Issue 7, Homecoming

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AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS

VOLUME CXLIX HOMECOMING EDITION | OCTOBER 25, 2019

HOMECOMING 2019 Photo courtesy of Matai Curzon ’22

THE STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF AMHERST COLLEGE SINCE 1868


Schedule Events of

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25 - SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

8:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. Check-In Alumni House

8 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Check-In Alumni House

8 p.m. Choral Society Concert Arms Music Building 8:30 p.m. Homecoming Bonfire Valentine Quad

9 a.m. Conversation with the Provost and Dean of the Faculty Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall 11 a.m. DQ Homecoming Show Morris Pratt Residence Hall 1 p.m. Amherst Football vs. Wesleyan Pratt Field 1 p.m. Amherst Women’s Volleyball vs. Bowdoin LeFrak Gymnasium 3 p.m. Amherst Homecoming Fest Coolidge Cage

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4 p.m. Zumbyes Reception & Sing-Along Canfield Lounge, Kirby Theater 4 p.m. Asian Alumni Reception Pemberton Lounge, Chapin Hall 5 p.m. La Causa Reception Ford Hall Event Space 12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. Amherst College Jazz Ensemble Concert Arms Music Building

SUNDAY 11 a.m. Women of Color Brunch Lewis-Sebring Dining Commons, Valentine Hall

STAFF EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Shawna Chen Emma Swislow HEAD PUBLISHERS Mark Nathin Emmy Sohn EDITORS Natalie De Rosa, Jae Yun Ham, Connor Haugh, Olivia Gieger, Zach Jonas, Seoyeon Kim, Rebecca Picciotto, Henry Newton, Ryan Yu CONTRIBUTORS Hildi Gabel, Sarah Melanson, Matthew Sparrow DESIGN Zehra Madhavan, Julia Shea, Anna Smith PHOTOGRAPHER Matai Curzon The Amherst Student is published weekly except during college vacations. The subscription rate is $75 per year or $40 per semester. Subscription requests and address changes should be sent to: Subscriptions, The Amherst Student; Box 1912, Amherst College: Amherst, MA 01002-5000. The offices of The Student are located on the second floor of the Keefe Campus Center, Amherst College. Phone: (413) 542-2304. All contents copyright © 2015 by The Amherst Student, Inc. All rights reserved. The Amherst Student logo is a trademark of The Amherst Student, Inc. Additionally, The Amherst Student does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age. Photo by Matai Curzon ’22


Table of Contents ALUMNI PROFILES

4 6 8 10 12 14 18 20 22 24 26 28 30

Kari-Elle Brown ’15 A Look on the Other Side of Admissions Andrew Nussbaum ’85 Scholar, Swimmer, Lawyer, Trustee and Father Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90 Soaring the Skies on the Quest for Justice John Deutch ’60 The Statesman and the Scientist, All in One Cynthia Suchman ’90 Studying Arctic Ice Caps from the Capitol Hannah Gersen ’00 Looking at the Life of a Writer, Unedited Sarah Wagner ’80 Transforming the World Through Empathy Nicholaus Mollel ’10 Coder Parses Problems, Not Just Algorithms Megan Robertson ’15 Basketball as a Passion, Sport and Career Robert Whitmore ’00 Supporting Patients, Supporting Students Hawley Truax ’85 Advocating for a Cleaner and Healthier World Jonathan Blake ’95 Rabbi Paves the Way as Leader and Intellectual Julie Wright ’10 A Conservationist with a Mission in Mind

NEWS

16

Tracing Indigenous Lives: Through, Around and at Amherst

SPORTS

31

An Isolated Conference in an Age of Expansion

ARTS & LIVING

32

Amherst Through Art: Homecoming History at the Mead

October 25, 2019 | The Amherst Student | 3


Alumni Profile | Kari-Elle Brown ’15

A Look from the Other Side of Admissions Whether it be in the admissions office or a first-year residence hall, Kari-Elle Brown ’15 radiates with her love for students. — Natalie De Rosa ’21 While the undergraduate experience is frequently lauded as being “the best four years of your life” — a patchwork of eccentrically-named classes, unforgettable dorm parties and lifelong friendships all neatly wrapped up into a bachelor’s degree — recent graduates still harbor a sense of excitement for the life that exists outside the walls of their college campuses. What new, up-and-coming city will I live in next? Where will my professional life take me? As these questions run through the postgrad’s mind, the glory days of college sit on the shelves behind them. Then, there are the anomalies. For Kari-Elle Brown ’15, her professional career quickly reoriented her back onto a college campus and into the realm of higher education. As an undergraduate admissions officer, a resident proctor for first-year students and a master’s student in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Brown is once again fully entrenched in the experience of a college student. “Maybe I just love being in college,” Brown said with a laugh. Erika Sologuren ’13, a friend of Brown’s during their undergraduate years, would say that her love for Amherst is foundational for her passion for education. “Kari-Elle is an Amherst superfan,” Sologuren said.

A True Embodiment of the Liberal Arts Experience Hailing from central Florida, Brown remembers that it was uncommon at her high school to

leave the state for college — if one even went to college at all. It was through the QuestBridge program — which provided scholarships to first-generation, low-income students to attend elite institutions across the country — that Brown first received exposure to Amherst and its peer institutions. She visited the college soon after through the Diversity Open House (DIVOH) program for prospective students. While the autumn scenery captivated her attention, especially as a Floridian who had hardly ever seen trees turn crimson, Brown said it was the academic experience that convinced her to attend Amherst. The turning point for Brown was when she sat in on a first-year seminar about romance languages. “I was sitting in the class, and I was the only pre-frosh there, and the professor called on me to contribute to class discussion,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, she’s inviting me to speak.’ I could picture myself here in this classroom.” The next fall, Brown enrolled as a student at Amherst, where she majored in anthropology and Asian languages and civilizations. She recalled always wanting to major in anthropology, noting that she had been drawn to the question of “why certain people have some experiences, whereas you have a different experience,” as she described it. Asian languages and civilizations, on the other hand, became a possibility after Brown took her first-year seminar, titled “Dreamlands: The Universe of Dreams in Chinese Literature,” which explored dreams in various Chinese texts.

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“It was such a liberal artsy kind of thing that I think a lot of parents would be like, ‘I can’t believe we’re spending $50,000 a year so you can take Dreamland,’” she joked.

Discovering a Love for Higher Education Apart from academics, Brown joined multiple student-faculty committees and helped with selecting the common reading for the incoming first-year class and planning new student orientation. Despite her evident love for higher education, Brown did not actively seek out the opportunity to join in on the decision-making. Rather, it was while hanging out in the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) the summer before her senior year that she learned about student-faculty committees. “The MRC was this cool new thing and a great study space on campus for the summer, that was air conditioned. I started spending a lot of time there for no strong reason other than it was a really cool space at the time,” she said. “I think the staff there recognized me and knew I was working on some education-related thesis and probably mentioned one of these commmittees to me. I joined one and then got asked to join the second committee by someone who was on the first committee.” “I just really loved it,” Brown added. “I loved working with different people across the college and it was really eye-opening to me. I was like, ‘Wow, all of higher ed is made up of committees. People get to do this professionally.’” Despite her growing love for

Photo courtesy of Kari-Elle Brown ’15

Though her path immediately after Amherst seemed unclear, Brown’s passion for higher education ultimately won out after accepting a job in Harvard University’s undergraduate admissions office. higher education, Brown did not immediately consider working on a college campus after graduation. “I went through a moment of insanity when I applied for a job at Goldman Sachs and I was taking the LSAT. I quickly got over that and realized that there were other things to do. I knew I wanted to do education,” she said. “But I didn’t want to do higher ed … [I thought] maybe I should do something else first.” In retrospect, Solugren notes that Brown’s path towards education was always obvious. “She had a lot of options when graduating from Amherst, and she ended up where she is because it’s truly what she wants to do with her life,” Solugren said. “She wants to help people… I can see how much she loves doing that work and how committed she is to it.” This indecision ultimately led Brown to a company called Curriculum Associates, which focuses on kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education. In her role there, Brown was a part of a rotational program in which she

worked on customer implementation for one year and professional development for another. On the customer implementation team, she helped schools sign up for the digital products offered by Curriculum Associates — “glorified customer service,” she joked. On the professional development team, Brown trained professionals who would directly visit schools and teach them best practices for integrating Curriculum Associates’ software into classroom learning. While the rotational program was three years long, at the end of her second year, Brown knew she was ready for change. Because the rotational program allowed her to see different sides of the company and the K-12 sphere as a whole, she realized she wanted to dive back into higher education. “I just felt like … this isn’t really the thing I always thought I would be doing. I had seen enough by that point that I was like … it’s now or never,” Brown said. “Why keep waiting? Why not just do the thing that I really want to do?”


Return to Campus Life After leaving Curriculum Associates, Brown had some criteria for where she wanted to be. Since Curriculum Associates was located in a mostly white suburb outside of Boston — North Billerica — Brown hoped to work in a more diverse area, particularly in a college town. She enjoyed the Boston area and hoped to stay, especially since her partner, another Amherst alum, was completing his Ph.D. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Nevertheless, she looked at institutions both near and far from Boston. Brown applied for the admissions officer position at Harvard, but she also applied to work at Stanford and QuestBridge, both of which are located in Palo Alto. In the end, Harvard ultimately hired her. “I knew the kind of school that I liked — like Amherst — and thought that I have to work at a place that espouses those same values, which was diversity, the liberal arts [and] small, tight-knit communities,” she said. “I always put Harvard at the top of my list really to work [at] because it shared the same values that I think places like Amherst also share.” As an admissions officer, Brown assumed a plethora of responsibilities: traveling to high schools to recruit students, reading applications, serving as a resident proctor for first-year students — think resident counselors, but as trained staff rather than peers — and organizing Visitas, Harvard’s admitted students’ weekend. In all of these roles, Brown is able to get to the heart of the work she started during her time at Amherst — focusing on students and the experiences they carry, both in and outside of the gates of a college campus. The applicationreading process, though monotonous at times, is one way Brown achieves this goal. For many, Harvard holds a powerful yet ominous reputation, with many of its intricacies remaining a secret even to those privileged enough to enter its gates. It is easy to imagine that, perhaps more than any other aspect of the institution, the admissions office is the most nebulous. And with Har-

vard receiving tens of thousands of undergraduate applications each year, how applications are read tends to remain mysterious. The application reading process, however, is one area that Brown is confident is less daunting than people may think, especially with admissions officers who — like applicants — are human. “I love the reading process,” she said. “I mean, reading thousands of pages of anything can take a hold after awhile, but it’s such an honor to be on the receiving end of the story students choose to share with us … I’m a complete stranger and they have no idea who is reading [their application], and yet they’re telling me about their life, they’re telling me about their values.” “One of the things that I love about working here is how thorough the work of my colleagues is,” Brown added. “I think people just care so much about doing right by our students and in filling the [incoming] class so that’s going to be meaningful and special for everyone who’s a part of it ... I think people are surprised sometimes by how much time we spend in committee meetings, in conference rooms talking about applications. But we just have to be so thorough because [applicants] spend so much time putting their applications together. To not give them their due diligence would be a mistake.” Her mission to offer each applicant a fair chance has not gone unnoticed. Stacey Menjivar, one of Brown’s colleagues at Harvard, described how Brown “is a wonderful advocate for her students.” “You can tell when she’s presenting [students] to a committee that she believes in their potential, and that’s always been something that I’ve looked up to,” Menjivar said. Reading about applicants’ experiences on paper is only one way in which Brown is able to interact with students. Before she took on the responsibility of planning Visitas, one of her first hands-on experiences with students involved being a tour guide coordinator, a full circle from when she was a tour guide at Amherst.

“I think it’s really common thing that when people ask [Harvard tour guides], ‘What is your favorite part of Harvard?,’ they will answer — and it’s my answer too — that it’s the people,” Brown said. “I think the people make it so special and our students feel that deeply and care a lot about their peers and care a lot about their professors and the things that they’re engaged in. It’s just such an engaged community, which I love … It just makes for a really vibrant community. I’ve had a lot of positive interactions with students.”

Becoming a Student Again Brown is not simply integrated back into campus life from the standpoint of a staff member — she also recently began pursuing a master’s degree concentrating on higher education at Harvard’s Graduate School. She described her decision to go back to school as one that came naturally. Because

of her partner’s graduate work at the school, coupled with her own role as an admissions officer, it only made sense to officially become a student. “I have always been around [my partner’s] cohort of classmates, and my office is across from the education school, and I was always going to random lectures. Meeting faculty, going to lectures, I was hearing about the incredible things that the folks over at the ed school are working on,” Brown said. “It was always something I thought I’d do eventually because I kept showing up on campus. They probably already thought I go here.” Whether through her work as an admissions officer or as a graduate student, it is clear that Brown’s love for students will transcend throughout her career. As for the future? Spending much of her time outside of Harvard baking bread. Brown often jokes that she is “tempted to drop everything and

open up a bakery.” Though Brown shared this ambition with me with a laugh, Menjivar sees this fantasy as a legitimate possibility, noting that Brown’s baking is on par with the precision and eloquence shown in the television hit show, “The Great British Bake-Off.” If her baking dreams were to fail, however, Brown hopes that she will continue the career in education that she worked so hard to start. “I just want to be contributing to the learning of students somewhere,” Brown said. “One thing that I learned in life and at Amherst especially is that you never know where life is going to take you. I have a set of values and things that I know that I’m good at … I think I’m going to continue to follow places that align with my values and where I can have an impact that will recognize that whatever work I’m doing as something positive and that they’d like to bring to a community.”

Photo courtesy of Kari-Elle Brown ’15

When she is not reading over students’ applications, serving as a proctor for first-year undergraduates or working towards a master’s degree, Brown spends her time refining her baking skills, particularly with bread.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 5


Alumni Profile | Andrew Nussbaum ’85

Scholar, Swimmer, Lawyer, Trustee and Father An accomplished lawyer who clerked for two Supreme Court justices, Andrew Nussbaum ’85 now leads Amherst as the chair of the board of trustees. — Emma Swislow ’20 After graduating college, most people visit their alma mater’s campus every once in a while. Maybe they’ll make a trip out for their 20th reunion or when their high schooler adds Amherst to their never-ending list of schools to visit. But some, like Andrew Nussbaum ’85, find themselves returning to campus year after year. A lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the chair of Amherst’s board of trustees, an avid swimmer and a dedicated father to three daughters, Nussbaum embodies so many of the qualities that Amherst hopes to nurture in its students. I spoke with Nussbaum on campus during one of his few free hours between various board meetings and events. What became clear to me almost instantly was his undeniable charisma and openness, but also his humility. Nussbaum is, by almost all meanings of the word, accomplished. He graduated from Amherst summa cum laude, won a Rhodes Scholarship to earn his master’s degree in modern Russian language and history from Oxford University, attended law school at the University of Chicago, clerked for both Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia and now works at one of the nation’s top law firms. But he doesn’t condescend or put on airs. Instead, Nussbaum is exceedingly earnest and humble in his recollection of his time at Amherst and beyond. Swimming Into Amherst Nussbaum grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, as the youngest of three brothers. Throughout his childhood and

high school, Nussbaum was a competitive swimmer and water polo player. When it came time to look at colleges, Nussbaum knew that he wanted to continue swimming and found himself deciding between two schools: Yale and Amherst. While he was “quite taken with Yale,” he also loved Amherst. The only issue was that his older brother was also a student, and a swimmer, there. When decisions came around, Nussbaum got into both schools and after some convincing from other students on the swim team and the “legendary” swim coach Hank Dunbar, Nussbaum ended up at Amherst. “The truth is, once I got here, my brother didn’t pay much attention to me, except every once in a while when I needed course advice, I could go to him and his friends,” Nussbaum said. At Amherst, Nussbaum majored in Russian and cites many of the professors in that department as having a significant impact on his education in college. Nussbaum still counts Professor Emeritus Stanley Rabinowitz, who was his advisor, as one of his close friends. Rabinowitz even attended his wedding. But Nussbaum went beyond Russian during his time at Amherst. He took classes in the math, physics, English and American studies, among other subjects, and none of them were a disappointment. “I did not have a single class I didn’t enjoy,” he said. “It was just a matter of how much I loved it. Even if you didn’t love the material, the class was still amazing.” When his senior year rolled around, Nussbaum wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do after

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graduating from Amherst. “I knew I loved Russian, but I was pretty sure I didn’t really want to be a professor … So what could I do?” he recalled. “People said, ‘There are these scholarships.’ I’d heard of the Rhodes, but I didn’t know anything about it.” Nussbaum applied for a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards, and won it. This meant he would have the opportunity to spend two years at Oxford University in England to earn his master’s degree in modern Russian language and history. “Honestly, I hate to put it this way, but at the time, it was sort of an excuse,” he said. “If I got it, then, ‘Okay, I wouldn’t really have to make any big decisions for two more years.’ I got lucky, but it turned out to be an amazing experience.” At Oxford, Nussbaum noted the international population at the university, along with its incredibly customizable curriculum, as two reasons the experience was so “eye-opening” for him. Clerking for Giants When his time at Oxford was up, Nussbaum reached another crossroads. “At that point, I had a lot of friends who were in medical school or law school. Some were teaching, some were banking, people were off doing whatever,” he said. “And here I was in England, getting this degree that was never really going to add value, even though I loved it.” Even after applying to law school and earning a scholarship, Nussbaum decided that he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump straight away. Instead, he went to work for a year as an assistant to a business-

Photo courtesy of Andrew Nussbaum ’85

After majoring in Russian at Amherst, Nussbaum pursued a master’s in modern Russian language and history as a Rhodes Scholar. man in Chicago. During that year, Nussbaum traveled all over the world, from Russia to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and beyond. After that, Nussbaum realized law school was the path for him. “What I saw from [the businessman] was the people who he listened to when he wanted advice,” he said. “It wasn’t usually the bankers. It wasn’t usually the consultants. It was the lawyers.” During his time at the University of Chicago Law School, Nussbaum became editor of the institution’s law review and clerked with two judges who are now household names: Ginsburg and Scalia. Nussbaum applied to clerk with Ginsburg at the end of his second year of law school while she was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “Back then, she was a very hot ticket among lawyers and students because her clerkship was regarded as very desirable, just because she was so well regarded — but she wasn’t famous yet,” Nussbaum said. As a clerk for Ginsburg, Nussbaum found himself enamored with her work ethic and demeanor in the

courtroom and with other judges. “Working for her was extraordinary. She was just as smart then as she is now. The amazing thing I always found with her was that she just never got overwhelmed by the work,” he said. “There would be a stack of briefs on her desk and you would have the same stack of briefs on your desk, and it would take you two weeks to get through it, but it would take her two days.” “It was almost like if you could just watch her work and watch how she thought about a case … Yeah, I had to read a lot and I had to keep up and write memos and so on. But, fundamentally, if you could just get a chance to see how she was thinking about a case, you could learn by watching,” he added. The year after he clerked for Ginsburg, Nussbaum applied for clerkship positions at the Supreme Court. He interviewed with several justices, including Scalia. The etiquette at the time, he said, was to apply for clerkships with all of the Supreme Court justices and accept the first position offered, whether or not you agreed with their political stances.


