Wedding anniversary gifts often focus exclusively on the couple and tend toward the transitory.
Nahrain Kamber and Ralph Griffith have a provided a gift whose effects may last longer than the architecture in the background.
Not so for Nahrain Kamber ’01 and her husband Ralph Griffith. In August 2015, to celebrate the first anniversary of their 2014 marriage, the couple established the “Nahrain Kamber ’01 and Ralph Griffith Endowed Student Research Fellowship” at Kalamazoo College, a gift that not only expresses their love for each other, but also honors Nahrain’s gratitude to her alma mater and will benefit women science students at K in perpetuity.
The idea for the rather nontraditional first-year anniversary gift was Ralph’s. “I thought about the things that were most important to Nahrain,” he said. Each year, interest from the endowed principal will help students at K who are majoring in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) to conduct research in those areas, hopefully as early as possible in their undergraduate experience.
“My summer internships at K helped shape the trajectory of my career,” says Nahrain, a senior scientist and group leader in Dow Chemical Company’s Coating Materials Technical Service and Development Group. “I want to be a resource to any K student, but especially to the science majors and recipients of this endowment. I can provide career guidance as they navigate through STEM careers, where women tend to be underrepresented.”
At K Nahrain majored in chemistry. She originally planned a career in patent law. However, she worked the summer after her first year in the laboratory of her advisor and mentor, Professor of Chemistry Tom Smith.
“It was my first practical experience with chemistry beyond the classroom, and I loved it,” says Nahrain. And it changed the course of her undergraduate study and eventual career path.
During her time at K she developed her lab skills through internships, a summer undergraduate research residency (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, Calif.) and a Senior Individualized Project in bioinorganic chemistry (Tom Smith was her supervisor).
At Stanford University, where she earned her Ph.D., she studied “the catalytic reactivity of organic molecules as enablers of controlled routes to produce new polymers (another name for plastics).” In 2005 she received an IBM Scholars Fellowship which she used to return to the Almaden Research Center in San Jose.
“Full circle,” she smiles. “Together, these academic and lab research experiences opened the door to my eventual career in polymer science, which is centered on the use of synthetic chemistry to produce and enable innovative new product research and development.”
Nahrain started work at Dow in 2007. She has developed several patents, written many papers and speaks frequently about her work at scientific conferences in the U.S. and abroad.
“What Nahrain and Ralph have done is inspirational,” says Executive Director of Development Andy Miller ’99. “It honors the value Nahrain attributes to her K education and supports her mission of encouraging young women to go into STEM disciplines.”
Adds Nahrain: “We’d love to see more alumni give back to K on behalf of purposes they find powerful or that were formative in their development at K and their success after K.” Endowed funds are a way to do just that, forever.
Nahrain certainly considers her and her husband’s gift a way of paying back, and forward. She always has felt grateful to the F.W. and Elsie L. Heyl Scholarship that she was awarded to attend K. She also believes in the importance of young women having opportunities in STEM subjects early in their schooling.
“For me,” says Nahrain, “Kalamazoo College was the most influential experience in my life. Without K, Stanford would have been unlikely. Without K, I doubt I’d be in my present career, which I love.”
During summer 2014 rising senior Andrea Johnson completed her third legal internship—this one at the United States Bankruptcy Court in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her reflections on her experience explore the relationship between doubts, misgivings, mistakes, professional and personal growth, and the freedom to fail.
The staff of Judge Jeffery Hopkins at the United States Bankruptcy Court (Cincinnati, Ohio) included (l-r): Matthew Harte ’07, Patricia Francis, Hopkins, Andrea Johnson ’15 and Richard Jones.
From the very first day at this internship I made mistakes, and mistakes made me—though the truth of that second part took some convincing.
During my initial introduction to my supervisor, Matthew Harte ’07, I learned I had parked in the wrong parking lot. I feared I had made an embarrassment of myself as a directionally-challenged intern. It was not the first impression I had hoped to make. Matthew said it was a non-issue, though I felt like I had failed already, and it was only the first day.
Every endeavor I had undertaken in my life, from athletics to academics, had stressed that failure was not an option, nor could it be accommodated. Failure was a lack—lack of preparation or lack of will power or lack of both. It was the opposite of success in a polarized world—the (very) “wrong” road diametrically opposed to the one-and-only “right” path.
And, I believed, in order to prevent failure, one had to always be anticipating how one’s present choices and decisions would impact the future. In that way, one’s present and future are inextricably—and linearly— linked. Thus, foresight is essential to forego failure and continue moving forward toward future goals.
So, on this first day, nothing could have been more overwhelming to me than what I was told: mistakes were essential; mistakes were expected. What? It seemed counterintuitive to make mistakes since I wanted to make a good impression. I did not have to reflect long on my first mistake (the parking lot) when I made my second: I got lost returning to my apartment.
The perfectionist in me was rebelling against this notion of mistake-making. I am probably a typical K student in that way. Accepting the notion that failure is necessary is quite difficult for me. Even more challenging is trying to unlearn my constant need to know how every experience will affect my future. Failure is expected? Failure is normal? Were there “right” and “wrong” ways to fail? If so, then I wanted to fail properly.
“I made mistakes, and mistakes made me…”
In the first week, I made my third “mistake”: wearing pink in the courtroom. That neutral colors in such a setting is more of an implied rather than explicit rule in no way mitigated my embarrassment. I stood out like a pink jelly bean in a sea of black and grey. Interestingly, this mistake fueled my interest in understanding gendered appearance within the legal field. My Senior Individualized Project—“‘Forsake the Self or Forsake the Law:’ A Study of Women Lawyers and Subtle Gender Inequity in the Legal Field”—built off of some of my experiences, such as clothing expectations for women lawyers and other observations at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. While none of these small mistakes jeopardized my learning experiences, they forced me to reevaluate my definitions of failure and allow myself more room to grow.
