K Alumna’s First Libretto Wins Prestigious Opera Prize

A Kalamazoo College alumna has won one of the largest and most prestigious awards for opera composers in the U.S. for her first-ever libretto. 

Ginger Strand ’87 has been awarded the 2023 Charles Ives Opera Prize, along with composer Laura Schwendinger, for their 2019 opera, Artemisia. The honor, granted by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, includes a $15,000 prize for Strand as librettist and $35,000 for Schwendinger as composer. 

The award came as a surprise to Strand. While they knew they had been nominated by Academy member and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran, the prize is not awarded regularly. Established in 2008, the Charles Ives Opera Prize has only been previously awarded in 2008 and 2016. The prize is granted to a recent work that reflects the mission of the Academy to foster and sustain interest in literature, music and the fine arts by rewarding “works of highest aspiration and superior craft,” according to artsandletters.org

“I opened my email and there was this letter from the American Academy that said, ‘Good news from the Academy.’ I kind of thought I was being pranked or something; it just seemed unreal,” Strand said. “I called Laura, and asked, ‘Is this for real? Did we just win the Charles Ives Opera Prize?’ She was in a museum and she started screaming. She hadn’t seen her letter and I got to be the one who broke the news. It was very exciting and felt out of the blue, in particular being my first-ever libretto.” 

A five-member jury unanimously voted to award the Charles Ives Opera Prize to Artemisia

In the 35 years since Strand “learned how to learn” at Kalamazoo College, she had written copy for a consulting firm, short stories, essays, one novel and three books of narrative nonfiction before branching into opera. 

“It came about completely by chance,” Strand said.  

Having met at the MacDowell artist residency program, Strand and Schwendinger were long-time friends when Schwendinger confided in Strand over lunch that she was going to compose an opera and thought Strand should write the text. 

“She wanted to write about an amazing Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi,” Strand said. “One of the reasons Laura and I became friends is that we have a lot of interests in common, one of which is women artists in history.” 

A five-member jury unanimously voted to award the Charles Ives Opera Prize to Ginger Strand ’87 for her first libretto, “Artemisia.”
Although Artemisia Gentileschi is better known now, the Baroque painter was ignored in history for a long period, with many of her works attributed to her father, Strand said.  

While Artemisia Gentileschi is better known now, she was ignored in history for a long period, with many of her works attributed to her father, Strand said.  

“She had a life story that was basically already an opera,” Strand said. “Her father taught her to paint and then he hired one of his assistants to teach her the art of perspective, and this assistant raped her. Her father sued for damage to property, because she was considered his property, and in the course of the trial, Artemisia was tortured to see if she was telling the truth. After the perpetrator was convicted, she was hastily married off to some other dude that she quickly dispensed with, and she went on to become a painter of great renown and had a rather illustrious career.” 

Schwendinger shared her concept of Artemisia’s paintings coming to life in the opera, and the two went their separate ways to compose the music and write the words. 

“It was really a collaborative process, partly because I didn’t necessarily know everything about what a composer needs out of a libretto,” Strand said. “Laura would say things like, ‘I see this moment as an emotional high point, and what we really need here is an aria; we need the two characters to sing something really intense.’ Then I would go away and work on that. Or, ‘I want all the singers on the stage here; they don’t have to be literally in the same place, but we need a big moment where they’re all contributing to the song,’ and I would work on that. Sometimes it was something as simple as, ‘You can’t end the line on this word, because the singers won’t be able to sing it.’ It was a learning process the whole way along.” 

The process was also fun for Strand. 

“Because it was an opera and not a work of nonfiction, I could make things up, although I based it on facts,” Strand said. “My starting point was her actual biography, some letters she wrote, and the paintings, of course. Then, where the historical record was faulty, I could imagine things and put them in, and that was super fun and unusual for me to give myself permission to make things up. It’s not something you’re allowed to do as a nonfiction writer.” 

Author Ginger Strand at her New York City home
Ginger Strand ’87 has been awarded the 2023 Charles Ives Opera Prize, along with composer Laura Schwendinger, for their 2019 opera, “Artemisia.” Photo by Monika Graff.

The writing process took about a year, followed by another year or so of production before two premieres—a shortened chamber orchestra version in New York City and a full orchestra version in San Francisco. Strand attended both. 

“At certain moments, it was exhilarating,” she said. “Other moments, it was excruciating, thinking things like, ‘Why did I write this so long?’ Laura’s experience was completely different from mine because I was focused on the story and the words and she was focused on the music.” 

Strand and Schwendinger will be awarded the Charles Ives Opera Prize at the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ annual ceremony in New York City in May. In the meantime, they’re continuing to collaborate on more operas—one of many writing projects for Strand. 

“I’m always nursing several obsessions, which is something my particular career has enabled me to do,” Strand said. “I don’t always know what will come of them. I’m working on another book proposal. Laura and I are thinking about possible future operas. I’ve got a couple essays and all kinds of things I’m working on. I always have a number of balls in the air, which goes all the way back to my K experiences, being comfortable working on multiple things at once.”

Payne Fellowship Sets Up K Alumna for Foreign Service Work

A Kalamazoo College alumna is being honored with a prestigious fellowship that helps people interested in pursuing careers in the foreign service follow a path toward work in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Aramide Apo-Oyin ’22 will complete graduate school through a Payne Fellowship, named to honor former U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, and then work on the front lines of pressing global challenges such as poverty, hunger, injustice, disease, climate change, conflict and violent extremism with USAID.

“I knew that this fellowship was perfect for me because of the partnership with USAID, which does invaluable work around the globe,” she said. “The Donald M. Payne Fellowship gives me an opportunity that combines my interest in public health and public service on a global scale.”

The Payne Fellowship this year received more than 500 applications and only 30 fellows were selected. Apo-Oyin applied when she recognized the value she could bring to the fellowship, including her own background as a Nigerian American woman and the diverse experiences she had through the liberal arts at K.