“I thought the interview with Scalia went fine,” he said. “But the interview that I had with his law clerks went terribly. The law clerk interviews were all substantive. They’d ask you questions about cases and this and that. I left and I didn’t get a phone call for a month or whatever. I thought, ‘Okay, well that’s that.’” Nussbaum was sitting in the law review office when the office phone rang. “One of the other editors picks up the phone. They go, ‘Oh, Nussbaum, it’s Justice Scalia’s chambers on the phone for you,” he said. “And I looked at the guy and I go, ‘Buddy, that’s not funny. It’s really not funny.’ And he goes, ‘No, no it is Justice Scalia.’” “I picked it up ... Scalia gets on the phone and he says, ‘Andy.’ I say, ‘Yeah?’ He says, ‘Ruth told me I had to hire you. Do you want to come work for me?’ I mean, it was the most awesome moment,” Nussbaum continued. The friendship between Ginsburg and Scalia was one point Ginsburg touched upon at Amherst earlier in October, which Nussbaum helped arrange. He introduced Ginsburg to the audience before her conversation with President Biddy Martin. Clerking for Scalia was quite the change from his time with Ginsburg. “He was very different personality-wise from Justice Ginsburg. He’s

very gregarious, loves practical jokes, loves banter,” Nussbaum said. “The way it worked was, the cases were divided up among his clerks and if it was your case, then your job was to be prepared, read the briefs, maybe write a two-page or three-page memo … Then you go sit down with him.” “Always before he told you what he thought, he would say to you, ‘Well, what do you think?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, actually, what do you think?’” Nussbaum added. “Only after oral argument would he really tell you what he thought about the case. He wanted you to stew on it. He would give you feedback, ask you questions, but it was a very dynamic process.” In perhaps one of the best moments I’ve had while interviewing someone, Nussbaum recounted one instance that particularly highlighted Scalia’s personality. It was tradition for Scalia to take each justice’s law clerks to lunch, one by one, at an old-school Italian restaurant in Capitol Hill. At the restaurant, it was expected that the clerk would order anchovy pizza, which Nussbaum said was “fundamentally awful” to him. When it was Nussbaum’s turn, he decided to forgo the anchovy pizza and order something else. “He looks at me and goes, ‘You don’t have anchovy pizza.’ I go, ‘I can’t have anchovy pizza.’ He said,

Photo courtesy of Andrew Nussbaum ’85

Nussbaum’s time as a clerk for Supreme Court JusticesAntonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg transformed the way he saw his profession.

‘Why not?’ I go, ‘Justice, Jews can’t eat hairy fish,’” said Nussbaum, who is Jewish. “He took religion seriously and had a lot of respect for religion. He looked at me, but he didn’t push back. It’s a lie, by the way. It was complete fabrication in the spur of the moment.” “We go back to chambers, we’re sitting there for a little while doing whatever our work is. And my intercom goes off and he says, ‘Andy, can you come in?’ I come in, he goes, ‘I looked it up. There’s no such rule.’ But I did get away with it,” Nussbaum added. From Supreme Court to the Corporate World In 1993, after finishing up his clerkship with Scalia, Nussbaum began working at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a law firm in New York City. He became a partner in 1999 and still works there today as a corporate lawyer, mostly dealing with acquisitions, mergers and initial public offerings, among other areas. In his job, Nussbaum said he enjoys working as “a business adviser but also having to actually know a lot of substantive law.” Oftentimes, people ask Nussbaum why he clerked if he was going to end up in corporate law. He explained that on a more logistical level, he didn’t know he wanted to end up in the field he’s in today and that when a justice offers you a job, “Why wouldn’t you?” At the same time, Nussbaum found that working for both justices was an important analytical and learning experience that still applies to his position today. “When you sit on the other side of the bench and watch lawyers argue and watch judges or justices reacting to arguments, you get an interesting perspective,” Nussbaum said. “Like, ‘Okay, I think I’ve done this brilliant contract and my side is totally protected.’ But when some third party looks at those same words, are they going to read them the way I meant them to be, or is there a better reading or another reading or an equally plausible reading?” “When you’re writing or drafting opinions, you’re always worried about each sentence. This is the reason why Justice Ginsburg is so parsimonious with words. Does this

sentence actually say what I want it to say and only what I want it to say?” he added. One of Nussbaum’s clients at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is celebrity businesswoman Martha Stewart. They first met when Stewart was preparing to take her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, public. Stewart described Nussbaum as “very pleasant and smart” and “calm under fire.” While Nussbaum has faithfully served Stewart, she has had quite the impact on his personal life: she introduced him to his wife, Darcy Miller Nussbaum, who works as the editor-at-large at Martha Stewart Weddings. Stewert recalled “roasting” Nussbaum at his wedding, pointing out that he had memorized every preposition in the English language. “I just had to tease him about that,” Stewart said in an email interiew. In addition to spending time with his three daughters and wife, Nussbaum makes it a goal to swim several times a week at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit that supports sports and fitness programming for New York City residents. Nussbaum was the chair of the board there for 13 years before resigning in 2018 to chair Amherst’s board. Maggy Siegel, the executive director of Asphalt Green, first met Nussbaum when she was interviewing for the position she’s in today. “He is just an amazing leader and, I have to say, one of the favorite bosses I’ve had in my career,” she said. During his time as chairman, Asphalt Green saw impressive growth, Siegel remarked, noting that Nussbaum is “an amazing, rare individual” whose commitment to Asphalt Green is “unlimited.” From growing in physical size (the organization opened a second location) to doubling the number of scholarships and producing a medal-winning Olympic swimmer, Nussbaum was present and deeply involved with it all. Siegel noted that Nussbaum was particularly dedicated to a program that teaches children who might otherwise not have the opportunity how to swim. “I would say that he has saved a lot of lives,” Siegel said. Returning to Amherst

Although Nussbaum graduated from Amherst 34 years ago, he has continued to play a pivotal role in the institution and its future. Originally, Nussbaum fundraised for the Alumni Fund at Amherst as an associate agent before becoming a class agent, a position he stayed in for almost 20 years, by his estimate. After serving on an advisory committee, he was elected to the board of trustees in 2010 as an alumni trustee. Eight years later, Nussbaum became chair of the board in 2018. Nussbaum credits Amherst as the reason he is where he is today. In fact, he said, Amherst made him who he is today. “I came to Amherst as a grown child and Amherst developed me into a young person … Amherst has taught me a combination of just developing my intellect, but also giving me a willingness to push myself and not be too afraid … Plus, frankly, the willingness to actually consider the possibility, or maybe even the likelihood, that somebody else might be right and I might be wrong,” he said. During his time on the board, Nussbaum has been able to view Amherst with a new perspective, one that can better see how the college functions as an institution (or a “city,” as Nussbaum called it). But what seems to amaze him is the way that Amherst has retained its identity and meaning for him, even as it has changed since the day he stepped foot on campus as a first year. “One of the most fascinating aspects of what I’ve been able to see since 1981, is Amherst today is different in extraordinary and, at the time, totally unpredictable ways. But honestly, when I come back, I feel at home,” Nussbaum said. “We have a totally different kind of student body. We have much more diverse faculty. We have buildings that didn’t exist … But the culture of the community, the emotion of the community and the values of the community — it’s like I left yesterday.” “That to me is something really meaningful in terms of what it says about an institution and the people who take care of it. It’s a lucky place. It’s a happy place, even in the times when we have stress … There are only a handful of these in the world,” he said.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 7


Alumni Profile | Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90

Soaring the Skies on the Quest for Justice A powerful change-maker, Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90 stands tall in the face of unprecedented challenge. — Shawna Chen ’20 Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90 is more used to being in the air than on the ground. By her estimate, she has traveled to at least 23 countries outside of the U.S. In her childhood years alone, she moved four times — all before her 10th birthday. During and after her time at Amherst, she traveled constantly and planted roots in various clusters around the world. For some, the idea of bouncing around is daunting and discomforting. Touching down in places you’ve never been, adjusting to cultures and discovering how you fit or don’t fit, speaking, working and relating in completely different tongues — the thought itself can be overwhelming. But not for Golden-Vazquez. When she talks about her travels, her voice is warm, animated in such a way that the words pouring out of her mouth paint an effortless scene in my mind. She talks candidly with me, slipping in anecdotes and conversing so casually I feel as if I’m her friend. The generosity of her authenticity would be clear to anyone who listened to our conversation. This is a woman who delights. That comfort with curiosity has been integral to the winding road tracing her life. At every fork in the road, she asks herself if it will be interesting, if she will be able to do good in the world, if she can minimize harm. These are the questions that have molded her career. Even after 52 years, she keeps an eye on the horizon for her next flight into the air. “I always admire the people who are strategic and knew what they wanted — I’m gonna do this and this to get there by x, y, z time. That was never me,” she said. Maybe it was because I grew up moving around all the time, but it’s always like, ‘What’s next?

What’s next? What’s next?’”

Learning to Adapt Golden-Vazquez has the remarkable ability to walk in different shoes and be comfortable in many communities, says Phil Henderson, a former boss and friend. When you look at her early life, it’s clear she learned that skill very quickly as a child. Golden-Vazquez was born in New York City to a Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father. After her father bought a farm in Oregon, her family moved out west and started a commune. She lived in Oregon until her parents divorced, when she moved with her mother to Nashville, Tennessee. “I was actually bussed to a white school,” she said. “I don’t remember exactly, but it felt like hours away when I was 7 years old in Nashville.” Later, her father asked her to return to the farm, and she did for a brief time frame, attending a “little small-town school.” In the meantime, her mother separated from her longtime boyfriend. Pregnant with her second child and longing for community, Golden-Vazquez’s mother moved the family to Oakland and eventually to San Francisco, where Golden-Vazquez lived in a “very Chicano” neighborhood. “So the first period of stability in my life was literally [when I was] 8 or 9 to 15 years old,” she said. After that, she returned to New York to attend a Quaker school where she began exploring sports and academics, eventually setting her on the path to Amherst. “I’ll tell you, I had to learn very early on adaptive skill, and just the ability to figure out how to operate in incredibly different environments,” Golden-Vazquez said. “I’m lucky enough

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that I read white probably for most people, but … I remember one teacher in Nashville had my mother come to the school to ask her why I played with the black kids. Because for her I was, you know, a little brown-eyed, golden-haired kid, and she thought that that was problematic.” All those experiences — being bussed to a white school, living in an all-black neighborhood — deeply informed her thinking about “justice and equity and haves and have-nots and race and ethnicity in America, essentially.” And these thoughts started to unblur for Golden-Vazquez just what kind of purpose she would pursue in her future interests.

On But Not of the Margins Stepping onto the Amherst campus, however, Golden-Vazquez remembers feeling overwhelmed. “I’ll be honest with you, I hadn’t seen so much privilege,” she said. “It was very intimidating.” After about three months on campus, she called her dad. “I don’t belong here,” she told him. “I want to change schools.” “Okay, finish out the year,” he responded. “And then we’ll talk.” In hindsight, she’s glad she listened. By the end of the year, she wasn’t necessarily in love with Amherst, but she had started to “find my people.” Funnily enough, the first person she met at Amherst — at the now-defunct Minority Orientation, a pre-orientation program for students of underprivileged backgrounds — later introduced her to her husband. They still keep in touch. One of the reasons Golden-Vazquez chose Amherst was its basketball team, which she thought she would make. After experiencing

Photo courtesy of Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90

Attuned to issues of race and justice from a young age, Golden-Vazquez has made equity and inclusion the tenet of her career. “my first heartbreak,” she ended up managing the team instead. “That’s a special kind of torture for someone who wants to play basketball,” she said, laughing. In her first year, she also joined track and connected with people in La Causa. Later, she lived in the Spanish house, joined the arts circle and learned to be self-sufficient at the Zu, a co-op on campus. “I made community along the margins that ended up being really wonderful,” she said. In the meantime, her classes became vehicles for her to test out various interests. She didn’t have any inklings or gut instincts about her major, she said, but quickly realized that political science opened the doors to the kind of humanitarian work she wanted to pursue. Taking a class with Professor of Political Science Thomas Dumm convinced her to declare the major. “Liberal arts, you don’t necessarily graduate with a skill, but you graduate with a set of tools for viewing the world,” she said. “It really served me well.” Her other major, Spanish, gave her the opportunity to explore her Puerto Rican heritage. “Being Puerto Rican and not exactly being fluent in

Spanish, I always knew I had a desire to learn it and learn it well,” she said. She had chosen Amherst partly because of its commitment to study abroad; she knew early on she’d want a study abroad experience in a Spanish-speaking country. And she did just that, traveling to Madrid, Spain, and falling in love with the country. She joined the women’s basketball team there and made friends who hailed from all across Spain and provided place and space when she visited later down the line. Getting through Amherst wasn’t easy at times, especially when she didn’t know how to interact with the “mainstream tribe.” It was particularly hard seeing “how siloed every group was.” Having grown up around black folks and family members who were black, she always felt that she fit into the community. “There was some self-segregation there that was shocking to me, too,” she added. Nevertheless, finding the spaces in which she did feel a sense of belonging enabled her to embrace her identity as a Latina. The people made it all worth it: friends in her various communities, as well as Puerto Ricans in the Pioneer


Valley both on and off campus. One friend, in particular, ran a show on the college radio station that played Latinx music. Being more shy, Golden-Vazquez didn’t think she could ever do such a thing. “I couldn’t possibly,” she thought. But she would sit next to her friend in the booth on the days of the show and enjoy the music — a moment of empowerment and reclaiming, even on a campus that didn’t always feel welcoming.

Like A Butterfly After graduation, she returned to Spain for what was supposed to be a two-week trip, but ultimately decided to stay, revitalized in her love of its culture. She went from city to city for a whole year teaching English. Returning to New York, she worked in marketing while applying for graduate school. She had the “exact same application I had pulled up when I was a senior at Amherst,” and she was accepted to and chose to attend the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. Adjusting to Italy was a little harder than adjusting to Spain, however. Everyone around her was saying that it would be be easy for her to learn Italian given her Spanish- and English-speaking roots. “The words sound the same but they mean different things,” she said bluntly. A light chuckle followed. At Nitze, it became clear that Golden-Vazquez wanted to focus on humanitarian work. Development work and international aid sparked her curiosity and ambition to improve people’s lives. She graduated with a master’s in international relations with a focus on Latin American studies and economics. “I’ll be honest, I graduated during a recession and waitressed for several months while I looked for jobs,” she said. She secured a contract to put on conferences in different parts of the world, including Peru, Egypt and Kenya, and ended up getting hired on to do communications outreach at an international development company. After returning to New York, she worked as an account manager at a public relations agency that was starting a new Latin American practice. She eventually moved up the ranks to run its nonprofit practice and work on human rights campaigns.

Three years into the job, however, she wasn’t working in the international career she had imagined for herself. “I wasn’t using my language skills,” she said. And, even more so, the writing was on the wall: technology “was eating up everything else.” Uninterested in writing press releases for tech companies, she hopped onto another contract that allowed her to work with the U.S. embassy in Honduras, developing speeches, press releases and launches for projects and partnerships after a catastrophic hurricane. She returned to New York almost three months after the 9/11 terror attacks. “It was so depressing to be in New York,” she said. There was another recession, but she didn’t want to work purely in the corporate sector. And so she went to D.C., working in PR for the German Marshall Fund, an international foundation focused on Europe-U.S. relations. “When I was in grad school, we were seeing the wall in Germany come down,” she said. “I thought, ‘Here’s a chance for me to get in deep and understand what’s going on.’” Helga Flores Trejo, who first crossed paths with Golden-Vazquez at the German Marshall Fund, distinctly recalls meeting her — it wasn’t often that she came across another Latino person in their line of work, but here was “a very interesting Latina.” “I have really never seen anybody in D.C. doing more for integrating a very diverse community in a very caring, very proactive way,” Flores Trejo said. “Not networking, but truly caring for society, for others, for a divided community, for helping on a very personal level to connect women from diverse communities that are working professionally in different areas of D.C. Again, not networking, but rather community-building. And you notice that. That’s the difference.” “I don’t know anybody who does that, the way she cares for others,” Flores Trejo added, and it’s apparent in both her personal and professional life. After four years at the German Marshall Fund, eventually taking on public affairs and external outreach, Golden-Vazquez “finally decided that I wanted to be on the other side, of actually doing the work.” In 2006, she joined the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit thinktank devoted to helping “citizens

lower barriers to learning, work and health” according to its website. At the Institute, Golden-Vazquez built out the local leader initiative, traveling to Africa and the Middle East to partner with “rising stars” and plan programming that would help people think critically about their values and larger societies. She later started a China initiative for the Institute. “The work that I loved was all around travel,” she said, but her son was born during that time period and the travel grew difficult. “After eight years, it does become a bit repetitive,” she said. “It was time.”

