Actor, Producer Return as Alumni to Screen ‘Grassland’

A celebrated actor fresh off his role as Magic Johnson in an HBO series and an up-and-coming movie producer, both alumni of Kalamazoo College, returned to campus last week, seeking a chance to change society’s views regarding marijuana incarceration policies.

Quincy Isaiah ’17—an actor known for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty—and Producer Adam Edery ’19 met students for a conversation about social justice in the entertainment industry and screened their new independent movie, Grassland, with a discussion panel and a private audience at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Grassland is expected to premier at a variety of film festivals in 2024 with Isaiah, Edery and Consulting Producer Shon Powell ’18—a third K alumnus—among those in its credits. The movie, set in 2008 during the Great Recession, follows a single Latina mother whose illegal marijuana business is jeopardized when her son befriends new neighbors, a young white boy and his police officer grandfather. According to production research, Latino people were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people at the time, while Black people were seven times more likely.

Actors Mía Maestro and Jeff Kober star alongside Isaiah, who plays Brandon. Maestro’s credits include the 2014–15 TV series The Strain and the 2012 film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Kober’s credits include TV series such as The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and China Beach. His movie roles include a part in the 2016 film Sully

Edery was among the first to join the project with one of his jobs being to secure funding for it, a role he relished considering the film’s subject matter.

“For me, I feel like my participation in the creation of the film was because of my K experience,” Edery said. “I was an anthropology-sociology major, and even before I had anything to do with film, I wanted to go into social justice and activism. A lot of the early projects that I produced were comedy based or random opportunities. There was nothing that felt like, ‘Wow, this is the type of story I want to tell.’ And then I read the script for Grassland. It was like a light flipped on in my head. The passion to do this project was inspired by me coming to K.”

Edery had previously reached out to Isaiah to connect as both were in Los Angeles, both were in the entertainment industry, and both were K alumni. Isaiah didn’t have a lot of time to meet until his work with Winning Time had finished, but when they finally got together, their networking proved to be mutually beneficial.

“We met for lunch and Adam slid the script to me,” Isaiah said of Grassland. “I read it and I loved it. It was beautiful and it had a lot of heart to it. I think that’s what pulled me to it, and with the K connection, I think there’s a different expectation you feel about certain people. Just meeting with him and hearing his thoughts about social justice made me feel very comfortable to work with him. I felt a kinship.”

Edery never had a doubt that Isaiah would flourish in his role as Brandon, but the producer said watching Isaiah act in person was amazing.

“I was blown away while watching him on set,” Edery said. “I always knew that Quincy is a super nice, hard-working, super talented actor, but I had never been there before to see him physically act. I remember a graveyard scene where it felt like I was looking at a different person. I think that’s a testament to how great Quincy is as an actor and how he crushed the role by pouring himself into it. When we watch it on screen, it almost doesn’t register that I’m watching Quincy. It’s like me and Quincy are watching Brandon.”

Beyond the film’s acting talent, Edery hopes the film will be known for asking its audiences an important question: How did we get here?

“The movie takes place in 2008 and something Quincy and I talk about is that this film has no villain,” he said. “It doesn’t say the police officer is the villain or that Sophia, who is growing weed, is the villain. It points at the system in place. Then being in 2023, it forces us to ask, ‘What are the systems that allowed us to have 40,000 people in prison for something that’s legal in Michigan now?’”

Isaiah said the film’s importance, in his opinion, is about viewers seeing different perspectives while following characters on a journey of emotions.

Quincy Isaiah and Adam Edery at the Festival Playhouse before screening Grassland
Actor Quincy Isaiah ’17 (left) and Producer Adam Edery ’19 returned to Kalamazoo College to screen their independent film titled “Grassland.”
Actor Quincy Isaiah at the Festival Playhouse
Isaiah performed in plays such as “Raisin in the Sun” and “In the Heights” in his time at K.
Quincy Isaiah, Adam Edery and Emily Williams attend the "Grassland" screening
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Executive Director Emily Williams introduces Isaiah and Edery at the “Grassland” screening.
"Grassland" discussion panel
Edery, Isaiah and Williams were among the people who participated in the panel discussion after the “Grassland” screening.

“These are people you could pass on the street and never pay much attention to, but when you see their story on the big screen, it’s right in front of you,” he said. “You have to pay attention and care about them.”

With there being no villain in Grassland, Isaiah said any character could potentially resonate with any viewer at any time.

“Some might gravitate toward Brandon,” he said. “Some people will gravitate toward Sophia and John (a police officer) or even Sophia’s mom. She’s so good in it and it’s for such a short time, but there’s so much weight to her role. I think everybody will find some character they see themselves in and that’s what you want a movie to be. You want to see yourself represented on the screen.”

His own character, though, is somebody who feels stuck with few options for moving on.

“I don’t want to spoil the movie, but he’s just finding himself in tough position after tough position because of something he did as a child,” Isaiah said. “He’s looked at like a dog and that’s the story of so many people. I relate to Brandon because I want the freedom to mess up and not be reprimanded for life because of it. But as sad as his story is, there’s something in him that will allow him to have a second life. He just has to put in more effort than his counterparts, which is difficult, but it’s his reality and I think he’s strong enough to figure that out.”