“Initially, in college, I was on the pre-health track as a biology major, but I discovered my love of public health and service through my internship with the Advocate Aurora Health Transition Support Program,” Apo-Oyin said. “Through this public health internship, I was able to assist people from under-resourced communities in the Chicagoland area to help them overcome barriers to care that they were experiencing. These barriers included finding transportation to their next appointment, applying for Medicaid/Medicare, scheduling follow-up appointments, and educating patients on discharge instructions to reduce their risk of being readmitted to the hospital. In doing this work for over a year my passion for public health and service grew.”

Such experiences led Jessica Fowle—K’s director of grants, fellowships and research—to see Apo-Oyin as an ideal candidate for a Payne Fellowship as the two worked together throughout the application process.

Payne Fellow Aramide Apo-Oyin at Commencement in 2022
Aramide Apo-Oyin ’22 will complete graduate school through a Payne Fellowship and then work on the front lines of pressing global challenges with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“It was a true joy to work with Aramide as her fellowships advisor on the application process for her Payne Fellowship,” Fowle said. “Applying to this type of program requires reflection on and synthesis of scholarship, internships, co-curricular involvement, and life experience—articulating a vision for the future that captures the goal of the program. Aramide took full advantage of the opportunities at Kalamazoo College and is poised to fully engage with the educational and experiential foundations as a Payne Fellow, graduate student, and foreign service officer.”

The Payne fellowship provides up to $104,000 over two years toward tuition and fees in completing a master’s degree in international development or a related field; room, board, books and education-related expenses; and a stipend for housing, transportation and related expenses for two summer internships. Apo-Oyin is currently deciding which international development program she will be attending later this fall.

Her adventure will begin this spring when Apo-Oyin participates in an orientation at Howard University; there she will become familiar with all the aspects of the fellowship and enhance her understanding of and skills for an international-development career. She then will work in her first internship this summer, tending to international issues at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Her second internship will be overseas on a USAID mission next summer.

All of it represents a challenge Apo-Oyin is happy to accept as she takes her next step toward a career in the foreign service.

“I spent part of my formative years abroad in Nigeria and London,” Apo-Oyin said. “It was then that my interest in international work was ignited. Growing up in these places, I could see the difference between high-income and low-income countries. This experience widened my perspective of the world from a young age and planted a seed for my interest in international development. Now, If I have any advice for anyone who is interested in applying for this fellowship or other international affairs fellowships, it would be not to doubt yourself. Trust that your story of who you are and why you’re interested in this work is unique to you and it’ll only allow you to stand out in this process. Do your best to surround yourself with people who believe in you and trust in yourself.”

Restorative Justice Lessons Lead to Job Skills

Kalamazoo College is known for providing academic experiences that can lead to real-world jobs. Take the example of Steph Guyor ’22.

Guyor’s senior seminar, led by Associate Professor of English Ryan Fong, tackled the concept of restorative or transformative justice, a newer community-based practice that helps society do more than hold law breakers accountable in a criminal justice system. Instead, restorative justice also addresses the dehumanization an offender typically experiences with their punishment, offering basic services along with pathways for making amends to victims and the community, reducing the likelihood for recidivism.

“Within the U.S., justice is traditionally focused on the offender and the crime they committed,” Guyor said. “The punishments are seen as deserved. Yet by focusing on the punishment, the factors that led to the harm being committed often go unexamined, and the needs of the person who’s harmed remain unmet. Viewing punishment as the only appropriate response around accountability ends up taking the form of shame and isolation, which furthers the relational divide and deters people from changing their harmful behaviors. Restorative and transformative justice work to reorient accountability away from punishments and toward meaningful consequences that allow connections to be restored and relational dynamics to be restored.”

Guyor, who double majored in psychology and women and gender studies (WGS), was intrigued by these concepts and said Fong’s class was enjoyable because it allowed her to see justice in a different way. Then came an opportunity to connect those studies to a job, when she heard Ministry with Community in Kalamazoo was hiring a restorative justice coordinator. The nonprofit organization is a secular, daytime shelter and resource center open 365 days a year that helps local residents address homelessness, poverty, substance abuse and other crises.

“I saw the posting and thought it could be an opportunity to make change locally in Kalamazoo in a way that’s influenced by getting to know people,” Guyor said. “I knew I wanted to try to find a way to integrate the psychological understanding of why people do what they do with a socially informed understanding of how social circumstances influence it.”

And today, Guyor relishes her job, which involves learning more about the restorative justice practices in place around the country while collecting data to determine what she can do to solve problems in Kalamazoo. Hopefully, that will lead to a new yet well-rounded restorative justice program at Ministry with Community that reduces the likelihood of repeat offenses.

“It comes with a lot of responsibility that a big part of me was afraid to take on given the idea that I did just graduate,” she said. “But it’s also a unique opportunity that I’m excited to have. I think the goal will be a culture shift within the organization so there will be fewer incidents with fewer people breaking community expectations, and more trust between the members, and between members and staff.”

Guyor said a common misconception about restorative or transformative justice is that it’s soft on offenders—that it lets people off the hook and fails to follow through on a punishment. She cautions against that idea.

“In reality, facing the people who you hurt and holding the space for them to explain their hurt is a lot harder,” Guyor said. “Restorative justice is about having high expectations for people along with a lot of support. It makes sure we’re holding people accountable to the changes they work toward, but not in a way that revolves around shame. In punitive settings, you’re doing things to people. In permissive settings, you’re doing things for people. But restorative justice is more about working with people to make change.”

Fong said he’s likely to continue teaching about restorative and transformative justice at K.

“So many students, especially WGS students, are interested in social justice and activism, but don’t always know what it looks like in practice beyond demonstrations and non-profit work,” he said. “In the wake of the 2020 protests and calls to defund the police, I saw many students wondering what that demand meant. Doing a deep dive into restorative and transformative justice was one way to understand how abolitionist organizers were working in concrete ways to build new systems and structures that address and eliminate violence.”

