Alumni Honor Complex Systems Studies Professor

A longtime Kalamazoo College professor with connections around the world is being honored by five alumni from the Class of 2009 with a fund in his name that will help support a field of study for years to come.

Péter Erdi was hired as the Henry Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies in 2002 when the College received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. K’s efforts to attain the grant were driven by a small but vocal group of students who were mathematically skilled and interested in applying their skills to social problems through quantitative models. Ever since, Erdi has influenced many deeply curious alumni, including Brad Flaugher, Jerrod Howlett, Trevor Jones, Elliot Paquette and Griffin Drutchas, who are the five benefactors initiating the Interdisciplinary Fund for Complex Systems Studies in Erdi’s name.

Flaugher, who works in software development for startup companies, double majored in computer science and economics at K. He met Erdi in his first year on campus when he took Computational Neuroscience—a study of the mathematical models, computational algorithms and simulation methods that contribute to an understanding of neural mechanisms—before taking all the classes Erdi offered.

“There were so few of us in his classes—I think in my year we had only three or four computer science majors—that he took all of us under his wing,” Flaugher said. “He got us jobs in his lab with funding. All of us except Jerrod had gone to Hungary to work with him at his lab in Budapest. All of us were studying artificial intelligence back in 2006 and 2007, which was amazing. We were super close to him. He wrote all of us recommendation letters for graduate school. He did everything he could for us and taught us the hottest topic in the world 10 years before we needed it.”

Flaugher was attending an event in Philadelphia last March when President Jorge G. Gonzalez shared examples of how alumni were endowing funds in honor of their favorite or most influential professors. That led Flaugher to rally support from his classmates and recognize Erdi in complex systems studies.

“I talk to Dr. Erdi pretty regularly and I want to keep the interdisciplinary spirit of what he does alive,” Flaugher said. “I think it’s a great fit for a liberal arts institution, and when I was at K, I got not only job skills thanks to him, I got jobs-of-the-future skills.”

Henry Luce Professor of Complex Systems Péter Erdi presents in front of a large audience with visuals beside him and tall windows behind him
Henry Luce Professor of Complex Systems Péter Erdi presented at the Brain Bar, a technology and music conference in Budapest, while wearing a T-shirt that says “OK, Boomer” as a way to connect with a younger audience. He is being honored by five alumni from the Class of 2009 with a fund for Kalamazoo College in his name.
cMUMMA-Lucasse-Award-Peter-Erdi-lo-9301_fb
Erdi receives applause from Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez while presenting his lecture for receiving the 2018 Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship.

Erdi received the 2018 Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship, the highest award bestowed by K’s faculty, which honors the recipient’s contributions in creative work, research and publication. He has dozens of publications from his time at K, including two books since 2019, Ranking: The Hidden Rules of the Social Game We All Play and Repair: When and How to Improve Broken Objects, Ourselves and Our Society, which have received international acclaim. He also recently finished another book due out soon, Feedback Control: How to Destroy or Save the World and has served the University of Michigan as a visiting professor and scholar.

Complex systems studies can be described as an examination of how a system’s parts contribute to its collective behaviors, and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment. Erdi added that complex systems theory finds connections among seemingly very different phenomena. For example:

  • The onset of epilepsy, an earthquake eruption and a stock market crash are different occurrences, but all three are abrupt, extreme events. Complex systems theory looks at the predictability of these events, and interestingly, there are algorithms for predicting the probability of earthquakes that also can be adopted by brokers to estimate stock prices.
  • When we look at the spreading of viruses, ideas and opinions, we can examine all three through similar mathematical models.
  • Network theory offers methods that can help us understand the structure and dynamics of topics as varied as the human brain, interacting social groups, food chains in specific ecosystems, financial networks and more.

With a program such as complex systems studies being rare at a small college, it has been difficult to efficiently increase its offerings over the years; Erdi remains the program’s sole representative at K despite its interdisciplinary nature, with applications in fields such as physics, computer science and psychology. The fund in Erdi’s name, however—thanks to Flaugher, Drutchas, Jones, Howlett and Paquette getting it off the ground—will ensure the professor’s legacy lives on after his retirement.

Despite the deeply analytical nature of his field, Erdi is also known for his sense of humor. For example, in September 2022, when he spoke at the Brain Bar, a technology and music conference in Budapest, he donned a red T-shirt with the words “OK, Boomer” on it while presenting to and connecting with a young audience. Also, when he was recently asked how he would like to be remembered at K in years after his retirement, he said: “Péter was an interesting character on the campus with his terrible ‘Hunglish’ accent. It looks like he managed to motivate some students.”

In all sincerity, however, Erdi was grateful to hear from Flaugher and his fellow alumni regarding the Interdisciplinary Fund for Complex Systems Studies.

“I knew that I had influenced several students intellectually,” he said. “Maybe five per year is a good estimation, so about a hundred may positively remember my name when they reflect on their college education. Still, the mail from Brad, and then the correspondence with Elliot, Griffin, Jerrod and Trevor, and the establishment of the Fund were wonderful surprises, and I am humbled to have this Fund while I am still active.”

