Newly unearthed diaries dating back at least 80 years are providing a fresh perspective on the Holocaust for a Kalamazoo College faculty member while she hopes to challenge how the world views its refugees.
Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of German Studies Kathryn Sederberg spent a month at the University of London in its Institute of Modern Languages Research. There, with the Miller Fellowship in Exile Studies, she sifted through thousands of passages from Jews who migrated away from Nazi territories in the 1930s and 40s.
“Being in the archives helps you think about the diary as a material object in a different way,” Sederberg said. “It meant something for people to have this physical book that they carried with them from Vienna to London, or from Berlin to London or New York. They were objects that tied them to home when they’d lost their home and lost family.”
Some of the diaries were written for the writers themselves, some were written with salutations that addressed future generations, and all can help readers better understand life in the moment of the Holocaust.
“People often think of diaries as being private documents,” Sederberg said. “But when we’re talking about Holocaust testimonies, I think people knew they were living through something historic, and often, they were writing for the future, whether it was for themselves to read later or for family members. I just came across a fascinating example of a man who writes to his future grandchildren. He just knew that this would be of interest to future generations. It’s also about preserving the memory and legacy of these individuals, not to romanticize them, but to see as whole persons who had you know, difficulties but also love stories, family drama, school drama, and all the things we identify with today.”
Apart from the individual lives of the writers, the diaries reflect a bigger picture of the Holocaust that goes beyond its most-addressed horrors.
“We usually think about Holocaust survivors as being survivors of the camps and ghettos and the Jews who survived in hiding,” Sederberg said. “These sources are written by the survivors of Nazi persecution. They survived and knew that they were surviving. But it’s also about loss and displacement, and it will help us understand more about diaspora and migration, what it meant to be a refugee, and how refugees understood themselves as refugees and as part of these different refugee communities.”
And yet the experience of reading such diaries offers layers of storytelling that textbooks and novels can’t communicate as the writers weren’t assured happy endings.
“When you’re reading diaries, there’s this tension because the writer doesn’t know how their life story is going to end,” Sederberg said. “A novelist or memoirist looks back on their life and is constructing a story. A diary writer doesn’t know if they’re going to survive. They don’t know how their story will end, and when you start reading it, there’s a similar kind of narrative tension to where you want to know what happens.”
Sederberg’s experience is leading to a sophomore seminar that will be offered this winter, Bearing Witness: Holocaust Literature and Testimony. She also expects the project will help her write a book. In the meantime, she has a couple of written articles in progress and will present this fall at the German Studies Association conference. However, she also hopes her project and others like hers will have significance for people beyond academia in addressing worldwide themes surrounding immigration and how refugees are understood or misunderstood.
“As we think about the American reaction to global issues and migration, I think it helps to hear these stories and think historically about what it has meant to be a refugee—to redefine these categories of who is granted asylum,” she said. “Americans didn’t understand who German refugees were. A lot of people didn’t understand that they were persecuted by the Nazis, and I think some of those similar misunderstandings continue when we think about who qualifies as a refugee or being granted asylum status. I think this helps us to better understand what kinds of situations people are fleeing.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
Four recent alumni of Kalamazoo College are receiving one of the highest honors the federal government provides in regard to scholarship and international exchange, as selectees for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Rebecca Chan ’22, Libby Burton ’22, Matthew Flotemersch ’20 and Kiernan Dean-Hall ’22 are among about 1,900 students, artists and young professionals who will represent the U.S. in about 140 countries for one academic year.
Chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential, students and recent alumni participate in the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program, which places English-teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools or universities overseas.
Since its inception in 1946, Fulbright has provided more than 380,000 participants with opportunities to exchange ideas and contribute to solutions to shared international concerns. The program is funded by an annual appropriation from Congress to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and managed through the U.S. Department of State.
K consistently has been identified in recent years as one of the country’s top-producing Fulbright small colleges. Here’s what K’s representatives plan to do abroad.
