First Album Spotlights K Student’s Music

Isabella Pellegrom Album Nomadic Tendencies
Isabella Pellegrom ’25 conducted a launch party
for her album, “Nomadic Tendencies,” at a sports bar
near her home in Minnesota and performed to rave
reviews in the nearby town of Pepin, Wisconsin.

It’s the time of year when Spotify and Apple Music users look forward to the apps revealing the artists, songs and genres they’ve listened to most and the statistics that surrounded them in 2022. But search for an artist less familiar, and you might find a new voice to appreciate: a Kalamazoo College student reaching new audiences and achievements with her first album.

Isabella Pellegrom ’25, from Eagan, Minnesota, has produced and released Nomadic Tendencies, a 10-track collection of her vocal talents. Spotify describes Pellegrom as a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter, who pulls inspiration from indie pop, soft rock and jazz, while embedding her own voice. As a storyteller, she hopes to find truth and unite others around her. The album reflects a journey of self-discovery and self-love to highlight the idea that everyone builds a wall and runs away only to return and appreciate the people who matter most in their lives.

That theme of running away followed by an inevitable return helped her realize the moment she finished writing the song Nomadic Tendencies that it would be the title track of her album.

“It was one of the first times I’d just written a song from front to end all in one go,” Pellegrom said. “It was cool to talk about this person who tends to go everywhere because they can’t really find their place. It worked because I realized it correlated to the story of this person throughout the album who is constantly going to new places, whether it’s for better or worse. She’s meeting new people or finding out more about herself, and so has these tendencies to always move around. I liked it because at the very end, it comes back to I’ll Come Home to You because she eventually finds out that her home is with the people who have always supported her.”

Pellegrom first discovered her love of music and singing when she was about 6 years old.

“I have an older sister and she had given me her old MP3 player,” Pellegrom said. “It had maybe 15 songs on it, and by the end of the first week I had it, I knew every lyric to every song that was on it. I sang along to them and pretended I was a little pop star. I loved it.”

Album Cover for Nomadic Tendencies
You can hear Isabella Pellegrom’s album, “Nomadic
Tendencies,” on all streaming platforms
including Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Yet over the years, she became not only a vocalist, but an instrumentalist through guitar, saxophone and piano, and a songwriter whose talents and shared messages have grown with her.

“It’s funny to look back at the songs I first wrote because, when I was 10 years old, I would write and sing about things like fairy-tale princesses,” Pellegrom said. “It wasn’t anything that had to do with what was happening in my life. I would like to say I’ve improved since then. I’ve joined choirs, I’m in band (Academy Street Winds) at K now and I did jazz band in high school. I also just recently got into acapella (the student group Limelights) where I’ve learned to arrange music, which has helped me put together and break apart songs. Music is a huge part of my life and it’s nice that I’ve kept it separate from what I hope to do with my career. In that way, it’s allowed me to take off some pressure and just do it because I love it.”

While boating on the Mississippi River one day a couple of summers ago, Pellegrom’s family voted on which town they would stop in to find dinner. The decision turned out to be fateful.

“My mom and her friend, who had this little café, were just eating, when all of a sudden, the café had this live artist,” Pellegrom said. “The artist was Tim Cheesebrow, and my mom knew I wanted to get back into playing guitar. She was wondering if Tim taught lessons and he gave us his card.”

Pellegrom spent those lessons working on songwriting and collaboration.

“He helped me with my songwriting by saying that a lot of times it’s good to keep a continuous theme or have a main message,” Pellegrom said. “It was helpful because I ended up finishing a lot of my songs for those lessons. It was the first time I got to collaborate with someone in terms of songwriting. Through these lessons, I eventually had about 13 songs that I thought were great together. Tim also has his own at-home studio and he’s been producing music for a long time.”

Pellegrom recruited some fellow musicians, pared her songs to the 10 that worked best together, and produced Nomadic Tendencies at Cheesebrow’s studio.

“That’s what I spent the majority of my summer doing the year I came to K,” said Pellegrom, whose parents, Jeffrey ’88 and Mary ’88, also attended K along with a grandfather and some of her aunts and uncles. “I got help from other local musicians for the baselines and the drumming. Tim helped me out with the guitar and walked me through the whole process of what it takes to release it. It all felt like a fever dream at the time and it still kind of does. It’s now out in the world and I’m really proud of it.”

Pellegrom conducted a launch party at a sports bar near her home in Minnesota and performed to rave reviews in the nearby town of Pepin, Wisconsin. She has plans to release a second album, although when is not yet decided as she tries to balance an intended biochemistry major and music minor. Medical school is a possibility for her, too, one day. Yet in the meantime, she will enjoy the success of releasing Nomadic Tendencies.

You can hear Pellegrom’s music on all streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music; she performs covers on YouTube; and you can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok. Her website is

“I love it when people listen to it,” Pellegrom said. “The best part is realizing that I released it for me. I don’t really have any expectations for it. I don’t need for something to come from it. I just felt it was time to release it. I was ready to put this project that I’m really proud of into the world and move on to other songs and other projects. In terms of my goals for it, the main goal was to release it and hope that people who listen to it can enjoy it.”

Woman’s Fall Tests LandSea Leaders’ Mettle, Training

LandSea Leaders Ava Apolo and Julia Leet
LandSea leaders Julia Leet ’22 (left) and Ava Apolo ’25
received accolades from emergency medical services
officials after they helped a woman who had fallen,
causing a seven- to eight-inch gash on her leg that revealed a bone.

Imagine being in a remote area of the Adirondack Mountains with a companion when you hear something that sounds like a scream while a storm is approaching and darkness is falling. Not many people would instinctively know what to do or call on themselves to respond.

Ava Apolo ’25 and Julia Leet ’22, however, encountered that scenario as leaders this fall on LandSea, Kalamazoo College’s outdoor pre-orientation program that occurs before first-year students arrive on campus. They said the scream had the innocuous intonation of a bird call that Boy Scouts are known to use in the area, but it could’ve also been indicative of an emergency.

“We had set up camp at a location called High Rock, which is close to a canoe waterway,” Apolo said. “At first, we thought, ‘Who’s making that noise?’”