‘Dutchman’ Puts Racism, Black Identity Center Stage

Black identity, racism and allusions to the slave trade will be put center stage this week when Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse presents Dutchman.

The 1964 play—written by Amiri Baraka, who then was known as LeRoi Jones—is the second of the Festival Playhouse’s 60th season, which has a theme of “Systems as Old as Time,” focusing on the harmful systems that hold back the oppressed and how people fight against them.

The plot features Clay, a 20-year-old, college-educated Black man portrayed by Jared Pittman ’20, who also played Martin Luther King, Jr. last winter in the Festival Playhouse’s production of The Mountaintop. Pittman notes that Clay is traveling on the subway to a friend’s house for a get-together when he meets Lula, a young white woman.

“He’s shy and timid upon his introduction to Lula on the train, given the racial climate during the 1960s,” Pittman said. “He’s polished in his three-piece suit and speaks with great intellect. Clay doesn’t want to be grouped amongst the stereotype of Black men, so he makes a conscious effort to be above the stereotype.”

Abigail Nelson '24 and Jared Pittman '20 portray Lula and Clay respectively in the Festival Playhouse production of Dutchman
Abigail Nelson ’24 and Jared Pittman ’20 portray Lula and Clay in the Festival Playhouse production of “Dutchman” being staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 29–Saturday, March 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3.

Lula, however, played by Abigail Nelson ’24, is symbolic of white America during the Civil Rights Movement. She enters the train eating an apple beginning references to Adam and Eve that occur throughout the play as Clay attempts to be his own man even though his name might suggest that he should be easily shaped and molded.

“She’s very flirtatious with Clay, and although he is shy, he is intrigued by Lula, so he entertains her advances,” Pittman said. “She has a bipolar personality, and it keeps Clay on his toes, not really knowing if she is joking or serious. This allows her to antagonize Clay, and ultimately push him over the edge.”

The play is guest directed by Anthony J. Hamilton, a former visiting assistant professor of theatre arts at K and guest professor and director at Western Michigan University. His career directing credits include The Piano Lesson, The 1940s Radio Hour and Once on This Island at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre; Into the Woods and Skeleton Crew at WMU; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at Hackett Catholic Prep; Grandma’s Quilt and Playwright’s Competition at the Negro Ensemble Company in New York; and Next to Normal at the Festival Playhouse last spring.

Dutchman will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 29–Saturday, March 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3, in the Festival Playhouse Theatre at 129 Thompson St. Thursday’s show will include American Sign Language interpretation and an audience talkback.

Tickets are available online or by calling the Festival Playhouse at 269.337.7333. K students, faculty and staff are admitted free with a College ID. Adult tickets are $25, seniors are $20 and children younger than 12 are $5. Audiences should be aware that the play’s content includes adult language, themes and situations that include simulated violence and may be triggering

Pittman said that audiences are certain to appreciate the performances, even as they provoke a profound emotional response. “I think those who come to see the show, should know that this is theatre, and we are people portraying characters,” he said. “Although a very real experience for some people, we ask that the audience members provide the performers with grace. We’ve worked hard to tell this iconic story and we understand the sensitivity of it all.”

Researching a Better World: Personal Experiences Inspire Senior’s Study of Anti-Malarial Drugs

Only 6 years old when her family moved to Michigan in 2009, Ifeoma Uwaje ’24 retains a deep love for her home in Nigeria and remembers the pain of losing young classmates to malaria due to a lack of resources and access to healthcare. Emotional visits back home in 2017 and 2022 elicited a deep desire in Uwaje to improve circumstances for her first community. 

As she anticipates graduating from Kalamazoo College this spring with a degree in biochemistry, Uwaje hopes eventually to combine her commitment to community with her love for science—and her Senior Integrated Project (SIP), currently underway, represents one possible path forward. 

Starting college virtually, in the midst of a pandemic, brought home to Uwaje how essential community is for her, and how lonely she was without it. Once she got to campus, she jumped right in, becoming involved with Sukuma Dow, which supports and empowers students of color in STEM, and Kalama-Africa, which creates space to engage with African and Caribbean cultures and experiences. 

“The isolation of the pandemic motivated me to find my community here on campus, which made my experiences so much better,” Uwaje said. “I’m grateful for the community I was able to find here.” 

Through Kalama-Africa, Uwaje has been part of building a close-knit community and sharing culture and food from different parts of Africa and the Caribbean, both within the organization and with the larger campus community, particularly through events like Afro Fiesta Desi Sol. Both her work as a resident assistant and her involvement with Sukuma Dow have allowed her to experience receiving and offering support. 