Rebecca Chan ’22
Chan, a theatre arts major at K, finished her degree requirements in winter 2022, allowing her to study abroad in Strabourg, France, this spring. As a Fulbright scholar, she will visit Taiwan.
“I was interested in Taiwan specifically because my paternal grandfather spent some years on the island as he left mainland China in the 1940s and later came to America,” Chan said. “Some of his siblings stayed in Taiwan and raised their families there, so at every family reunion, we discuss Taiwanese history, culture and politics. I’m interested in experiencing Taiwan for myself and connecting with my East Asian heritage.”
Chan will make her language skills her primary focus while she’s overseas.
“I took two years of Mandarin Chinese at K, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to use that language abroad,” she said. “I’d also like to better understand Taiwan’s complex history of colonization by various European and Asian nations. Because of my family’s history, I have received only a very one-sided account of the relationship between Taiwan and China and the debate over Taiwanese independence. Being there, talking to locals, and working in the schools will give me a much richer understanding of Taiwanese identity.”
Libby Burton ’22
Burton participated in study abroad as a senior in Erlangen, Germany, and will return to Germany as a Fulbright scholar, seeking an opportunity share her knowledge of philosophy and the humanities.
“The Fulbright will be a wonderful way for me to gain experience in the field and prepare me for graduate programs,” Burton said. “I also have a particular interest in German philosophy, so studying German has helped my understanding of the books I read. The program makes sense for me because I can practice German, deepen my understanding in my fields of interest, and gain experience as an educator.”
Matthew Flotemersch ’20
Flotemersch, a German major and philosophy minor at K, had a formative year of study abroad in Erlangen, Germany, in 2019 and was accepted into Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistant program in Hamburg, Germany, in 2020.
The Hamburg program was pushed back a year because of COVID-19, yet still provided a positive experience he finished this spring, leading to yet another opportunity as he will represent the U.S. this year in Innsbruck, Austria.
Flotemersch said he hopes to adjust to regional dialects, explore the country by train, ski and settle on a graduate program he will begin in 2023 while he’s in Austria.
Kiernan Dean-Hall ’22
Dean-Hall—a chemistry and German major, and physics and philosophy minor with a concentration in film and media studies—was among the K seniors who studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany, for the fall 2021 and winter 2022 terms. He will return to Germany on a Fulbright in the English Teaching Assistantship program.
“I sought a Fulbright because it sounded interesting, and like a good opportunity to broaden my horizons,” Dean-Hall said. “I expect to benefit from the lived experience of cultural exchange.”
Kalamazoo College has appointed 10 faculty members as endowed chairs, recognizing their achievements as professors. Endowed chairs are positions funded through the annual earnings from an endowed gift or gifts to the College. The honor reflects the value donors attribute to the excellent teaching and mentorship that occurs at K and how much donors want to see that excellence continue.
The honorees are:
Francisco Villegas, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership junior chair;
Leihua Weng, the most senior faculty member in Chinese;
Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt, an endowed chair in critical ethnic studies;
Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada, the Marlene Crandall Francis Endowed Chair in the Humanities;
Kathryn Sederberg, the Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Endowed Chair;
Regina Stevens-Truss, the Dorothy H. Heyl Senior Endowed Chair in Chemistry;
Blakely Tresca, the Harriet G. Varney Endowed Chair in Natural Science;
Amy Elman, the William Weber Endowed Chair in Social Science;
Autumn Hostetter, the Kurt D. Kaufman Endowed Chair; and
Richard Koenig, the Genevieve U. Gilmore Endowed Chair in Art.
Villegas, an assistant professor of sociology at K, was a sociology lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough from 2014 to 2016 before arriving in Kalamazoo.
Villegas specializes in the topics of immigration, race, citizenship, deportability and illegalization. He has a doctorate in sociology in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in Mexican American studies from San Jose University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social behavior from the University of California Irvine.
Kalamazoo County launched a community ID program in 2018, allowing residents to obtain it, including those otherwise unable to get a state ID, with Villegas serving as the ID advisory board chair. At this point, more than 3,000 residents have obtained one.