After a few weeks I became accustomed to the basics of bankruptcy law and felt comfortable in my environment. The security guards recognized me by name. Judge Hopkins’ staff checked on my progress, and they were always willing to answer my questions. I could find cases and use Westlaw without major problems, and I knew the general schedule of the court. Basically, I felt comfortable enough to make microscopic mistakes.
However, when Matthew handed me a copy of a current case and requested I write a summary memo, I panicked—even though this exercise, like so many other rewarding experiences at the court, gave me the freedom to make mistakes. I could learn without the pressure of a “grade” or judgment. And yet I still didn’t feel at ease. Instead I looked for anything that could act as a guide or an example because I did not want to fail or disappoint people I respected. Ironically, the “right” way to do this assignment was to “fail” repeatedly, accept constructive criticism, and correct my mistakes. And, in doing so, I would be introduced to proper legal research, thinking, and judicial decision making.
In the two weeks that I researched and drafted that first memo, I had to confront my own expectations and accept that my first and subsequent drafts were not going to be perfect. After plunging me headfirst into the depths of legal research and writing, Matthew and Judge Hopkins spent a lot of time on the extensive editing process, teaching me the “treading water” phase of legal research and writing. I started to become more comfortable with the discomfort of not having a structured path to follow.
After at least four drafts, my initial memo was hardly my own, but that did not matter because I had completed my assignment and had kept my head above water. About a week later Matthew gave me a new memo assignment for a different judge. This memo became my main project for the remaining three weeks of the internship. Even though the topic was more complicated, the assignment was exponentially easier to complete because I had accepted that I would make mistakes. I crafted a stronger initial draft, one that I was proud to call my own. My final memo assignment taught me more about myself and the law through the countless drafts, checking Westlaw hundreds of times, working constructively with my supervisor and the Judge, and finally reaching a finished product worthy enough to be used as a decision of the court.
Researching and writing legal memos helped me confront my own fear of failure and making mistakes. I also had many other memories that made this internship both professionally and personally rewarding. From Judge Perlman’s rendition of “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” to stimulating conversations with women lawyers interested in my thesis topic, to running for coffee and Grater’s Ice Cream with Matthew and discussing our different K experiences, I learned and laughed more in six weeks than I ever thought possible.
By the end of the internship, the city of Cincinnati and the bankruptcy court felt like home. Through this experience, I had come to define “home” as a place where one is challenged, has room to grow and, most importantly, to make mistakes. The people at the court—Patricia Francis, Richard Jones, Matthew Harte and Judge Jeffery Hopkins—made my experience extraordinary because of their instructive and patient explanations and their insights about law and life. They helped make a welcoming and comfortable environment where I could thrive. I made many mistakes at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and the mistakes made me…more competent, more confident, and “more free” to make more mistakes in the future.
Classmates (2009) Jerrod Howlett (left) and Brad Flaugher made a catch during a recent trip to Key West.
One of the most frequently lauded characteristics of a Kalamazoo College education is the longevity of its usefulness. “More in four, more in a lifetime” is a promise and reality for many K alums whose strong academic foundations and the personal networks created at K have paid dividends decades after leaving the Arcadian Hill.
But what about K’s value in those first few years after receiving a diploma? For an ever-expanding group of recent grads, like classmates (2009) Brad Flaugher and Will Dickson, Kalamazoo connections have been invaluable from day one. In addition to being classmates, the two share an undergraduate major (economics and business) and study abroad program (London, England).
The Worst of Times
In 2010, after earning his master’s degree in economic history at the London School of Economics (LSE), Brad planned to return stateside and find a job in finance. Unfortunately, the timing was not fortuitous. Facing the gale force headwinds of the worst American financial crisis since the Great Depression, Brad wanted to land in an industry that simply wasn’t hiring. According to Will, the market was “absolutely atrocious . . . probably the worst time ever for new hires.”
Luckily for Brad, Will had just the opportunity that Brad needed—his own. After beating the odds himself in 2009 to secure a job with the Minneapolis-based hedge fund Walleye Trading, Will opted to pursue a graduate degree in accounting at the University of Texas. Upon his departure from Walleye, Will recommended his classmate to take his place.
Will remembers “[Walleye] was a good opportunity for me, but to be honest, Brad was probably better suited for the position,” given his background in computer science. Because of Will’s endorsement and his own acumen in a competitive interview process, Brad was hired at Walleye as an options trader and programmer.
Paying it Forward
Brad later left Walleye. No worries, his K professional networking tree has continued to grow. Former classmates have become colleagues, and other K grads have turned to him for assistance in finding early breaks in their careers.
In 2014, while working to launch Redcurrent, a Twin Cities tech start-up, Brad reached out to computer science major Colin Alworth ’07, wondering if his fellow K graduate would join Redcurrent as a software developer. There was a “full-circle” dynamic at work here: years earlier, just before Brad decided on graduate school at LSE, Colin had offered him a job as a developer. At Redcurrent Brad was happy to return the favor and bring a talented K grad on board. Colin, who studied abroad in Madrid, continues to work at Redcurrent today.
Meanwhile Andrew Mickus ’12 (an interdisciplinary studies major who studied abroad in Caceres, Spain) credits Brad with helping him secure an internship at a London hedge fund, an experience that served as a catalyst for Andrew securing a position as a financial modeler at Fannie Mae. “Brad had an amazing willingness to ‘pay it forward,’” writes Andrew. “And he totally let me crash on his couch for at least a week in London.”
Now a senior engineer for AuDigent, an analytics-based digital advertising company, Brad works closely with another K grad, classmate and computer science major Jerrod Howlett ’09, who works for Google, Inc. Among other responsibilities, Brad purchases advertising for AuDigent’s music-industry clients, and “Jerrod makes me look good,” Brad laughs. “It’s great having an ‘inside guy’ at Google.”
