Theatre Professor Earns Fifth Wilde Award for Best Lighting

Wilde Awards Recognize Lanny Potts for Lighting in Bright Star
Theatre Arts Professor Lanny Potts was selected recently as the recipient of a 2022
Wilde Award for Best Lighting as a result of his work in the 2021 Farmers Alley Theatre
production of “Bright Star.” Photo by Kat Mumma.

A Kalamazoo College faculty member is receiving accolades from a Michigan theatre organization for the fifth time in his career. Theatre Arts Professor Lanny Potts was selected recently as the recipient of a 2022 Wilde Award for Best Lighting as a result of his work in the 2021 Farmers Alley Theatre production of Bright Star, a musical written and composed by actor, comedian and songwriter Steve Martin and songwriter Edie Brickell.

Wilde Awards are distributed through, a web-based publication focusing on the state’s professional theater industry, highlighting the top productions, actors, artists, designers, writers and technicians. Potts previously earned Wilde Best Lighting honors through his work at Farmers Alley Theatre in productions such as The Light in the Piazza in 2012 and Bridges of Madison County in 2018.

In Bright Star, a literary editor, Alice Murphy, meets a young soldier, Bill Cane, who is just home from World War II. Her flashbacks to the 1920s tell the audience about 16-year-old Alice meeting Jimmy Ray Dobbs and giving birth to a son. The love story, inspired by real events and set in the American South, provided Potts and the Farmers Alley Theatre team with some distinctive challenges of how to move the story forward with lighting and other effects. 

“Working closely with the brilliant Director Kathy Mulay, every scenic transition was created with lighting which then constantly moved until the downbeat of the next music, scenic or narrative moment,” Potts said. “Picture slowly moving tree leaves. In every transition moment, they would create an almost ripple effect, like wind through the leaves, that continued until the music resolved or carried us through to the next narrative moment. Having the lights breathe the music of each transition was an approach that allowed the team to seamlessly meld action, dialogue, music, blocking and projections in a way that helped the audience understand that our narrative was a constantly moving story.” 

Bright Star was produced at Farmers Alley Theatre from June 23-July 10, 2021, qualifying Potts— a professional designer and consultant—for this year’s honor. His work has also included international lighting and production design; national tour designs for opera and dance; and regional designs for opera, modern dance, ballet, drama and corporate events. 

Potts has presented portfolios of his work at regional conferences, worked at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and received many professional awards including a Michigan Governor’s Commendation, a design commendation from the John F. Kennedy Center (Fun Home) and Atlanta Critic’s Choice awards for his design work for the Atlanta premier of A Few Good Men. But each opportunity inspires Potts for what he will do with the next one. 

“When I think about having the privilege of doing what I love, I don’t think about a particular show, production or artistic team,” Potts said. “I do have warm fuzzies when I reflect upon some great work accomplished collaboratively with so many great artists. But I think I’m a looking-forward kind of person, where one scenic idea, one costume idea or one directing idea inspires a unique new direction for the artistic team. There is no greater gift than working with talented artists who care about the work as much as you do, who will challenge your own ideas, and inspire you to pursue new ones. I also think the very nature of light requires us to look forward and not dwell upon past work. Lighting is so ephemeral, so in the moment, that once a production is complete, I’m ready for the next artistic team I get to work with, the next production I get to work upon, the next set of problems we get to resolve, the next story to be told.” 

Repair or Replace? Professor’s Book Addresses Resources

Repair Book Cover
Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies Péter Érdi
is a co-author of “Repair: When and How to Improve
Broken Objects, Ourselves and Our Society.”

If you’ve ever asked yourself whether to “repair or replace” certain possessions or facets of your life, a new book co-authored by Kalamazoo College Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies Péter Érdi is for you.

Érdi and co-author Zsuzsa Szvetelszky have released Repair: When and How to Improve Broken Objects, Ourselves and Our Society. The book, available through Springer, provides a new way of thinking about managing resources through integrating the perspectives of social psychology with complex systems theory, which is concerned with identifying and characterizing common design elements that are observed across diverse natural, technological and social complex systems.

By resources, the authors mean objects, such as cell phones and cars, along with human resources, such as family members, friends, and the small and large communities to which they belong. Their hope is that readers will understand how to repair themselves, their relationships, their communities and contribute to repairing the world.

The authors say the book is offered to Generation Z, which is growing up in a world where some aspects of life seem to be falling apart; people in their 30s and 40s, who are thinking about how to live a fulfilling life; and Baby Boomers, who are thinking back on life and how to repair relationships. Reviews have said the book is an intellectual adventure of connecting the natural and social worlds to understand the transition of going from a “throwaway society” to a “repair society.”

Repair is supposed to be a general interest book,” Érdi said. “It converts scientific theories to conventional applications by raising and answering questions like, ‘when should we attempt to repair something, and when is it better to save one’s energy and let things go?’ We wrote the book with my Hungarian social psychologist, co-author Zsuzsa Szvetelszky, intending to explain how to live a resilient life and design resilient technological and social systems at small, intermediate and large scales.”

