AcademicInfluence.com 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,” AcademicInfluence.com 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.”
Through the departmental partnership, another group of qualified students worked at local organizations from AACORN Farms to the YWCA in Community Building Internships. The positions, offered each year, lasted about six to eight weeks, and interns were on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week while earning a $4,000 stipend.
Upon its founding, the organization wanted to provide community organizing experience for students while supporting the efforts of neighborhood associations in low- to medium-income neighborhoods. Bolton followed that mission by working as a volunteer coordinator and performing roles similar to a construction facilitator, helping to coordinate home improvement projects and expanding the organization’s bandwidth in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood.
“Our guiding philosophy at Building Blocks is that we empower residents to do community building themselves, whether that’s to improve a yard, plant flowers or pursue neighborhood cleanups,” Bolton said. “They hadn’t done a lot of construction recently. But I’ve taken on the role as the new liaison on the Northside, where Building Blocks hadn’t done any programming for a couple of years.”
In summer 2018, Bolton worked with the Appalachia Service Project evaluating a home’s renovation needs as a volunteer coordinator. He also obtained experience as a volunteer organizer through First United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo where his mom, Julie Kline, serves as the senior pastor. Bolton then transferred that experience into what he did with Building Blocks, allowing the organization to pursue projects that benefited homeowners who couldn’t pursue projects themselves. Projects included securing porches and hand rails, replacing treads leading to a porch, painting, replacing windows and even fixing bullet holes in doors.
In Bolton’s words, the volunteers repaired the violence and the trauma that had been at houses as they created connections between volunteers and residents.
Building Blocks “was running into problems we don’t necessarily find in other areas of Kalamazoo, where we encounter people who are disabled or can’t work on their own homes,” Bolton said. “That’s when we started bringing in volunteers from different churches in the area. I have connections with the churches and that’s the model I’ve been developing.”
Most of the time, Bolton was preparing for a job the volunteers would tackle on the following Saturday, figuring out what projects would be done, which volunteers were available, and what materials and tools were needed. Others in the organization rarely were available to address such issues, making Bolton a valued asset.
The following Saturday, Bolton took the volunteers around the worksites, gave them a breakdown of what they were doing at each site and connected them with neighborhood residents.
“That’s my favorite thing: Creating connections between these volunteers who might attend a primarily white church and those who can give first-hand witness to some of the effects of systemic racism in our neighborhoods,” he said. “I see that in our introductions and casual conversations, and we push for that community interaction.”
Going into these projects, Bolton was hoping for a career pursuing political science on a global scale. Now he’s not so sure.
“I’ve been studying politics and international studies and these larger scale things,” he said. “But I’ve been having such a good experience learning how to engage in local politics and work in my local community, it feels so much more tangible. I can see what I’m doing and I really like that. I learn so much from all the residents.”
Regardless of what he chooses, Bolton’s experience at Building Blocks came as a blessing in disguise.
“When we applied for these internships, I applied for several, although Building Blocks wasn’t one of them,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it was. I applied for all these other internships and Building Blocks found me, and asked me to be a part of their team. For Building Blocks to turn out to be such a wonderful thing for me was a blessing. I’m proud of that organization because it’s been devoted to justice even with the pandemic. To not be stagnant in this time is very cool to me.”
In a few short months, K senior Rosella LoChirco will begin a two-year commitment as a Venture for America Fellow. The prestigious fellowship prepares recent college graduates for careers as entrepreneurs, and fellows are placed in ambitious start-up businesses across the U.S. In April, Rosella will be matched with companies that are a good fit for her interdisciplinary skills, and she’s excited to begin the process of picking her fellowship site.
Rosella began her K experience like many other students: excited and more than a little nervous for what the future might bring. As the first student in her family to attend college, Rosella said, “It was so terrifying to sit in my first class — I didn’t know if I would fit in.”
Rosella found her way. Participation on the women’s soccer team benefited her with teammates and a coach, Bryan Goyings, who she said “really believed in me, and really supported me no matter what.” Early in her first year, Rosella developed a mentorship with Professor Chris Latiolais, who supported her philosophy major without reservation. “Every day that I come to class, he tells me about a new career that I could do,” Rosella said.