A Much More Helpful Community
Reflecting on the significant role of K connections in the first few years of his career, Brad suggests that “it’s kind of crazy” how it’s unfolded. It’s not “that alumni just swoop in” with jobs gifted from on high. Instead, Brad feels he has organically developed fantastic career connections through his K network. “It’s turned out pretty well for me,” he says.
And Will, who currently works as a managing director of an investment firm in Detroit, is effusive in his praise for K alumni and their willingness to go the extra mile for their fellow Hornets. “With [the University of] Texas there’s a huge network everywhere, but no one returns calls or emails. With K it’s a much smaller community, but it’s a much more helpful community.”
Most so-called “overnight successes” are a matter of years or longer, such as the writing career of Morowa Yejidé ’92 (Moe-roe-wah Yay-gee-day). After a decade of short story publications, her novel Time of the Locust (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014) quickly gained critical and popular acclaim. The novel was a 2012 finalist for the national PEN/Bellwether Prize In 2015 it was long listed for the PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction and was a 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work. She is currently a PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author, visiting with classes who have been assigned Time of the Locust.
Yejidé, who is married and raising three sons, wrote the book in the spare time she didn’t have, taking advantage of occasional bouts of insomnia, hours between work in academia, and even time in the bathtub when the door was locked to all distraction for three-hour baths of plotting storyline time. Submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers more than one hundred times, she filed away the rejections and kept sending it off, undaunted.
That kind of persistence, that kind of devotion to her art, that kind of determination is part of the hard lessons learned during Yejidé’s years at Kalamazoo College, although not necessarily in the classroom.
“I’ll be honest,” Yejidé says. “My Kalamazoo College experience was of very high highs and low lows. My first two years were about figuring out who I was and how I fit in. Then I went on study abroad to Japan, and my mom died a month after I returned. My last years at K passed in a haze.”
Morowa Yejidé (left) with classmates during her K days.
Yejidé was an international area studies major with a minor in Asian affairs. It was the study abroad experience, she says, that attracted the Washington D.C.-native to K. She spent her junior year in Tokyo, living with a host family, not knowing that in her absence her mother had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
“She made everyone promise not to tell me,” Yejidé says. “She didn’t want me to rush back or have a cloud over me. I found out when I got home—and a month later she was gone. That really went into my writing, how people can say things without saying things. It was a part of the Japanese culture, too. I’ve been fascinated with how people communicate ever since.”
While Yejidé struggled through her final years at K, missing her mother, she found an understanding friend in her college roommate. Around the same time Yejidé lost her mother, her roommate lost hers as well, even more abruptly.
“Her mom was killed coming out of a pharmacy one day, struck during a police car chase,” she says. “We had these long existential discussions—is it better to know ahead or not?—and decided both scenarios were equally terrible. But it brought comfort to have someone there who understood. It all became a part of the light and the dark that K was for me. We keep in touch to this day.”
Another lesson Yejidé took to heart was her mother’s frequent advice to live her life without regrets. So Yejidé pursued her dreams, no matter how fantastic, and they carried her through those one hundred rejections as she sent out short story submissions and the manuscript of her novel.
“Time of the Locust is a magical realism, literary fiction type of novel,” Yejidé says. “It tells the story of a seven-year-old autistic boy named Sephiri and a supernatural relationship he has with his father.”
Autism is one of several important topics Yejidé explores in the novel. The boy’s mother Brenda copes with single parenthood while her son’s father Horus serves time in a maximum security prison for killing a racist police officer who shot had shot him but went unpunished. Horus is in solitary confinement , increasingly fleeing his isolation and despair by escaping in his mind. Brenda buries her stress in food, leading to obesity and diabetes.
“I love image-driven types of literature,” Yejidé says. “I’m always reading, and I’m a very curious person by nature. I was reading a photo-journalism piece with a single photo of an autistic boy looking out his window at a tree. He had this whimsical look on his face. I found myself wondering—what does his world look like?”
With that, a creative seed was planted. Yejidé unleashed her fascination with the interior world and she explored the different types of communication people with autism use.
“There’s a confinement theme,” she says. “And I played with that same idea with the boy’s mom. She, too, is grappling in the dark. She has a self-imposed prison of her obesity, weight that cuts her off from the world. The boy’s father meanwhile is in a physical prison, another hidden world, and dealing with what happens to him in solitary confinement.”
Yejidé researched her main themes by reading letters from prisoners, watching hours of video diaries, studying autistic behavior and talking with people involved in those hidden worlds.
“Our penal system is the equivalent of a small nation in population,” she says. “I wanted to know what other countries have to say about our penal system, too. When I read the prisoners’ letters, I had to read for what wasn’t there, because they get censored. And autistic kids—they can’t tell us about their world and in that way are like prisoners. Mothers? Always dead last on their own to-do lists. Brenda in the novel is an amalgamation of women who feel that if they stop all that they are doing, their entire world will fall apart.”
Yejidé’s encounter with the Japanese language served as a source for her writing on the difficulty of communication. Her first such experience came in high school, when she went to a friend’s home to do homework. Her friend’s mother was Japanese and spoke no English.
“I learned basic, rudimentary words in Japanese,” she recalls. “It became like a game to us. I ended up looking into learning Japanese, and then when it was time to go to college, I saw Kalamazoo College had this awesome Japanese program. So I applied.”
It wasn’t enough to just apply to Kalamazoo College. Yejidé had to convince her father. At that time, she says, the family lived in Okemos, Michigan, and her father taught at Michigan State University. MSU, for him, seemed the obvious choice.
“But MSU didn’t have that kind of program in Japan,” Yejidé says. “I had to give a dining room presentation to convince Dad. It worked.”
