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After persevering through a global pandemic, Conn’s graduating seniors are ready to make their mark on the world.
hey arrived on campus full of promise and potential—with maybe a few first-day jitters—on a beautifully sunny August day in 2019. The newest Camels, the members of Class of 2023, had read the brochures, browsed the website, visited campus and attended open houses. They had heard all about the Connections curriculum, and had already been invited to the inaugural All-College Symposium that November. On that seasonably warm Arrival Day, they carried their bedding and posters and giant boxes of late-night snacks into their new rooms, eager to begin their four years at Conn.
They had no idea what was ahead. None of us did.
By March, they were back home, struggling to figure out Zoom in their high-school bedrooms. Some would return in the fall of their sophomore year to a campus with a very different feel than the one that welcomed them just one year before, with mandatory quarantines, universal masking and twice-a-week COVID testing. Some would complete their whole second year from afar.
And yet, they persevered, not only adjusting to a “new normal,” but finding ways to thrive. As the world opened back up, they approached opportunities with a heightened sense of gratitude and newfound grit. They joined Pathways and Centers; interned with Microsoft, Google, David Dorfman Dance and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center; and studied abroad in Brazil, Cameroon, Belgium and Japan. They conducted research with faculty on artificial intelligence and biodegradable 3D-printed reefs, and partnered with community organizations to address homelessness in New London and poverty in Peru. They debated in Arabic in Türkiye, played chess in Seattle and won an NCAA Championship in men’s soccer in North Carolina.
This past November, 240 members of the class presented at their own All-College Symposium, highlighting the connections they made among their courses and research, their jobs and internships, and their work in local communities and around the globe—as well as the questions that animated their choices along the way. With their resiliency and brilliance on full display, they shared all they had learned about racial and gender disparities in health care, cultural xenophilia in the context of war, the anthropological evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, bias in machine learning algorithms, the economics of food access, inequities in the American foster care system, the role of women in the IRA, the future of addiction recovery and COVID’s impact on plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
Since then, they’ve won Watson and Fulbright fellowships and Beinecke and Critical Language scholarships. They’ve been accepted to graduate programs at Harvard, Yale and Oxford, and will soon begin careers at Microsoft, Disney, Bank of America and the National Institutes of Health.
Despite the immense impact of the first global pandemic in nearly a century, these tenacious seniors are leaving Conn with the liberal education they came for and the skills they need to make their mark on the world, just as they have on our campus.
Life, as they’ve learned all too well, is full of twists and turns. They’re ready.
We’d introduce you to the whole class, but we don’t have quite enough pages in this magazine. So, please meet five of the indomitable seniors from the Connecticut College Class of 2023.
May Kosten '23
History and American Studies double major Holleran Center for Community Action Museum Studies Program From Princeton, New Jersey
Favorite quote “History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.” —Michel-Rolph Trouillot
Un-writing American history My honors thesis reimagines what constitutes evidence in the historical method. I explore the ways in which the present-day prioritization and overreliance on written evidence is prioritized not because it is the most “accurate” or useful method of historical preservation, but because it can best justify and silence histories of settler colonialism and enslavement. I argue historians must turn toward methods that have been used by overwhelmingly non-white communities, such as oral histories and material culture. Each chapter is a case study on a particular method, including African American quilting, Hodinöhsö:ni’ wampum belts, Latin American testimonios, Black American freedom songs, community museums, and oral traditions at the dinner table among Italian American immigrants. Writing this thesis has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.
Seneca Nation With Conn’s Lowitt-Lear fellowship, I interned at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum on the Seneca-Allegany Reservation. This experience shaped me in astronomical ways as an American citizen, as a historian, as someone interested in museums and as a human being. Working in a museum and living on a reservation, I developed an arsenal of new skills, new ideas and new viewpoints. I walked out of that internship with a new conceptualization of what history was, how community museums could serve as a liberatory force and how to better approach teaching accurate American history.
Space for truth I believe that spaces in which truths are spoken and histories are revealed can be liberatory. My dream is to run a combination community center, historical society and museum that would both meet the needs of the community (including food, housing and employment) and serve as a space for community members, especially youth, to learn about their family histories and better understand the problems their communities face.
Admirabilis Kalolella '23
Biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology major Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts From Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
In the lab My favorite academic experience has been working in Professor Timo Ovaska’s organic synthesis lab, where we worked on synthesizing Frondosin D, a natural product initially isolated from the marine sponge in Micronesia, Dysidea frondos, that is of interest for its potential anti-tumor and anti-HIV properties. As a junior, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to conduct research at the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre. There, I worked on repurposing and repositioning a compound known as AZD0156 from an anti-cancer to anti-malarial drug therapy. In addition to increasing my scientific knowledge, I was inspired by the tireless efforts of African scientists to change the narrative of a helpless Africa to one of innovation and scientific discoveries.
Rising Black scientist I was honored by Cell Press, Cell Signaling Technology and the Elsevier Foundation with a 2023 Rising Black Scientist Award. As part of the award, my essay, “My Christmas Holidays,” was published in the February 2023 issue of Cell, a leading life sciences journal, and I received a $10,000 research grant and $500 travel grant. In the essay, I wrote about how, as a child, I would travel with my family from Dar es Salaam to spend the Christmas holidays with my grandmother in my family’s rural home village of Mngeta, Tanzania. Every year, my father, a physician, set up a mini-clinic and absorbed me in his work. People would come in from afar; some had never seen a doctor in their lives. I took blood pressure and temperature readings and rode my bicycle to deliver medicines. This Christmas tradition brought a powerful revelation; it revealed how important giving back is. It formed the basis of who I am, wanting to use science to reach many.
