Research Rescue: Accessible Help at K’s Library

The first time I had to write a research paper at Kalamazoo College was for my First Year Seminar, a course that all freshmen take during their first quarter at K. It’s safe to say, I was a little overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure where to start, what sources would be considered credible enough for an academic paper, or where to find my information online, let alone how to navigate the library and its three stories of shelves full of books.

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about because one of the great things about attending a smaller college like K is that not only do the First Year Seminar professors here anticipate freshmen students’ needs, but also that there are resources for help readily available. My professor set up a class period dedicated entirely to learning how to find sources for a research paper called the Beyond Google workshop, where the class works with a librarian who explains how to access K’s databases, electronic journals, and physical copies of books.

The Beyond Google workshop made me feel more prepared going into future essays, even if they weren’t explicitly research-based. I suddenly had access to resources that provided a better context to frame ideas within and to studies and evidence that solidified my arguments. Through this workshop, I also learned that if something wasn’t available through Kalamazoo College’s library or subscriptions, I had options to find materials online, in a statewide book-sharing database, and even at Western Michigan University.

All of this information was helpful to get me through my first quarter here at K, but what really amazed me was an information session I sat in on with my Women, Gender, and Sexuality class during my second quarter. Leading up to our final project and research paper, one of the K librarians had put together a whole workshop and webpage catered specifically to our class. The webpage was set up with step-by-step guides on how to find physical copies of books, how to navigate online journals and databases, and how to request resources from WMU. The librarian had taken the time to pick out the databases and indexes that were most relevant to our class, to suggest guiding keywords that worked best for different types of searches, and even to check the credibility of non-academic websites that could supplement our academic research. She then spent our class time going through real possibilities that students were specifically interested in researching, explaining how to search in an effective and timely manner, and offered us the option of individual help through a scheduled meeting with a Reference Librarian called “Research Rescue.”

I was struck by the specificity of the help available for students, something that a lot of people don’t get at larger universities. Because of K’s size, resources for help, whether it be academic or not, are easy to access and can be accommodated to meet individual needs. The Beyond Google workshop and info session with one of our Reference Librarians have provided me with the tools I need to be successful at K and have better prepared me for my academic future here.

-Emiliana Renuart ‘20

Something Lost but Something Gained

Quite recently, my grandfather unexpectedly passed away. This, of course, was and continues to be incredibly difficult on both myself and my family, but it was especially tough as a first-year student in only her second trimester at a fast-moving and academically rigorous institution like K. My grandfather’s death came at an incredibly inopportune time; though there is obviously no “convenient” time to lose a loved one, I felt overwhelmed by sorrow as well as the pressure from my commitments with school, work, and student organizations. I had two lengthy writing assignments due, a midterm coming up, work tasks to complete, two unfinished externship applications with deadlines approaching fast, an article to write for The Index and another for NaKed magazine, and next to no time to complete them all as well as to grieve with my family. Not long after initially learning the devastating news, I began to feel as if I would never have enough time or energy to “bounce back” from something like this – this feeling of hopelessness, luckily, did not last long, as the students, faculty, and staff at K refused to let me drown.

Upon e-mailing all three of my professors and informing them of my circumstances, each and every one of them not only offered condolences, but extensions on my various assignments. What’s more, they were also sensitive to my inability to participate in class at my usual level, and each made sure to check up on me in a discreet manner, letting me know they cared for me as a human being, and not just for my grade (one later wrote to me that she understood that “being a good daughter sometimes clashed with being a good student,” and encouraged me to focus on being the former).The same was true of my editors at The Index and NaKed magazine, all K students themselves, who empathized with the feeling of being overwhelmed with “family stuff” in addition to life at K, and generously accommodated me by extending deadlines, even despite their own busy schedules and numerous other commitments.

In addition, I was encouraged on numerous occasions to visit the counseling center, which I eventually did. Not only was my session completely free of charge, but the trained professionals at the counseling center worked with me diligently to find appointment times that would fit my already-hectic schedule. I found the sessions to be a reprieve from my daily life; they were a chance to grieve in private without judgment as well as a good place to learn how to find time for myself and my family amidst all my other commitments with school, work, and extracurriculars. What’s more, my counselor made sure to follow up with me afterward and let me know she was always available to me – not only after crises such as a death in the family, but for any and all concerns I may have in the future regarding my mental health.