When it was time to select a research subject for her Senior Individualized Project, Rosella was cautious once more, yet she let her instincts guide her. “I loved this one anthropology and sociology professor, Professor Katerina Stefatos. I knew I wanted to work with her. We had so many meetings and calls to figure out my topic!” Rosella said.
Simultaneously, Rosella was completing a summer internship at Quicken Loans and the FIFA Women’s World Cup was making headlines. To the student-athlete, it seemed like fate: “I put together a pitch for Quicken Loans about why they should invest in the women’s soccer team,” Rosella said. “I started digging into the question of why women’s sports are not societally valued as much as men’s sports. That became a perfect jumping-off point for my SIP, and all the theories involved from my philosophy background helped.”
The Quicken Loans team saw Rosella’s potential; several colleagues, including a K alum, were well-connected to Venture for America. “They said, ‘if you’re up for learning things and a team environment, you should make this two-year commitment,’” Rosella remembered. “They really encouraged me to do it, because I had never heard anything about it.”
Once she learned more, Rosella knew she had to apply. “I’m a liberal arts student who didn’t study anything too technical, so I loved the idea that an organization was really valuing someone like me to make an impact in a start-up from day one.” Now, when Rosella looks to the future and her two-year fellowship, she is confident. “I see a lot of connections between K and Venture for America,” she explained. “I’m going to a small team, working closely together, and that’s very close to the K experience. I found my way at K, and I’ll bring my same energy to this commitment. I know that I have the skills and tenacity to figure it out.”
“Intersections of language and home are on the hearts and minds of so many of our students,” said Assistant English Professor Oliver Baez Bendorf, who helped facilitate Castillo’s visit. “It’s important for them to know that they can do anything, and to see different models for that. Their stories matter and they can survive the telling of them and even make it beautiful. Reading is always a portal through which they can transport and grow. I know that Marcelo was likewise touched by the energy of our community and our students, their readiness to engage with his writing, their intellectual and creative curiosity, and all that they so impressively juggle.”
Castillo’s poetry collection, titled Cenzontle, addresses the fears he once faced of being deported. Castillo came to the United States with his family from Zacatecas, Mexico, at age 5 and was an early beneficiary of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Sacramento State University and was the first undocumented student to graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan.
For Cenzontle, the poet received the New Writers Award this year from the Great Lakes Colleges Association — a 13-member consortium of higher-education institutions in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — which includes K. The award, founded in 1970, honors writers who are in the early stages of their literary career. Along with Cenzontle, Castillo has a 2018 chapbook titled Dulce. His memoir, Children of the Land, is scheduled for release next year.
Beyond poetry, Castillo is an essayist, translator and immigration advocate and a founding member of the Undocupoets campaign, which successfully eliminated citizenship requirements from all major first-poetry-book prizes in the country. His work has been featured in The New York Times, People Magazine, Buzzfeed and New England Review, and he teaches in the Low-Res MFA program at Ashland University.
With focused eyes and open minds, Salinas’ students listened intently to Castillo and asked a range of questions: poem- and content-specific, craft and poetic technique, themes and broader open-ended considerations. “I appreciated how generous Marcelo was in sharing his personal experiences and talking about his writing process,” Salinas said. “He was invested in their questions and insights, and I could tell the students felt that they were being seen, heard and respected.”
Opportunities to hear from renowned, in-the-field experts are celebrated occasions at K regardless of their field of expertise, although hearing from Castillo was a notable treat for students, faculty and staff, especially the aspiring writers among them.
“So many things about reading and writing happen in solitude,” Baez Bendorf said. “When you’ve read words on a page and then the human behind them arrives in your midst, it can be almost magical. I saw that happen with Marcelo’s visit. It’s thrilling to have a visitor, and even better when they’ve come with stories and generosity. Our students extended great hospitality to Marcelo and welcomed him into their spaces.”
