Five Faculty Earn Tenure

Five Kalamazoo College faculty members from the Spanish, religion, mathematics, computer science and East Asian studies departments have been awarded tenure along with promotion to associate professor.

The tenure milestone recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service to the College, and signifies its confidence in the contributions these faculty will make throughout their careers. The Board of Trustees-approved tenure recipients are:

Assistant Professor of Spanish Ivett Lopez Malagamba

López Malagamba currently serves as a co-chair in the Department of Spanish Language and Literatures. In her time at K, she has taught beginning through intermediate language courses, and advanced courses on Latin American literature and visual culture topics including indigeneity, contemporary women writers, fiction and documentary film, visual culture practices, and representations of nature. In fall 2019, she took 27 students to the Dominican Republic as part of K’s first faculty-lead experiential study abroad program.

Lopez Malagamba’s research centers on 20th– and 21st-century Latin American literature and visual culture. Her publications explore questions around exclusionary social and political practices and discourses in contexts of armed conflict, migration, and forced displacement. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Peninsular and Latin American literatures and Latin American Studies, and her Ph.D. in Hispanic language and literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. López Malagamba’s experience extends to the non-profit sector. Before earning her Ph.D., she worked with Latinx youth in Southern California facilitating educational programs to prepare them for college. López Malagamba sees her work at K as a continuation of her commitment to help youth access and successfully navigate higher education.     

Assistant Professor of Spanish Ivett Lopez Malagamba (middle) with Spanish 101 students.

Marlene Crandall Francis Assistant Professor of Religion Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada

Maldonado-Estrada serves as the editor of the journal Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief, a co-chair of the men and masculinities unit at the American Academy of Religion, and an editorial board member of the journal American Religion.

At K, Maldonado-Estrada has taught courses on religion and masculinity, Catholics in the Americas, urban religion, and religions of Latin America. As an ethnographer, her research includes focuses on material culture, contemporary Catholicism, and gender and embodiment. In 2021, Sacred Writes—a network of religion scholars committed to helping a broad global audience understand the significance of their work—24 fellows from around the world to train in public scholarship on religion. She was also chosen as one of the Young Scholars in American Religion at IUPUI’s Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture.

Maldonado-Estrada 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 also is working on projects about the technological and sensory history of prayer, and Latinx art and religion in New York City. She received a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

Tenure recipient Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada
Marlene Crandall Francis Assistant Professor of Religion Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Stephen Oloo

Oloo served K as a visiting assistant professor from 2015-2017 before earning his current position in which he teaches a variety of pure math classes such as Calculus I, II and III, Number Theory, Real Analysis and Abstract Algebra.

Beyond teaching he has served in various roles by directing the Math and Physics Center, being in charge of the George Kitchen Memorial Lecture, and running the math club MathletiKs.

Oloo’s Ph.D. work was in topology of algebraic varieties and geometric representation theory. He is currently applying his knowledge of geometry and representation theory in a collaboration with physics professor Dave Wilson in which they are studying how viruses change shapes as they undergo maturation. He holds mathematics degrees including a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College, and a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Tenure recipient Stephen Oloo
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Stephen Oloo

Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sandino Vargas-Perez

Before arriving at K, Vargas-Perez worked as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University, where he earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic.

Vargas-Perez has taught courses at K in data structures, algorithms, parallel computing, computing for environmental science, object-oriented programming, and programming in Java and web development. His research interests include high-performance computing, parallel and distributed algorithms, computational genomics, and data structures and compression.

Tenure recipient Sandino Vargas-Perez
Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sandino Vargas-Perez

Chinese Endowed Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Leihua Weng

Weng has taught first-year Chinese, advanced Chinese, Women in China, 20th Century Urban China, and Chinese Films at K. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Pacific Lutheran University before joining the College.

Weng holds a bachelor’s degree from Zhejiang University, a master’s degree from Peking University and a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. Her research interests have spanned the receptions of classical texts, modern and late imperial Chinese literature, and gender studies. She is currently engaged in research on late imperial Chinese literature and is working on a book about the reception of Plato in modern China.