Yejidé immediately felt drawn to the quiet of the Quad, to the smaller campus and more individualized attention at K.
“As an only child, I looked for that solitude,” she says. “I loved the calm tranquility of the Quad. I wanted the in-depth experience of K, and I got it.”
Yejidé says she loved her study abroad experience, despite its dark ending with the loss of her mother. It was the first time her host family near Tokyo had ever hosted an exchange student, and their English language skills were almost non-existent.
Morowa with her Japanese host parents, Mr. and Mrs. Imamura) on the day of seijin no hi (Coming of Age Day), a Japanese national holiday that celebrates all young people who turn 20 that year.
“That’s what I wanted, that immersion experience,” Yejidé says. “We operated on the premise of ‘if you don’t talk, you don’t eat.’ I learned so much from my Papa San and Mama San. We changed each other; they are my second set of parents. They would tell me that I was special, that I would do something great someday. It was awesome to mail my book to them, even if it was in English and they couldn’t read it. I’ve gone back a few times to visit them.”
Yejidé has also returned to her K family from time to time. It was at a K “mixer” for alumni in Washington, D.C., that she learned about current classes at Kalamazoo College about autism from a current student.
“The subject came up about Bruce Mills, an English professor at K who was teaching about communication and autism, and that we should meet,” she says.
Good things come from mixers. Bruce Mills responds: “I have since taught Time of the Locust in two classes already, my spring 2015 African-American literature class and my fall 2016 first-year seminar. Morowa and I connected online and became friends on Facebook. Given my memoir dealing with autism, we had a kind of natural connection.”
Mills’ memoir, An Archaeology of Yearning, explores his relationship with his autistic son. His first-year seminar is called “Crossing Borders: Autism and Other Ways of Knowing.”
“In relation to my African-American literature course, I have been trying to connect the class to folks in the community through our ‘Engaging the Wisdom’ oral history project. It felt like an extension of such connections to have a conversation with an alumna, especially given that Morowa’s book includes characters whose lives speak to civil rights history, the criminal justice system and larger themes of disconnection, imprisonment (physical, psychological, and spiritual) and hope and healing.”
This renewed connection between Kalamazoo College and Morowa Yejidé has led to a homecoming. Yejidé will be doing a reading from her novel followed by discussion and book signing on Tuesday, February 16, at 7 p.m., at the Arcus Center. She will also meet with students in the classroom at a fiction workshop.
Moving from light to dark and back into the light again, Yejidé has no regrets about her sometimes difficult years at K. Her mother would be proud.
“K gives you a unique opportunity to find out what you’re about and what you can become, and it did that for me,” she says. “You just have to commit to that discovery, wherever it takes you.”
There’s no business like show business. And Kalamazoo College’s Department of Theatre Arts just showed the acting world it means business.
K theatre arts majors Grace Gilmore ’15 and Lindsay Worthington ’17 recently returned from competing at the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Grace Gilmore ’15 (left) and Lindsay Worthington ’17
The pair beat out thousands of other student artists from across the country to present their work at the week-long, all- expenses-paid festival in the nation’s capital. Only 125 students were invited to attend.
Gilmore, a theatre arts major and religion minor, was one of only eight students in the country competing for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Worthington, a theatre arts and music double major, traveled to Washington, D.C. to showcase her talents in Sound Design Excellence.
Both categories featured KCACTF students from much larger colleges and universities, several of whom were graduate students enrolled in Masters of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) theatre programs and other specialized acting classes.
“Grace and Lindsay are extraordinary,” says Professor of Theatre Arts Lanny Potts. “They are recognized as the best-of-the-best in the nation in their fields. It’s rare for students from any small program and liberal arts college to achieve this sort of recognition.”
Gilmore spent the week at the Festival immersed in classes that focused on everything from stage combat to situation comedy. She worked alongside professional actors, met with casting directors, and had the opportunity to network with peers from across the nation and in the Washington, D.C. theatre community.
In addition, she went behind the scenes and toured the Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and the world-famous Shakespeare Theatre Company.
“Just being there was so surreal,” says Gilmore. “It was an unbelievable experience.”
For the 21-year-old, whose first acting role was as a jester in a middle school play, performing on the Kennedy Center stage in front of peers, directors, New York-based casting agents (and even her parents!) was the high point of the week.
Her parents, K alums Sherry (Christy) and Jim Gilmore, class of 1983, were both theatre arts majors.
“You could say theatre is in my blood,” Grace says.
Worthington, meanwhile, experienced her own festival highlights. In her master class she worked alongside professional lighting designer (and six-time Tony award nominee) Beverly Emmon as well as award-winning composer, sound designer, and audio artist Obadiah Eaves.
Emmon and Eaves critiqued the students’ work, offering their feedback, suggestions, and ideas. And the students got the chance to share meals and free time with the two professionals.
“It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Worthington says. “We were able to ask them questions about their careers and really get to know them.”
The Road to Nationals
Started in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens, the Kennedy Center’s founding chairman, KCACTF is a national theatre program working to improve the quality of college theatre in the United States. Comprised of 18,000 students from more than 600 academic institutions in eight different regions, KCACTF gives theatre departments and student artists the opportunity to showcase their work and receive outside assessment.
Earlier this year, KCACTF officials visited K and critiqued the work of the students in the theatre department. Gilmore and Worthington, along with 13 others K students, were nominated to attend the KCACTF Region III in Milwaukee. Three additional K students attended as part of their senior class seminar, and two others participated for professional growth and networking. The group joined 2,000 other theatre students from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin for the weekend competition.
“They are recognized as the best-of-the-best in the nation in their fields.”