Érdi also wrote the 2019 book Ranking: The Hidden Rules of the Social Game We All Play, which examines how and why humans rank certain aspects of life and how those rankings are viewed. That book has been published in seven languages including German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hungarian. Further, Érdi has been a prolific researcher with more than 40 publications published since joining K. In that time, he has given more than 60 invited lectures across the world, and he received the 2018 Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship, honoring his contributions in creative work, research and publication. He also has been the editor-in-chief of Cognitive Systems Research and served as a vice president of the International Neural Network Society.

Plus, more publications by Érdi will be available in the near future.

“It happens that I’ve signed a contract with Springer for my subsequent book Feedback: How to Destroy or Save the World,” he said. “There is a narrow border between destruction and prosperity. To ensure reasonable growth but avoid existential risk, we need to find the fine-tuned balance between positive and negative feedback. The book will offer a non-technical intellectual journey around the application of feedback control to the emergence and management of crises from dynamical diseases to natural and social disasters.”

K Welcomes New Faculty

Kalamazoo College is pleased to welcome the following faculty members to campus this fall: 

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Josie Mitchell
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Josie Mitchell

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Josie Mitchell

Mitchell comes to K from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her PhD in Biochemistry through the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB). At UW-Madison, she was also a biochemistry teaching fellow and was part of the teaching team for Introduction to Biochemistry, Biochemical Methods Lab, Molecules to Life and the Nature of Science, and a journal-club style seminar for senior biochemistry majors.

Mitchell earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a biochemistry emphasis from Grand Valley State University. At UW-Madison, she completed the Delta Teaching Certification and the WISCIENCE Research Mentor Training programs. Her accolades also include the Graduate Leadership and Development Committee Service Award, the Sigrid Leirmo Memorial Award in Biochemistry, and multiple awards for research. 

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nupur Joshi
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nupur Joshi

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nupur Joshi

Joshi recently received a Ph.D. in human-environment geography with a minor in epidemiology from the University of Arizona. Her dissertation examined the nexus between housing tenure, water insecurity and informal water supply in slum settlements in Nairobi, requiring three years of mixed-methods fieldwork. Check out her recent publication here.

Joshi’s education also includes a master’s degree in society and culture studies from the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the Savitribai Phule University of Pune.

At K, Joshi is leading courses such as Development and Dispossession, which covers the political, economic and cultural dimensions of development practice, while addressing a variety of development problems, including urbanization and food security.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tasnim Gharaibeh
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tasnim Gharaibeh

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tasnim Gharaibeh

Gharaibeh has 14 years of international computer science teaching experience between Western Michigan University, where she led in-person and online classes including six semesters of labs for engineers; the University of Hail and Open Arab University in Saudi Arabia, where she guided education majors in computer courses; and Hashimat University and Yarmouk University in Jordan, where she instructed courses in C++ and general computer skills.

She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in computer science from Yarmouk University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Western Michigan.

Assistant Professor of English Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley
Assistant Professor of English Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Assistant Professor of English Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Kingsley has come to K from Old Dominion University where he was an assistant professor of poetry and nonfiction in the school’s Master of Fine Arts program. Most recently, he taught classes there including a graduate poetry workshop, Contemporary Classics: Literature for Writers, an advanced poetry workshop, an introduction to creative writing and Writing for Video Games.

His accolades have included three poetry books: Dēmos: An American Multitude (2021, Milkweed Editions), Colonize Me (2019, Saturnalia Books) and Not Your Mama’s Melting Pot (2018, University of Nebraska Press), each of which are the winners and/or finalists of 19 literary awards. 

Kingsley has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Miami and a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania.

Assistant Professor of Business Sydul Karim
Assistant Professor of Business Sydul Karim

Assistant Professor of Business Sydul Karim

Karim began serving K in January and has previous higher education experience as an assistant professor of international business and management at Dickinson College and a research assistant at the University of New Orleans. He has also been the chief investment officer at Athena Venture and Equities Ltd., a branch manager and corporate credit relationship manager at Habib Bank Limited and a principal credit officer at AB Bank Limited, all in Bangladesh.

Karim is a published author with five peer-reviewed papers and a book chapter to his credit, along with several works in progress. His research and publications can be found online. He received a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, an MBA in Finance from the University of Akron, and a Master of Science and a Ph.D. in Finance from the University of New Orleans.

Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang
Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang

Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Yanshuo Zhang

Zhang joined K in January 2022, coming from the University of Michigan, where she was a postdoctoral research fellow in its Center for Chinese Studies. She developed courses with an emphasis on cross-cultural communication in her previous appointments. She also has prior teaching experience in higher education as an instructor at the University of San Francisco and a lecturer in the program of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University.