They decided to investigate. That’s when they found a woman who had fallen, causing a seven- to eight-inch gash on her leg that revealed a bone. Her adult daughter had screamed when she found her mom lying on the ground. The women had precious few supplies, no cell service and no way of getting help other than the two LandSea representatives.

“We determined it was safe for us to help, so Julia was the first to go down to their location with a med kit and I followed right after,” Apolo said.

Apolo and Leet knew exactly what to do. Both received wilderness medical training they were grateful to have as a part of their preparations for LandSea.

“Our patient wasn’t panicking and she communicated with us very well, which was helpful,” Apolo said. “Julia was the first on the patient, putting pressure on the wound, and I had a Garmin that works as a device for us to stay in contact with our directors. We also have an option to press SOS, which gave us a countdown and allowed us to talk with our directors and emergency response. I’d never had an experience with a real medical response like that. At first, I was freaking out inside, but I had to quickly flip a switch to act.”

The accident victim’s husband arrived on scene as it started to rain. Apolo and Leet had to cover their patient and begin thinking about what they might need to treat while brainstorming an evacuation plan.

“I definitely felt our training kick in,” Leet said. “We were following a scenario, except it was real life. We were taking her vitals, making sure our patient was as comfortable as possible. It was getting dark and we were making a lot of judgment calls as to the best way to help her. The family had arrived by canoe and they couldn’t canoe in the dark to get out. Our adrenaline was pumping.”

Many of those judgment calls were determined through Leet’s conversation with the fall victim.

“We’ve been taught that when someone falls, you have to be really sure that they didn’t hit their head because that can cause the most serious of injuries and you don’t often notice the signs of a head injury until a lot later, when it can be too late,” Leet said. “I consistently was asking her, ‘Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?’ and I was checking her LOC, which is level of consciousness. If that starts to go down, it’s an indication that there could be some sort of internal trauma to the brain.”

Their other concerns were for the victim’s loss of blood and her loss of feeling in her feet.

“She had a pretty big wound and I didn’t know what might’ve been severed,” Leet said. “I was consistently checking movement, circulation in her feet and stopping the bleeding.”

More than two hours into the rescue work, emergency medical services arrived on all-terrain vehicles.

“We had two fire department chiefs that showed up, two EMTs (emergency medical technicians), a forest ranger and some volunteers,” Apolo said. “The volunteers did the heavy lifting of getting her on a backboard.”

Once off the hill, the fall victim was taken into a U.S. Army helicopter.

“No private companies were allowing helicopters out at the time and the Army donated their services,” Apolo said. “Because of that, the patient and her family didn’t have to pay the thousands in hospital fees that a helicopter ride to the hospital would require.”

At this point, Apolo and Leet had finished their job. The family and first responders alike congratulated the K duo and expressed their appreciation.

“When they came down, they were prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Apolo said. “They realized her bleeding was stable, so they relaxed for a second, but were still quick about getting her evacuated. They said that we did a good job and there wasn’t anything different they had to do because Julia had also cleaned the wound once the bleeding stopped. They complimented us and the chiefs’ departments acknowledged on social media that we had responded, which was really cool.”

“Once the first responders came in, we were pretty much hands off,” Leet added. “We didn’t want to be in the way, which was kind of strange because we had spent a few hours talking to someone and we felt we got to know a good amount about her life. Then we knew that we would never see her again. The daughter expressed gratitude to us and so did the chiefs in the fire department, and then we tried to go on with our night.”

All that was left was the debriefing. LandSea and Outdoor Programs Director Jory Horner and Assistant Director of Outdoor Programs Jess Port had a bare minimum of information regarding the emergency after receiving the SOS, so it was necessary to update them and the LandSea logistics leaders.

“The only information Jess and Jory got when we pressed the SOS button on the Garmin was, ‘Patrol B1 pressed SOS,’” Apolo said. “They don’t get information of who was involved, so at first, they were concerned it was a participant. When it wasn’t, it took down their stress level. It was new for them to see how EMS brought in their response teams.”

Meanwhile, the first-year students were aware of what happened, but removed from the scene, which helped them keep each other calm. As soon as the fall victim was evacuated, Apolo and Leet had dinner with the first-year students and informed them of what transpired.

“When we had a group debrief, they didn’t express distress from the situation; this affirmed that they were not strongly affected by it and a good amount separated from what happened,” Apolo said.

Yet for the two wilderness emergency responders, the crisis was a life-changing experience within the already life-changing experience of LandSea.

“Having the experience helped me know how a similar experience might affect me emotionally, and also what I might want to consider more in an emergency in the future like the weather and keeping the patient warm,” said Apolo, a biochemistry major who is considering medical school and a career in emergency medicine or women’s health. “I would definitely feel more prepared should I need to do it again in the future.”

“I think it’s good evidence that I can do hard things,” Leet said. “I was a psychology and Spanish double major. I want to become a marriage and family therapist, and pursue psychology to a higher degree. Although it’s not always a medical crisis, a mental-health crisis isn’t all that different in how you respond to it, so I think this was great practice for me. This kind of scenario tests your ability to stay strong and communicative, while making the right choices as best as you can.”

Appreciation from the LandSea Director

“This accident had many conditions that made it very challenging: unstable weather and intermittent thunderstorms; a long rescue that lasted into the late evening, well after dark; and managing both their own group of students and a patient outside of their group, nearly 4 miles down a trail within a designated wilderness area, which does not allow motorized vehicles. Despite these challenges, Ava and Julia did a great job. They remained calm, cared for the patient and her family, communicated the important information to dispatch using their satellite messenger, and saw to it that their own group remained safe and comfortable amidst stormy conditions during the multi-hour ordeal. These are the kinds of situations that our leaders train for during the nine-day wilderness first responder training that they attend as part of their LandSea trip leader role, but handling a real patient and all of the variables of an extended evacuation in the outdoors still presents a lot of challenges. The crews from Star Lake and Cranberry Lake Fire and Rescue who responded to the scene and evacuated the patient to the trailhead made multiple comments about how impressed they were with Ava and Julia’s response and treatment on the scene. From our perspective, we were equally thankful that they and the DEC Forest Rangers could help with the challenging work of evacuating the patient to the trailhead. After the trip had concluded a few days later, we wanted to debrief their group to see if the students needed to process any of what happened that day. Apparently, Ava and Julia did such a great job of remaining calm and keeping their group comfortable during the rescue that the students on the trip seemed a little confused which day we were even talking about when we were referring to the ‘incident’ that they experienced. That, to me, was a real indication of how well they handled themselves—that they could juggle the various responsibilities of that day so well that for the students in their group it felt like ‘just another day.’”

