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Lex-Jordan Ibegbu (‘08) Alumni

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Lex-Jordan Ibegbu (‘08) University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill & University Of Miami Law School

August 16, 2019

Vision, ambition, and will

Lex-Jordan Ibegbu transferred into CA from public school his freshman year.
“College choice is all about what you are exposed to,” Ibegbu explains. “Prior to CA, I didn’t really know what college I wanted to go to. I had always assumed I’d go to Shaw University. My parents attended Shaw University. I grew up across the street.”

Over the course of his four years at CA, however, his horizons broadened, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill rising to near-mythical status in his mind.

“I had never been to Chapel Hill. I didn’t know anyone that attended Carolina” says Ibegbu. “But, CA was sending a lot of students to Carolina. I researched and discovered the kind of professionals that Carolina was producing. I wanted to be an attorney and I knew that Carolina had a strong political science department. I also knew that the Carolina name would open doors for me later in my career. Going there became one of my prayers.”

The transition to CA had been an academic adjustment, but one that he was able to manage after a year. Still, some thought Carolina might be a reach for Ibegbu. He credits his mother and college counselor Laura Sellers for believing in him enough to encourage him to pursue his dream and apply.

“Ms. Sellers was such a blessing. She told me exactly what I needed to do to make it happen. I took the SAT twice to attain a sufficient score” Ibegbu recalls. “I only needed to see the blueprint. Once I learned the process I could then apply it. I believed in myself. I believed in my spirit that I would go to Carolina.”
With clear goals, guideposts, and a healthy boost of confidence, Ibegbu threw himself into the application process, while also pursuing scholarship options. His clear-eyed tenacity was rewarded, and he was admitted to Carolina on a full scholarship as a Covenant Scholar.

As an African American student in a then-predominantly white CA community, the promise of Carolina’s diverse student body had also been a tremendous lure to Ibegbu. On campus, he took full advantage, immersing himself into academic, social, and extracurricular experiences through which he weaved a broad social network that would pay dividends throughout his college career and beyond.

His eyes set on law school, Ibegbu pursued a degree in political science. He also continued the student government work he’d enjoyed at CA and was elected as a student body congressman. It was an experience that afforded the opportunity to collaborate with an ever-widening circle of students, while also providing practical experience that he could leverage for law school.

He pursued his other passions—music and drama—via dual minors. A rapper, Ibegbu used his music as a networking tool, performing for various student groups across campus and always making connections along the way.

“I credit Carolina with teaching me how to maneuver in different environments,” offers Ibegbu. “Every week I tried to connect with people from different insular communities throughout the campus. That might have been going to plays with my drama friends, or performing at events hosted by Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity (a Latino fraternity), or working on legislation with members of the Muslim Student Association, or seeking out mentor opportunities within Carolina’s vast alumni network. I was always consciously trying to broaden my horizons, to build that social capital.”

Ibegbu graduated from Carolina in 2012 and was admitted to the University of Miami School of Law, from which he graduated in 2015. He is now a practicing attorney in both Florida and North Carolina with the law office of Kurtz & Blum, PLLC. He currently has a focus in criminal law, with an eye for music/entertainment issues, and engages in political consultant work for various candidates and politicians.

“As for the future, I am always seeking growth and knowledge. I want to become an immense legal mind, perhaps start my own practice that spans the eastern seaboard. I hope to exercise some influence over this country’s politics and economic policies.”

As always, Ibegbu is making a plan and charting a course for success: “I am setting the foundation for my dreams and working towards creating a lasting legacy.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Andy Walsh (’09)

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Andy Walsh (’09) North Carolina State University & University Of North Carolina Law School

August 10, 2019

Something to Prove

By his junior year at CA, Andy Walsh was grappling with his future.

An accomplished hockey player, he toyed with the idea of taking a gap year to play competitively. He credits college counselor Laura Sellers, his fellow students, and a newfound passion for political science and law—courtesy of RJ Pellicciotta’s advanced United States government class—with helping to set him on the college track.

“CA helped push me to focus on my educational outcomes and to think broader,” explains Walsh. “My friends were all getting into college and I got to a place where I wanted that for myself, I wanted to be part of a great college experience.”

And what did his ideal experience look like? He knew that he wanted to look at local cost-effective options—those that offered a big school experience, flexible curricula, a strong athletics culture, and competitive sports teams. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University were obvious choices.