Ultimately, Edery said the opportunity to screen the film at K felt obvious, especially after discussing the possibility with President Jorge G. Gonzalez and Associate Vice President for Development Andy Miller ’99 and connecting with Arcus Center Executive Director Emily Williams.

“Even when we were filming, Quincy and I were saying that we have to bring this film back to campus,” Edery said. “One of the reasons we made the film was the K connection, but this is a movie that people can engage with through debate and conversation, laughter and crying. I think K students are the perfect crowd for it because they’re thoughtful and they want to reflect. It was a no-brainer to bring it back to K.”

“I double down on that,” Isaiah added. “K students are thoughtful and open to conversation, and we’re alumni, so it’s like being back home. We met with some students and we were able to have some candid conversations about the film, about our roles and our jobs, and about their curiosity regarding us as people and professionals. There were some big questions, so it was an excellent experience. It’s so surreal to walk down that cobblestone road. Coming into K, I was a kid. When I left, I had the tools to figure myself out. I think the K influence is that I can be fully transparent and vulnerable on screen. That’s what I learned to do here: I learned how to be a man.”

With the movie complete, Edery and Isaiah will be among those teaming up to nominate Grassland for inclusion in film festivals such as Sundance while participating in social justice campaigns to advance its cause.

“We want to get it in front of as many people as possible whether it’s here at K, at film festivals or wherever,” Edery said. “I’m proud of it, and when people watch it, I hope it inspires them to change their hearts and minds. We’re also partnering with organizations like the Last Prisoner Project to support the work that they’re doing to get people out of prison or their sentences commuted if they’re in prison because of marijuana. If we could boil it down to one goal, I’d like us to focus on the people who are still locked up right now and push that charge to get people out.”

Isaiah hopes that one day he will hear stories about how the film changed people’s hearts and minds.

“Marijuana is everywhere now,” Isaiah said. “It’s not fair for people to be locked up for that and then be unable to find a job or feed themselves or their families because of a mistake they made 10 or 15 years ago when it wasn’t OK. If we can make a change for even one person, that would be cool because hearing their stories breaks my heart. I hope people will hit up their representatives, talk to a formerly incarcerated person, take a virtual prison tour or do whatever it is that the film inspires them to do to push for change.”

New Scholarship Noteworthy on National Philanthropy Day

If National Philanthropy Day, celebrated every November 15, enables the country to recognize big and small acts of generosity—through giving, volunteering and charitable engagement—there’s plenty of room to recognize our own engaged Kalamazoo College communities such as the class of 1973. 

Volunteers from the alumni group connected with their classmates as a part of their 50th reunion to secure more than $300,000 from 64 of its members to endow a scholarship supporting K students.  

Scholarships open the doors to K’s transformative education and experiential opportunities. This year’s recipients of the Class of 1973 Endowed Scholarship include Shannon Abbott ’24. She recently reflected on her time abroad in Japan, an experience that she says broadened her horizons.  

“I love language learning and wanted to try a new language while studying at K,” she said. “I chose Japanese because I already had an interest in Japanese culture and thought it was a unique language to have the privilege to learn. Upon taking my first Japanese classes, I made close friends and had lots of fun, so I continued to study Japanese. Although Japanese is difficult, I find it to be a very rewarding language to learn and practice.” 

The six-month study abroad experience allowed Abbott to meet new people through a homestay and an internship where she studied tea culture by learning sadou, a tea ceremony, and working in a tea shop. She also visited relevant sites in Kyoto before returning to K and applying her knowledge toward Japanese department events and its official social media. 

Abbott added that she gained a clearer sense of independence that classroom experiences wouldn’t have provided. 

“I think that being in an environment where you completely surrender to being a student—as a foreigner to the language, customs and norms—opens one up to new ways of thinking and thriving,” she said. “I believe I gained more life experience and experiential knowledge during those six months than I have throughout most of my adult life. I am extremely grateful for the funds I have received because they allowed me to live a dream. I made so many connections and friends in Japan, and I plan to go back and continue building those relationships.” 

National Philanthropy Day is an opportunity to honor and celebrate the contributions of alumni and friends who support Kalamazoo College through their time, talent and charitable giving. 

“The generosity of individuals and groups like the class of 1973 not only enhances educational opportunities for our students, it also inspires others to contribute to the growth and success of future generations,” Vice President for Advancement Karen Isble said. “This day serves as a reminder of the vital role that philanthropy plays in shaping a brighter future for students at K.” 

Shannon Abbott on Study Abroad in Japan for National Philanthropy Day
Shannon Abbott ’24, pictured here on study abroad in Japan, is one of this year’s recipients of the Class of 1973 Endowed Scholarship.
Class of 73 check presentation
A group of volunteers connected and engaged with their classmates to secure more than $300,000 from 64 members of the class of 1973 to endow a scholarship for Kalamazoo College students.

BIGGBY Coffee Co-Founder, Co-CEO to Visit K, Talk with Students

BIGGBY Coffee Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mike McFall ’93 knows a thing or two about leadership. After growing his coffee franchise from one to 370 locations across 13 states, McFall understands that people are the most critical ingredient to any successful enterprise, and he’s ready to share his hard-won wisdom with students at Kalamazoo College.