Ifeoma Uwaje, who works to fight malaria, poses with Regina Stevens-Truss while they wear protective face masks and white lab coats
Ifeoma Uwaje ’24 poses with Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Regina Stevens-Truss during Dress Like Your Professor Day in summer 2022.
Ifeoma Uwaje, who researches drugs to fight malaria, points to a computer screen
Uwaje drew on childhood experiences in Nigeria, where she remembers classmates dying of malaria, to inspire her Senior Integrated Project. Her SIP is an extension of a small-group project for her medicinal chemistry class involving computational research on improving a pharmaceutical drug.
Six students at Afro Fiesta Desi Sol
Participation and leadership with the executive board of student group Kalama-Africa, pictured during Afro Fiesta Desi Sol, has offered community and fellowship at K for Uwaje, far right.
Six students from the Kalama-Africa student organization
Uwaje, fourth from left, with the executive board of student group Kalama-Africa, cherishes the opportunities she has found at K to share and learn about different African and Caribbean cultures.

“I love interacting with my residents and getting to know their stories and connecting with them on a personal level,” Uwaje said. “It warms my heart when my residents come and talk to me about anything, and I’m happy that I can create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for them.  

“Sukuma Dow has also been a rewarding experience because when I was a sophomore, it was nice that I had older students that I could go to for advice on how to be a better student or how to do well in a class and for a listening ear those days where things were really stressful. Now that I’m a senior, I’m happy that I can also give advice to younger students, tell them things that I did, reassure them and make them feel supported, and let them know, ‘Hey, you’re not alone. You can do this. You’ve got this. I believe in you.’” 

Uwaje has also volunteered at Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes and participated in science outreach for elementary, middle and high school students in Kalamazoo. 

Coming to K, Uwaje intended to major in biology. Quickly, however, classes with Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Regina Stevens-Truss deepened her interest in chemistry, and Uwaje settled on a new major offered from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

“Being a biochemistry major has been so rewarding,” Uwaje said. “It made everything in my science education make sense. Biology is amazing, and understanding the chemical aspect really exhilarated me because I could learn all of these different reactions that are going on in our bodies and see how they apply to and affect our daily lives.”  

Throughout the summer after her sophomore year and the fall of her junior year, Uwaje conducted research in Stevens-Truss’ biochemistry lab. 

“It’s a dual research project with Dr. [Dwight] Williams’ lab,” Uwaje said. “In Dr. Williams’ lab, they synthesized a series of potential antibiotic hybrid compounds, while in Dr. Truss’ lab, we tested the ability of these antibiotics to inhibit growth of different strains of bacteria.” 

While she was specifically testing these antibiotic hybrid compounds on Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli, Uwaje was absorbing a larger lesson and inspiration. 

“Working in Dr. Truss’ lab taught me that it’s OK to make mistakes,” she said. “I was very scared coming in because I didn’t want to mess up, but Dr. Truss created an atmosphere where it was OK to make mistakes and I was able to learn from making those mistakes. I’ve been able to take the lessons that I learned and remind myself that things happen, life happens, and the main thing is to keep going and keep learning. Dr. Truss was very calm. Anytime I would mess up something, she’d be like, ‘Oh, that was not quite what you had to do, but that’s OK. Here’s how we’re going to solve that,’ and she was very welcoming and not judgmental about it.” 

Stevens-Truss suggested that Uwaje, who was interested in medicinal chemistry, could complete her SIP in tandem with her medicinal chemistry class. In the class, students learn how to run computational design and research before choosing a pharmaceutical drug to explore and attempt to improve in small groups. 

Uwaje’s group is researching changes that could make anti-malarial drugs more effective and potentially longer-lasting. 

“I am looking to derivatize anti-malarial compounds—basically increasing the binding affinity of these anti-malarial drugs to the specific receptor it binds to,” Uwaje said. “I’ll test three to five derivatives to see how these derivatives bind to the receptor, and potentially see if my derivative fits into the receptor well and if it binds tighter to the receptor.” 

Although this is a “dry lab,” without actual synthesis and without testing these compounds on biological agents, Uwaje is excited to approach the same basic question of her previous research experience—how can we make this medicine better?—from the other end. 

“When I was doing research for Dr. Truss, I was testing compounds that were already synthesized in the Williams lab. The data we produced in the Truss lab would help inform what modifications could maximize the antibiotic’s activity, potency and selectivity. For my SIP, although I’m not synthesizing compounds, I am modifying the structure of these anti-malarial drugs in hopes of increasing the drug’s affinity. In both cases, we’re putting already-known compounds together to potentially make a better drug. 

“During the wet lab, we were actually testing these compounds, which is pretty cool. With the computational research, we’re using all of the tools on the computer to modify and make the compounds, thinking, ‘If I add this certain group here, how will it change my compound? Will it make it stronger? Will it make it weaker?’ The technology is cool. I like that I’ve been able to test compounds in the lab, and with my SIP, I like that I’m able to explore different ways I could strengthen and make a better compound.” 

And of course, improvements to anti-malarial drugs hold personal meaning for Uwaje. 

