by Kate Helm | photography by Chuck Zovko
“Lafayette has taught me to be me. To take classes that interest me and do things I have a passion for,” says Lauren Berry ’14, a psychology major and captain of the women’s varsity swim team.
“Lafayette is the place I call home because of the community we are and the relationships I have formed,” she says. “I still have the same excitement every time I pack up to come back to school after a break. I find myself itching to get back and missing my friends. When I became an orientation leader, I felt like I had 40 best friends to rely on. I have made friends in my sorority house and other organizations. Being involved has allowed me to surround myself with a large network of teammates, role models, friends, and mentors who have made my Lafayette experience incredible.”
Berry is describing the happiness she has found at Lafayette. It is that state of well-being that includes being engaged, finding pleasure in daily activities, and having a sense of purpose. Some factors that she and other students cite as being fundamental to this process are a circle of diverse friends, accessible professors, challenging academics, the opportunity to participate in Division I athletics or club sports, involvement in campus activities, and a supportive environment for self-exploration.
And, as recent graduates attest, the friendships, confidence, and passion for learning persist even after leaving College Hill.
When Colleen McGowan ’12, a government & law and English graduate, moved to Washington, D.C., she only knew three people. She says area alumni went out of their way to help her search for a full-time position, sending out her résumé, offering advice, and encouraging her to persevere. Most important, they helped her feel at home in a new city by inviting her to receptions, happy hours, and briefings. Thanks to their support, she landed a job she loves working on issues she believes in as a legislative assistant to freshman U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.
“Lafayette’s great alumni network provided opportunities when I was a student that are hard to find at other colleges,” says McGowan. “I was able to further my passion and knowledge of law and government through working one summer with an alumnus in a congressman’s office in Washington, D.C., and completing an internship with an alumnus at a law firm.”
Berry, like McGowan, has taken advantage of many opportunities to explore her passions. She is an athlete, tutor, admissions student ambassador, executive chair of first-year student orientation, and director of campus activities for Alpha Phi sorority. In addition, she has conducted EXCEL Scholars research with Charlotte Phillips ’15 and Michael Nees, assistant professor of psychology. She is planning an honors thesis on disordered eating and body dissatisfaction among female college students with John Shaw, associate professor and assistant head of psychology, and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology.
Taking advantage of opportunities is essential to finding happiness at college. Julie Wersebe ’14 shares that advice with prospective students as an admissions student ambassador. In her own experience, she found that friends helped inspire her to get involved in new activities.
“My first year on campus I lived on the second floor of Watson Hall. All of the girls instantly bonded…everyone was just a little bit different, but all were kind and caring. Some were artists and through them I learned more about the arts. Others were sporty and because of them I got involved with rugby. These friends have helped make my college experience amazing.”
Wersebe’s rugby teammates are among her closest friends; they traveled to Ireland together. She also is treasurer of Delta Delta Delta sorority. Now, she can’t imagine life without her teammates and sorority sisters.
“Lafayette taught me to open myself up to new experiences because they can lead you to wonderful places,” says Wersebe, a double major in mathematics-economics and history, noting that she has met interesting professors who have challenged her more than she thought possible.
“Midway through my first year, my friends and I went to Marquis for lunch. It was make-youryour-own grilled cheese day. As I was eating, laughing with my friends, I knew this was the place I wanted to be more than anywhere else in the world. I know that I always have someone I can depend on and always have a place I can call home at Lafayette.”
Those lasting friendships are important to Melissa C. Papa ’06 as well. She is founder of MCP Consulting, Stamford, Conn., a public relations firm focused on beauty, health, and lifestyle, with clients that include Burt’s Bees, L’Oreal, Everlast, Red Door Spas, and Bath & Body Works. Her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters not only became lifelong friends; they helped her grow her business. One of them recently helped her land a new client.
A semester abroad in Paris is where Papa, an international affairs and French graduate, became fascinated with the beauty and lifestyle industries. She interned with French fashion house Sonia Rykiel and was “mesmerized by the incredible sensations and energy” of beauty company Sephora, which had not yet expanded to the U.S. market.
“I loved studying French literature, and it never seemed like homework when I immersed myself in a book by Molière or Camus,” she says. “I also remember Olga Anna Duhl, professor of foreign languages and literatures, returning a paper to me and remarking, ‘I can tell you enjoyed writing this.’ It stuck with me.”
For some students, the academic interest that becomes the core of their future career is discovered by accident. For example, Alexandra Behette ’13 arrived at Lafayette knowing she wanted to major in government and law but found her second major as a result of being enrolled in a course that was a substitute for one she had originally planned to take. She was captivated by Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies and the enthusiasm of the instructor, Mary Armstrong, associate professor and chair of women’s and gender studies.
Two courses that influenced her academic trajectory include the service-learning seminar Single Motherhood in the Contemporary U.S. and Technology Clinic. In the seminar, students study readings and statistical data on issues such as welfare reform and domestic violence, and they volunteer at Third Street Alliance in Easton. She participated in the Tech Clinic that addressed the lack of fresh vegetables in Easton’s West Ward neighborhood where a substantial number of residents have limited access to a supermarket or large grocery store. They created planters from recycled food-grade buckets that can be placed on a porch or in a small yard to raise vegetables.