He’s also incredibly proud of Guyor and honored that he played a role in helping her find her career path.

“I hope she keeps drawing on the skills and knowledge she gained at K and as a WGS student to continue on it for the rest of her life,” Fong said. “That’s really my hope for all our WGS students: that they find meaningful ways to put their education into action.”

Donations Fund Restorative Justice Programs

Ministry with Community, a nonprofit organization, accepts donations for the restorative justice programs being built by K alumna Stephanie Guyor ’22. To donate directly to restorative justice efforts, visit the organization’s website.

Restorative justice professional Steph Guyor '22 outside Ministry with Community in Kalamazoo
Steph Guyor ’22 took classroom experiences with restorative justice and transformed them into a career at Ministry with Community in Kalamazoo.
Guyor, who double majored in psychology and women and gender studies at K, now works as the restorative justice coordinator at Ministry with Community in Kalamazoo.

A Practice in Gratitude: Scholarship Honors Late Professor Emeritus T. Jefferson Smith 

The late T. Jefferson Smith was a long-time beloved Kalamazoo College math professor, the driving force behind bringing change ringing and the English tower bells to Stetson Chapel, and a true Renaissance man with a breath-taking assortment of hobbies. 

Known as both Jeff and T.J., Smith was respected and admired by students and colleagues alike during his nearly 30 years at Kalamazoo College. His life and legacy are now being honored with the Professor T. Jefferson Smith Memorial Scholarship. 

An anonymous donor established the fund as a practice of gratitude after a classroom experience where students were asked to name a personal hero, and many shared stories of teachers that changed their lives. 

“I thought, ‘Shouldn’t we do something to recognize teachers for how much they do for us?’” the donor said. “My feeling is that teachers may not know the impact they have on students, in part because students have a long trajectory ahead. Learning experiences can have an effect that may not appear for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s important to recognize our teachers for the formative effect they have on us at a very formative time of life.” 

Smith was initially hired by Kalamazoo College in 1961; after his first year of teaching, he was offered a research position with the geophysical staff at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Smith told his family that working in applied science would balance his theoretical training and benefit his future students when he returned to the College, which he did eagerly in 1967. Smith taught at K for nearly three decades before retiring in 1994. 

“Jeff and I enjoyed, admired and had deep and sincere affection for our students and our colleagues,” said his widow, Carol Smith, who was a reference librarian at K for many years. “K was a wonderful place to be and we loved all the time there.” 

Smith died in April 2019, at the age of 88. The scholarship, which supports Kalamazoo College students with financial need, would have pleased him, Carol Smith said. 

“Education was paramount in Jeff’s mind—the combination of the intellectual fulfillment of education and the ability to change your life,” Carol Smith said. “He grew up in rural Georgia—no plumbing, no running water, milk the cows before you go to school. His family was very close, very warm. They were very, very poor, and no one then had a college education, but his interest in music and education was encouraged. Jeff was an outstanding high school student, and he must have had some scholarship help to get through college, even though he worked as well. This scholarship would have meant so very much to him. It’s a perfect memorial for Jeff, and my children and I appreciate it very much.” 

Contributing to the fund is a practice of gratitude and appreciation for Alan Hewett ’71, very much in the spirit of the establishment of the scholarship. 

“I have supported K continuously since I graduated as a form of appreciation for the training and growth I gained there,” Hewett said. “I just added a gift to the T.J. Smith fund because T.J. was such a good mentor for me and because I wanted to acknowledge and honor that experience and the man. My biggest hope is that, in some small way, it will provide an opportunity for a few more people to attend K and gain some of the advantages that I received from K.” 

Those advantages included the opportunity to learn from Smith. 

“He was not only my favorite professor; he was one of the main reasons I went back to reunions while he was still teaching,” Hewett said. “At the time, it didn’t occur to me that T. J. was a Renaissance man.  I just liked his teaching style. In retrospect, he truly was a Renaissance man, interested in so many things and fun to be around.” 

Smith would bring his many interests into the classroom, incorporating stories of fighting kites, bell ringing, playing the viola, bicycle racing, model airplanes, bread baking and more into math lectures. (After retirement, he would continue and expand his hobbies, including yo-yos, spinning tops, apple growing, antique tractor restoration, the melodeon—a small, accordion-like musical instrument—and more.) 

“He could make people who didn’t care much for math enjoy it because they could get into the story,” Hewett said. “He managed to take things that were fun to do and move them into something you would have to use math for.” 

Smith received the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching Award in 1985 for outstanding achievement in creative work, research and publication. In 1993, he was presented the Weimer K. Hicks Award for providing excellent service in the performance of his job and making a significant contribution to the College in founding the Kalamazoo College Guild of Change Ringers in 1977 and spearheading the 1984 installation of eight English bells in the tower of Stetson Chapel. Those efforts also led to him being named Ringing Master of the College in 1988. 

Change ringing with Smith has been a key part of the K experience for many alumni, including Tom Farthing ’83. With his first term under his belt, Farthing started winter term 1980 confident that he could handle the academics, yet unsure how and where he fit into the College—until the first Sunday of the term, when he tried change ringing. 

“It made sense to me immediately,” Farthing said. “It was this two-pronged thing: There was an activity that made sense to the way my brain works, and then there was Jeff, who was teaching people, encouraging people, smoothing the path. I found my people there, and that was the majority of my connection with the College.” 

The change ringing community brought Farthing together with his wife, Christine (Stibal) Farthing ’85, who was a friend in college. They stayed in contact after graduation, eventually becoming a couple, due to the community Smith developed and nurtured so well. 

“When I was a sophomore, my suitemates threw a surprise birthday party for me, and they invited Jeff, and he came,” Farthing said. “I can still picture him walking toward our suite and instantly everyone was all around him, which was typical. He was so engaging and eloquent and full of stories. He was just a magnet.” 