— LandSea and Outdoor Programs Director Jory Horner

Political Internships Provide Experience, Connection for K Senior

Growing up in various countries overseas, Peter Fitzgerald ’23 considered northern Michigan to be home base. Now a series of political internships have helped the Kalamazoo College senior connect more with his adopted home and envision a possible future. 

With a dad who was a Foreign Services officer, Fitzgerald was born in Australia, and his parents now live in the Washington, D.C., area. In between, they lived in Denmark, Ukraine, Morocco and Belgium. 

Every summer, however, he would spend with his grandparents in northern Michigan. His mom and cousins would stay there, too. 

“We moved around so much,” Fitzgerald said. “That was a place to call home. In relation to other Foreign Service kids, it was unusual to have that kind of stability. I was always grateful to have that place that didn’t change.” 

Peter Fitzgerald playing tennis
Peter Fitzgerald ’23 has played tennis his four years at K in addition to being a member of College Democrats, playing classical guitar, singing in the choir and pursuing a double major in history and political science, minor in music, and concentration in American studies.
Political intern Peter Fitzgerald poses with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Peter Fitzgerald ’23 has completed three political internships in his time at K, including a summer 2022 internship with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office.

That sense of Michigan as home, combined with both a cousin and a Foreign Services acquaintance attending K and a K representative visiting Fitzgerald’s Belgium high school, made K the only school Fitzgerald even considered attending. After taking a gap year in Belgium, he started at K in fall 2019. 

Fitzgerald is a double major in history and political science. He is also working on a minor in music and a concentration in American studies. The K-Plan’s open curriculum has made it possible for him to explore a variety of interests and discover new ones. 

“I knew that I loved political science,” Fitzgerald said. “I didn’t really plan on doing another major besides that, and then I took a history course with Dr. Boyer Lewis and I just loved it.” 

He plays classical guitar and has sung in the choir, filled a leadership role in the College Democrats, and has played tennis all four years at K. 

“I feel that having those interests and having a lot of leeway in what courses you take connects you to a lot more of the school than you otherwise would have the opportunity to experience,” Fitzgerald said. 

At the beginning of winter term his first year, Fitzgerald was on Handshake looking for opportunities outside campus when he came across internships in Democrat Jon Hoadley’s 2020 U.S. House campaign for Michigan’s 6th congressional district, which includes Kalamazoo. 

“I was curious if there was something I could do, along with my academics, to get to know the Kalamazoo area better,” Fitzgerald said. 

He worked on Hoadley’s campaign, primarily making phone calls and canvassing, for about two months before the COVID-19 shutdown sent him to his parents in D.C. 

“It was rewarding getting a start in the political world,” Fitzgerald said.  

It was rewarding enough that when summer 2021 rolled around, Fitzgerald sought out another political internship, this time with Darrin Camilleri ’14, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, representing District 23, south of Detroit. 

Come summer 2022, Fitzgerald applied via Handshake for an internship with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office. He took advantage of K connections, reaching out to Christopher Yates ’83, who also played tennis at K and was recently appointed a Court of Appeals judge by Whitmer, to ask if Yates had any connections within the campaign. Within a couple days, Fitzgerald was contacted for an interview, and soon after that, he was in Detroit working for the governor’s office for three months. 

This internship involved a lot of planning, coordinating and logistics for small business stops, community events and constituency groups, such as Native Americans for Whitmer.  

“I would reach out to the small business owner, or whoever, make a plan, promote it and get people to attend,” Fitzgerald said. “We would drive to these events, two and a half, three hours, for a 15-minute visit with the governor. It wasn’t glamorous a lot of the time, but it felt really important, meaningful and worthwhile. It felt like we were making a difference.” 

The internships have affirmed Fitzgerald’s interest in political work, perhaps with the State Department, and helped him envision some of the possibilities that lie along that path. 

“I learned a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “I met a lot of people who could probably make more money doing other jobs, but they’re working for something that they believe in fundamentally. I felt like I had a relationship with Michigan, from spending my summers here growing up, but this job opened my eyes to people’s lives that I wouldn’t normally have interacted with. I still think I’m on a path where I’d like to work for the federal government, but also, I can see that people’s issues are really localized. People care about what’s in front of them.” 

Working for the governor’s office was both humbling and uplifting for Fitzgerald. 

“People have come up to me and asked me about issues in Michigan thinking that I had power over policy issues,” he said. “Even though I couldn’t do anything, just to be able to listen to people and share with someone who had that power felt really meaningful.” 

The internships also helped Fitzgerald draw connections between coursework and real life. 

“It makes an experience a lot more meaningful when you are able to make connections,” Fitzgerald said. “Whether it was from my American history course or my political science course, there were pertinent things I could draw from in relation to the issues we were talking about this summer. I am also bringing things I’ve done on this campaign back to K.” 

Connections to people have also been key to Fitzgerald’s K experience. Networking and professional contact with alumni such as Camilleri and Yates, personal interest from President Jorge G. Gonzalez, academic inspiration from Professor of History and Director of the American Studies and the Women, Gender and Sexuality programs Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87, and guidance from men’s tennis Head Coach Mark Riley all combine to make K feel like a new home base for Fitzgerald. 

“I think initially, I had some dissonance between knowing that I’m from here but never having lived really in the U.S.,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt out of my element for a time, but the people, my mentors and the friends that I have now, made it possible for me to feel like even though I did come with a different background, even though I felt maybe a little discombobulated at first, that there were people that I could rely on and who would support me.” 

Seed Stewards: Students Learn, Grow at Hoop House 

Seed stewardship lies at the heart of two summer Environmental Stewardship fellowships at Kalamazoo College’s Hoop House this summer. 