The Department of Economics and Business will host an on-campus event with McFall at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14, in the Olmsted Room at Mandelle Hall. All students, regardless of their major, are invited to attend to discuss leadership and progressive practices in business and the workplace.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and Business David Rhoa said he’s had the honor of hosting McFall in his classes at least a half-dozen times with each encounter proving to be a new experience.

“I think our students find Mike such a compelling speaker because of his authenticity and honesty,” he said. “He shares his real-life experiences in a candid, sometimes even brutally honest manner. While many successful entrepreneurs tend to focus solely on their achievements, Mike fearlessly addresses the value of his failures, emphasizing their pivotal role in the journey to success.”

L. Lee Stryker Associate Professor of Business Management Amy MacMillan shares Rhoa’s enthusiasm.

“I feel tremendously grateful toward our alumni who share their time and expertise with our students,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have alumni—and community members—who support our courses in so many ways. But when Mike McFall, co-Founder and co-CEO of BIGGBY, comes to class, that turbo-charges the whole experience. By having made his big dreams a reality, he’ll help others to dream big, too, and believe in these dreams. By focusing not just on profits but also on people and purpose, he inspires others to do the same and to see what great business leaders can look like. He walks the walk, and while he does, he lays a footpath for others to follow.”

In 2019, McFall published his first book, Grind, which focuses on the commonsense strategies needed to turn a start-up idea into a positive-cash flow business. He recently released his second book, Grow: Take Your Business from Chaos to Calm, which addresses his experiences with leadership, a theme he expects to explore heavily with students.

BIGGBY Coffee CEO Mike McFall
BIGGBY Coffee Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mike McFall ’93 will visit Kalamazoo College to talk with students at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14, in the Olmsted Room at Mandelle Hall. All students, regardless of their major, are invited to attend.

“As leaders, we need to understand the impact we have on others,” McFall said. “Business needs to go beyond what it has been historically, which is to try to get as much productivity for the least amount of money possible. We need to start emphasizing human-centric leadership and what goes into making that happen. I also like to focus on progressive thinking in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and things like biomimicry. It’s a little bit of a look into what’s coming or what leaders should be focused on in the next five to 10 years to become more effective leaders.”

As an alumnus of Kalamazoo College, McFall places high value on his liberal arts background.

“So much of what I’ve learned in the world was built off of the foundation I had at K,” McFall said. “I’ve said forever that a liberal arts education is the best training ground for an entrepreneur because you get a much more well-rounded education. As an entrepreneur, you need to fit into all kinds of different scenarios with different kinds of people. As you grow and build your company, you need to be comfortable with that and you need to be comfortable with change. That’s exactly what a liberal arts education provides. I look at some of the extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs that came out of my class and the years around me, and I think a lot of their success has to do with the structure and format of a liberal arts education.”

McFall’s business strategies have helped him and his co-founder, Robert Fish, build their franchise into the third-largest coffee franchise in the United States, according to Forbes, a fact that’s sure to resonate with students.

“I think it’s important for students to see the practical applications of their work and then learn from the experiences of alumni who are at different intervals removed from college,” McFall said. “Someone who graduated from K 30 years ago like me has a very different take than someone who graduated five years ago, but both takes are important. As alumni, that’s what we should be focused on in terms of our engagement with the student body. We should bring our perspectives and share the many different practical ways we use our education from K to move forward and build powerful lives.”

K to Honor 1861 Alumnus with Distinguished Achievement Award

A Kalamazoo College Homecoming and Reunion Weekend tradition will offer a twist this year by presenting a posthumous honor during the Alumni Association Awards and Athletic Hall of Fame Ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Dalton Theatre. 

K alumni and friends will recognize 1861 graduate Rufus Perry, who is believed to be the first Black person to attend the College, with the Distinguished Achievement Award, which celebrates graduates who have achieved distinction in their professional fields. 

Perry settled in Chatham, Michigan, after escaping enslavement at the Overton plantation in Tennessee. In Chatham, he might have met Martin Delaney, the father of Black nationalism, who was planning to emigrate to Africa. Perry became interested in emigrating as well, motivated by a desire to establish competition against the American South in the cotton industry.  

Perry enrolled at K in 1859 when the Reverend John Booth, intrigued by Perry’s Africa aspirations, sponsored his education. Soon after graduation, the African Civilization Society selected Perry to lead an expedition to Western Africa. As a member of the society, Perry had joined some of the most progressive members of the country’s Black elite.  

Perry’s plans changed after the Emancipation Proclamation. The African Civilization Society began working with freed people in the South and appointed Perry superintendent of its freedmen’s school in Washington, D.C. 

In the late 1860s, Perry moved to the Weeksville neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. As Judith Wellman writes in Brooklyn’s Promised Land, “national leaders such as Henry Highland Garnet, Rufus L. Perry, and Martin Delany consciously attempted to make Weeksville part of … the ‘golden age’ of black nationalism.” 

A portrait of 1861 alumnus and Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Rufus Perry
Alumni and friends will recognize 1861 graduate Rufus Perry, who is believed to be the first Black person to attend K, with the Distinguished Achievement Award, which celebrates graduates who have achieved distinction in their fields.