Settling In Even though she touched back on the ground in D.C., her work didn’t stop. The Institute recruited her to start a new policy program focused on Latinxs in America. It’s ironic, she tells me over the phone with what I imagine is a wry smile. “My first job when I came back from Spain was … selling airtimes at a Spanish language radio station,” she said. “I joke that I sell air because that’s what I did — I sold airtime, I sold advertising.” “When I was doing that — first of all, I’m terrible at sales and I hate it — but when I was doing that, I was trying to make the case that Latinos were the future,” she added. “I was telling them, ‘You need to reach this market.’” She could’ve been selling manure, she said. That’s how it was perceived. “Lo and behold, 25 years later, everyone got on board in real life,” she said, citing statistics that Latinxs are the largest growing population in the U.S.

It did take labor on her part, however, and organizing to kick the program into gear. While traveling for Aspen, she’d always questioned why she was the only Latina in the room. “I’m feeling like … ‘Where are we?’” she recalled. “Here is an incredible influencer institution that I love and admire the work that they do. If they don’t start thinking about Latinos, they’re going to be absolutely irrelevant.” The initiative is thriving now “because of the caliber of leadership that Abigail has brought to it,” said Monica Lozano, chair of the Institute’s Latinos and Society Program. Upon accepting the position, Golden-Vazquez hired in staff, developed a pioneer plan, reset strategy, sharpened the program’s focus and brought on a “highly regarded” advisory board, Lozano said. “There’s always certain qualities that you look for in a leader: are they able to manage complex projects, convey and set forth a strategy and inspire people to follow them? Abigail has all of the qualities that you would look for in a leader … [and] she has a deep sense of conviction, of humanity, of values. She’s fun,” Lozano said. “She clearly has a way about her — you’re just enthusiastic in terms of wanting to be with her … With Aspen Institute, that comes through in her leadership style. It’s not about leading, it’s about doing it in the right way and making positive change.” The Latinos and Society Program today has a host of goals: it works to build greater awareness within the Institute about embracing not only diversity but also inclusion, change the narrative around Latinx issues writ

large and help non-Latinx people understand the importance of including Latinxs in conversations around policy, economic opportunity and social relations. “I’m right back to where I started, where I’m selling airtime,” Golden-Vazquez said lightheartedly. “I’m saying, ‘Look, pay attention, Latinos are the next thing and people are like, ‘Yeah, yeah, … we just care about equity writ large; we don’t see the need to look specifically at Latinos.’ It’s like I’m back in the same exact place, where I’m like, ‘You do.’” It’s exciting and wonderful and exhilarating, she says. It’s also the hardest work she’s ever done, building something from scratch. “When I get depressed or when I think it’s too hard, I remind myself there are people working in the environment,” she says, bursting into a string of laughter. In a way, her current work also reflects a personal shift that grew out of her time at Amherst. It was at Amherst that she came into her identity and accepted and embraced being Latina. “It helped me to understand my identity,” she said. “It helped me understand that background as an affect, just having that community.” Though she’s made an incredibly rewarding and accomplished life for herself in D.C. — surrounded by many of her friends from Amherst — Golden-Vazquez still has an international experience left in her. “I’m constantly whispering into my husband’s ear, ‘When this kid graduates, we’re all moving, we’re gonna be out of here,’” she said, laughing. “I’m not done.” No. No, she is not.

Photo courtesy of Abigail Golden-Vazquez ’90

Golden-Vazquez engages with numerous leaders — including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — from around the world in her work at the Aspen Institute.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 9


Alumni Profile | John Deutch ’60

The Statesman and the Scientist, All in One A true jack of all trades, John Deutch ’60 has enriched the world with his tenacity and dedication in areas of scientific research and public service. — Ryan Yu ’22 When writing about someone with a life as decorated as that of John Deutch ’60, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Even a brief synopsis of his career — from his various academic accolades as a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to his multiple high-ranking government positions, ranging from deputy secretary of defense to director of central intelligence — already gives us a great deal to consider, more than can be mentioned in this profile. Deutch, however, might disagree. Before we began our interview, he offhandedly remarked to me, “I’m not worth that,” referring to the profile. For me, that was the plainest example of his pragmatic and understated style, as well as his commitment to keeping his accomplishments in perspective and cleareyed against any distortions. Mixed with the wisdom, tenacity and matter-of-factness that you might expect from an elder statesman, it’s a unique mindset that is emblematic of the varied life he’s lived. And certainly, that’s worth at least a profile. An Auspicious Youth Born in Brussels in 1938, Deutch was in transit for much of his early life. His family was forced to flee Belgium in 1940 due to the German invasion. Eventually arriving in the United States, he became a naturalized citizen in 1945. “It took us from May 1940 to about 1943 to get to the United States. During that intervening period of time, we spent some time in Portugal and about two years in Mexico,” he recalled. “My first memories of anything are really in

Mexico. I started elementary school in Virginia during the second World War not being able to speak English. I could speak French and a little bit of Spanish, but no English. That has had a formative effect and has shaped my perspective a bit.” Over the next several years, Deutch settled into life in the D.C. area, attending the Sidwell Friends School. When deciding where to go to college, many of Deutch’s classmates wanted to go to Amherst, so he decided to apply and eventually attend. “When I got to Amherst, there were many of my friends that I knew from high school, so it was a natural choice for me. I remember that I was quite pleased to be admitted; my grades were not terrific as I’d hoped,” he said. “I quite happily chose it over several other schools that I was admitted to because I thought it was going to be a good place for me. I knew people [at Amherst] and most importantly, I was not intellectually mature, and I felt that an experience at Amherst would do a lot better than another school.” Deutch described himself as being “torn between my mother and father” upon arriving at Amherst; his mother had strong interests in the humanities and history while his father was “a more technical guy.” Luckily, the core curriculum in place at that time alleviated much of his indecision on what to study, “allowing [him] to keep his interests open for at least the first two years.” (Deutch laments the fact that Amherst has since gotten rid of the core curriculum.) Eventually, Deutch made the choice to major in history and eco-

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nomics. His mother sparked his interest in history, while for economics, he pointed to interactions with his friends. “I had three roommates at Amherst — very close friends — all of whom were economics majors. And at some point, I couldn’t allow any more of their conversations to get outside of my knowledge base,” he said. “Since I had taken math all the way through, I probably knew more math than all of them, and it was very easy for me to catch up in economics. And so I became a major in economics.” Deutch had expected to do graduate work in economics. He was encouraged by many of his economics professors, particularly Arnold Collery, with whom he was “quite close.” Alas, things didn’t pan out that way. A Scientific Turn Instead, with his father’s encouragement — or, in Deutch’s words, “bribe” — he entered an Amherst-MIT partnership program that allowed him to obtain both a regular undergraduate degree from Amherst and a chemical engineering degree from MIT by spending three years at the former and two years at the latter. For Deutch, his education at both Amherst and MIT provided him with important, albeit radically different skills. Whereas MIT emphasized technical skills, Amherst imparted to him the ability of critical analysis, which “had a profound impact on [Deutch’s] intellectual formation,” along with an appreciation for the importance of breadth of knowledge. Deutch credits Amherst — and more specifically, Professor of English Benjamin DeMott

Photo courtesy of MIT

Deutch joined the faculty at MIT in 1970 and has stayed there ever since, save for occasional detours to D.C. for government work. — with “gifting me the ability to write well.” Deutch initially figured the technical expertise gained from his engineering degree would be useful to work in economics, but that path was diverted after a pivotal moment in one of his physics classes. “A question came up in a thermodynamics class, which I understood, but I didn’t know the answer to,” Deutch recounted. “I went to the professor, and I asked him about it, and he said, ‘I get the question, but that’s a question having to do with molecules and how they interact; it has nothing to do with macroscopic liquids, gases, solids. You’ll have to go to a professor in the chemistry department to ask him the question, and he’ll give you the answer.’ I did that, and the moment I heard the explanation, I said, ‘Holy mackerel! I’ve got to learn that. It’s silly to know all this engineering but not understand the scientific basis.’ And so I decided to get a Ph.D. in physical chemistry.” He did just that at none other than MIT, with a particular focus

on statistical thermodynamics. After he received his doctorate, Deutch became an assistant professor at Princeton, which he quickly decided wasn’t the place for him. He eventually made his way back to MIT, this time as a faculty member, where he has stayed since 1970. During his time at MIT, Deutch took on a multitude of roles, including chair of the chemistry department, dean of science and provost. In his roles as both dean of science and provost, Deutch preferred a hands-off approach, trusting in the people he oversaw to avoid problems and making sure any problems that did come up were “handled as expeditiously as possible.” As chair of chemistry, he described himself as much more involved, responsible for “running the day-to-day business” of the department. Though his research interests changed from time to time, he prioritized being “deeply involved in one problem or another at any time in [his] career.” A common theme, however, is energy and energy policy. He is currently researching the


methods of mitigating damage from climate change, most notably with “joint climate control mechanisms.” Back to Washington Deutch’s academic pedigree is impressive, but most people know him for his roles outside of academia — primarily in public service. Deutch first made an impression in Washington circles as a systems analyst in Robert McNamara’s Department of Defense, which he joined shortly after he completed his undergraduate degrees. He was often grouped as one of the “whiz kids,” a term ascribed to young technocrats tasked with reforming American defense infrastructure in the 1960s. Still, it wasn’t until 1977, when Deutch was well into his MIT professorship, that he took on his first major government position — director of energy research, and later, undersecretary for the Department of Energy during the Carter administration. “When President Carter

came into office, he asked James Schlesinger [the former secretary of defense] … to be the first secretary of energy. And he asked me to come and be the first director of energy research,” said Deutch. “I went to Jerry Wiesner, president of MIT at that time, and asked him if I should do this, and he said yes … because energy was going to be so important and research was going to be so important in energy, so that’s what I did.” After Carter left office, Deutch returned to academia and didn’t take another major government role until President Bill Clinton was inaugurated. As undersecretary for acquisition and technology for the Department of Defense, he managed procurement of materials and weapon systems as well as development of new technology. Later, he was promoted to deputy secretary of defense, where he oversaw the department’s internal operations. Despite Deutch’s resistance to and previous refusal of the role, Clinton nominated him as director of central intelligence in 1995, ele-

vating the position to cabinet rank as an incentive. Deutch apparently had no choice in the matter. “Nothing changed my mind. He said I had to do it,” Deutch recalled. Still, he proved to be a popular and effective director in the short time he occupied the position, implementing broad reforms to increase public trust, accountability and efficiency in the CIA at a time when past “immoral or illegal intelligence activities,” as Deutch called it in his confirmation hearing, were eroding public confidence in the agency. Clinton also offered high praise for Deutch, calling him “a dynamic, brilliant leader with all the necessary skills for this critical assignment and my highest trust and confidence.” However, his tenure faced controversy when he was revealed to have kept classified information on his home computer. As a result, Deutch lost his security clearance and was formally investigated, first internally by the CIA, then by the Department of Justice. According to a press release from George Ten-

et, Deutch’s successor as director of central intelligence, “decisive action was taken and steps [were] implemented to improve [the CIA’s] security process” in light of the incident. Deutch agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge for mishandling government secrets, but he ultimately received a pardon for the offense before the case could be filed against him. Looking Forward, Looking Back Now, even as Deutch reaches the twilight of his career, he isn’t slowing down. Not only is he continuing to work on research, but he’s also staying involved in service through a number of organizations. For example, he currently serves as a trustee of the Mass General Hospital, where he spends “a quarter of [his] time advising and working on different aspects of the hospital,” with the goal of “building stronger medical academic centers here in Boston,” where he currently resides. Deutch tries to stay involved with the recreational side of things,

Photo courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Deutch, on the right, speaks with President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and National Security Adviser Tony Lake about Bosnia in his role as director of central intelligence. Deutch was nominated to the position in 1995 while serving as deputy secretary of defense.

too. “I try to bike about every day or every other day, about 12 miles,” he said. “I walk a lot; we have a place at the beach that’s quite spectacular. It’s quite a pleasure for me.” He spends a lot of time with his grandkids. (Eight boys, one girl — Deutch expressed that he’d want more granddaughters if he had a choice.) Although Deutch isn’t as actively involved in the Amherst community as he’s been in the past, he remembers his time at the college fondly. “I really love Amherst. It really made me into who I am and changed me from an intellectually inexperienced person to someone who had some sense of what the intellectual world is about. I have a great gratitude for that,” said Deutch. “I endowed a chair [title] for my mother and father at Amherst, and I was very happy about that.” Even so, Deutch also expressed anxiety over whether Amherst was maintaining “the balance between [its] attention to social issues … and [its] attention to scholarship and education.” To Amherst students, and those trying to find their way, Deutch offers three points of advice. The first is to make a difference — in research, in public service, in the arts, in whatever, so long as you have the opportunity to create meaningful impact. The second is to go on “random walks” and meander around, whether in a physical, emotional or intellectual context. The third is to accept that you’ll make mistakes, big mistakes, and to try to make the best of them in any case. Still, as he gives this advice, Deutch carries an air of general optimism with respect to future generations. “When I started teaching, it was very much in the midst of the Vietnam War disruptions. And I saw students throw away their lives in great numbers. They couldn’t get involved. They couldn’t pay attention,” he recounted. “Today, I can’t tell you how great they are. Every student I meet is fantastic. I think the students of today are motivated, talented, want to make a difference — so I’m very, very, very upbeat about students nowadays.” And from a person with so many years of perspective behind his back, that’s high praise indeed.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 11


Alumni Profile | Cynthia Suchman ’90

Studying Arctic Ice Caps from the Capitol As the director of the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Natural Sciences Program, Cynthia Suchman ’90 works in a position that demands constant learning and curiousity about her field. — Olivia Gieger ’21 For so many, an interest in scientific research charts a clear path: undergraduate degree, master’s, doctorate, research, professorship. But Cynthia Suchman ’90 launched onto that path not knowing exactly where it would lead, open to the turns it took and the possibilities it opened — away from what’s most conventional. It’s an attitude that landed her where she is now, living in northern Virginia and working as the program director for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Arctic Natural Sciences Program. The job allows her to work at the intersection of preeminent research coming to her from all across environmental disciplines. The NSF receives peer-reviewed proposals for research, and program directors, like Suchman, read and assess them to reccomend where to award grant funding. “You’re able to see the whole field,” said Suchman, “and that’s really exciting because it means we learn all the time.” Jack of All Trades at NSF Suchman’s training in the liberal arts undoubtedly prepared her for her current role, which draws on the ability to learn and analyze information without necessarily being an expert in any one research topic. “Liberal arts is perfect as a program officer because you get all of this information coming

to you all the time, and it’s well more than you can absorb,” said Suchman. “My job in general, you could describe as taking a graduate level course in whatever your science is all the time because people are sending you their best ideas,” she said. The career is fitting for Suchman because it nurtures her innate desire to constantly learn. “It’s so exciting to have a job where I am always learning new stuff,” she said. “I am so privileged to have that in my day to day — when you think about a career, that is hard to maintain.” Yet, maintain she has. Suchman herself describes a life of exploring jobs in her field, spending time as a research fellow and a professor, yet always circling around and back to NSF. She first landed there in 2000 as an assistant director on the Biological Oceanography Program. It was, though she didn’t realize it at the time, a dream job in Suchman’s book. Paving the Path as it Forms Suchman’s formal training is in oceanography. She graduated from Amherst with a double major in biology and English, spending her summers doing research in marine labs and a semester in maritime studies at Williams Mystic. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in biological oceanography from the University of Rhode Is-

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land. “As an undergrad, Cynthia sought out a wide range of friends, mentors and classes. She did not feel constrained by how things should be done, and simply followed her curiosity, including nurturing a love for nature,” said her close friend Betsy Lake ’89 about how Suchman navigated her interests and fed her curiosity in school. “After graduation, Cynthia continued pursuing intellectual and nature challenges, mirroring that Amherst experience,” Lake said. “She has sought out new and challenging jobs over the years, some in far flung places (hello, Alaska!), while continuing to nurture her outdoor adventure spirit — with trips, hikes and sports challenges all over the world. I remember many a hike and adventure where we contemplated life, careers and relationships,” Lake added. In exploring all that Amherst had to offer across disciplines, Suchman landed in Professor of Neuroscience Steve George’s neurobiology course, which she now looks back on as among her favorites. He remembers Suchman for the curiosity she brought and that she took the class not to meet some requirement or check a box, but simply to learn more. “It’s tricky for someone at Amherst to be more science-oriented than pre-med,” he said. “She definitely had that

