the best mentor I could have asked for.”

A precondition for Mojtaba enrolling at K was improving his ability to speak and write English. To do so, he took an English class at Western Michigan University, then took what is called the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), a standardized proficiency test for non-native speakers wishing to enroll in an American university or college.

Once he received word that he’d passed, he was set to begin his studies at K in the fall of 2011. By that time he’d been in America for more a year and was, well, more than ready.

Before classes started, however, he embarked upon his LandSea adventure. “That was a big learning experience for me,” he recalls. “I made some of my best friends during that time.”

Although naturally outgoing, Mojtaba says that his biggest challenge has been to become more social. “Just to become comfortable and act normal, to be likeable. I’ve learned the value of a smile.”

When told that his smile and the twinkle of his eye bear a resemblance to those of tennis great Roger Federer, Mojtaba nods and says, “Yeah, I’m told that from time to time, especially by the guys on the tennis team.”

From the beginning, his studies at K have focused on the sciences. He spent the summer after his first year at Wayne State University working in a neuroscience lab. His foreign study—in Lancaster, England—involved particle physics.

“The sky is no longer a limit!”

Jan Tobochnik, the Dow Distinguished Professor in the Natural Sciences, has been impressed with Mojtaba. “He is a very outgoing young man, very personable. He loves to organize things. For example, he was part of an effort to get the College to put solar panels on the golf carts we use on campus.”

Mojtaba also helped organize K’s first Complex Science Society. “It’s to help bridge the gap between social sciences and empirical sciences,” he explains. “During our first year we focused on renewable energy. During the second we dealt with vaccination practices in the U.S.”

He also was involved in establishing a local chapter of the National Society of Physics Students. That work led to him and others into local elementary schools to encourage young children to pursue science.

For his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) Mojtaba studied the atmospheres of Earth and Mercury, two of the planets in our solar system with magnetic poles. His SIP received departmental honors.

He spent his SIP summer of 2014 at the University of Michigan with his advisor, Professor J.A. Slavin, and studied physical phenomena such as ‘magnetic reconnection’ and ‘coronal mass ejections.’

Because of his SIP work, NASA invited Mojtaba to attend the launch of its Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission.

As a result of that experience he was invited to attend the March, 2015, launch of a NASA mission at Cape Canaveral. The Magnetospheric MultiScale mission carried four identical satellites that, once deployed, gather information about the Earth’s magnetosphere. Mojtaba had worked with data from a similar spacecraft for his SIP.

The original plan was to view the launch, with others, from a favored site on NASA grounds. That hope was scuttled, however, when officials realized that Mojtaba was an Iranian national.

“They told me I’d have to watch from across the harbor instead. But at least Professor Slavin went with me. Even from there, it was still stunning to watch.”

When he’s needed a break from school work, Mojtaba has sometimes retreated to nature. “I really enjoy going to the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. It is a good place to heal.”

Mojtaba’s post-graduate studies will focus on the data coming from those four spacecraft. “Solar winds have the potential to overwhelm our technological civilization. If we could predict when that was going to happen we could take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of a problem. I also hope to get involved in designing instruments for future missions.”

On a different note, pun intended, he has begun taking violin lessons.

Mojtaba soon hopes to achieve another goal—becoming an American citizen. He intends to make America his permanent home.

“While two decades of living in and facing the challenges of growing up in a developing country prepared me for working hard,” he says, “coming to the U.S. and obtaining a liberal arts education enabled me to broaden the scope of my understanding as well as the impact I can have as an individual and as a citizen. Today, more than five years after my first time entering the U.S., I have come to believe that even the sky is no longer a limit!”

Mojtaba also hopes to help other students the way he was helped. “My aunt and uncle have established a scholarship institute called ‘The 1for2 Education Foundation.’ It means that a recipient of the scholarship commits to pay for the education of two others. My aunt and uncle helped me, so I want to help others someday.”