Smith was also an excellent professor, Farthing said, always prepared and interesting, and a role model. 

“He was big on self-improvement,” Farthing said. “He knew he should improve his handwriting because he was writing in front of students, so he studied calligraphy and developed his beautiful handwriting. He would work on his vocabulary, one word at a time. I remember ‘ubiquitous’ was his word for a while, and he just worked it into everyday conversation, and you’d say, ‘Oh, there’s that word again.’ ‘Copacetic’ was another one. He did that for years.” 

In the Smith family home on Bulkley Street, Carol Smith said, “there was a little southern porch off our bedroom, and Jeff turned it into his office. One of the classroom buildings was being renovated and he got an old chalkboard, which he put up in his office. He would go through his lectures, even writing on the board, before all his classes.” 

Smith was devoted to his students as well as his family, Carol Smith said. 

“He was extremely ethical, caring and warm and generous,” she said. “He was very devoted. He was quite passionate about things in an understated way.” 

Within the math department, those qualities helped Smith serve as a respected colleague and mentor. He was the first person whom Professor of Mathematics Emeritus John Fink met in Kalamazoo, greeting Fink at the train station with a firm handshake—a grip Fink can still feel.  

When Fink was a young professor struggling with the transition from his mathematics Ph.D. program to an undergraduate classroom, Smith—who generally was not one for giving advice—offered him a phrase Fink would return to again and again. 

“The gulf between where professors are as trained Ph.D. mathematicians and where the students are is so vast,” Fink said. “It was a shock to me, and I think it’s a shock for a lot of people. I came into Jeff’s office, and I was complaining about something, and he said, ‘It’s the undergraduate gamble.’ He didn’t say much more than that, but I carried it with me. It’s the undergraduate gamble. Whenever I would get frustrated, those words would come back to me. What’s the gamble? Well, I’m betting on the potential that is not yet evident in this student. I think that was Jeff’s approach to lots of things. He would bet on the potential, and I think he won most of the time. 

“Jeff was a great mentor for me. He took the undergraduate gamble on me. When I didn’t see anything in myself, he saw something in me—or maybe he didn’t, but he behaved in a way that would bring it out of me anyway.” 

In department meetings, two professors who had strong personalities would sit at either end of the table and “be talking past each other with lots of energy,” Fink said. “At some point, Jeff would just put his head into the exchange and say, ‘So what I hear is this.’ He would say it in a clear, accurate and eloquent way, and whatever he said, that turned out to be what the department did.” 

Smith had an appreciation for clarity, rigor, economy and beauty, Fink said; a positive, generous, attitude; a disarming Georgia accent and “aw shucks” attitude; and a way of holding students to rigorous expectations while maintaining a positive relationship with them. 

“If I was in the hallway outside of his classroom, I would listen to Jeff teaching and just appreciate his wonderful approach to the subject,” Fink said. “Whenever I would think that I might have gotten up to Jeff Smith quality in my own teaching, I would stand outside his classroom to listen and see how much farther I had to go.” 

Smith taught Fink how to handle the ropes for change ringing before Fink’s 1990 sabbatical to Oxford, England, so that Fink could ring while he was there. Fink currently teaches a class at Kalamazoo College on ringing, and is part of the band of change ringers that regularly rings in Stetson Chapel tower. 

When Fink learned of the Professor T. Jefferson Smith Memorial Scholarship, he felt joy, he said. He recalled how former students and change ringers came from all over the country for Smith’s memorial service, which he saw as a measure of the impact Smith had. 

“It’s fitting, then, that he can still have an impact on future students by this scholarship,” Fink said. “Now, I want those scholarship recipients to know Jeff in the way his students and colleagues did. This scholarship allows Jeff’s relationship to the College and his memory to be part of the foundation of another student’s education.”  

If you would like to support K students and give in honor of Professor Smith, please make a gift online to the Professor T. Jefferson Smith Memorial Scholarship or contact Nicki Poer, associate director of special initiatives, at 269.337.7281 or nicki.poer@kzoo.edu

Jeff Smith pointing at a blackboard
The late T. Jefferson Smith was a long-time beloved Kalamazoo College math professor and the driving force behind bringing change ringing and the English tower bells to Stetson Chapel.
T. Jefferson Smith received a plaque for 25th anniversary at Kalamazoo College before retiring with nearly 30 years of service in 1994.
Jeff Smith on Chapel Steps
Smith was respected and admired by students and colleagues alike. His life and legacy are now being honored with the Professor T. Jefferson Smith Memorial Scholarship. 
Jeff Smith with Students
Smith died in April 2019 at age 88. The scholarship named for him, which supports Kalamazoo College students with financial need, would have pleased him, his widow, Carol Smith, said. 
Smith received the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching Award in 1985 for outstanding achievement in creative work, research and publication. In 1993, he was presented the Weimer K. Hicks Award for providing excellent service in the performance of his job and making a significant contribution to the College in founding the Kalamazoo College Guild of Change Ringers.
Jeff Smith with Student
When Professor of Mathematics Emeritus John Fink learned of the Professor T. Jefferson Smith Memorial Scholarship, he felt joy. He recalled how former students and change ringers came from all over the country for Smith’s memorial service. 

Fulbright Extends U.S. Student Program Top Producer Honors to K

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has named Kalamazoo College a Fulbright Top Producing Institution for U.S. Students. This recognition is given to the U.S. colleges and universities that received the highest number of applicants selected for the 2022-23 Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

K has four representatives in the U.S. Student Program, leading to the honor for the fifth time in the past six years. K is the only college in Michigan to earn the top producer distinction in the bachelor’s institution category.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships to graduating seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists so they may teach English, perform research or study abroad for one academic year.

Many candidates apply for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program as graduating seniors, though alumni may apply as well. Graduating seniors apply through their institution. Alumni can apply as scholars through their institution or as at-large candidates.

