Hardly a blank slate: Wells students make lasting impressions long before graduation.
First-year student Chris Birch has found comfort in the diverse community at Wells. For a student who has experienced a breadth of different cultures in her time abroad, particularly in Liberia, diversity was a deciding factor when choosing a college. “I think Wells does a good job of pulling together people from different backgrounds and communities,” says Birch, “and with Wells’ small size and cultural diversity, students here easily find and embrace their own niche.” Birch sees herself becoming involved in clubs such as POWER, SAGA, and Sex Collective which foster dialogue concerning diversity as well as cultural, sexual and racial awareness at Wells.
A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Birch didn’t have to look far to find the Wells community. While she considers Ithaca her true home, the sprawling countryside and quaint town of Aurora create an environment where she feels comfortable engaging in her academics without the bustle of city life. However, when she’s homesick, nearby Dorie’s Bakery offers Birch the comfort of home in a cup of local Ithacan coffee from Gimme Coffee.
During her time working with orphans in Liberia, Birch noticed the natural curiosity of children and delighted in their instinctive nature to ask questions. Preserving childish inquiry contributes to Birch’s desire to possibly teach one day. While she has yet to declare a major, she expresses interest in education. Wells’ education program provides the opportunity for Birch to receive a teaching certificate and also the option to minor in education. Her own interest in in the field has led Birch to appreciate the dynamic of her classes at Wells, where she feels free to participate in open discussions with her peers in and outside the classroom environment.
Senior sociology major and Chittenango, New York, native Brad Murray calls himself a “big supporter” of the Wells College Honor Code—a relatively humble assessment for the Chair of Wells’s Community Court. Along with the other student body and faculty representatives of the group, Murray takes on the responsibility of enforcing and promoting the code that bars students from lying, cheating, concealing, and deceiving and allows them the freedom to complete exams in their favorite library armchairs.
Like many students who serve on Community Court, Brad views this role as one of the many ways he contributes to the Wells community, but he has also harbored an interest in justice since high school, where he participated in mock trial. Brad now hopes that this experience—from educating other students about the Code to protecting the privacy of those brought forward for violations—will serve him well in his upcoming law career.
But chairing Court isn’t the only way Brad is cultivating valuable and transferable skills both in and out of the classroom. “In terms of how I manage everything, being more involved helps me focus more on schoolwork,” he says, citing how his annual trip to Washington, D.C., with his Political Activism at Wells (PAW) club informs the coursework of his political science minor.
Murray says that all of his leadership positions and work study responsibilities on campus—including being the chair of PAW, the Class of 2015 class treasurer, and a student assistant in the Office of Advancement—emphasize an often celebrated perk of being a Wells student: “You can change things, and you can dictate what happens to you. You have a voice.”
But as industrious as Brad may be in campus politics, academics, and his professional life, he notes that he also takes advantage of the fun Wells has to offer. He has been a longtime member and 2013-2014 co-director of Henry’s VIII, one of Wells’s a cappella groups, as well as a frequent attendee of the Wells College Arts & Lecture Series performances.
Taken by Wells’ beauty and comfortable with the small student population reminiscent of her boarding school in Virginia, it wasn’t long before Poku investigated Wells for her own undergraduate education. She applied, was accepted, and enrolled the following autumn.
Both Poku and her older sister (a current senior at Wells) were raised in Accra, Ghana, an African city over 5,000 miles from Aurora. But despite this great distance, Poku spared no time in making Wells her newest home away from home by joining a variety of student groups right off the bat. By the end of her first semester, Poku became vice president of the Women’s Resource Center and the public relations representative for P.O.W.E.R. (Praising Our Work, Ethnicity, and Race). Though these and various other club and committee memberships certainly kept her busy, Poku doesn’t regret the opportunities they created. “Being in all of the clubs I joined Freshman year,” she says, “there [was] literally always something going on, and going to those things and meeting new people has been great.”
To date, Poku has continued to secure leadership roles and remain involved as a an officer of the Wells College Programming Board, a contributor to The Sycamore magazine, the chair of the Publications Board, and—perhaps most proudly, as Poku says—an Evenline basketball coach for the decades-old class rivalry tradition, Odd/Even. But though Poku relishes being such a Renaissance woman, she also appreciates the resources she has taken advantage of to focus her many talents and interests—resources she found on the academic side of campus. “I was very confused, and I did not know what I wanted to do,” Poku remembers, describing her mindset when she arrived at Wells. “All [of my] teachers helped me go in the direction I’m in now. All teachers act as an advisor; they’ve all been really great to have as a resource.”