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Suchman ’90

Despite her formal training in oceanography, Cynthia Suchman ‘90 now works in arctic studies for the National Science Foundation, a role she describes as constantly exposing her to new knowledge. genuine interest … and she did great in the course.” Suchman describes her formative experiences with marine studies as key junctures that opened up new possibilities. Arriving at Mystic, Suchman held a great curiosity for the subject without much insider understanding of how and where to nurture it; the semester away helped change that. “The interest was there, and it opened doors. The path was made because once you take one opportunity it leads to another opportunity,” she said. After, and because of, her semester away, Suchman spent a summer researching with established marine scientists Ed Houde and Denise Brietburg at the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, which in turn paved the way for a summer volunteer experience in the Arctic and

sparked further postdoctoral opportunities. She followed this trajectory not because she had a distinct course in mind but because she simply pursued what seemed interesting at the time. “When you look backwards, it’s like you’re telling this success story, but for every opportunity, there are five cool opportunities where you’re told no, or that you were the second choice for it, but if one of those had said yes, you would have taken a totally different path,” Suchman said. It’s a fitting approach for someone who, at her core, simply loves learning and has an ever-curious drive to discover; her rationale for pursuing a Ph.D. was not because it fit neatly into her carefully mapped plan, but simply because: “I wanted to be intellectually engaged, and I wanted to keep learning. For me, it was like, ‘Wow, this is a real-


ly cool field and I really want to do this in the next decade, and it will be really interesting and I’ll get to work in a marine lab and just learn lots of new cool stuff,’” Suchman said. “That’s basically what I did, and it was awesome, but I didn’t go to graduate school thinking, ‘This is my career; this is what I want to do when I grow up.’” Once she completed her Ph.D. and the time came to begin exploring careers, Suchman found herself at another juncture, unsure of where to go next, so she sent out a variety of applications to see what stuck. She ended up as a marine policy fellow in the House of Representatives Committee on Resources. Thus began Suchman’s lifetime of working at the intersection of science and government. At the House of Representatives, Suchman’s job demanded an entirely different skill set than the one she had just spent the past decade honing as a Ph.D. student. For her new job, she was putting together short, simple writing on a new topic every day for a general audience, rather than composing the thorough, in-depth and expert research required by a Ph.D. program. Despite this stark shift, Suchman felt the job was critical to expand what she perceived as potential opportunities for her. “It broadened my view of what you can use your science training for. Academia is an ivory tower, even in the sciences. It’s great, but it’s only one thing one can do with that [degree],” she said. Arctic Intrigue Suchman now works as a federal employee in a position that’s much more closely suited to her skill set. Despite her expertise and formal training in oceanography, Suchman held an interest in Arctic systems since she was in her twenties. As a graduating Amherst senior, she became fed up with the unanswerable, and inevitable,

question of “What are you doing next year?” Desperate for any answer, she applied to volunteer with the Student Conservation Association, which places students at research sites with federal agencies. She landed at a site in Alaska, a wildlife refuge on a river that opens up into Bristol Bay. It was less than a year after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the location was so remote that it received supplies and mail by float plane every two weeks, Suchman said. After never having spent much time camping, Suchman spent four months that summer living out of a tent and seeing few people — she was shocked flying into the Chicago airport, where she describes seeing more people in one place than she had seen over the past four months. It was an invaluable experience for Suchman, one that came out of unplanned, college student desperation and one with a lasting impact on her career today. “It made Alaska a very real place for me,” she said. And now, her job as director of Arctic programs makes it more real than ever, as a changing climate brings higher temperatures and melting ice. The field is “super exciting and super terrifying to be working in right now,” Suchman said.

Suchman stands under two jawbones of a blowhead whale on site in Utqiagvik, Alaska in 2011 (when it was known as Barrow, Alaska). “I never expected to be in an office,” she said. Though she now works behind a desk in Washington D.C., site visits like this are a redeeming way for her to get back in the field.

Navigating New Climates, Political and Environmental The NSF is responding to the changing times, expanding the program and allocating funding into a new program with an interdisciplinary focus called Navigating the New Arctic. While the job of the foundation is to collect the best ideas from a scientific community, it can also stimulate research in areas it deems particularly important by cordoning off money in this way. Suchman feels lucky, too, that under a federal administration bent on defunding and dismantling institutions surrounding science, the NSF has not yet felt the crippling effects of de-

funding. “There is a disconnect between day-to-day politics and what is happening at my agency, and I am happy about that,” she said. Yet, Suchman does worry about her position in relation to politics; the work she does only goes so far to push people into action regarding the climate crisis. “Climate change in the Arctic is so remote and removed from the general day to day that it doesn’t feel as real to the general population. That’s sort of a challenge,” she said. “My concern is that it is so far removed from what is happening in people’s backyards that it’s really hard to convey what those consequences might be.”

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Suchman ’90

Suchman, like many scientists, struggles to grasp what role she may have in conveying and ultimately motivating a public audience toward change. There is a fine line between scientist and advocate, she explained, and it can be tricky to cross it ethically, let alone effectively. “Many scientists care passionately about [climate change], but we are not necessarily sure about what we can do,” she said, explaining that when it comes to personal action “this is not what I know how to do, [but] tell me what to do, and I will do it.” She added, though, that there is a dire need for action when it comes to enacting climate policy. “Talking about science, that is not enough,” she said.

Of course, science is only a piece of the puzzle, but it is an invaluable one. In the fight against climate change, scientists need to do the research that then informs climate policy, which needs activists to advocate for and help create action. And along that line, there needs to be someone behind the science research, funding it and propelling it forward into the areas where it’s most needed. “Working to move the field forward, even in a more facilitative role, is something that can get me up in the morning and get me excited to do what I’m doing long term,” said Suchman. “It’s not something I just woke up one day and knew. I found my way there.”

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 13


Alumni Profile | Hannah Gersen ’00

Looking at the Life of a Writer , Unedited For novelist Hannah Gersen ’00, writing is not a glamorous hobby — it is an instinct that has followed her throughout all of her ups and downs. — Rebecca Picciotto ’22 If Hannah Gersen ’00 could write in her ideal conditions, her days might look something like this: She would sleep in, then squeeze in a workout, followed by some reading. At around 10 a.m., she would start writing and continue until 4 p.m., when she would call it a day. But Gersen’s days have never really looked like this. As is often the case, the romanticized life of a writer — in which their daily schedule is decided only by the timing of an intense and unpredictable whim of inspiration — does not match her reality. Instead, throughout her career, Gersen has had to learn to balance her passion for writing with other responsibilities. Gersen has taught English in Greece, worked for New York City’s Parks & Recreation department and spent time at a Wall Street law firm. Currently, she is raising a 2-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. At first glance, these jobs may seem random and disconnected, but they are all threaded together by what they simultaneously allowed her to do: write.

The Girl with Magic Balloons Gersen spent much of her youth in small towns, living in Bethel, Maine, for the first five years of her life before moving to Exeter, New Hampshire. Growing up, Gersen had always liked school. It made sense for a girl whose dad was super-

intendent of the school district. School was the dinner-table conversation and in a sense, “the family business,” as she puts it. School was also where Gersen first experienced the empowerment of the creative writing process. In fact, she wrote her first book in second grade for a school project. Each student was to create their own personal “mini-book” that contained a collection of their writings. “Being able to see my book and hold it in my hands, that was a big influence,” Gersen said. Beyond just the symbolic significance of having her own book, her story actually found some success. Each year, a traveling theater company visited her school and chose one story from each grade to perform. That year, Gersen’s story, which revolved around a little girl with magic balloons, was selected by the theater troupe. Watching adults produce her writing on stage was exciting for second-grade Gersen. In a figurative sense, she had become the girl in her story. Except instead of magic balloons, what .elevated her was a newly discovered passion for writing. Throughout the next couple of years, Gersen kept up with writing through her schoolwork. It was not until she was 9 years old when she moved to Boonsboro, Maryland, a small town in the western part of the state, that she began to write for herself outside of school. Though it was

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her third move, the transition hit her hard and she needed an outlet — and that outlet became writing.

A Lesson in Writing for its Own Sake It was not a huge surprise that Gersen ended up spending her undergraduate years at a writing college like Amherst. Between running on the cross country team her first and second years, and singing with a cappella group the Sabrinas for all four years, Gersen lived up to the Amherst College student stereotype: well-rounded and busy. An English major, her undergraduate education not only taught her how to write, but also how to live as a writer; that is, how to live creatively. Gersen attended as many live music performances as she could fit into her already packed schedule — though she still says she wishes she had gone to more. After all, if the task of a writer is to relay the human experience, immersing herself in art was how Gersen learned to tap into that experience. For her senior thesis, Gersen wrote a biography of her great-grandmother; it was a difficult process that taught her a lot. Completing it, however, was not the happily-ever-after moment she imagined. To this day, Gersen is not fully satisfied with the final product. This is not an uncommon feeling among writers, Gersen noted. “I don’t think I’ve reached a point where I

Photo courtesy of Hannah Gersen ’00

Gersen’s passion for writing started at a young age and only intensified during her time at Amherst. finish a book and I’m like [completely pleased],” she mused. “I don’t know a lot of writers who do feel that way.” But the value of Gersen’s thesis experience was not lost on her. The process of learning how to approach a long-term writing project was an essential turning point in her path to becoming a professional writer. Learning how to write for writing’s sake, rather than for a finished outcome was not just a one-time lesson — it became the cornerstone of Gersen’s career.

The Emotional Rollercoaster Gersen’s first years in the socalled real world were intense, to say the least. For six months, she was teaching English in Greece. When it came time to return home, she wanted to extend her stay and continue traveling. Then, life happened. Gersen’s mom had been diagnosed with cancer during Gersen’s first year of college. By the time Gersen was in Greece, the cancer seemed to be under con-

trol. Shortly after, however, the disease resurfaced, and she returned to the United States to live with her parents for the remainder of her mom’s life. After her mom passed away in June 2001, Gersen landed several positions at the New York City Parks & Recreation department and chose to take on the role of correspondence secretary to the Manhattan borough commissioner. Why? Because it involved the most writing. Just when it seemed like the post-college emotional rollercoaster might be slowing down, an unexpected drop kicked it right back into acceleration. Her first day of work in New York City was September 8, 2001. Three days later, the Twin Towers fell. Both the fact that she was living in New York in the wake of 9/11 and her mother’s death made Gersen’s first few years out of college “very, very vivid.” In many other career paths, personal tragedy is viewed as an obstacle. For writers, it can serve as fuel. During this time, Gersen journaled consistently and draft-


ed her first novel. “Even though most of what I wrote was awful, I did get into the practice of writing every day and working on things independently and just became a little more disciplined in general,” she said.

The 12-Year Push Renowned Irish author Anne Enright has said that when becoming a writer, “the first 12 years are the worst.” For Gersen, this was true. When she was 24, she enrolled in a novel-writing class at the 92nd Street Y, a community center on the Upper East Side with a well-known literary division where great writers teach classes. Throughout her 20s she wrote, submitted to publications, received rejections,

wrote some more and continued the cycle. “When I was in my 20s, I was very anxious about whether or not I would have any success with writing,” she said. These doubts circulated in her mind, making it difficult for her to finish projects. Her concern with the end product stifled her creative process. But after spending time at three writers’ retreats, she realized that uncertainty comes with the trade. “That really helped me because I met writers of all different ages and I saw that they all were struggling with similar questions and doubts — it’s just part of it,” Gersen said. At the age of 30, while doing administrative work for a Wall Street law firm, Gersen was pub-

lished for the first time. Granta Magazine, a literary quarterly founded in 1889, featured her short story “Fox Deceived” on its website. Shortly after, the 2008 financial crisis happened. While her colleagues at the law firm were panicking over the looming recession, Gersen was finally beginning to find her writer’s groove. She published short stories in numerous other magazines, such as The Southern Review, The New England Review and The North American Review. At the same time, she was working on a second novel (she had let the first one go after deciding it could not be salvaged). After struggling to find an agent to represent the novel, Gersen tried to compile her short stories

into a collection, but she came up against a wall. The rejections were piling up and it did not seem like her successes would outweigh them. “At the time, I just said to myself, ‘I’m going to finish this book of short stories and if no one is interested in that book, then I’ll give up,’” she said. And it was a wise decision. Fulfilling her promise to herself, Gersen finished the collection and ultimately secured an agent. “I feel like everything has been like that in my career … I always convince myself of one more little goal,” she said. Her next “little” goal was to write a third novel. At age 36, exactly 12 years after she enrolled in that first novel-writing class at the 92nd Street Y, Gersen’s debut novel, “Home Field,” was accepted for publication by William Morrow Paperbacks.

The Payoff

Photo courtesy of Hannah Gersen ’00

Gersen was inspired to write her debut novel, “Home Field,” to explore the dynamics of how a family from a small town copes with tragedy. It was her first to be picked up by a publisher.

Gersen began working on “Home Field” in 2011 while pregnant with her first child. After difficulties with her first two novels, she was hesitant to begin a third. Her agent pushed her to do it, however, and once she knew she had someone to hold her accountable, Gersen was in. Besides her agent’s coaxing, Gersen was inspired to write “Home Field” in order to explore the dynamics of a small town and “a family that had to sort of regroup after a tragedy.” The novel takes place in Willowboro, a small town in western Maryland, and follows a high school football coach named Dean Renner who is coping with the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. The story is simultaneously emotional and uplifting, reflecting Gersen’s own path up to this point. The process of writing “Home Field” bore some similarities to her other books. She knew she would finish it just as she had the other two. She coped with the same doubt of whether it would be sellable. But once she began working with a publisher, the process became profoundly different.

“Publishing your first book, it does change you … Once people are really invested in it, there’s a level of attention to detail that I hadn’t ever brought to my work, which I really learned a lot from,” Gersen said.

“There’s no logic to it, I just want to do it.” Gersen’s devotion to writing has been almost entirely self-enforced and motivated. While working other jobs, she would write at night, take writing classes on the side and go on retreats to polish her skills. Now, while raising two children in Brooklyn, she is working on her next novel. Through the rejection, the mental blocks and tribulations, Gersen has never given up, even when she was absolutely ready to. When I asked her what keeps her motivated, she had no real answer. “I just want to do it for myself — there’s no logic to it, I just want to do it. I’m not working for anyone … I don’t have to sell this book. I don’t have that kind of pressure on me and I don’t think I could personally cope with that … It’s a good question. I honestly don’t know why I keep doing this,” she said. And yet, she keeps coming back to it. It speaks to the natural instinct that has been ingrained in her since she wrote about the little girl with magic balloons. For Gersen, writing isn’t an unwanted obligation. She loves art, and she loves to create — no explanation needed. Gersen’s path has not been linear. There have been beginnings, pauses, endings and resets. When she talks about her career, she punctuates each sentence with humble laughter — she knows her story is not the most glamorous. But shouldn’t that be the case for a writer? If she is to depict life as a real person in its truest sense on paper, then she must live it the same way in the real world — without sugarcoating or romanticizing. Maybe that means she will never achieve her ideal day, but maybe that, in and of itself, is ideal.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 15


Tracing Indigenous Lives: Through, Around and at Amherst College

The land on which Amherst College sits is Nonotuck land, with the Nipmuc and the Wampanoag to the east, the Mohegan and Pequot to the south, the Mohican to the west and the Abenaki to the north. Trigger warning: Some of the material in this spread may be disturbing to readers, but The Student believes that it is important to confront and hold the institution accountable for its history. The People of Nonotuck The Nonotuck are an indigenous group, one of the many Algonkian peoples, historically centered around present-day Northampton with territory that extends toward Hadley and Amherst. They largely lived in villages supported by strong extended families, and frequently intermixed with many Native Americans from other nearby locales, including the Pocumtuc — which the Nonotuck are often broadly grouped with — the Abenaki, the Nipmuc, the Mahicans and the Pequot. Having access to the Connecticut and Mill Rivers and the abundant vegetation afforded by the associated watershed, the Nonotuck people thrived, making noted advances in agriculture and actively participating in a wide network of intertribal relationships, among other things. When English, Dutch and French settlers arrived in the American northeast in the early 17th century, the Nonotuck were thrown into disarray, like many other indigenous groups in the area. Even before European colonists had reached the Connecticut River Valley, many of their trade goods and diseases — including devastating smallpox outbreaks — had already made their way through, including devastating smallpox outbreaks. This, combined with the large number of English who by then claimed Nonotuck as their territory, as well as conflicts between indigenous groups spurred by violent European expansionism, quickly whittled away at

the Nonotuck population. Many of them were driven to move north and join the Abenaki. Nowadays, few Nonotuck remain in and around Northampton, although many Algonkian peoples in the area have Nonotuck ancestry.

A Legacy Built on Genocide Lord Jeffery Amherst was the commander of the British army in North America, where he led the conquest of Canada from France. During Pontiac’s War, when a confederation of Native American tribes dissatisfied with British policy — most notably a decree by Amherst to end the tradition of gift-giving when visiting indigenous groups — rebelled with the intention of driving British settlers out of the area, Amherst infamously called for the extermination of indigenous peoples. He advocated for and eventually oversaw the conduct of biological warfare against Native Americans in Siege of Fort Pitt, using blankets contaminated with smallpox as a way to ravage the native population. In a letter in 1763, he wrote, “You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect...” Amherst College is named after the town of Amherst, which in turn is named after Lord Jeffery Amherst. Lord Jeff, as he is commonly known, was the college’s informal mascot until 2016, when the board

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

A map of the territory of the Algonkian peoples, in the area now known as southern New England.

of trustees voted to remove the usage of Lord Jeff in all official communications, messaging or symbolism. Editor’s note: The Student would like to thank Professor of American Studies and English Lisa Brooks for her help fact-checking the contents of this page.

Q&A With Kiara M. Vigil, Professor of American Studies “Of Lord Geoffrey Amherst was a sol-dier of the King. And he came from a-cross the sea. To the Frenchman and the Indians, he didn’t do a thing. In the wilds of this wild country, in the wilds of this wild country...”

Composed by James Shelley Hamilton of the class of 1906, the Lord Geoffrey Amherst song is one of several in an anthology titled “Amherst College Songs” published in 1906. Hamilton’s inspiration for the song derived from the college’s lack of one — Amherst did not have its own version of Harvard’s cheery “Here’s to Johnny Harvard” song, Hamilton lamented in a letter written in 1934. Amid Hamilton’s ignorant pursuit for school spirit, an account of Lord Jeffery Amherst’s participation in the fight between “Frenchmen and the Indians” — and the exaltation of his “loyalty, bravery and fame” — saturates the throughout the song.