Gilmore, nominated for her performance in Romeo and Juliet, beat out 274 students for the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award. Of the 16 finalists who competed in the final round of the competition, 13 of the 16 were post-undergraduates working on their M.F.A.
“I was absolutely shocked. We went into it clearly as underdogs,” Gilmore says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win. No one from K has ever won. When they said my name, I couldn’t believe it.”
She received a scholarship and an invitation to attend the National Festival.
Worthington was the only student nominated to attend the regional competition for her work on TWO (!) different entries in sound design. Her submission for Peer Gynt ended up taking top honors in Milwaukee—giving her a ticket to the National Festival, which turned out to also be an unplanned, but very welcome, trip home for this Bethesda, Maryland, native.
Neither Grace nor Lindsay took top honors at the National Festival, but they returned to Kalamazoo with a playbill full of experiences, contacts, job and internship opportunities, and memories to last a lifetime.
“I didn’t go into it thinking I would win,” says Worthington, who was awarded the Williamstown Theatre Festival Internship for Sound Design. “I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I been stressed about the competition. Just being there, to me, felt like winning.”
I’ve been lucky enough to find Kalamazoo College in three different cities—Minneapolis, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor—thanks to the Hornet Happy Hour events.
Hornet Happy Hour Kalamazoo Hornets included (l-r): Andrew Miller ’99, Grace Miller (anticipated class of 2038!), Alex Werder ’15, Nick Beam ’14, Courtney Read ’06 and Rudi Goddard ’13.
Hornet Happy Hours happen quarterly (the fourth Wednesday of January, April, July and October), hosted at a local bar or restaurant, and serve as an opportunity to meet and network with other Kalamazoo College alumni.
The connections I’ve experienced at these short-and-sweet gatherings have made a difference. After graduating from K in 2012, I set off to the heart of the Amazon, where I taught English for the French Ministry of Education in French Guiana. At the end of my contract, I found myself back home in Minnesota pondering my next steps.
There I received a message from K’s alumni relations department regarding a Hornet Happy Hour hosted in Minneapolis. I attended the event, hosted by Kate Thomas ’06, at the Nomad World Pub. I saw the K flag at the end of a table, and I was greeted with smiling faces and inquisitive conversation. Most K graduates have some wisdom to impart and some great adventures to share.
At the Nomad I met Maggie Kane ’13, an English major. We started talking about life after Kalamazoo College and I mentioned my interest in graduate school. Maggie said both of her parents held master’s degrees in public policy from the University of Minnesota, and that sounded like a field that aligned with my interests. The next week I met with Matt Kane and Liz Conway at Gigi’s cafe, their local favorite in Uptown Minneapolis. The couple was eager to talk about their diverse experiences in the policy field, and our conversation influenced my decision to apply to public policy graduate programs. I am now in my first year at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
More recently I attended an October Hornet Happy Hour in Ann Arbor, hosted by Alexandra Hayward ’13. I met Cyrus Jadun ’10 and Mynti Hossain ’05, both of whom had graduated from the policy program at the Ford School and currently work for Mathematica Policy Research.
Last year 412 people attended 64 different Hornet Happy Hour events. The program began in New York City; Erin Mazzoni ’07 is one of its architects. She and a group of young K grads gathered on a monthly basis to connect, catch up and find familiarity with the Big Apple. Mazzoni contacted Sass Havilar, events planner in the alumni relations department, to share her enthusiasm about the success of the informal happy hour events in New York.
“The idea of an official College Hornet Happy Hour event definitely started off organically. Why not invite others to get together?” said Mazzoni. In June of 2011 the first official “Kalamazoo Hornet Happy Hour” occurred in New York City.
According to Mazzoni, “We continued to meet (now formally) on a monthly basis, and we had pretty good turnouts, from brand new grads to longtime retirees. Some months we had 30 alumni, other months just five, but no matter the number, we always had a good time. You always have something in common and something to talk about.”
For more than a year the New York group met at the Brass Monkey, owned by alumna Marisol de la Rosa ’97. “Marisol was very generous,” said Mazzoni. “It’s special to have a K grad open up space for us.”
Mazzoni and the alumni relations department teamed up with class agents around the country to add events in Kalamazoo, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C. And last year Hornet Happy Hours happened in 25 cities: Albuquerque, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Houston, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Las Vegas, Madison, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland (Oregon), San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Traverse City and Washington D.C..
“At almost every Happy Hour there are business cards passed around,” said Mazzoni. “These connections can be life-changing. At one Happy Hour in New York, I met Marc Reeves ’93, who was supportive and instrumental in helping me find my current position at Under Armor.”
Mazzoni hopes Hornet Happy Hour will expand into new spaces and gatherings (both formal and informal) in order to get others engaged. “Last year, we met an alum in a play in the city, and a group of us went to see her performance. In January, I hosted a brunch for K women in Washington, D.C. [Mazzoni’s new residence since her career change]. I hope other alumni will make and take advantage of new opportunities to gather with fellow grads,” said Mazzoni. Since her relocation to Washington D.C., Dion Bullock ’12 has hosted the New York City events.
For Mazzoni, the K flag is a great table marker and a symbol of the College’s ubiquity. “The flag’s become a tradition,” said Mazzoni. “Kim Aldrich ’80, director of alumni relations, gave me my first K flag and I got one for Dion when he took over in New York.”
Hornet Happy Hour events rely on alumni to serve as hosts in their cities. Interested? Please contact Sass Havilar at 269.337.7283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And speaking of connections, the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB) recently launched an improved Kalamazoo College Alumni Directory. Now it’s easy to search for K alumni in any city. Among other features, the directory includes a map view, vCard download, email enhancements, and the ability to sync a LinkedIn profile. It’s a great place to start if you host a gathering in your area!
An example of honeycomb and etching by Ladislav Hanka ’75 and his bees.