No one wants to think about crises that might arise after they leave for college. I know I never did, and I know I never wanted to – but I am glad for the numerous outlets for support I have found here at K since arriving last fall. Perhaps at another college or university, the loss of a loved one on top of everything else would have been too much – but thankfully, for me, this was not the case here at K.

I miss my grandfather every day, and I believe I always will. But the people at Kalamazoo College were not only compassionate and accommodating in light of my loss, but they helped me to realize I could handle unexpected moments in life, even the incredibly painful ones. Since returning to campus after the funeral, I can honestly say that the bright days have outnumbered the dark ones – and that’s a testament to the people around me as much as it is to myself.

-Addie Dancer ’20

Making Connections at K

Though the environment, campus, and cost of a college are some of the most popular deciding factors when figuring out where you want to be for the next four years, I realized it’s also important to look at the faculty and staff that work at the college. Although it may seem like it, the students at a college aren’t the only people you’re spending the next four years with. The professors and administration, even the security and dining staff, are all individuals who also have the ability to make your college experience noteworthy or one you wish to forget.

When deciding on K College, I hadn’t given much thought to the faculty, staff, and administration at K. I was solely focused on the cost and classes offered to ensure I was going to get the most out of these next four crucial years. However, I soon realized I had made a mistake when I chose not to look into the professors and staff, not because I would’ve known what professors to look out for and what administration to kiss up to, but because there are so many extraordinary individuals within those positions here at K.

Throughout my first two quarters here at K, I have been lucky enough to have professors that have a strong passion for teaching while making the required material not only easy to comprehend, but also intriguing. One specific individual who has stood out above the rest is my academic advisor Diane Seuss, whom was also the professor of my First-Year Seminar.

Di doesn’t just teach the material in her class, she dissects it, smothers it all over you with a dash of personal narrative and a hint of real-world experiences, and puts it in its own special package for you to carry for the rest of your time at K. She makes a classroom of shy acquaintances bloom into a bold new family and reminds you it’s okay to take a mental day.

Not only was a Di an impactful professor, but she’s also a more than qualified academic advisor. Coming into K, I was so confident in the direction I wanted my studies to go that I didn’t think an academic advisor would offer any meaningful insight. I went into the meeting ready to tell her that I intend on double majoring in English and Psychology with a minor in Spanish, but left the meeting thinking about a concentration in Women’s Studies, or a double major with Anthropology/Sociology instead of Psychology. Di told me that the best part about K was that there’s plenty of room to take classes you wouldn’t normally think of taking, such as the religion course I decided to take this past quarter. She made it clear to me that I have time to experiment and start fulfilling required credits for my intended English major.

Di has gone out of her way to not just offer my guidance within an academic context, but on a more personal level as well. She is more than willing to meet outside of her scheduled office hours to chat about classwork or anything else that’s going on in my life. Fortunately, that’s how most professors at K are; they’re more than willing to go the next step and create a relationship with you. So if you’re thinking about coming to K, do some research on the staff, especially those that teach in your areas of interest, and be ready to create a relationship with them because they can’t wait to make one with you.

-Karina Pantoja ’20

Those Who Teach

You would think that a first-year like myself might find difficulty in writing holistically about my experiences with faculty and professors, having only been at the school for a few months. At other colleges and universities across the country, that might well be the case, but here at K, things move faster – and that includes the process of getting to know the intelligent, committed individuals who drive our education forward.

One of the first faculty members all first-year students come to know is their academic advisors. I was assigned to Dr. Sugimori, a math and Japanese professor – a stark contrast from my intended majors of English and history! But any concerns I may have had regarding potential incompatibility between the two of us were quickly squashed upon our first meeting. Despite not being a part of the fields I was looking into, Dr. Sugimori was immediately committed to helping me understand requirements and find the right classes to pursue my intended majors. She also expressed sincere interest in how my first semester at K was going, and was visibly delighted to learn I had started writing for The Index – she even vowed to start reading my articles each week!