Weng, an assistant professor of Chinese language and literature, has taught at K beginning Chinese and advanced Chinese, as well as different content courses in English, such as women in China, urban China and Chinese films.
Weng’s research interest includes (trans-)nationalism and globalization in literature and films, traditions and modernity, and postmodern literary theories. She received her Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of South Carolina, a Master of Arts at Peking University, and a Bachelor of Arts at Zhejiang University. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Pacific Lutheran University before she came to K.
García-Weyandt, an assistant professor of critical ethnic studies, has taught courses at K in environmental studies such as Body, Land and Labor; and Plant Communication Kinship, as well as courses in critical ethnic studies such as Argument with the Given, a writing seminar exploring dreams, storytelling, poetry, art activism, memoir, and personal narratives as sources of knowledge and social change. She is coordinator and co-founder of Proyecto Taniuki (“Our Language Project”), a community-based project in Zitakua, Mexico.
In the Taniuki, she collaborates with urban indigenous communities in language revitalization efforts. Her research areas include indigenous knowledge systems, land pedagogy, urban indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous art and performances, and ontology. García-Weyandt’s ancestral homeland is in San Juan Sayultepec Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, México. She is a poeta, an immigrant, a first-generation college student, and former community college transfer student. She has a Ph.D. and master’s degree in culture and performance, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, all from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Maldonado-Estrada, an assistant professor of religion, is the author of Lifeblood of the Parish: Men and Catholic Devotion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an ethnography about masculinity and men’s devotional lives in a gentrified neighborhood in New York City. She teaches classes at K on religion and masculinity, urban religion, Catholics in the Americas and the religions of Latin America.
Outside K, Maldonado-Estrada is a co-chair of the Men and Masculinities Unit at the American Academy of Religion and is an editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Art, Objects, and Belief. She also was chosen for the 2020-2022 cohort of Young Scholars in American Religion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.
Earlier this year, Sacred Writes—a network of religion scholars committed to helping a broad global audience understand the significance of their work—selected Maldonado-Estrada to be one of 24 scholars from around the world receiving a Public Scholarship on Religion for 2021. Maldonado-Estrada received her doctorate in religion from Princeton University and her bachelor’s degree in sociology and religion from Vassar College.
Sederberg, a co-chair in the Department of German Studies, will be honored in a virtual ceremony November 20 by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) as one of five national recipients of the Goethe‐Institut/AATG Certificate of Merit. The honor recognizes her achievements in furthering the teaching of German in the U.S. through creative activities, innovative curriculum, successful course design and significant contributions to the profession.
Sederberg teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced German as well as Contemporary German Culture and the senior seminars on varying topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Stevens-Truss, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has taught at Kalamazoo College since 2000. She teaches Chemical Reactivity, Biochemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Infection: Global Health and Social Justice.
Research in her lab focuses testing a variety of compounds (peptides and small molecules) for antimicrobial activity. She is also the current director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant awarded to the College’s science division in 2018.
Stevens-Truss earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from the University of Toledo. She held two fellowships at the University of Michigan between 1993 and 1999, one of which was a lectureship in medicinal chemistry.
Tresca, an assistant professor of chemistry, has been at K since 2018. He’s a supermolecular chemist with additional research interests in organic chemistry. He co-leads the College’s annual Kalamazoo American Chemical Society networking event, allowing students to discuss chemistry careers with industry professionals.
Tresca holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the Molecular Foundry.
Elman, a professor of political science, has taught a variety of courses within the political science, women’s studies and Jewish studies departments. During her tenure at K, she has also been a visiting professor at Haifa University in Israel, Harvard University, SUNY Potsdam, Middlebury College, Uppsala University in Sweden and New York University.