“I can’t think of a point in my life where I didn’t like animals,” recalls junior Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major and Mathematics minor Melena Hagstrom. Choosing to pursue veterinary medicine is a formidable task for anyone—involving a rigorous curriculum throughout four years of professional school—but Hagstrom reports that Wells’ emphasis on experiential learning helped her solidify her decision to become a vet.
Her first internship, through the Lab of Ornithology at nearby Cornell University, allowed her to assist graduate students with their breeding studies on tree swallows. After enjoying working with birds closer to home, Hagstrom spent the following January break interning at the Wild Bird Fund in New York City, where she directly cared for ill and injured animals. “After that internship,” says Hagstrom. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’”
Affirmed in her decision to become a veterinarian, Hagstrom later worked alongside professionals at a local veterinary clinic in Weedsport, N.Y. Of course, Hagstrom takes advantage of hands-on experiences on campus as well. While taking a heavy load of courses in biology and chemistry, Hagstrom has experienced firsthand the benefits of a small but powerful science department. “We’re so small that if you wanted extra research opportunities or just wanted to stay and chat with the professors for half an hour about something you learned in class, that’s a very real possibility here.” The freedom and resources to explore that curiosity, Hagstrom says, have been useful tools in learning to live and work as a scientist.
Hagstrom’s hard work at Wells has earned her some prestigious accolades—including the CRC Press Freshman Chemistry Achievement Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Award in the same year. Her achievements, however, go beyond academics, and now Hagstrom enjoys being a leader in her extra-curricular activities, as the editor in chief of the literary magazine, The Chronicle, the treasurer of the Bookworms book club, and as a co-founder of the newly formed Wells College Science Club.
Used to the academic rigor and demanding community involvement criteria of her high school’s International Baccalaureate program in Kalispell, Mont., Tierney Strandberg '15 wasted no time getting involved on campus. “At Wells, you just kind of have to dive right in,” she says of her first experiences in student groups from Model United Nations (MUN) to Outdoor Adventure Club.
Her interest in what would later become her major—Women & Gender Studies—also motivated Strandberg to get involved with the Women’s Resource Center. “I just love people who are passionate and interested and involved in what they want to learn. That’s the kind of people who are involved in those groups,” says Strandberg about the Wells students she works with as the now chair of both WRC and MUN.
Strandberg keeps energized as a student leader knowing that the members of the WRC and MUN rely on her. “[These positions] really force you to be accountable,” says Strandberg. “There’s something really awesome about these groups at Wells that are student-run. Everything that is done is done by students.” And what can be done is very impressive; the members of MUN travel to New York City each winter to join an international conference, and the WRC has grown to support the Wells community with an expansive library and a safe space for discussions of social justice and personal experience.
But these student groups are not the only home away from home Strandberg has found after traveling over 2,000 miles from her native Montana. “I’ve also spent every summer here since I have gone to school,” she says of Wells’ surrounding village.As an employee of the Inns of Aurora, Strandberg considers her connection to Aurora to be an important part of her Wells experience. Like many other Wells students, Strandberg enjoys exploring the shops along Main Street and participating in community festivals, like the annual summertime Aurora Fest and December's Christmas in Aurora. “You get to know everyone really quickly,” she says. “The people who live in Aurora really love and support Wells a lot, and I think it’s important to give back and be equally loving and supporting of the community in the way that they do.”
At each performance of Prodigy, Wells College’s resident step team, the performers thunder onto the stage or the dance floor with a pointed synchronization they hail as “precision at its best.” Prodigy captain, knitting club chair, and Resident Advisor Phylicia Green can usually be seen dancing at the front of the ensemble, beaming the same magnetic smile that greets her residents back after a break or welcomes a new member to her knitting circle.
While the junior sociology major’s interest in these hobbies sparked before attending Wells, her passions have flourished in a community Green admits is a little different. “Wells isn’t your typical college or university,” she says. “We’re a family.”
In addition to her own talent and determination, Green thanks her Wells family for opening the door to many of these leadership opportunities. “After seeing one of my close friends become a Resident Advisor and just watching how interesting the job is,” she remembers, “I thought, ‘Why not? I think I could do this.’”
Green was not the only one confident in her abilities; her own RA and the former leaders of both Prodigy and her knitting group—Knitting, Needlework, and Other Tatting (K.N.O.T.)—all recommended her for their positions or directly passed them down. Even more of Green’s peers showed their support when she was elected to a representative position on Community Court, an accomplishment that allowed her to help uphold Wells’ Honor Code and, as she says, “make this community a better place.” In fact, Green not only partakes in her hobbies but shares them to better her community—as she did when Prodigy sponsored Wells’ first ever Community Step-Off in 2013.
Now well into her own Wells journey—during which she is also pursuing an education minor—Green advocates getting involved to any student considering Wells. “Definitely be open to trying new things and going into a new environment,” she says. “Wells is a very open community.”