“There’s certain things that you will never forget in a lifetime,” she said. “I remember my classmates passing away from malaria, so coming into K and given the opportunity to study and design a potential improvement for any drug that I want, those memories ultimately motivated my SIP, because I’ve had many losses from malaria which could have been preventable. Seeing things like that as a young child, I remember feeling so helpless. I knew there were drugs out there that can help prevent malaria, so I decided, what if I look at these drugs, see how their mechanism of action works and see if I could increase the affinity of these drugs to potentially make them even better?” 

Stronger medicine alone won’t fix the problem. Knowing that, Uwaje’s plans include a couple years off school before applying to medical school, and eventually returning to Nigeria to improve conditions in any way she can. 

“Going back home, seeing the lack of adequate health care and the lack of resources that people have, motivated me from a young age to pursue medicine. My mom was one of the main doctors in my community back in Nigeria. Her contributions to the community actually inspired me to fully commit and pursue this role. I don’t know how just yet, but I know that I’ll do something to help increase access to health care for all back home, because the community needs it. Research, advocacy, medicine—if I could do all of that I would 100 percent do it.” 

Student-Athlete, Business Major Finds Passion for Filmmaking

Story by Social Media Ambassador Blagoja Naskovski ’24

In a pivot prompted by Kalamazoo College’s flexible curriculum, Ian Burr ’24 heeded a call for “lights, camera, action” in New York while discovering a potential lifelong passion. 

Burr, a business major, recently participated in the New York Arts Program, a winter-term study away opportunity, where students learn about acting, musical theatre, dance, play writing, directing, vocal music, instrumental music, improvisation and children’s theatre—or in Burr’s case—filmmaking. 

His interest in photography pushed him to take Framing Differences, a sophomore seminar taught by Genevieve U. Gilmore Professor of Art Richard Koenig, which gives K students a working knowledge of the tools used in photography before leaving for study away or study abroad. Burr then bought his first camera and worked on sports videography for the women’s soccer team and recreational hockey games.  

These experiences convinced Burr to add a film and media concentration to his K-Plan and seek opportunities in New York. There, he worked as a production assistant intern for an upcoming Netflix show, American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders, and at Green Point Pictures, an advertising company where he helped create pitches for clients. The time in New York also gave Burr an opportunity to shoot his first film. 

“The New York Arts Program was an amazing opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience as someone who is interested in the film industry,” Burr said. “It is very hard to get into the industry and participating in this program while taking classes and working for two companies was a very valuable way to gain skills for something that I am very passionate about.” 

Since, Burr has developed a Senior Integrated Project (SIP)—not in business, but in filmmaking—with a production titled I Love You, Bro, dedicated to his friend Jake, who died in a car accident. The short film focuses on the mental health of Rhett, who loses his best friend, Avery, in a crash. 

“I wanted to show how people deal with loss,” Burr said. “Some people push their feelings off, so they don’t seem weak, but no one should be alone, and it’s totally OK to share your feelings with someone.” 

Last fall, Burr had a chance to present the film—which takes place in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee—to the K community while emphasizing the importance of mental health awareness. 

“The idea to turn my movie into a SIP came while I was attending the New York Arts Program,” Burr said. “Without the opportunity that K gave me and the collaboration with Professor Koening, I wouldn’t be able to do something that means so much to me. The professors are so great and welcoming. The small size class made me establish close relationships with the professors and my classmates easily. Professors here care about your progress and your ability to use your whole potential.” 

Burr also credits a close friend for his assistance with the movie. 

Aidan Baas ’24, “who also participated in the New York Arts Program, was very supportive during this journey,” Burr said. “When I was with him during the study away program in New York, he helped me to come up with the idea of I Love You, Bro. Furthermore, he came from Michigan to Nashville during the summer of 2023 and helped me with shooting and editing, which made the movie to be successfully completed.” 

Elsewhere at K, Burr is a punter and kicker on K’s football team, through which he’s established lifelong connections with his teammates. He also has drawn inspiration to achieve excellence in academics through faculty members such as L. Lee Stryker Associate Professor of Business Management Amy MacMillan, Visiting Professor of Business David Rhoa and Visiting Instructor in Art Daniel Kim, who have provided Burr with real-world experiences related to his coursework. And although he’s been dedicated to undertakings such as football and more, Burr strongly encourages his peers who are interested in filmmaking to find their own opportunities through faculty and coursework. 

“Dive into it,” he said. “Ask professors for many opportunities to grow. Filmmaking is building portfolios. If you want to be a director, direct something. Go and create. The only way you fail is if you never try. Be dedicated. Collaborate with your friends, classmates and professors. Create the films you want to see.” 

Ian Burr ’24 (left) works with actors Graeme Cadaret and Jayden Scheer while filming a scene of “I Love You, Bro.”
Filmmakers collaborate in a studio
While participating in the New York Arts Program on study away, Burr found his passion for filmmaking while working as a production assistant intern for an upcoming Netflix show, “American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders,” and at Green Point Pictures, an advertising company where he helped create pitches for clients.
Ian Burr prepares to punt during a Kalamazoo College football game
Burr prepares to punt during a Kalamazoo College football game. Photo by Kimberley Moss.
Ian Burr focuses on filmmaking with two actors
Burr films Cadaret and Scheer in the making of his film, “I Love You, Bro.”