Elman has received two Fulbright grants, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a grant from the Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Hebrew University. She has written three books: The European Union, Antisemitism and the Politics of Denial (2014); Sexual Equality in an Integrated Europe (2007); and Sexual Subordination and State Intervention: Comparing Sweden and the United States (1996). She also edited Sexual Politics and the European Union: The New Feminist Challenge (1996). She has a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from New York University.
Hostetter, a professor of psychology, has expertise in cognitive psychology—specifically, the psychology of language and spatial cognition. She has taught classes at K including Cognition, Experimental Research Methods, the Psychology of Language and Mind, and the first year seminar Harry Potter Goes to College.
She maintains an active research lab on campus exploring how we use our bodies to help us think and communicate. She provides many opportunities for Kalamazoo College students to participate in research, both as participants and as research assistants. Some recent publications have appeared in journals such as the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Psychological Research, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Teaching of Psychology, and the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. Many of her publications feature Kalamazoo College students and alumni as co-authors. Hostetter earned a bachelor’s degree from Berry College and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Koenig began teaching art and photography courses such as Digital Photography, Analog Photography, Alternative Photographic Processes and several seminars at K in 1998.
His fine art work, Photographic Prevarications, was shown in six one-person exhibits in as many years (from 2007 to 2012). Koenig’s long-term documentary project Contemporary Views Along the First Transcontinental Railroad spawned four articles (between 2014 and 2019). In 2020, Koenig collaborated with four others on a multi-media exhibit, Hoosier Lifelines: Environmental and Social Change Along the Monon, 1847-2020, which was shown this year at the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.
Koenig received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute and his Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is awarding Kalamazoo College a $500,000 grant through the American Rescue Plan to help offset financial losses incurred as a result of the pandemic.
In total, the NEH is giving $87.8 million to 300 cultural and educational institutions, 90 of which are colleges and universities.
“The American Rescue Plan recognizes that the cultural and educational sectors are essential components of the United States economy and civic life, vital to the health and resilience of American communities,” NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson said. “These new grants will provide a lifeline to the country’s colleges and universities, museums, libraries, archives, historical sites and societies, save thousands of jobs in the humanities placed at risk by the pandemic, and help bring economic recovery to cultural and educational institutions and those they serve.”
At K specifically, the grant will help fortify the College’s language programs. Enrollment in language courses has waned over the past year, in part because the pandemic affected study abroad opportunities. The money will support the hiring and retention of foreign language faculty and staff; sustain student interest in language programs; revitalize programs in Arabic, Hebrew and ancient Greek; provide faculty better opportunities for research; and bolster study abroad to ensure it remains affordable as it restarts this term.
Associate Provost Katie MacLean, who is an associate professor of Spanish, said the honor of receiving the grant underscores K’s reputation for the humanities and study abroad programs.
“Study abroad is among the most popular answers students provide when they’re asked, ‘Why did you choose K?’” MacLean said. She and Jessica Fowle—K’s director of grants, fellowships and research—submitted the grant proposal on the institution’s behalf while providing proof the emergency short-term funds would combat pandemic-related issues and add value rather than apply a temporary fix.
“As a liberal arts college, the vitality of the humanities is important to our institutional identity and languages have a symbiotic relationship with study abroad,” MacLean said. “To me, this is a lot of money for humanities programs, which shows how much of an honor this is. That’s exciting for us.”
Sederberg will receive the Goethe‐Institut/AATG Certificate of Merit for her achievements in furthering the teaching of German in the U.S. through creative activities, innovative curriculum, successful course design and significant contributions to the profession. Recipients each year are nominated by their peers.
“This is a great honor and I am glad to be recognized for my work,” she said. “I am grateful to the amazing community of German students here whose energy and enthusiasm motivate me as an educator. Teaching at K has enabled me to be creative, take risks, and try new things, like the ‘Babylon Berlin’ course designed around the hit TV series, or a unit on the forest with a field trip to the arboretum. It’s in part because of the culture at K that I have been able to experiment in my classes and develop interdisciplinary material with connections to gender studies, environmental studies or Jewish Studies. I really enjoy teaching in a small program where I can work with students from 101 to the advanced seminars, see their growth and even stay in touch with them as alumni.”
