Recently, a dream of mine came true. Acclaimed author and journalist at The New Yorker David Grann (‘89) joined us in our "Narrative Nonfiction" class. Being able to speak to a writer for The New Yorker was a cool opportunity, but what made the day special was being able to sit with an author and inquire about their entire writing process. When reading, I often compile a long list of questions in my head asking why the author decided to make the decisions they made. The list usually stays unanswered. However, that particular day Grann answered certain questions I’d been eager to know, such as: what does the organizational process look like when writing about a subject laden with so much historical background? My classmates and I also asked him to talk about how he became a writer and how one knows what path to follow in such broad industry. Blanche Boyd, the writer in residence at Conn and the professor of my writing class, assigned The Lost City of Z by David Grann for us to read over spring break. Though not typically the kind of thing I read—a story about adventure, disease and death in the Amazon—I enjoyed this fast-paced tale. It made me want to ask questions.
Not many students at Conn are taught by the women’s rowing coach, but I was. Midway through last semester I started a class called Sports Leadership taught by coach Eva Kovach. This class was part of Conn’s Career Informed Learning courses, which bring alumni or community members to class to discuss how the concepts we learn about play out in the world. The dean of sophomores, Carmela Patton, recommended that I take the class because of my interest in sports. In high school, I competed year-round and ended my high school career as the captain of my cross country team and track and field team. I have always enjoyed spearheading groups that I have been a part of. That added with my ability to be loud and make friends has so far served as a good formula for molding me into a leader. During my first year of high school, I always respected my captains but I also thought that the biggest part of the job was simply being nice to everyone. After leading the teams myself and dealing with issues within my teams I understand that ‘leading’ is multifaceted. Being a part of this class gave me the opportunity to look retrospectively at my past roles as a leader and learn what I did well, but also learn what I can improve upon.
Even though I am only a sophomore at Conn, I think a lot about post-grad life and what my career will be. I have a vision of moving out to Los Angeles upon graduation and delving into the entertainment business in some capacity. So, when I heard that something called J-Day was happening at Conn and saw that a Conn alumnus who is a film critic at Entertainment Weekly would be in attendance I knew I had to go.
- The Experience, Marina Stuart '16, The Experience, Morgan Rentko '17
Many alumni have used their influence from Connecticut College to incorporate the liberal arts in their exploration of creative endeavors and career paths after graduation. One outstanding example is poet, author, editor and blogger E. Kristin Anderson '05. Upon the release of her new poetry collection, "PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night," we decided to interview Anderson about Prince, her variety of inventive interests, and her skills and insight as a former Camel.
The Foreign Language Fellows program organizes a Languages in Life series, which invites alumni to campus that have used or currently use foreign language(s) in their careers. Rebecca Salmaso ’08 majored in Hispanic studies and minored in economics at the College. After graduating, she engaged in business operations and global program management at EMC, a company active in cloud computing, big data, IT security and data storage. As the liaison for the Latin America team, Rebecca used her Spanish and learned Portuguese while traveling to Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. She currently works as a sales enablement manager at TripAdvisor.
When she visited campus, Rebecca had few tidbits of wisdom to share for those interesting in business careers:
When at Connecticut College
Embrace challenging academic subjects. Though frustrating at times, the process of problem-solving and figuring out how to learn complex information is an incredibly useful and applicable skill in the workforce.
Learn how to intelligently ask for help as an undergraduate student. Understanding how to ask insightful questions is an essential part of successfully performing one’s work at a job.
Get involved in extracurricular activities that serve your current and future interests. Also, get to know New London by working or volunteering in the city.
An avid cheese lover who enjoys wearing dark-colored lipstick and binge-watching Kristen Stewart, Shannon Elizabeth Keating ’13 had one of the top trending articles on Buzzfeed, attracting more than 7,000 views in late September.
My English class is usually taught by a visiting professor and published author, Conn alumna Jessica Soffer '07. But my most recent class was guest-taught by another English professor, Blanche Boyd, the College's writer-in-residence. After learning our names, she started listing story titles and asking us if we had heard her read them to us before. After settling on a piece, she started reading, occasionally stopping and rereading a particular line to us. We spent most of the class absorbing every word she said.
This was a little different than the way my class usually runs. Sometimes, my professor will read to us, but we usually also do a writing exercise, free write, or we critique a story. One memorable day, my professor brought her dog to class and we all worked together to write a short story about her dog’s morning and what she did.
I find it kind of amazing that even though a class is the same in essence, when two different professors teach it, it can be totally different. I understand now why some Conn students elect to take the "same" class twice, because every professor who teaches provides a whole different experience.