That’s the phrase Kalamazoo city government officials and Kalamazoo College faculty and staff frequently use to describe a burgeoning partnership in which K students are gaining invaluable hands-on experience conducting research that is providing the city much-needed data to focus unprecedented community improvement efforts.
Though having students work with the city is not a new idea, it’s getting fresh attention because of a strategic confluence. The K Board of Trustees has adopted a new strategic plan for the College that calls for strengthening the K-Plan in part by finding more effective ways to link classroom learning to real-world experiences. And the city, with tens of millions of dollars in philanthropic support, is implementing its own strategic vision, Imagine Kalamazoo, with new initiatives such as Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo that provide just those sorts of opportunities.
“From its perspective as an institution and a brain trust and a shaper of young lives, the College benefits,” says Kevin Ford, coordinator of the innovative antipoverty program. “And from the city perspective, we have that relationship with an influential local institution and we can tap into that brain trust and the opportunity to do research—things we don’t have.”
“It just a win-win all around,” says Laura Lam ’99, Kalamazoo’s assistant city manager in charge of Imagine Kalamazoo, who credits an early K-city learning partnership for launching her career.
Alison Geist, director of K’s Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), says the new partnership is far larger than anything that preceded it. A model for how it will work is Cunningham’s winter term 2018 Social Research for Social Change class. Students not only read and discussed how to do research, they joined Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo to conduct it, interviewing residents about their needs.
The student-researchers, advised by Cunningham and Ford, focused on the means low-income residents have devised on their own for dealing with barriers to employment, such as costly child care and limited public transportation. Among those strategies: pooling resources to look after one another’s children during working hours and creating a sort of informal Uber to ensure jobs are accessible even when bus routes aren’t.
As the culmination of their classwork, the students wrote a report and recommendations documenting those solutions and the residents’ suggestions for how to make them more effective and broadly available. Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo is using the data in partnership with community members to devise new initiatives.
The city is in a position to carry out this work because of a burst of philanthropy intended to narrow the gap between what has been described as Kalamazoo’s two divergent cultures—one characterized by an uncommon cultural and educational resources, and the other plagued by persistent poverty and inequity. Underpinning the initiative, William D. Johnston, husband of former K Trustee Ronda Stryker, and William Parfet, brother of K Trustee Donald Parfet, joined forces to donate $70.3 million, creating the City of Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence.
The city’s growing need for data to carry out its ambitious plans, and the College’s push to provide students opportunities to apply their learning, are coming together at just the right time, says Geist. She says the CCE is dedicating nearly half of its upcoming internships to Kalamazoo city programs, working with City Planner Christina Anderson ‘98.
“This is such an amazing opportunity,” Geist says. “It’s a real city with real city assets. It faces so many of the challenges faced by Rust Belt cities elsewhere but it has so many resources to address those issues.”
One of Cunningham’s students in the winter term research class, Sharmeen Chauhdry ’20, says being part of Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo brought home lessons about how ground-level community research can pave the way for meaningful change.
“We got to see what the real experts, the people in these situations, say about what works and what doesn’t, and what they need,” she says.
The anthropology-sociology major says she now sees government as a potential career choice, and will continue her work with the city this summer in one of the CCE internships.
Even for those who don’t choose such a career path, the benefits of experiential learning with the city government can have a lifelong effect, Geist says.
“It creates opportunities for our students so they can learn what it means to be a citizen,” she says.
