Alaska has given the world more than just Sarah Palin. Three seniors from the 49th state in the nation will take the world by storm upon graduation. Erica Veazey and Kelsey Schober were awarded Watson Fellowships and Helen Sudkamp-Walker will pursue a degree from Yale School of Nursing.
Schober, originally from Palmer, Alaska, is a triple major in Politics, Dance and Psychology. Schober started senior year with an open mind about the future. She wanted “something interdisciplinary.” The Watson Fellowship offered an opportunity to combine her majors “where all three of them informed the other and intersected in an awesome way.”
Schober will study community building and individual growth through social circus. Social circus uses the circus arts to help at-risk youth with personal growth and social development, according to Cirque du Soleil’s website.
Specifically, Schober will study how social circus functions within vulnerable populations to shape individuals but also how it can build a community of individuals. She originally planned to go to the Netherlands, South Africa, Chile and Arctic Canada, though there may be some changes. Schober thinks her project may broaden to consider arts and community building, noting she “would be remiss to ignore the other doors that open themselves along the way.”
Taking advantage of open doors and opportunities brought Schober to the East Coast, though it was not without noticeable differences.
“Being in an environment with so many students who are so engaged and love what they are doing was totally new to me,” Schober said.
As a first-generation college student, Schober felt a lack of guidance her freshmen year, though recognizes that the college offers more assistance to first-generation students now. She found a community within the Dance department.
“The Dance department is really my community of people, the community that I feel the most comfortable in and the most dedicated to,” Schober said.
While not necessarily unique to these students, finding community was a common theme. Erica Veazey, who will also pursue a Watson Fellowship, had spent a semester prior to college in Washington, D.C., so adjusting to the East Coast culture wasn’t as shocking. Her advice to anyone coming from her hometown of Fairbanks is to find a community.
“Try to connect with people,” Veazey said. “You never know where your community is going to come from. That’s what will make it feel like home here.”
Veazey’s community is with Milliken House—”I’m a Millikid.” She is still close with the students she lived with her first-year.
Come July, Veazey will leave for Sweden, Armenia, Ethiopia and Australia, where she will study the perception and treatment of depression in different countries. Though she is a neuroscience major, her interest in this topic is both academic and personal.
“Fairbanks has really high rates of depression and seasonal affective disorder,” Veazey said. “Everyone is affected by someone who has committed suicide in the village.”
The term “committed” has a different meaning to Veazey when in Fairbanks and on the East Coast. Here it means headed to college, while at home it means committing suicide.
“I really feel like I have a foot in two worlds here,” Veazey said.
After coming to Bates and starting her studies in neuroscience, she came to recognize depression as a mental illness. Watson will give her the opportunity to see how other countries treat mental illness.
“Bates opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities,” Veazey said. She came into Bates driven by the need for security—earn a degree, then get a job. The emphasis on personal growth and impact instead of just a paycheck is a common Bates mantra, and the Watson Fellowship will only continue this independent, personal growth.
Helen Sudkamp-Walker, also from Fairbanks, has been part of the Bates Nordic Ski team since starting at Bates. She has found a lot of similarities between Maine and Alaska, especially the sense of community.
“Bates really helped me figure out that I wanted to do nursing,” Sudkamp-Walker said. “I’m a psychology major and hrough psychology I learned more about the social aspect of health and behavior change, and treating people as a whole rather than their disease.”
She took a healthcare administration Short Term course and shadowed a nurse practitioner and it clicked. She is entering Yale on the family practitioner track.
Sudkamp-Walker was attracted to the liberal arts experience because of her mother and a friend on the ski team who talked to her about Bates. If anyone asked her about coming to Bates from Fairbanks, she would stress the opportunities available with a liberal arts education.
“The experience is worth it. You get to come out of your shell so much more than just staying with your high school friends,” Sudkamp-Walker explained. “I just think there are so many more opportunities to get out and explore the rest of the country that you should take advantage of when you’re young.”
Sudkamp-Walker will spend the summer working for her mom at a farmer’s market and working as a research assistant. She will also spend her free time getting outside to hike or camp.
While it may seem that Bates is flooded with students from New England, these three Batesies from Alaska have made an impact on the community and will continue to do so in their post-grad explorations.