Ladislav Hanka ’75 has a mind that buzzes with constant activity, always attracted to the sweetness of an idea with a twist. His degree is in biology, and his love of the natural world is evident in his art. His etchings, prints, and drawings illustrate the intricacies and mystery of nature: craggy trees, elegant fish, round-bellied frogs, fierce raptors and delicate song birds, dank mushrooms, the occasional napping old dog.
So the idea of combining living bees and his etchings seemed, well, natural. He saw it as collaboration.
Some five years ago, a friend had given him a box of bees.
“There was a little bit of sugar water in there, something like mosquito netting, and the bees were climbing around inside the box,” Hanka says. “And I thought, so cute! Like having a puppy!” He laughs. “Suddenly, I was a parent. It was on that level of forethought that I became a beekeeper.”
Where the idea came from to place his etchings inside the beehives, among the living bees, Hanka can’t say.
“Who knows where ideas come from,” he shrugs. “You wake up some night, and there it is. It seems such a simple idea, too, but I’d never seen anyone do it. So I put the etching in after soaking the paper in hot beeswax, brushing it on, and the bees seem to like that paper. Typically, they start on the chunks of old, recycled beeswax and avoid the lines of the etching. Perhaps it’s the flavor? Or the waxy aromatic paper? Otherwise they tend to chew up and destroy any foreign substance intruding on their hives. Then again, they may just be critics.” Hanka grins.
Standing in his studio, a building he constructed where the garage once stood at his residence in Kalamazoo, just a few blocks from Kalamazoo College, he leans in close to take a look at his etchings. He has them lined up in a row on a small ledge along the end wall. The etchings closely match what he exhibited in ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
ArtPrize is an annual art competition judged both by popular vote and a jury. This past summer more than 1,500 artists from across the world exhibited their work in and around downtown Grand Rapids. Hanka’s panoramic etching in ArtPrize 2011 won the Curator’s Choice award and was purchased by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection.
The co-artist shows some the collaborative works.
Hanka’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “Great Wall of Bees: Intelligence of the Beehive,” is his third since the competition’s inception. Contained inside a glass case along the length of a wall just inside the entrance of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), live bees buzzed and danced and chewed over three rows of Hanka’s etchings—detailed images of toads, salmon, trees, insects, birds—building honeycomb along the curves of his lines, indeed in surprising collaboration.
Great Wall of Bees was collaborative art and environmental message. In a description of his work on the ArtPrize website, he wrote:
“The additions bees make to the etchings are as inevitably elegant as the gently curving veils of honeycomb you find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures, which brings me inescapably around to bees being in trouble—not just here but worldwide.
“The cause of bee die-offs is hardly a mystery. It’s much like the growth in cancer rates. No single factor causes it. The crisis is due to a summation of assaults on the organism, until it’s all too much. Bees face a gauntlet of toxins, habitat loss, electromagnetic pollution, exotic diseases and imported parasites. …”
Hanka’s living exhibit drew a great deal of attention. He estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 persons viewed the Great Wall of Bees. His work was short-listed in the top 25 in both popular and juried categories for three-dimensional entries.
“For the three weeks of the exhibit, I was the bee-man,” says Hanka. “I heard people talking about the bees in cafes and on the street. People still come to talk to me about the artwork and the bees, even though the show is over.”
“For the three weeks of the exhibit, I was the bee-man.”
It was profoundly gratifying, he says, to interact with the public coming to see his art and to watch the bees build their honeycomb around it. Bees crawled along the glass where children pressed their noses for a closer look. Some expressed concern over dying insects, and it gave Hanka a chance to explain something about the four-week life cycle of a bee and the difference between natural daily die-offs versus the massive losses bees currently suffer in beehives everywhere.
The hands of collaborative art makers.
He dips a bare hand into one of his hives, set in a circle beside his house, and the bees emerge, almost lazily, spinning a hum of circles around Hanka’s head and landing on him. They swarm over his bare hands and land in his beard.
“They are not aggressive with me,” Hanka says. “Frame of mind is important. They respond much like any animal would. You have to be sensitive to their mood and show some respect..”
The bees do sting him occasionally, he says, especially when stressed, but Hanka shrugs it off. All a part of the art and all part of the natural order of things. As for the way the insects weave their intricate combs along his drawings, Hanka shrugs about that, too.
“I try to be realistic about that, how much intelligence is in the bee,” he says. “There is a spirit. I have no explanation for some of it.”
Hanka considers ArtPrize carefully, now that the citywide exhibit is done, his wall of bees packed up and brought back to the hive again. During subsequent weeks he contemplated the moment of fame.
“The space is clean and no evidence remains of the effort invested,” he says. “Honey gathering and art are both among the first recorded events in the mists of human history. My work invited people to partake of genuine, unfalsified sacraments. I saw they were truly moved by the beauty they encountered and by their concern for the fate of bees.”
Landing on the competition’s short lists gave him a few seductive moments of contemplating the financial prize (ArtPrize awards two grand prizes worth $400,000, and eight category awards worth $160,000). Those moments quickly evaporated in the final stages of the competition.
“Of course, there was a build-up and then disappointment,” Hanka nods. “Though we may ardently desire the accolades and money these votes confer, it isn’t why we make art.”
What remains, Hanka says, is the message he wanted to deliver: the interaction he had with his audience and his art, the near-mystical experience he had with another tiny life form. He acknowledges the influences that have remained with him from his years at Kalamazoo College, where he studied with Marcia Wood, Johannes Von Gumppenberg, Peter Jogo, and Bernard Palchick (all former professors in the art department). Equally, in biology, he credits Professors Paul Olexia, David Evans, and Fred Cichocki.
“I still keep in contact with many of them, and I value their influence in my life,” Hanka says. Ideas, he believes, are born in the buzz of many minds working at their purpose; they are built one upon another.