Chinese Endowed Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Leihua Weng
Chinese Endowed Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Leihua Weng

Math Meets Poetry to Form Distinctive Senior Project

A liberal arts education from Kalamazoo College gives students a chance to expand their academic interests with great opportunities to turn hobbies into academic involvement. A great instance of that practice is Lizzy Rottenberk ’24, who is double majoring in mathematics and English with a focus on poetry.

In high school, Rottenberk was sure that mathematics was her main academic focus, while she considered poetry to be her hobby. That changed after she took classes through the English department at the end of her first year at K.

“Personally, writing poems has always represented a good way to self-reflect,” Rottenberk said. “It’s a passion that allows me to see how I am feeling and learn more about myself.”

In fact, for her Senior Integrated Project (SIP), she is merging her two passions of math and poetry. Together, they form “Academic Tangents,” where Rottenberk integrates calculus theorems with poetry structures and contexts. The project consists of reflective poems related to academic struggles with five different math concepts represented: functions, limits, derivatives, sequences and series, and anti-derivatives.

All those collections of poems start with a definition of the theorems, followed by a free-verse poem that redefines the theorem in a poetic way. Finally, Rottenberk incorporates poems representing the theorem in the structure and context. The following is an excerpt from a poem titled Connected and Continuous in her SIP:

Editor’s note: This story was written by Blagoja Naskovski ’24. He serves as a social media ambassador for the College Marketing and Communications team. 

Lizzy Rottenberk Abroad
Lizzy Rottenberk ’24 is merging her two passions of math and poetry.

“Connected and Continuous” by Elizabeth Rottenberk

6:00 am
eyes widen
brain begins animation
embarking towards the serene kitchen
breakfast smells of sweet warmth and motivation
pecan almond syrup comforting slightly chewy waffles
leading to a freshly organized backpack filled with unlearned trig
to be explored when the sun peaks above tree lines through a wired window
the window that holds foreheads until listening and comprehension become equal
wielding a pencil like the sword of King Arthur as he is who you traveled to learn about
through the roughest of puddles, more ferocious of red lights but nevertheless, you arrived
to hear the educators chant the literary devices and warn us about math’s greatest complexities
and experience numerous “ah ha’s” that fuel flights into deeper TOK and AOK conversations
until exit from the essential castle known as the education system has been granted
headed home your mind becomes lured into a rooted nap as it shifts to autopilot
the time for learning discontinues as the sun hides behind the tree line
walking under the threshold to the kitchen where delicious
satisfying-smelling food needs your dining
fuel in the vessel that travels distances
to calculate and conquer problems
and write essays in MLA
eyes closed
6:00 am

Rottenberk is active not only in academics, but also in many on-campus and off-campus initiatives. She currently works as a consultant at the Math and Physics Center, where she provides academic peer support to K students for advanced math classes. Moreover, she is the captain for the softball team and president of the Hacky Sack student organization. She is also a First-Year Experience mentor, which allows her to guide students while they adapt to new academic environments.

Off-campus, Rottenberk is part of Sustainable Living Guide, an organization that provides educational support and resources for healthy and sustainable living. Her commitment to this organization includes organizing virtual classes for sustainability, writing for social media and a website, and conducting research on climate action, zero-waste lifestyle and other topics.

“Being proactive makes me feel better and more productive,” Rottenberk said. “While participating in many on-campus initiatives, I feel that that I am not only contributing to my personal and professional growth, but also to my community.”

Rottenberk said K’s liberal arts education has empowered her to push her boundaries while allowing her to apply creative thinking in her academics. Two of her most influential classes at K have been ENG210: Intermediate Poetry Workshop, where she expanded her knowledge of how to write poems, and MATH320: Real Analysis.

“I would encourage students to be independent with established critical thought,” she said. “More importantly, I strongly suggest students utilize every opportunity that K classes offer when it comes to critical thinking.”

Math and poetry expert Elizabeth Rottenberk in a Kalamazoo College softball uniform
Lizzy Rottenberk ’24 is a captain for K’s softball team.

K’s Banner Year Elates Faculty, NSF Fellows

Kalamazoo College STEM-related academic departments are celebrating a banner year as the overall number of current students and alumni receiving National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellowships reaches four, the most since 2016.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding students who pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. A five-year fellowship covers three years of financial support, including an annual stipend and a cost-of-education allowance to attend an institution along with access to professional-development opportunities.