Some recent news about Kalamazoo College professors:
PUBLICATIONS and EXHIBITS
Carol Anderson (Religion) published “The Possibility of a Postcolonial Buddhist Ethic of Wealth,” an article in Buddhist-Christian Studies…Rose Bundy (Japanese Language and Literature) published “Beneath the Moss,” a set of translations by Fujiwara Shunzei, in the new translation journal Transference…Henry Cohen (Romance Languages) published “The Eldorado Episodes of Voltaire’s Candide as an Intertext of Augusto Roa Bastos’ Yo El Supremo: A Utopia/Dystopia Relationship” in Revista De Estudios Hispanicos…Kiran Cunningham ’83 (Anthropology and Sociology) published “Structured Reflection for Transforming Learning: Linking Home and Away,” in the Salzburg Global Seminar’s Creating Sites of Global Citizenship…Péter Érdi (Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies) co-authored three papers: “The Past, Present, and Future of Cybernetics and Systems Research” in the journal Systems; “An Integrated Theory of Budgetary Politics and Some Empirical Tests: The U.S. National Budget, 1791-2010” in the American Journal of Political Science; and “Anxiolytic Drugs and Altered Hippocampal Theta Rhythms: The Quantitative Systems Pharmacological Approach” in Network: Computation in Neural Systems…Jim Langeland ’86 (Biology) and Blaine Moore (Biology) are co-authors of a paper accepted for publication in Molecular Biology and Evolution that contributes to the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. The project was partially funded by a GLCA New Directions Initiative and had four Kalamazoo College students or alumni as co-authors (see a recent K News & Events article about this here.)…Amy Lane (Anthropology and Sociology) published “Religion is not a Monolith: Religious Experience at a Midwestern Liberal Arts College,” an article in Journal of College and Character…Sarah Lindley (Art) exhibited her sculptures in shows at Eastern Michigan University, Alma College, and Hope College…Bruce Mills (English) published An Archaeology of Yearning, a book by the Etruscan Press…Siu-Lan Tan (Psychology) co-authored three chapters and served as primary editor for the book, The Psychology of Music in Multimedia (Oxford University Press, 2013).
AWARDS and GRANTS
Kiran Cunningham ’83 (Anthropology and Sociology) has been awarded the 2014 Dr. Winthrop S. and Lois A. Hudson Award, awarded biannually for the purpose of honoring outstanding K faculty members…John Fink (Mathematics) has been awarded the Lucasse Lectureship for Outstanding Teaching at K…Alison Geist (Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Civic Engagement) was awarded one of the first Kalamazoo County Spirit of Health Equity awards…Binney Girdler (Biology and Environmental Studies) has been awarded grants from the Michigan Botanical Foundation and from the Central Michigan University Institute for Great Lakes Research…Bruce Mills (English) has been awarded a GLCA New Directions Initiative grant for his work on building a civil rights oral history archive…Lanny Potts (Theatre Arts) was awarded the 2013 Wilde Award for “Best Lighting Designer of the Year” in the state of Michigan for his work on “The Light in the Piazza” at Farmer’s Alley Theatre…Regina Stevens-Truss (Chemistry) has received funding from the GLCA Expanding Collaboration Initiative to study digital resources for learning experimental science.
Alyce Brady (Mathematics and Computer Science) is an Arcus Center Faculty Fellow. She will work collaboratively with universities in Sierra Leone to develop sustainable open-source academic record-keeping software…Reid Gómez is Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies, focusing on campus climate, faculty development, and curriculum development…Starting July 1, 2014, Mike Sosulski (German and Media Studies) will serve as Associate Provost and Paul Sotherland (Biology) will be the inaugural Coordinator of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Effectiveness.
The following Kalamazoo College faculty members are the recipients of newly endowed chairs: R. Amy Elman, William Weber Professor in Social Science…Laura Lowe Furge, Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Professor of Chemistry…Gary S. Gregg, Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of Psychology…Ahmed M. Hussen, Edward and Virginia Van Dalson Professor of Economics and Business…Richard Koenig, Genevieve U. Gilmore Professor of Art…Amy MacMillan, L. Lee Stryker Assistant Professor of Business Management…Ed Menta, James B. Stone College Professor of Theatre Arts…Taylor G. Petrey, Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of Religion.
Britta Seifert ’12 is headed to the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan for a 27-month assignment with the Peace Corps. She has no idea where she’ll be living or what she’ll be doing, but she couldn’t be happier.
“There’s something intriguing about going to a part of the world people here know absolutely nothing about,” she recently told a Battle Creek Enquirer reporter.
Britta, from Marshall, Michigan, said her best preparation for this trip was her Kalamazoo College study abroad experience in India.
“It will be a great help knowing that if I’m completely overwhelmed, I can push through to the point where I can enjoy it. I know I can do this.”
Read more about Britta and her next big adventure in this Battle Creek Enquirer article.