Sederberg teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced German as well as Contemporary German Culture and the senior seminars on varying topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and is one of five educators between high schools and colleges from around the country to earn the honor this year.
“With their dedication to excellence in German language instruction, these award recipients promote the transatlantic friendship between the U.S. and German‐speaking countries and foster the much-needed intercultural awareness so their students lead successful lives in a globalized world,” AATG President Doug Philipp said.
An additional group of students, whose interests could be connected with environmental opportunities, worked with the Center for Environmental Stewardship and Director Sara Stockwood.
“I think it’s been a valuable experience for everyone, even if they didn’t go on study abroad,” Stockwood said of the students who worked for organizations such as the Kalamazoo Watershed Council, the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association and Sarett Nature Center.
“The students I’ve talked to said they’ve wanted to get an internship before, they just weren’t sure how to make it fit in their academic plan,” she said. “But when this class came up it fit well and it matched their class schedule. It was a challenge for them to figure out how to work virtually, and some of them felt a little lost at first, yet they gained the skills they needed to figure it out. I think that will help them in their classes and future jobs, especially if they have virtual components.”
Amanda Dow, a biology major, worked with Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association (MLSA), which is a statewide nonprofit that unites individuals; lake, stream and watershed associations; organizations; and corporations that share an interest the preserving inland lakes and streams for generations to come. Her work experience included writing newsletter articles highlighting the organization’s virtual convention this year, contributing to its printed articles, and reformatting and updating several brochures.
“I have a background in writing so this was a good chance for me to practice in different mediums,” Dow said. “I wrote a review of the convention sessions along with a biography of myself for the newsletter. They also come out with a newspaper and the biggest chunk of my internship went to updating and reformatting their brochures. It helped a lot that when I first got there I could choose what I wanted to do.”
Andrew Wright, a German and biology major, said he felt a little directionless with where he wanted to apply his majors professionally after graduation, until he interned with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. The organization aims to protect, preserve and promote the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries for current area residents and future generations.
“Through developing a new interactive digital dashboard with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council members, my work will help users see the different types of chemical contaminants in the Kalamazoo area and how they affect the types of fish here,” Wright said. “Following the motto of the Watershed, we want to make that information as accessible as possible so people can learn how their communities’ ecosystems have been impacted. The Kalamazoo River has unfortunately suffered its fair share of PCB runoff from paper mills and oil spills, and we want to create ways for people to be knowledgeable and be mindful of how we affect our surrounding environments.”
Natalie Barber, a biology major and psychology minor, joined Wright in working for the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. She researched fresh water mussels, which filter small organic particles such as bacteria and algae out of lakes and streams, naturally purifying them. Part of that environmental research involved interviewing Daelyn Woolnough, a Central Michigan University biology faculty member and freshwater mussels expert, leading to website content and social media posts for the watershed council.
With K’s academic schedule, it was important to Barber that she could undertake the internship as a part of her term and she hopes more students at the College will have the same opportunity.
“It’s important we know the effects of global warming and climate change and how they threaten mussels,” Barber said. “We especially have those threats in Kalamazoo because we had the paper mills that put all the PCBs in the water, plus we had the 2010 oil spill. Just knowing about those bigger issues, and also the lesser-known issues like invasive species, which is a big deal to freshwater mussels. Things the general public might not realize are such a big deal like moving boats from lake to lake without cleaning them, that’s important information we should share so we can protect the organisms within our areas. I felt like I was doing something positive toward my career goals. I think these internships should be offered every term because I thought mine was that useful.”
To conclude the class and their environmental internships, each student provided a final visual presentation with screenshots and pictures from their projects. Stockwood said students each had about three minutes to present what they did, what they learned and why it matters.
“They took it very seriously and it was fun because the students didn’t fully know what everybody else was doing,” she said. “They found a lot of similarities in their experiences over time with being lost in the beginning, independently working and having some ownership by the second half of their projects. I hope something like this will continue. It’s important to recognize that it’s not study abroad, but I think the experience was valuable, and I think the students feel it was valuable, too.”