About 2,000 applicants are offered a fellowship per NSF competition in fields such as chemistry, biology, psychology, physics and math. This is the first year since 2013 that two current K students, Claire Kvande ’23 and Mallory Dolorfino ’23, have earned awards. Two alumni also have earned fellowships, Cavan Bonner ’21 and Angel Banuelos ’21.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is a highly competitive program that is only awarded to about 16% of the applicants, who represented more than 15,000 undergraduates and graduate students across all STEM fields,” Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Chemistry Blakely Tresca said. “Approximately 2,500 awards were offered this year across all STEM fields and the vast majority of them go to students at large research universities and Ivy League schools. It is rare to see more than one or two awards at an undergraduate-focused college, particularly at a small liberal arts school like K. It is exceptional for schools in the GLCA (Great Lakes Colleges Association) to have one award in a year, and four awards is a truly outstanding accomplishment for these students.”

Claire Kvande ’23

Kvande has been a double major in physics and chemistry with minors in math and French at K. She credits faculty members such as Dow Distinguished Professor of Natural Science Jan Tobochnik and Associate Professor of Physics David Wilson, along with a wide range of courses, for preparing her to receive an NSF fellowship.

“I like the nitty gritty of sitting down and figuring out how to approach a problem within physics even though it’s often hard,” she said. “I really like work that is grounded in real-world problems and it’s part of why I’m interested in the subfield of condensed matter. There’s a lot that stands to be applied to technologies that I think could improve our world and help a lot of people.”

Kvande will attend the University of Washington this fall, where she plans to extend her Senior Integrated Project (SIP) work, which examined how charge-density waves relate to superconductivity within condensed matter.

“Superconductivity is a tantalizing physics concept,” she said. “If we could realize superconductivity at room temperature, it would allow us to do a lot with energy saving and revolutionize how we use electricity. There are schools of thought that say charge-density waves would be helpful in achieving that and others that say it would be hurtful. Since we really don’t know how superconductivity works, this is worth investigating so we can hopefully better understand this powerful phenomenon.”

NSF fellow Claire Kvande presenting her SIP
Claire Kvande ’23 will attend graduate school at the University of Washington as a National Science Foundation fellow.

Mallory Dolorfino ’23

Dolorfino, a computer science and math double major, also will attend the University of Washington, where they will pursue a doctorate in math.

“I didn’t really like math until I came to K,” Dolorfino said. “I took calculus in high school and I was just not going to take any more in college until one of my senior friends told me when I was a first-year student to take linear algebra. I took that and Calculus 3 online during the first COVID term and I just kept doing math, so I switched my major. It’s not like other subjects because you can work for hours and not get anything done. That’s frustrating at times, but it’s fun to understand it enough to prove things logically.”

Dolorfino credits several faculty members for their growth and success at K, leading to their NSF opportunity. They include Tresca, who helped students keep track of their NSF application timelines and materials; Associate Professor of Mathematics Michele Intermont, who provided letters of recommendation and application assistance for research opportunities and graduate school; and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Stephen Oloo, who provided invaluable feedback regarding their research proposal and many conversations about math.

Dolorfino remains in contact with a professor they worked with in a math-focused study abroad program in Budapest. The two of them conducted a monthlong research project in algebraic number theory, which is a foundation in applications such as encryption and bar codes. Their NSF application proposes group theory work, which is what she based some research on last summer at Texas State University. They hope their NSF work will help them become a college professor one day. “There are a lot of math institutions on the West Coast and specifically in the Northwest, so I will have really good connections there,” said Dolorfino, who agreed the award is an honor. “I was grateful for the people at K who helped me apply.”

NSF fellow Mallory Dolorfino
Mallory Dolorfino ’23 will attend graduate school at the University of Washington as an NSF fellow.

Cavan Bonner ’21

Bonner has spent the past two years working as a research staff member in industrial and organizational psychology at Purdue University. His NSF fellowship will take him to another Big Ten school.

“My area of research involves personality development and how personality changes over the lifespan,” he said. “It’s a pretty small sub field and there are only a few doctoral programs where you can study the topic with an expert. The University of Illinois is one of them.”