Perry later served as corresponding secretary for the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention (CABMC), a national Black Baptist organization. He was co-editor of two publications for CABMC, The American Baptist and The National Monitor. During those years, he argued with the white-run American Baptist Home Mission Society, bristling at the idea that Black people couldn’t serve within the Baptist power structure. Perry also served as pastor for several churches including the Messiah Baptist Church, which he founded in Weeksville in 1887. 

Perry died in 1895 at the age of 61. The Brooklyn Eagle eulogized him as “one of the best-known colored clergymen in the country,” who “enjoyed a considerable reputation outside of Brooklyn. He was clear, concise and earnest in his speech, and wrote with ease and force.” 

Perry’s nomination for the Distinguished Service Award developed during a discussion between Tom Ticknor ’67, Donna Odom ’67 and Anne Dueweke ’84. At the time, Dueweke was performing research for her 2022 book, Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers its Racial and Colonial Past, when Perry’s record came to their attention. Their recommendations to the Emeriti Club Leadership Council and the Alumni Association Engagement Board (AAEB) secured the honor for Perry through both alumni groups. 

Perry’s great-great-grandson Freedom Williams will be on hand to accept the award on Perry’s behalf. Williams is the lead rapper for the popular group C+C Music Factory, which rose to fame in 1990 with their first album, Gonna Make You Sweat. He said the recognition for Perry is a prime honor for their family. 

“I have worked very hard to keep the Rufus Perry legacy alive and at times not hard enough,” Williams said. “To say that this is a daunting task to build a legacy from scratch and carry the name of a loved one several generations past is beyond difficult. Thanks to his grand schemes and painstaking work of love, he provided me and us with enough thrust to move the ball forward rather easily. Ancestral veneration is an undertaking lost on a lot of my people, considering the bondage and tribulation prescribed upon them in the hopes that they would forget. Regardless of the hardships and erasing of lineage, I firmly believe in it and its benefits as I believe all lovers of history do whether they believe so or not. Although we prescribe to move into the future, it is the memories and relationships of the past that shape and mold us. I am eternally indebted to Kalamazoo College because you allow us one more point of light we can use as a guide to clear the path forward for the sake of all humanity and its endless possibilities in a time where good humans and their stories of triumph are so needed to help blight the chaos and hopelessness so prevalent in our world today.” 

Others honored during the Alumni Association Awards and Athletic Hall of Fame Ceremony will include Don Schneider ’63 with the Distinguished Service Award, praising voluntary or elected leadership positions for the Alumni Association or College; Melanie Williams with the Weimer K. Hicks Award, saluting a current or retired employee of the College who has provided long-term support to programs or activities beyond the call of duty or excellent service in their job; and Darrin Camilleri ’14 with the Young Alumni Award, given to graduates within 15 years of their graduation on the basis of outstanding achievement, personal growth in their career or outstanding professional, civic and cultural service in ways that positively reflect K. Athletic Hall of Fame Awards will also be granted to Kelsey Hassevoort ’12, women’s tennis; Branden Metzler ’17, men’s tennis; Ryan Orr ’18, baseball; Colleen Orwin ’17, women’s swimming and diving; and the 1994 men’s tennis team. 

A livestream of the awards ceremony will be available through Vimeo. 

Black Philanthropy Month: Erran Briggs ’14 Practices Love in Action

Although he doesn’t think of himself as a philanthropist, Erran Briggs ’14 embodies the 2023 theme of Black Philanthropy Month, Love in Action.

“I tell people all the time that love is a verb,” Briggs said. “If you love, it involves action. I don’t think you can have love without action, because they are one and the same and encompassing.”

Briggs lives his philanthropy by mentoring and advising people in whose shoes he has been: high school students from his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, who are applying to college; K students, particularly those who are considering a path like his, taking advantage of military scholarships to get to medical school; and younger medical residents, especially Black male residents.

“Life is in part based on what you do, how you prepare for opportunities, but I think a big piece of it is, do you land in places where the people around you want to pour into you and help you grow?” Briggs said. “One of the things that I’ve tried to keep with me as I left K is, just like so many people helped me, I need to make sure that I’m doing something to help the people around me, particularly the people who look like me, because they’re facing the same sort of roadblocks. I know how powerful it can be to have somebody believe in you and push you and help you.”

Love in action drives Briggs’ dedication to mentoring.

“I am acutely aware that, particularly in medicine, there are not enough people that look like me,” Briggs said. “The studies suggest that when folks have doctors they can see themselves in, doctors that look like them, their health outcomes are better. We need to do what we can to improve the numbers. I love my people, I want to see other Black men get into the field, and with that love comes action, responsibility and a sense of duty.”

In addition to mentoring, Briggs has given his time by serving on the Kalamazoo College Board of Trustees from 2020-2023. That experience provided him with a reason to visit campus and an opportunity to see current students, professors and building projects at the same time as it challenged him to reconsider what philanthropy can be.

“I still don’t really consider myself a philanthropist,” Briggs said. “I think the misconception—and perhaps I’m also a victim to this—is that to be a philanthropist, you have to give large amounts of money. I’ve found over the years that’s not true; you give what you can give, and over time, you’re able to give more as you get more. Being on the board and being a part of that group of people who are older and farther in their careers, that inspired me and pushed me to think about how important giving is and to prioritize it in my life.”

According to a report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Black households give a larger portion of their wealth to charity than any other racial group, prioritizing giving despite the racial wealth gap—a statistic that evokes pride for Briggs.