“Initially, I was terrified,” says Wells College senior Lindsey Bush of her travel abroad experience at the University of Sterling in Scotland. “I was going to a new country, I didn’t know anyone, and I had no idea what was going to happen when I got there.”
What did happen? Bush played for the school’s water polo team, joined a faith-based group of her peers, studied creative writing alongside Scottish history, and traveled to Paris, Copenhagen, London, Iceland, and Norway—all in the span of four life-changing months.
Despite her initial nerves, Bush (who hails from Averill Park, N.Y.) could not be more satisfied with her decision to go abroad in the spring of her junior year. After five semesters of soaking up the best of what Wells has to offer—as a dedicated student and a devoted athlete—Bush sought to expand her horizons overseas while pursing her English major and anthropology minor. “Anthropology is the study of other cultures,” she says, “so I was learning a lot about other people’s cultures—while just hanging out and eating food.” (Bush prefers the Scots’ ‘fish and chips’ over haggis.)
After living in a foreign country and exploring new cities on her own, Bush cites studying abroad as a major boon to her confidence. These new experiences under her belt, Bush returned to Wells ready to lead. She now serves as Vice Chair of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC)—a group dedicated to ensuring an enriching student-athlete experience at Wells—and tutors her fellow student-athletes in her spare time.
In the fall of 2013, along with fellow SAAC officer Brittany Vanno, Bush represented Wells at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Conference in Providence, R.I. The women’s soccer player reports that the conference—which drew in students from Syracuse University to Duke University—was both fun and informative. But whether she is drawing experience from across the Atlantic or across state lines, Bush has been eager to apply these insights to succeeding at Wells.
Like many other professors at Wells, Associate Professor of Sociology Daniel Renfrow has tapped into one of the best resources on campus for stimulating intellectual discussion and scholarly partnership—his students. “It’s a small place,” the sociology professor says of the college where he has been teaching since 2008. “Working with students allows me to create a community to share ideas.”
Renfrow’s community of young sociologists includes enthusiastic students in his popular, discussion-based courses, his undergraduate teaching assistants and students who have worked with him on sociological research. Alissa Toner ’15—who came to Wells from Dover-Foxcroft, Maine—enjoys fulfilling all three of these roles. As a college junior and teaching assistant for two sociology courses, Toner is already working with Renfrow to contribute to a research effort inspired by classroom material.
“It started in the Research Methods class,” Renfrow recalls, referring to the annual course in which he tasks social science majors with designing a research project, collecting data and analyzing that data in a comprehensive report. “Through conversation, a couple of the students were noting that there was a lack of research opportunities [for undergraduates]. So, I said, let’s come up with something to do!”
These students—Valerie Provenza ’14, Caroline Clabaugh ’14, and Toner—have since taken their ideas beyond the classroom and will soon be conducting interviews and collecting data to investigate the exercise habits, diets, and grooming behaviors of men of diverse backgrounds to see how these practices relate to constructions of masculinity. Renfrow is optimistic that this trio of talented students may see several papers published as a result of their multi-faceted research.
“I was really interested in it, and Professor Renfrow kept encouraging me,” says Toner gratefully about her involvement in the project, emphasizing that her contributions were equally influenced by her enthusiasm for Renfrow’s Men & Masculinities course. “I was a sophomore, and I wasn’t expecting this to happen. You don’t really get research opportunities before grad school.”
These opportunities, Renfrow notes, are pivotal to students’ success at Wells and beyond. “I think it’s important to mention the consequence of these relationships,” he says. “I’m lucky to meet a lot of my students in the [introductory] principles classes. When I write letters of reference, I really know who these students are—in class and outside of class. And a lot of our students have been very successful and gotten into very good [graduate] programs.”
Some Wells students take time once they arrive to see what the College offers and pursue their interests; others arrive filled with energy and ready to get involved with the many programs and groups available on campus.
Michelle Lee ’16 exemplifies the latter; intent on developing her talent for writing in Wells’ English program, she’s already earned a place on the staff of the Sycamore student environmental and social issues magazine as a staff writer and copy editor. Michelle also joined several campus groups and began volunteering with Wells’ Women’s Resource Center.
“I think one of the things that really drew me to Wells was how important student participation was and how you could be involved in so many different aspects on campus,” Michelle said. “With organizations such as the Women's Resource Center, POWER (Praising Our Work, Ethnicity, and Race), SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Activists), etc., I helped organize events and participated in the discussions, which was awesome because the small sizes made everyone's voice heard.”