In addition, one of the first professors I came across in a classroom setting was Dr. Sinha. Within her Classical Hollywood class, I was initially impressed by her seemingly-endless knowledge in any and all subjects relating to film, as well as her ability to articulate these topics, both in the context of the past as well as in the present. But after a few weeks in class, I found myself even more moved by her considerate nature, as she was more than willing to make an appointment with me during office hours when I was unsure about an assignment. Even a few weeks after Classical Hollywood had ended, Dr. Sinha cared enough to return my final essay at my request, and readily agreed to be a reference as I applied for on-campus work.

And of course, no blog post about faculty would be complete without mention of the incredible Dr. Boyer-Lewis, a history professor here at K. I chose to take her Women’s History class at the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend, and I am grateful every day that I did. I find myself surprised at how quickly an hour and fifteen minutes seems to pass with a professor who has so much passion for what she teaches. What’s more, Dr. Boyer-Lewis, like Dr. Sinha, was quick to recognize any potential I may have had, generously offering advice when I approached her about an externship in the field of history and eagerly offering herself up as a recommendation, giving me the confidence to pursue further experience and education, even outside of the classroom.

And in all of this reflection, I think of days in the not-so-distant past when I, too, was a prospective student. I remember searching sites like Rate My Professor religiously to see what current K students thought of the faculty members in my potential fields of study, and thought it had to be impossible that the College’s average professor rating was 4 out of 5, with a number of them earning near perfect scores in every category. But nearly two semesters in, I now understand quite clearly what it is that compelled those former students to write such glowing testimonials of the professors they have learned so much from.

Trust me when I say, when it comes to the faculty at Kalamazoo College, words – whether spoken, written on a blog, or posted on a site – can only say so much. The rest truly must be experienced for itself.

– Addie Dancer ’20

Advising Across Differences: How My Basketball Coach Academic Adviser Helped Me Major In English

During the summer before my first year at Kalamazoo College, I anxiously awaited the different information that was being released through my Hornet Hive account, like who my roommate would be and what dorm we were in, what classes I could take as a freshman, and who my academic adviser would be. As I was preparing to begin college, every new email or letter in the mail I received regarding the upcoming year felt like one more step closer to this new exciting experience.

When I was assigned my academic adviser and found out it was one of the basketball coaches, I was a little taken aback. Being interested in English and Art, I worried that a coach who had an entirely different job and set of responsibilities wouldn’t have time to invest in helping me and wouldn’t be able to lead me in the right direction. As soon as I met Coach Miller, the head women’s basketball coach, all my worries went away. Her super laidback personality made it easy for the five students she was advising to make conversation and get to know her. She was personable and easygoing. After that brief first meeting, we all had to make individual advising appointments to speak about our individual K-Plans.

While Coach Miller realized a lot of those things were fairly far ahead in the future, we talked about what I possibly wanted to major in, what clubs I wanted to be involved in, where I might want to study abroad and what I was most interested in pursuing as a student. Even though Coach Miller wasn’t an English or Art professor, she knew the answers to almost all of my questions and knew when to point me in the direction of someone in the relevant department for questions she didn’t have answers to. What ended up being most important about my relationship with my academic adviser was that she was easy to talk to, someone I felt I could trust and rely on, and that she went above and beyond the required once-a-quarter meeting by emailing me to help with schedule changes, recommend a yoga teacher when I mentioned I was interested in the class, and just generally check up on how things were going. Academic advisers are trained to guide you and help inform you when needed, no matter what subject or activity they themselves are involved in.

-Emiliana Renuart ’20

New World, New Words, and New Wonder

The summer before I started my first year, I called my academic advisor and asked a few questions about the language classes I could take at K. Having taken Spanish for 5 years and having placed into a 300 level course, I thought it would be an easy conversation.  Fifteen minutes later, I was enrolled in my first Chinese class. I wasn’t entirely sure the challenge and adventure that lay ahead of me, but looking back I know the impulsive decision I made that day has given me incredible opportunities of growth, building new friendships, and the chance to express myself in new ways.

fall 2015_Chinese Class_amandajohnsonFrom fall quarter of my first year all the way until spring quarter of my sophomore year, I was a loyal member of Chinese language classes. The one hour language lab on my Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a time where native speakers helped us with our language acquisition, became as normal as eating meals. My classmates became like family and my professors became some of my closest friends. Going through something difficult with people has a magic way of bringing you close; learning Chinese was difficult and certainly brought us close.