Her own education consists of a Bachelor of Arts from St. Catherine University in Minnesota, a Stanford Graduate School of Business Certificate and a Ph.D. from Stanford in Chinese literature and culture. During her education, she was offered several fellowships, awards and honors, most recently dissertation fellowship awards from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange in Taiwan and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Stanford, and an award for excellent Chinese students studying abroad from the Chinese National Scholarship Council.

Assistant Professor of Spanish Carlos Vazquez Cruz
Assistant Professor of Spanish Carlos Vazquez Cruz

Assistant Professor of Spanish Carlos Vazquez Cruz

Vazquez Cruz has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and most recently taught at institutions including the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and McDaniel College. His teaching interests include Spanish creative writing, Latin American contemporary narratives, Latin American poetry and the visual arts and Music in Spanish Caribbean literatures. His research interests include Hispanic queer literatures, Hispanic digital projects, Spanish Caribbean visual art, Spanish American contemporary pop music and racial discourses in Latin American literatures.

Vazquez Cruz is the author of Dos centímetros de mar, a novel; 8% de desk-cuentos and its second edition, Asado a las doce, along with Malacostumbrismo, which are collections of stories; Silente, Ares and Sencilla mente, which are poetry books; La mirilla y la muralla: el estado crítico, a criticism; and Inimaginado, a collection of poetry, short stories and essays.  

He holds a Ph.D. in Latin American literature with a graduate certificate in digital humanities from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Fine Arts in Spanish creative writing from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish education from the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Anthony Hamilton
Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Anthony Hamilton

Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Anthony Hamilton

Hamilton was a guest professor and director at Western Michigan University in 2021 and 2022, where he taught beginning acting, introduction to acting, and African-Americans in theatre and media. 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; and Grandma’s Quilt and Playwright’s Competition at the Negro Ensemble Company in New York. His performance credits include Shakespeare in Love, Julius Caesar, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Evita at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida; and Bengal Tiger at the Zoo and Ruined at WMU.

Hamilton was honored as the Director of the Decade and for Best Choreography for Once on This Island through Broadway World Detroit, and received the Young Artist Award from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo in 2008. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theatre studies from Western Michigan University and a Master of Fine Arts in theatre from Florida State University.

Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sam Tett
Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sam Tett

Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sam Tett

Tett is a recent graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, where she earned a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Victorian studies. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kenyon College and advanced-level qualifications in English, psychology and human biology from Greenhead College in the United Kingdom.

Tett’s professional experience includes serving as the managing editor for the flagship journal of 19th century British Literature, Victorian Studies. She also has held positions as an instructor, teaching fellow, associate instructor, research assistant and archival assistant between Indiana University and the University of Pennsylvania. She’s also been an invited lecturer and presenter at a variety of sites in the United States, United Kingdom and Italy, and has several fellowships and honors from Indiana University and Kenyon College.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dana Hunter

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dana Hunter

Hunter is arriving at K from the University of Oregon, where she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics. There she served as a graduate researcher and instructor while teaching calculus, elementary functions, probability and statistics, and elementary math classes. She also earned the university’s Frank and Dorothy Anderson Mathematics Ph.D. Student Research Award, and was an officer in the Association of Women in Mathematics Student Chapter.

Hunter performed undergraduate research through Mount Holyoke College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in mathematics with a physics minor, and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Brian Wu
Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Brian Wu

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Brian Wu

Wu served Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, as a visiting assistant professor in 2021–22 and Oakland University as a special lecturer in 2020–21 before arriving at K.  

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and music from Albion College, and a Master of Science in applied statistics and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Oakland University. During his graduate work, he taught an introductory undergraduate mathematics course as a solo instructor.

Visiting Assistant Professor Chemistry Arjun Bhowmick
Visiting Assistant Professor Chemistry Arjun Bhowmick

Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Arjun Bhowmick

Bhowmick previously served as a research and teaching assistant at the University of South Dakota’s Department of Chemistry, where he earned a Master of Science and a Ph.D. He also was an assistant professor in chemistry at the Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University in Bangladesh.

In addition to his Ph.D., Bhowmick holds a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Science, both in chemistry, from Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ian VanderMeulen
Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ian VanderMeulen

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ian VanderMeulen

VanderMeulen has previous higher-education teaching experience as a postdoctoral fellow and a postdoctoral lecturer and undergraduate advisor at New York University. He also served the League of American Orchestras for five years as the assistant editor of its quarterly symphony magazine.

He has a bachelor’s degree in music performance and religious studies from Oberlin College, a Master of Arts in near and Middle Eastern studies from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies from New York University.

His research on Qur’an recitation and sound media technologies has been published in American Ethnologist and the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Samhitha Raj
Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Samhitha Raj

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Samhitha Raj

Raj is a molecular and developmental biologist who has prior experience teaching biology courses such as introductory biology and courses relating to the biology of infectious diseases.