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Q: When were the first Native American students enrolled into higher education? A: [We are unsure of when the first Native American students enrolled in higher education.] Widespread admission and enrollment of Native American students did not begin until the 1960s. Of course, they went to college before that … but there wasn’t a critical mass that could advocate for curriculum changes, student support, or anything like that until the 1960s. That’s fairly typical of other marginalized groups on campus. Q: What can Amherst do to better support Native students? A: There has been an incredible shift from Amherst since 2012. The admissions department began to ask, “How do we recruit Native students? How do we support them?” Our advice was “Well, you have to consider the environment. To what degree will they feel welcome and supported?” Especially first-gen students … One of the most important things we can do now is support INCA [Indigenous and Native Citizens Association], the Native group on campus. Q: Lord Jeff was the college’s unoffical mascot for decades. What was the effect of switching to the mammoth? A: The switch to the mammoth as the mascot, and other things like that, has meaning. The reason people battle about these things is because they have a value and they represent the cultural understanding. They celebrate certain understandings of things … It’s not a small thing that we shifted to the mammoth.


Progress on Campus... When compared to the grueling histories tied to the college’s treatment of indigenous people, the progress made in the last few decades has proved substantial. The college began offering the Early Overnight for Native Students (EONS) program in 2014, during which prospective students participate in an additional day of regular Diversity Open House (DIVOH) programming targeted toward indigenous students. This past month, the college recognized Indigenous People’s Day for the first time in its history as cities, schools and other institutions across the country stopped recognizing Columbus Day. The Indigenous and Native Citizens Association (INCA) has also observed an expansion in membership and regular member attendance over the past few years, according to INCA Co-President Sarah Montoya ’21. The organization also recently acquired a space in Ford Hall for indigenous students. “Thinking about how far it has come since I’ve started here, there were about three students involved with INCA, and maybe a couple of more outside of INCA, and now it’s really grown,” Montoya said. More directed attention toward admitting native students has contributed to their increased presence on campus. In addition to EONS, the college partners with College Horizons, an organization that aims to prepare Native students for college. Montoya also highlighted that the hiring of Mandy Hart, associate dean of admissions and coordinator of diversity outreach, as an advancement for Native students. Allies are found at multiple levels of administration, Montoya added. Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones, Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Angie Tissi-Gassoway and Chief Student Affairs Officer Karu Kozuma were among those Montoya noted as foundational for administrative shifts. Nicole Vandal ‘21, co-president of INCA, also noted that Head of Archives and Special Collections Mike Kelly has helped expand the archive to include books by native authors.

As the characterization of Lord Jeffery Amherst metastasized into a wellaccepted mascot throughout the course of the 20th century, issues of The Amherst Student, particularly within the sports section, used the conquest of indigenous people as jokes to highlight sports team wins. In one article from Oct. 1, 1973, the headline reads “Lord Jeffs Put Pox on Chiefs 24-14,” alluding to the blankets of smallpox Lord Jeffery Amherst spread throughout the region. Another seperate student paper called “The Smallpox Blanket” also circulated in the early 1990s.

Up until the 1970s, when Valentine Dining Hall underwent an overhaul in renovations, students dined using china plates, teacups and other utensils depicting Lord Jeffery Amherst forcefully chasing Native Americans. The china first came into use right before the turn of the 20th century when President Stanley King and his wife commissioned the plates to be designed in their home. “Our china made a conversation piece, and we knew that the students would frequently have their dates as guests for lunch and dinner,” Stanley wrote in his book “The Consecrated Eminence: The Story of the Campus and Buildings of Amherst College” in 1952. Top image: A student eats in Valentine Dining Hall using china depicting Lord Jeffery Amherst, April 1972 Bottom image: China used in Valentine Dining Hall, preserved by the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

Cultivating Community on Campus Over the course of the past few years, the college has seen an increase in Native students on campus. With strength in numbers, the Indigenous and Native Citizens Assocation (INCA) has built a community for themselves in at-times hostile spaces.

Photos courtesy of INCA

... But Still More To Do. Rachel Chaffin ’20

“The fact that the fall has Columbus Day and Thanksgiving ... it can be discouraging and relentless for the Native experience in thinking about how much erasure is celebrated in the fall semester. It would be really awesome if the college would actually and permanently recognize Indigenous People’s Day.”

Nicole Vandal ’21, Co-President of INCA

“It’s sometimes difficult to be in classses where professors don’t realize that there are Native students on campus. Sometimes sensitive things can be said with the erasure of indigenous people. For example, you can’t talk about Yosemite National Park without mentioning that indigenous people had to be kicked off their land for it to be here. It’s hard to be in classes if you’re not with other Native students.”

Trent Colbert ’20

“Before coming to Amherst, I had never felt like I was part of a bigger community of Native students, and I have really enjoyed the community that I have found here. However, for much of my time here, I have often felt that our little community has largely existed on the outskirts of our broader Amherst community, since we never had a space to call our own.”

Alexis Scalese ’22, Vice President of INCA

“I feel really isolated on this campus. I’m always having to explain things to everyone all the time, and no matter how much people act like they understand, they really don’t. There are a lot of assumptions on this campus that Native students do not exist or are present ... We deserve support in expressing ourselves and having access to the same things that other students have access to.”

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 17


Alumni Profile | Sarah Wagner ’80

Transforming the World Through Empathy A compassionate communicator and fundraiser, Sarah Wagner ’80 makes a real-world impact with her philanthropic vision. — Seoyeon Kim ’21 The first thing Sarah Wagner ’80 told me after we started our Skype call was that she was honored, but didn’t know why I had chosen to write about her. “I mean … I haven’t written a novel or anything like that!” she said, laughing. But after hearing her unravel stories of her lifelong philanthropy and dedication to others, as well as speaking with family and friends who raved about her kindness and intelligence, it became clear that Wagner simply was, as I had suspected, incredibly humble. A deeply involved member of the first full class of women at the college, an exceptionally successful fundraiser for various arts organizations and now vice president of the nonprofit consulting firm Campbell & Company, Wagner’s immense accomplishments certainly deserve to be written about. Throughout our conversation, what shone through most was her ability to thoroughly put me at ease. Wagner’s exceptional knack for empathizing with others and genuine kindness led her to nonprofit work, where she makes real-world impact every day by helping organizations function at their best.

Trying Something New Wagner didn’t always plan on coming to Amherst. The oldest of three, Wagner was immersed in the music world from an early age, teaching piano, flute and guitar lessons after school to her siblings’ friends. In fact, she had applied to music conservatories for piano and was accepted to

Lawrence University — where she had originally intended to enroll. “But then,” she said, “I decided that I didn’t want to sit in a practice room by myself for six hours a day.” When Wagner’s high school counselor suggested Amherst, telling her that the school was going co-ed, she knew she wanted to apply. “I very much wanted to try a different geographic location outside of the Midwest,” said Wagner, who was born in Evanston, Illinois, and lived there up until college. She also knew that Smith College had a renowned music program; as a music and English double major she ended up taking advantage of the five-college program, enrolling in applied piano classes at Smith to supplement her music classes at Amherst. But perhaps most of all, Wagner was “intrigued by being in the first class of women [at Amherst].”

The First Women at Amherst Wagner was admitted to Amherst in 1976, when the college first began accepting women into its first-year class. Wagner remembered the obvious dichotomies, where “you would walk into Valentine, and the ratio of men to women there was pretty much four to one. But then you’d go and participate in the social scene, and there were more women than men in the valley [because of the women’s colleges].” She recalled a particular incident where one fraternity constructed convoluted procedures to deter wom-

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en from joining. But not all of the women’s experiences were smooth-sailing. Wagner herself was undeterred by the experience, going on to join Phi Delta Sigma and becoming an honorary member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. “It takes a while for change to happen,” she added. By her own admission Wagner was a “joiner” in college. As soon as she stepped on campus, she became heavily involved in various activities, from squash, a sport she had never played before, to The Amherst Student, where she worked as a production editor. Wagner also joined the soccer team, the choral program and crew — another sport that was a first for her. “The best part about [being in the first class of women] was that they were just starting the sports teams,” Wagner recalled, smiling. “I was varsity everything my freshman year!” One of Wagner’s Amherst roommates, Anne Melissa Dowling ’80, said what stood out was Wagner’s constant empathy despite her packed schedule. “Sarah was … involved in a zillion activities, and yet she always made time for and showed interest in anything I was doing or concerned about. She [had] a way of filling a day with more than any person I know,” Dowling said. Dorothea Dickerman ’80, Wagner’s other roommate at Amherst, described Wagner’s fierce commitment to all of her on-campus activities, specifically recounting her disappointment when women’s crew lost their

Photo courtesy of Sarah Wagner ’80

As a vice president for Campbell & Company, Wagner has positively impacted the work of numerous nonprofit organizations. first race in the fall of 1976. “Never mind that there had never been a women’s crew team at Amherst before that fall … [and] never mind that Sarah had zero experience rowing crew,” Dickerman said. “She had jumped right on that opportunity, given it her all and was really bummed out about the loss, which fueled a commitment to try harder next time.” Majoring in English was a no-brainer for Wagner, who loved English classes all throughout high school. She has fond memories of Professor of English William Pritchard’s class on modern poetry and Professor of Russian Stanley J. Rabinowitz’s class on Russian literature. “I had a connection with Professor Pritchard … He was my advisor. He’s also a very fine piano player,” Wagner said. “And [Professor] Rabinowitz has a photographic memory and remembers every student’s name. He’s legendary for that.” Not one to shy away from trying new subjects, Wagner found one of her favorite classes not in either of her majors but in geol-

ogy. She learned about the subject for the first time in Professor of Mineralogy and Geology Gerald Brophy’s class. The reason she loved the class so much, Wagner said, is because it gave her “a new vantage point.” “[The class] taught [me] to understand how the natural world was formed, and so it gave [me] a new perspective every time you looked at a landscape,” she explained. “You would understand that … this was igneous rock, and [it’s] shifted this way because of pressure within the earth.” Coincidentally, in Wagner’s current career at Campbell & Company, one of her concentrations is conservation — a topic she began learning about in Brophy’s class.

Unparalleled Skills

People

Before joining Campbell & Company, Wagner served in senior development positions at various arts organizations in Chicago. While on Amherst’s concert choir tour of Europe after graduation, she received an invitation to interview with the


Lyric Opera of Chicago. The organization offered her three positions — one in education, one in the general manager’s office and one in development. “I’d never even heard of [development],” Wagner remarked. Still, she opted to work in development, fundraising for and improving the organization’s finances and programs, because the job allowed her to use both her academic and social skills. “You had the opportunity to use the intellectual side of your brain for writing grants and that sort of thing,” she said, “but to also meet interesting people — people who are passionate about music [and] the organization.” Dickerman noted that Wagner’s first job as an assistant fundraiser at the Lyric Opera allowed her to exercise Wagner’s “greatest gift of all: her unparalleled people skills.” An incredibly motivated selfstarter, Wagner “used every one of her skills and talents to succeed at [her job], Dickerman said. “No one handed her that job.” Wagner also rose to the challenge when her boss quit, leaving Wagner to do not only her own job, but also her boss’ through a year of searching for a replacement. “You can imagine the impression it made when a 23-year-old female, one year on the job, brought in the funds to support the budget for the opera of a major city for the next year,” Dickerman said. After working at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Wagner went on to work in similar development positions at the Chicago City Ballet, The Museum of Science and Industry and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Through all of her experiences, Wagner’s exceptional social skills and ability to make anyone feel at ease were central to her success as a fundraiser. “You learn on the job,” Wagner said. “Certainly there are arts administration degrees you can get, but … that needs to be coupled with the on-the-groundexperience. Because fundraising is about relationships.” Her jobs

also required communicating with both the donors and the organization. “[Fundraising is] about … finding and understanding what excites [the donors] about an organization, and making a match for them that benefits the organization … In the process, we’d do a campaign study and talk to both the donors and the organization, and then we would help them achieve that goal, whatever it might be.” Wagner’s unique skill of connecting and empathizing with ease is widely known by her family and friends. Her eldest son John Wagner ’12 remarked that “everyone seems to know [his] mom.” “She just makes an impression on people. I think it’s some combination of how comfortable she is with exactly who she is, her tendency to embrace levity and vulnerability, and how accepting she is of others,” he said. “No matter where we go — we could even be in another city — acquaintances frequently tap my mom on the shoulder to strike up conversation. My family just rolls with it by now … an anticipated side effect of having a particularly endearing and memorable mother.”

first part-time vice president at the company. “Before, everyone had always been full-time, so that was something I had to stand up for … but I was doing more work than fulltime people. I was made a vice president after a short time,” Wagner said. At Campbell & Company, Wagner’s job includes working with nonprofits on not just fundraising campaigns, but also on capacity building, which as Wagner describes, is “helping [the organizations] to grow their contributed revenue stream on an annual basis.” She also assists nonprofits on governance, communications and analytics. Wagner beamed brightly when she spoke about her firm’s mission. “Our mission is really to collaborate and innovate with people who change lives with philanthropic vision and action,” she emphasized. “And so whether I’m working with the Chicago Symphony or the Shedd Aquarium or The Nature Conservancy, [I’m] working with people who are making a tangible impact on the world in those areas. You feel good about your work every day.” Her son John observed that his mother would “undoubt-

edly be a force in the for-profit world” given her incredible business acumen and social ease. “But instead [she] finds tremendous fulfillment in helping to advance causes she genuinely believes in,” he noted. “Her entire career has been an extension of her moral compass, and she has never wavered in her dedication to either her profession or the people in her life.”

A Lifelong Curiosity According to Wagner, a typical day for her involves anything from conducting interviews with donors and attending board meetings, to internal meetings with her analytics staff and writing up reports. “There are a lot of conversations with donors,” she said. “And then [there are] internal meetings to determine the strategy to share back with the organization.” Working with various nonprofits, however, requires coming up with various solutions. “That’s what I love about [consulting],” she said, “that each organization has a different set of opportunities and challenges. So you’re working within a different framework for each one, and can have multiple clients at

any one time.” She attributed her Amherst education in helping her realize her love for the profession. “[Amherst] instilled in me a lifelong curiosity. A curiosity for knowledge and for problem-solving, [which] is big in consulting,” she said. One of Wagner’s favorite cases while working at Campbell & Company was a campaign she led for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “It was their first-ever independent campaign, and it ended up being overwhelmingly successful with [the school] exceed[ing] its $50 million goal. To build that culture of philanthropy, … that was wonderful, and they were wonderful to work with,” she noted. She emphasized the value of seeing her work’s impact firsthand. “Whether it’s for The Nature Conservancy where there’s an acquisition of a huge piece of land that is preserved forever, or a symphony orchestra that is bringing music to people who have never heard it before,” she said, “there are really touching moments for every organization, and to see some of that firsthand and to know that you had a part in it — it’s very rewarding.”

Empowering Selflessness Wagner’s experience in fundraising and philanthropy began at an early age, when her parents asked her to distribute brochures and envelopes for the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross, asking neighbors to make a donation. “But it wasn’t until I started in [philanthropy] as a career that I really realized the incredible impact that it has on organizations and people,” she noted. After 15 years of fundraising at various nonprofit arts organizations, Wagner decided to move into part-time (she noted here that “80 percent-time would be more accurate than part-time”) consulting for work-life balance. “The nonprofits I used to work at actually became my clients [at Campbell & Company],” she said. She went on to become the

Photo courtesy of Sarah Wagner ’80

Wagner poses with (left to right) daughter-in-law Ellen Swiontkowski Wagner ’12, son John Wagner ’12 and daughter Claire Wagner ‘14 while hosting a first-year Amherst sendoff in 2012.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 19


Alumni Profile | Nicholaus Mollel ’10

Coder Parses Problems, Not Just Algorithms Nicholaus Mollel’s ’10 analytic aproach has led him to suceed as an international student at Amherst, comunity leader, and software architect Venmo. — Connor Haugh ’21 When Nicholaus Mollel ’10 landed in America for the first time, an Amherst upperclassman drove him to campus from the airport for International Student Orientation, a program that takes place a week prior to First-Year Orientation. Amherst had been nothing more than a word on a page for Mollel until he saw the campus in its August greenery. “Liberal arts” was a term alien to the pedagogy of his home in Moshi, Tanzania, where practicality and pre-professionalism reigned, but it was one that excited him: the agency to explore academically made sense for him. He also liked the charming photos of campus and the idea of a small, focused student body. The conversation he had on that first ride to campus turned out to be a foothold Mollel needed. Transitioning to Amherst from Moshi, half a world apart, was certainly not easy, but he confided that the help he received from international student peers who had experienced the same turbulence, as well as the warm welcome he received from Amherst’s staff, helped him succeed. “Even if I had any challenge, from the beginning, I knew who I could go to,” Mollel said. “That made things a lot easier than they could have been.” This statement demonstrates precisely the way in which Mollel thinks about the world: in

terms of problems and strategies for solutions. In our interviews, Mollel is measured. He focuses immediately on the concrete in order to convey his biography in as straightforward a way as possible. He leaves little room to explain how he feels; instead, he explains how he thinks. This betrays his deep humility, and also shows his analytical mind

“[Being a manager]

gives me space to go in new directions. I get to chart the course of our architecture, and that’s a problem which excites me.