Proud of my accomplishment of surviving two full years of Chinese class, but still feeling like I had a long way to go, led me to studying, researching, and living in China for nine months. Kalamazoo College supported my newfound love of learning Chinese both on and off campus, and encouraged me to challenge myself in new ways. K supported me in receiving a $20,000 scholarship to support my abroad experience and has continued to support me as I seek to further my language skills after graduation. Learning Chinese has become an integral part of my college experience, and the friendships I have made through the process have made me a better person.IMG_0166

People frequently ask me why I decided to study Chinese. Most people probably assume that a decision like this would take a lot of planning and thought, but for me it was different. Impulsive is the only way to describe it. Although I had been interesting in studying Chinese for a while, the decision to take that first class really happened on a whim. And now here I am, three years later able to converse in Chinese on most topics, write academic papers in Chinese, and read the newspaper in Chinese.

If I am honest with myself I don’t know if this would have been part of my college experience had I not attended Kalamazoo College. As part of the liberal arts education K challenges its students to reach beyond their “normal”, and this was led me to my new “normal”. K College opened my world, my words, and my wonder. And for that I am forever grateful.

-Amanda Johnson ’17

My Visit Experience

When I was applying to college, I really just wanted to get away from home and get as far away as possible. When my high school’s college counselor recommended I look at Kalamazoo College, I wanted to laugh—actually I might have. I said sure, told my parents about it, and they looked into the school with me. Suddenly, my parents were attached to the idea of me going to Kalamazoo College and set up a trip to an open house. On a chilly, Sunday morning, I hopped in my parents’ car and we made the two and half hour drive from Royal Oak to Kalamazoo. The brick buildings with the changing leaves of October seemed almost magical. It didn’t look real, it looked like a Photoshopped image of what a college should look like.

We entered the Fine Arts Building (the FAB) to listen to panels of students and faculty talk about what Kalamazoo College was all about. The more they talked about K (as they affectionately referred to the school), the more I felt like maybe I could actually go here. I sat in the auditorium all morning listening to talks about student life alongside academics and it seemed like maybe this wasn’t such a laughable option to me.

During a break in the program for lunch with current students, my parents and I had a wonderful talk with a girl who was a senior that recently returned from study abroad in China. She was double majoring in psychology and business and was very involved on campus. As she talked to me about her life at K, I had to ask, “how is it possible that you’re doing all of this stuff and studying abroad, AND getting a double major?!” She laughed and said, “That’s just how K is, because of the K-Plan, it’s so easy to do whatever you want.”

It was like my mom could read my mind because she asked, “What exactly is the K-Plan?” The student explained how Kalamazoo College doesn’t require you to take classes you don’t want to take. You really only need to complete your major, meet a language requirement, take a few P.E. courses, and complete other small requirements like a seminar and a senior project. “Because it’s so open, you end up getting double majors and minors and things almost by accident. It also makes it really easy to go abroad for two quarters.”

We finished lunch, thanked the girl for talking with us, and headed out on our tour of campus. As we were walking, I was mulling around what the girl had said about the curriculum being so open and really enjoying that. Walking around the small, beautiful campus, I was at peace. I wasn’t overwhelmed or full of anxiety. I felt calm; I felt at home.

Izzie Kerivan in Kalamazoo College sweatshirt

Before we left for the day we stopped in to the bookstore where my dad happily bought me a sweatshirt for what he started referring to that day as “K College, your new school”. On the way home I wore the sweatshirt, took a selfie in it, and posted it on Instagram. Those two hours, and really the whole day, allowed me to realize that what I was looking for in college wasn’t necessarily literally distance from my hometown, my family, and all that I knew. Rather, I was looking for a change. What I was looking for was a place that was not as strict as my Catholic high school and not as mundane as my Metro Detroit suburb. I was looking for a weird place like Kalamazoo, Michigan and a campus that was open and accepting of any and all students. I still sent out applications to other schools, but when it came down to it, I knew where I would be. Closer to home than I ever thought, but it would feel like a different world and that was exactly what I needed.

– Izzie Kerivan ’17