This April I had the opportunity to take an all-expense-paid trip to sunny Los Angeles, where I represented Mount Holyoke at the International Business Ethics and Sustainability Case Competition (IBESCC). To think an international relations major would become so involved with business and entrepreneurship is probably surprising, but that is exactly what Mount Holyoke allowed me to do — reach and stretch outside of my comfort zone in order to expand my horizons.
Before coming to Mount Holyoke, I was pretty sure I wanted to do something resembling environmental studies and public policy. I’m still not completely sure, but after two semesters I’ve discovered a real interest in politics, particularly the intersection of politics and environmental issues. With this career path in mind, I’ve become intrigued by the possibility of law school — something I never would have contemplated before attending Mount Holyoke.
When I talk to Mount Holyoke alums about our alma mater, one of the recurring themes I encounter is the impact that Mount Holyoke has on all of us, even after we’ve left. The lessons that we learned and the people that we met stay with us even when we are no longer on campus. One of the experiences that had the most impact for me while I was a student was the summer I spent working in the British Library in London alongside William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Religion Michael Penn.
In the spring of 2011, I was in my third or fourth semester taking a class taught by Michael. I was a Religion major, but I spent all of my life prior to college studying my own religion, Judaism. So I took any opportunity I could to learn more about any other faith that crossed my path. That particular semester, I was taking Early Christian/Muslim Relations, where Michael had us read about debates between and daily life surrounding the two faiths. At one point during the semester, Michael announced that he was looking for a research assistant to accompany him to the British Library in London. I thought to myself, “I love London, I would love to work with Michael, I’d better learn more!” And when he told me what he would be researching, I told him with no hesitation, “Stop looking—you’ve found your research assistant.”
Several years prior, Michael stumbled about an article about a famous ancient palimpsest, or a manuscript on which the original writing has been erased to make room for later writing. The discoverers of this particular document were Maggie and Agnes Smith, twin sisters and Scottish scholars of ancient languages who lived in the late 1800’s. Intrigued, he tried to find more information about them and their discovery, but couldn’t find much on his own while doing the other important work he needed to do. And this is where I come in! Michael had an idea to write an article about the media’s portrayals of Maggie and Agnes, so he needed an assistant to comb through the British Library’s archive of Victorian newspapers to find as much about them as possible.
I couldn’t say no to this perfect opportunity to combine my two academic loves: gender studies and religious studies. I also couldn’t say no to spending two months in arguably my favorite city in the world, London. And I especially couldn’t say no to working with Michael.