K’s student representatives in 2022-23 and their host countries are Rebecca Chan, Taiwan; Libby Burton and Kiernan Dean-Hall, Germany; and Julia Bienstock, Spain. Associate Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas represents K as a Fulbright Scholar, and Matthew Flotemersch ’20 was accepted into Fulbright’s U.S. Teaching Assistant Program in Austria for 2022-23.

“This distinction reminds us of what intercultural experiences mean to our students and why Kalamazoo College is an exceptional model for learning on a global scale,” Center for International Programs Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft said. “We’re extremely proud of all of this year’s Fulbright representatives and our status as international immersion leaders.”

About the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. It is also among the largest and most diverse exchange programs in the world.

Fulbright awards about 9,000 merit-based scholarships in the United States and more than 160 countries every year to accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields. Fulbrighters study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to complex global challenges. Top-producing institutions are highlighted annually.

Rebecca Chan for Fulbright U.S. Student Program
Rebecca Chan ’22
Libby Burton '22
Libby Burton ’22

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, funded by an annual appropriation from Congress to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and supported in its implementation by the Institute of International Education.

“On behalf of President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, congratulations to the colleges and universities recognized as 2022-2023 Fulbright Top Producing Institutions, and to all the applicants who were selected for the Fulbright Program this year,” said Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “Thanks to the visionary leadership of these institutions, administrators, and advisors, a new generation of Fulbrighters—changemakers, as I like to say—will catalyze lasting impact on their campus, in their communities and around the world.”

Kiernan Dean Hall
Kiernan Dean-Hall ’22
Fulbright Recipient Julia Bienstock 22
Julia Bienstock ’22

Matthew Flotemersch ’20

Alumni Distinguished Themselves Nationally, Globally in 2022’s Top Stories

Kalamazoo College alumni continued to distinguish themselves locally, nationally and around the world through personal accomplishments, professional achievements and efforts that will make a difference in the educations of K students for years to come. Here are their top 10 stories of the year as determined by your clicks at our website. 

10. Mental Health Pro Lauds Benefits of Gratitude 

When we address our mental health, we sometimes need to hear from people like Kristin Meekhof ’97, the author of A Widow’s Guide to Healing. She knows what it means to find strength after grief. 

Mental Health Professional Kristin Meekhof
Kristin Meekhof ’97 is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling author.

9. Award-Winning Journalist Addresses First-Year Students at Convocation 

Lila Lazarus ’84, an award-winning journalist, producer and motivational speaker, was the keynote speaker for Kalamazoo College’s 2022 Convocation on the Quad. Watch a replay of her speech. 

Lila Lazarus
Lila Lazarus ’84 is an award-winning journalist, producer and motivational speaker

8. ‘Reckoning’ Examines K’s Past to Build a Better Future 

Anne Dueweke ’84 believes we cannot understand where we are unless we understand where we’ve been, especially when it comes to the racial climate of the U.S. and, closer to home, Kalamazoo College. 

Portrait of Author Anne Dueweke
Author Anne Dueweke ’84

7. New Fellowship Provides Post-Grad Opportunity Abroad for K Students 

A generous leadership gift from Robert Sherbin ’79 is opening the doors to independent exploration outside the United States for Kalamazoo College graduates. 

Bob Sherbin establishing fellowship abroad
Robert Sherbin ’79

6. Alumna, Professor Emerita Earns Pulitzer Prize 

Alumna, Professor Emerita and former writer-in-residence Diane Seuss ’78 celebrated more recognition for her latest poetry collection, and this honor was the most prestigious yet. Seuss was granted a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for frank: sonnets, a collection of poems that discuss topics including addiction, disease, poverty and death. The collection previously received the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and the LA Times Book Prize for poetry. 

Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78

5. Super Bowl Halftime Show Was Planned Through K Alumna 

Alix Reynolds ’11 had a hand in transforming the field at Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles into a sparkling nightscape, duplicating a scene from Compton, California, as it set the stage for musicians Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent. 

Super Bowl Halftime Planner Alix Reynolds in the empty seating bowl at Sofi Stadium
Alix Reynolds ’11, an account manager for Lititz, Pennsylvania-based ATOMIC.

4. K Announces $5 Million Gift to Support Student Access 

Robert J. Kopecky ’72 established the Ervin J. and Violet A. Kopecky Endowed Scholarship Fund, named in honor of his parents, and the Robert J. Kopecky ’72 Endowed Study Abroad Fund. He also contributed to additional study abroad funding, current-use scholarships and the Kalamazoo College Fund. 

Bob Kopecky '72
Bob Kopecky ’72

3. Alumna, Professor Emerita, Poet Garnering Recognition 

With accolades rolling in for her latest book and a new collection of poetry on the horizon, Diane Seuss ’78 marked National Poetry Month in April with virtual readings across the country while reflecting on the successes and challenges of the past two years, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Updike Award and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Book Cover for Frank:Sonnets by Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78 published her fifth collection of poetry, “frank: sonnets,” in 2021.

2. $500,000 Gift Establishes Endowment for Equity in Women’s Athletics 

The gift, from Dana Getman ’68, established the Getman Endowment for Equity in Women’s Athletics, which supports the College’s strategic plan, Advancing Kalamazoo College: A Strategic Vision for 2023. Getman hopes creating this fund will inspire others to recognize and address inequities women face in athletics and beyond. 

Dana Getman, Katie Getman and Teresa Getman for Equity Endowment
Dana Getman ’68 (center) visits the Kalamazoo College Fitness and Wellness Center with his wife, Teresa (left) and his daughter Kate Getman.

1. K Receives $5.25 Million Gift from Alumnus Larry Bell ’80 

This transformative gift will establish endowed funds to support the Center for Environmental Stewardship, a distinguished chair in American history, and food justice and sustainability programming. Additional funds will support both the Larry J. Bell ’80 Endowed Scholarship, which was established in 2017, and the Kalamazoo College Fund. 

