Celebrating Students 2017: Hannah Brigham

Hannah BrighamHalfway through sophomore year, while my friends were excitedly thinking about different study abroad options, I slowly came to the realization that I wanted the sort of experience that a study-abroad program would not offer. In place of a traditional study abroad semester I choose instead to take a semester off from Wesleyan and spend four months volunteering in rural Cambodia.

Why Cambodia? I chose Cambodia because, located exactly half way around the world, it is about as physically and culturally distant from my life as an American university student as one can get. I wanted to have an abroad experience that would challenge the way I think. And it certainly has.

In late August, I arrived in Cambodia to begin four months of volunteer work for an organization called Sustainable Cambodia (SC). SC is an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), created with funding and support from US Rotary Clubs, that works to empower Cambodians through improved education, increased access to clean water, financial support in the form of micro-loans, introduction of more sustainable farming methods and a variety of other projects. In all of these projects SC aims to have a “sustainable” impact, in other words when SC is gone, the villagers will have the skills and knowledge to continue to maintain the projects SC put in place.

Since arriving in Pursat, a small town four hours north of Phnom Penh, I have become involved in many different facets of the organization. One of the projects that I am initiating is a waste management program. Trash is a problem everywhere, but Cambodia, a developing country, has a much different “trash problem” than the US. The trash problem” in the US stems from excessive consumption and waste. In Cambodia, even though people produce significantly less trash than in the US, it is the lack of knowledge and resources to deal with trash that is the challenge. Cambodia lacks any sort of garbage collection service outside of the cities and the garbage services that they do have dump the trash in big piles outside the city, not in properly run landfills. This leaves rural Cambodians with only one choice of what to do with their rubbish, to burn it.

I was perplexed when I first saw piles of smoldering rubbish along the roadside. I have since come to understand that people here have no other alternative, so I am working on providing them another option. My approach has been to implement the classic “reduce, reuse, and recycle” program that we are very familiar with in the US. Through workshops that teach children how to turn their trash into toys like jump ropes and cars, implementing a recycling and composting system in the schools, and helping villagers set up their own compost systems I am hoping to encourage the ideology that trash is a resource, in other words trash does not need to be burned, it can be used again. Hopefully, someday the rural villages will have a safe and effective landfill, trash collection system, and recycling system, but in the meantime getting people to realize the value of their waste is my goal.

Another program I have spent a lot of time working on is the Tuk Tuk Theater. A tuk tuk is a two-wheeled carriage pulled behind a motorcycle, a very popular form of transportation in Cambodia. The Tuk Tuk Theater is a tuk tuk with a flat screen television mounted on the back. Other SC volunteers and I drive the tuk tuk out to the rural villages were we play with the children and provide them healthy snacks. We have also been introducing hygiene lessons to the children before we show them short films on the television that is powered by the tuk tuk battery. For many of the children this is a new experience. Most of them do not have electricity in their homes, let alone a television. It is incredible to be able to give them this experience.

While my experience in Cambodia is far from over, I have already learned so much from the wonderfully kind and generous Khmer people and I hope they have learned something from me. This has, without a doubt, been the most challenging two months I have experienced in my life, but at the same time it has been the two of the best.

Celebrating Students ’17: Samara Prywes


Many students at Wesleyan have had incredible summer experiences in new and unfamiliar environments, such as while abroad or during an internship. I, however, spent my summer here as a participant in the QAC Apprenticeship program. My time was mainly spent in the Allbritton computer lab – a place where some wouldn’t expect to have a rewarding summer.

I’ve always considered myself a quantitative thinker, but when I learned how to perform data analysis in SPSS, SAS, Stata and R, I found new Samara Prywesopportunities to think critically and explore different ways of problem-solving. One of these opportunities was the research project I worked on throughout my time in the program. Working with Professors Jennifer Rose and Pavel Oleinikov, I used R to analyze administrative insurance data and determined factors which affect the probability of a patient being a frequent user of hospital ER services. By the end of the program, I had a predictive model to classify patients as frequent ER users.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to gain skills in data software and data analysis, and to be continuing my research project this semester. My summer experience has helped me realize that I want to continue working on data analysis projects after graduating. I strongly encourage anyone with a research topic they are curious about and with an interest in experiential learning to check out the QAC!