Black Philanthropy Month

August is Black Philanthropy Month, which honors Black philanthropists all around the world and celebrates their gifts of time, talent and treasure to positively impact communities. Kalamazoo College would like to mark this month by recognizing one of our own donors and highlighting why they prioritize giving—both to K and beyond.
Portrait of Erran Briggs for Black Philanthropy Month
Although he doesn’t think of himself as a philanthropist, Erran Briggs ’14 embodies the 2023 theme of Black Philanthropy Month, Love in Action.

“From my perspective, when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of somebody’s generosity, and then you get something that you can give back, I think the sense of duty is a little bit stronger—at least that’s what I felt personally,” Briggs said. “I’ve been the person who needed those need-based scholarships. I needed those endowment funds that folks have started to help out people who look like me. I’m sensitive to that fact, and that’s been the biggest driver for me, that somebody helped me, so I should try to help when I can.”

Briggs and his wife, Nicole (Antoine) Briggs ’14, have three main organizations they target with their philanthropy: Doctors Without Borders, the Jarrad D. Blade Foundation Scholarship and Kalamazoo College. In addition, they have helped specific people in various ways, including paying for medical school applications and assisting with travel costs for interviews.

“I give to Doctors Without Borders every month,” Briggs said. “I think they are an important organization with a good mission.”

The Jarrad D. Blade Foundation Scholarship honors a man who was in a relationship with Briggs’ sister-in-law when the two of them were in a car that was hit by a drunk driver.

“He ended up passing away, and his family started an organization in his name,” Briggs said. “They raise money to help young Black kids go to college, and we contribute to them every year.”

​Briggs chooses to give to K in gratitude for the experiences he received and a desire to help provide similar experiences for other students.

A chemistry major, Briggs played football all four years, played intramural basketball and participated in the Black Student Organization. Along with two friends, he started the Young Men of Color student organization to offer support, brotherhood and education.

He performed research at K and volunteered at local hospitals. For his Senior Integrated Project, he spent three months at University of Maryland, Baltimore County conducting HIV research.

“When I was going on my SIP, I didn’t have enough money to travel, and I was able to tap into this special fund with the help of President [Eileen] Wilson-Oyelaran to give me a stipend to travel,” Briggs said. “It’s not just the academic piece of affording tuition, room and board; it’s also when you can’t afford to take an unpaid internship because you need to make money, or you want to travel for research or for an externship, but you don’t have the funds to travel—things like that are an important piece of the K-Plan as well. Folks whose parents are financially able traditionally have more access to those extra things, and giving back, my hope is to try to even the playing field.”

The close relationships with faculty made K special for Briggs.

“I went to an inner-city high school that I don’t think prepared me well enough for college. When I got there, I was behind a lot of the other students, but I had professors who saw something in me. They voiced that to me, and they were encouraging. They pointed me in the direction where I could get help. They met with me frequently, made sure that I was doing okay and staying on track.”

Paul Sotherland, professor emeritus of biology; Regina Stevens-Truss, Dorothy Heyl Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry; Laura Furge, former chemistry professor; and Greg Slough, professor emeritus of chemistry were especially influential for Briggs.

“These people nurtured me and helped me to succeed at K,” Briggs said.

After graduating from K, Briggs joined the military and completed medical school at Indiana University in Indianapolis. He credits K with making that feel easy.

“I was used to studying to a level that I don’t think folks at other colleges, particularly the large public universities, are expected to do. I came in with that sort of mentality and that study habit, and I hit the ground running and I excelled.”

Briggs served a residency in internal medicine at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, and currently has one year left on a fellowship in pulmonary critical care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he continues to lean on his K experiences.

“I think at least half of medicine is people and relationships and knowing how to talk to people and how to explain things to people at a level that they can understand,” he said. “K prepared me well for that. The way K is set up allowed me to take a good number of classes outside of the chemistry department, and I tried to take classes in areas that would help make me a strong writer and communicator.”

With a daughter heading into high school and sons who are 2 and 4 years old, Briggs finds that being a husband, father and doctor fills most of his time. He also prioritizes involvement in professional societies related to medicine as well as exercising and staying active—and, of course, always mentoring and supporting those following in his footsteps, smoothing and lighting the way for them.

“K is a special place to me,” Briggs said. “It helped me to become the person that I am, and I don’t think my life would have unfolded the way it has if I didn’t go to K. It’s important to me as a gratitude piece to give back for what it has given me. I want to help make K possible for students like me because it really is a life-transforming experience. What inspires me to give back is what K gave me, wanting to see other students have access to that, and then having good examples. Those folks on the board who have become friends of mine, they lead by example, and I want to go down that pathway as well.”

Sister Pie Bakery Owner to Speak at Convocation

Lisa Ludwinski ’06, owner of Detroit’s nationally recognized bakery, Sister Pie, will deliver the keynote at Kalamazoo College’s 2023 Convocation on September 7 at 3 p.m.

Ludwinski launched Sister Pie out of her parents’ Milford, Michigan, kitchen at Thanksgiving 2012. The business grew steadily, and in April 2015, Sister Pie opened its doors in a corner shop at Kercheval Avenue and Parker Street in the historic West Village neighborhood in Detroit. Known for its seasonally influenced sweet and savory pies as well as unique cookies, the shop has been featured in The Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, Eater, Bloomberg News, The New York Times and Bon Appetit.