Larry Bell at Homecoming_instagram
Shannon Bell (from left), Larry Bell ’80 and Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez.

Climate Change Conference Puts Global Spotlight on K Alumna, Team’s Art

Artwork at U.N. Climate Change Conference shows pictures, paintings and posters of Earth's environment with QR codes for more information
Nicki Bailey ’21 collaborated with the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) network to create an art exhibit for the U.S. Center at COP27, the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference.

When the United Nations’ annual climate change conference convened in El Sheikh, Egypt, on November 6, it had a recent Kalamazoo College grad in attendance.

Since leaving K, Nicki Bailey ’21 has begun a master’s program in ecology at Colorado State University, where she has come under the tutelage of Gillian Bowser, who represents the institution’s Natural Resource Ecology Lab. Bowser’s expertise in climate change connects her with the U.S. State Department, and it was this connection that led Bailey to the opportunity to attend the climate conference.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the entity that addresses the world’s response to climate change, organizing the event more commonly called COP27, or the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“K was the birthplace of my passion for this subject because it’s where I found I could pursue climate action as a career, and it gave me the tools to pursue it,” Bailey said. “I worked in Dr. Ann Fraser’s lab from my sophomore year through my SIP (Senior Integrated Project). Between that and studying abroad my junior year, the experiences helped me jump into new and uncomfortable situations like going to a conference with 50,000 people in Egypt and feel comfortable with asking questions.”

The convention’s accomplishments in years past included the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the agreements is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system while allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally and enable sustainable development. This year’s goals included implementing plans to provide reparations for loss and damage associated with climate disasters.

Within the conference, Bailey collaborated with the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) network to create an art exhibit for the U.S. Center at COP27. The exhibit connected student photos, artwork and scientific graphics to tell the story of youth engagement in climate action across the country.

Bailey’s opportunity with the project arose in September, and it involved sending several drafts of the project to the State Department before leaving for Egypt. The process was “super collaborative and really intensive for those two months,” Bailey said. “We were trying to achieve what the State Department wanted while keeping student voices at the center of the project.”

At Colorado State, Bailey studies pollinators and citizen science, enabling her to contribute photos and illustrations from her own work to the project alongside student contributions from other institutions.

“The essential message was combining scientific research and artwork to create action, specifically youth action, in the face of climate change,” Bailey said. “I’ve come from more of a scientific background, however, having this space with all this scientific knowledge being shared, we thought it was important to highlight how artwork can convey that message. We ended up making a collection that centered on topics of the land, the water and youth action in a thematic wave.”

After presenting the art project, she met people from backgrounds and careers from all around the world including Energy Department Secretary and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, all of whom were focused on reversing climate change.

“Every day there were hundreds of events that were going on simultaneously, so we had to be decisive about where we wanted to go,” Bailey said. “I would go to a talk and then several networking events in the U.S. Center that my advisor helped put together. I then would try to go to a negotiation in the afternoon. I got to go to one high-level ministerial conversation on carbon financing. That was super interesting because there were all these countries represented and all had a chance to argue for what they needed to prioritize.”

Bailey remembers one comment made during negotiations that was particularly striking to her.

“‘If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at our current rate, it is not the planet that will be lost, it is humanity,’” Bailey said. “As a scientist studying declining pollinators, I often hyper fixate on the loss of biodiversity as a detrimental effect of climate change. We need to remember that humanity is at the center of climate change’s widespread damage, and we are the only solution. We need to strengthen our infrastructure, focus on creative nature-based solutions, and mitigate climate change for our future generations.”

When she leaves Colorado State, Bailey could see herself involved in government work, but she would like her main focuses to be community engagement, citizen science and education.

“K provided me such a close-knit community in science and climate advocacy that I felt overwhelmed coming to a big research university,” Bailey said. “I want to emphasize for others that it’s OK to put yourself out there and try something outside your comfort zone. I feel like K helped me get those skills to keep pushing myself outside my comfort zone and attend conferences like COP27. I feel like I belong and have an important voice.”

Mental Health Pro Lauds Benefits of Gratitude

Mental Health Professional Kristin Meekhof
Kristin Meekhof ’97 is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling
author, who extols the benefits of gratitude in recovering from grief.

When we address our own mental health, we sometimes need to hear from people who know what it means to suffer and find their way back to personal strength.

Kalamazoo College alumna Kristin Meekhof ’97 has, for many, been an example of that recovery. Meekhof began working in the mental health profession after earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology at K and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan. She now has more than 20 years of clinical experience and is a nationally recognized expert with published articles in and contributions to CNN, Today online, Katie Couric Media, Architectural Digest, Huffington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Readers’ Digest, Maria Shriver Media and Psychology Today. She also has worked alongside alternative-medicine expert Deepak Chopra, M.D., F.A.C.P., and is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling author.

Yet before much of that, Meekhof suddenly was stricken with tragedy in 2007 when her husband, Roy, was diagnosed with adrenal cancer and died just eight weeks later. Her grief took a toll on her mental and physical health as she suddenly faced bills, single parenthood, balancing being a professional and a widow, and navigating social situations by herself. She sought out comfort and help in the form of reading material.

“I was living alone in November 2007 and I would get home from work around 6 p.m. when it was pitch black outside,” Meekhof said. “I’m not really one to watch television, so I started to read everything I could about grief and loss. It could’ve been a story of inspiration or resiliency or a medical journal about broken heart syndrome. I was really interested to see how people cope with loss and how they were able to thrive after a tragedy.”

After not finding many narratives about women specifically, she decided to travel the world and get as many stories as she could by speaking directly to women who had suffered a loss. The experience led her and a co-author, James Windell, to write A Widow’s Guide to Healing (Sourcebooks) in 2015.

