Alison ’16

Ellen Jewett '81 and Richard L. Kauffman Endowed University Scholarship

Alison ’16, a psychology major pursuing a Certificate in the Study of Education, from Tucker, Georgia, says, “I visited and I knew I had to come here. It was the student body, the ethos of the students here that drew me in. I loved that people felt engaged and passionate without being competitive. It was a combination I hadn't been able to find anywhere else." 

Why did you choose Wesleyan?
Initially, I chose Wesleyan because it met all my basic requirements—small, liberal arts, Northeastern, open curriculum—but then I visited and knew I had to come here. It was the student body, the ethos of the students here that drew me in. I loved that people felt engaged and passionate without being competitive. It was a combination I hadn't been able to find anywhere else. I was used to my high school, where people were either fun to hang out with and hated school, or cared very much about education and little else. Coming here felt like I was finally falling into a group of people just like me.

What is your major and why did you choose this area of study?
My major is psychology, and I’m pursing a Certificate in the Study of Education, which was one of the initial things that I liked about Wesleyan. I’ve been interested in teaching since my sophomore year of high school. However, my initial plan was to major in English. I had always been an English and literature student in high school but I took my first-ever psychology class and fell in love.

What classes did you take last semester?
Philosophical Classics I, Psychology and the Law, Senior Thesis Tutorial, and Undergraduate Science Research.

Which class was your favorite last semester and why?
I only took two courses last semester because of my work in a lab and also on a thesis, and I loved both of them. Philosophy challenged me in new ways, which was exciting to find this late in my undergraduate career, and I learned new styles of writing, which I always love. Psychology and the Law was such an interesting class in terms of synthesizing a lot of information I’ve gathered from peer interactions in my time at Wes and then building upon it.

Who was your favorite professor last semester and why?
As in many semesters in the past, Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler was my favorite. I’ve taken four classes with him now over the years and loved every one of them. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t have another chance to work together last semester, but we kept in touch while I worked on my thesis, and he ended up being invaluable to the process. While within my subject area my thesis advisor has been invaluable, my thesis will involve an experiment with human participants, while her research focuses on archival analysis, so I went to Professor Stemler many times for help, and he always made time for me.

To date, what is your biggest academic achievement at Wesleyan?
I’d have to say the research project that led to my thesis was my biggest academic achievement so far. I was in a research methods class last fall in social psychology, and stumbled upon this topic. I became so captivated that I accidentally did far more work than was expected of the class. Based on the amount of work I was able to do in one semester alone, my thesis advisor agreed to take me on based on our similar research interests despite having never taken a class or worked with her before. Being able to secure her as a thesis advisor was an incredible stroke of luck for me, as previously most of my interest in psychology has been in education. Her expertise as a social psychologist has seriously positively impacted the direction of my thesis—not to mention made possible its existence in the first place!

To date, what has been your biggest academic challenge?
Keeping math in my schedule has, without a doubt, been my biggest challenge both in terms of making the time and negotiating my way into classes without a major or even intended major to recommend me, as well as the toll it has taken on my GPA. I’ve never been a fast or particularly talented mathematician, but I absolutely love the subject and want to learn more about it all the time. It’s still challenging to me, but last semester I didn’t take anything even remotely math related, and I missed it.

What class, program, or experience had the most impact on your Wesleyan career to this point?
I would probably have to say taking Developmental Psychology with Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman the fall of my sophomore year had the most impact. First, the class in general was just great and really reinvigorated my interest in education. I also got my first B on a written assignment in that course, which was a great challenge to have to face: learning how to adapt my normally very descriptive prose to a scientific paper was and is a challenge. The most impactful thing from the course, though, was the relationship I developed with Professor Shusterman herself. I went to talk with her because my advisor, a College of Letters professor, couldn’t answer my questions about how to get involved in research labs on campus, and after a few minutes of talking with Professor Shusterman, she offered me a job on the spot. I gained lab experience and also general confidence in the sciences that year. Additionally, she’s continued to be a great resource for me over the years. When problems arose with my Certificate in the Study of Education, I went to talk to her for advice, and she emailed one of the chairs involved in it and straightened out my troubles within that one meeting. She also encouraged me to stick with it, and try the philosophy course I'm now in, for which I’m so grateful. And finally, she encouraged me to get back into lab work after my junior year off from working with her, which ended up being the push I needed to commit to trying a thesis this year.

What activities, jobs, sports, and/or clubs do you participate in outside of class?
I have three jobs on or near campus. This is my third year as a Writing Workshop tutor, which I love; my third year working as a teacher’s aide at a Wesleyan-parent preschool; and my first year directing the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center’s Wesleyan Bound program.

What are your post-graduation plans?
I just committed to a one-year position with a subgroup of AmeriCorps called Blue Engine, where I will get to work as a teaching assistant in a New York City public school. My interest in the program was particularly shaped by my experiences learning about educational reform and outreach programs in Wesleyan psychology classes, where I learned about many problems with our current public service programs in education. Blue Engine is very attentive to research on best educational practices and collecting data from students to make sure that their success is put first in a way that I didn’t see in many other similar programs. After that, my current plan is to go into graduate school so that I can become a high school English teacher; given that my degree is in psychology, and most schools want teachers with a degree in their subject area, I will either need to get a master’s degree in English or English education. Right now, I am very attracted to a program through Notre Dame, ACE, that has a similar goal to Teach for America, but would also involve coursework over the summers to graduate with a master’s concurrently with teaching for two years. Because of the experience I’ll get with Blue Engine, I’ll feel more confident going into a classroom as a lead teacher with some actual hands-on experience behind me.

Tell us about the professor or faculty member who had the strongest impact on your Wesleyan experience.
It is nearly impossible to pick between Professor Shusterman and Professor Stemler, as I’ve mentioned above, but the edge might be given to Professor Stemler because he taught the introductory course that I took my first semester freshman year that made me fall in love with psychology.

After graduation, in a year, or five years, what do you think you will remember most about your time at Wesleyan?
How lucky I was to go to Wesleyan?! This has been an unparalleled opportunity within my family, where my parents were the first people to graduate college in our family history, and my community, where most of my friends stayed in state either because of financial pressures or because they simply didn’t have as strong an educational value, or because they didn’t have the option. I imagine once I get out into the world and meet even more people who didn’t have this privilege, it will only drive it home all the more.

What advice would you give to a new or first-year student?
Put a priority on taking care of yourself. It might seem like everyone is the best and brightest, and every other student is doing five million things and succeeding at them, and you might be insignificant in comparison, but I promise you, everyone feels that way. You are good enough to be here. And you can’t possibly experience everything you want and succeed at everything you want if you always put achievement before health. You have gotten this far. You have earned it. Take care of yourself.

As you reflect on your time at Wesleyan, what does attending this university mean to you?
Attending Wesleyan means everything to me! In high school, I felt so out of place and unusual. I spent years trying to do my own thing despite enormous social pressure to do the opposite. And then I arrived here, and felt supported in my endeavors, even if no one else wanted to participate. Being at Wesleyan has allowed me to explore without having to push back against any obstacles. I have been allowed the opportunity to learn like a kid in a candy shop, and it has made all the years that led up to being here worth it.