Senior Project Focuses on Passion for Film

Ximena Davis holds senior project titled "Culture You Can Eat"
Ximena Davis presenting her senior project before she turns it in.

As a current senior, I am completing my Senior Individualized Project, or SIP, in the English department this year and often look back to when I first learned about what the SIP was. I first heard about this requirement while touring Kalamazoo College four years ago, and I imagined the hours spent writing a fifty-page research paper. However, I soon learned that at Kalamazoo College, this senior project can be creative, as well as research-based, depending on what interests you. Once I heard about the creativity I could have with my SIP, I immediately scheduled a meeting with the head of the department fall term of my first year here. While I was told I was way ahead of the game, I was still excited about the possibility of doing a film, something I have been very interested in for a long time.

As I came to the end of my junior year, I was planning on doing a documentary, and I was having trouble coming up with the topic. Knowing that this project was supposed to be a culmination of what I have learned at K, I thought back to all of the opportunities the college has given me. I recalled the externship I was able to do after my first year of college in New Orleans. An externship is a competitive opportunity where alumni of the school offer to let one or two students shadow them at their jobs and see what it is like to live a few weeks in their shoes. My placement happened to be with a college professor and filmmaker in New Orleans. He was shooting a full-length, independent feature film and on that set, I was given the hands-on knowledge of what it is like working on a film. I had the opportunity to perform many jobs on-set, which helped cement my love of film and commitment to a career in the industry. I was able to be behind the camera and create shots, download and back up footage, clap the slate in front of the camera and call shots, and even had a small cameo in the film itself!

Sandwich with french fries for senior project
While filming her senior project, Ximena Davis enjoyed trying the different food found in New Orleans.

My senior project therefore, led me back to New Orleans where I shot a documentary on the unique food culture of the city. I spent two weeks down south over the summer developing my story, choosing restaurants, shooting footage, and gathering interviews. I met so many interesting people and ate more beignets, muffalettas, po’boys, and sno-balls than I could count! I was able to enjoy the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, see baby alligators in the wild, and visit the friends I made while down there for the first time. I was able to explore the intricacies of the city in a way I had been unfamiliar with before because of the independence I had when filming my SIP. Learning about the importance of the city and the people through its food helped me gain a deeper understanding of how culturally unique it is. Now that I am back at K, I have been editing my film under the guidance of my SIP advisors. I couldn’t be more excited to premiere my film for the college community and take another step toward my chosen career. Now, to book a room for the screening…!

Ximena Davis is a senior majoring in English and minoring in Anthropology and Sociology. She has a concentration in media studies and American studies.

Make Your Way to K

Here’s the thing, at this point in the college process, you are deciding where you’re going to end up for the next four years of your life. The next four years – it sounds scary and almost like a decision too big for an seventeen or eighteen year old, but let me tell you this, you’re going to end up exactly where you need to. However, while you’re calculating the distance from home or trying to figure out what school colors you’d look better in, you should read this list of 10 reasons why you should make your way to K:

1. Our entire campus lies in (barely) a mile-long radius. It will literally, at most, take you five
minutes to walk from one end of the campus to another. Do you know how great that is in the winter?

2. We have free food at every. single. event. I’m serious, we have so much food to offer you!

3. Downtown Kalamazoo is only a short walk away. There’s everything from a movie theater to restaurants to a museum and stores just a few minutes away!

4. We have the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (also known as the best building on campus). You have the ability to get involved and attend various events with topics that range from Native American representation throughout history to resistance through art.

5. Jorge Gonzalez is the most wonderful, caring, and genuine man you might ever meet and he is also the President of the College (this is a fact). Come for Jorge, he’d love you!

6. We’re on a trimester system (three 10-week terms), which means we start school later (mid-September) and you get a six-week winter break (end of November until the second week of January) – it’s what you need, trust me.

7. The average class size at K is 13. Our small class sizes mean you get to make valuable connections with your professors, which comes in handy for recommendations and networking in the future.