In 2015, Ludwinski, who earned a B.A. in theatre arts at Kalamazoo College, was named one of the best chefs in the United States in Eater’s national Young Guns contest. She has also been nominated several times for a James Beard Award and was a finalist in 2019.

The Sister Pie cookbook, published in 2018, was a 2019 Michigan Notable Award-winning book, finalist for the International Association of Culinary Professionals award, and named one of the best cookbooks of the year by the New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Ludwinski was recognized among the 2019 Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 honorees, focused on those who target important Michigan issues such as technology, inclusivity and opportunity for all. In 2019, Sister Pie partnered with Alternatives for Girls, which serves homeless and high-risk girls and young women, both donating funds and holding baking workshops for program participants.

Ludwinski and her bakers experiment with nontraditional flavor combinations and seasonal options that promote Michigan’s varied agriculture. They consider themselves a triple bottom line business, focusing on employees, environment and the economy. The bakery also supports a Neighborhood Fund, which helps to subsidize neighborhood and senior discounts, as well as food donations for a community fridge and freezer for the West Village and Islandview neighborhoods—just one way Ludwinski and Sister Pie are helping make Detroit sweeter, one slice at a time.

Sister Pie Bakery Owner Lisa Ludwinski
Alumna Lisa Ludwinski ’06, the owner of Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, will speak at 3 p.m. September 7 at Kalamazoo College’s Convocation.

Convocation marks the start of the academic year and formally welcomes first-year students to campus.  President Jorge G. Gonzalez, Provost Danette Ifert Johnson, Dean of Admission Suzanne Lepley and Dean of Students J. Malcolm Smith will also welcome attendees. Chaplain Elizabeth Candido ’00 will provide an invocation. All students, families, faculty and staff are invited to attend.

Convocation will be held in person on the College’s Quad and will be available to livestream.

Premier League Duties Thrill Sports Medicine Physician, K Alumna

If you think of the Apple TV show Ted Lasso when someone mentions the English Premier League, you’re not alone among Americans. Yet for Kelly Estes ’05, the international soccer organization offered a real-life experience that allowed her to raise her passion for her favorite sport to new heights this summer.

Estes, a sports medicine physician for the Cleveland Clinic, worked for 10 days as Fulham FC’s team physician after her employer, through its new London location, won the bid to provide sports medicine services to the Premier League during its East Coast tour. The Kalamazoo College alumna said she often follows the U.S. women’s national team, but this was her first true in-person exposure to world-class soccer athletes and competition.

“I basically cleared my schedule and asked which kidney I could donate to be involved because I was very excited,” she said. “I played soccer during my time at K, and I always wanted to work in the field of sports, so any way that I can combine my medical career with my soccer background is a huge win.”

As an Ohio native, Estes majored in chemistry at K before earning a master’s degree in nutrition at Columbia University and attending medical school at Wright State University. She completed an emergency medicine residency at the University of Virginia and a primary care sports medicine fellowship at the Ohio State University before becoming a sports medicine physician at Washington University in St. Louis. She moved on to the Cleveland Clinic in March 2020, leading to this summer’s unique career experience.

Estes conducted some research on the Premier League and its players before she left to meet the team and was pleasantly surprised to find that three Americans are among its athletes. That is a big deal in her opinion, as not many soccer players from the U.S. have played in Europe until recently, signaling the sport’s national growth.

Regardless, she wasn’t sure what to expect from Fulham FC’s own players until she met them in the New York area.

“I’ve had some limited experience in the U.S. with some high-level elite athletes, but the soccer team was so welcoming, and the staff was so kind,” she said. “Everyone was down to Earth, which was refreshing, because I felt we clicked like a little family. One of my favorite memories was with an initiation for the new players when they had to sing in front of everyone at a team dinner. They actually asked me to sing as well, so it was like I was initiated. It was nothing that I would’ve ever expected, and it was memorable.”

Fulham FC spent its first two days on the East Coast training at facilities belonging to the New York Red Bulls, a Major League Soccer (MLS) team, before playing its first game in Philadelphia. After a quick 24 hours there, the team spent five days in Orlando before finishing its tour in Washington, D.C.

“I get so excited about being in a stadium around all that energy with a full crowd,” Estes said. “That made my heart sing more than anything else. It’s about being around the fans and the coaches—even being in a smelly locker room. The stadiums are my happy place.”

Cleveland Clinic Sports Medicine Physician Kelly Estes Tending to a Premier League Athlete
Kelly Estes ’05 (right), a sports medicine physician for the Cleveland Clinic, worked for 10 days as Fulham FC’s team physician this summer after her employer won the bid to provide sports medicine services to the Premier League during its East Coast tour.

Meet Fulham FC of the Premier League

Fulham FC Shield

The club began in 1879 when a school teacher and churchwarden formed a boys team at Fulham St. Andrew’s Church in London. The team shifted its name to Fulham Football Club in 1889.

The team derives its current nickname, the Cottagers, from its home field, Craven Cottage, where it has played since 1896.

Fulham FC’s first crest was produced in 1898. Variations have been used over the past 141 years with the present badge (pictured) beginning a new era for the club after its promotion to the Premier League.

