Meet 10 rising Kenyon achievers who are worthy of your attention.
Story by Elizabeth Weinstein, David Hoyt ’14, Dennis Fiely, Dan Laskin and Sue Angell
Who’s going to give the future its breakthroughs and discoveries, its page-turners and show-stoppers, its innovations in teaching, policy, media and tech? Meet 10 young alumni worthy of your attention.
Only a few years ago, they were marching down Middle Path toward that big Commencement stage. They’re just beginning to find a vocational focus — in some cases, while making their way through graduate school. Fledglings? Maybe. But take note: In the lab and on the stage, at school and in the “field,” teaching, tinkering, venturing out and buckling down, they’re already making a difference.
We would like to introduce you to a rising generation of Kenyon achievers. If you’re already familiar with names like Nick Petricca ’09 (Walk the Moon) and best-selling authors John Green ’00 (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and Ransom Riggs ’01 (“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”), we think you’ll be impressed by this bunch of up-and-comers. And we suspect you’ll agree that, with Kenyon alumni like these in the vanguard, the future is in pretty good hands.
Resides in: Tijuana, Mexico | Majored in: International studies | Job title: Foreign Service officer, U.S. Department of State
As a diplomat in the Foreign Service, Meg Ahearn ’07 functions as a public face for the U.S. around the world. She has served in Abuja, Nigeria, and Tijuana, Mexico, and soon will be posted stateside in Washington, D.C. While Ahearn became fluent in Spanish and studied Latin America during her time at Kenyon, she likely will find herself representing American interests all over the world during the course of her diplomacy career.
Advice for the budding diplomat: “There’s no straight line that leads you to this kind of work. I think that’s something people sometimes forget, and they sometimes get discouraged after taking the foreign service exam a few times. That’s very normal, and there’s no specific set of criteria you have to have to get in. Actually, the minimum level of education is a high school diploma. And I came in without a master’s degree.
Get some real-life work experience, get your hands dirty, push yourself as much as you can."
But I would say, get some real-life work experience, get your hands dirty, and push yourself as much as you can in the career and the job that you’re in now, or your schoolwork if you’re still a student. And always take opportunities to try new things when they are available to you, because that’s what’s going to best prepare you for a career in the foreign service.”
Resides in: Los Angeles | Majored in: Psychology | Job title: Clinical social worker and owner of Grab The Wheel Kids
Anger problems can profoundly hinder a child’s ability to thrive in the classroom, on the playground and later in life. Enter Bryan Anderson ’08, who is carving a niche for himself in the field of social work by providing young children with the proper tools to better understand and manage their emotions. Grab the Wheel Kids — a Los Angeles-based therapy practice and consulting firm that he founded — offers anger management and social-skills coaching to children (including children on the autism spectrum) and training opportunities to parents, teachers and therapists. Anderson literally has written the book on this topic: “Grab the Wheel: Helping Young Children Manage Explosive Anger” brings his finely honed curriculum to life with characters, games and stories.
The “Good Choice Wheel”: At the core of Anderson’s book is a “Good Choice Wheel” that lays out the four most important coping skills that young children need — strong words, listening, saying how they feel, and trying something different. Each skill is represented by a character, and each character reinforces a particular set of behavioral skills.
Eye-opening experience: “People are so open at Kenyon. They are so open to each other. I think that the way that people are included at Kenyon really gave me the ability to go with the flow and get along with anybody, no matter how different they are from me, where they might come from, and what kind of experiences they have had. Kenyon opened up my eyes to the rest of the world.”
Reside in: Montclair, New Jersey | Majored in: Hall majored in English; Plunkett majored in music | Job title: Both play in Pinegrove, which was started by Hall and his longtime friend Zack Levine; Plunkett started another band called Half Waif.
Pinegrove’s debut full-length album, “Cardinal,” has picked up a steady stream of accolades since it was released by Run for Cover Records. The band was featured on “CBS This Morning” and NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert,” and Spin magazine praised the album as “lovingly crafted and intimately written, full of sounds, observations, and emotional realizations that you didn’t know you wanted in 2016, but, in fact, needed desperately.” Doubling up on the buzz, Pinegrove member Nandi Rose Plunkett ’11 of Half Waif has been profiled by the Village Voice, Pitchfork and the New Yorker, which described her sound as “globe-twirling prism pop.” With a new EP, “form/a,” Half Waif is now touring internationally with Pinegrove, playing at clubs across the U.S. and U.K., with a stop in Barcelona, Spain.
On categorizing their music: Evan Stephens Hall ’11 describes Pinegrove’s sound as “language arts rock” (a nod to the narrative nature of his songs), “post-country” and “cerebral Americana.” Plunkett describes Half Waif as “mood-pop ring,” or “pop music with a more experimental take.”
PINEGROVE> Julian Baker, Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, Wilco, Josh Ritter.
HALF WAIF> Lucy Dacus, St. Vincent, Frankie Cosmos, Julia Holter, Waxahatchee.