Walsh got into State early action, but Carolina rejected him. “Not even the waitlist,” he laughs. “Initially, it was a little hard to take, but, truthfully, that rejection was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It made me even more appreciative of the opportunity at State, and it also gave me a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove that

Carolina missed out by not admitting me.”

Right then and there, Walsh made three goals that would define his undergraduate college experience: to participate in clubs, get academic honors, and get into law school.

On campus, Walsh declared a political science major and immediately joined the club hockey team, a familiar experience that had the added benefit of providing an instant friend group. Wanting to get involved in something that would help with law school admission, he opted for student government, winning his first senate seat his freshman year. It would be the beginning of a student government career that would span all four years and include three senate seats, an appointment to the executive branch, and, ultimately, election as student body president his senior year.

Still, the transition from CA’s small community to the enormous 35,000+ student population was daunting in those early semesters; it didn’t always feel like the right choice. After considering a transfer, he decided instead to “double-down” on what it was that he liked most about State: the traditions of  the university.

“My parents never went to a four-year college, so growing up I didn’t have that immediate allegiance to a school that a lot of other kids did,” he explains. “I always thought that connection, that sense of pride was cool. I wanted to help cultivate those feelings for students that, like me, didn’t have them walking in the door.”

Over the next few years, Walsh oversaw a variety of traditions-driven projects, including getting a living mascot for the athletics department; overseeing the “Coaches’ Corner” project that unveiled statues of retired basketball coaches, including Jim Valvano and Kay Yow; and creating “the brick,” a living scrapbook/guide to State’s traditions that is given to every incoming freshman as an invitation to engage.

On graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors in 2013, Walsh focused on acquiring work experience in preparation for law school. He interned first at SAS, in the Government Relations Department, before transferring into a full-time position at Smith Anderson, one of the largest firms in North Carolina. His mentors at Smith Anderson encouraged his application to law school and in 2016 he was admitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Law.

Walsh graduated UNC’s School of Law in 2019 and is currently studying for the bar. He looks forward to stepping into his new role in the Charlotte, NC office of the international law firm Cadwalader where he’ll be working on fund finance and corporate law.

His reflection on ultimately being both a member of the Wolfpack and a Tar Heel? “I think State and Carolina do a really good job of identifying the right people for their campuses. I’m so grateful for that,” Walsh reflects.

“Having been there for grad school, I can say with certainty it would not have been a good fit for me as an undergrad. At State, I had just what I needed and every opportunity to prove myself. If you work hard, there are amazing opportunities that will open to you.”considering a transfer, he decided instead to “double-down” on what it was that he liked most about State: the traditions of the university. “My parents never went to a four-year college, so growing up I didn’t have that immediate allegiance to a school that a lot of other kids did,” he explains. “I always thought that connection, that sense of pride was cool. I wanted to help cultivate those feelings for students that, like me, didn’t have them walking in the door.” Over the next few years, Walsh oversaw a variety of traditions-driven projects, including getting a living mascot for the athletics department; overseeing the “Coaches’ Corner” project that unveiled statues of retired basketball coaches, including Jim Valvano and Kay Yow; and creating “the brick,” a living scrapbook/guide to State’s traditions that is given to every incoming freshman as an invitation to engage. On graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors in 2013, Walsh focused on acquiring work experience in preparation for law school. He interned first at SAS, in the Government Relations Department, before transferring into a full-time position at Smith Anderson, one of the largest firms in North Carolina. His mentors at Smith Anderson encouraged his application to law school and in 2016 he was admitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Law. Walsh graduated UNC’s School of Law in 2019 and is currently studying for the bar. He looks forward to stepping into his new role in the Charlotte, NC office of the international law firm Cadwalader where he’ll be working on fund finance and corporate law. His reflection on ultimately being both a member of the Wolfpack and a Tar Heel? “I think State and Carolina do a really good job of identifying the right people for their campuses. I’m so grateful for that,” Walsh reflects. “Having been there for grad school, I can say with certainty it would not have been a good fit for me as an undergrad. At State, I had just what I needed and every opportunity to prove myself. If you work hard, there are amazing opportunities that will open to you.”

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Ritu Prasad (’10)

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Ritu Prasad (’10) : University Of Chicago Northwestern University, Medill School Of Journalism

August 10, 2019

Following her heart

The importance of college was always at the forefront of Ritu Prasad’s CA experience.

