“How was your summer?” It’s the first question out of students’ mouths when they reunite in the fall. The next question, “What did you do?” Most Converse students don’t while away all their hours at the beach. Many students spend their summers conducting independent research, volunteering in the community, and gaining unusual work experience. In the process, they clarify career objectives and gain valuable real-world employment skills. Here are three honors students from the history and politics department who seized the summer of 2013.
Victoria Ball ’14
Old-Time Music Researcher & Organic Farmhand History and music major Victoria Ball ’14 divided her time this summer between independent research and an unusual job: she worked as a farmhand at Duncastle Farm, an organic farm in Castlewood, Virginia. Victoria, a veteran political campaign organizer, said, “I stumbled upon this job on a night when I was feeling particularly stunted by institutions and bureaucracy. I wanted a way to productively go off the grid. A small portion of me was panicked by my lack of ‘practical skill,’ so I looked for things to fill that void. I went looking for an escape.
“When searching for answers, I like most of my generation, went to Google. I stumbled upon the World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers website (WWOOF) and read up on what it was all about. I like the concept of working for nothing but your food and your stay, trusting a community of people to take you in, and learning about how to work the land. I guess the best parts of the adventure aside from being outside all summer in the mountains, was bonding with the sweet animals, gaining some useful knowledge on farming, and having some down time to center myself (hippy-dippy zen stuff, you know.). Many of my friends described this as my ‘eat, pray, love’ summer.” Victoria shared her farm experiences on her blog, “All Quiet on the Virginia Mountainside.”
When she wasn’t tending goats or harvesting zucchinis, Victoria was visiting some of the best archival collections in the South, digging for information on the history of “old time” music. She explained, “I noticed that in recent years there has been a cultural shift back towards folk music, roots music, and bluegrass music in bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, and the Avett Brothers (some of my personal favorites). From there I wondered how we got to this music. And I thought about how the movement of people and cultures creates music (for example, the banjo is an instrument of African origins, and it has become used in the music of the Blue Ridge mountains, an area that didn’t have a large slave population). I noticed that there was a lot of population movement during the Great Depression and wanted to see if there was a correlation between the movement of people and the movement of musical styles.”
“I learned to let the research speak for you and to follow where it takes you.”
With the help of a grant from the Nisbet Honors Program, Victoria spent nearly two weeks working in the archives at UNC-Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University. “Working in the Archives was a lot of fun. I enjoyed having that down time to listen to interviews with greats like Doc Watson. The most important thing I learned was to let the research speak for you and to follow where it takes you. I also think it’s important to go with your gut. A couple of researchers/archivists told me that they didn’t think there would be a correlation between bluegrass and the great depression because bluegrass didn’t come around until 1946 with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. My research said otherwise. The Great Depression was an incredibly critical period to the development of country music (folk, bluegrass, hillbilly, and ballads).”
Shaleashea Reid ’14
Shaleashea Reid ’14, a politics and history double major and Nisbet Honors student, spent her summer on the grid and close to home. As a Bonner summer volunteer, she worked at St. Luke’s Free Medical Clinic in Spartanburg. The mission of the Bonner program is to help end poverty through non-profit organizations. The program provides on-campus housing to students who agree to volunteer with community organizations. Participating students also receive a $1,174 grant toward the next year’s tuition.
Shaleshea has volunteered at St. Luke’s for the past two summers. St. Luke’s offers primary medical care, prescription medications, patient education, and pastoral support to uninsured Spartanburg County residents. Shaleshea said, “I worked with the data entry specialist and executive director Pasty Whitney to enroll doctors who volunteer at St. Luke’s in a federal program that pays for doctors’ malpractice insurance at free clinics. One of the most important things I learned was how difficult it can be to get medical care if a person does not make a lot of money.”
Kaylee Boalt ’14
A far cry from farm and small-town life, politics and music double major Kaylee Boalt ’14 spent her summer in the Big Apple. Also an honors student, Kaylee studied in the Bard College Globalization and International Affairs Program (BGIA). BGIA has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Converse History and Politics Department since the early 2000s. Kaylee explained, “I applied to BGIA, and with the help of Dr. Dunn, I was accepted into the program!”
“I had an absolute blast adapting to the brisk pace of New York City life…”
Kaylee said that the summer offered her “unique opportunities. I’ve never lived in a city and I had an absolute blast adapting to the brisk pace of New York City life, attempting to master the subway system, and meeting with BGIA alums who now work for prestigious organizations such as the United Nations, Humans Rights Watch, and the Council on Foreign Policy. What stands out to me on a non-political note was attending the Carnegie Hall debut of Converse alum Wael Farouk. I’m a double major in Music and Politics, so getting to listen to Mr. Farouk play Rachmaninov in the beautiful facilities of Carnegie Hall was a really surreal experience!”
Another part of Kaylee’s experience involved teaching English classes to Arab immigrants at the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn. “I was stretched and pushed in directions that I never imagined going before enrolling in BGIA. I’ve never taught English or worked so closely with Arabs before this summer, yet my internship really solidified how in love I am with the Middle East and its culture and people. As a double major who enjoys having a hand in many different arenas, I’ve always struggled with narrowing down my options for the future. The combination of my internship and the classes I took through BGIA provided me with the clarity I’ve been searching for since my freshman year at Converse. I now have a desire to become more specialized in Middle Eastern politics and hopefully I will be able to achieve that goal through attending graduate school.”
Creating Your Own Summer Adventure All three students offered useful advice for future Converse students who want to maximize their summer experiences. Shaleshea Reid recommends volunteer opportunities like the Bonner program to students because “it gives you real world experience and allows you use your classroom knowledge in a professional setting.“ Kaylee Boalt said, “I’ve always been the sort of person who enjoys the comfort and safety of her own little bubble. Participating in BGIA taught me to be bold. The advice I’d give to current students looking for a summer experience would be to embolden themselves to the incredible possibilities Converse offers. By combining the knowledge of Converse’s professors, employing your own unique skill sets and goals, and staying proactive, it’s completely possible to embark upon your own life-changing adventure! You never know when clarity and direction will decide to strike.” Victoria Ball also encouraged students to be bold. She said, “Don’t get bogged down in other people’s ideas of a successful, useful summer. Sometimes the best thing to do is focus on yourself, go off the grid, and figure things out instead of getting an office job.”