“When we connect with another person’s story, it can help us find purpose and meaning as we’re inspired by others,” Meekhof said. “That meant I was traveling to Boston to meet with Christie Coombs, who tragically lost her husband on September 11 in one of the planes that crashed. I went to the backwoods in Montana where a very young widow lost her husband in a skiing accident. I went to Kenya where women live on less than $1 a day and have no running water. I went to the UK and these stories of women shaped the book. There were certain themes that really stood out like solo parenting, financial issues and relationship issues. I knew that offering practical advice was one of the ways to help women get through difficult times.”

Still, Meekhof said, none of those struggles can be wiped away when a woman simply reads the book once.

“The process is always ongoing,” Meekhof said. “The book is thematically connected, but the standalone chapters are what happens during different periods in life, whether it’s a child moving out of the home, someone suffering another loss or even happy situations like a promotion or completing a personal goal. The loss factors in and evolves in different ways, so people go back to my book or another resource because they feel a shift and want guidance.”

With the fight against grief being continual, many wonder what tools can be used to ensure some healing. Meekhof believes the best tool is gratitude.

“After a number of years, I decided that my book really wasn’t a mental health book,” she said. “It was actually completed stories of gratitude and resilience. The reason I use gratitude is there’s a lot of research that demonstrates an expression of gratitude improves one’s physical well-being. There have been studies, for example, that show heart patients who use gratitude have better outcomes over those who don’t. Before my late husband’s diagnosis, we kept a gratitude journal. It started before our marriage, and during his medical crisis, he encouraged me and us as a couple to continue our gratitude practice. It was a saving grace, because after he died, I knew I could help myself by resuming the gratitude practice. And it wasn’t until doing the research for my book that I found there was actual physical evidence that it changes one’s outlook and perspective with great implications for one’s physical and mental well-being.”

Grief and loss are intertwined with a rise in mental health concerns as people around the world have faced a loss of loved ones, periods of isolation and trauma in the era of COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies COVID-19 as the primary driver of a global mental health crisis that caused estimates of anxiety and depressive disorders to spike by 25% during the first year of the pandemic. Growing social and economic inequalities, protracted conflicts, violence and public health emergencies threaten to exacerbate the crisis even further with mental health services limited, disrupted or even unavailable.

That lifts the importance for World Mental Health Day, marked every October 10, to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. In that spirit, and given the challenges that have faced higher-education communities since the pandemic, Meekhof has some recommendations for how Kalamazoo College can help its students.

“I would encourage the College to have a very open dialogue, for example, about something like anxiety because when we understand that anxiety is real, it becomes something that can be handled,” Meekhof said. “One can cope with it in a way that doesn’t have to be isolating or debilitating. It can help others to know that seeking professional mental health services is necessary for many and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a great stigma still about getting mental health services, that it’s a sign of weakness, that only certain people go out to get it, that once you start you’ll be dependent on it in every situation, and that’s really not the case. I would encourage faculty to take the lead and start to share their own mental health stories and guide students in that direction. It can be very encouraging for families as well so that parents and friends who notice a change in a student can encourage that student to get help.”

Looking back on her own time at K, Meekhof said the College has been the foundation for everything she does.

“It really has informed me in the way that I see the world, and offer compassion and understanding,” she said. “It was the education and the background, along with the support of professors, which enabled me to have my perspectives.”

Meekhof has another book project underway. This book is a project with Amy Young, Ph.D., of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, which will look at how language can be used to facilitate authentic leadership in business and how exceptional leaders are strong communicators. But success in her own career isn’t defined by having another book. Instead, it’s defined by helping other people.

“Success for me is feeling very confident in the fact that I’m able to offer a bit of hope in somebody’s very dark time,” Meekhof said. “If my words or the resources I can lead people to can help alleviate sorrow, I feel that is being successful.” 

Classical Music, Liberal Arts Compose Alumna’s Noted Devotion

Jacqueline Mills with her violin 1
Jacqueline Mills ’18 toured Spain and Portugal with the Kalamazoo Junior
Symphony Orchestra this summer with Kalamazoo College Music Chair
Andrew Koehler.

Jacqueline Mills ’18 has an inspiring story of how a liberal arts education continues to benefit her life after Kalamazoo College as her appreciation of music has blossomed from an interest into a lifelong passion.

Before majoring in chemistry at K, Mills began playing violin at age 9. During her middle school years, she developed a music outreach program, V is for Violin, where she would visit her former pre-school to play the violin and introduce children to the world of classical music.

“A lot of young people knew rap, pop and other genres of music, but this was a time when arts programming seemed to be on the decline in schools,” Mills said. “The lack of music programming in public schools was one of the reasons I had to seek out alternative weekend programs to develop my musical talents further.”

As Mills progressed, she didn’t expect music to play the role it did in her college years, instead anticipating it to be more of a side interest or outlet.

“My mindset was that I had just spent 10 years playing the violin and I didn’t want to waste it, so I decided to try out,” Mills said.

That tryout was for the Kalamazoo Philharmonia, an ensemble of students, faculty, amateur musicians and professional musicians of various ages that performs three concerts a year under Music Director and K Music Department Chair Andrew Koehler, who immediately and enthusiastically accepted her to the group and with whom she also took violin lessons.

Later, her study abroad experiences in Perth, Australia, were significant because she interned at the Aboriginal School of Music. On this site, Aboriginal students learn about a variety of music genres.

“I wasn’t in an orchestra in Australia, but it was still nice to have that connection to music,” Mills said. “I was learning about their culture and other instruments they have. It reignited a deeper understanding of music in me that I wanted to pursue further, in the sense that music can be a part of my life forever even if it’s not my profession.”

By the time she had returned to K, Koehler had recognized in Mills her growing enthusiasm for music.