” at work, always attempting to identify and convey the optimal answer rather than obfuscate. The other important piece of Mollel’s arrival was his orientation trip, which he calls one of the seminal experiences of his time at Amherst and a testament to the strength of the institution as a whole. He participated in the now-defunct Community Engagement Orientation Trip (CEOT). The trip helped him form a close social circle of people who, through mutual experience and intimate conversations,

20 | The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019

became stalwart friends and confidants. The trip also solidified a passion for helping others, which would become a formative feature of his four years at Amherst. Discovering an Outlet Despite enrolling in a liberal arts college, Mollel initially thought he wanted to be an engineer. “My [first-year] advisor was Professor [David] Hall in the physics department. I had these interests in physics, math and science. I met with him, and he recommended I take Intro to Computer Science my freshman fall,” he said. Once he did, Mollel was hooked. “It gave me the space and the excitement to create, which I would have gotten out of engineering. And so, it was like okay, — this is what I want to do,” Mollel said. Mollel then spent much of his class time in the Seeley Mudd building, jumping between math courses and computer science electives, every so often fitting in a writing-based course, which he says has given him the edge in his field today. Along with his coursework in mathematics, statistics and other sciences, he engaged with the kind of challenging problems that excited him. He found Linear Algebra to present the greatest challenge of all his courses, but it taught him a valuable lesson: “doing some-

Photos courtesy of Nicholaus Mollel ’10

Coming from Moshi, Tanzania, Mollel never owned his own laptop before he arrived at Amherst. He is now a software engineer. thing that is hard does not have to be wasteful. You can have a hard time in a course and still have a profound experience.” When pushed in this way, he worked harder to put his best foot forward. Purely studying mathematics, however, was not the right fit for him in the long run. Instead, Mollel found himself most engaged when he had concrete problems and projects to grapple with. In his Advanced Data Structures course with the late Professor of Computer Science Lyle McGeoch, Mollel loved how project-based learning solidified his understanding of a complex idea. He worked to provide a reasonable solution to the famous traveling salesman problem. The problem, proven to have no perfect solution, simply looks to find the shortest path for a salesman to take on a trip where he has to visit every city on a map. Mollel, along with his teammates, synthesized existing lit-

erature on the subject, created a solution and implemented a graphical interface, where one could watch as the computer calculated the optimal route on maps of thousands of cities. McGeoch’s commitment to his students, as well as his thoughtful feedback as the project progressed, pushed Mollel to expand his understanding of how computers can be used to solve problems. Not Everything Can Be Programmed Not all problems, however, could be solved with a computer program, and Mollel understood this. Because of what he was exposed to on CEOT, Mollel became heavily involved in what would become the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), then the Center for Community Service. Mollel worked as a tutor at schools in the town of Holyoke, providing standardized test tutoring to students who were behind. Teaching presented a


unique set of challenges. On one hand, working with students was deeply rewarding when they made significant gains. On the other hand, students were often already too far behind when tutoring began, and at times Mollel felt lost and a little hopeless. In response, Mollel would search for solutions. With other students, he lobbied Amherst and its partner programs to allow tutors to reach kids earlier, before they fell behind, and saw improvements in the success of his students. After several years working in the program, Mollel became its leader, helping coordinate tutoring. In addition to his work as a tutor, Mollel challenged himself by singing in the Gospel Choir, which, as a subunit of the Black Student Union (BSU), brought him a sense of community and great enjoyment. On campus, most knew Mollel for his work in community engagement or in BSU, but also as a resident of Charles Drew House, which served as the primary vehicle of his social life on campus. The house’s close-knit community, as well as its service-based mission, soon became a home to him. By his senior year, Mollel felt he had a grasp on how to think like a computer scientist, and he put that to use in his senior thesis, titled “Neural Networks & Page Swapping.” Neural networks, now a buzzword with connotations beyond its original conception, were a fairly novel idea at the time — essentially statistical processes mimicking human learning by interpreting sensory inputs. Neural netwowrks were just starting to exhibit human-level performance on tasks like identifying a cat in a photograph, identifying individuals from just their penmanship and reading traffic signs on the road. Mollel, with guidance from Professor of Computer Science Scott Kaplan, worked to

improve a computer’s memory system using the superhuman learning powers of neural networks. Computers also have to store terabytes of information, so they store data on “pages,” like a book. These pages, depending on their importance, are ordered so that the information you have to look at very often is at the front

“[Computer science]

gave me the space and the excitement to create, which I would have gotten out of engineering. And so, it was like okay, — this is what I want to do.

” of the book. For his thesis, Mollel trained his neural network to predict how to best organize the order of this book by feeding it an enormous dataset of past requests to access data. Based on this data, the network can learn how to effectively handle the massive influxes of data computers receive. In theory, this would reduce the amount of reordering of pages the computer had to accomplish. After many hours of tinkering with the fine-tuning of the network, Mollel created a neural network which could, from the dataset of the most recent activity on a computer, learn to efficiently store the data you might want to immediately access. “He did some very good work, in a topic that deserves further exploration, but it was great to have such a capable student take on such a novel combination of ideas, page swapping and neural networks,” Kaplan said. The unique solution to a problem which will continue to plague computer scientists for

years to come demonstrated how far Mollel had come in the field over his time at Amherst. A Swiss Army Knife: Transforming Computer Applications Coming from Amherst’s computer science program, Mollel had a unique set of skills. “I took a couple classes at UMass [Amherst], and the people in those classes had way more hands-on experience than I had,” he noted. “What I had, however, was a broader understanding of the field. Given a problem, Amherst prepared me to use a broad variety of tools to solve that problem, rather than just one.” While other young coders with specific expertise might have been a well-made seven millimeter flathead screwdriver, Mollel said he was a Swiss Army knife. “It was easier for me to pick up new things, learn them quickly, but also know what I have to do [in the big picture],” he said. Post-Amherst, Mollel spent a number of years at Boston Software, which sells a suite of software platforms for insurance companies. After a few years as a junior engineer, Mollel was promoted to oversee a drastic change within the company. Originally selling Microsoft Windows-based software, Boston Software was moving all of its products into a web-based format. It was a massive undertaking, equivalent to not only translating the Bible from Latin to English, but also transforming it from a set of scrolls to a printed, bound book. He drew heavily on the understanding of the field from his time at Amherst to move away from direct translation, instead focusing on solving the unique challenges the new medium presented. After such a dramatic project, Mollel thought to himself, “What could I possibly do next?” Mollel felt it was time to leave Boston Software upon finishing the mess of programing lan-

guages and translation required for his projects. His next project was not in the modes of presenting content in different forms, but rather managing highly-used software. This September, he joined Venmo, the globally-popular mobile payment service owned by PayPal, where he is now a senior engineer. Mollel will be working with his team to take on the challenge of handling massive amounts of data in real time. One of the upcoming challenges he will face is the integration of Venmo’s forthcoming credit card into the existing digital system. The most exciting part of this new role for him, however, is the responsibilities of management. “It gives me space to go in new directions,” he said. “I get to chart the course of our architecture, and that’s a problem which excites me.”

I took a couple classes at UMass [Amherst], and the people in those classes had way more handson experience than I had. What I had, however, was a broader understanding of the field. Given a problem, Amherst prepared me to use a broad variety of tools to solve that problem, rather than just one.

” From our brief conversation, I could tell Mollel thrives because of his natural tendency to break down a problem into its component parts, apply previous strategies and devise solutions. This process, honed over 10 years of engineering complex systems, comes second nature to

him. Even more apparent, however, is the consistency of his spirit. To come to a new country, adapt and subsequently thrive requires a brave and resourceful mindset. Amherst certainly presented him not only with challenges but also with strategies for solving problems. In the classroom, Amherst gave him the analytical toolbox to engage in the kind of projects that stimulated him. In his community, fellow international students, Drew House and BSU provided him with a set of peers who cared deeply about him and whom he could lean on in difficult moments. In his work with the community at large, he learned that he can use these problem-solving superpowers to help others address their needs. Upon his graduation from Amherst, he realized that his “own experiences as an international student could be very useful to future students in helping them succeed. I want to tell all the knowledge I wished I had a little bit earlier.” Consequently, he was an active participant in the Loeb Center’s Pathways program, which connected alumni with current students, before it was terminated. Mollel’s top three pieces of advice for international students: get your driver’s license, think seriously about if you want to stay in the U.S. after graduation well before you graduate and study abroad if you can. “Even though you may feel you are already abroad, it seems like such an awesome opportunity to grow even more. I regret not studying abroad,” he said. In that way, Mollel’s commitment to tackling big problems, from software architecture strategies to succeeding as an international student, seems to be the defining feature of his life’s work. His problem-solving capacity demonstrates not only his approach to life but also his concern with solving the problems of the world — in his own life, in others’ lives and in larger society.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 21


Alumni Profile | Megan Robertson ’15

Basketball as a Passion, Sport and Career Amherst basketball star Megan Robertson ’15 continues to pursue the game of basketball: this time as a data analyst. — Matt Sparrow ’21 When children first start playing sports, many dream of one day throwing a football like Aaron Rodgers, serving like Serena Williams or shooting a three-pointer like Steph Curry. Megan Robertson ’15 was no different — she fantasized about hitting home runs over the Green Monster for the Red Sox. When those plans didn’t work out, however, she decided to pick up a basketball. After a storied four-year career at Amherst on the women’s basketball team, during which she was named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year, recognized twice on the All-NESCAC Second Team and made two Final Four appearances, Robertson has a lot to look back on and take pride in. Just as impressive as her athletic triumphs are her academic accomplishments — she was a triple major and one of the first students at Amherst to major in statistics. As she ventures into the professional world, her time at Amherst both on and off the court have prepared her well for what lies ahead.

Hoop Dreams Growing up with two siblings on a dead-end street in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, Robertson was very active from a young age. “We would always be riding bikes and running around and playing basketball or street hockey,” Robertson recalled. At age five, she participated in her first local basketball clinic and didn’t stop after that. “I just kept playing, and I liked it and was pretty good at it. I was

very tall, so that also helped,” she said. She had plenty of inspiration when it came to basketball, from the University of Connecticut and University of Tennessee women’s basketball teams to WNBA players like Lisa Leslie. As a young fan, she even attended the 2006 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Boston. “I went to the media day and got all of the teams to sign my poster,” she said. “That was my original plan, to play basketball for UConn or the University of Tennessee. That didn’t quite work out though.” Robertson was determined to play basketball in college, but had to adjust her expectations by the time she went to high school. Though she was always tall, she wasn’t tall enough to play at a Division I school in the positions of forward and center, where her height had usually placed her at the high school level. “Growing up, … no one was taller than me,” she said. “[By the] end of middle school, when I started doing [Amateur Athletic Union] tournaments, and I’m playing against teams where [University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach] Pat Summit is coming to the games, but to watch the other team … I wanted to make sure that I was making the right choice in terms of having the academic challenges and opportunities that I wanted.” All the while, she was enrolled in Phillips Academy Andover, which she felt prepared her well for Amherst and gave

22 | The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019

her some of the skills necessary to succeed in college. “Essentially, you’re thrown into a pretty collegiate-level environment, just at a younger age,” she said. “It was a pretty heavy workload but you’re also very independent in that you have to learn those time management skills on your own and figure out what’s the best way to learn and how to study.”

Coming to Amherst When deciding what college to attend, Robertson valued the advantages of a small school over a larger university. “I was definitely looking at something that was a little smaller just because for me, I really wanted to have the opportunity to interact with my professors,” she said. Compared to bigger schools, where teaching assistants might lead classes or office hours, what really stuck out to Robertson was the fact that the professors were so involved in teaching at Amherst. While Robertson was a triple major in history, mathematics and statistics, that wasn’t originally her plan. “When I initially started freshman year, I was definitely interested in pursuing the history major. I just really enjoyed learning about history, understanding certain things about how the world is today in terms of policy, or even how countries’ borders are defined,” Robertson said. “It was always interesting to learn about the cultural shifts and the historical events that make up the world that we live in today.”

Photo courtesy of Megan Robertson ’88

Robertson has transformed her career as a star basketball player at Amherst into a career in basketball analysis with Nike. It wasn’t until Intermediate Calculus with Professor of Mathematics Danielle Benedetto that Robertson picked up math as a major. “I really enjoyed that course and ended up taking whatever the next level was with her husband [Professor of Mathematics Robert Benedetto] in the spring,” she said. “I had such a good experience with them that I began to seriously consider a math major.” Interestingly enough, her love for sports drew her towards the statistics major, even before Amherst offered it. “I was really interested in sports analytics and, at the time, there was no statistics major when I was a freshman and sophomore. Flash forward to my senior year, 2014-2015, that was the first year that they started the stats major,” Robertson said. “I had taken a lot of courses that were required up to that point anyway because that was my interest. They added a few new courses that I needed to take to complete that major, and it just happened that I had enough of

the prerequisites to complete the third major there.” Most of her professors were accommodating of her student-athlete schedule. “I got lucky in that I had professors who were very supportive. We usually wouldn’t ever have to miss class for games because we mostly played on the weekend,” she said. “When we got deep into the national tournament, there were times where we would be flying out for the Final Four, but my professors would let me take exams a few days ahead of time or I would take an exam and then go straight to the bus to the airport.” Two moments in her basketball career stick out above the rest for Robertson. “My sophomore year, we made it to the Final Four, and we had the previous year as well, but we graduated a bunch of really talented seniors the year before. A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, we won’t do as well as last year. Maybe this will be a rebuilding year,’” she recalled. “When we were able to cut down the nets in Le-


Frak [Gymnasium] to go to the Final Four again was pretty neat because it showed everyone that the people on the team were still really good.” The second incident came after Robertson recovered from damaging her knee in January of her junior year. “I ended up getting two surgeries and didn’t play again until the end of December of that year, so almost a whole year,” she said. “My first game back where I finally got to step back on the court after a year of learning how to be a leader from the bench and helping the rest of the team develop was a really cool moment. It was a home game, which was nice because my parents drove out to see it.”

From the NBA to Nike Robertson decided to continue her studies after graduating from Amherst in 2015 and received her master’s in statistics from Duke University in 2017. During her time in Durham, she spent the 2016-2017 season as the basketball operations analytics intern for the Charlotte Hornets after meeting the head of analytics at a conference. “I wanted to work on building a model that would predict if a shot would go in using player-tracking data, with the idea that you can get information about how fast a person is going, where they are on the floor and how close is the defense or offense,” Robertson said. “The idea was that if I can build a model that’s going to predict ‘if so-and-so shoots from here, there’s an x percent chance of that going in and here’s the variables that are affecting that probability the most’ [it would] inform defensive scouting reports and help players improve on their own game.” Following the end of the season and her master’s program, Robertson moved to New York to work as a data scientist for SimpleReach, a small software company. “They provided metrics to track how online content and articles were performing. For example, if there’s an ar-

ticle out from The New York Times, we’d have a dashboard that would display how many people are reading this article, how far are they scrolling, how long are they spending on it, did they come through Google search, did they come through Facebook.” After just five months of learning the ropes, Robertson was laid off. However, she bounced back quickly, finding a new job as a data scientist at Nike. “One of my friends from Duke had interned at a start-up that had just gotten acquired by Nike,” she said. “I got introduced to my now-boss through him and learned more about what they were doing and it seemed really interesting. While it’s not exactly sports analytics, it’s definitely a company with close ties to sports.” She works on a team that focuses on predicting customer lifetime values. “Essentially, it’s looking at what you’ve purchased in the past, how much you spend, how frequently we see you and predicting how much you’re going to spend in 12 months,” she said. Robertson is still in touch with many of her former Amherst classmates and teammates — they made the transition to adult life much easier. “Living in New York City, there’s just a bunch of Amherst alums here,” she said. “I obviously have friends outside of Amherst in the city, but when I moved here initially, there was definitely a core group of people that I would hang out with or ask for recommendations.” Addressing current Amherst students, she added, “Take advantage of the opportunities while you’re there. Once you graduate, it can be hard to pick up a new skill or take a new class in something you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid to try something even if you don’t think it fits with who you think you are or what you want to do because you never know who you’re going to meet or what you might learn or what connections you might make that will help you later in life.”

Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios

Robertson was a triple major and stand-out performer on the Amherst women’s basketball team.

Photo courtesy of Megan Robertson ’88

After earning her master’s degree from Duke University, Robertson worked for the NBA before moving to Nike.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 23


Alumni Profile | Robert Whitmore ’00

Supporting Patients, Supporting Students A professor and neurosurgeon who prioritizes patient care, Robert Whitmore ’00 lays the path for a new generation of medical professionals. — Jae Yun Ham ’22 When it comes to defining Robert Whitmore’s ’00 career path, one word comes to mind: exploration. A neurosurgeon and assistant professor at Tufts University who currently works at the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, Whitmore did his fair share of exploring during his time at Amherst and has continued to do so throughout his career.