“My parents immigrated to the United States from India when I was child,” Prasad explains. “It had always been important to them that I attend an American college—it was one of the big reasons they decided to leave. They wanted me to have the best opportunities, and the Indian education system was a lot less choice-based, a lot less flexible.”

Themselves unfamiliar with the American college system and application process, Prasad and her family appreciated the strong support system offered by Laura Sellers, Prasad’s college counselor.

“As newcomers, it was easy to freak out about all the details, the wealth of information to sort through—the SATs, the applications, the deadlines, the overwhelming choices. Ms. Sellers was always the voice of calm and reason, helping to set out the facts and requirements and providing important guidance.”

Working with the college counselors, Prasad made a list of what attributes she most desired for prospective colleges. “Throughout my time at CA, I had the opportunity to build great relationships with my teachers. I’m still friends with some of them today; Vic Quesada, Donna Eason, and Dr. Robert Coven changed my life!” gushes Prasad. “For college, I wanted small classes that offered similar opportunities to form those deep relationships and to grow and develop alongside my teachers.”

A lover of both science and English, she also wanted a college that prided itself on the well-roundedness of its students—one that offered a strong interdisciplinary curriculum and the flexibility to explore multiple disciplines simultaneously. An exceptional study abroad program rounded out her list.
She created her initial college prospect list—adding in the University of Chicago on the advice of alum Brent Rappaport (’10)—and culled it by taking full advantage of CA-hosted visits from a variety of college admissions officers. “Those visits with the admissions counselors from all those different schools that CA offered was really useful and played a role in shaping my decisions” notes Prasad.

One such meeting with a Columbia University admissions counselor made it clear that Columbia was not a good fit, while others affirmed her interest in Northwestern and the University of Chicago. A later campus tour of the University of Chicago would prove that it was the school for her. Excited, she applied early decision and was accepted.

Both of Prasad’s parents are physicians and following in their footsteps had been an early goal that she set for herself. During her first couple of years, she pursued her tandem interests, taking pre-med classes while also majoring in English. A study abroad to Paris to explore astrophysics would be a highlight of her undergraduate years.

In her senior year—just one credit away from securing a double major in biology, while signing up to take the MCAT—it hit her: she didn’t want to be a doctor. “I had been warring with my two passions, science and writing, for my entire undergraduate career. I suddenly realized that my true love was writing.”

Just like that, she changed gears, graduating with a degree in English and a minor in biology. “It was jarring,” Prasad admits. “I’d had a ten-year plan for years, but, suddenly, I didn’t know what would come next.”
Soon after graduation, after a less-than-gratifying internship and foray into communications work, Prasad began to investigate graduate schools. She was accepted to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism after a last-minute application and awarded an academic scholarship.

She completed her master’s degree in journalism in 2016. A journalism residency with the BBC in London would prove life-changing, leading to her current full-time position with the BBC’s North American bureau in Washington, DC. There, she’s living her dream as a multimedia journalist covering features and general news: “It’s work that I believe in, work that means something.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Ben Hatfield (‘14)

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College Chronicles: Ben Hatfield (‘14): United States Air Force Academy

August 10, 2019

Lifelong dreamer

When Ben Hatfield was a toddler, his parents took him to an air show at Andrews Air Force base. He immediately loved seeing all the planes flying in the air and his love of all things aeronautic was locked in.

When it came time to consider college, the path to his dream of being a pilot and soaring the skies was stronger than ever. It was no surprise that he set his aim on a United States service academy, with the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) being top choice.

Acceptance into a U.S. service academy is decidedly different from the typical collegiate process. In addition to an application to the academy, candidates must receive a nomination from their U.S. Senator or Congressman. It’s a complex process, involving many moving parts and copious amounts of essay-writing. Hatfield credits his college counselor, Leya Jones, with helping him navigate the process and keeping him sane and organized.

Hatfield began his Air Force journey in the summer of 2014. By his own account, his first year was arduous mentally, physically, and emotionally. USAFA places a heavy value on well-roundedness, and his first-year curriculum was a heavy lift of liberal arts coursework in tandem with Air Force-specific classes like aeronautical and astronautical engineering and leadership.