Bonner further hopes the fellowship will propel his career toward a tenure-track job at a research university. He said K helped prepare him well for that trajectory through a broad range of subjects, not only in psychology, but in adjacent fields such as sociology and statistics. Bonner also credits his experience working as a research assistant for Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of Psychology Gary Gregg, and Associate Professor of Psychology Brittany Liu for training him in skills that he frequently uses in his research work after graduation. 

“I was drawn to personality psychology because it provides an integrative framework to study many of the research questions I have about human development, aging and change over time,” Bonner said. “My SIP and research assistant experiences at K helped me realize that I could address these questions from a personality perspective, but my professors also exposed me to so many other fields and perspectives that inform my research. I primarily identify as a personality and developmental psychologist, but ultimately I hope that this fellowship helps me contribute to the broader science of aging and development.”

Portrait of Cavan Bonner
Cavan Bonner ’21 will attend the University of Illinois as an NSF fellow.

Angel Banuelos ’21

Banuelos, a biology major and anthropology/sociology minor at K, is in his second year at the University of Wisconsin, where he said he studies genetics—specifically the construction of the vertebrate brain and face—under an amazing mentor, Professor Yevgenya Grinblat.

“Live beings are built by cells that are informed by DNA,” Banuelos said. “At the beginning of embryonic development, the cells split into groups. One of those groups is called the neural crest cells. Those cells go on to contribute to a whole bunch of things such as pigment cells in the skin, and cartilage and bones in the face. My project is trying to understand how neural crest cells contribute to stabilizing the very first blood vessels of the developing eye.”

Ultimately, when his graduate work is finished, he would like to steer his career towards education.

NSF fellow Angel Banuelos in the lab
Angel Banuelos ’21, a newly-named NSF fellow, is in his second year of graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.

“I would like to bring research opportunities to people who don’t have higher education experience,” Banuelos said. “I would imagine starting with programs for middle schoolers, then high schoolers and adult learners. I want to be part of research addressing community problems and conducted by the people who live there.”

Banuelos credits inspiration for his career goals to the many mentors he had at K. Natalia Carvalho-Pinto, former director of the intercultural center, and Amy Newday, who provided guidance in food and farming justice, served as role models for applying theory to meet material needs.

“In my NSF application, I described meeting community needs as a central component of my scholarship,” he said. “Natalia and Amy are people who literally fed me while I was at K. They saw the student and the human. They handed me books, handed me plates, even welcomed my family. During a very difficult transition to grad school, they were there for me. When I’m a professor, I want to be like them. I’m grateful for the growth opportunities I had at K through the Intercultural Center and food and farming.”

‘It doesn’t happen every year’

Faculty members as a whole across STEM departments are taking great pride in these K representatives earning fellowships as it speaks to the quality of students at the College and their studies, especially as the number of recipients stands out.

“At K, it is exciting when even a single student wins a fellowship, and it certainly doesn’t happen every year,” Professor of Physics Tom Askew said. “It’s special to have four in one year.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those advantages included the opportunity to learn from Smith. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From K to Kenya: Three Unite 8,000 Miles Away at UNICEF

Three K Alumnae at in front of a UNICEF poster in Kenya
Annika Rigole ’04, visiting international program alumna Sharon Musee and Paloma Clohossey
‘11 are three with Kalamazoo College connections who all work about 8,000 miles from campus
at UNICEF in Kenya.

At Kalamazoo College, international immersion and study abroad offers students opportunities to delve deep into other cultures. Along the way, they develop knowledge and skills that parlay into future careers and often form meaningful personal relationships with others around the world.

Such is the case for Paloma Clohossey ‘11, visiting international program alumna Sharon Musee and Annika Rigole ’04. Although each of them had a distinctive road in finding their way to Kalamazoo College, all three have succeeded in journeys that have taken them professionally to UNICEF in Kenya. It might seem amazing that three alumnae from a small liberal arts and sciences institution such as K all ended up at the same employer nearly 8,000 miles away. However, it makes sense that UNICEF is a desirable destination when one considers the College’s connections with foreign study and service learning.

