Sally is the new head of the Kazoo School, a preschool through 8th grade private school in Kalamazoo. She wrote a blog post in the autumn that touched on the subjects of family, home, reunions, and the magic of entering an elementary school as an adult: “Because I work in one every day, I often forget what a magical experience it is to enter an elementary school as an adult. We are instantly transported to an earlier time–hopefully a happy time–of pencil shavings and kickball, backpacks and circle gatherings.” The post also says some very nice things about the pull of one’s alma mater. Sally graduated with bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she studied abroad in Caceres, Spain. Sally’s husband, Courtney Read, graduated as a member of the class of 2006. He majored in history and studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany.
Tim is the executive director of the Albion Community Foundation. He began his duties there in June. Tim grew up in Albion and graduated from Albion High School. At K he majored in music. He has worked in nonprofit development since graduation and earned his Certified Fund Raising Executive credential in December of 2015. Prior to taking the position at ACF, Tim worked for the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Teach for America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Christine published an article, “Maintaining Problematic Art: A Case Study of Philip Evergood’s The Bridge of Life (1942) at Kalamazoo College.” The article appeared in Public Art Dialogue (6:1, 116-130) on May 27, 2016.
The piece is particularly interesting for any alumni familiar with the mural (see above) in Old Welles Hall. It covers the history of controversy inspired by the work since it’s unveiling (1942), including specific calls (in 1966 and in 2010) for some redress for iconography deemed offensive to and by some individuals and groups. Detailing the call-and-response to the criticism voiced in 2010, Christina ultimately suggests “that problematic public art has the unique potential to produce positive social change by staying in place.”
The article reveals much about K’s history, including Evergood’s time on campus as an artist and a teacher as well as his bona fides as an ardent social radical. Christina also introduces (from Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air) a concept of “freedom of listening.” In his book Hyde cites Benjamin Franklin’s creation of a lecture hall where “people were free to give lectures on whatever they wanted.” In that space (Christina quotes Hyde): “Individual speakers present singular views; individual listeners entertain plurality…. The hall was thus built to serve the eighteenth-century idea of replacing the partial self with a plural or public self, one who is host to many voices, even those otherwise at odds with the singular being you thought you were when you first walked in the door….If we take free listening to be the true end of free speech, then freedom itself takes on a different aspect…intelligence arises in the common world, where many voices can be heard; it belongs to collectivity, not privacy, and is available especially to those who can master the difficult art of plural listening.”
Christina invokes Hyde’s notion of “agonistic listening amongst equals in conflict” (a notion that is at the heart of the academy and a direct contrast to “antagonism, where opponents try to silence or destroy the other”) to describe College and student responses to the controversy implicit and explicit in the work, particularly the responses that took place or were considered between 2010 and 2015. She writes: “The building Benjamin Franklin built that embraced such agonistic pluralism eventually became the Philadelphia Academy, which in turn became the University of Pennsylvania. This transformation of space, built to house agonistic conflict among equals, is a particularly fitting symbol of how physical space can potentially create a space for inquiry, conflict and debate. This type of site is necessary and important. Indeed, as Lewis Hyde argues, it is agonistic spaces such as these that are the foundations of democracy.”
The presence of the mural, Christina continues, has provided the intellectual and emotive space for agonistic listening, “has allowed these twenty-first-century conversations on race, class dynamics and elite educations to take place….[M]aintaining problematic public art in an agonistic space helps keep our understanding of the past and our vision of the future firmly in view.” A fascinating article, well worth the time to read it.
Keshia wrote and published her first children’s book, titled Arianna’s First 5K. The story describes Keshia’s daughter Arianna’s first five-kilometer run, and how that experience made an impact on her life and on the lives of others. Said Dickason: “My goal for the book is to inspire youth of all ages to live a healthy lifestyle that will follow them into adulthood.”
Ellen participated in the April 22 March for Science in Washington, D.C., the goal of which was to send the message that science matters. Ellen was one of six scientists profiled in an April 21 article (“From Alaska to Georgia, Why 6 Scientists Will March on Washington”) that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Ellen represented the “from Alaska,” where she is a student in ecology and marine biology (her research focuses on humpback whales) at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. In the article she states that she attended the march, in particular, to make sure that rural researchers and young women were represented. At K Ellen majored in biology and studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. The title of her K Senior Individualized Project is “Tidal Influences on Behavior and Dispersal of Humpback Whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska.”
Lauren is an investigative television journalist in St. Louis, Missouri (News 4 Investigates Team). She has spent the majority of her career as a reporter and anchor, and she has worked in newspapers, radio and television. Before moving to St. Louis, she worked as an anchor and reporter at KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas. She earned her B.A. in English at K.
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.
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.
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.’
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.”
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.”
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.”
NOTE: The College’s Center for Career and Professional Development provides alumni various ways to network with each other and with students. And the Alumni Directory is a great tool for alumni to keep in touch. Check out the directory and update your profile.
One of the most special times to be a part of the action on campus is during Homecoming weekend. Some of us, like my colleagues on the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB), are fortunate to be on campus several times a year. When was the last time you came home to Kalamazoo College?
Homecoming at Kalamazoo College can mean many different things… fall colors in the Midwest, football games, the Hornet 5K run. For me, it’s about connecting with old friends, making new connections, and reconnecting with my alma mater.
The AAEB would like to welcome you back to K every year for Homecoming. This year’s festivities occur October 23 through October 25. But it doesn’t have to be your reunion year for you to come to campus and feel the energy of a new academic year. After all, it’s likely you knew far more K students than just the members of your immediate class year! The campus is buzzing with activities of all kinds, and the city of Kalamazoo is a vibrant community.
Happenings worth your return include departmental gatherings, at which you can connect with professors and alumni who shared your major and various opportunities to see new buildings on campus or visit old haunts.
The AAEB sponsors two very special Friday evening events for alumni during Homecoming weekend. The first is a networking reception that informally gathers current students with alumni, faculty, and staff. Alumni share stories of their own career paths, listen and learn from others’ work experiences, and explore professional possibilities both local and global.
The second event is the Alumni Awards ceremony where we honor the achievements and service of fellow graduates. These special awards include recognition of a younger alumna or alumnus who has accomplished a lot in the first several years of life after K.
We welcome and encourage any and all alums to attend both of these events and the many other fun activities throughout Homecoming. That weekend is your chance to come home, to see what feels the same and to discover new connections.
So whether your reunion is right around the corner or several years out, Homecoming 2015 will provide opportunities to stay connected with one another other and with our alma mater.
And if you aren’t able to get back to campus as often as you like, we encourage you to seek ways to connect in your local community. From regional events like Hornet Happy Hours to being a part of a career fair or recruitment event, there are ways to engage with K and your fellow alumni close to your home. The AAEB has created a menu of Alumni Bites to outline the many opportunities.
And in those interims between local and regional events and our class reunions on campus, we can always find each other and stay connected through the alumni directory, alumni Facebook pages, and occasional informal gatherings with groups of K friends.
I recently spent a weekend camping with my K roommate and several other K friends and their families (together we now total 18!). It felt like no time had passed, and our bonds with each other and our alma mater were reinforced. I know we will stay connected and see each other in between, but it makes me that much more excited for our next reunion!
If there are other ways you would like to connect with Kalamazoo College or the AAEB directly, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your ideas for events at Homecoming and in your area!