Maeve Crothers ’23 and Nora Blanchard ’23 are completing fellowships through the Larry J. Bell ’80 Center for Environmental Stewardship that will form the basis of their Senior Integrated Projects this fall. 

An online seed stewardship course is helping the students develop skills crucial to their projects. Crothers is part of a local seed company’s efforts to create stable tomato seeds, while Blanchard is cultivating corn gifted from the Wixárika community in Mexico to Cyndy García-Weyandt, assistant professor of critical ethnic studies. 

“A big part of what we’re learning this summer is how to be good seed savers and seed stewards,” Blanchard said. 

The course, Seed Seva, is designed and taught by Rowen White, a member of the indigenous Mohawk community in northern California.  

“We’re thinking about how our relationships with plants are so intertwined,” Crothers said. “Plants adapt to the environment and the conditions we put them under, but Rowen has also talked about how humans have been adapted by plants to take care of them. It’s very much a symbiotic relationship.” 

Summer Fellowships at K

Several Kalamazoo College students are completing summer 2022 Environmental Stewardship fellowships through the Larry J. Bell ’80 Center for Environmental Stewardship and we are featuring some of their projects at Read on to learn about some of the environmental fellowships making a difference in the local community. 

Open-Source Tomato Seed Initiative 

Seed Steward Maeve Crothers
Maeve Crothers ’23 is completing a summer
Environmental Stewardship fellowship and a
fall Senior Integrated Project on a collaborative tomato
growing project with a local seed company.

This is the second year Crothers has participated in an open-source tomato seed initiative with Nature & Nurture Seeds for an Environmental Stewardship fellowship. Her advisor, Mellon Fellow for Experiential Learning Amy Newday, connected her with the project to de-hybridize Juliet tomato seeds. 

While hybrid plants are not inherently bad, Crothers said, their seeds are unstable because of the mix of genetic material. If you save the seeds and replant them, you may end up with very different and unpredictable produce the following year. 

“We’re working to create a stable variety of Juliet tomatoes that can be planted and grown by everyday people, by home gardeners,” Crothers said. 

Last summer, Crothers was growing the third generation of the plants. She grew 15 different plants, and selected the best three—based on a combination of health, productivity, disease resistance, taste and appearance—to return to the farm.  

“We had some weird tomatoes last summer,” Crothers said. “We had 15 of the plants and they all grew completely different tomatoes. Some of them were small and round. Some of them were long and yellow. Some of them were striped; some weren’t. And they had very different tastes. Some of them were really good. Some of them were mealy and gross.” 

Nature & Nurture grew a fourth generation in greenhouses over the winter, and this summer, Crothers is growing a fifth generation. She has five plants each of three different varieties, of which she will pick the best to send back. Since there is still a fair amount of variety in the plants, Crothers expects the farm will need a few more generations before they have a stable variety of seeds that can be planted and saved year after year. 

Crothers’ work is part of a community-based seed project, with other growers throughout Michigan taking part in the same work with tomatoes. The project is key to food justice efforts, as communities that strive for food sovereignty and independence from large food systems require reliable seeds. The fellowship has also been a learning experience for Crothers. 

“I came into this fellowship last year with basically no gardening experience other than my couple months that I had worked with the Just Food Collective in this space, because we didn’t really ever have a garden growing up or anything,” Crothers said. “I have learned so much about what plants look like and what to do for them and how to tell if a plant is struggling, has disease or nutrient deficiency or anything. I’ve definitely learned a lot about nature and how healing it can be to work with plants and work in the dirt and just be.” 

Corn Cultivation 

Seed Steward Nora Blanchard
Nora Blanchard ’23 is cultivating corn gifted to Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt, assistant professor of critical ethnic studies, from the Wixárika community in Mexico,
for their summer Environmental Stewardship fellowship.

Amy Newday also advises Blanchard and encouraged them to apply for a fellowship to support their work with corn gifted to Cyndy García-Weyandt, assistant professor of critical ethnic studies, by the Wixárika community in Mexico. 

“That was a tremendous, amazing gift that was given to us,” Blanchard said. “We now have the responsibility of caring for this corn and doing the best that we can to build a relationship with what we call Our Mother Corn now that she’s here.” 

There are five different varieties within the corn—multicolored, yellow, sweet, white and blue—and their arrangement and cultivation are significant for the Wixárika community. 

“Not being a part of that community, it’s been really important for me to become familiar with those traditions” with a lot of help from García-Weyandt, Blanchard said. “That’s what the corn is familiar with and needs. We’re learning how Our Mother Corn grows here and I’m learning how to communicate with her and become really observant about her needs.” 

García-Weyandt led Blanchard in a traditional seed-planting ceremony and blessing of the seeds in the spring. Blanchard is also learning different techniques, such as hand pollination, and keeping the Wixárika community informed about how the corn is developing. 

The hope is that the plants will produce ears of corn. Although they have not yet formed a tassel and silk, which normally would happen at this time, Blanchard remains hopeful. 

“Sometimes when you grow a plant that’s from southern areas in the north, the pollination date can move into fall,” Blanchard said. “This could be something that is going to take a while.” 

The interaction between culture and cultivation fascinates Blanchard, who marvels that you could find one variety of multicolored corn grown all across a country, yet in different areas, people will have selected for different colors, flavors, sweetness and use. 

“That’s why it’s so important to understand and be willing to learn about the community this Mother Corn is coming from,” Blanchard said. “When you look at this corn, the colors and everything are because of the community that has selected for it, and it tells you something; it tells you a story, and it’s amazing. I can’t wait to get different ears and see all the colors and what they look like. I’m excited for that.” 

Blanchard plans to hold a harvest festival for the corn in the fall. 

Seed Steward projects
Seed Steward projects
Nora Blanchard ’23 and Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt, assistant professor of critical ethnic studies, held a spring planting ceremony following traditions of the Wixárika community in Mexico, which gifted the corn to Garcia-Weyandt. The corn is central to the Wixárika culture and the focus of Blanchard’s summer environmental fellowship and fall Senior Integrated Project.

Senior Integrated Projects 

Seed Steward projects

Blanchard and Crothers will be writing fall SIPs based on their summer growing experiences. 