UNICEF, originally called the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in full, is now the United Nations Children’s Fund, an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.

The organization was established in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II to help children and young people whose lives were at risk no matter what role their country had played in the war. In cooperation with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and others, UNICEF works to advance and protect children’s rights while providing health care, immunizations, nutrition, access to safe water and sanitation services, education, protection and emergency relief.

‘You’re the Best Female Student in Your Class’

Of the three with K connections, Musee is the only one originally from Kenya. She first attended the University of Nairobi when she began her higher education pursuits, a time that revealed her limited world experience, she said. She didn’t know there was such a thing as an exchange program that would allow her to study in the United States until she got a call from the university’s Registrar’s Office, requesting an appointment.

Musee was apprehensive about the meeting, yet her fears were soon quelled.

“It was within walking distance, so I walked over and they said, ‘do you know why we called you here?’” Musee said. “I said, ‘no, what did I do?’ They said, ‘Yes, you’ve done things, but they’re why we think you’re the best female student in your class.’”

Her recognition as an accomplished student meant Musee was empowered to attend college in the U.S. through an exchange program, and as luck would have it, the program brought her to K.

“I say it was lucky because it wasn’t something I was working for,” she said. “I was working hard to get good grades, but I was not expecting to go to K.”

Today, Musee is a partnerships and resources mobilizations officer who supports UNICEF in cultivating new public partnerships and managing its existing public partnerships.

“Being at K exposed me to a lot to multicultural settings, so I was meeting people that don’t have the same background as I do,” Musee said. “When I left K, I went back to the University of Nairobi, I graduated, and almost immediately got a job in the public sector. I kept traveling in the region. It was very easy for me to fit in if I went into Somalia or into South Sudan. If I went to speak to donors who would be people of a different race or a different culture of a different color, I would say it was very natural for me to fit in as opposed to before K. It came naturally for me as a result of K.”

‘They Immediately Bought My Plane Ticket for Me to Go Visit’

Clohossey, an English and psychology double major from California, first learned of K when her parents read about it in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and encouraged her to visit as a result.

“When I say encouraged, I mean they immediately bought my plane ticket for me to go visit and I’m grateful to this day for all their support,” Clohossey said. “I thought there was no way I would go to college at a place called Kalamazoo. But as soon as I stepped foot on the campus, I remember having an intuitive feeling that it was going to be the place for me.”

Clohossey chose to study abroad in Africa and selected Kenya through a process of elimination. Her study abroad cohort’s visit at the University of Nairobi turned out to be when she would meet Musee—before Musee had ever arrived at K.

When Musee’s life path did curve toward K, the two became friends and they participated together in College Singers. In fact, Clohossey said their relationship makes them feel more like sisters and Musee agreed.

“We share a lot,” Musee said. “We go for random lunches. I know that if I need something quickly, I can reach out to Paloma offline—outside of the office or within the office—and I know that she’s got me. This is the sisterhood I feel knowing that we went to K.”

Clohossey says she splits her time between supporting regional program planning and regional knowledge management efforts for UNICEF.

“These functions involve things like supporting UNICEF’s annual work planning, monitoring and reporting, as well as ensuring that UNICEF is capturing, documenting, organizing and using knowledge to ensure we’re as effective as we can be as we pursue our goal of achieving results for children and protecting their rights,” Clohossey said.

The connections she has with colleagues like Musee is a big part of what makes the job special.

“Meeting again was like going back 10 years,” Clohossey said. “We were super happy to see each other.”

‘K Is Such a Special Place’

After her years as a mathematics and economics and business double major at K, Rigole—originally from Belgium and a Michigander since age 10—served in AmeriCorps where she helped nonprofits and government agencies in the southeastern U.S. alongside a team of about 10 people.

In starting her career, she embraced a passion for nurturing education. Through work with an international educational exchange organization, then grad school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and subsequent work with NGOs in Malawi and Zambia, she helped improve access to quality education and skill-building opportunities, particularly for young girls.

“Education has always meant so much to me because I love learning and it has been so formative in my life,” Rigole said. “It was important to me that I could help others have similar opportunities.”