When Kalamazoo College students began their international immersion experiences this academic year, the Center for International Programs (CIP) didn’t expect a global pandemic to change anyone’s plans. Regardless, a once-in-a-century historical challenge emerged.
“This is my first worldwide phenomenon,” said CIP Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft in discussing COVID-19, an illness that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. “Most of what we’ve worked with in the past has been country or region specific. This is the first time we had multiple programs shut down at once.”
As the seriousness of the pandemic took shape, K was lucky. No students were sickened abroad and no immersion itineraries were cut unreasonably short as they were halted. On K’s campus, international students affected by travel bans were provided residence hall rooms, even as the College took steps to empty campus and implement social-distancing guidelines.
Still, students who visited countries such as China, Germany and Spain, and international students who remained in Kalamazoo, have stories to tell. And if you’ve wondered how the pandemic has affected them in their travels, keep reading.
Days of Uncertainty in Beijing
Maya Hernandez ’21 and Daniel Mota-Villegas ’21 were among four K students studying at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, this winter. Before coronavirus emerged, “Honestly it was amazing,” said Hernandez, an East Asian studies major. “Everything was super affordable. It was fun to go out and explore the capital.”
In late January, their sixth month of a planned nine-month immersion, that began to change as word developed of coronavirus, and its presence in Wuhan.
“I figured it was like the flu,” Hernandez said. “But within the span of a week and a half, concern increased.”
Although Wuhan is more than 700 miles from Beijing, professors in the capital were warning students not to visit enclosed and crowded public spaces, traffic was dying down, and fewer children were playing outside. Masks were commonly seen from the start because of pollution in the city, yet they were becoming more prevalent. Hotels and beaches even began to close, forcing Mota-Villegas and Hernandez to cancel plans to visit another city.
“After that there were check points around the school,” said Mota-Villegas, a political science major studying U.S.-China relations and how they affect Taiwan. “They closed the school’s gates and there were security guards around. We couldn’t leave campus without direct permission.”
Fear emerged without reliable, consistent communication through tools such as the Internet, which is problematic in China, and with a 12-hour time difference from Kalamazoo hindering communication with the College. Should they go home and risk not returning? Should they make logistical preparations such as closing their bank accounts? Should they stay and risk not being able to leave with travel restrictions developing around the world?
Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, the CIP was monitoring the U.S. Department of State guidelines, which had yet to focus on Bejing. Partner organizations in China—which had not yet cancelled programs in other parts of the country—sent updates, and CIP was gathering additional information from other U.S. institutions that had students in China. The situation was fast-moving and fluid. Finally, Capital Normal cancelled its global programs for the next term on Jan. 31, leading to a phone call to students from the CIP. It was a call telling the K students that CIP was bringing them home.
“Once we heard we were going home, that was the best feeling in the world,” Mota-Villegas said. “We needed that phone call. It made me realize again that K would take care of us. We felt supported again and we celebrated.”
Similar Tales of Two Cities in Europe
Although news was spreading of the coronavirus in Europe, two K students who were there until March said they initially weren’t worried about it, and they were surprised to come home.
In Badajoz, Spain, Nick Stein ’21 was studying at the Extremadura University in January. Several of his K peers were leaving after attending their program for its scheduled six months. Stein, though, was planning to stay an additional term.
“I first heard about coronavirus as everyone else was leaving,” he said. “Life was pretty normal until maybe March 10.”
Stein had been attending classes and teaching English when he made a trip to an art festival in Madrid. It was about that time when people started cancelling trips and there was talk of Extremadura University calling off its term.
Then, the president of Spain said the country would close borders and restrict travel.
“The CIP was good about saying, ‘You can stay or you can come home,’” Stein said. “They were always good about letting me make the decision. But when the president said there would be action, I knew that was my time to leave. In three hours, I had found a flight. I got on a train to Madrid and slept at the airport on my way home.”