“I want it to be the documentation of the agency of Our Mother Corn throughout this experience this summer, helping her grow,” Blanchard said. “I also want to do a personal side of that, too, where I’m also documenting my own growth and change over the summer in relation to the corn.” 

For Blanchard, an anthropology and sociology major, the community aspect of cultivation is key. 

“Community is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this summer and how that’s a really big part of the work we’re doing and food justice,” Blanchard said. “How do we meet other people who are doing the work we’re doing, and how do we build relationships with them and learn about these structures and people and movements within our own community that we can support or that can support us? This corn is a result of her culture and that’s a really wonderful thing. It’s such an important thing to maintain. What does it mean for the corn to be growing on this land in Michigan and how do I maintain this relationship with the Wixárika community in the future?” 

Crothers, a political science major with an environmental studies concentration, will use the tomato project as a jumping-off point to dive into the origins, history and cultural differences in various types of seed stewardship. 

“I’m also interested in the legality of it, like how can you put a patent on a living thing and call it intellectual property?” Crothers said. “People can get in trouble for growing their own corn next to genetically modified corn; if it pollinates their corn, they can get sued for growing corn they don’t have the right to. I’d like to dive a little deeper into that and also how we can work together to save seeds and create new varieties that can be available for everybody.” 

Both students have found a passion for food justice and food sovereignty through their involvement with the Just Food Collective and the Hoop House. 

“Those considerations are what drew me to the Hoop House in the first place,” Crothers said. “Then I fell down the rabbit hole of realizing it’s such a complex problem; it’s related to seeds, to income inequality and housing inequality and so many things. There’s so much to unpack. Seed saving has its own complexity, but for me, it’s been an element of food justice to focus on that has helped me learn more about the bigger picture.” 

“The way I approach and understand food sovereignty and food justice are always changing,” Blanchard said. “I don’t know how you would do this work without having that be the forefront of what you’re thinking about and considering all the time.” 

Kalamazoo Gardeners Beware: Student Unearths Jumping Worms

Katie Rock smiles and holds a jumping worm
Katie Rock ’23 is cataloging the earthworms inhabiting Lillian Anderson Arboretum and has unearthed jumping worms, which have never been officially documented in Kalamazoo.
Katie Rock holds a common earthworm and a jumping worm to compare
Katie Rock ’23 compares a common earthworm (left) to a jumping worm. Jumping worms are officially being documented in Kalamazoo through Rock’s research for the first time.

Worms crawl in and worms crawl out, but biology major Katie Rock ’23 has found a problematic variety that jumps right here in Kalamazoo.

Rock’s Senior Integrated Project (SIP), cataloging the earthworms inhabiting Lillian Anderson Arboretum, has unearthed an invasive species never before officially documented within our city, the jumping worm (scientific name Amynthas). Rock said all worms in Michigan are invasive species given that glaciers killed the native varieties during the Ice Age. The crawlers we have now mostly came from Europe.

“Most of the earthworms are good for agriculture and gardening,” Rock said. “In the forests, they’re not as beneficial, but they have benefits in producing and giving nutrients.”

Katie Rock picks up a worm that has risen to the soil's surface
Katie Rock ’23 collects worms after mustard water forces them to the soil’s surface at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.
Katie Rock pours mustard water into a sampling water
Katie Rock ’23 pours one gallon of mustard water into a sampling area, forcing worms to the soil’s surface.

Jumping worms, though, which come from places such as Korea and Japan, present their own problems. They have no natural predators, individual specimens can reproduce by themselves, and they go through a lifecycle in one season, so they’re faster to mature, Rock said.

“They originally came from Asia through tiny cocoons,” she said. “They get into potted plants and then people plant them, so they spread all over. There have been attempts to stop their spread, but there hasn’t been any solution.”

Jumping worms inhabit leaf litter and the top few inches of soil on the ground. Their movements, processes and quick metabolism change the soil’s texture, so it looks like coffee grounds, Rock said, stripping the soil of its nutrients, and potentially killing plants. They’ve been found in other Great Lakes region states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota. In Michigan, they were found for the first time in the Detroit area around 2008 and more recently in Grand Rapids.

Plus, with the crawlers in the arboretum, local residents are likely to find the jumping worms in local yards.

Katie Rock demonstrates a geographic information system map
Katie Rock ’23 shows a geographic information system (GIS) map she will use in her research to map where jumping worms are found.
Katie Rock points to a map showing where jumping worms have been found at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum
Katie Rock ’23 is designing a map that shows jumping worms at Lillian Anderson Arboretum have so far been confined to spaces near Batts Pavilion.

“If you see any, do not transfer any of your plants over to anyone else,” Rock said. “It’s actually recommended that we kill them because of their detrimental effects on ecosystems.”

Rock and her SIP advisor, Professor of Biology Ann Fraser, have found mostly juvenile jumping worms with a few adults in the arboretum, as expected because they start each year as eggs and take time to grow to adults. The species is identifiable thanks to their extreme movements that can be provoked by human touch, a glossy gray color that leaves them nearly translucent in their gastrointestinal regions, a flat ring-like structure called a clitellum that circles their body and serves as a reproductive organ, and small hairs, or bristles, that can be seen under a microscope.

“I’m going to do a GIS (geographic information system) map in my research, comparing where earthworms are found to where invasive species of plants are found,” Rock said. “We think there might be a correlation. It’s also possible that deer might be spreading them. For right now, the only place we’ve found them is close to Batts Pavilion. We have not found any yet on the other side of the power lines. We’re wondering if that’s because there’s an intersection where they haven’t crossed yet.”

Testing for jumping worms can be a heavy lift for Rock, requiring assistance from a golf cart as she hauls her equipment, including one gallon of mustard water for every test she intends to conduct during a stay at the arboretum.

The mustard water is just that: a mix of mustard powder and water that Rock pours on the ground within a given quadrant or sampling area. The mustard irritates the worms and forces them to the surface, where Rock collects them. She also records what she sees in the trees; collects a soil sample; clears away any vegetation and debris; measures the soil’s temperature, pH balance and moisture; and notes other bugs she finds.