When she looked for a career shift toward the end of her time in Zambia, she found UNICEF. Rigole worked with UNICEF in New York for two years as a consultant strengthening monitoring, evaluation and research in education before applying for her position at the regional office in Kenya.

“As a regional office, we provide technical support to our country offices,” Rigole said. “In particular, I focus on strengthening data systems within education, and the use of data to inform decision making. It’s about having data and research speak to policy, for example so governments can better understand the differences between districts or provinces and how they’re doing in terms of equity and quality, or can learn from how some schools perform better than others.”

Rigole didn’t know Clohossey or Musee when she started at UNICEF, but that changed at a July 4 holiday barbecue.

“I didn’t know that many people yet, but I’d been invited by another colleague of ours,” Rigole said. “I was introduced to Paloma and she said she was from California. I said I was from Michigan. She said, ‘Oh, I went to college in Michigan.’ I said, ‘Oh, cool! Where?’ She said, ‘It’s a small liberal arts school.’ I said, ‘What’s the name?’ She said, ‘Kalamazoo College.’ I said, ‘I went to Kalamazoo College!’”

Rigole doesn’t work with Musee very often, although Clohossey has introduced them since. However, working with Clohossey has been special for Rigole since the moment they met.

“Immediately it felt good to have something in common with her,” Rigole said. “It’s not quite like family, but it gives you this bond because K is such a special place and shared experience.”

Student, Advocate Earns Newman Civic Fellowship

Newman Civic Fellowship Recipient Thomas Lichtenberg
Thomas Lichtenberg ’23 will further develop his civic engagement
skills by joining the 2022-23 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows.

A passion for community engagement and political activism has driven course selection, campaign work and internships for Thomas Lichtenberg ’23. Now, that commitment has helped Lichtenberg join the 2022-23 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows. 

The fellowship is a year-long program through Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit that advances public service in higher education. The fellowship recognizes and supports students who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing their communities. The 2022-23 cohort includes 173 students from 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico.  

College presidents and chancellors nominate one student from their campus for the fellowship, based on the student’s community engagement and potential for public leadership.  

Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez’s statement praised Lichtenberg for being “a student leader who has dedicated his college career to advocating for civil rights, centering his work on advocating for those with disabilities and the expansion of mental health resources. Thomas has focused his academic journey on understanding political and social systems, data analysis and advocacy.” 

Lichtenberg got his start in community involvement as a child in Farmington, Michigan, when his mother started signing him up for service programs, foremost among them the Junior Optimists. 

“I am autistic so social skills didn’t come as naturally to me as they did to everyone,” Lichtenberg said. “Going to things like service clubs was a great way for me to interact with others as well as do some good for the community.” 

In his first year at K, Lichtenberg interned with the Jon Hoadley campaign for Congress before taking on a paying job for the campaign. He found inspiration in the youth involvement and high energy of the campaign, as well as Hoadley’s commitment to progressive issues. 

A double major in political science and philosophy with a math minor, Lichtenberg has worked with a political science professor on coding polling information and as a philosophy teaching assistant. 

In fall 2021, he completed a strategic communications internship with the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C., which works to protect and advance the civil rights of adults and children with mental illness or developmental disabilities.   

Between work and internships, Lichtenberg has sought out classes at K to broaden and strengthen his political perspective. His favorite course, on constitutional law, gave him the opportunity to write case briefs. He chose to focus on legal methods and precedent that could be used to guarantee civil rights to a greater extent. 

The Newman Fellowship provides students with a year of training and networking opportunities to develop personal, professional and civic growth. Lichtenberg is especially looking forward to trainings on optimizing social activism. 

“I used to be involved in programs like the Junior Optimists, which really didn’t take advantage of that and didn’t recruit new members,” Lichtenberg said. “A lot of the work I’ve done since then has been in organizations that already had that down. I’d like to get that perspective on how to build that movement up for myself.” 

Lichtenberg hopes he can apply what he learns in those trainings to revitalize the pre-law club at K as well as the Star Trek Club he started in 2019. He admires how new iterations of Star Trek are tackling complex issues, and sees potential for great discussions of social activism in television. 

He also hopes to intern at the 9th Circuit Court in Kalamazoo this summer and intern for the Leadership Conference in the fall to work on voting and civil rights policy.  