Coming back so suddenly was the only thing he would change about his experience.
“It was surreal in a certain sense,” Stein said. “It’s difficult to come back when you’re speaking a different language for a while. It felt like living in a dream for two months. I was teaching English to families and making relationships when I suddenly had to return. It was a surprise.”
A similar story developed in Erlangen, Germany, for Jennalise Ellis ’21.
Ellis is a chemistry and German double major at K. When she attended Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, she took mostly German-language courses, but blended her majors by taking a didactic chemistry course and working as an assistant in an organic chemistry lab. She was planning on staying three more months when President Trump planned a travel ban from Europe into the U.S., and countries neighboring Germany began closing their borders.
“I was shocked when I found out that I was actually going to have to move back to the U.S., because I was hopeful that the severity of the pandemic would subside by the start of the summer semester in mid-April,” she said. “I was also sad that I had to say goodbye to people and the city I got to know so well. The hardest part was that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare to leave Erlangen.”
It was an experience that has left her longing to go back some day.
“I definitely want to return,” Ellis said. “I am considering going to graduate school in Germany.”
An International Student Stays
When K students received the notification about distance learning this term, Xiu Cai ’20, an international student from China, was concerned. In addition to feeling frustrated with missing the spring events of her senior year, she worried that the travel restrictions, combined with the residence halls closing, would leave her homeless. Fortunately, the CIP was there to help.
“We received some emails that said people from China and certain places in Europe would not have to leave because of the travel bans,” Cai said. “When I talked with CIP, they emphasized those emails guaranteed me a place. They were supportive and helpful. I’ve appreciated everything they do.”
Since, Cai has attended distance learning courses from her residence hall, eaten meals at the Hicks Student Center, appreciated Mail Center services and exercised by walking through campus. She also is grateful for her professors who gave support, Dining Services who provided her with meals, and the Student Health Center, which provided masks when she need them.
“I feel like being here now is a special experience, for me at least,” she said. “Not everyone would have a chance to experience the same thing in their lives. I’m grateful to the school for allowing me to stay here.”
Still at hand, however, is the issue of getting home after graduation. Cai has tried five times to schedule flights home for June after the Conferral of Degrees ceremony, and all five flights have been cancelled. As of now, she’s uncertain when she will go home and see her family.
“I video chat with family almost every day,” Cai said. When coronavirus emerged, “I was spending all my time worrying about my family. Now, they’re worried about me.”
Regardless, Cai said this experience, if anything, is only encouraging her to travel more.
“The coronavirus, to me, is random,” she said. “You never know what will happen in the next second in life. If you have the chance, go wherever you want.”
Moving forward, students who want to study abroad may need to consider what the “new normal” may be as the pandemic runs its course.
“I would think about what my expectations for travel might be and how we meet our new reality,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I know many of our students who go to Europe, for example, love to travel. What would it mean if you’re in Spain and can’t go to France? That means you can still get to know different regions of Spain very well. You can go to art museums. You can find something that is interesting to you, and be flexible enough to achieve it.”
Wiedenhoeft also is encouraging optimism that student immersion opportunities will stay an important part of the K-Plan.
“There are certain regions of the world that will recover first,” she said. “We need to do what we can to maximize opportunities in those regions. The relationships we have with our partners will be very important in those plans. I think our relationships will be stronger because we’ve been in frequent contact.”
In addition, “We want to encourage folks not to be disheartened,” she said. “We genuinely believe we will engage with the world again and that they will engage with us. It will take time, but it will not be like this forever.”
A social media meme circulating of the late children’s TV star Mr. Rogers is reminding people to “look for the helpers” in a crisis. When that crisis is COVID-19, which has forced Kalamazoo College to switch from in-person to distance learning this spring, those helpers for students are K faculty and staff.