Celebrating Students ’17: Thienthanh Trinh

This summer was one for the books. During the spring semester, I landed an REU internship through the Minorities in Marine and Environmental Sciences Program with the South Department of Natural Resources in Charleston, South Carolina. For the next 12 weeks, I worked as an undergraduate researcher designing and completing my own independent research project under the guidance of three mentors.

T TrinhThis summer, I worked with three species of parasites in the juvenile eel, Anguilla rostrata. The American eel is a valuable fish species for our commercial fishing industries here in the United States, however, the population has experienced a steep decline since the 1980s. Potential causes include physical obstructions (dams, weirs, sluices) that decrease the migratory success of the eels, water pollution, overfishing, and parasite infection. My project investigated whether parasite infection can affect the climbing abilities of the American eels, and therefore inhibit them from using human-built structures, called eel ramps, that are installed across these physical obstructions to help provide them with less physically demanding swimming routes. Throughout the summer, I ventured out on the field to collect my specimen, tested them with an indoor eel ramp that I modeled and constructed, and performed a necropsy on a total of 136 eels to screen them for parasites.

I was able to gain a huge appreciation for parasites through this internship. Parasites are commonly perceived as ugly, nasty creatures that everyone should avoid, however they are truly fascinating creatures that exploit their hosts in the most creative ways! I also had an amazing experience working with mentors who were incredibly passionate about their work. There were days where we hung out in my mentor’s office for hours on end, nerding out about science. This summer, I was able to incorporate my passion for adventure in the marine research lab and field. I was constantly surrounded by creative, energetic, positive, and passionate people and found new forms of inspiration outside of Wesleyan. When I wasn’t researching, I spent my free time exploring nature in South Carolina and teaching myself how to surf. After I got back home, I ended the summer backpacking the entire Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trial and spontaneously road tripped around New England before heading back to Wesleyan. My advice to anyone who’s trying to figure out their summer: Apply to as many internships and job opportunities as you can. Go learn something new and be adventurous.

Celebrating Students ’17: Rizwan Syed

I was fortunate to spend this past summer doing what I love – traveling, volunteering and, of course, working! For the first few weeks, I was in Thailand where I traveled on the weekends and worked full-time during the week at an emerging ecommerce firm. As a data analyst, my primary role was to create business intelligence reports and from my experience, the importance of Microsoft Excel or higher-end data processing tools cannot be overstated if you want to be an analyst of any kind. I also got to meet with a few Wes students and alumni during my trip which was just terrific (as well as my first time meeting Wes students off campus).

Rizwan SyedAfter returning to the States, I took a few days off before I began working at a management consultancy firm based out of Philadelphia. This was my first time working for such a company but I grew to love my assignments very quickly and about a month later, I was humbled with an offer to continue working part-time once the school year would start. I have now been with the company for more than four months and plan to continue at least through the calendar year. In my experience, the core skills conducive to success in consulting are research, data analysis and report-writing. The ability to convert fairly vague assignments into concise, meaningful reports, often from scratch, is very highly valued because it is essentially the grunt work that senior consultants don’t want to or don’t have the time to do.

Entry-level consulting is often grueling work, but I was still able to squeeze out some spare time during which I volunteered as a tutor and college admissions mentor primarily for high school students – something which I have also chosen to continue after coming back to school. Of course, not every endeavor was a rosy success this summer – my attempts to learn Mandarin through Coursera have left me with little other than knowing how to count, offer greetings and say some random words which I will probably forget before ever getting a chance to use! But in any case, I think I met or exceeded all of my targets for this summer and I look forward to a terrific (and busy) junior year at Wesleyan!


Celebrating Students ’17: Colin O’Keefe

C. OThis past summer, I attended the London School of Economics summer school studying corporate finance and asset-markets. Additionally, in the 6 weeks between the end of school and my departure to Europe I also had the invaluable opportunity to serve as a summer intern at the DL Carlson Investment Group, located in Concord, NH.