His Senior Integrated Project is still in the planning stages, but Lichtenberg hopes to focus on mental health law on college campuses. 

“When I was working at Bazelon, I found some colleges that did not follow the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act,” Lichtenberg said. “It was shocking, as a student with autism, to see that such atrocities could be committed.” 

After graduating from K, Lichtenberg plans to attend law school. For now, he looks forward to continuing his activism with support from the Newman Fellowship. 

“I was honestly surprised that it was me who got the fellowship,” Lichtenberg said. “I know that K has a vibrant social activism community. I feel honored that they chose me to continue that legacy. It’s a lot to look up to, but I’m excited to try to meet their expectations and I hope that I do.” 

K Ranks Highly Among Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Upjohn Library Commons in Winter for Top Liberal Arts Institutions
Kalamazoo College is the only institution in Michigan ranked among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges by is endorsing Kalamazoo College as one of the top four-year schools in the country where students can excel in the liberal arts, according to rankings released this week.

The website is the information center for a data-analytics company that measures the influence and thought leadership of a college’s or university’s faculty and alumni, providing prospective students a place where they can draw insightful comparisons between schools.

K, at No. 45, is the only institution in Michigan to reach the list of top liberal arts colleges. The website mentions K’s thought leadership on subjects such as political science, economics, sociology, biology, literature, mathematics and philosophy as just a few of the reasons why.

“Job demands are changing,” Academic Director Jed Macosko said. “More is expected of today’s college graduates. This makes the liberal arts appealing and practical. Students who can demonstrate a breadth of skills and the flexibility to take on anything asked of them are finding greater success postgraduation. … If you’re a student looking for a well-rounded education, these schools should be at the top of your list.”

The K-Plan is K’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts and sciences. Its open curriculum utilizes rigorous academics, international and intercultural experiences, a hands-on education and independent scholarship to help students think critically, solve problems creatively, and collaborate across cultures and languages.

“A liberal arts model provides the most thorough college education because it teaches students how to attain not just one, but a variety of skillsets that employers desire, while engaging with the world,” Director of Admission Suzanne Lepley said. “To be named among the top 50 liberal arts institutions in the country is an honor for Kalamazoo College as it shows how well we prepare students for a global, modern workplace.”

Learn more about the list of top liberal arts colleges from

World Teachers’ Day Applauds Educators Who Ace Pandemic’s Test

Margaret Ferris on World Teachers' Day
World Teachers’ Day honors educators such as Kalamazoo College alumna Margaret Ferris ’90, who teaches classes online and in-person simultaneously.

As teachers guide children in new ways through a pandemic, World Teachers’ Day, celebrated each October 5, is recognizing the unique nature of this year with a theme of “Leading in Crisis, Reimagining the Future.”

Conducted through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the day is to honor educators such as Kalamazoo College alumna Margaret Ferris ’90, a teacher at The Episcopal School of Dallas, where she helps guide high school students in the classroom and online every day in the wake of COVID-19.

“I love the connections I make with my students as they become adults, and I love sharing my passion for math with them,” said Ferris, who is the school’s Math Department Chair. “My hope is they will become as excited about the subject as I am.”

At K, Ferris prepared for a teaching career with a study-abroad experience that involved student teaching in Mexico City while she majored in math and minored in Spanish.

“I took all the education classes at K, but more importantly, K taught me to think critically, be open minded and be accepting of everyone,” she said. “The math education I got there was outstanding. Foreign study gave me a perspective of the world I wouldn’t have otherwise had. And the liberal arts, having knowledge in not just one subject but every subject, has helped me in the classroom.”

Since college, Ferris has taught pre-algebra to Spanish-speaking students in Houston, was Director of Education at a Sylvan Learning Center, and taught all levels of high school math at two private schools in Miami before joining the Episcopal School. This year, however, has been unlike anything she ever could’ve prepared for. Ferris’ school started this fall with two weeks of online classes before returning to the classroom, where she has taught juniors and seniors AP Calculus and Statistics, in person and online simultaneously, for about four weeks.