Despite the challenges, Hatfield found himself academically well-prepared, his experience harkening back to the classrooms of CA. “I found myself emailing my CA teachers—even my seventh-grade teachers—to tell them how my experience in their class was still playing such a big role in my life,” laughs Hatfield.

Ben Hatfield (‘14)

And, bolstered by confidence from his CA experiences, he was able to find what some might consider a daunting campus culture and ethos, inspiring.

Opportunities within USAFA—what courses you are eligible to take, what clubs you can participate in, what planes you get to fly, and, ultimately, your placement post-Academy—are all driven by class rank, which is distributed publicly every semester.

“While the environment is extremely competitive, everyone also knows that there is no way to make it through alone,” explains Hatfield. “You have to have people to lean on, to help you. The result is a unique environment where everyone is driven, constantly pushing themselves to be better, but also helping each other and pushing each other to be better.”

It was in his sophomore year—when cadets declare their majors (he chose Operations Research/Statistics), join clubs, and have more control over their coursework—that Hatfield truly began to hit his stride. He joined the United States Air Force Skydiving Team, “The Wings of Blue.” It was an intensive, but gratifying experience (requiring up to three-hours of practice time each day) that would ultimately take him all over the country and the world to perform in air shows to demonstrate the Air Force’s capabilities. On campus, it meant that, at nineteen-years-old, he was also responsible for teaching first-year cadets how to do their very first solo jumps out of planes. He credits that experience of “helping other cadets get over their fear” as one of the highlights of his time at USAFA.

Another highlight? A senior capstone project in which he investigated the resiliency of U.S. satellite networks and how the United States might be able to respond to various threats. He presented his research at a conference to professional Air Force statisticians, who were able to leverage his research and take it to the next level in the field.

Hatfield graduated USAFA in May 2018 and is now living his dream, training alongside officers from all over the world in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Ziyana Greene (’18)

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Ziyana Greene (’18): Agnes Scott College

August 10, 2019

A New Perspective

Ziyana Greene knew what she wanted for college: a small private school with resources on par with a larger university and a diverse student community. She’d always assumed that she’d find that experience at a historically black college or university (HBCU). It was a shock, then, when touring, she found that “despite being great schools, they just didn’t feel right. They didn’t click for me.”

Sensing her mounting frustration, college counselor Brandon Carter suggested she check out a school she’d never heard of—Agnes Scott College—a small liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. While not an HBCU, it did tick a lot of her boxes. She booked a last-minute trip, a final stop on her college tour before heading home.

On arriving, her first contact was a student tour guide from the Republic of The Gambia who’d never been to the United States before attending Agnes Scott. “She’d applied from abroad and her very first experience in the United States was her move-in day,” marvels Greene.

“She was so courageous. It made me feel brave and made me recognize my privilege. To that point, I had these ideas of what diversity was, what it would look like, but Agnes Scott gave me a whole new lens. It has a huge international population and I was excited to hear all those different stories and perspective. I knew that this was where I wanted to be.”

Greene—who is pre-law, majoring in political science, minoring in human rights, and pursuing a specialization in leadership development—has made the most of her first-year college experience. Highlights have included a study abroad in Ghana to research women in leadership; working in the admissions office where she enjoys interacting with the diverse community and has developed close mentorship relationships with senior faculty; induction in the Leadership Society; and her successful campaign and election as Public Relations Coordinator for the Pre-Law Society.

Greene credits Agnes Scott and, more broadly, the women’s college experience as giving her a newfound sense of empowerment and confidence. “It is inspiring to see other women supporting each other and really going after what they want, letting no one stop them. At Agnes, we don’t have to compete. Each woman’s accomplishments are seen not just as hers, but as opening doors for everyone.” She adds, “Don’t get me wrong, competition is important in the professional world and we learn how to compete. But, when you know your worth, you can compete in the world a lot differently and more successfully.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Deming Haines (’17)

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College Chronicles: Deming Haines (’17): Colorado College

August 10, 2019

An alternative approach

By all accounts, the last few years of Deming Haines’s CA experience were challenging ones. In 2014, he had transferred into CA as a junior—a tricky transition in and of itself—made all the more difficult by a serious medical condition. He was grappling with post-concussive syndrome which left him with debilitating daily headaches. The headaches would prove so disruptive as to necessitate repeating his junior year.

“It was one of the hardest times of my life,” recalls Haines. “Here it was my junior year, when I’m supposed to be applying to college, when I want to be able to present the best version of myself. My headaches knocked all that down.”