Bayati Ensemble, College Singers Slate Concert

Two Kalamazoo College music ensembles, the Bayati Ensemble and College Singers, will blend their instrumental and vocal talents in a unified concert this Sunday, February 25. 

The Bayati Ensemble specializes in Middle Eastern music. Its members range from people who grew up with Middle Eastern music and culture to others who are learning about it for the first time. The group is co-directed by Associate Processor of Music Beau Bothwell and Ahmed Tofiq. The College Singers, led by Associate Professor of Music and Director Chris Ludwa, includes about 30 students who are music majors and non-music majors, offering a different approach to choral singing with a focus on social justice.  

The free concert is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Dalton Theatre. For more information, contact Susan Lawrence in the Department of Music at 269.337.7070 or Susan.Lawrence@kzoo.edu.   

Bayati Ensemble
The Bayati Ensemble was created from the Bahar Ensemble, a group of five professional members, who played Middle Eastern music and performed frequently at events in Kalamazoo.

Jazz Band to Perform Friday at Dalton Theatre

A handful of musical classics such as The Girl from Ipanema, Unforgettable, Red Clay, Nutville and Dat Dere will highlight the Kalamazoo College Jazz Band winter concert—themed “Inside the Night Café”—this Friday, February 23. 

The ensemble, directed by Professor of Music Thomas Evans, pulls together an expansive collection of contemporary and classic jazz arrangements to provide the students participating and audiences with an electric experience. This group varies in size each year, making the music selections continuously diverse and exciting. 

The concert, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Dalton Theatre, is free and open to the public, although free-will donations are gratefully accepted. 

For more information on the concert, contact Susan Lawrence in the Department of Music at 269.337.7070 or Susan.Lawrence@kzoo.edu.  

Jazz Band poster says "Inside the Night Cafe," Friday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m., Dalton Theatre, Light Fine Arts Building, Free Admission

Indigenous Cultures Welcome English Professor for In-Person Research

Kalamazoo College Associate Professor of English Ryan Fong recently appeared on a New Zealand reality TV show titled The Casketeers, which focuses on Māori funeral directors Francis and Kaiora Tipene, who combine good humor with care and respect as they help Māori and Pasifika families cope with loss.

That appearance might surprise some. But to know Fong’s scholarship is to know why it makes perfect sense. Over the past several years, he has been awarded a series of grants that have allowed him to thoughtfully and respectfully perform in-person research regarding Indigenous cultures, including the Māori, across the British empire and French Polynesia, for a book he expects to release in 2025.

The research developed out of a growing understanding of the limits of his primary educational training in 19th century British literature.

“The sparks for this project came during my time at K and with the relationships I’ve had with people like Reid Gomez, the founding director of our Critical Ethnic Studies program,” Fong said while also mentioning current colleagues such as Professor of English Amelia Katanski ’92. “In my conversations with them, I realized that in order to understand the British empire, I needed to understand more than the colonizer’s perspective. Colonialism wasn’t completely victorious in erasing Indigenous people and their culture, as evidenced by the fact that they still survive today, so in the last seven years, I’ve essentially done another Ph.D. worth of research about the sites and communities I am studying.”

New Zealand was one stop last year and the TV show was a small part of it. Fong binged the first two seasons of The Casketeers on Netflix before traveling to partially fulfill an Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership fellowship. He had also emailed the show’s producers in advance, asking for permission to respectfully visit the outside grounds, and to his surprise, he and his husband were invited inside after stopping by.

“In addition to reading books and visiting archives, part of my research is engaging with contemporary culture like The Casketeers,” Fong said. “The show graciously shares so much about Māori culture, and I learned a ton about their tikanga, or traditions, and their language while watching it. They were very impressed that I knew and used so many Māori words in our conversation, and it was a bridge for me to share some of my family’s Chinese traditions with them.”

Also in New Zealand, Fong visited many of the sites significant to Apirina Ngata, a prominent Māori statesman and cultural advocate who served in the country’s parliament. In 1892, Ngata became the first known Māori person to publish a poem in English while he was an undergrad at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, where he was among the first of its Māori graduates.

Ngata was a member of Ngāti Porou, an iwi—or Indigenous Māori tribe—from the Eastern Cape region, or Tairāwhiti, of New Zealand, or Aotearoa. While in the country, Fong visited Maunga Hikurangi, which is the sacred mountain of Ngāti Porou. As part of an iwi-led tour that takes visitors to the highest point of the mountain at sunrise, Fong was able see one of the first places where the sun touches land on each new day.

For the new millennium, the Ngāti Porou community commissioned carvings for a site on the mountain about Māui, a prominent demigod who appears across the Pacific. One of the iwi’s creation stories involves Māui fishing up the islands of Aotearoa with Maunga Hikurangi being the first bit of land that appeared above the ocean’s surface. Indeed, the North Island actually resembles the shape of a sting ray from an aerial view. The island begins with the mouth at the bottom, proceeding to wings and the tip of a tail going north. Many Māori people will commonly identify their iwi homelands based on where it is on the fish, such as on the tail, the mouth or the eye.