Hanka walks between the aisles of his beehives in the same way he walks between the tables in his studio. Both are covered with pieces of his work. He leans forward to study a detail, and then he leans back to contemplate the whole.
He is done with this particular project, this artistic collaboration with the bees that carried over years. Now, the bees will return to what they do best: making honey. The artist will let his mind spin and dream and buzz a little, until it lands on his next big idea.
Hundreds of miles in, with thousands more to go—one would think these two women would be nicknamed Blisters and Wails. Instead, Emily Sklar ’15 and Margaux Reckard ’13 are known along the trail as Giggles and Chuckles, respectively.
Hikin’ Hornets Emily Sklar ’15 (left) and Margaux Reckard ‘13.
The two laughing hikers are at this very moment somewhere along the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, hiking from Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine on an adventure that began on March 24. The adventures of Giggles and Chuckles are being recorded, step by step and with vivid photography, on their blog, Where the tinytent AT?
“My SIP [senior individualized project] is an exploration of the relationship between humans and their natural environment on the Appalachian Trail,” wrote Emily, a.k.a. Giggles, in early April, from a point near Springer Mountain, about 164 miles into the hike. She is a biology major with an interest in ecological issues, and she started thinking about hiking the Trail while on her LandSea expedition at the beginning of her freshman year. Her interest in nature, biology, and ecology came together in her SIP plan.
My SIP will explore what people gain from their experiences on the trail.
“I am conducting interviews along our hike to discuss individuals’ experiences, and what people gain from their experience on the trail,” Emily said. “The trip thus far has been really interesting. I’ve met a lot of people. Everyone has a different story and comes from a different place. Folks come from different geographic regions, levels of fitness, and experience levels.”
Emily Sklar ’15 encounters a wild pony in Grayson Highlands, a portion of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail hike she is doing for her Senior Individualized Project.
New friends (and SIP subjects) include hikers with such trail names as The Captain, Grandpa Chops, Roadrunner, Hearsay, LAF and Slim.
Emily added: “I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the company that we’ve found at the camps, although the sites very over crowded our first week. There were around 20 tents a night at each campsite. The groups are beginning to thin now because folks either leave the trail or move at different speeds.”
The two hikers have at this point hiked through the state of Georgia, and yes, there have been blisters, and rain, and frustrations along with the laughter.
“The biggest frustration that we’ve met so far has not been the rain,” said Emily. “We’ve felt like we have something to prove, being women out here. A lot of folks in camp haven’t taken us too seriously, but as soon as they learn that we’re some of the most experienced hikers out here, that changes a bit. All in all, we’re happy. We’re a little bit sore from the recent increase in mileage, but we’re having a lot of fun, making a lot of friends, staying dry (for the most part), and laughing frequently. “
As the weeks go on, the miles accumulate, and the blisters heal into calluses, the two write on their blog that they are feeling stronger. The goal of reaching Katahdin in Maine, wrote Margaux, “feels more and more possible.”
Community organizing had always attracted Jonathan Manuel Romero Robles ’13, and at K it became the most important skill he learned.
Jonathan (right) with former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell after signing the city’s resolution to join Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative in September 2015.
The son of Mexican immigrants living in South Central Los Angeles, Romero discovered at an early age that one’s social status greatly affects one’s education and access to resources. He was also keenly aware of how negatively the media portrays people like himself and his parents.
“It bothered me,” he said. “All that negativity was reinforced in school and at home. Then the media’s negative portrayal of us influenced policies that had detrimental consequences, such as decreasing our access to quality education, which in turn adversely affected our self-esteem. Media portrayals made it difficult for us to achieve our best potential and to do great things.”
Romero also learned that Latinos were survivors of a larger political landscape that was steeped in historical oppression.
“I didn’t have a name for that oppression in my early years, but I certainly felt it and was aware of it. It made me angry, but it also inspired me,” he said. “Supporting marginalized groups became what I wanted to do with my life. Later I learned that I could make change through organizing and advocacy work.”
Romero believes that Kalamazoo College gave him a positive foundation and several opportunities to lead by example.
He came to K as a POSSE Foundation scholar. POSSE administers one of the most comprehensive and renowned programs in the U.S. for college access and youth leadership development. It identifies, recruits and trains students from public high schools with extraordinary academic and leadership potential.
“Through the K-Plan I acquired a broad sense of what to do with my life, what that would mean, what I needed to learn,” he said.
He majored in political science and in philosophy, an academic combination he applied to stand up for himself and validate his own reality.
“If you can’t articulate injustices, some people will consider them valid,” said Romero. “K gave me lots of opportunities to call out injustices, through the Arcus Center mainly. Jamie Grant, Lisa Brock and other staff were always supportive of my organizing work on campus.”
In the summer of 2011, Romero obtained an internship at the Center for Progressive Leadership (Washington, D.C.) where he developed relationships with other young professionals and met with several congressional policymakers.
“It was the first time I envisioned myself as someone who could implement change,” he said.
That same fall, he had an opportunity to study away at the Philadelphia Center for Urban Studies. There he attended classes and secured an internship position with City Council Member Curtis Jones Jr. At City Hall Romero worked with the communications team during the Occupy Movement.
“The Occupy Movement made me examine the social hierarchies that oppress people on a variety of issues,” he said. “Never before was I prouder to be Latino, and I felt the need to make a point, to validate our experience.”
In spring of 2012 he studied abroad in Costa Rica and discovered immigration to be a global issue. It became clear to him, through observations of the media and various personal interactions, that Nicaraguans are a marginalized group in Costa Rica. Romero was painfully reminded that people too often react to people of color solely based on the color of their skin. It happened to him when he was prohibited from returning to Costa Rica after a visit to Nicaragua.