When it came time to apply to colleges, he found himself in uncharted waters. “I was a first for CA; no one had ever repeated their junior year. We weren’t sure how colleges would respond or what my realistic options were.” He also still had severe headaches to contend with and uncertainty around what would be feasible for him, physically and cognitively.

Despite the looming question marks, guided by college counselor Leya Jones, Haines threw himself into the process. His essays, a cathartic opportunity for self-reflection, focused on his challenges and the personal growth he’d achieved as a result.

“My headaches are a hardship, but, in many ways, I think it strengthened my applications,” he explains. “Colleges could see my perseverance. They could see everything that I had gone through and that, despite it all, I was still doing well academically, and I was still excited to go to college.”

At CA, Haines had loved physics, but an independent study mentored by media arts teacher Steven O’Neill strengthened his passion for photography. He knew he wanted a school where he could explore both, preferably in small classes with ample opportunities for faculty connection, a dimension of his CA experience he had always appreciated.

It was ultimately Colorado College—a small liberal arts college in Colorado Springs that offers a nontraditional block curriculum—that captured his interest. Jones had initially hoped the alternative approach might help to ease Haines’s transition to college.

Colorado College’s block curriculum offers an intensive, experiential deep dive into one subject at a time. Students complete the equivalent number of credit hours as a typical semester-long course in just 3.5 short weeks thanks to daily classes ranging from three to six hours long. When one block ends, students enjoy a brief four-day break before jumping into the next.

“It’s really rigorous, perhaps even more so than traditional classes,” says Haines. “There is a constant grind, but the structure lends itself to rewarding and immersive learning opportunities, like field trips and collaborative projects, that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

Challenging? Yes, but Haines enjoys it. He’s now settled in as a studio arts major and is taking full advantage of the wide-ranging interdisciplinary offerings that will round out his requirements for graduation.

“The liberal arts requirements are designed to push you out of your comfort zone, to encourage exploration and discovery. I love that aspect of CC,” explains Haines. “You are exposed to subjects you might never have otherwise considered. For my social inequality credit, I took a block on nonviolence; it was the most eye-opening class I’ve ever taken.”

Another highlight has been collaborating with a team to invent and pitch an event-finding app—a concept he originated in an earlier design-thinking block—at CC’s Big Idea Competition, an entrepreneurial pitch competition that awards $50,000 to the top three teams (Haines’s team was among the top five).

Next fall, when he returns to campus, he will launch his first on-campus photography exhibition thanks to being awarded a $1,000 Venture Grant. “I’ve been so blown away by all the resources Colorado College has, all the many ways that it can help me do what I love.”

As for what comes next, Haines is certain that it will involve photography— a series of Haines’s nature photographs completed as part of his senior CA capstone project are on exhibit in the Center and Math and Science—but beyond that he’s not sure. “Right now, I am interested in aligning product photography with fine art photography, but, who knows, as I continue to learn I might go in a whole new direction.” He adds confidently, “I’m open to possibilities.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Kendall Bell (’15)

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Kendall Bell (’15): Duke University

August 10, 2019

Community beyond classrooms

By his own admission, Kendall Bell wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for at the outset of his college process.

“The process never looks the way you think it will,” Bell muses in hindsight. “You may think you know what you want, but you probably don’t. You may think you know what a college is like, but you don’t until you visit campus. Without guidance, without help, you are just taking shots in the dark.”

For Bell, that light in the dark came from CA’s college counseling team. “The college counselors at CA don’t just learn what you want in a college, they learn you as a person,” reflects Bell. “They talk to you about your classes, about what is going on in your life, about everything else, and only then talk to you about college.”

With guidance, Bell homed in on the important attributes that he was looking for in a college experience: the curricular flexibility to pursue his interest in both chemistry and the humanities; immersive, hands-on learning opportunities; and a “quirky” atmosphere that embraced uniqueness and didn’t take itself too seriously.

The University of Chicago was an early front-runner, a position later solidified by a visit to campus. It quickly became the yardstick against which he compared all other prospects.

It was college counselor Leya Jones that encouraged Bell to take a closer look at Duke University, a school he initially included on his list only because it was local. However, on closer inspection, Bell found that he appreciated the interdisciplinarity built into Duke’s curriculum and the flexible way in which it structures its majors.