After receiving her Bachelor of Engineering in biotechnology from the JSS Science and Technology University in Mysore, India, she attended the University of Michigan, where she earned her Ph.D. in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

Since attaining her Ph.D., she has taught at Fulbright University Vietnam as a founding undergraduate faculty member. As a graduate student, she taught courses at the University of Michigan and the University of Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Elena Specht
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Elena Specht

Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Elena Specht

Specht is a recent recipient of a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from Michigan State University, where she also earned a Master of Music in music theory and a university distinguished fellowship. Additionally, she holds a Master of Music in composition and a Certificate in college teaching from the University of Colorado Boulder, where she received the Thurston E. Manning Scholarship in Composition; and a Bachelor of Music in composition and music theory from the Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music, where she received the Blair Dean’s Honor Scholarship. 

Specht began teaching in higher education in 2012 as a student assistant in musicology at Vanderbilt where she later was a student teaching assistant in music theory. At CU Boulder, she was a graduate teaching assistant in music theory and aural skills from 2015–17. At Michigan State, she was an instructor in composition and a graduate teaching assistant in music theory/aural skills. 

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Juan Carlos Guerrero-Hernandez
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Juan Carlos Guerrero-Hernandez

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Juan Carlos Guerrero-Hernandez

Guerrero-Hernandez researches and writes about contemporary and modern art and culture with an emphasis on video, photography, performance, gender, politics and experimental cinema. 

He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in electrical engineering from Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia; a Master of Arts in philosophy from the National University of Colombia; and a Ph.D. in art history from Stony Brook University, where his dissertation was titled “Mutilated Bodies and Memories of Violence: Displacements and Contestations of Representations of Violence in Contemporary Video Art and Photography in Colombia, 1993–1998.”

Guerro-Hernandez is the author of the Spanish-language book Subverting the Order: Women Artists, Explorations and Operations in video in the 1980s in Colombia, which is due out next year. The book analyzes and discusses six paradigmatic works of six of Latin American female and Latina artists, whose work is mostly unknown or has been superficially studied.

Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow of English Monique McDade
Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow of English Monique McDade

Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow of English Monique McDade

McDade has arrived at K from the University of Nevada-Reno, where she earned a Ph.D. and was a lecturer in the Department of English, teaching classes in core writing, women’s studies, core humanities, the literature of ethnic minorities in the U.S., and theories and criticism.

She has prior teaching experience from Truckee Meadows Community College, where she taught basic English composition. Her other certifications and degrees include a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature and creative writing from the University of California, San Diego; a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from California State University, Sacramento; and a faculty teaching certificate in community engagement and a graduate certificate in gender, race and identity from Nevada-Reno.

Her book project, California Dreams and American Contradictions: Women Writers and the Western Ideal (Nebraska University Press) will be out in spring 2023.

Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow of Anthropology-Sociology Houman Oliaei

Oliaei is a sociocultural anthropologist studying forced migration, statelessness, and humanitarianism with research focusing on lived experiences of displaced Yezidis, who compose an ethnoreligious minority in northern Iraq. His first book project, On the Margins of Humanity, explores the complex interplay between humanitarian intervention, forced displacement, belonging and politics of recognition among displaced Yezidis.

Oliaei recently earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from Brandeis University, where he also earned a Master of Arts in anthropology. In addition, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in music and a Master of Arts in anthropology from the University of Tehran in Iraq.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Nayda Collazo-Llorens
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Nayda Collazo-Llorens

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Nayda Collazo-Llorens

Collazo-Llorens, who previously was a part-time faculty member at K, is a visual artist engaged in an interdisciplinary practice incorporating multiple mediums and strategies. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Collazo-Llorens has received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and Beta-Local’s El Serrucho, among others, and is a former visiting fellow at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Her work has been exhibited at El Museo del Barrio in New York City, The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami, Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Richmond Center for Visual Arts in Kalamazoo, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in San Juan, and Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City, among other national and international institutions.

Visiting Assistant Professor of History Akil Cornelius
Visiting Assistant Professor of History Akil Cornelius

Visiting Assistant Professor of History Akil Cornelius

Cornelius has been a fixed-term assistant instructor in the Department of History at Michigan State University, where he also earned his Ph.D. His research specializations include 19th and 20th century South Africa, migration and mobility studies, as well as a disciplinary sub-specialization in archaeology. His teaching credits include courses on the history of sports in America and a seminar in digital history.

Before his time at Michigan State, Cornelius served in the military through a 12-year career in the U.S. Intelligence Community including active duty service in the Middle East and Western Balkans. In his military service, Cornelius earned Army Commendation, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary, Global War on Terrorism Service, National Defense Service and Army Achievement medals, and Army Service and Overseas Service ribbons.

Visiting Instructor Economics of Seong-Hee Kim
Visiting Instructor of Economics Seong-Hee Kim

Visiting Instructor of Economics Seong-Hee Kim

Kim has previous experience in higher education between Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, where she taught principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics, environmental and resources economics, and money and banking courses.