“Being able to physically be on Maunga Hikurangi was more important to me than going to find documents in an archive or see objects in a museum,” Fong said. “I organized my trip to better understand where Ngata is from, which includes everything about the land and the waters that have been so important to him and his people. I was privileged to hear stories directly from Ngata’s present-day kin and to directly witness their deep relationship with their Maunga. I wanted to connect with his community and place not just my mind but in my heart, in order to fully respect their stories and traditions in my own writing and research.”

New Zealand, however, was just one of Fong’s stops around the world for his book research, which started in 2016. His final stop was French Polynesia in January, which is considered by many Māori to be their ancient homeland. Previously, he visited places such as Ontario to research the Haudenosaunee people, southwest Australia to examine the Noongar people, and South Africa to learn about the Khoe-San culture.

“As any academic will tell you, what you quickly realize in any project is how much you don’t know,” Fong said. “There’s still a lot I don’t know, but being able to write responsibly about each of these cultures has been a long process of training myself in the scholarship, doing the reading, and building conversations with community members through the travel I’ve done. All of those things were very important to me.”

In 2021, Fong was one of four scholars from around the U.S. who founded Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom, a digital humanities project that began reimagining how to teach Victorian studies with a positive, race-conscious lens. And ultimately, he hopes his book project and research will hold similar potential for his classrooms and students.

“I was intensely moved by how graciously I was received when I traveled,” he said. “I knew I was going only for a short time as a tourist and that comes with lot of baggage and issues. I went in with humble expectations, recognizing that whatever people were willing to share with me would be a gift. But people opened their hearts after seeing the intellectual and, more importantly, heart work that I had done before arriving. My efforts said, ‘I respect your history and culture.’ That work is what informs my teaching and what I wanted to bring back home, not only for my research, but for my students.”

A Q-and-A with Ryan Fong

Interview conducted with Social Media Ambassador Blagoja Naskovski ’24.

Question: What is your favorite part of being a professor at K?

Answer: There are actually very few places in the world that we set aside for people to come together to explore questions in a sustained and deliberate way. Every day I go into a classroom, I have the privilege of doing just that with students. We get to be with one another, talk about readings and learn from one another. It’s an all-too-rare and precious experience.

Q: You teach courses that address 19th century British literature, literature by East Asian emigrants around the world, literary theory, and women, gender and sexuality. Do you have a specific course that you really enjoy teaching and why?

A: This past fall, I had the incredible experience of teaching a class on Indigenous water stories from the Great Lakes and the Pacific. I was able to draw a lot on my experiences in Aotearoa New Zealand and connect them with literature by Anishinaabe writers here in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Since this class was paired with Bela Agosa’s sophomore seminar Becoming Kin, which was all about Indigenous diplomacy and poetry, we were able to share students and link conversations between our classes in powerful ways, which culminated in a visit to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi tribal grounds with artist and community leader Jason Wesaw. It was a transformative experience for us all.

Q: How would you describe your students?

A: I really appreciate how passionate and curious K students can be, and how willing they are to connect their classroom experiences with their bigger questions about the world.

Q: Do you see interest among K students in learning more about Indigenous communities through literature?

A: Little by little, yes. And thankfully, it’s not just in my classes.  Amelia Katanski has been teaching about these topics at K for many years, and Cyndy Weyandt-Garcia been offering some amazing new classes more recently as well. Learning more about Indigenous history, literature and activism connects with so many issues that are pressing and urgent today—including climate change, political sovereignty and addressing the violence of colonialism around the world.

Q: What would you suggest to students who would like to major in English?

Do it! My fellow professors in English and I all want to give you the tools to ask big questions about the world and to explore ways of making it better and more just. We do that by reading from an array of cultural and historical perspectives and by teaching you how to create and express yourself with your own words. We have alumni who have used this training to find meaningful work in many different arenas, from teaching to journalism to non-profit jobs to publishing to starting their own businesses.

Five people in the lobby of a New Zealand funeral home.
Associate Professor of English Ryan Fong (second from right) and his husband, Eric (second from left), visit the cast and set of the reality TV show, “The Casketeers.”
Ryan Fong stands next to a bust of Apirina Ngata
Fong stands next to a bust of Apirina Ngata, a statesman and cultural advocate.
Tall carvings at a mountain, Maunga Hikurangi, sacred to Indigenous people in New Zealand
The Indigenous Ngāti Porou community commissioned carvings for a site at the sacred mountain of Maunga Hikurangi to mark the millennium.
Sunrise in the mountains of New Zealand
This picture, taken at one of the highest points at the Maunga Hikurangi on the Eastern Cape of New Zealand, shows one of the first points where the sun rises on a new day.
A long and wide canoe used at celebrations to mark the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Indigenous people of Northern New Zealand and the British crown
This site shows where the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or Treaty of Waitangi, was signed between the Indigenous iwi of the North and the British crown. Each February 6, waka—or canoes—like this one are sailed on the bay to mark the treaty’s anniversary.
Tāne Mahuta, or God of the Forest, is the tallest Kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. It measures 148 feet tall and 50 feet around. It’s between 1,500 and 2,500 years old. Toward the top left, smaller fallen trees have grown into it.

