Students Find Connection and Inspiration During the January Project

group of people on a zoom call with laila lalami
Published on 

When the January Project ends, Alana Mackey ’24 will leave it with a new friend—she and Sara Rodonis ’24 met during the first-year Common Text Project, for which they read The Other Americans by Laila Lalami, and the two plan to keep reading and discussing books together for the remainder of the year. “Right now, we’re reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” she said, “and we’re going to read Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington.” (She also noted that other Wellesley community members are welcome to join them.)

Giving students opportunities to connect to each other, the campus, and faculty during the extended winter break was one of the goals of the monthlong endeavor, said Erin Konkle, program director for civic engagement and one of the organizers of the January Project, as was providing internships for juniors and seniors.

Many of the institutes and centers on campus, such as the Albright Institute for Global Affairs and the Freedom Project, already offer their own programming for the month of January. “What we wanted to do for the January Project was to leverage existing programs on campus,” Konkle said. “We tried to take good things that were happening across campus to highlight them and encourage participation from our entire community.” The Davis Museum, the Frost Center for the Environment, the Newhouse Center, and the Wellesley Centers for Women, among others, sponsored seminars during the project, several of which were open to the broader Wellesley community.

Abby Martinage ’24 participated in the Mindful Winter Walk and Group Book Making seminar, sponsored by the Book Arts Program, Library and Technology Services, and the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative. Participants were instructed to go outdoors before the seminar and collect items to use in a book. “I was just walking around my mom’s garden and finding things to put in a book, so I have a bunch of mostly dried-up herbs,” Martinage said. When the students joined the seminar, Katherine McCanless Ruffin, director of the book studies program, provided a handout on how to make a book and walked participants through the project. “I really just enjoyed having the time to do something with my hands,” Martinage said.

Olivia Fennell ’22, a classics major, also participated in the book making seminar. “I loved that the seminar gave me a chance to learn a new, concrete skill, and to connect and create with other Wellesley students,” she wrote in an email. Fennell attended two additional seminars—Pandemics at Wellesley, sponsored by the College Archives, and Graphic Resistance, sponsored by the Davis Museum. “I feel that each of the three seminars I attended added something new to my Wellesley-at-home experience,” she said. “The presentation from Wellesley Archives helped me feel rooted in Wellesley history and connected to the classes that faced similar challenges in past pandemics.”

English major Haruka Ueda ’21, who is from Japan, stayed on campus during the break due to issues with international travel. She turned to the Hive internships “because I was scared I would be in Munger for two months with really nothing to do,” she said with a laugh. She found an internship with The Theater Offensive, a Boston-based organization that presents “liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color.” It was a good fit for Ueda, who is interested in theater and playwriting. The company hired her to help with press releases, and she said she learned a lot just by interacting with the team. “They’re really good people, and it’s really cool to see how they’re making theater,” she said. “How their values are driving their theater production, and how they’re trying to connect with people in the virtual world right now.”

Anna Hu ’22 and Grace Jiang ’22 were part of a team of six students selected for an internship called Sharing Diverse Stories in STEM. Through Zoom, the students interviewed women and people of color who work primarily in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) fields—disciplines that historically have lacked diversity.

“We got to see how much the industry is now starting to change, where diversity is increasing,” Jiang said. “It was really interesting to see that there were not only women, but also minority groups who have definitely been active in these communities and in these industries.” Hu added, “We’ve talked to a lot of younger female architects, and they’ve definitely had a different experience than some of the people who have been in this industry longer, so things are changing. But we also know that it’s not enough yet. What we want to do with this project is to show how much further we have to go and why it’s so important that we work toward getting there.”

The Hive internships gave juniors and seniors opportunities to build their resumes and learn new skills. Jiang said interviewing so many people working in AEC had an added benefit: “It was cool to see there are people who…have been able to make a career out of their passions and their skill sets.” She said she found it inspiring that though their paths were difficult at times, there have been improvements and companies are seeing the importance of diversity.

As the January Project comes to a close, Konkle said she’s pleased with how everyone worked together to create a more collaborative campus experience. In the future, Konkle said, “we want to think about ways to advance what we learned this year and what collaborative, cohesive education could look like going forward.”

Students have enjoyed the opportunities the January Project provided. “While this year has brought many challenges and disappointments,” Fennell wrote, “I believe that the January Project has highlighted that our ability to learn from one another, from all different places, may be stronger than ever before.”