Serving the team meant Estes had to watch for lower-extremity injuries such as ankle sprains and hamstring issues along with muscle strains and contusions. She also needed to be prepared to treat less common yet more serious problems such as head injuries, concussions and fractures.

“We basically travel with a small pharmacy and supplies for emergency needs,” Estes said. “We also can use local pharmacies if certain prescriptions are needed. Basically, you set up and establish your resources in advance, because this was a moving tour. In each city, you have to make sure you know where you’re going to get your emergency supplies like oxygen, which pharmacy we are going to work with, and where our local hospital and emergency departments are, so there’s a lot of planning that goes into every facet of medical care.”

Communication was a challenge, too, considering Fulham FC’s current coaching staff is from Portugal and players are from all around the world. Even medications could be difficult given that the British health system is different, and drugs could have disparate names in the U.S. than in England. Yet she said her K study abroad experience in Erlangen, Germany, was foundational to her approaches. Plus, virtually no obstacle could’ve made Estes’ Premier League experience less than extraordinarily valuable to her.

“I’ve played soccer my whole life, so essentially, it has been my sport since I was 5 or 6 years old,” she said. “I’ve loved to watch my kids play and I still play myself once a week. I’m also still in close connection with my team from K, so it’s in my blood. We would love to continue to bridge sports medicine between the U.S. and the U.K., and now that we’ve had some physical time with each other, we’re hoping to really make it a regular occurrence. They’re doing some exciting things, we’re doing some exciting things, and we’re trying to compare notes and work together.”

Record Number of Recent K Grads Named Fulbright Fellows

Fulbright Fellows: Ben Flotemersch
Ben Flotemersch ’23
Fulbright Fellows: Kanase Matsuzki
Kanase Matsuzaki ’23
Garrett Sander
Garrett Sander ’19
Rachel Cornell ’22
Fulbright Fellows: Natalie Call holds an alpaca with mountains in the background
Natalie Call ’23
Anna Dorniak
Anna Dorniak ’20

A record number of 10 recent Kalamazoo College graduates, including six from the class of 2023, are heading overseas this year as Fulbright fellows.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships to graduating seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—so they may teach English, perform research or study abroad for one academic year. The honor is among the highest the federal government provides in regard to scholarship and international exchange. K consistently has been identified in recent years as one of the country’s Fulbright Top Producing Institutions for U.S. Students.

K’s representatives and their destinations this year are Natalie Call ’23, Denmark; Vincent DeSanto ’23, Austria; Ben Flotemersch ’23, Austria; Sean Gates ’23, Austria; Samuel Kendrick ’23, Uzbekistan; Kanase Matsuzaki ’23, Jordan; Rachel Cornell ’22, Ecuador; Anna Dorniak ’20, Poland; Nat Markech ’21, South Korea; and Garrett Sander ’19, Mexico.

Professor of English Amelia Katanski will also represent K through Fulbright this year as a U.S. Scholar Program selectee in Australia. Katanski will be working with faculty at the University of Wollongong to develop curriculum that will better prepare K students for study abroad there.

Fulbright has provided more than 400,000 participants with opportunities to exchange ideas and contribute to solutions to shared international concerns since its inception in 1946. Fulbright alumni work to make a positive impact on their communities, sectors, and the world and have included 41 heads of state or government, 62 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 78 MacArthur Fellows, and countless leaders and changemakers who carry forward the Fulbright mission of enhancing mutual understanding. 

Fulbright Fellow Sam Kendrick
Sam Kendrick ’23
Fulbright Fellow Sean Gates
Sean Gates ’23
Natalie Markech
Nat Markech ’21

Class of 2023 Had its Share of Outstanding Achievements

Commencement means Kalamazoo College’s class of 2023 is leaving campus. However, seeing them cross the stage to collect their diplomas Sunday reminded us of their outstanding accomplishments as students. Here are the top 10 news stories we’ve written about 2023 graduates as determined by your clicks.

10. Graduating Senior Earns First Sherbin Fellowship, 10 Months Abroad

Elle Waldron will visit a variety of feminist and gender-equity organizations in Australia, South Africa, Costa Rica and Spain to witness the tools and strategies they use to execute their work thanks to a new fellowship available to graduating K seniors.

Elle Waldron

9. Banner Year Elates Faculty, NSF Fellows

Two seniors, Claire Kvande and Mallory Dolorfino, were among four with K ties to receive NSF graduate research fellowships, the most for the College since 2016.

Mallory Dolorfino was one of two students from the class of 2023 named an NSF fellow
Mallory Dolorfino

8. College Honors 29 Leadership Award Recipients

The honorees represented talented athletes, outstanding academic performers, members of the President’s Student Ambassadors and student-organization standouts.

28 of the 29 Senior Leadership Award recipients from the class of 2023
Class of 2023 Senior Leadership Award recipients

7. Student Builds Notable Local Voice in Sustainability

Kalamazoo officials are taking note of Lauren Crossman’s Senior Integrated Project, which engaged local businesses in environmentally friendly practices.

Lauren Crossman at Bee Joyful Shop_fb
Lauren Crossman

6. Political Internships Provide Experience, Connections

A series of political internships helped Peter Fitzgerald connect with his adopted home of Michigan and envision a possible future.