Finding His Path As a child, Whitmore frequently moved between the cities of Philadelphia and Los Angeles for his father’s job as a lawyer for ARCO, an oil and gas company headquartered in California. Despite the frequent moves, Whitmore quickly concentrated his studies on the sciences, in part due to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, a summer program he was invited to attend as a high school student. The program targeted students interested in the sciences and provided opportunities for experiencing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. It was during this summer program that Whitmore was first exposed to neuroscience through a presentation project on the neuron activity of snails. “We were trying to use a computer program to map the flux of various types of ions in a snail’s neurological system. It was the first time that I thought much about the brain and how things worked,” Whitmore said. Along with this program, Whitmore credits his high school

teachers with cultivating his early love for the sciences. “I had some great biology teachers who encouraged me to pursue science fairs and other extracurricular activities in the realm of science. So, at that point, I was looking at colleges with an eye towards the sciences,” he said. During the college application process, Amherst stood out to Whitmore, as it was one of the few liberal arts colleges that offered a comprehensive neuroscience major for its students. Whitmore was also attracted to the college’s open curriculum, which would allow him to pursue courses outside of the discipline. After a visit to the area, Whitmore settled on the college: “I had a good feeling about Amherst from the general feel of the campus. I saw that the students were happy and very engaged,” he said. “As a student, I knew I’d be really happy from the beginning.” Despite his early interest in the field, his ultimate decision to major in neuroscience did not come easily. “I didn’t go into Amherst knowing what I would major in. It was still an ongoing process,” he said. He knew that he wanted to major in a science, and medical school was always in the back of his mind — the neuroscience major checked off both of these boxes. Professors like Steven George in life sciences and Sarah Turgeon in neuroscience mentored and pushed him to succeed through the difficulties of the major. “He was, as one would ex-

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pect given his trajectory since Amherst, a very strong student in that class,” Turgeon wrote in an email, recalling the physiological psychology course Whitmore took with her. Whitmore also enjoyed courses outside of neuroscience, wanting to take advantage of the open curriculum. One class, Introduction to Philosophy with Rachel and Michael Deutch Professor of Philosophy Alexander George, stood out to Whitmore. “[George] was such an interesting person and a great professor. What stood out to me about that class was that it made philosophy into a tangible subject for those of use who are science-minded and not really used to other disciplines,” he said. Outside of the classroom, Whitmore played lacrosse for the club team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which exposed him to the five-college community. He also joined the ski team on campus and a few other club sports. “Club sports allowed me to maintain the flexibility I wanted in my schedule and allowed me to pursue activities where I could foster my competitive spirit,” he said. Despite the competition in his athletics activities, Whitmore associates Amherst with a collaborative spirit. As a member of the Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS), he worked with his peers to meet the challenges of the job. Even as a student on the academically-rigorous pre-med track, he was able to foster long-lasting relationships. “You

Photo courtesy of Robert Whitmore ’00

An assistant professor at Tufts University and a neurosurgeon at the Lahey Hospital, Whitmore works with both students and patients to analyze and develop new treatments. get to know the different students that are going through your classes, especially the pre-med students. Some of the greatest relationships I have are with people from college … We still keep in contact with each other,” he said.

From Research to Surgery A few months after graduating from Amherst, Whitmore worked as a research associate in an immunology laboratory with a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab head, Jay Levy, had served as a guest lecturer in Whitmore’s immunology class at Amherst so Whitmore took advantage of his network to attain his first fulltime position. As a research associate, Whitmore worked alongside postdoctoral researchers and fellows to assist with lab experiments, which focused on everything from improving the immune system to treatments for the HIV virus. Though Whitmore had previously worked as a laboratory research intern for a phar-

maceutical research company — Glaxosmithkline — in a laboratory that focused on stroke treatment, the idea of a career in research did not appeal to him. “I learned all about the nitty gritty of running the experiments, collecting the results and interpreting them for my supervisor. But I missed the interactions with people as an associate,” he said. After two years, Whitmore began his medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, which he chose in part due to his childhood experiences in Philadelphia. Although he had a sense of what he wanted to do as a doctor, it was his experience at UPenn that cemented his decision to become a neurosurgeon. “I realized that I was passionate about performing surgery and being in the operating room. I wanted a job where I could work with my hands,” he said. Medical school proved to be a very rigorous experience for Whitmore, but his time at Amherst allowed him to navigate it


with more comfort than he had expected. “Amherst really laid a solid foundation for me by preparing me to digest the large volume of material that I needed to know in medical school. I didn’t find medical school overly challenging, and I believe that Amherst had a lot to do with that positive experience,” he told me. During medical school, Whitmore’s personality and perseverance made lasting impressions on his peers and others in the community at the University of Pennsylvania. “He was a loyal friend and an impressively diligent student. One funny thing about Rob was the way he prepared for exams — he would fill a single sheet of paper with vast and intricate note-taking in tiny print, and then memorize the entire sheet. It was impressive,” said Gabriel Brooks, a classmate of Whitmore’s during medical school and a current oncologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. As a UPenn student, Whitmore was also able to take courses at the Wharton School, UPenn’s business school, where he focused on the economics of health care and health care entrepreneurship. “I do a lot of cost-effectiveness research in my work. I study a lot about spine surgery and the outcomes from spine surgery. Oftentimes there [is] more than one procedure that a surgeon can do, and I need to decide which one of those procedures is most cost-effective and beneficial for the patient. These classes helped with my current analysis,” he said. In his current roles at Lahey Hospital and Tufts, Whitmore takes pride in his efforts to assist patients with their spinal treatment and his ability to teach medical students about careers in neuroscience. “My work is about moving the field forward in terms of medical advances and increasing knowledge. I love that I can teach the next generation of neurosurgical residents in both surgery and operational techniques,” he said. But Whitmore’s work in neu-

rosurgery goes beyond that of a physician. As a professor, he is responsible for a variety of projects with his medical residents, including one that involves a large trial on cervical myelopathy, a condition in which the spinal cord presses on the neck. Using the cost-effectiveness analysis he learned in medical school, Whitmore hopes to analyze the data and work with his students to determine the treatment most beneficial for patients. “I really hope to publish this work soon,” he added. Outside of the classroom and operating room, Whitmore, who lives in Concord, Massachusetts, continues to ski and bicycle in his free time. He lives with his wife, a lawyer who specializes in post-conviction exoneration work, and his three children, Charlie, Jane and Cece. Despite the difficult schedules that can come with being a professor and a neurosurgeon, Whitmore most values spending his time with family.

for them,” he said. “That sense of accomplishment — that your work is really helping others — is really a big reason why I love doing what I do.” To current students considering a career in medicine, Whitmore says, “Keep an open mind as much as you can.” He added, “Don’t be afraid of trying new avenues or pursuits.” Although it may seem as though Whitmore’s path was straightforward from the beginning — from his high school summer science program to the neuroscience major to lab research to surgery — he continually returns to the moments he re-evaluated his path and changed course. Throughout his internship with Glaxosmithkline and his research work in immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, Whitmore

was ambivalent about his future career path. “Even at Amherst, I still wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to medical school,” he admitted. Despite his experiences in research and the warnings he received about the perceived difficulties of a career in medicine, Whitmore still decided on medicine after years of deliberation. “People told me to not become a neurosurgeon, saying that it was tough work and that my lifestyle would be terrible,” he said. “But I realized I wanted a job where I could be interacting with patients and while lab work was rewarding; I really valued a career where I could really help others,” he reflected. Whitmore’s success throughout his career is a testament to the benefits that an Amherst ed-

ucation can provide for its students. Although Whitmore did not come into Amherst knowing about his future career prospects in neurosurgery, he was able to gain strong skills and experiences at Amherst that provided him with the ability to succeed, regardless of the career he had in mind. Through Amherst’s unique academic and social environment as well as its community, Whitmore was able to find a space where he could thrive and develop the foundations for his future career in medicine. “Being at Amherst, in that close-knit community, was a really valuable experience,” he said. “My career has been a really long road, but in the end, at least in my case, it was all worth it. The experience that Amherst has given me has been really meaningful.”

Looking Back In many ways, Whitmore’s life and career reflect his Amherst experience — especially in the aspect of community. “The community at Amherst — the students, professors and the staff — has a real spirit of giving back that I continue to feel as a physician even now. As someone who helps patients with their treatment and whatever else they might need, you feel this passion for helping others and of community service. Those are the things you learn at Amherst,” he noted. Indeed, whether through his work with ACEMS, his treatment for patients or even simply his assistance to his peers, Whitmore’s dedication to service encapsulates the essence of being a good physician. When asked about the most rewarding part of his career path, only one thing came to mind: helping patients thrive. “The most rewarding part for me is having a patient with an excellent outcome after treatment and surgery. It’s my job to work diligently to make sure that happens

Photo courtesy of Robert Whitmore ’00

At the Lahey hospital, Whitmore (above) operates on a patient with one of his medical fellows, using a drill to place pedicile screws, to support the spine. As a professor, Whitmore works on a variety of tasks with his students, including research and treatment.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 25


Alumni Profile | Hawley Truax ’85

Advocating for a Cleaner and Healthier World With passions for literature, community development and the environment, Hawley Truax ’85 has charted a career that has allowed him to engage most deeply with what he loves. — Hildi Gabel ’21 Hawley Truax ’85 lives up to the multifaceted and truth-seeking attributes expected of an Amherst student. He is driven by a wide range of interests, from the arts to the environment, and a commitment to truly understanding the world around him. Amherst’s intellectual atmosphere, which Truax embraced, enabled him to engage with systems on local, regional and national levels later in his career. He has worked as an editor and a government planner, and has influenced environmental movements in North Carolina and the Southeast through his environmental advocacy and leadership. If deeply-held interests drive Truax’s work, it is his execution that is most memorable to those around him. His older daughter, Olivia Truax ’16, describes him as epitomizing a “life of consequence,” delving into hard-totackle issues by merging idealism with pragmatism. He has been known to uplift those around him through humor and charisma, making the challenging issues he confronts in his work accessible and, in many cases, enjoyable to wider audiences.

Lifelong Interests An upbringing in a loving family well connected to New York’s intellectual life set the stage for Truax’s diversity of interests. Truax grew up moving between Manhattan and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. He spent his days spilling out into nature with his siblings and cous-

ins and steeped in the world of his grandfather, who was one of the founders of the New Yorker Magazine. This dual appreciation for nature and art has manifested in his current devotion to environmental work and his study of literature. Over time, these passions also mixed with a love for community engagement. While attending The Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, Truax was involved with multiple singing ensembles, acting groups and club cross country. Music was of particular interest to Truax, who sang in the choir at Amherst and joined several community choirs as he moved to different cities.

A Literary and Political Awakening at Amherst Truax was certainly interested in school throughout his childhood, but his time at Amherst unleashed a dogged intellectual curiosity. Truax was a “diehard English major,” delving deep into writing through his classes on literature, art, film and politics. His relationship with literature, in particular, has helped him “understand the way the world works, beauty, the complexity of human relationships, how power works, love, friendship — all that stuff.” Truax says he can name every Amherst professor who taught him, and finds it impossible to single out just one as particularly memorable. Some of the many professors and courses he recalls

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are Jack Cameron who taught “Film and Writing,” Doris Sommer who taught “‘Boom’ Literature” and James Marinas who taught “Don Quixote.” Truax’s friendships at Amherst were equally responsible for his intellectual development. He and his friends often brought conversations from class back to the dorm and the snack bar. After Ronald Reagan’s election, Truax was also spurred into political activism. He became involved with a group called Development Dialogue, which used films and speakers to encourage dialogue on issues such as U.S. intervention in Central America. He also joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which called for Amherst to divest from corporate backers of apartheid South Africa. Truax also co-published the alternative news magazine, In Other Words, which would later help him land an editing job at the Environmental Action Foundation. The magazine was published every two to three months and covered a hodgepodge of Amherst’s more controversial issues, including fraternity culture and limited access to the Counseling Center. Truax warmly remembers the all-nighters he and his friends would pull running the publication. In Other Words’ faculty adviser, Professor of English Andrew Parker, who also taught Truax in “Introduction to Literary Theory” remains a “lifelong friend.” Parker had no doubts of Truax’s future success, noting

Photo courtesy of Hawley Truax ’85

Truax now works as the Southeast regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund from his home in North Carolina. that “it certainly was clear that whatever Hawley would go on to do in life, we’d find the thoughtful and creative self we first knew then.” Above all things Truax experienced at Amherst, the most important was meeting his wife. Truax met Jane Thrailkill when they both lived in the same dorm — Humphries House, informally known as the Zu. They grew close talking about literature over meals in the small dining hall, Veggie, which was then tucked in the basement of Valentine Dining Hall. After graduation, Truax and Thrailkill moved to Washington D.C. together. Four years later, they were married, embarking on the long journey of a shared life.

A Turn Toward Policy Truax came to Washington D.C. with “an eye of doing something good,” but didn’t have a clear idea of the form it would take. He started as an intern at

the Environmental Action Foundation’s magazine and went on to become an editor, synthesizing the groundswell of environmental news throughout the country. After several years he became acting director of the Environmental Action Foundation, where he led the national nonprofit in environmental advocacy. At the same time, Truax became increasingly involved with community economic development activism in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of D.C. Seeing the way local activism could create immediate and upfront change in a transitional neighborhood, he decided to further pursue community development and attended graduate school at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Studying urban planning and development policy, he grew interested in the importance of markets in regulating industry and environmental impacts. After graduating in 1997, he


worked as a grants manager and senior planner for the City of Cambridge, a job he greatly enjoyed. Following Thrailkill’s offer of a tenure-track position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Truax’s family moved to Chapel Hill. This job cycle became a welcome pattern for Truax; the job for the City of Cambridge lasted only three years, but many others Truax has held have spanned almost a decade. As Truax puts it, “I tend to do things for about eight years.” His many positions have undoubtedly informed each other. After working nationally and locally, he took his skillset to issues at the regional level.

An Environmental Career Upon moving to Chapel Hill, Truax wasn’t sure in which direction he’d move. Initially, he was occupied with being a dad to his two daughters, Olivia and Naomi, and helping organize the move. In a serendipitous turn of events, it took less than four weeks for Truax to land a job at the North Carolina Governor’s Office. He would remain at the post for the next eight years, working as a senior policy adviser under Democratic Governors Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. He passed landmark legislation to clean up pollution from North Carolina’s coal-fired power plants and passed the first Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in the Southeast. His work helped push a burgeoning solar power industry into the state, which maintains a stronghold to this day. Truax then transitioned to the nonprofit sector and began work as a program officer for the environmental department of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a North Carolina philanthropic organization. He advised the foundation on making grants and supporting environmental organizations across North Carolina. Despite the presence of a state government less open to environ-

Photo courtesy of Hawley Truax ’85

Truax addresses the crowd at the 30th Anniversary Celebration for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in North Carolina. mental advocacy, the foundation preserved clean energy laws and developed a more inclusive advocacy base that reached rural and conservative areas. Leslie Winner, who was executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation during Truax’s time there and a former North Carolina state senator, recalls that Truax formed cohesive priorities, “[increasing] the chance that collectively these grants would have an impact.” Truax also made great strides in bringing racial equity into the foundation’s environmental work by supporting more community-based organizations led by people of color, as well as pressuring existing grantees to think critically about the role of inclusivity in their environmental work. He managed the difficult funder-grantee relationship with grace and tact without sacrificing

critical engagement. One of the perks of this job was the long drives for site visits to organizations in the mountains and along the coast of North Carolina. Describing him as a “good travel companion,” Winner said Truax exhibited “positive energy, good cheer, combined with really great analytic skills and substantive knowledge and values.” Three years ago, Truax took on an executive role as Southeast regional director at the Environmental Defense Fund. The South, Truax says, has a long road ahead in terms of environmental progress because the electric utility sector remains heavily coal-dependent. Truax is currently committed to federal climate legislation, and his team is aiming to formally codify carbon as a pollutant and eventually shuttle it out of the economy.

Life in Chapel Hill One of Truax’s greatest joys is his family and he absolutely loves being a dad. Truax and Thrailkill have two daughters: Olivia, a recent Amherst graduate who is now a doctoral student in Antarctic climate dynamics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and Naomi, who is currently an Amherst student. Supporting his daughters in school and sports brought much joy to Truax, and he was a committed member of the board of the Carolina Friends School, which his daughters attended. His life has certainly adjusted with both daughters away at college, but he says it has been wonderful to reconnect with Amherst through them. Truax remains devoted to community engagement outside of the systemic change he has worked toward in his career. A member of many boards and community organizations, such

as the North Carolina Building Code Council, he prioritizes investing time in the community outside of work. In his spare time, Truax enjoys working in his garden and getting close to the dirt. Truax and Thrailkill have a beloved shepherd-mix named Bowie, to whom they are very committed. His older daughter, Olivia, described him as a wonderful cook and “the sort of person who buys Christmas ornaments during Boxing Day sales to give as gifts in a year’s time.” He is known as a great conversationalist who “absolutely kills at a dinner party,” Olivia Truax said. Word is out that he has plans to join the Chapel Hill Greenways Commission to advise the town on developing its greenway trails system when he nears retirement, if not sooner. But in truth, only time will tell what he’ll embark on next.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 27


Alumni Profile | Jonathan Blake ‘95

Rabbi Paves the Way as Leader and Intellectual A leader, writer, contributer, singer and podcast star, Jonathan Blake ’95 is transcending the traditional role of the rabbi. — Zach Jonas ’22 Among his peers, Jonathan “John” Blake ’95 is known as a rabbi who loves the spotlight. Not only have his analytical contributions to CNN, GQ magazine and various other publications led him to be a thought leader in his field, but his love for music lets him take the stage, albeit on a smaller scale, during his services. Growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Blake was part of a “typical Jewish-American home,” as he describes it. Now, as a senior rabbi of the Westchester Reform Temple in Westchester County, New York, he most enjoys the relational aspect of his work with the congregation, the one-to-one counseling work, interfacing with people at all ages and stages of life, the business-and-management aspects of presiding over a large congregation and the pursuit of social justice. Certainly, he is anything but typical. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t find time for himself. Blake can not be found without a book in his free time. He’s a voracious reader. (His all-time favorite book is “Moby Dick.”) Blake decided to attend Amherst on the spot after seeing the Zumbyes perform during Admitted Students Day in the spring of 1991. “I had only had the generic campus tour of Amherst,” Blake said. “There was this event when the DQ , Sabrinas, Bluestockings and, of course, the Zumbyes [performed]. I remember the banana suit — I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ They sang the song

‘What’s Your Name,’ and I was totally sold … I thought, ‘This is the school that I have to go to,’” he said. “I even spent a summer vacation drafting a libretto of a comic opera that, thank God, never has seen the light of day, but which may have influenced Amherst Choral Society Director, my dear friend and teacher Mallorie Chernin, to invite the admissions department to give me a second look,” Blake added. Though he loved singing, Blake never considered a career in music. “These days, singing is so embedded in my rabbinate and the community that I serve,” he said. “People always ask me if I ever wanted to go to cantorial school.” “I always say, ‘No, I would much rather be a rabbi who sings than be a cantor who wishes to do everything else.’ Music has never been my main gig,” he said. “But I am married to a performing artist who works in the Broadway community.” Blake met Kelly McCormick, his wife, when she began singing at Blake’s seminary school. She recently obtained a prominent role in the Broadway musical “Carousel.” “One professional musician per household is enough,” Blake said with a laugh. The Path to the Rabbinate Though he initially came to Amherst planning to major in environmental studies, a bad experience in the mud quickly changed his mind. “We were on Cape Cod at

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7:30 in the morning on a chilly September day and I was kneedeep in muck, picking around for clam shells to bring back to the lab for my Invertebrate Paleontology course,” Blake said. “It was at that precise moment that I realized that I hated dirt, and promptly did an academic about-face,” he added. Instead, Blake decided to major in English. His thesis incorporated the religious aspect of his life, as he examined the analytical features found in the Bible’s Book of Psalms. His faith became even more integral once he joined Hillel at Amherst. “I would go to Hillel with my friends, and I quickly decided that Hillel would be my warm and familiar environment,” he said. “At first I was going just for the community. But I became more serious about my own religion. It was the start of my great, 10-year kosher experience. It wasn’t like there was so much gourmet food at Valentine Dining Hall,” he said jokingly. “It wasn’t too much of a sacrifice.” Hillel gave Blake the opportunity to grow as a leader in a spiritual community, and helped give him the skills he would eventually use as a rabbi. “Hillel was kind of like a ‘grassrootsy’ group, as opposed to some of the much larger universities with greater Jewish populations,” he said. “We, as students, had more authority to control the direction of Hillel. We got to make it in our image.” And that he did. In the fall of 1992, Blake used his connections

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Blake ‘95

Arriving at Amherst intending to become a man of science, Blake quickly realized true passion: giving back to the Jewish people. with the musical community and brought them to Hillel. “We planned, my sophomore year, a Hanukkah party. In one night, it became the biggest party Amherst had all year,” he said. “We brought all the a cappella groups to perform, and we served free vodka, babka and doughnuts. We calculated that over a thousand people came,” he added. By the beginning of sophomore year, Blake realized he wanted to pursue the rabbinate. He credits Rabbi Yechiael Lander, who oversaw Hillel at the time, with helping him come to the decision. “He helped me probe my desire to serve God and the Jewish people,” he said. “I really thought I would be in the sciences and Judaism would be an enrichment of my life. It just happens to have inverted,” he added. “I chose serving the Jewish community as my profession, and the life of the mind, and the pursuit of intellect and literature, all [of] which are my current line of work.”