“Despite the hurdles, I was so excited to see my students and colleagues again,” Ferris said. “There is something special that happens in the classroom that is very difficult to replicate. Our community has really come together to keep each other safe, as well. The seniors have set a great example for the younger students. Everyone is wearing a mask, following one-way traffic patterns, and maintaining a safe distance. I have been so impressed with our entire community and the way that we are showing such great care for each other.”

Still, social-distancing guidelines prevent group work, a major component of Ferris’ curriculum, for in-person students.

“Normally, I would circulate around the room when they’re working in groups,” Ferris said. “That’s a big adjustment for me. There’s a lot more preparation that goes into each class period.”

Ferris also has to balance the needs of two audiences at the same time.

“I worry about the engagement of the students who are learning remotely,” she said. “Are they getting the same experience as the in-person students? I constantly find myself checking in with them – are you guys at home ok? Do you have any questions for me?”

And Ferris notes that opportunities for students to socialize with their peers, arguably a central part of the high school experience, look very different this term.

“The online students don’t have the same opportunities to hang out with each other,” Ferris said. And for the in-person students, “lunchtime would normally be a time when they relax, connect with each other and talk about things that don’t have to do with class. There are usually 10 students per table, and now there are four with partitions between them.  What our school has done is create outdoor spaces that allow for physically distanced socializing.”

Regardless, teachers like Ferris bring a silver lining to education during a pandemic. She said it has forced her to re-examine her teaching to ensure she reaches her students and guides them in ways that fit multiple learning environments.

“I’ve had to really look at how I teach and what methods I use,” Ferris said. “It’s allowed me to take a look at my curriculum and see how I could do things in a different way to make sure everyone is engaged, even if they’re working on their own where they would normally be working together and more collaboratively.”

Ultimately, The Episcopal School of Dallas will continue to send its graduates to college at schools ranging from Austin College to Yale. In fact, the 107-member Class of 2020 received 460 acceptances to 139 colleges and universities. And teachers such as Ferris deserve a lot of the credit for doing their part to get them there.

“In my calculus class, I hope there might be an engineer or two, or a physicist,” she said. “Then again there might not be and I understand that. Some of my students will ask, ‘Mrs. Ferris, why do we need to know math?’ It’s because by doing math, you’re exercising your mind. You’re learning to think critically. You’re learning how to problem solve. You’re learning to do something that’s difficult. And that will serve you well no matter what career you choose. Just like working out exercises your body and you get stronger? This is exercise for the mind.”

K Recognizes Two with Lucasse, Ambrose Honors

Lucasse Honoree James Lewis
Professor of History James E. Lewis Jr. was named the recipient of the 2020-21 Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship, honoring his contributions in creative work, research and publication.

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 History James E. Lewis Jr. was named the recipient of the 2020-21 Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship, honoring his contributions in creative work, research and publication; and Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics Office Coordinator Kristen Eldred was granted the W. Haydn Ambrose Prize, recognizing her outstanding service to the Kalamazoo College community.

Lewis’ scholarly record includes published essays and book reviews in addition to four authored books:

  • The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire (1998, University of North Carolina Press), which was recognized as a Choice Outstanding Book for 1999.
  • John Quincy Adams: Policymaker for the Union (2001, Rowan and Littlefield).
  • Kristen Eldred
    The Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics departments cited Kristen Eldred’s cheerful attitude, strong work ethic and creative community building in nominating her for the Ambrose Prize.

    The Louisiana Purchase: Jefferson’s Noble Bargain (2003, Thomas Jefferson Foundation), which was commissioned by the Jefferson Foundation based on Lewis’ previously published work.

  • The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis (2017, Princeton University Press), which was recognized as a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize and long-listed for the Cundill History Prize.

Lewis has taught courses in U.S. history, Native American history, American environmental history, Revolutionary America, the American frontier and Western history, and more at K. He also is a professional member of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

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

The faculty across the Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics departments cited Eldred’s cheerful attitude, strong work ethic and creative community building in her nomination for the Ambrose Prize. She works to support the Sukuma group, an organization for underrepresented students in the sciences, and Green Dot, a campus movement to stop power-based personal violence. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she also organized a weekly teatime for faculty and students, where students and faculty could informally have non-academic discussions.

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, Eldred 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.