Peter Fitzgerald playing tennis
Peter Fitzgerald

5. Mentors Help Chemistry Major En Route to Scholarship, Research Abroad

Crystal Mendoza was the second K chemistry major in as many years to earn the prestigious Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship through the American Chemical Society.

Crystal Mendoza
Crystal Mendoza

4. Future Physician Targets Tropical Diseases in Ghana

Rachel Kramer completed 10 weeks of research last summer investigating health inequities in Ghana, Africa, while collecting data and researching Neglected Tropical Diseases for her Senior Integrated Project.

Kramer in the Centre for Research in Applied Biology
Rachel Kramer (second from right) in the Centre for Research in Applied Biology (CeRAB).

3. Hundreds of Birds Plus Thousands of Miles Equals One Big Year

Bird enthusiast Will Keller had a Big Year in 2021 and told the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo all about it.

Will Keller from the class of 2023 uses a camera to take pictures in a field
Will Keller

2. Solitude and Community on the Camino de Santiago

July 2022 was the hottest calendar month in Spain since records were first kept in 1961. It was also the month that Fiona O’Rielly set out on a 500-mile hike across Spain.

Fiona O’Rielly stops at one of the albergues, or hostels, along the route of the Camino de Santiago.

1. Kalamazoo Gardeners Beware: Student Unearths Jumping Worms

Worms crawl in and worms crawl out, but biology major Katie Rock found a problematic variety that jumps right here in Kalamazoo.

Class of 2023 representative Katie Rock holds a jumping worm
Katie Rock

Commencement Slated for Sunday

Congratulations to the class of 2023! This year’s Commencement is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 11, on the campus Quad. Here’s what you need to know about the weekend’s events surrounding Kalamazoo College Commencement and the ceremony itself. 


Seniors are required to attend Commencement rehearsal at 4 p.m. Thursday at Dalton Theatre. Faculty and staff will provide graduating seniors with pertinent information including what to do during an intricate line-up and processional. Students who need to be excused from rehearsal should contact the Office of Alumni Engagement in advance at There will be a senior picnic on the Stetson Chapel patio after the rehearsal. 

Parking This Weekend

For your convenience, most of the faculty, staff and student parking lots will be open to everyone. Guests are also invited to use street parking on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods. See the parking information page for details related to street detours, graduate and accessible drop-off, campus parking lots, street parking, campus maps and more.

Commencement 2022
The class of 2023 will celebrate Commencement at 10 a.m. Sunday on the campus Quad.

Commencement Saturday 

Receptions for individual departments help families meet professors and see individual projects from selected seniors. Consult the department schedules for information on the time and location for each event. The day’s remaining events—including the Senior Awards Program, the Senior Music Recital and the Baccalaureate—will take place at Stetson Chapel.

Seniors receiving awards will get an invitation from the Provost’s Office after finals to attend the Senior Awards Program, which begins at 2:30 p.m. Contact the Office of the Provost by email if you have questions about the event. The Senior Music Recital is a public concert at 4:30 p.m. featuring performances by graduating seniors who have been involved in music. All are welcome to attend. The Baccalaureate is a public non-religious service with student and faculty speakers and musical performances beginning at 8 p.m.

Livestreams for the Senior Awards Program, Senior Music Recital and Baccalaureate will be available for those unable to attend. An information desk will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the atrium at Hicks Student Center. The College’s bookstore will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Commencement Sunday

All seniors should meet at Dalton Theatre in their cap and gown no later than 9:30 a.m. Although Commencement will take place outside regardless of weather conditions, the ceremony could be delayed by up to three hours if there is heavy rain or severe weather. Communication about a delay would be sent through a K-Alert, social media and email no later than 8 a.m. Sunday. The ceremony is scheduled to last about two and a half hours.

There are no tickets or rain tickets required for the ceremony, and there is no limit to the number of guests each senior can invite to campus. Chairs will be available to accommodate family and friends on the Quad on a first-come, first-served basis. Open seating will also be available on the grass of the Upper Quad, where guests can sit in lawn chairs and blankets to view the ceremony.

Guests with a mobility challenge can find answers to frequently asked questions on our accessibility information page. An information desk will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the atrium at Hicks Student Center. The College’s bookstore will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Commencement Speakers

Alumnus Larry J. Bell ’80, the founder of Bell’s Brewery, Inc., and author Jaroslav Kalfař will be the ceremony’s featured speakers.

Bell majored in political science at K before founding Bell’s Brewery Inc. in 1985. Kalfař’s debut novel, Spaceman of Bohemia, was the Summer Common Reading book for the incoming class of 2018, and Kalfař visited campus in September of that year to discuss his book as part of new student orientation. Per K tradition, he returns to address this same class of students at their commencement.

Bell and Kalfar both will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.

More Information 

The Office of Alumni Engagement maintains a website that offers more details regarding Commencement including a list of frequently asked questions, dining and lodging information, and ceremony accommodations. For more information, visit the site at

Commencement Author Jaroslav Kalfař
Author Jaroslav Kalfař will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from K during Commencement on Sunday.
Commencement speaker Larry Bell with his wife, Shannon Bell, and President Jorge G. Gonzalez
Larry Bell ’80, the founder of Bell’s Brewery, Inc., will address the class of 2023 at Commencement on Sunday.