8. STUDY ABROAD. I mean, let’s be real here, what schools allows you to study abroad for a full academic year and still graduate on time? (Hint: Kalamazoo College does.)

9. By the time you’re a sophomore, you have the opportunity to hold various leadership positions within student organizations. Typically, you wouldn’t serve on an executive board of a club or organization at a bigger university until your junior or senior year, but here at K, you can start as early as the end of your first year so you can go into your sophomore year holding certain positions.

10. You will literally get more in your four years here at K – from career development to study abroad to independent research, your work throughout your time here at K will put you on track to obtain more in a lifetime.

Now there you have it, ten reasons (although there are so many more) on why YOU should make your way to K. We hope to see you soon!

Karina Pantoja ’20

SIP Stress Be Gone: Navigating Your Senior Project

Savannah Kinchen holds her Senior Individualized ProjectFriends, I come to you today through the blogosphere with groundbreaking news – just moments ago I officially handed in my Senior Individualized Project (SIP)! I’ve been working on my SIP (or SIPping, as the kids call it these days) since spring of 2017, back when I was panicking about what my topic would be, which model I would choose, and how on earth I would ever finish it. Luckily, I had plenty of resources here on campus to help me navigate all of my SIP anxieties. As an Anthropology and Sociology major, I elected to do my SIP in my major department, although you can do your SIP in departments outside your major as well. Mine ended up being a forty-page research paper, but I have friends who are writing original plays, producing original music, and writing novels for their SIPs. That’s what’s so great about K – you can base your SIP off of whatever experience you want to have. But back when I was in the early stages of my SIP journey, I felt overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, and it seemed like everyone else around me had a solid vision for theirs. Luckily, I had the support of the Anthropology Department Chair, Dr. Baptiste, who always welcomed me into her office hours to hear my latest SIP concerns. I’m sure that at larger schools it just wouldn’t be possible for professors to spend as much time with students who needed help planning their SIPs. I feel so grateful to be at a school where the professors are not only easily accessible, but are also so willing to help you find your way, whether it be on a class assignment, your SIP, or life after K.

Through my conversations with Dr. Baptiste, I discovered that I wanted experience in the work force rather than experience with collecting data. She suggested that I do a summer practicum model for my SIP, where I could couple a literature review with a reflection of my internship experience. This sounded perfect for what I wanted, and now the only problem was getting myself a summer internship. That’s where the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) came in. I went to them asking what summer internship opportunities were available and they encouraged me to apply to one of the several Kalamazoo organizations that the CCPD partners with. They coached me through the application process, helped me edit my résumé and cover letters, and even awarded me a substantial stipend once I landed an internship (music to the ears of a broke college student). So not only was I able to gain experience in a field of interest, I was also able to base my SIP off of that experience. The support I was given from the Anthropology and Sociology Department and the CCPD, as well as the abundant opportunities provided by the City of Kalamazoo made my SIP experience a positive one. Whoever is reading this is probably not overly concerned about the SIP just yet, but you can rest assured that K College will give you the resources you need to succeed.

-Savannah Kinchen ’18

Student Spotlight: The Chemist with A Passion for Music

Student: Bryan Lara ’17bryan lara

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

I’ve known Bryan since freshman year when we were in College Singers, one of the student choirs on campus. When I found out Bryan was majoring in the sciences, I was a little surprised. He was so involved in the music department that I assumed he was a music major.

Now, we are seniors and I have gotten to know Bryan very well. I see him now as just another K student with opposing majors and minors, because that’s just the kind of school Kalamazoo is. So I sat down to talk with him about his academic life at Kalamazoo, and how that has in turn influenced the rest of his time here at K.

What’s your major? Or majors?

Ok, so I am a Bio—wait no I’m not—sorry. I am a chemistry major. I have a biochemistry and molecular biology concentration and I have a minor in music.

Ok, well those first two things make sense together, but the music? How did that get thrown in there?