André Robert Lee '93 is a director and producer who creates documentaries designed to open up the floor to racial discussions. Rather than making a "safe space," he wants his audience to be uncomfortable. He wants real discussions to occur as a result of the works he's made.
Lee is an African-American who got a golden ticket, as his peers referred to it, when he received a full scholarship to an elite private school. After going through prep school, he attended Connecticut College.
Lee was always fascinated with the idea of this golden ticket he received and how it forever changed the way he fit into American society. He started reflecting on his own story, which made him want to expand his research and discovery further. So, he combined his interest in racial studies with his interest in film. "I'm Not Racist, Am I?" is his most recent project.
Last Wednesday, the campus got a chance to watch the film and have a Q&A session with Lee. Prior to this, my American Studies class got an even more exceptional experience: Lee came to our class and, more or less, led that day's class discussion.
The experience that movie-goers, but especially members of my American Studies class, were able to have was really unique when you think about it. Many people don't have the opportunity, resources, and/or education for such discussions, let alone discussions with a filmmaker. We were able to combine people from different states (different countries even), different economic backgrounds, different cultures, etc. to have a real, unfiltered discussion on race. That's such a genuine, liberal arts-y thing.
We also can't forget that Lee is a Connecticut College Camel himself, as is Liza Talusan '97, an educator featured prominently in the film. As a first-year student, I haven't really looked past college yet, but it's good to sometimes take a step back and look at all of the possibilities. College students are standing in square one, surrounded by opportunities that they can choose to take or not take. Lee was in our shoes, then he left the Land of Camels on one of those paths and returned to show us baby Camels what's possible.
Following the weekend of Jan. 31, I can proudly say that I have now actually been to Boston and walked around it.
Technically, I have been to Boston many times, but those were all for Connecticut College track meets, and I don’t count seeing the Tufts or MIT indoor tracks as really "seeing Boston." Last weekend, I didn’t have a meet, so I jumped in a car and went to Boston, both for my own enjoyment and also to see some Conn alumni friends who had gathered there. Our campus is about two hours from Boston, making it an easy trip. (There's also the Amtrak line that stops in New London and connects directly to Boston as an option for students.) The weekend was fun, filled with pre-Super Bowl predictions, Indian food, Cards Against Humanity and a memorable picture made better by the Conn-In-A-Box party favors that the Office of Alumni Relations sends out to Camels who host parties.
The highlight for me might have been seeing the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Boston Public Gardens, which had been one of my dreams since childhood. Now I can only say that I can’t wait to go back!
The Sophomore Research Seminar I'm taking this semester has been rife with interactive learning. Titled "Visioning the Invisible," the course focuses on secrecy, power and privilege as it relates to studio art and art history. It's funded by the Mellon Mays foundation and two professors, Denise Pelletier from Studio Art and Chris Steiner from Art History, teach it together. Already this semester, we've had a magician in our class and a professor from UConn talking about surveillance and pornography. We've also been working on small projects that will add up to a larger research paper/studio art project that we submit at the end of the semester. The best part of the seminar was, no doubt, a trip to New York City to look at "invisible" or "secret" art; I've been excited for this trip for a while.
We gathered outside Cummings Art Center at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to catch a bus to the city; our first stop was the Museum of Sex, curated by Sarah Forbes, who happens to be a Connecticut College graduate. The many exhibitions on display included one about non-heterosexual behavior amongst animals, chastity devices from the 19th century, and a critical look at Linda Lovelace (the first mainstream pornstar) and her involvement in the anti-pornography movement.
The most interesting exhibition, to me, was an interactive one, where spectators had to walk inside a mirror maze and climb a wall, where instead of rocks, one had to grab various human body parts (made of foam, of course). After we were finished at the museum, we went for lunch (generously paid for by the Mellon Mays foundation) in Chinatown, where we met "Inspector Collector" artist Harley Spiller, who collects and exhibits take-out menus, coins and plastic spoons, finding the beauty in the ordinary. We talked to him about the history of Chinatown and visited what was once a place where rival Chinese gangs used to fight each other in the early 20th century.
We also visited the Mmmuseumm, which is a museum built in an abandoned elevator in Chinatown; the museum itself is kind of secretive and only known to those told about it. It houses a collection of forgotten art objects: soil from Auschwitz, plastic spoons from the '70s, kitsch art objects that were not remembered. I spoke with the person there; everybody volunteers to work there, and has other jobs. It's a collection of fairly young college graduates who hope to make seen the unseen.