She is an ABD from the University of Wyoming in natural resources and environmental economics, regional and international economics, and public utility and regulation. She holds a Master of Arts in economics from Wyoming, a Bachelor of Arts from Central Missouri State University in hotel and restaurant management administration, and a Bachelor of Arts in international trade with a minor in English language and literature from Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

She is also a certified Korean Language Teacher (Lv. 3) and a yoga instructor.

Visiting Instructor of Music Anthony Elliott
Visiting Instructor of Music Anthony Elliott

Visiting Instructor of Music Anthony Elliott

Elliott is a conductor of the Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra at the University of Michigan and a professor of cello. He is a longtime advocate for music in public and inner-city schools, and has worked toward the development of new constituencies with symphony boards and foundations. He has given countless workshops, clinics and performances in schools and community centers across the country.

In 1987, Elliott won the Emanuel Feuermann International Cello Competition, and was the top ranked American cellist in the 1979 Concours Cassado in Florence, Italy. He has appeared frequently as a soloist with major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony, and the CBC Toronto Orchestra. He also has conducted symphony, opera and ballet including the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra at the Blossom Music Festival. He served for many years as music director of the Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet, leading that orchestra on a two-week concert tour of Holland, Germany and Austria.

Visiting Instructor of Classics Robert Santucci
Visiting Instructor of Classics Robert Santucci

Visiting Instructor of Classics Robert Santucci

Santucci teaches Greek and Latin at K. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2022 with a dissertation on eating in the text of the Roman philosopher Seneca. He has published on Seneca, Ovid and classical reception, and has particular affinities for creative literary engagement, appetites and gender. His zodiac sign is libra, his shoe size is 13, and he plays bass guitar.

German Studies Program Receives National Honor

Kalamazoo College’s Department of German Studies is one of three German programs in the country being honored this year by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG).

The department is receiving the AATG’s German Center of Excellence award and will be honored during the association’s annual ceremony from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, November 13, available through Zoom. The designation is presented to well-established and growing German programs with demonstrated excellence in instruction, and strong support from administration, professional colleagues, alumni and students.

“There is clear evidence that the program has strong support from the administration, professional colleagues, parents and students, and has strong ties to the wider community,” AATG Executive Director Michael R. Shaughnessy said in a congratulatory letter to K’s German department. “Most impressive is the program’s curriculum. There is a clear, articulated sequence of instructional programming that is standards‐based and reflects current methodologies. Outcomes at each instructional level are clearly articulated and diverse learning styles are respected through varied instructional and assessment techniques. The materials used in the program are culturally authentic and interdisciplinary connections have been established.”

This year’s Center of Excellence honorees “represent the best in our profession,” Awards Committee Chair J.J. Melgar said in a news release. “It is inspiring to see how much these extraordinary German teachers have accomplished and how their students and our profession have benefited from their work.”

The faculty members in K’s German department include Co-Chair and Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of German Kathryn Sederberg, Co-Chair and Professor of Classics Elizabeth Manwell, Instructor of German Stefania Malacrida and Assistant Professor of German Petra Watzke.

Sederberg also was honored last year after a nomination through her peers when she received the Goethe‐Institut/AATG Certificate of Merit furthering the teaching of German in the U.S. through creative activities, innovative curriculum, successful course design and significant contributions to the profession.

“This is a great honor,” Sederberg said. “In a time when many language enrollments are declining, we are fortunate to be part of a campus culture that encourages study abroad and advanced language study. As faculty members, students see what we do in the classroom, but there is also a lot of our work done behind the scenes to design and coordinate a thoughtful curriculum, and to think about how our philosophy of teaching is reflected in our courses from German 101 to the senior seminar. It is a great feeling to receive recognition for the work we are doing in our department, and for the strength of our program. This award also recognizes the excellence of our students, and our outstanding alumni who have graduated as German majors and minors. We are always grateful to our amazing students who push us to be better educators, and to our TAs from Germany who make up such an important part of our community. Hopefully this national award will also help us attract prospective students who are looking to continue their study of German, or students who are looking for a meaningful, immersive study abroad experience in the German-speaking world. Taking language classes in college is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and gain new perspectives for thinking about culture, language and society.”

“I can only echo my colleague’s statements about this honor,” Watzke added. “The award celebrates the hard work of faculty, students and TAs in the German Studies department here at K. It is especially meaningful for us because it recognizes the impact of our innovative curriculum, which defines student excellence not only as a language goal, but also in terms of community building and social justice efforts.”