What’s in a name: Pinegrove takes its name from a man-made forest of pine trees in Gambier, but Hall prefers not to name the exact location in print. “It’s better when Pinegrove fans at Kenyon discover it for themselves,” he said. “I remember the first time that I accidentally stumbled upon it. It was just the most magical moment, and part of that was the surprise. So I want to retain that for other seekers and explorers.”
It was just the most magical moment, and part of that was the surprise. So I want to retain that for other seekers and explorers."
Humble and harmonious beginnings: The seeds for Pinegrove were planted in room 109 of Mather Residence Hall — Hall’s first-year room — where he spent much of his time reading and writing songs. He met Plunkett at a songwriters’ circle and the musical chemistry was apparent right away. “There is just something about singing with Evan,” said Plunkett, who also sang with Kenyon groups Owl Creeks and Colla Voce. “Our voices are very different in a lot of ways but the timbres are very similar, so sometimes when we record, we’ll listen back to the recording and you can’t tell whose voice it is, which is astounding. It’s a really deep connection that we both felt immediately.”
The realities of touring: “It was a stunning realization to find that it was not vacation. It was a job,” Hall said of a recent tour that took Pinegrove all over Europe. “The drives are pretty and the cities are gorgeous, but we go in for sound check, we eat a meal, we play a show and then we go to the hotel. And then we drive for hours the next day to our next stop. It goes on just like that.”
The rock ’n’ roll life: The members of Pinegrove and Half Waif quit their day jobs (Plunkett worked for a music nonprofit, Hall worked parttime at a bookstore) to commit themselves fulltime to music. And that’s not the only stabilizing thing they gave up in pursuit of their dream. “(Bandmate Zack Levine) and I were living in Brooklyn and our lease was running out,” Plunkett said. “We were like, ‘We are going to be on the road so much this year, it just doesn’t make sense for us to live here,’ so we kind of gave up our home as well. That’s a really funny feeling, being a little bit nomadic. But it’s also a pretty unique opportunity.”
Web extra: Sample Pinegrove's album "elsewhere" at pinegrove.bandcamp.com.
If you could work at any magazine, what would it be?” When Rachel D. Williams ’10 was asked this question during her senior year of college, she said without blinking, “Vanity Fair.” The Kenyon alumnus she was talking to offered to put her in touch with Vanity Fair’s longtime editor, which led to a job interview and, ultimately, a job offer in the magazine’s photo department. She since has worked her way up from assistant to editor, contributing her talents to shoots with celebrities like Rihanna, Caitlyn Jenner and Patti Smith. “You’re basically doing a million things at once. You’re trying to find a location, book the catering and cars, confirm dates, look for hair and makeup stylists and work with the wardrobe stylist to help get clothing for the shoot. You’re connecting dots,” said Williams, who previously interned with Art + Commerce, Harper’s Bazaar and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week while at Kenyon. “I love it, because I like to help creative projects evolve and grow.”
All in the details: “Entry-level jobs are just as much about what you see as they are about what you do. When I started, I was doing coffee runs … don’t expect it to be glamorous. Don’t be above the small things. I think sometimes just completing what may seem to be the simplest of tasks — if you can do it quietly and with sharp attention to detail — will set you apart.”
For Shrochis Karki ’09, the personal is political. His parents made sacrifices to afford his schooling while he was growing up in Nepal, and now he works to improve education in low- and middle-income countries. He also gives back to Nepal as the founder and executive director of the Samaanta Foundation, which provides higher-education opportunities to students from rural areas. “We started the foundation as an experiment in some ways, as we didn’t know what would happen,” he said. “The national average pass rate in higher education in Nepal is less than 40 percent, but our fellows have maintained a 100 percent pass rate so far. They are succeeding both academically and socially, so the experiment is thankfully paying off.”
Globetrotting: In his work for Oxford Policy Management, an international development firm dedicated to reducing social and economic disadvantages around the world, Karki spends a significant amount of time each year in other countries, helping to research, design, implement and evaluate education projects. This year, he has worked in Nepal, Pakistan and Tanzania, and he recently returned from the Philippines, where he is evaluating a UNICEF program on education. Wherever he goes, he tries to stay long enough to get to know the people and their culture. “There is a way to do this work with minimal travel, but I believe it is important (to be in the field) to get a full understanding of the issues at the local level.”
Find Shrochis Karki on Facebook: @SamaantaFoundation
As a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Hillary Child ’13 is immersed in the field of computational cosmology, or, specifically, “using supercomputers to model the formation of large-scale structure in the universe.” In other words, she’s interested in better understanding how the stars and galaxies formed in their particular arrangements.
The possibilities of what she may one day discover through her research could actually be infinite."
Even at Kenyon, the research Child was conducting represented what physics professor Tom Giblin called “true progress toward a better understanding of fundamental physics.” Now just a few years into her post-graduate career as a physicist, the possibilities of what she may one day discover through her research could actually be infinite.