Distance learning, defined as cooperative educational experiences between people physically separated, is uncharted territory at most liberal arts institutions. That includes K, which prides itself on face-to-face interactions between students and faculty, and personalized experiences. Yet while students adjust, optimistic and dedicated faculty are ensuring that learning opportunities will proceed smoothly when the term starts in April.
Regardless of a student’s need—whether it’s technology access, academic requirements, concern over tutoring and office hours, or something unexpected—faculty want students to know their professors are eager to provide support and direction, and ensure a breadth of educational experiences true to the liberal arts.
Jeff Bartz, K’s Kurt D. Kaufman Professor of Chemistry, said he and his colleagues are communicating regularly with tools such as Slack, an instant messaging app, while reaching out to students through email and social media. One recent tweet that included a picture of chemistry faculty dressed as Alice in Wonderland characters for a costume contest said: “Hey, Kalamazoo College chemists. This group may be a bunch of characters, but we’ll help you get through this.”
Bartz is designing a physical chemistry course in two-week modules that will address topics such as climate change, the hole in the ozone layer, and energy and fuel efficiency.
“The hard part for a chemist is that laboratory work is a big part of what we do,” Bartz said. “We’ve considered doing laboratories here and pushing out the data to students. We might set up students for experiments where they already have the material at home, or send them the material they need through the mail. I think my colleagues are doing a really good job figuring out those things.
Assistant Professor Kathryn Sederberg said the creativity ongoing in the Chemistry Department is also common in the German Department. She regularly teaches courses from first-year seminars and beginning German to intermediate German and contemporary German culture.
“We’re thinking, for example, that students might pair up and have video chats in German using the apps they already use to communicate with distant family and friends,” Sederberg said. “We will also rely on the platforms we have been using for years as a complement to classroom work, like discussion boards.”
Sederberg also is drawing inspiration from faculty at other colleges and universities.
“We are reading and sharing articles about best practices for quickly transforming courses into online formats,” Sederberg said. “Distance learning won’t replace the face-to-face instruction we do so well at K, and part of what makes our program so strong is the work students do with each other on campus. However, this pandemic is an unprecedented global crisis, and we will get through it together. And we will really celebrate when we’re back together on campus in Kalamazoo!”
The move to distance learning in many courses will benefit from pedagogical innovations a number of K instructors have been moving toward in recent years, such as those of Math Professor Rick Barth.
“My spring course is a statistics course that has, over the last decade, been redeveloped with lots of digital content and remote learning, sometimes referred to as a flipped classroom,” Barth said.
However, as the Assistant Provost for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Barth is aware students are concerned about whether they will receive the same peer tutoring that they would in person. But Math Department Student Advisor Maddie Ward and Math-Physics Center (MPC) Peer Instructor Ben Behrens will continue serving other students.
“All the consultants know how many people depend on the MPC for help in their classes, and we will do whatever we can to help everyone with online learning,” Behrens said.
“Our big task is to imagine how we’ll each pivot to bring our accumulated experience to help students learn without face-to-face classes for a time,” Barth said. “In my view, this may well be the singular defining challenge of our careers as teachers. During this time, I’m glad to be at K with wonderful and supportive faculty colleagues. It brings me great optimism to imagine this special group of scholars and teachers bringing our best to this challenging new task.”
Students and faculty will also be supported by Information Services staff such as Education Technology Specialist Josh Moon. Moon helps faculty integrate tools such as Microsoft Teams, a virtual space for chats, audio calls and video calls, and Moodle, an online classroom environment, into learning plans.
“I have a strong hunch that weeks three through five [of the term] will be much easier for everyone than maybe the first two” in the term, Moon said. “However, students will probably find that this helps them develop communication skills that will benefit them in their careers.”
All three professors said the key for students will be maintaining individual communication through tools such as email, and being patient with each other and faculty and staff this term.
“This is a spring of gracious living,” Bartz said. “But it could be an opportunity for us as faculty to connect with students even better than when they’re so busy with all the things they’re normally doing on campus. It’s going to require more time on my end than normal, but it’s because I care a lot about the education of my students.”