In addition to these activities, Michelle dedicated herself to her coursework, supplementing her interests in the College’s English and Women’s and Gender Studies programs with classes in letterpress printing and acting. “Everyone in the Book Arts Center is so helpful and wonderful, and it was a really fun class to take,” she said. “I was always involved in theatre during high school but never took a drama class. Professor Easter’s class got me involved with the theatre department at Wells, and it was just a fun class full of wonderful people.”
Michelle also took advantage of the opportunity to complete an internship during Wells’ winter break at her old high school in Burlington, Massachusetts. Even after one semester, Michelle was already prepared to draw on her skills and the experiences she’d gained at Wells and share them with others. During her internship, she observed four teachers in their classes as well as assisting members of the senior class with their research papers by giving them research and editing advice. By taking this opportunity, Michelle even discovered an interest in teaching as a potential career path.
“I went into it thinking that I wasn’t really into teaching, but I really liked working with students and I love English. So walking out of it, teaching is more of an option for me now.” Whatever shape her career takes, Michelle will continue using her talents to improve the world around her, in keeping with Wells’ Latin motto Habere et Dispertire, or “To have and to share.”
Even as a first-year student, he dedicated much of his spare time to nature photo
shoots around the area, helped with portraits for an art and activism class project,
and documented campus events in an internship and student employment position for
the office of communications and marketing-all together, Tim has put his camera through
While it's not hard to form connections and establish oneself within the Wells community, Tim has taken his work a step further, shooting lookbooks and other advertising photos for a number of off-beat clothing brands around the world. His work, often featuring friends and classmates as models and using natural backdrops around Aurora and Ithaca, can be found on the websites of companies based in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa. As photography collaborations continue to come in, Tim has also found increasing ways of managing his portfolio and sharing his work on his personal website and various social media sites.
Tim's passion for capturing the world around him is apparent in his photography, but it's not all that motivates him. In his first year at Wells, he explored his love for nature by taking a hiking trip through the Adirondacks and other trips with the Wells College Adventure Club. He has also taken a part in the production of the Wells College yearbook and held a part-time position with the Aurora Inn's staff in the Wells Dining Hall.
Tim plans to major in Visual Arts at Wells with a concentration in studio art, focusing his time and attention on photography. With the College's new photography studio and courses in darkroom photography, digital imaging, visual organization, and many more, Tim's practice is sure to continue to flourish.
If you bump into Andrew Judson '15 on campus, you will walk away knowing—as does the
rest of the Wells College community—that Andrew aspires to become a zookeeper or an
animal care technician.
It is no secret that this junior, biology major from Gambrills, Maryland, has a passion for the animal care field.
This past spring, Andrew interned at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. He was accepted into their aviculture program and completed the internship over the January 2013 intersession. Andrew was responsible for the daily care of birds in two exhibits: the rainforest exhibit and the coastal sea bird exhibit. His tasks included cleaning, feeding, enrichment, medication, observing the animals in their environment, and even tabulating data for a research project being administrated at the Aquarium.
Andrew gained an immense amount of experience by interning at a nationally recognized aquarium and one of the best in the industry. Last year, Andrew also interned at The Maryland Baltimore Zoo, where he assisted zookeepers with animal care tasks and assisted in visitor education experiences.
Outside of his impressive internship experiences, Andrew is a resident advisor, vice president of the Wells College Film Production Club, a teaching assistant for the bio-organisms course at Wells, and can be seen taking photographs and assisting with events during the annual Wells College Reunion the first weekend in June.
During the Wells Express basketball team’s 2012-13 season, she led the NCAA Division III in rebounds per game, was named to the D3Hoops.com 2013 Women's All-East Region Second Team, earned North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Women's Basketball Player of the Year, was named a NEAC Student-Athlete of the Week five separate times, and reached 1,000 career points and rebounds at Wells.
Ashley’s outstanding sportsmanship at Wells is the continuation of a trend she began at Camden Senior High School in Camden, N.Y., where she was a member of the soccer, basketball and softball teams and earned numerous awards including scholar-athlete and an Athlete of the Year recipient, Third Team All-State honors, and Camden’s scoring and rebounds records.
Success on the court is only part of Ashley’s story, though. In the classroom, she is a biology major and a science, health and values minor who has maintained good academic standing. Ashley was one of the many students to receive the Henry Wells Scholarship for her commitment to the academics and obtaining high standards; as a Henry Wells Scholar, she received $3,000 to support an internship experience within her academic interests. Nearly 66 percent of Wells students are awarded merit scholarships such as this one.
During her sophomore year, Ashley held a position in student life as an Orientation Leader, heading a Wells 111 course for new students to help them acclimate to life at Wells. Over the summer, she volunteers at youth basketball skills camp. As she develops her leadership skills and plans to pursue a career in coaching, Ashley is sure to continue to excel.