‘Cauldron’ Co-Editors Invite Artists, Writers into a K Tradition

Co-editors Lana Alvey ’24 and Greta Salamun ’25 are reminding students to submit personal creative written projects and visual artwork to this year’s Cauldron, a printed publication produced by its student organization at Kalamazoo College.

College Archives show The Cauldron has been published annually, except for a hiatus during the pandemic, since 1962. As two students who are passionate about writing, Alvey—an English and psychology double major—and Salamun—an English major—are honored to play a part in the reconstruction of The Cauldron and hope that this year’s edition will reflect K’s population of talented writers and artists.

Most of the editorial staff is composed of English and art majors along with many STEM-focused students, too. They work with Alvey and Salamun to select the content from submissions and organize each edition with support, advice and design services provided through College Marketing and Communication. Categories within the publication include poetry, nonfiction, fiction and art. Professor of English Andy Mozina, the magazine’s faculty advisor, provides guidance and advice to the co-editors; his help ensures that the official unveiling of the hard copies during spring term of ninth week’s Community Reflection at Stetson Chapel runs smoothly.

“When we hold the finished product during the reflection, there will be a moment of thinking ‘we did it,’ with all the students’ hard work toward this piece of art and literature, especially when we can flip through it,” Alvey said. “It will be powerful to see it. We’re proud to be this vessel for creative writing and art.”

In a nod to its former years, the co-editors plan to release this edition as a bound book, suitable for coffee tables, bookshelves and keepsakes.

Portrait of Cauldron Co-Editor Lana Alvey on campus
Lana Alvey ’24, an English and psychology double major, is a co-editor of the 2023-24 edition of The Cauldron.
Cover of 2022-23 Cauldron
Last year’s edition of The Cauldron was a spiral-bound book that co-editors Alvey and Salamun are upgrading to a bound book this year.
Cauldron Co-Editor Greta Salamun
Kalamazoo native Greta Salamun ’25 said she has always wanted to attend K and major in English.
Inside the 2022-23 Cauldron
Pages from past editions of The Cauldron show work of alumni such as contemporary artist Julie Mehretu ’92 and Tony Award winner Lisa Kron ’83.

“It will be a testament to how The Cauldron has returned and evolved,” Salamun said. “We had a spiral-bound book last year, which still felt great, but we’ve wanted to get back to the old format. If that much can change in a year, imagine what else might happen in 10 years’ time. You never know.”

For students uncertain whether they want to submit their personal work, Alvey and Salamun encourage everyone to participate.

“I think we’re removing the high stakes from sharing your work, considering that no one is graded for it,” Salamun said. “If we just submit something, knowing it doesn’t have to be hard, it can be light-hearted and fun because this campus is full of great students.”

In fact, students can think of participating in The Cauldron as being part of a legacy because many accomplished alumni such as the world-famous contemporary artist, Julie Mehretu ’92, and Tony Award winner, Lisa Kron ’83, contributed to The Cauldron as K students. In addition, the Stephanie Vibbert Award will honor select pieces of writing that best exemplify the intersection between creative writing and community engagement. The final award is the Divine Crow Award where recipients will be selected blindly by a member of the greater Kalamazoo community.

“I feel that seeing your name in print and in an actual bound book is a big incentive for submitting your work,” Alvey said. “We have shown that we are good writers when we were accepted into K. This is a cool way to show what you can do, especially during the Community Reflection, where some students read their work aloud and we pass it out as a physical copy.”

Students who want to see their names and work published as writers and artists should use The Cauldron’s Google Docs form to submit before 11:59 p.m. Monday, February 26. All students, regardless of their majors and minors, are encouraged to participate.

“I’m from Kalamazoo and I’ve always wanted to attend this College and major in English,” Salamun said. “What I love about The Cauldron and writing is that it gives students, like myself, a creative outlet for expression. I know we have a lot of STEM majors here, and it can be a little nerve racking for students to try taking on poetry, short stories, art, or whatever it may be. But that creative outlet is so valuable.”

“To the students who have submitted, thank you,” Alvey said. “We know submitting can seem very daunting, but we are so excited to read your work and get it out there because the student population is very talented. We hope more people will submit their work to The Cauldron, so it can return to its bound form. I think being a part of such a great historical magazine and legacy is very powerful and it’s an honor.”

Fulbright Honors K as U.S. Student Program Top Producer

For the sixth time in seven years, Kalamazoo College has been named a Top Producing Institution for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The recognition, publicly unveiled today by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, was given to the colleges and universities that received the highest number of applicants selected for the 2023–24 academic year.