DL Carlson is a small wealth/asset management firm (about 10 employees) serving clients primarily in the New England area but also across the United States. On my first day, I met with the firm’s Vice President and we discussed his goal to increase firm’s capabilities in the area of financial planning, specifically retirement planning. For the first half of the internship, my task was to test and evaluate various financial planning software packages and this culminated in a pitch to the portfolio managers with my recommendations.   My work then shifted to assisting in researching financial planning/retirement strategies, with a focus on 401(k) to Traditional/Roth IRA rollovers.

Reflecting back on my experience at DL Carlson, one takeaway was my enjoyment in working in a tight-knit work setting. The team atmosphere encouraged dialogue and collaboration between employees at all times, and also kept the mood from becoming detrimentally serious. However, my greatest takeaway was the importance of the information I was internalizing. Understanding successful strategies in investment management, financial planning and retirement preparation are essential lifelong skills everyone ought to attain before it is too late. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to these topics so early in my life.

Celebrating Students ’17: Oliver Goodman

Last March, Professor Fred Cohan told me that I had to see the glaciers before they melted in five years and that he just wasn’t going to take me telling the National Park Service “no” for an answer.

Mid-July, I was stranded on a dirt road on the wrong side of the Continental Divide while the Reynolds Creek Fire grew from 1/2 and acre to 4,000 acres, jumped Oliver Goodman_Summer 2015and melted the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and blazed towards my home at the Saint Mary Ranger Station in Glacier National Park. What should’ve been an hour drive turned into a 14 hour detour and when I got home just before midnight, my boss told me that we were not only witnessing history, but we were becoming part of it – and then added that we might only be given 10 minutes to pack our belongings when the time comes to evacuate so I better get on that. I soon loaded what I could into my government-issued truck, and headed for West Glacier, as I drove out of the Saint Mary Valley and watched the mountains I had grown to love burn.

While I was on evacuee assignment, I was relocated to the park’s rural Northfork Area, which requires a 40 mile dirt road to access. My campground ranger training meant nearly nothing to my new duties: backcountry patrols, checking boats for invasive clams and muscles, and using a motor boat to access backcountry campsites. Additionally, I spent a good amount of time on my first day in the Northfork within 10 feet of an aggressive, habituated bear and her yearling, as I attempted to keep visitors at a safe distance while I called for backup (on a radio whose signal was lost in the unique shape of the valley I was in).

When the fire was at 20% containment and we were allowed back in our homes, I came out of Glacier’s Northfork more confident in myself and I am looking forward to bringing Glacier back to Wesleyan.

While I still have not fully processed everything from this summer, I am so grateful to my advisor Fred Cohan for pushing me into accepting a terrifying, challenging, and life-changing experience that made me so in touch with Montana, with the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, and with myself.  I hope to return to the wild west as soon as I can and hopefully I’ll spend next summer working as a Backcountry Ranger back at Glacier.

If you’d like to get involved in the National Park Service, check out usajobs.gov or the Student Conservation Association (https://www.thesca.org/), or come find me!

Celebrating Students ’17: Caleb Haddad

This past summer I worked as an intern at the New York Power Authority, and took a night class at Columbia that met twice a week. The class was part of the business department and covered the principles of marketing, and I completed a project on Whole Foods’ marketing campaign. My official position at the Authority was a “developmental intern”, and I worked in the Economic Development and Energy Efficiency (EDEE) department on a full-time basis.

The internship itself was an amazing experience. The first few days were a bit overwhelming, for I was constantly getting introduced to new co-workers, interns, and details about the company and our customers, but I quickly got used to the flow of new information.  I worked for a few different parts of EDEE, including the Business and Governmental divisions, and so I had to be ready to field a variety of assignments. Over the course of the internship, I shadowed EDEE team members, attended key team meetings and took notes/captured action items, assisted in managing contact lists in Microsoft CRM for account executives, ran Business Intelligence reports, updated monthly report for governmental customers, tracked customer communications, and completed a data visualization project that required the use of Business Intelligence, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Powerpoint. However, my internship wasn’t solely about completing a large number of tasks. I also strengthened my networking skills, grew more accustomed to a 9-5 routine, and made a number of friends that I am still in contact with.

Despite the fact that I didn’t have a lot of free time this summer, I had an invaluable experience working and studying. I also learned something about myself, in that despite the packed schedule I could complete the two jobs as an employee and student to the best of my ability. If I could give some advice to anyone considering a similar summer as mine, I would say go for it. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the experience gained is priceless.