Kalamazoo College Music Chair and Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra Director Andrew Koehler leads the orchestra in a classical music performance at a cathedral
Kalamazoo College Music Chair Andrew Koehler,
who is the music director of the Kalamazoo Junior
Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in a

“Jacqueline was always a really thoughtful, observant, self-aware kind of musician,” Koehler said. “These are qualities that I feel are really essential to good music making. When you’re in the practice room, you’ve got to be thinking about what is working and what is not and ask, ‘How can I bridge the gap?’ Jacqueline studied chemistry here at K, so music wasn’t necessarily going to be the central thing that drove her. Yet she was really a gifted violinist. Like every K student, she was busy and had to fight to make time for music, but she always carved out the space to make sure that she kept improving, day by day and year after year.”

Additionally, by this time, Koehler was leading the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestras (KJSO), a group representing around 42 schools in 23 area communities. KJSO has a tradition of self-funded touring for performances that started in Europe in the 1960s and it was planning a trip to perform in South Africa during Mills’ senior year.

“She and I were still working on private lessons and she was playing in the Philharmonia,” Koehler said. “She had spent her junior year in Australia, so I floated the idea to her of going with us to South Africa. I said, ‘One doesn’t get to go to South Africa every day. Is there any chance you might be interested?’ And she was.”

But that was just the first time Mills would tour and perform with KJSO. This past summer, after she took the initiative to approach Koehler about the trip, she toured Spain and Portugal with the group where they had two performances.

“With the South Africa experience cemented in her mind, when she heard through the grapevine about this new tour, and was already enjoying being more established and working a job, she actually contacted me this time,” Koehler said. “Of course, I was over the moon. I’m always delighted for any opportunity to make sure a K alumna is still finding ways to make music. And it was just such a beautiful opportunity to reconnect with Jacqueline in particular.”

Mills admitted there was a bit of a spoken language barrier in Spain and Portugal that she hadn’t encountered in South Africa, but fortunately, music is a universal language.

“It was a unique experience, in South Africa and Europe alike, to be both a tourist and a performer,” Mills said. “It was harder in Spain because I don’t speak the language, so trying to communicate about our concerts was difficult. But it doesn’t matter what your nationality is. If you’re playing well, the music will resonate.”

KJSO performed for a small crowd in a concert hall in Madrid before moving on to Salamanca, where, Koehler said, it seemed the whole city turned out to pack a historic cathedral.

“There was an intensity to the experience,” Koehler said. “It was just so special to be in this amazing place, playing music that combines some American composers, a Portuguese composer and, of course, a Spanish composer. There was a kind of a cultural ambassadorship that we were trying to achieve with the program, and sharing it with this audience that was wildly enthusiastic and cheering us on, is just something that we will long remember.”

Mills’ story is significant for Classical Music Month, which first was instituted in September 1994 by President Clinton. His proclamation stated, “Classical music is a celebration of artistic excellence. This month we exalt the many talented composers, conductors and musicians who bring classical music to our ears. Music is a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural and geographical divisions.”

In her professional life, Mills has worked in a lab as a quality control chemist. She’s also performed some research involving sickle cell disease. She now works with the City of Detroit in an adult education program called Learn to Earn, which aims to break intergenerational poverty and position job seekers on a pathway to the middle class. Yet she always wants her career to allow her time to bring classical music to the ears of children and people around the world.

“In the short term, I would like to join a community orchestra,” Mills said. “But long term, I hope to start a nonprofit or foundation to provide instruments and classical training to underrepresented children as a way to celebrate and invite youth into the fine arts. From my experience, having continued access to instruments and private lessons at a young age can be half the battle and I want to provide that support to my community. I would also like V is for Violin to pick up where I left off by going into pre-schools and elementary schools and introducing kids to the world of classical music; showing them that it’s not a dead art confined to a specific race and gender. Music is a universal language that can take you anywhere, and if I can do it, they can do it, too.”

Koehler said he’s proud not only of K’s music majors, but all K students like Jacqueline who go on to make music a permanent fixture in their lives.

“Of course, it’s very rewarding to work with students who really dive all the way with us into the musical field,” Koehler said. “But no less valuable, in terms of what we offer to a liberal arts campus and in terms of what we aspire to in our teaching, is to see students who hold space for music as part of a fuller, truly human existence. My hope for those who have played in the Philharmonia or any of our ensembles, no matter what path they go on, is that music remains a part of their experience, as it has for Jacqueline.”

Reception to Spotlight Alumna’s COVID Purse Diary Exhibit

Heather Boersma standing in front of a display from COVID Purse Diary
Heather Boersma ’89 is the artist behind COVID Purse Diary, which is on display now at the Light Fine Arts Gallery.

A Kalamazoo College alumna who got her start in art as a child by making creations out of everything from McDonald’s containers to acorns, will be the guest of honor in a reception highlighting her recent work at the Light Fine Arts Gallery. 

The Department of Art and Art History is presenting COVID Purse Diary, an exhibition by alumna Heather Boersma ’89, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October 12. In the exhibit, Boersma uses recycled materials and random objects to represent a variety of subjects related to the COVID-19 quarantine. At her reception—from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, September 22—Boersma will read a few poems related to her visual art at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. 

Rather than shopping for a new spring purse in 2020, Boersma started taking longer walks, slower bike rides and collecting natural specimens and discarded artifacts that spoke to her about the shifting values of the world through the quarantine. Baking bread, walking on trails, trying to cut our own hair, hoarding toilet paper and wearing masks became global trends that fascinated her, inspiring her art for the exhibit. She hopes that in years to come people will look at the series and be able to find pieces that they can relate to and be inspired to use art to help process challenging times. 

Since studying art and English at K and earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Western Michigan University, Boersma has taught writing, reading and aesthetic education at WMU and elementary schools throughout Kalamazoo County. She has received multiple grants and awards in Western Michigan shows and at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. Since the pandemic, she has shifted to creating and she exhibits her artwork full-time in shows and competitions. 

The public is invited to the free exhibit and the free reception. No registration is necessary. For more information on her work, visit her website