Amherst Magazine

Lives of Consequence: An Update from Campus

Launched in October 2008, the Lives of Consequence campaign has raised over $406 million of its $425 million goal, thanks to the generosity and hard work of alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff and friends—indeed, the entire Amherst community. The following stories reflect the direct and immediate impact of the campaign, sharing the intellectual, personal and professional growth that occurs when members of the Amherst community engage and support each other and the institution.

Be inspired to get involved.


Amherst Student Heads to Lebanon through Alumni-Sponsored Fellowship

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Sally and George Kadifa and their children, George, Margaret, JJ, Charlotte and Sophie.

 

When Sally Rathmann Kadifa ’81, M.D.,  met her husband, George, a Lebanon native, 25 years ago, she mentioned that she graduated from a small liberal arts college. When he immediately asked, “Did you go to Amherst College?” she was shocked—her friends in California had never even heard of Amherst. Little did she realize how this chance encounter would result in lifelong connections between educational institutions and a country she had yet to visit.

George’s alma mater—the American University of Beirut (AUB), formerly the Syrian Protestant College—was founded in 1866 by Daniel L. Bliss, Class of 1852. Bliss well represented the “indigent men of piety” Amherst was founded to educate and became an ordained minister and foreign missionary to Syria. In 1862, American missionaries in Lebanon and Syria asked Bliss to start a college with an American educational character—that served “all conditions and classes of men without regard to colour, nationality, race, or religion.”

Today the Amherst connection continues in both AUB’s leadership and its educational mission. Bliss’s great-great- grandson and fellow Amherst graduate Dr. Peter F. Dorman ’70 is president of AUB, an institution that “encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to graduate men and women committed to creative and critical thinking, lifelong learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility and leadership.”

Connecting Amherst Students and AUB
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Dr. Peter Dorman ’70, president of the American University of Beirut, welcomed Deidre Nelms ’13 to the Lebanese university this summer. Deidre is the first recipient of the AUB Summer Fellowship at Amherst, established by Sally Rathmann Kadifa ’81.

Always fascinated by the Amherst-AUB association and inspired by the fantastic experiences of her own children at AUB programs, Rathmann Kadifa wanted to introduce Amherst students to the Lebanese university and, in 2010, established The AUB Summer Fellowship at Amherst. This summer the first participant, Deidre Nelms ’13, spent six weeks in Beirut continuing her Arabic studies.

Nelms is an Asian Languages and Civilizations major concentrating on Middle Eastern studies and plans on adding a second interdisciplinary major in political theory and philosophy. In addition to intensive Arabic language studies, Nelms has also studied French, which will be helpful, as more Lebanese speak French than English, a vestige of the French rule of Lebanon from 1918 until 1943.

Exploring the Middle East During a Time of Great Change

An Idaho native, Nelms had never been outside of the United States before this summer but jumped into the experience wholeheartedly, spending the month of June in France working on an organic farm before attending the AUB program. Next spring she plans to study in Morocco.

Before leaving Amherst in May, Nelms noted, “I’m excited to be surrounded by so many young students on the college campus at a time when the youth population is so politically active in the Middle East. I look forward to learning more about their perspectives and experiences—I believe it’s going to be an eye-opening opportunity.”

Rathmann Kadifa, too, believes it is a particularly interesting time to be there. She is thrilled that Nelms is taking advantage of the opportunity to experience the region and AUB specifically.  

“Throughout the civil unrest in the Middle East, AUB has managed to be a place of learning and civil discourse, and a neutral place with a positive American presence. I wanted people to know AUB,” said Rathmann Kadifa.  

Nelms represents exactly the type of student that Rathmann Kadifa hoped the program would attract. According to Yasmine Hasnaoui, the Five College Lecturer in Arabic and Nelms’s professor and mentor, “Deidre was a great asset in my Arabic class. I know she’ll be an outstanding cultural ambassador at her host country.”

Increasing Interest in the Middle East

According to Janna Behrens, assistant dean and director of international experience at Amherst, there is growing interest among college students to study abroad in the Middle East and other  nontraditional areas, demonstrating that more of the world is opening up to today’s students as part of their undergraduate education.

“It is not uncommon for students to have experienced Europe before coming to college,” said Behrens. “Increasingly students recognize that studying in a nontraditional study-abroad country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Unlike many schools, Amherst does not restrict its students from studying in countries with travel-related warnings. Instead, Amherst allows students, their families and their academic advisers to determine how best to meet their academic goals. Amherst does critically evaluate the academic quality and the health and safety guidelines of its credit-granting study-abroad program partners and offers safety training for all study-abroad students.

“Amherst does not credit summer programs so there is no financial aid available for students who wish to pursue international experiences in the summer,” said Behrens. “Having alumni-funded programs like the AUB Summer Fellowship provides students incredible, life-changing opportunities to further their educations in ways they might not otherwise be able to afford.”


Improving Faculty-Student Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences

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During the summer students and Professor Austin Sarat meet regularly to discuss research progress. Clockwise from left: Sarat, Aubrey Jones ’13, Katherine Blumstein ’13, Heather Richard ’13, Robert Weaver ’13 and Madeline Sprung-Keyser ’13.

“Amherst asks a lot of its students,” says Professor Austin Sarat. “At the same time, many faculty have been concerned that we often ask a lot without providing the necessary preparation. At the beginning of their college career, we ask students to be consumers of knowledge. As they progress through their college careers to junior seminars and senior theses, we ask them to be producers of knowledge.”

“Students who are interested in science often have lab experience before Amherst, which means that science students have a leg up with regard to collaborating with faculty,” continues Sarat. “Students in the social sciences and humanities have nothing like this—they have no idea what research in the social sciences entails.”

Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, is the director of a three-year project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen faculty-student research in the humanities and social sciences and to develop a new model of truly collaborative research that is compatible with scholarly practices and standards outside the sciences.

Better Connecting Students and Faculty Research

Last academic year Amherst offered the first four of 12 tutorials, small-group experiences based on the research of Amherst faculty. Some are intended to introduce sophomores to the process of identifying and pursuing social science and humanities research. The others are aimed at juniors, to connect potential theses projects to the research of Amherst faculty members.

With the Mellon tutorials’ new approach, students will benefit more fully from the faculty advisers’ expertise, while faculty members may find that the courses enrich their own work and allow for more substantive and mutually engaging conversations.

Exploring Cities, Schools and Space
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Nicole Navarro ’13 and Professor Hilary Moss

“Cities, Schools and Space” is a junior-level Mellon tutorial that blends urban history with educational policy to explore how spatial relationships have shaped educational opportunity since World War II. Students investigate a range of historical, legal and contemporary issues relevant to the segregation and desegregation of American cities and their public schools in the 20th century.

The course is co-taught by Hilary J. Moss, associate professor of history and black studies, and Andy Anderson, academic technology specialist, and employs various research methods such as archival analysis, oral interviews and spatial analysis using geographic information systems (GIS) in a hands-on study of Cambridge, Mass.

Thanks to Anderson’s GIS expertise, students learned to use the advanced technology to explore the effects of federal policies such as mortgage assistance, highway construction, public housing and urban renewal on school segregation.

Anderson, who usually teaches short technology courses and works one-on-one with science students, enjoyed helping humanities students see how more quantitative analysis could expand their research capabilities and broaden their understanding of a topic. And it did. Moss says that the class produced some of the best student research she has seen in her seven years at Amherst.

“The GIS component allowed us to examine issues on a different level and gave us the tools to use in our own research,” says Nicole Navarro ’13. “I now feel confident and prepared to do my thesis.” Navarro will extend her project on a NASA urban renewal effort in Cambridge for her thesis—fulfilling an original goal of the junior-level tutorials. 

Energizing the Work of Faculty

Sarat himself taught a sophomore tutorial last spring called “America’s Death Penalty.” Like Moss, Sarat had an overwhelmingly positive experience, describing it as “utopia, fabulous, dream-come-true—awesome, as our students would say. It was the best teaching experience in my 36 years at Amherst.”

Midway through the course, when Sarat saw the intellectual transformation occurring, he made the students an offer: to work alongside him this summer and collaborate on his current research on botched executions. Five of the six accepted the challenge and are continuing their research with college funding.

In kicking off the summer research, Sarat said, “We are a research team. You are not working for me, you are working with me. Together we are going to produce a publishable article in which there will be six names—yours and mine.”

Sarat notes that through the project the students will know more about botched executions than he will. To have five students who will teach him is a “dream come true.”
 
For more information about how to fund internships, endow fellowships or support the college in other ways, please contact Megan Morey, chief advancement officer, at mmorey@amherst.edu or 413-542-5900.


 

Amherst Connects: Enriching the Lives of Alumni and Students

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Increasingly, Amherst is connecting alumni and students through internships, mentorships and other efforts with an initiative called Amherst Connects. The aim is to strengthen the close connections among the college, students and alumni, which are a hallmark of the Amherst experience.

Richard Aronson ’69 and Andy Balder ’75 provide invaluable experiences to students interested in medicine, Aronson as the college’s health professions adviser, and Balder as an engaged alum who mentors aspiring physicians.

Sharing a Passion for Community Health

Balder sees his patients at Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center in Springfield, Mass. Although the clinic is only 25 miles away from Amherst, it is a different world—poverty, language barriers and poor educational opportunities have a predictably negative impact on the community’s health.

Not long after he began working there 20 years ago, Balder thought Amherst students interested in inner-city health care could benefit from experiencing it firsthand.  

“It was the early 1990s, HIV was rampant and the antiretroviral drug AZT was new,” recalls Balder. “So I connected a student with an HIV service organization and had her follow primary care doctors. We got good information back from her.”

Soon, another student called, and the student internships took off, benefiting both Balder and the students. “We get tangible results out of the interns—community projects, research, chart reviews, quality improvement. Once an intern surveyed families about alcohol abuse,” Balder mentions. “These are projects we wouldn’t have had the time to do ourselves.”

Learning from the Experience of Others

Vickie Fang ’11 went into her internship certain she wanted to pursue scientific research; a few weeks later, she was no longer so sure. “Medicine requires a way of thinking that is quite different from asking research questions, and I worried I wouldn’t like it. But then I saw Dr. Balder treating his patients and watched as they lit up when they saw him.” The internship was a pivotal experience for Fang, who is now pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. at New York University School of Medicine.

Jen Romanowicz ’09 reports a similar story. “My interest in medicine wasn’t solidified until my experience with Dr. Balder—it was a definitive moment for me. Dr. Balder is truly a public health advocate who gains patients’ trust. After observing the impact Dr. Balder has on the community, I’m considering completing a master’s in public health in addition to an M.D.”

Strengthening the Connections Between Alumni and Students

When Balder and Aronson graduated from Amherst, internships were rare and information about potential alumni mentoring was not readily accessible.

Today, a Career Center staff member helps arrange hundreds of internships a year and the online alumni directory allows searches for alumni by employment industry, company and geographic region, among other criteria. Plus, students considering medicine can turn to Aronson for guidance.

While Aronson’s role focuses on the medical fields, he strongly believes alumni in every profession have something valuable to offer to current students—and vice versa.

To get involved with the Amherst Select Internship Program, contact Ken Koopmans at kkoopmans@amherst.edu or 413-542-8419.