Note from Dean Brown: New Course/CEC Open House/Internships&Celebrating Students


1. New Course:

Check out this new course in the Dance Department–Performance Matters:  Creating Performance on Specific Topics—taught by Prof. Katya Kolcio in Spring 2015.

2. Civic Engagement Certificate Open House—12/2

Come to the CEC info session on Dec. 2, Noon-1 p.m. in Allbritton.  The CEC is open to students of all disciplines who are interested in questions of citizenship and democracy and who seek to enhance and reflect on their civic activities.  Check it out!

3. Internship/Job Strategies

This short list is excerpted from the Internship Workshop by Persephone Hall of the WCC:

  1. “What do I need and want to learn?  What do I have to offer?”  Identify a list of each for yourself and then talk with others to supplement.  Pursue opportunities in all areas of interest.
  2. Give yourself time.  Looking for an I/J is a job in itself.  What’s your plan?
  3. Use your resources:  LinkedIn, WesConnect, Indeed.com, Liberal Arts Career Network (LCAN—on WCC website), Career Drive (in your portfolio), faculty, personal acquaintances

See the Celebrating Students column for Fred Ayres ’17 and Lili Kadets ’17on their internship/work experiences.  Please share your own!!

Best, Dean Brown

Celebrating Students: Lili Kadets ’17

Every summer, as I have for the past ten years, I leave home and drive up to the shores of Lake Potanipo. I arrive at my home away from home—Camp Tevya in Brookline, NH—or a place that has taught me what true dedication means. As many camp goers will attest, the summer is an indescribable seven weeks suspended in time, a stretch when two months can feel like a day and a day can feel like a month. For the past three summers as a counselor, I’ve split my time between bunk responsibilities and Lili Kadetsswim instructing, moving on from my carefree camper days to taking care of other people’s children. Being a counselor is the perfect oxymoron: an extremely serious fun job. 24/7 work is tiring, but from what I hear, working at camp will be the best job I ever have. So far, I can’t argue against that. Many people also tell me that being a counselor beats “real world work” such as internships and office jobs any day. Yet in spite of the isolated “bubble” that we call our summer home, camp is the real world. Camp is the place where I learned that age isn’t a barrier for friendship. It’s the place where I discovered that kids truly care what I say, think, or do; it’s where I feel most confident as a leader. Camp is a place that teaches me how to be compassionate, patient, and overly enthusiastic. Camp is a community like Wesleyan—small, open, supportive and creative—but at a level that lets me truly take control. I may not have tested samples in a lab or helped out with a campaign this summer, but I learned how to translate and present my own experiences to new campers, and understand what making deep connections means. There’s no place I’d rather be!

Celebrating Students: Fred Ayres ’17

Like other members of the Class of 2017, I rejoiced at the end of finals last May. All my hard work over the previous four months had paid off and I was quite proud of my performance. Little did I know, the grueling late-night hours in Olin were just beginning. After a brief respite at home, I returned to Wesleyan for Summer Session in June. I took 2.5 credits—Foreign Policy at the Movies (GOVT 387), Principles of Biology (BIO 181), and Principles of Biology Lab (BIO 191). Adding to the difficult nature of these accelerated courses was the experience of cooking for myself. (I’ll leave the story of how I almost started a fire in Alpha Delt’s kitchen for another blog post.) Altogether, the experience was extremely rewarding—I now have the opportunity to graduate a semester early or spend more time on my thesis senior year.

Fred AyresIn July, I shipped off to Washington, D.C. to intern with Congressman Sander Levin (MI-09). In addition to responding to constituent letters and leading tours around the Capitol, I wrote memos for Rep. Levin and his staff on briefings, hearings, and important pieces of legislation. The office was continually a flurry of activity with lobbyists, legislative assistants, and high-ranking members of Congress always stopping by for a visit. While my life’s work likely won’t focus on politics, having a firsthand experience of how our nation runs will benefit me in whatever field I choose to pursue.

I finished my summer by serving as an Orientation Leader for incoming first year students, including 43 new members of the Class of 2017! Although I wore the same red shirt for about a week straight, knowing that I helped lay the foundation for so many students’ success at Wesleyan made every moment worthwhile.