“Despite my U.S. passport, they wouldn’t let me back in. My peers who were ahead of me in line were let through, but not me.”
His Costa Rican experience inspired him to write his very first Spanish language poem, which he shared at K during a visit of Yosimar Reyes, a nationally acclaimed poet. He also decided to write his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) in the philosophy department arguing why undocumented immigrants should not be deported from the United States.
Jonathan joins other student activists in Washington, D.C., at a rally to save the federal Pell Grant program.
“I think about the intersectionality of people’s experiences and how oppressive systems win unless those at the bottom take a seat at the table, leading and promoting their own interests,” said Romero. “So my work has been centered around proposing new ideas and innovative ways of handling this oppression among Black people and Latinos.”
Romero is very excited about his current position as jobs coordinator for Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) in South Central Los Angeles. SCOPE has been in existence for 24 years. It builds power in the community by training ordinary people to lead by example in campaigns and lobbying opportunities and in neighborhood canvassing. SCOPE’s organizers have learned how to cultivate movements in which everyone takes the lead.
“That is the essence of democracy,” said Romero. “We have to use the system to do the best we can for marginalized groups who have been left out.” he said.
Romero serves people who want to work and to contribute to the community but who face a variety of problems including the lack of legal documentation, limited English proficiency, and discrimination based on LGBT status and nonviolent criminal records.
“At SCOPE I identify and advocate for job opportunities,” he says. “For example, we’ve pushed for civil service jobs at the City of Los Angeles and on-the-job training programs at the Department of Water. These targeted local hire programs are providing proof that our community faces significant barriers to employment and that the situation must change.”
SCOPE sees what South Central LA can be and works for the change that can make that vision a reality.
“Our current system is designed to keep certain people out in order for other people to benefit,” said Romero. “The question for those on the lower rungs of the social hierarchies is how and when will they push back against a system that minimizes their dignity and humanity.
“I help my community identify, articulate and call out systems rigged to oppress us. What I do has policy implications, and it provides a channel for change. The work is an awesome responsibility, and a privilege, too.”
Vital, perhaps a tad overlooked, and with a “porch time” aspect unique to K, Kalamazoo College’s Discovery Externship Program has connected students and alums since 2002. The externship provides students with valuable observation and participation in a field of their choosing, and, unlike a traditional internship (or any undergraduate program in the country) it also provides students homestays with K alumni. Opportunities range in character and geography, from helping at a community kitchen and farmer’s market in Chelsea, Mich., to working with children on the autism spectrum at Daily Behavioral Health in Cleveland, Ohio, to getting up close and personal with octopi in the crystal waters of the Caribbean for the Northeastern University Marine Science Center.
Andrew Terranella ’99, M.D.
One of the program’s early alumni adopters, Andrew Terranella ’99, M.D., saw immediately how K students might benefit from time spent at his work. A physician with the Public Health Service, Terranella works with Indian Health Services to provide care to reservations in the southwest United States. In 2008, when he arrived at his first post-residency job as a pediatrician on the Navajo Reservation in Kayenta, Arizona, he called his alma mater.
Terranella and Sotherland composed a description of his medical, rural externship, and soon after two young women, Anna Hassan ’10 and Lauren Torres ’10, signed up and made their way from a verdant Michigan summer to the red dirt and open skies of the Southwest.
Terranella wanted to maximize the benefit of externship for the students by providing some hands-on, brains-on work in addition to job shadowing. “We were launching a program in the clinic called, ‘Adventures in Medicine,’ which was a summer science project for local children and teens,” Andrew explains. “I had a general idea for the program, but I wanted the K externs, along with two medical students, to design the curriculum and administer it.” First things first, though. “We wanted to have one week of orienting to the place and to get to really know each other, so we went on a river trip on the Green River in Utah, which was a blast.” After that, the externs had time to plan and then implement the three-week science program. It is the time students spend with alumni during homestays that differentiates the discovery externship program from any other.
In addition to having the chance to see what a physician does, Anna and Lauren worked with students from area schools, in the process learning how to run a biomedical summer class and how the tribal community functioned. That interaction is important to Terranella. “I think it’s important for people to see that reservations exist,” he explained, “because there is an entire group of Americans that people don’t pay a whole lot of attention to. And yet the reservation is beautiful country, the people are fantastic, and the medicine is really interesting, a type that you won’t see in an academic setting.”
Through hosting externs, Terranella also hopes to inform others of the importance of public health and Indian Health Services, specifically. “Having students come here is a great way to share the cultural experience of working with IHS. Cultural competence is not something you may always learn about in medical school or as an undergrad,” he explains. In fact, in part because of that arid and exhilarating summer at Kayenta, Hassan went on to get her Master of Public Health degree and now works with underserved communities in New Orleans.
Terranella keeps in touch with many of his externs, and credits the homestay aspect of the program for fostering a close-knit bond. “Undoubtedly an important part of the experience is just having one-on-one time—what we call ‘porch time’, which is sitting together after a work day and chatting about anything. Porch time makes externships something more valuable than just getting to see my work. It’s about experiencing a life, as well. What is work-life balance like? What is like to be an IHS doctor living in Tucson? And I get to ask questions of the students and find out about their passions.”
Because of the rewards of hosting, Terranella has offered an externship to K students every year that he can. In addition to those of Hassan and Torres, he has provided externships for the following K students: Emily Parsons ’11, Jenny Kwon ’16, Elizabeth Lenning ’16, Miranda Doepker ’16, and Karina Duarte ’18. And he intends to create an externship at his new job—deputy director of a tribal hospital on the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona—as soon as he’s settled.
“It’s a really great experience. I’ve loved having the students.”
To get involved in the externship experience, visit the Host an Extern page at Kalamazoo College’s website. Here, you can see past externships, find tips on creating a successful externship and see what past hosts say about their experience.