Kathryn Sederberg teaching a course in German
Kathryn Sederberg is the Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of German and co-chair of the Department of German Studies.
Petra Watzke
Assistant Professor of German Petra Watzke

Classical Music, Liberal Arts Compose Alumna’s Noted Devotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K Confers Lucasse, Ambrose Honors

Lucasse Recipient Robert Batsell teaches a class
Professor of Psychology Bob Batsell

Kalamazoo College today awarded one faculty member and one staff member with two of the highest awards the College bestows on its employees. Professor of Psychology Bob Batsell was named the recipient of the 2022–23 Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship, honoring his contributions in creative work, research and publication; and Student Health and Counseling Centers Office Coordinator Jen Combes was granted the W. Haydn Ambrose Prize, recognizing her outstanding service to the Kalamazoo College community.

Batsell, recognized for his teaching as a former Kurt D. Kaufman endowed chair, has served K since 1999. His expertise is in classical conditioning with a focus on taste-aversion learning.

Batsell has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles with 18 written during his years at K and 13 with K students as co-authors. His work has appeared in publications such as Language and Motivation, Learning and Behavior and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. He also has authored a number of chapters in edited volumes.

Writing in support of Batsell’s Lucasse nomination, one student said, “Dr. Batsell always pushes to know more so he can teach more. … He cares deeply about his work and his students. I would not be the student I am with his help, and I know I’m adequately prepared to engage in and publish research in the future thanks to his help.”

A faculty colleague described Batsell’s work on a test-enhanced learning project by saying that Batsell, “invited me to be a collaborator on the project, and in his capacity, I have gotten to witness firsthand Bob’s keen mind for research design and methodology. Not only does he think critically about alternative hypotheses and potential pitfalls, but he is also proactive about suggesting solutions.”

A ceremony to confer the Lucasse Fellowship traditionally occurs in the spring term, where the honored faculty member speaks regarding their work.

Ambrose Award Recipient Jen Combes
Student Health and Counseling Centers Office Coordinator Jen Combes receives the Ambrose Prize from
Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez.

Combes was one of 37 nominees for this year’s Ambrose Prize and she wrote four nominations herself for other people. She was nominated for the honor by multiple colleagues across multiple divisions who shared different stories along similar themes.

Of Combes, one nominator said, “The pandemic shined a light on the varied and important work that talented and creative people managed to deliver during the most challenging of circumstances.”

Yet Combes’ leadership goes beyond issues related to the pandemic. Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez noted in today’s all-campus gathering that Combes plays a significant role in organizing vaccination clinics and is often the first and last point of contact when students need assistance.

“Students rely on her expertise and kindness to understand how best to use their resources,” he said. “She strikes a careful balance between the practical and the compassionate sides of her work. She uses her vast knowledge and over 15 years of K experience to deliver actionable, student-centered support with an empathetic word and a gentle smile.”

The Ambrose Prize is named after W. Haydn Ambrose, who served K for more than 20 years in a variety of roles, including assistant to the president for church relations, dean of admission and financial aid, and vice president for development. Ambrose was known for being thoughtful in the projects he addressed and treating people with respect. In addition to a financial award, Combes has earned a crystal award to commemorate the achievement and an invitation to sit on the Prize’s selection committee for two years.

Congratulations to both the honorees.

K’s Best Friend: Yorkshire Terrier Leia Makes Friends On Campus and Off

Sohini Pillai holds her Yorkshire terrier for International Dog Day
Photo courtesy of Faris Moghul. Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of Film and Media Studies Sohini Pillai holds her Yorkshire terrier, Leia.
Two students with Yorkshire terrier Leia for International Dog Day
Photo courtesy of Sohini Pillai. Iris Chalk ’24 and Abbey McMillian ’24 enjoy outdoor religion class with a visit from Leia, a Yorkshire terrier belonging to K Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of Film and Media Studies Sohini Pillai.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Sederberg. Leia, a Yorkshire terrier belonging to Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of Film and Media Studies Sohini Pillai, poses along a mindfulness path in Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

August 26 may be the officially designated day, but every day is International Dog Day for Sohini Pillai and her Yorkshire terrier, Leia.

Pillai, who is the assistant professor of religion and director of film and media studies at Kalamazoo College, adopted Leia two years ago in California. It was early in the COVID-19 pandemic and Pillai was cooped up at home writing her dissertation for her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Sederberg. Leia, a Yorkshire terrier belonging to Assistant Professor of Religion
and Director of Film and Media Studies Sohini Pillai, poses along a mindfulness path in Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

“I grew up with a Labrador retriever, and he was wonderful,” Pillai said. “I am an only child and I asked my parents for a brother or sister or a dog, and eventually, they got me a dog.”

Originally, Pillai planned to get a dog when she got a job. Then she realized that adjusting to a new job, a new city and a new dog all at the same time could spell disaster. Maybe, she thought, this was actually the perfect time to get a dog.

Having lived with greyhounds during fieldwork in India, Pillai hoped to adopt a greyhound. However, she found herself sharing space with neighbors with dog allergies, so when she visited the shelter, she applied for hypoallergenic dogs.