K can claim 11 Fulbright representatives overall, including seven who count toward U.S. Student Program numbers. Those seven place the College among the top 20 U.S. Student Program referring baccalaureate institutions in the country. K’s representatives and their host countries are Natalie Call ’23, Denmark; 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.

In addition to the seven in the U.S. Student Program, three K representatives—Vincent DeSanto ’23, Ben Flotemersch ’23 and Sean Gates ’23—were selected for an Austria U.S. Teaching Assistantship through Fulbright. Plus, Professor of English Amelia Katanski ’92 was a U.S. Scholar Program selectee who worked in Australia, where she collaborated with faculty at the University of Wollongong to develop curriculum that better prepares K students for study abroad there.

“This has been another extraordinary year for Fulbright awards at K,” President Jorge G. Gonzalez said. “Although it’s great for us, I am particularly excited about the impact that these opportunities will have on our graduates and the people from around the world who they will meet during their fellowship 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 is the only college in Michigan to earn the top producer distinction in the bachelor’s institution category.

“The College’s repeated presence on the Fulbright Top Producers list speaks to the extraordinary success K students have forging overseas connections while seeking to make a difference abroad,” Center for International Programs Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft said. “Our dedicated faculty and staff will continue to empower students like this year’s honorees while ensuring K’s dedication to international immersion.”

Fulbright, the federal government’s flagship international exchange program, is funded through an annual appropriation, from the Department of State. Host institutions, participating governments, corporations, and foundations worldwide also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in more than 160 countries.

Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 students from a variety of backgrounds have participated in the Fulbright Program before returning home with an expanded worldview, a deeper appreciation for their host country and its people, and broader professional and personal networks.

“As a diplomat, I’m proud of the Fulbright Program because it supports changemakers and fosters global cooperation on issues of shared importance,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a congratulatory letter to the College. “Fulbrighters strive to make the world a better place in classrooms and countries worldwide. Kalamazoo College’s designation as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution clearly demonstrates your dedication to promoting global engagement and mutual understanding among the peoples and nations of the world.”

Fulbright U.S. Student Program Selectee Natalie Call holding an alpaca
Natalie Call ’23
Fulbright U.S. Student Program selectee Kanase Matsuzaki on the Quad at Kalamazoo College
Kanase Matsuzaki ’23
Fulbright U.S. Student Program selectee Rachel Cornell '22
Rachel Cornell ’22
Portrait of Fulbright U.S. Student Program selectee Nat Markech '21
Nat Markech ’21
Fulbright Fellows: Ben Flotemersch
Ben Flotemersch ’23
Professor of English Amelia Katanski
Professor of English Amelia Katanski ’92
Kalamazoo College’s 2023-24 Fulbright representatives include seven U.S. Student Program honorees, three Austria U.S. Teaching Assistants and one U.S. Scholar Program selectee.
Portrait of Fulbright Fellow Samuel Kendrick
Sam Kendrick ’23
Fulbright U.S. Student Program selectee Anna Dorniak '20
Anna Dorniak ’20
Fulbright U.S. Student Program selectee Garrett Sander '19
Garrett Sander ’19
Fulbright Fellow Sean Gates
Sean Gates ’23

Academy Street Winds Theme Addresses Time

Help an audience honor the career of Kalamazoo College Director of Bands and Professor of Music Tom Evans at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the winter concert for the Academy Street Winds. 

Evans, the ensemble’s director, plans to retire at the end of the academic year. Friday’s concert theme, “It’s About Time,” reflects his own feeling regarding retirement and affirms musical selections that will explore teaching or the ephemeral values of time. The ensemble’s website says the program will present a delightful mix of music, sometimes whimsical and sometimes poignant, that will put a smile on your face, a song in your heart, and a bit of melancholy in your soul as you consider the fleeting quality of time. 

Evans’ career began on the podium and in the classroom in 1976. He has been with K for 29 years and leads groups such as the College’s Symphonic Band, Jazz Band and Pep Band in addition to the Academy Street Winds. He also teaches the popular Beginning Band class, which—in about eight weeks every spring—teaches students who have never learned a band instrument the basics of playing one of their choice. In 2020, he and Department of Music Chair Andrew Koehler both received the Community Medal of Arts from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, recognizing their contributions to the city’s arts scene. 

Academy Street Winds Director Tom Evans with a student
Music Professor Tom Evans rehearses his trombone with Rushik Patel ’22 at Light Fine Arts. Evans, the director of the Academy Street Winds, will retire at the end of the 2023–24 academic year.

The Dalton Theatre concert is free and open to the public, but goodwill donations are gratefully accepted. 

“Finding the right words to express my gratitude to my students, my colleagues, and the College is difficult,” Evans said. “Clearly, they’ve been some of the best experiences and years of my life. I am sincerely grateful to all who have supported me. And I am especially grateful for those with whom I’ve had the pleasure of making music. While my years at K were meaningful and momentous for me, I also hope that they were meaningful and momentous for those who shared my journey. How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”