“Sometimes I find a lot of worms and sometimes I find just a few,” Rock said. “After I collect my worms, I’ll measure them and put them in ethanol. I then look at them under the microscope, ID them and separate them in jars by type.”

If Rock finds more adults when she resamples as her work concludes this month, she can confirm a larger infestation. Long term, it might be impossible to get rid of all of the jumping worms, although figuring out how to isolate their locations within the arboretum would provide Rock with the type of experience she wants to have in preparing for a career.

“I want to go into environmental science and ecology, and I think this is a good start, especially with the experience in an invasive species,” Rock said. “The process of finding it, cutting it off and finding ways of preserving other areas from it is important. I hope to bring in that knowledge in grad school or in a job with some ideas for tackling a new problem, even if it’s not worms.”

Fellowship, SIP Prompt K Student to Stop and Smell the Wildflowers

Eli Edlefson identifies wildflowers such as daisy fleabane
Eli Edlefson ’23 identifies daisy fleabane at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, where he is surveying plants and pollinators for an Environmental Stewardship fellowship and his Senior Integrated Project. Although most flowers have seven petals at most, daisy fleabane can have between 30 and 100 petals per flower.
Eli Edlefson identifies wild indigo among the wildflowers at Lillian Anderson Arboretum
Environmental Stewardship Fellow Eli Edlefson ’23 identifies wild indigo, a native plant that is flourishing in one area of the pollinator rehabilitation project at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. The wild indigo has distinctive flowers and heart-shaped pods. Edlefson is surveying plants and pollinators along the Powerline Trail for his fellowship and his Senior Integrated Project.
Portrait of Eli Edlefson
Biology and physics dual major Eli Edlefson ’23 is surveying plants and pollinators along the Powerline Trail in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum for his summer Environmental Stewardship fellowship and his Senior Integrated Project.

Eli Edlefson ’23 would like to apologize to his elementary school science teachers for doubting them. 

“In elementary school, teachers would say, ‘Science always starts with observation,’” Edlefson said. “Then you form a question. I was like, ‘I don’t really know how true that is. You’re just walking around and notice something?’ Then I got out here, and that is absolutely all I’m doing is walking around and noticing, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’ ‘Why is that there?’ ‘This plant has only interacted with this insect species; I wonder why.’ So I would like to apologize to all my teachers.” 

“Here” is the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, and while it’s not entirely accurate to say that all Edlefson does there is walk around and notice things, it is a crucial piece of his Kalamazoo College summer fellowship and Senior Integrated Project. 

Edlefson is continuing a native wildflower rehabilitation project begun by Professor of Biology Ann Fraser in 2019, which aimed to promote insect pollinator populations by planting a diverse mix of native plants. In 2019, Amy Cazier ’20 completed her SIP by conducting a plant survey and observing and recording plant and pollinator interactions.

Wildflowers Project One of Several Fellowships

Several Kalamazoo College students are completing summer 2022 Environmental Stewardship fellowships through the Larry J. Bell ’80 Center for Environmental Stewardship and we are featuring some of their projects at Read on to learn about one of the environmental fellowships making a difference in the local community.

Eli Edlefson ’23 explains how blue vervain blooms
Environmental Stewardship fellow Eli Edlefson ’23 explains how blue vervain blooms over time from the bottom of the spike to the top. Edlefson is surveying plants and pollinators along the Powerline Trail in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum as part of a pollinator rehabilitation project.
For a summer Environmental Stewardship fellowship and Senior Integrated Project, Eli Edlefson ’23 is surveying plants and pollinators along the Powerline Trail in Lillian Anderson Arboretum. With almost no botany experience, Edlefson had to learn to identify all the flowering plants in the area with the help of a wildflower guide, Professor of Biology Ann Fraser and local botanist Russ Schipper.
Eli Edlefson uses his phone to identify wildflowers
Eli Edlefson’23 uses the Seek app from iNaturalist to identify a plant in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. Both the Seek and iNaturalist apps have proven valuable tools in Edlefson’s Environmental Stewardship fellowship and Senior Integrated Project this summer, surveying plants and pollinators along the Powerline Trail in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

Now, Edlefson is following in Cazier’s footsteps, while occasionally forging his own path, as he surveys the plants and pollinators to assess how successful the biodiversity efforts have been. By summer’s end, he intends to have a comprehensive survey of which plants are growing along the Powerline Trail, where they grow, and which pollinators interact with which plants, along with a comprehensive recommendation for what work is needed to improve the biodiversity of the area. 

“I’m comparing what Amy saw to what I see,” Edlefson said. “What’s taking hold? What did we put in the seed mix that I haven’t seen anywhere? Or, is this still a problem plant, like the invasive spotted knapweed?” 

Edlefson has also made it his goal to collect a sample of every plant specimen he finds and create a wildflower guidebook. 

“I’d like to have some details on the family and species, and some fun facts about it so you can actually connect to the life around you,” Edlefson said. “It’s so easy to walk by, like, ‘Oh, a flower,’ and keep going. I was guilty of that before. Now I know that this is a Deptford Pink, and if I tried really hard, I might be able to pull up a Latin name. When you know more, you appreciate being outside more.” 

Learning an interesting fact about a plant makes learning botany more engaging for Edlefson. For example, Native Americans made tea using a small, hanging orange flower called spotted touch-me-not or common jewelweed, which they used as a cure for laziness. 

A biology and physics double major who takes pride in having enjoyed “a charcuterie board” of classes in 11 different departments at K, Edlefson originally sought a research experience involving coastal or marine biology for his SIP. After meeting with Fraser, his class’s SIP coordinator, she connected him with the native wildflower rehabilitation project. 

While Edlefson has loved bugs his whole life, he had no formal entomology training and very little botany knowledge when he began the project. 

“In high school, I was in Science Olympiad, and every time the entomology event was open, I would hop on that,” Edlefson said. “It’s been nice getting a more formal identification process, having Dr. Fraser, who’s like our resident entomologist, and having it be my job to go and collect bugs. I’ve learned a lot already. I never knew how to distinguish wasps and bees besides just eyeballing it; now I know the bees have hairs that are feathered so they collect more pollen, so when you look at them under the microscope, it’s very obvious which one is which.” 

