by Jeffrey Le’18
For twelve lucky sophomores this year, the answer to “What are you doing over spring break?” was easy. As part of Beloit’s Sophomore Shadow Program, a group of current sophomores traveled to Chicago to explore potential career pathways by job shadowing professionals and alumni. This two-day opportunity culminated in a reception at the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Sophomore Shadow participants shared their newfound discoveries with alumni and prospective students. In the article below, a few of the participants shared some takeaways they learned.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo, Olivia Ruffins’20 and Chloe McKinley’20 collected behavioral data on chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas under the guidance of Dr. Steve Ross of the Zoo’s Regenstein Center for African Apes (RCAA). Olivia and Chloe, both biology majors, were able to apply their knowledge of biology outside of the classroom and discern their future post-graduate plans. They learned the ins and out of how a zoo operates, as well as the passion needed to be successful. One moment that stood out for McKinley was rehabilitating chimpanzees, after they’d worked in the entertainment industry or been used in laboratory experiments. She says, “When I first saw this gentle home for these recovering chimpanzees and heard Dr. Ross talk about them with such affection, I was truly touched. It was one of the first moments I realized that there is so much more to zoos than putting animals on display. I saw firsthand the genuine love and care the keepers, researchers, and administrators have for these beautiful animals, and I know that they work for animal welfare every day.”
Ruffins also gained some personal insights into her budding scientific career: “One of the most inspiring moments happened during that data collection, where I began to really be able to differentiate between the chimpanzees and gorillas just through close observation. Being able to observe the apes long enough to be able to name some of them on sight broke down the sort of objective scientific mentality that I had going into this shadowing experience.” Observing the apes taught Ruffins how to to be a more empathetic researcher; she learned to affirm the animals’ individuality without anthropomorphizing them. McKinley perfectly summed up the value of the experience: “In two short days, I was able to reflect on my passions and prospects for the future, engage with professionals in a field I am interested in, and understand what it is like to work with wild animals and place that occupation into a professional context.”
At the Newberry Library, a humanities-focused research institution in the center of Chicago, Jonathan Dudley’20 shadowed Andrew Epps’15, program manager for the Newberry’s Center for Renaissance Studies. As a McNair scholar, Dudley aspires to attain his doctorate and work as a professional historian in the field of African-American studies. Epps introduced Dudley to the library’s impressive archival collections, specifically the Center’s wide array of “ephemera”— everyday items originally meant for short-term use. Dudley was able to peruse a slice of this collection, including a 14th-century illuminated manuscript, a first-edition book of poetry by one of the earliest female African American writers, and a 1950s travel guide for African Americans.
For Dudley, Sophomore Shadow introduced him to the range of paths history majors can take post-graduation: “Many of the people that I met had a PhD in History, or some form of it, and it made me glad to know that there are broader job options for people who have PhDs in history than I thought. I also learned that Beloit sets you up to be in places that practice critical thinking if you allow it to… I honestly felt like this trip was worthwhile, and has helped me navigate the path I desire to take for my academic future.”
Thinking about the future was a common theme for many students. For Mustafa Quadir’20, the experience helped him solidify which path to pursue. A double major in Biochemistry and Anthropology, Quadir had been wavering between going to medical school or pursuing a PhD in Anthropology. His experience shadowing Kristin Monnard’09, program manager at the Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) —a public health research institution dedicated to understanding racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare—solidified his decision to pursue a career in medicine. As Quadir reflects: “Shadowing Kristin brought me face-to-face with the challenges that the field of public health faces when working towards equity in healthcare, and the solutions that they come up with to achieve that goal.”
Over the course of the program, Quadir was able to meet with some of the Institute’s Community Health Workers (CHW), “individuals recruited from the local community, [who] establish relationships with certain patients through home visits.” According to Quadir, “We got to sit down with three incredible women, who talked to us about what brought them into the field of CHW’s, and [we] got a small glimpse of their day-to-day lives caring for their communities. They told stories of how the social determinants of health (like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, living community, etc.) play out in their communities, and spoke about the importance of encouraging doctors to get to know their patients for effective treatment of health.” For Quadir, these conversations confirmed a need for doctors to think about health from a social lens, something his anthropological education has already taught him to do. “[The Sophomore Shadow Program] reaffirmed my interest in going to medical school because I realized the importance of having doctors who have a background in community health, which my anthropology degree gives me.”
Sociology major Rose Stahl ’20 also had the opportunity to shadow Monnard at SUHI. One of her favorite moments was “when my host, Kristin Monnard, set up time for Mustafa and me to talk to individuals in other parts of her workplace. This was important to me because I was able to see how the institute functioned as a whole and followed their mission statement. SUHI is community based and tries to involve it in all the research that is conducted. It allowed me to see the possible ways that community can be involved in a more professional setting, which is something that I am passionate about. [The experience] helped me to visualize how my interests can translate into a workplace.”
Through Sophomore Shadow, twelve students were able to prepare for the next steps in their academic and professional trajectories by experiencing their disciplines first-hand. Students were introduced to professionals in their fields and made important networking connections; connections who can later help Beloiters secure potential internship and job opportunities. Most importantly, the Sophomore Shadow Program gives students an ability to envision their lives post-Beloit and see how engagement with the liberal arts is a lifelong process.
The 2018 Sophomore Shadow Program was made possible through generous gifts from the Bacon Know Thyself and Weissberg Human Rights funds.
This year’s participants would like give a special thanks to the following alumni and organizations:
Access Living: Linh Ngyuen (Marca Bristo’74, Amber Smock)
Field Museum: Alex Cullison (Tom Szwerski’87, Jamie Kelly’96, Chris Phillips’96)
IES Abroad: Sabrina Jackson (Lauren Kreibich’11)
Keyo, Inc.: Gjergj Ndioci (Jaxon Klein’09, Delna Strauss’09, Cayetana Polanco’11, Andree Urcuyo)
Language and Culture: Yashohandra Kundra (Sean Oliver’02)
Lincoln Park Zoo: Chloe McKinley, Olivia Ruffins (Steve Ross; Kristin Bonnie, contact)
Midwest Energy Alliance: Beryl Odonkor (Gregory Ehrendreich)
Newberry Library: Jonathan Dudley (Andrew Epps’15)
O’Malley Hansen Communications, LLC: Richard Swinford (Todd Hansen,’89)
Sinai Urban Health: Mustafa Quadir, Rose Stahl (Kristin Monnard ’09)