We ended with a trip to the art supply store and various bookstores, where both Denise Pelletier, my professor, and I gushed over art supplies. We got back to campus around 10 p.m., exhausted, but filled with knowledge. Not only was this great for my class, it gave me a chance to get to know my professors a little better, go to secret places I would never have discovered otherwise, and explore, in life, art. One can't truly study art without being in its presence, and I'm glad to have taken a class that understands and reinforces that. It was a pretty fantastic experiences.
I'm an art and history double major, and as I entered my sophomore year, I realized that I hadn't taken many classes in either. I told myself that I was going to make my requirements a priority, take classes I needed to, and expedite the process. No extra classes, no outstanding interests.
It didn't work out that way.
Last year, my friends took a class called "Narrative Non Fiction" with Professor Blanche Boyd; it's a creative writing class. Although I've been writing since middle school, I'd never taken an English class at Conn. I really couldn't envision myself writing stories; primarily because I'd seen some friends in high school do a much better job than me and I was scared. Plus, I kept telling myself, writing wasn't sustainable for me. Ironic, since I'm an art major, but we all delude ourselves sometimes. Through some weird twist of fate, however, the class I was planning to take filled up before I registered, and it was in the exact time slot as Blanche's short story writing class. I scrambled to send her an email, since a writing sample is a requirement for this class. A day before pre-registration, I got the email that I'd been accepted into the short-story writing class.
I had no idea what I was signing up for.
The class is more of a conference, with a lot of writing, critique and support. It's a very organic way of learning, where your brain begins to comprehend it's own problems. In many ways, it's more challenging than being told what to do, or what you're doing wrong. You have to realize it yourself. Blanche is always there to help you, and will nudge you, but she herself claims that you can't learn writing through someone else's efforts. It's different from information being disseminated, it comes from within. That's hard to confront, but it's so, so rewarding.
The one event we had to attend on the very minimal syllabus was the Klagsbrun symposium, which is an event Blanche has been organizing for a while. We've had great writers come to campus as part of the symposium, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Michael Cunningham, and Art Spiegelman to David Sedaris. This year, we got an extra; we had two writers join us. Conn alumna and professor Jessica Soffer '07 and her writing mentor, Colum McCann, spoke about their work and we had dinner together. Afterward, there was still half the symposium left, and I was sitting on a bus with my friends on my way to watch the premiere of Mockingjay Part 1.
I couldn't go. I thrust my ticket into my friend's hand, walked off the bus and went back into the symposium.
Colum McCann reads like a god. His reading is theatrical, interspersed with slight Irish brogue, emotions coming through like waves as he stresses and de-stresses some words, changing their meaning. One of the excerpts he read was a piece about a dancer in the '80s, and he wrote 40 pages without a full stop. Seeing that made my brain explode. Here we were, not knowing how to write with given structure, and this man sat casually on a stool, decimating every rule with absolute panache. Soffer's reading was more subdued; her clear, quiet intonation reflecting the tightness of her sentences, the sheer structure of her words. Everything counted. Emotions resonated from the words themselves, as she read everything at the same pace. In it's own way, it was as immersive as McCann's.
I left the symposium with nothing; no signed books, no selfies, no ticket stub, no name tag. But in my mind, a tiny dent was filled with possibilities, with ideas and with futures. I wrote well into midnight that night, and signed up for Blanche's non-fiction class the next day.
One of the things I absolutely love about Conn is the sheer disregard for class year by the student body. Let me explain; I was a first-year student last year, and by the end of my second semester, most of my friends were seniors. Frankly, I don't quite know how this happened, but it did. While I was attending their graduation, it occured to me that I'd be losing a lot of my friends.
Well, I didn't. Two of my best friends from last year are still around; one in Boston, the other in Waterford — one town away from New London. As I couldn't go back home this holiday (I'm from Pakistan; home is 8,000 miles away) and I've never really celebrated Thanksgiving before, one of these friends, Evelyn, invited me to her house. I drove there with another alum, Ben, and we were all seated around her table by 4 p.m.
Evelyn, like most people on Thanksgiving, had extended family over, and I got to meet some really amazing people. One of the perks of the night was us setting up a kids' table for those who were under 25; it was a riot. Amongst the amazing food (seriously, we don't have turkey back home and I think it ought to be a trend at this point; it was so good!), reconnecting with people I don't get to see as much, and laughing uproarously most of the time, I didn't at all feel the absence of my own family.
Fall Weekend is always a very exciting experience. There are so many faces, both old and new, filling the campus. Friends and family of current students, alumni and even prospective students are among the crowd. In a weekend filled with events, I chose to attend a riveting discussion hosted by the Connecticut College Alumni of Color.