“I think I applied for, like, 25 different dogs,” Pillai said. “During the pandemic, everybody wanted to adopt dogs because we were all at home. I’d never had a small dog before. She was the one who was available, and I met her, and even though she’s tiny, she really has a big dog personality.”

Sohini Pillai holds Yorkshire terrier Leia. Leia is wearing a K bandana
Photo courtesy of Sohini Pillai. Assistant Professor
of Religion and Director of Film and Media Studies
Sohini Pillai and her Yorkshire terrier, Leia,
show off Leia’s K bandana.

Named for the Star Wars princess, Leia challenged the stereotypes Pillai held about Yorkies being loud and rude.

“She definitely barks and lets people know she’s there, but she’s so friendly with kids and other people,” Pillai said.

Leia became Pillai’s writing buddy. Weighing in at just 12 pounds and suffering from separation anxiety, Leia would settle on Pillai’s lap and sit with her the whole time she wrote. In addition to keeping her company, Leia forced Pillai to take regular breaks, to get outside and move, and even to realize she needed glasses when she noticed how fuzzy their early morning walks seemed.

“She’s made my life better in multiple ways,” Pillai said. “She’s made me a lot healthier and happier.”

Although she was used to a warm climate, Leia adjusted well to Kalamazoo when Pillai began teaching at K in 2021. Despite never having seen snow before that, she doesn’t mind snow on the ground. Falling snow or rain, however, is another story.

“She hates the rain,” Pillai said. “I have to put a raincoat on her, and she’s held her pee for 17 hours because she hates the rain so much. She doesn’t like things falling on her. She’s a bit of a diva or princess in that way.”

Other than the weather, Leia is thriving in Kalamazoo. She has enjoyed meeting neighbors, loves her local doggie daycare—where her best friend, Flower, is part hound and part boxer—and has made many friends among K faculty, staff and students.

She takes part in the religion department’s Sunday potluck dinners and regularly gets invited to other faculty gatherings and events. She has met several faculty members’ dogs—and even, once, a cat (through a screen door). She served as the model for photos of a forest mindfulness path in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, created by K German students with Kathryn Sederberg, Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of German Studies, in October 2021.

Leia has visited Lake Michigan, explored other outdoor activities in the Kalamazoo area, and loves to go for walks on K’s campus. Sometimes people recognize her from her social media presence, including her own Instagram account as @LeiaTheEwokPrincess. At doggie daycare, she has made friends with Tank, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Jeff Bartz’s dog, although Bartz and Pillai have yet to meet in person.

A huge Star Wars fan, Pillai teaches the saga in her Epic Epics course and mentions Leia fairly often in her classes. Her office is dotted with photos of Leia, including an image of her as Princess Leia and another of her as Brienne of Tarth, a Game of Thrones character.

In May, Leia got to attend two of Pillai’s classes when beautiful weather coincided with doggie daycare closing for a week. Pillai was returning from her Ph.D. graduation ceremony in California, where she received the news that her 100-year-old grandmother had passed away in India.

It was a difficult week for Pillai, who had been very close to her grandmother. Yet that day has been one of her favorite days at K.

“We sat outside and Leia was going around the circle and sitting in everybody’s laps,” Pillai said. “The students were holding her and cuddling her, and some faculty came out and met her, too. My students knew that my grandmother had passed away, and some of them brought condolence gifts, and it was really sweet and just the best day.”

Pillai is grateful for the circumstances that led her to Leia, on International Dog Day and every day.

“She’s living a pretty awesome life here,” Pillai said. “I’m jealous sometimes. She eats, she sleeps, she gets pets and cuddles, and she’s pretty popular. She’s got a lot of friends on campus.

“I can’t imagine life without her.”

Professors: Economics Could Hold Climate Change Solutions

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie teaching
Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie is one of the faculty members examining whether national attempts at combined trade and environmental policies might provide a key strategy in fighting climate change.
Edward and Virginia Van Dalson Professor of Economics Patrik Hultberg is one of the faculty members examining whether national attempts at combined trade and environmental policies might provide a key strategy in fighting climate change.

With much of the world debating how to reverse climate change during a sweltering summer, two Kalamazoo College faculty members are examining whether national attempts at combined trade and environmental policies might provide a key strategy.

The analysis by Patrik Hultberg, K’s Edward and Virginia Van Dalson Professor of Economics; and Darshana Udayanganie, a K assistant professor of economics, will be published soon in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy. Among their findings, it will note that Europe and the U.S. are talking about adopting border-adjustment taxes by 2026, targeted toward influencing foreign countries’ carbon emissions.

Hultberg and Udayanganie suggest those taxes could be options because the world’s environmental-policy deals—such as the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol and the Montreal Protocol—seem to have shortcomings.

“The best thing would be for countries to work together and come up with those international agreements,” Hultberg said. “But countries have an incentive to violate those agreements. One might think, if other countries change their behavior, maybe I don’t have to change mine. In addition, environmental-policy authority does not reach into foreign countries.”