Similarly, when he began the project, “I would never have been excited about a plant,” Edlefson said. “If you had said, ‘What’s that flower?’ I would have been like, ‘Yellow.’” 

Edlefson has learned a lot about the plants along the Powerline Trail with the help of Fraser and local botanist Russ Schipper. About every other day, Edlefson drives out to the Arboretum on West Main Street and spends the morning surveying his area, which is about 750 meters long and encompasses all the meadow space on either side of the powerline. Initially, his surveys covered little ground, as he had to look up every plant. 

“My first day, Dr. Fraser was out here trying to teach me how to use my handy dandy wildflower guide,” Edlefson said. “Of course, she knew everything that was out here, and she was just patiently waiting for me to flip through all the pages and try to figure out what I was doing.” 

Now, he can cover his whole territory in a morning. Some days, Edlefson takes notes on what plants are blooming where and collects specimens to press. Other days, he conducts pollinator surveys, either walking 15-minute transects, recording what he sees and occasionally using a vacuum tube to collect specimens, or with a focal survey, sitting in one place and observing a specific plant for 15 minutes to watch for pollinators interacting with the plant. 

Sometimes Edlefson uses a camera from the lab to take clear photos of plants for identification. He also uses the iNaturalist app, and the related Seek app, to identify species, learn more and contribute useful data.  

Before the project ends, he hopes to conduct night surveys to see if the pollinator landscape is different at dusk. 

In the afternoons, Edlefson processes and examines his specimens and organizes his data in the lab. 

“The end goal is my candid suggestion about what looks good and what could be improved,” Edlefson said. “The goal of my project is to see if we’re bringing more pollinators in and supporting more of them; I’m looking for better quality and quantity.” 

Throughout the course of the summer, Edlefson has learned that he also has a series of deadlines to contend with as various flowers bloom and die. 

“If I want to look at a plant, I need to do that before the flowers go away,” Edlefson said. “Sometimes I realize a flower might not still be there next week, so I need to get out there and get a sample before then. It’s not something that I was expecting, to get an idea of what the bloom periods are, when plants are coming and going, and what I should be expecting to see. I’m learning more than I thought I would. 

“I’m very much enjoying my time out here. It is a million times better than sitting in an office or just the lab all day. I’m very lucky. It’s a great job.” 

To learn more about the project’s history and how you can help, visit the Pollinator Habitat Enhancement Project

Mentors Help Chemistry Major En Route to Scholarship, Research Abroad

Crystal Mendoza outside Hoben Hall
Crystal Mendoza ’23 stands in front of Hoben Hall during her first Michigan snowfall in fall 2019.
Crystal Mendoza in Vienna
Crystal Mendoza ’23 took a solo trip to Vienna, Austria, during her summer 2022 research internship at Karslruhe Institute for Technology in Germany.
Crystal Mendoza and Julia Ghazal in biochemistry class
Crystal Mendoza ’23 (left) builds polypeptide bonds to see the bond structure with Julia Ghazal ’22 in a biochemistry class during fall term 2021.

For the second year in a row, a Kalamazoo College chemistry student has been awarded the prestigious Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship.

Crystal Mendoza ’23 is the 2022 recipient of the scholarship through the American Chemical Society. The scholarship provides a minimum of $1,500 funding toward tuition, books and lab fees for a female undergraduate student majoring in chemistry or a related discipline and beginning her junior or senior year.

Mendoza and the 2021 recipient of the scholarship, Ola Bartolik ’22, have both worked in the lab of Blakely Tresca, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

When Mendoza received the scholarship announcement, her reaction was, “Wow, oh my goodness, I actually got it,” she said, “because I really didn’t think I would get it. It was a little bit later than when they announced it the previous year, and in the back of my mind, I didn’t think they would give it back-to-back to someone from the same college.”

Once the news sank in, she called her mom to celebrate and sent Tresca a message.

“I was really surprised two students from the same school got the scholarship back-to-back, especially since they only award one each year,” Tresca said. “I’m not surprised, though, that Crystal earned it. She has worked really hard in research and at school, while at the same time doing so much for the department and the community at K helping mentor the next generation of chemists.”

The scholarship has both practical and intangible benefits for Mendoza. Not only does it cover Mendoza’s out-of-pocket costs for tuition, books and fees for her last year at K, it also provides a feeling of belonging.

“It was rewarding that the Women Chemists Committee posted the announcement on Twitter, Facebook, all their socials,” Mendoza said. “Seeing my face and the significance of the scholarship and what it means to the community of women chemists made me feel like I’m actually a part of this community. I feel like I can continue in the field of chemistry with support and inclusion.”

Crystal Mendoza and Isabel Morillo attend a softball game
Crystal Mendoza ’23 (right) and Isabel Morillo ’23 attending a K softball game to support their roommate Lucy Hart ’23.
Chemistry mentors helped Crystal Mendoza achieve opportunities in places such as Cologne, Germany
Crystal Mendoza ’23, pictured on a trip to Cologne, Germany, is currently working on a research internship at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Finding her community and niche has been a journey for Mendoza. Arriving on campus in fall 2019, she intended to declare a biology major and follow the pre-med track. Her first term, however, she found herself not taking any biology courses and struggling through Chemistry 110. Her STEM journey could have ended there had it not been for Jeff Bartz, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Bartz invited Mendoza to come to his office hours and introduced her to Alex Cruz ’21, a chemistry major and fellow Los Angeles native. Cruz agreed to tutor Mendoza—the start of a mentoring relationship that continues to this day.

Crystal Mendoza holding a bucket and a cell phone in an elevator
Chemistry student Crystal Mendoza ’23 snaps a selfie in the elevator at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany, where she is completing a summer research internship. Mendoza was on her way to buy propionic acid from the stockroom.
Crystal Mendoza
Chemistry student Crystal Mendoza ’23 has been awarded the prestigious Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship.

“She wanted to succeed,” Bartz said. “She was willing to ask for help and that’s sometimes the hardest thing for all of us to do, especially as a beginning college student among your peers where you want to look like you have it all together. I had enough of a relationship with her, because of the kind of place K is, to have a sense of what help she needed and who in our program could provide that help to her.”