“I define myself by my passion for equality for all people of any background,” says Behette. “Dr. Armstrong’s class altered my perceptions of the world and the choices we make every day. I feel empowered to make a difference. I don’t think I would have had these wonderful relationships with professors at a large school. They are always there and genuinely care.” Behette has been accepted into the Teach for America program and will teach at an elementary school in Connecticut after graduation.
“I’m thrilled that there is now a women’s and gender studies major,” says Lia Mandaglio Parifax ’08, who always had a proclivity for social issues, but her real passion was kick-started at Lafayette through classes in literature, psychology, and the Holocaust. “It’s a new frontier for Lafayette, and I’m excited to support Mary Armstrong’s work. Lafayette provided me with a strong education on issues that I care about. My professors were incredibly accessible. Some, like Carolynn Van Dyke, March Professor of English, my honors thesis adviser, I still talk to more than my classmates.”
As COO of Coda Leadership, a workplace diversity strategic advising fi rm in New York City, Mandaglio Parifax has merged her passion for social issues with her profession. She graduated with a double major in psychology and English and holds a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. In 2010, she and her husband, Hudson Taylor, co-founded Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that encourages the sports community to respect all athletes regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Taylor recently gave a presentation to Lafayette’s athletics department, and Mandaglio Parifax is working with Armstrong to plan a campus presentation about workplace diversity.
Abenezer Solomon ’14 also discovered a passion for social justice through classes and campus life. The First-Year Seminar—Education, Social Justice, and the United States—was pivotal in his decision to major in government and law. The students visited a school in south Philadelphia, where they learned about the obstacles many minorities face in education. It was a dynamic that Solomon could relate to as a Posse Scholar, one of many student leaders from public high schools identified by the Posse Foundation and prepared for enrollment at top-tier colleges and universities as part of multicultural teams or “posses.”
As a social justice peer mentor in Lafayette’s Kaleidoscope program, Solomon helps foster intercultural conversations on campus.
“I have met a lot of people and enjoyed many conversations with them,” says Solomon, who is vice president of Lafayette African and Caribbean Students’ Association, secretary of Residence Hall Council, an admissions student ambassador, and member of Lafayette Christian Fellowship. “I believe that talking, sharing, and becoming more open build a closer community. Being involved in campus life has enabled me to learn on different levels and has shaped who I am today.”
For Geraldo Neto ’15, college friends have become his family. He came to Lafayette from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and has no relatives in the United States. “I have a diverse group of friends at Lafayette, and they make the difference in my experience here,” he says. “Many of them have the same interests I do, but a lot of them have completely different interests and majors, which allows for a great exchange of experience among us. Lafayette is my home, and I love it even more as I get to know more professors and get involved in more clubs and activities.”
A double major in international affairs and history, Neto plans to spend a semester abroad in a program based in Geneva, Switzerland. After graduation he intends to pursue a graduate degree in the United States before beginning a career in the Brazilian Foreign Service.
Like Neto, Nii Adjei ’08 arrived as an international student. His daunting transition to college life from his home in Ghana was made much easier by fellow Ghanaians Rexford Ahene, professor of economics, and Kofi Opoku, former professor of religious studies. The close bonds of the International Students Association also helped Adjei, providing student-mentors who also had adjusted to life and a different culture in the U.S.
Now a manufacturing operation lead for Glaxo-SmithKline in Clifton, N.J., Adjei found it easy to fit in and try new things even within the demanding chemical engineering program. He continued his childhood love of photography as photo editor for The Lafayette, the College’s student newspaper. Studying abroad in Trinidad and Tobago expanded his cultural perspective, and liberal arts courses stretched his boundaries, giving him a deep understanding and appreciation of scientific, artistic, and humanistic subjects beyond the technical.
Neto chose Lafayette because he wanted to learn from some of the best professors in the country on a personal level. The student-professor relationship is special, says Neto, who will begin EXCEL Scholars research with Rebekah Pite, assistant professor of history, next year and hopes to complete an honors thesis under her guidance.
“I have taken two wonderful courses with her on Latin American history that allowed me to discover many new things about the region from which I come,” he says. “Professors here love teaching, and they deeply care about their students. I enjoy attending classes, but I especially enjoy spending several hours with professors out of class when they share their expertise and passion for their fields of studies with us.”
A third-year resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brad Wertheim ’07 knows the difference caring professor-mentors can make. He was so impressed with how his general chemistry instructor Yvonne Gindt, former associate professor of chemistry, applied biochemical principles to address practical problems in biology and medicine that he became her research assistant and chose to major in biochemistry. He also conducted EXCEL Scholars research with Laurie Caslake, associate professor and assistant head of biology.
Wertheim earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He said he met some of his best friends as a member of Chi Phi fraternity, and they still keep in touch. He also participated in Outdoor Club.
“There are few things more satisfying than being the one to make a crucial diagnosis or lifesaving intervention in an emergency,” says Wertheim. “Lafayette provided rigorous training in problem-solving that transcends the traditional boundaries of basic science or the humanities.”