“Very few majors at Duke are vertical,” explains Bell. “There are often different versions of a degree, specializations within a major that allow you to reach across disciplines and pursue your various interests.”

Ultimately, Bell’s receipt of Duke’s Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship—a merit-scholarship established in honor of Duke’s first African American president of the undergraduate student body—would make his decision an easy one. Bell found the community of “Reggie Scholars”—and their shared commitment to transformative leadership, intellectual courage, and social justice—compelling. The scholarship would ultimately lead to some of Bell’s most gratifying moments on campus.

“As a Reggie Scholar, I helped to organize and lead campus visit for new Reggie Scholar finalists,” offers Bell. “It was a meaningful experience. Not only was I was representing the program, but I helped to shape our community’s future by setting expectations and asking candidates how they would contribute and advance social justice work.”

Duke’s “work hard/play hard” culture also proved appealing. It forced Bell, an introvert, to stretch and reach out of his shell.

“I realized that life isn’t all about work and school. Duke offered me different communities of people that pushed me to engage outside the classroom, to do other things besides study that helped me make the most of the experience.”

On reflection, it is those opportunities outside of the classroom—those that allowed him to socialize or intellectually engage with his peers and professors—that rise to Bell’s memory as the most meaningful.

“A lot of the fun stuff, the cool stuff that happens in college, doesn’t necessarily happen in class,” says Bell. “It’s having a four-hour lunch conversation with your favorite professor, or being in your room at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday, when suddenly a lot of people roll up, and before you know it you’ve had a fascinating conversation about mass incarceration for hours. Those are the most powerful moments.”

Of course, there were ample academic highlights as well, including a long list of favorite classes—some stumbled on entirely by happenstance—that broadened his perspective or sparked new interests. Being nominated by his professor and winning the Mary McLeod Bethune Writing Award for a paper on moral panics was another particularly memorable moment.

Bell graduated from Duke this past May with degrees in both chemistry and global cultural studies and a minor in African and African American studies. This fall, his journey will come full circle, as he joins the CA community as a Teaching Fellow (he’s also recently completed a two-year stint as a member of CA’s Board of Directors). At CA, he’ll be working alongside one of his favorite teacher-turned-mentor Gray Rushin.

Bell looks forward to shaping his students’ journeys of self-discovery in much the same way others have shaped his. “There are many different places in my educational career where, if it had not been for that teacher that intervened, I would now be in a very, very different place,” explains Bell. “The best classes that I’ve taken are not just about learning the material but about learning about yourself as well.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Carrie Miller (‘04) Alumni

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Carrie Miller (‘04): Bowdoin College & University Of Pennsylvania, Perelman School Of Medicine

August 10, 2019

The A-ha Moment

Carrie Miller credits the support of the CA community and the leadership skills she developed during her time as a student with giving her the confidence she needed to strike out beyond her comfort zone to find the perfect college. “I knew I wanted to try something new, to explore a different part of the country, to try out an entirely different environment than what I was used to,” explains Miller.

She initially thought that she’d find that experience in a mid-size university in New England. It was only on the last-minute advice of favorite English teacher Sunny McDaniels (herself a Bowdoin alum) that she added Bowdoin College—a small liberal arts school on the coast of Maine—to her list.

“As soon as I walked onto the Bowdoin campus, I knew that this was the place. I felt so comfortable, so at home; everyone was so friendly. I loved the classes, the sunny days, the coastal campus, the engaged faculty, the intensely loyal alumni network” reflects Miller. “I’d always heard people talk about this intangible feeling you get when you find the school that’s the right fit. I never bought into that idea, never thought it would happen to me, until it did.”

On joining the student body, Miller immersed herself in campus life—moving into one of the social houses, joining the women’s rugby team, even working in the admissions office, first as a tour guide, and, later, as an applicant interviewer (a role she continues to enjoy as an alum).
Unsure of a major, she used her first semester to explore her myriad interests across gender studies, sociology, French, and science. “I wanted to take that first semester to just enjoy being at Bowdoin, to let myself be excited and inspired by all the possibilities,” explains Miller.

The next semesters saw Miller focus in on a career in women’s health, as she pursued pre-med prerequisites alongside classes for an interdisciplinary women studies major.