Drugs for neglected diseases For my senior integrative project, I looked at drug discovery for tropical and neglected tropical diseases. This topic is personal for me because some of the diseases that impact my community are preventable, yet still kill many. I want to be a physician-scientist and heal people while simultaneously understanding the underlying mechanisms of diseases to design better drugs. I want to make medicines that will benefit many people around the world.
Catja Christensen '23
Dance and English double major Media, Rhetoric and Communication Pathway From Dunn Loring, Virginia
Co-editor-in-chief of The College Voice I started writing my sophomore year and quickly fell in love with journalism. I’m proudest of our reporting on the Occupy Conn Coll movement and the protests throughout the spring semester this year. The College Voice team was incredible, working 12+-hour days and devoting ourselves to breaking news reporting, analysis, investigation, photography, social media outreach and more.
Exploring embodied transgenerational trauma For my dance honors thesis in costume design and construction, I am reconstructing my grandma’s traditional Filipino terno dress to explore what it means to wear the weight of family history and deconstruct the traumas passed down from mother to daughter. I have always been fascinated by genealogy, psychology and movement, so I am combining all of my interests into my research.
Dancing in Ghana I had the incredible opportunity to travel for two weeks with Professor Shani Collins and five other dancers to study West African dance with national companies in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana. We were immersed in Ghanaian history and culture, visiting Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles, the Assin Manso last bath ancestral grounds, the Kakum National Park, and several villages and schools along the way. We practiced Twi, the Akan language, and made incredible connections with people who guided us in our research. It was a life-changing experience for all of us.
Fulbright-Roehampton Award winner I will spend the next year in a dance performance and practice master’s program at the University of Roehampton in London, one of the leading institutions for graduate studies in dance. The Fulbright Study/Research Award covers full tuition and provides me with living and travel stipends. I plan to focus on the ethical preservation of dance, how postcolonialism and multiculturalism impact arts performance on modern stages, and how dance preserves cultural identity. I didn’t think I would again consider a performance career after I left The Washington School of Ballet’s pre-professional program in 2019, but dance has offered me so many opportunities since then that I am rekindling that childhood dream.
Adham Khalifa '23
Computer Science major Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology Kafr El Sheikh, Egypt
In high school, I was the kid that other kids would come to when they had problems with their phones and laptops. I have long been interested in the field of computer vision and its applications and always wanted to take a computer vision class—I even mentioned it in my personal statement when applying to Conn—and finally got the chance to with Professor Ozgur Izmirli. I also took a mobile development class. It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but I surprised myself by managing to build and publish my first mobile application on the App Store within three months.
Making life easier I enjoy coding anything that can solve problems. As a software engineering intern at the Yale Center for Research Computing, I worked on a web application to share private keys. I then interned at the startup Sourcegraph, where I worked with the Search Product Team on a universal code search platform. On campus, I worked with other members of the Computer Science Department on an algorithm to help the Registrar’s Office assign classroom space based on maximum capacities and social distancing requirements during the pandemic.
Music to the machine I am working to create machine learning software that can audio-visually understand the scene of a musical performance—what instruments are being played, what the musicians are doing, who is singing—and describe it in different modalities like text or visuals. This software could be used for a variety of purposes, including video retrieval on streaming services, movie annotations and accessibility. I’m very interested in using technology to empower others.
Alice Volfson '23
Slavic Studies and Government double major Global Capitalism Pathway From New York, New York
Favorite book The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Change of course I came to Conn with the intention of majoring in government and pursuing a career in law or politics. But after I learned about Conn’s Slavic Studies Department in my first year, I felt an urge to explore and understand more about my heritage, as both my parents were born in the Soviet Union. Professor Petko Ivanov has been my favorite professor. I took his advanced Russian language course, “Russia Today,” in which I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion for the celebration of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Novaya Gazeta, a Russian-opposition newspaper, as well as “Russian Art and Culture of the 20th Century,” in which I presented on the underlying Jewish themes of a beloved Soviet children’s cartoon, Cheburashka.
Black American migration to the Soviet Union In Professor Eileen Kane’s “Soviet Union and its Legacies” course, I came across a reading in which Langston Hughes briefly mentions a small Black-American community residing in rural Soviet Uzbekistan, which I found interesting. Then in Professor Laura Little’s “Migration in Eastern Europe,” I learned even more about the Black-Soviet community. Last spring, I studied abroad in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and was able to further research the topic, and decided to do a historical study on the migration of Black Americans to the Soviet Union between the World Wars for my senior thesis.
After spending the last year digging through archives, I am focusing on three distinct groups who migrated to various Soviet republics, tracking and exploring their motivations for coming—and oftentimes staying—in the USSR. I found, that overwhelmingly, Black migrants left America to discover the truth of Soviet anti-racism, and stayed in the USSR because they found it to be a safer place for them than 1930s and 1940s America.
Professor Volfson This spring, Professor Little invited me to guest lecture for the same “Migration” course I had taken two years before. I greatly enjoyed speaking about my own research and about Langston Hughes and his sojourn around Soviet Central Asia. I have spent only a few semesters on campus, due to COVID and study abroad, but that helped me realize I truly thrive in an academic environment. I now intend to become a Slavic studies professor specializing in Yugoslavia and market socialism, the influence of the Communist International on international political thought, and the culture and art of the Soviet Union.