Cruz introduced Mendoza to Sukuma Dow, a peer-led organization for underrepresented students in STEM, her first year at K. She has been an active participant ever since, serving last year and this coming year as a group leader.

“I did feel discouraged at some points my first year,” Mendoza said. “After taking some biology courses, I didn’t think STEM was for me. I doubted myself and it wasn’t until I got into the support group and talked more with Alex, Dr. Bartz and Dr. Tresca that I got myself out there and found what I truly enjoy. It has been a journey. I found what I like, I like being in a lab, and it took a lot of conversations, tough love and discipline to see that.”

Bartz, Cruz and Tresca all encouraged Mendoza to apply to Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer programs through the National Science Foundation. She ended up performing research on electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction at the University of Southern California, where she scrapped any lingering thoughts of med school and committed wholeheartedly to a chemistry major and future goal of a doctorate in chemistry.

“I came back from that summer and immediately started looking for opportunities for this summer,” Mendoza said. She prioritized research abroad, as the COVID-19 shutdown had pushed her to delay courses she wanted to take in person until her junior year, taking study abroad off the table for her.

As a result, in mid-June, Mendoza arrived in Karlsruhe, Germany, to take part in a Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) through the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), or German Academic Exchange Service. RISE offers undergraduate students the opportunity to complete a summer internship at a top German research institution. Students are matched with a host university or institute according to their area of interest—Karlsruhe Institute for Technology for Mendoza—and DAAD provides students a monthly stipend to help cover living expenses.

German professor Kathryn Sederberg helped Mendoza arrange housing, and the DAAD funding is supplemented by the Nahrain Kamber and Ralph Griffith Endowed Student Research Fellowship benefiting female science students at K. Together, the two funding sources fully cover Mendoza’s living expenses and provide her with a small stipend as well.

Mendoza will remain in Karlsruhe until early September, conducting 12 weeks of research into photocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction for her Senior Integrated Project.

“I’m learning even more than I thought, because I thought there would be some repetition from last summer, but it’s totally different,” Mendoza said. “I’m doing more synthesis, learning to read scientific literature for myself, and it’s more hands on.”

Catalysts are substances that increase the rate of a chemical reaction without undergoing any permanent chemical change. Electrocatalysts speed up electrochemical reactions, while photocatalysts absorb light to create energy that accelerates chemical reactions. Mendoza’s research involves attempts to artificially re-create photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates.

“We take what’s happening in nature and try to find the optimal way to do it in solution in the lab,” Mendoza said. Currently, she is building three major components of the process—a photosensitizer, an electron donor and a catalyst—in different ways. Once she has built the library of different catalyst and photosensitizers, Mendoza will test the different components to see which perform the best for carbon dioxide reduction and turnover numbers.

At Karlsruhe, Mendoza has two Ph.D. student mentors, whom she describes as “helpful” and “very sweet” and who have given her independence to conduct her own project in the lab.

“At first, it was a little intimidating, but once I got the hang of it, it’s the best lab experience,” Mendoza said. “I’m just in awe at every reaction that I do, whether it’s successful or not, because I did it myself.”

Research into catalytic reduction of carbon dioxide could eventually have implications for reducing environmental pollution in the world, a topic of interest for Mendoza. Regardless, her time in Germany is proving enlightening.

“I had a really different perspective on what I thought the lab would be,” she said. “I thought it was going to be down to business, only doing experiments, let’s only talk about chemistry. My mentors have shown me otherwise. You can have fun, you can sing, you can dance, or you can enjoy a bottle of soda outside the lab.”

In addition to research and classes, Mendoza has worked as a chemistry teaching assistant.

“I really enjoy that,” she said. “It gives me more time in the lab and a chance to connect with people who want to do STEM and say, ‘Hey, you’re good at this, have you considered this major?’”

In 2021, K started a PRIME (Promoting Research, Inclusivity, Mentoring and Experience) Scholars program, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, and Bartz asked Mendoza to be a peer mentor for the 10 incoming first-year PRIME students.

“It’s been amazing seeing their progress from when they first came to campus and I met them during orientation,” Mendoza said. “It’s always rewarding after every meeting, one-on-one or in a group, to think that I was once in their place, not knowing what I wanted to do, and now being so accomplished in my discipline and helping them get there, too. I’m grateful that Dr. Bartz thought I was the right person for that.”

From mentee to mentor, doubt to confidence, Mendoza is thriving at K with guidance from strong mentors, support from peers, and opportunities for exploration and growth. With one year left at K, she’s looking ahead to her own future while extending a hand back to those coming behind her.

“We talk about certain students as having figured it out,” Bartz said. “What got them here is not what will get them through here. Early on, Crystal recognized that she didn’t have it figured out and was willing to ask for help. Now she’s one who figured it out and is willing to share that with others.”

K Student Earns Alpha Lambda Delta Scholarship

Alpha Lambda Delta scholarship recipient Shahriar Akhavan Tafti ’24
Shahriar Akhavan Tafti ’24 is receiving a merit
scholarship from Alpha Lambda Delta.

For the first time in nearly 10 years, a Kalamazoo College student is receiving a merit scholarship from Alpha Lambda Delta (ALD), the honor society for first-year academic success.

Shahriar Akhavan Tafti ’24 will receive one of 50 undergraduate scholarships worth $1,000 to $6,000 each, as the honor society issues a total of $105,000 nationally through the Jo Anne J. Trow Award.

Akhavan Tafti is a computer science major and German and psychology minor from Iran who is looking to expand K’s involvement in Alpha Lambda Delta while collaborating with the chapter at Western Michigan University.

The Jo Anne J. Trow Award was instated in 1988 to honor a past national president of Alpha Lambda Delta. The scholarship requires that applicants gather at least two letters of recommendation and maintain a 3.5 grade-point average on a four-point scale.

“One of the reasons my application stood out was my proposed plan to expand Alpha Lambda Delta’s presence throughout our campus,” Akhavan Tafti said. “I hope to do this with the help of this year’s new ALD initiates. The end goal is to create a self-sustaining ALD organization to facilitate academic excellence and engagement with ALD, which will allow more students from our College to receive ALD scholarships for undergraduate, graduate and study abroad funding in return for their contributions to ALD.”