As a result, Udayanganie said one alternative to environmental policies would be to calculate the amount of carbon content a good’s production creates to add a tax, imposed on the producing nation, that thereby increases the product’s global price, incentivizing actions that benefit the environment. That’s the idea behind Europe and the U.S. exploring border-adjustment taxes.

“When we just use stricter environmental policies, some of these firms could simply go to another country,” she said. “That means the pollution being created is not going to be reduced; it will just be produced somewhere else. Such border-adjustment taxes might encourage nations to adjust their environmental policies to avoid the environmental taxes from us.”

However, one consequence from such a plan could be wealthier nations taking advantage of developing nations by placing the most policy hardship on the developing nations.

“Europe and the U.S. are trying to tell a story that we’re trying to do this, not because it’s good for us, but because we want to save the global climate, while telling other countries, ‘You need to change your behavior to help us do that,’” Hultberg said. “A developing country might look at that border-tax adjustment and say, ‘You are doing something to make us worse off while benefiting your own consumers and producers.’ It is true that by changing the international price, we are making ourselves better off at the expense of producers who might be in developing countries.”

Therefore, a strategy that combines environmental and economic action, could provide the best option in fighting climate change. Such a combination, Udayanganie said, could force firms to clean up the environment in one country or stop relocating and produce where they are. The thought leadership behind these ideas could go a long way in stopping concepts such as carbon leakage, which is the relocation of emissions from regulating countries to countries with weaker or no environmental regulation.

The Model as a Teaching Tool

The work of Hultberg and Udayanganie may prove beneficial to students completing Senior Integrated Projects at K and in the College’s environmental economics and international trade courses, not to mention at other institutions. “One of the comments we got from reviewers mentioned that he could use models like these to teach students how to combine these policies and implement their own,” Udayanganie said. “That way we could convince environmental policy agencies, or the people who work them, to educate themselves on how to use those policies.”

“The problem we have in most of economic literature is that the models used are so abstract and so mathematically challenging that we can’t really use them at the undergraduate level, both in terms of economics and in mathematics,” Hultberg added. “One goal we had with this paper was to use the model that we teach in intermediate microeconomics, for example, a core course for our majors. That’s why Darshana and I are able to use these ideas in our courses.”

The publication date for their article has yet to be determined. Yet this was not the first project on which Hultberg and Udayanganie have combined their efforts, and don’t expect it to be their last.

“It motivates me to work with Patrik,” Udayanganie said. “We both like microeconomics and mathematical models, so it helped us to work together.”

“It’s more fun to work together,” Hultberg added. “The other people I work with are all around the world and we often work on things like educational policy, and when COVID hit, it took me away from what I really want to work on, which is international trade. This was a real opportunity for me to do the economics I enjoy doing.”

Fiske Guide to Colleges Credits K for Imperative Projects, Engaged Faculty

Fiske Guide to Colleges logo for 2023
The 2023 version of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges”
praises Kalamazoo College for its independent
scholarship opportunities, academic excellence,
experiential education efforts and
intercultural experiences.

Kalamazoo College again is featured in a global guide to institutions of higher education that has been trusted by students, families and guidance counselors for nearly 40 years, the Fiske Guide to Colleges

Edward B. Fiske was the New York Times education editor for 17 years. During that time, he thought college-bound students needed better information in selecting a college or university. He wrote the Fiske Guide to Colleges to help them and updated it annually with an editorial team. 

The guide now includes a selective, subjective and systematic look at more than 300 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and the UK along with indexes that break down schools by state; academic, social and quality-of-life ratings; financial aid availability and acceptance rates. 

In the 2023 version, available now, the publication says K students “pursue a liberal arts curriculum that includes language proficiency, a first-year writing seminar, sophomore and senior seminars, as well as a senior individualized project—directed research, a creative piece, or a traditional thesis—basically anything that caps off each student’s education in some meaningful way.” 

In addition to senior integrated projects promoting independent scholarship opportunities, the guide praises other tenets of the K-Plan, the College’s integrated approach to an excellent education, including: 

  • Academic excellence. The flexibility and rigor of K’s curriculum provides students with a customized academic experience. According to the guide, professors rate highly for their enthusiasm and accessibility while giving students the individual attention they need. 
  • Experiential education. Students connect classroom learning with real-world experience by completing career development internships or externships, participating in civic engagement and service-learning projects, and getting involved in social justice leadership work. 
  • International and intercultural experience. Students choose from 56 study abroad programs in 29 countries across six continents. The guide quotes a biology major as saying, “Kalamazoo College does study abroad so well that it seems ridiculous not to take advantage of this opportunity. They make it financially accessible and ensure that you won’t fall behind by going abroad.” 

“K’s academic terms may be fast-paced and the workload demanding, but students are given the flexibility to pursue their interests through individualized projects and off-campus exploration,” the publication says. “The result is a student body defined by open-minded, global citizens.” 

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.”