Connecticut College alumnus Andre Lee '93 discussed his recent film "I'm Not Racist…Am I?" and what he hopes the film will achieve. As a current student here at Conn, I took an interest in the discussion for a number of reasons. In high school, I participated in a discussion about diversity that involved discussing, coincidentally, "The Prep School Negro," Lee's other film. As I sat there, enthralled by his perspective of race in the education system, I remembered my education before Conn. It had never dawned on me that I might one day meet him here.
The discussion made me think about moments when race was a factor in my schooling. Did an interaction turn out a specific way because of bias? The discussion with Lee got me thinking. I was one of a handful of students of color at my private high school, a school with many similarities to Conn. I began to analyze the social differences and reflect on how, from these many experiences, I've grown as a person.
At the beginning of June, I was one of 40 students who returned to campus for Reunion 2014. As student hosts, Sam Santiago ’17 and I had the pleasure of working with 15 ladies from the Class of 1959 who returned for their 55th reunion. (For historical reference, it would be another 10 years after these ladies graduated before Connecticut College would accept men.) Sam and I also served as hosts to a 100-year-old member of the Class of 1935 who returned to celebrate.
At Reunion, most returning alumni stay in the residence halls. For the weekend, the Class of 1959 called Wright dorm home. With cookies, the 1959 yearbook, posters of celebrities of the era and decorations, Sam and I transformed Wright’s common room into a “hospitality suite” fit for reminiscing. Our alumni called us “house mothers,” a dated reference to the young, female professors who used to live in the residence halls and tend to the students.
Highlights of the weekend included a “blue-book quiz” that tested the ladies’ memories of their college years and a class dinner at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum that featured a vocal performance by the talented Nancy Savin ’59.
Most of all, I simply enjoyed talking with the alumni, learning about their lives during and after college. An alumna named Gail described how each student used to take a required final examination in their area of study. If they failed it, even if they had a 4.0 GPA, they could not graduate! Gail also described how the number of people in a particular class used to diminish greatly, as women left to marry men from the Coast Guard Academy, Yale, Wesleyan and other schools.
Members of the Class of 1959 have a deep love for their alma mater. Despite the College’s changes and renovations over the years, the 55th reunion class kept saying that what never changed about Connecticut College is the truly wonderful people.
Eclipse is one of the longest-running student-produced events at Connecticut College. For over 40 years, students have been coming together to showcase their talents as a means of raising cultural awareness. This year, Eclipse returned to its roots by taking place over the course of an entire weekend. As a new student on campus, being a part of something so historic was empowering and felt quite amazing. I have quickly found myself helping to pull off a spectacular weekend.
Thursday: the cast dinner
On the Thursday leading up to the big weekend, the entire Eclipse cast took over Harris, our main dining hall. The tables in the dining hall were covered with information and music filled the room and set an upbeat mood. Yes, there was even a flash mob which was surely my favorite part of the dinner. I was tasked with controlling the music. When you have a full dining hall and you are the one who cuts the music playing to change the song, everyone notices you. They also notice when you fall off of your chair trying to find the right track. As an Eclipse member, I certainly felt ready for what the weekend had in store.
Friday: the fashion show
For the first time in many years, a fashion show was reintroduced to the Eclipse program. Although 120 seats were set up, almost 200 people attended. They cheered for the models who -- let me tell you -- looked better than the models from New York Fashion Week. Clothes were made, donated and borrowed for this show and all of the collections were flawless. The fashion show also included the Kporma Collection, a cause that works to better educational options in rural Liberia. From our one event, Kporma representatives raised enough money to start building schools.
I check my mailbox twice a day; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Usually, I'm most excited to receive a package, but receiving an invitation to a luncheon was even better. The invitation was from the Connecticut College Alumni of Color group and the Trustees of Color, for students of color to network with alumni of color. As a student, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to learn something about previous members of our campus community and how their experiences could positively influence mine.
Of the many things I learned from the alumni in attendance, one thing really stood out. Everyone tells you to get good grades while having a social life. This time, the entire Connecticut College experience was stressed. Taking advantage of every resource and being involved on campus really makes a difference. It is very easy to be the student who goes to class, does their homework and hangs out with a few friends on the weekend. To be the student who, at the end of the day, experiences the college, requires effort. Conn has so much to offer its students.
I was encouraged to find something I'm passionate about and stick with it. Doing everything on campus is one way to experience the college, but another is make your own unique path. Find what you enjoy and take it where no one has before. It's all possible, you just need to make it happen.