A culturally immersive semester-long study abroad in Botswana—during which Miller lived with a host family, studied the local language, completed coursework in HIV and public health, all while shadowing two days a week in the local healthcare clinic—proved to be transformative, triggering an interest in obstetrics and gynecology.

After graduating Bowdoin in 2008, Miller moved to Boston, taking a position within a child psychiatry research office from which she was able to explore a variety of roles within healthcare. Realizing that she valued the patient-doctor relationship above all else, she enrolled in Harvard’s post-baccalaureate program to complete a handful of remaining classes required for medical school admission and took the MCAT—all while working full-time.

Miller was admitted to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and started an OBGYN residency at Penn in 2015. She graduated in June 2019 and will soon be moving to Minnesota with her husband (a fellow doctor and Bowdoin alum) and young daughter, where she has accepted a position within a local hospital system.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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College Chronicles: Esra Balkas (’17): London School Of Economics

August 10, 2019

Aiming abroad

An eighth-grade CA summer trip to Oxford University proved pivotal for Esra Balkas, triggering a longstanding desire to attend college abroad. She was immediately taken by Oxford’s beautiful campus and academic gravitas. A huge Tolkien fan, she loved the idea of attending her idol’s alma mater, of studying in the same hallowed halls in which he used to teach.

Practically, Balkas knew she wanted to study anthropology or international relations. These were passions she had discovered and explored thanks to CA’s flexible curriculum and the guidance of Upper School social sciences teacher Maret Jones.

Beyond academics, Balkas sought a school in an urban center and one with a large international student population, a desire borne out of her participation in the Student Global Leadership Initiative.

“SGLI was a huge thing for me. I learned so much from the other students in the program that were from all over the world—not just academically, but more broadly,” explains Balkas. “It changed how I looked at a lot of things in life. I wanted to go somewhere that offered a similar experience at the collegiate level.”

When an early and initially-disappointing rejection came from Oxford, Balkas shifted gears. She applied to the London School of Economics, another school that checked all her boxes.

“I applied on a whim,” recalls Balkas. “I was familiar with LSE’s anthropology program and had already written the application for the United Kingdom school system. I submitted my application two hours before the deadline closed. I didn’t even tell my parents or college counselor that I was applying. LSE is very competitive; I didn’t expect to get in.”
To her surprise, Balkas received a conditional acceptance weeks later. If she aced three of her AP exams, she was in.

Daunted, but determined, she redoubled her commitment to her academics. “It was hard. When all my friends were cruising, I was buckling down to study.”Her efforts paid off and she was officially admitted into the anthropology program at LSE in 2017. Since arriving on campus, she’s been immersed in her field, enjoying the close-knit community, and taking a full load of anthropology classes.

“At LSE, we’re offered only one elective credit per year—everything else is within the anthropology department” explains Balkas. “Because of the intensive focus, my program is only three years. We go deep from the outset and get out fast.”

She’s making the most of her small classes, which offer ample opportunities for hands-on learning, collaboration, and engagement with senior faculty. It’s an environment that has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow.

“I had initially thought I wanted a larger school,” explains Balkas. “I’m kind of shy and thought that it would be nice to blend into a huge class. That’s not possible at LSE, where the classes are capped at 12-14 people. It has pushed me to participate more, to be more confident.”

A field work unit completed during her second year has been a highlight of her time so far. “It was a crash course in becoming an anthropologist,” she explains. “You are given freedom to design a project, research it independently, and write an essay to share your findings.” Balkas—a self-described “nerd” who loves video games—chose to observe a popular e-sports team in London to explore how players use language, including gamer tags and gaming lingo, to construct their online identities and build community.

For Balkas, her experience abroad at LSE is all that she hoped it would be. “London is an incredible city and LSE is right in its heart, just a twenty-minute walk to Buckingham Palace,” she enthuses. “Being able to walk to school every day—stopping on the London Bridge, the London Eye is there, Westminster is there, my school is just on the other side—it is just so cool.”

Apart from her friends and family back home, she’s embraced her newfound independence and self-reliance that has fast-tracked her entry into adult life.

“Having to figure things out for myself—how to set up a bank account, how to register for a doctor, how to cook for myself (LSE doesn’t have dining halls), how to create my own support network—it’s been really empowering to do all of that on my own at eighteen. It’s tough, but in the end, I would always choose it. The life skills it has given me are incredible and I’ve made the most amazing friends and connections along the way.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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