I’ve been a part of a music program since seventh grade so after high school I realized I didn’t want to let go of music. One of the plus sides about K is you don’t have to be a music major or minor to be affiliated with the ensembles and take classes, so I decided to do both fall quarter freshman year. That was when I realized I really wasn’t ready to let go. At first I tried to make it a double major, but I wanted to spend more time in the hard sciences so I dropped it to a minor. I was just being realistic and trying not to spread myself too thin but it’s a passion I’ve always had.

How has your chemistry major and the hard sciences impacted your involvement on campus?

I think every quarter varies, but there is that baseline where I know what I can do and what I can’t, and what I can reach for and push myself to do. For example, since I usually take two science classes a quarter that means I know I should split them on which days I take them and when I can be involved in certain organizations. I can think to myself, “I probably can’t be in this club because I have a pre-lab due the next day.” In some ways it’s been restrictive, but in other ways it’s made me join other clubs like SUKUMA (a club for minorities in the hard sciences), which is really nice. I didn’t even know it was a thing until one of my friends was like “there is this club, you should come join!”. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something on this campus that not everybody else is, because the hard science isn’t for everyone. It definitely has positives and negatives but I feel like I made the right choice.


Did you come into K knowing you wanted to be a chemistry major or did that just kind of happen?

When I came in, I knew I wanted to do a hard science. I actually started in biology. Since I’m mostly in the pre-med track, it means you still have to take a lot of chemistry, so originally I declared biology and was just taking chemistry classes. Then I realized that the biology at K isn’t necessarily the biology I really love. I started taking more chemistry almost by accident because I really liked it and I was good at it. It felt natural for me to switch from biology to chemistry. It’s still a hard science, and it’s still pre-med, and I’ve loved my decision. I do my chemistry classes, and sometimes I may be confused out of my mind, but I still enjoy it.

Was it hard to switch from biology to chemistry?

No, because I’m on the pre-med track, the classes line up pretty closely. There were a few, like my ecology class that was just an extra class. So it actually worked out really well.

So, you’re a senior and you completed your SIP (Senior Individualized Project). How was that? Did you do it in your major?

Yeah, I did. It was stressful, but it ended up being worth it. The research I ended up doing was completely different from what I expected. It was definitely a good different because I got to do a lot of stuff that you don’t always realize goes into research. I collected participants, drawing blood samples, preparing the samples. I thought I was just going to be doing the nitty-gritty of what I had to do for my SIP, but no, I did a lot more and my supervisor was actually really supportive, and so was the rest of the chemistry department when I got back on campus in the fall. All of the students are supportive of each other and help each other out with stuff like formatting and editing. Teamwork makes the dream work, guys!

Did you go on study abroad?

Yeah, I did. I went to Ecuador and I did the ecology and ecosystem program for six months.

And what was that like? Was it related to chemistry?   

No, actually I officially decided to be a chemistry major after that program. Before that I was technically a biology major and a chemistry major.

So study abroad was really like a turning point for you in your K career?

Yeah, I was still very on the fence sophomore year and I thought this program would help me decide. Ecology fascinates me, but I have a passion for organic chemistry which most people find odd, since its one of the more difficult kinds of chemistry. That said, the Ecuador program is just phenomenal. You get to do research in the Amazon rain forest and the Galapagos Islands, and it’s just such an experiences that I don’t think many people get to have, and oh my, it was paradise and I loved it.

One last question for you: Why did you pick K?

Well, I applied to 14 different schools when I applied to college. At first I was drawn to Kalamazoo College at a college fair because of the name, but then I ended up really liking what I read about it in the brochures. When I got accepted to schools I started doing visits and after visiting all the schools I felt the most at home at K. Even though it was out of state, which is something I wanted when I was applying to schools, it still felt like home and I was more comfortable here than any other school. Everyone was just so welcoming and nice. I felt like K was a place I could grow since it’s so nurturing. And I always thought I could transfer back to UCLA if I didn’t love it, but I didn’t. Now, I’m a senior and I’m going to be sad to leave come June.

Interview conducted by Isabella Kerivan ’17