When Ali Canino ’12 saw the campground for the first time, her heart sank.
Due to severe drought, Sioux YMCA’s Camp Marrowbone in north-central South Dakota had not been used in seven years, and it was a disaster. The buildings were falling down, there were no bathrooms, barbed wire was everywhere and the electrical service was “questionable.”
Canino had come to the Cheyenne River Reservation in the summer of 2011 as a Steinbrecher Fellow from Clark University to investigate poverty’s impact on the lives of the reservation’s Native American children. How, she pondered, could this scruffy, desolate place ever give joy to these kids?
She and the team went to work rehabbing. Two weeks later, the first busload of children arrived during a torrential storm that forced the driver to deposit them at the bottom of a hill his bus had no chance of climbing. The children trudged through the “gumbo,” the local term for the clay-like mud, and as they crested the hill and scanned the campground, one of them remarked, “This place is beautiful.” Laughing and shouting, they raced through the raindrops to reach their quarters.
“I knew then that I had to change the lens I was going to use for this experience,” Canino recalled.
She and five other Clark alumni returned to campus recently to share how their Steinbrecher and Anton fellowships had helped them refocus the ways in which they view their lives, careers and the wider world.
Phyllis and Stephen Steinbrecher ’55 established the Steinbrecher Fellowship Program in 2005 in memory of their son David C. Steinbrecher ’81 to give Clark undergraduates an opportunity to conduct original research. The Anton Fellowships were created in 2000 by Tom and Barbara Anton, both Class of 1956, for students to do independent study.
The panelists at the May 7 event held in the Bassett Admissions Center were:
- Canino, who returned to the Cheyenne River Reservation after graduation to work as the community development director and summer camp director for the Sioux YMCA. After earning a master’s degree in global mental health at William James College, she became a child/adolescent behavioral therapist at South Lane Mental Health in Eugene, Ore.
- Ken St. Onge ’02, who used his Anton Fellowship to visit some of author James Joyce’s favorite locales and to study Joyce’s influence on modern Irish society. After a decade writing for newspapers, trade journals and business publications, St. Onge is senior copywriter for Hartford Steam Boiler, an engineering and technical risk insurer.
- Anton Fellow Entela Nako ’06, who worked in a lab to isolate the gene involved in the uncontrolled cell growth of the fungus Schizophyllum commune. She earned a doctorate in cell biology from Harvard University and has taught biology at MIT for three years. Nako also serves as research manager for a large-scale project on brain mapping that is being conducted by a team of Harvard researchers.
- Lauren Miller-Cohen ’08, the director of summer programming at Achievement First Amistad High School, a high-performing college preparatory school in New Haven, Conn. Similarly, her Anton Fellowship project dealt with student achievement; it focused on expanding and formalizing the All Kinds of Girls program at Clark.
- Jesse Packard ’12, who, as a Steinbrecher Fellow, explored the emotional and formal potential of abstract painting, painting a mural for the Newton, Mass., public library. He is a graduate student in the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a curatorial assistant at Sullivan Galleries in downtown Chicago.
- Kulani Dias ’13, whose Steinbrecher Fellowship involved the study of the social-psychological processes that compel violence and hostility among ethnic groups in post-war Sri Lanka. She is completing her second year in the psychology doctoral program at Princeton University. Dias also researched discriminatory practices in Germany and Sri Lanka as a pre-doctoral fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences in Germany.
In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Sharon Krefetz, professor emeritus in political science and longtime director of the Steinbrecher Fellowship Program, the participants recalled their experiences and found clear links to their post-graduate lives.
“When you’re a student, you can’t see how things are connected,” St. Onge said about his writing career. “Now I can look back and see the foundation for what I’m doing today.”
“I started the [fellowship] knowing nothing about how to do anything in the lab,” Nako said, noting that her knowledge of biology had been grounded in textbooks. “I saw I could use my knowledge to find answers to questions no one knew.”
Dias’ fellowship took her into dark places as she researched the ways people have justified atrocities that occurred during the 30-year civil war in her native Sri Lanka. Among the 75 people she interviewed was a girl from the Tamil minority group who marveled that “no one has ever asked me, a woman of the minority, to talk about this experience.” Dias plans to write a book based on her Sri Lanka interviews.
Asked what advice they would give current Clark students, the panelists hit on a variety of themes. Be original in your research pursuits, St. Onge recommended. “If you learn how to think about things differently and originally, that will inform everything you do moving forward.”
Nako urged students to “invest in relationships” with people who will help shape and influence their lives. Take risks and learn to build relationships with a variety of stakeholders, Miller-Cohen said.
Canino advised learning how to “live with humility, and constantly be observing your surroundings.” Dias stressed the importance of collaborating with mentors and learning from failure. “I would not erase any of the failures I had,” she said. “Failures can lead to change.”
Remember to enjoy life amid the “pressure to streamline and professionalize,” Packard said, noting everyone should find time for play and experimentation.
In his remarks, Stephen Steinbrecher (pictured at top, center) urged the alumni to stay in touch with Clark University. “Tell us where you are, what’s happening in your lives and how you can be helpful to us or we can be helpful to you,” he said. Their experiences, he noted, can help inspire Clark students to take advantage of the resources and opportunities the University has to offer.
Pictured, from left: Kulani Dias ’13, Jesse Packard ’12, Lauren Miller-Cohen ’08, Ken St. Onge ’02, Stephen Steinbrecher ’55, Entela Nako ’06, Ali Canino ’12 and Clark University President David P. Angel at the May 7 Steinbrecher alumni event.