Blake’s decision to go to seminary school, which he mentioned totally shocked his room group at the time, did not come out of the blue. While growing up, Blake said he and his family attended Friday night services every week. Going to Hillel every week taught him more about the Jewish community. Blake also took Hebrew classes while at Amherst. “By the time I was in high school, I would find myself, over the weekends, at the temple. It was interesting that I hadn’t thought of the rabbinate as a career pursuit,” he said. Looking back, he said, these religious experiences throughout his childhood and high school years were not incidental but rather instrumental to his career path. A Time of Growing Maturity After graduating from Amherst, Blake attended the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, graduating with honors for academic achievement and


homiletics — the art of preaching — in 2000. A friend of Blake since they attended Hillel together, Rabbi Brenner Glickman ’93 believes that Blake matured immensely between graduating from Amherst and when they first saw each other during Blake’s second year of rabbinical school. “John had all the skills. He’s brilliant, thoughtful, personable and he was a musical talent. He was a big man on campus,” Glickman said. In rabbinical school, Glickman said that Blake’s studies helped him “develop the heart and soul that you need to be a rabbi … he softened into a much more thoughtful and caring person,” he said Glickman credits Blake’s maturity, in part, to other students in seminary school. “When we went to Amherst, there were a lot of achieving, type-A people. There was a sense of competition,” Glickman said. Conversely, the atmosphere of rabbinical school had less competition. “It was a different setting. When we were reunited during his second year of school, that’s when we became so close. I thought he was aloof, at first, during college. When I saw him then, he had completely transformed,” Glickman said. As the senior rabbi at the Westchester Reform Temple today, Blake stands out from his peers not only because of his incorporation of music into his practice, but also because he excels in the communicative and teaching aspects of his position. “His professional reputation is very strong,” Glickman said. “He is very highly regarded as one of today’s stars. He is a talent for his brilliance and creativity. He’s very respected by his peers, but he is also loved by his congregation, which is more important.” Indeed, Blake’s name is known to many across the country. He has been a contributor on CNN and appeared in GQ magazine and two different documentary films — “51 Birch Street” and “112 Weddings” —

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Blake ‘95

When Blake is not supporting the families of his congregation during their best and worst times in life, you may find him giving a powerful sermon, writing articles, recording podcasts or contributing to news outlets. to top it off, he has created his own podcast titled “Everything is Connected.” Its seven episodes are available on Apple Podcasts. “He’s a star,” Glickman said laughingly. “Not just anyone can be the senior rabbi at his temple — expectations are very high there. It’s a very prestigious congregation.” Changing the World’s Perspective on Rabbis Blake has always enjoyed public speaking and activities that push him to the forefront. In the future, Blake said he would like to resuscitate his podcast and

create a video series that could be used in congregation to dive constructively into the challenges facing large religious communities today. “I’m into that stuff,” Blake said. “I’ve always appreciated the more front aspect of what a rabbi does.” Yet, what Blake finds most gratifying is the aspect of being together with his congregation and journeying with them through some of life’s best and worst moments. “The most rewarding part of being a rabbi so far has been being invited to so many moments

of family celebration, grief and transition,” he said. For many people, Blake said, you only go to so many bar mitzvahs, yet for Blake, that is literally every week. Many of these moments have been filled with joy, he noted. On the other hand, there are times in which his duty as a rabbi is to console families, which he said has been the most transformative part of being a rabbi. “He is a part of their family, and one of the most important people in their lives,” Glickman said. “Hundreds and hundreds of families are looking at him

like that.” “A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a couple. For me, it’s a couple times a month. That’s exciting for me, not just vicariously,” Blake said. Recently, he was also asked to officiate at the funeral of a family of five who had perished in a plane crash in Costa Roca in December 2018. “Those are not the moments that I went into the rabbinate for,” he said. But “I am out to change the image of what a rabbi looks like and does,” Blake said. And he certainly is.

The Amherst Student | October 25, 2019 | 29


Alumni Profile | Julie Wright ’10

A Conservationist with a Mission in Mind From her time at Amherst to her current position at the San Diego Zoo, Julie Wright ’10 has shown a dedication to paying it forward. — Sarah Melanson ’20 Julie Wright ’10 first heard about Amherst when she received a letter informing her of Amherst’s Diversity Open House. Having grown up in Miami, Florida, the invitation to visit the small liberal arts college in western Massachusetts was intriguing. During her visit during her junior year of high school, Wright got a glimpse into what college life entailed and, more specifically, what the Amherst experience comprised of. She felt “something magical about [Amherst’s] community” and recalls the beautiful scenery that surrounds the school — quite different than the Sunshine State. Wright fell in love with Amherst and decided to attend, eventually graduating with a degree in art and the history of art. Today, nearly 15 years after she first heard about the college, Wright has worked in museums and landed in development at San Diego Zoo Global, where she is now a specialist

in the individual and planned giving department. A Social Butterfly In the fall of 2006, Wright arrived as a first year and quickly came to admire the college’s educational and community-building focus. The fall foliage of New England is unique to the region and its beauty cannot be fully understood until you experience it. While Miami is sunny and warm, nothing can replace the view from the top of Memorial Hill. This New England charm caught Wright’s attention, and autumn quickly became her favorite season at Amherst. In high school, Wright had taken an Advanced Placement art history course. She enjoyed the class and decided to pursue courses in art and the history of art throughout her four years at Amherst. Her passion for the study was particularly influenced by Rowland Abiodun, a

Photo courtesy of Julie Wright ’10

Years later, Wright still carries Amherst with her, frequently working with the alumni fund, the Loeb Center Advisory Council and other facets of the college.

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professor in both the art history and black studies departments, and Professor of the History of Art Nicola Courtright. Wright, however, embraced the liberal arts mission, seeking out and enjoying psychology classes at the college. Recently, she had the opportunity to reconnect with Professor of Psychology Catherine Sanderson when Sanderson gave a talk on happiness and the science of success at Wright’s department retreat earlier this year. Maïkha Jean-Baptiste ’10 met Wright at an Amherst welcome reception in Miami in 2006 and became one of her first Amherst friends. She described Wright as a “social butterfly” who enjoyed making friends across campus. “She was always willing to try new things, even if they were outside of her comfort zone,” Jean-Baptiste said. Involvement in on-campus clubs was another avenue Wright pursued. She chaired the Hermenia T. Gardner Bi-Semester Worship Series and was an active member of the Black Student Union, Outing Club and Amherst Christian Fellowship. In her free time, Wright enjoyed attending a cappella shows and grabbing Amherst “must haves” — Antonio’s Pizza and Atkins Farm’s cider doughnuts. Her junior year, Wright traveled abroad to Madrid for a semester and fondly recalls spending her weekends getting to know the city in Spain. Some of her favorite memories include exploring a small village in Sierra de Gredos, visiting Museo del Prado — the national art museum in Madrid — and rowing a boat in El Retiro Park. Wright also had the opportunity to visit Amherst

Photo courtesy of Julie Wright ’10

An art history major while at Amherst, Wright transitioned her interests into her career path, ranging from her work at art museums to zoos. friends in London and a childhood friend in Paris while she studied in Europe. Passionate, Focused and Mission-Driven Following graduation in 2010, Wright moved back to Miami and took a job at the Perez Art Museum in the development department, where she stayed for seven years. Serving as both an external affairs assistant and research coordinator, Wright worked to fundraise for the museum in a more “behind-thescenes” role, as she described it. Then in 2017, Wright made the cross-country trek to San Diego to take a similar job as development specialist in the individual and planned giving department at San Diego Zoo Global. The move was motivated by her desire for a job that “encompassed both passion and mission-driven,” and San Diego Zoo’s mission of protecting animals and working to advance conservation aligned with Wright’s career vision. In her new position, Wright has taken on and excelled in a more front-facing role. She oversees annual giving groups and works with

the highest levels of membership and donors, handling everything “with grace and professionalism,” as Wright’s manager Terisa Roesler put it. “[She is a] delight to work with. She is very professional, proactive and analytical, yet has great soft skills, [which is] difficult to find a combination of both.” Continued Involvement With Homecoming right around the corner, Wright is excited to return to her alma mater for the weekend. Her last trip to Amherst was in 2017 for a Loeb Center Advisory Council meeting — a committee on which she currently serves. Wright believes that giving back and serving is very important, “especially when it involves beating Williams.” She has remained connected to the college in other ways, too, serving as an associate agent for the Alumni Fund and the vice president of the Society of Alumni. She keeps in touch with many of her Amherst friends, several of whom recently attended a wedding together in India. In all this, it is clear that Amherst gifted her with much while she was here — and she hopes to pay it forward.


Sports

An Isolated Conference in an Age of Expansion Henry Newton ’21 Managing Sports Editor NESCAC football is cloaked in a shroud of bucolic secrecy: the 11 members of the conference have made a commitment to only play each other, each team engaging in a nine-game schedule against every other institution in the conference. The teams fastidiously avoid outside competition, and eschew the Division III playoffs in lieu of competing solely for the conference championship. With that comes a seemingly self-contained joy that few other conferences, and few other institutions, can enjoy. Perhaps the only football league that comes close to replicating what the NESCAC does is the Ivy League, but even these schools consistently play teams outside of their conference, despite not competing in post-season play or for a national championship. Perhaps, as a result, time moves slower in NESCAC football than in other conferences. There’s no concern in how you’re perceived or the level of competition that you might face outside of the small community these 10 schools have created, no pressure to adapt to the changing times, no need to expand your facilities to rival anyone but your closest competitors. It is, some have said, athletics and sports in their purest forms. The football teams of the NESCAC aren’t a lot of things that the giants of college football are. No one playing on these fields is going to make it to the NFL. Most everyone will be here four years. However, they are many great things that Alabama, North Carolina and Texas aren’t. They’re true student-athletes, not athlete-students. This isn’t an audition for a professional contract, and no one is prohibited from quitting the team by an athletic scholarship. Your being here is not contingent on you playing football.

As Amherst’s head football coach EJ Mills told ESPN in 2007, “They’re playing strictly for the love of the game and the appreciation of their other teammates. That’s what motivates them to want to do well.” What remains, despite this lack of prominence, is a simple and relatively (at least compared to upper divisions) pure passion for the game, for the sport and for the tradition. As former Amherst College President Tom Gerety once said in Sports Illustrated, these games “fulfill the natural drive to test oneself against others. It is our greatest ritual, short of war. I don’t have much trouble justifying them, but that’s only in this kind of setting. It seems everywhere else, sports are a distorting force.” On a very basic level, the results of NESCAC games do not matter to the millions of fans who follow college football around the country. But comparing the results and play of the Amherst football team to that of Alabama, Colby to Clemson, Bates to Boston College, misses the point of these contests entirely. It’s a question of what we are looking for: if we’re looking for football played at the pinnacle of human athletic achievement, no offense, you’re going to be looking in the wrong place at Homecoming when Amherst and Wesleyan face off against one another. But if you’re looking for an event, for students giving it all on a field that doesn’t even have a stated capacity, to feel as if you’re a part of a small and tight-knit community with passion, cast your eyes on these fields. However, they matter a great deal to the alumni of these institutions who number in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands. This community of enthusiasm, a collective acknowledgement of our own smallness and of its insular importance, is a beautiful thing. It has bred intense yet civil rivalries

between institutions born out of proximity but enhanced by more than a century of play. From the first matchup between Amherst and Williams in 1859, a baseball game that the Mammoths won 73-32, to the coming games between NESCAC rivals, there has been a tradition of competition that does not necesarily rise to a certain level of importance. And that is, perhaps, the most valuable part of competition in the conference as a whole: what makes the games between Williams and Amherst, Wesleyan and Colby, Connecticut and Trinity special is that they are not special. They are truly amateur games between amateurs with nothing to lose but the game and their pride. Athletics in the NESCAC have historically been guided by the belief that athletes and competitors can learn in the classroom and complement, even enhance, their understanding as much on the playing fields as they can in the library. In this most athletic extension of the NESCAC’s liberal arts educations, we believe that drinking from the fountain of knowledge can be supplemented by a drink from a Gatorade bottle on the sideline. As Gerety described in Sports Illustrated, “Be it poetry, acting, philosophy or athletics, any youngster has more to give than what is called for in a traditional class.” But, in order to retain this special difference and separation, we must remain ever vigilant that we truly compete for the reasons we say that we do: to learn more about ourselves in support of our academic endeavors, to play for the love of the game and to keep college athletics truly amateur. In order to do this, however, this spirit of amateurism must be fastidiously preserved and guarded against the corrupting influence of big money, big importance and big exploitation. In the past, the NES-

Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios

Amherst football will contest its Homecoming game against Wesleyan this Saturday. CAC has enforced these standards with often serious consequences. The history of the NESCAC has seen one full-blown scandal in its past. In 1977, Union College, then a member of the conference, was accused of violating NESCAC recruiting practices. The NESCAC prohibits coaches from making official visits to athletes and a complete ban of off-campus recruiting. Union was accused of off-campus recruiting in its quest for a stronger hockey team; the conference promptly removed them from competition. Union admitted recruiting violations and irregularities, and now play Division I hockey after their expulsion from the NESCAC. If this strict, almost religious, adherence to a series of agreed-upon principles was this strong in 1977, one would hope that a similar spirit still exists in the conferences’ athletic departments today. Since that radical expulsion, the NESCAC has, in some respects, undergone some seismic changes to its governing structure and philosophy. In 1993, school presidents of the 11 member institutions voted to allow all teams, except football, to participate in post-season NCAA tournaments. Since then, NESCAC

institutions have won over 150 team national championships, and individual athletes have won countless individual national titles. In some respects, this has diluted the individuality and insularity of the NESCAC and its model of academically-focused athletic competition. Schools are now incentivized to break traditional conference norms and restrictions, and pursue larger and more national goals. It would behoove the conference, in the coming years, to monitor this expansion so that the conference retains its traditional focus on academic results, rather than athletic records, and does not fall prey, like many around the country, to the relentless pursuit of athletics at the cost of acedmics. Irregardless, the NESCAC remains a bastion of amateurism in a world of increasingly-professional college sports, a fact that makes those Amherst/Williams games so special, 15,000 screaming fans cheering not for the pinnacle of athletic achievement but rather for the passion that drives those with no shot of playing beyond these bumpy fields to represent their schools on their few collegiate weekends to the fullest of their extents.

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Amherst Through Art: Homecoming History at the Mead The Rotherwas Room: Then | Now One of Amherst’s most iconic spots is the installation of the 15th century Rotherwas Room. On permanent loan to the Mead Art Museum from the George Pratt bequest to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the room was once home to members of the English royal court and had been host to Robert Frost’s poetry readings during his time at Amherst. It now displays the Rotherwas Project series, where its fifth iteration is now on display, an installation by Christopher Myers inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which shares a birth year with the room. Photo courtesy of Jack Kiryk ’21

Trinkett Clark Memorial: Then | Now For the past decade, students have participated in an interterm class where they get to choose a print for the Mead to purchase. The prints are then forever in the museum’s collection for all to enjoy. The most recent acquisition is Enrique Chagoya’s “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” pictured left.

Photo courtesy of Jack Kiryk ’21

Starting Something New: Then | Now This exhibit opened on Sept. 10 and runs through July 26, 2020. The collection pushes the Mead into its 70th decade and also features pieces from an anonymous donation of over 170 works of contemporary art. “Starting Something New” allows students and faculty to create novel connections with prominent contemporary artists.

Photo courtesy of Mead Art Museum

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