Written in the stars: Child has been a science buff for as long as she can remember, but she credits her career path to her grandmother’s purchase of a “basic backyard telescope” that enabled a young Child to study the moon close-up, and dream of one day unlocking some of the mysteries of the sky.
A day in the life of a grad student: In her fourth year of graduate school, Child is working at Argonne National Laboratory, a science and engineering research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy. “I take a bus out there in the morning and then I spend most of the day at a computer, analyzing simulation data. I’ll calculate one thing and plot it, then that shows me something interesting or not quite expected, which suggests something else to plot.”
Seeing halos: Child’s research so far has focused on measuring properties of halos in cosmological simulations. “Halos are blobs of invisible dark matter surrounding the galaxies we can see,” she said. “By understanding how halos form and grow in simulations, we can learn how
the universe came to look the way it does today.”
How she de-stresses: Child makes a habit of retreating to her university’s pool whenever she can for breaks. “I like to go swimming. I started that while at Kenyon because the pool was fantastic, and there is a very good pool here, too,” she said. “The sensory deprivation and the sound of the water as you swim — I’m not good or fast or anything like that — but it’s very calming to just zone out and not think about anything for an hour except swimming.”
Advice for science students: “Start early and apply for everything you can, even if you don’t think you’ll get it. Because you might, and it’s great when you do.” Child took her own advice at Kenyon, applying for and winning a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship during her senior year, a rare feat for an undergraduate. The fellowship provided a $34,000-a-year stipend for three years as well as $12,000 a year to her graduate institution for the cost of education.
In her own words: “I like the day-to-day work that I am doing. I like doing the data analysis. You start with equations and then the computer gives you huge sets of numbers, and you need to make sense of those in some way. Getting from the numbers to a picture that tells you something, I really enjoy that process.”
Reside in: New York City | Majored in: Drama | Job title: Artistic directors of a theater production company, The Hearth
When drama majors Julia Greer ’15 and Emma Miller ’15 noticed a lack of meaty roles available for women in theater, they resurrected Stage Femmes at Kenyon, a female theater group that had been on hiatus for a decade. After graduation, the two friends carried that passion to New York City, where they launched The Hearth, a theater organization “committed to making room for the next generation of female artists in the landscape of female theater.” Greer and Miller, who also work at an organic food company and Jewish nonprofit organization, respectively, got their feet wet in the New York theater scene before dreaming up plans for The Hearth. “We were able to have a more specific focus here because we practiced at Kenyon,” Miller said. “When we got to New York, we arrived with a real sense of what we wanted to do.”
We are focusing not only on having women write stories about women, but we're having other women design and make these stories into a reality."
Power players: Before forming The Hearth, Greer and Miller produced the off-Broadway premiere of “The Power of Punctuation” by their former classmate Natalie Margolin ’14, who originally wrote and staged the play as part of her Kenyon senior thesis. The New York Times gave the play a glowing review, describing it as “smart and well-acted ... a small, welcome oasis of entertainment.” Margolin’s next play will be directed by another Kenyon graduate in Chicago.
Web extra: While at Kenyon, Greer and Miller were interviewed about Stage Femmes by Megan Wolpert Dobkin '95 in a video directed and produced by Mia Barnett '15.
Resides in: Washington, D.C | Majored in: Political science | Job title: Cybersecurity reporter for Politico
Eric Geller ’14 never expected his writing for the Kenyon Collegian to lead to a career as a cybersecurity reporter but, since graduating, he has acquired expertise on an issue that Forbes has called “the biggest concern of 2017.” As stories swirl about Distributed Denial of Service attacks, cyberwar and Russian hackers, Geller hopes cybersecurity reporters like him will one day have the cachet of journalists covering the White House or Capitol Hill. He’s well on his way: His more than 50,000 Twitter followers include former U.S. President Barack Obama and late-night host Jimmy Fallon, and he has been retweeted by political stars like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
The internet of things: According to Geller, a significant issue in cybersecurity is the ease of hacking into smart devices — household appliances connected to the so-called “internet of things.” He explained, “There are various types of malicious software out there that essentially roam the internet looking for these devices, infect them and let somebody else take them over remotely. And if you’re a hacker and you take control of millions of webcams or thermostats, you can use those devices without their owners knowing to launch all kinds of attacks.”
Biggest interview, so far: Geller returned to Kenyon to interview FBI Director James Comey, who was speaking at a Center for the Study of American Democracy conference. “It was great to be able to sit down with him even for just 10 or 15 minutes and try to understand where he was coming from, because obviously his importance in U.S. politics only has become more massive. I think a lot of people who write about cybersecurity never thought that he could have become more important than he was earlier last year, during the encryption fight (with Apple), and somehow he managed to become even more important to politics and government. To have had that opportunity to talk to him before all that happened is something that I won’t forget,” he said.
Advice for the aspiring reporter: “Go to all of the Kenyon events that you can, even if it’s a topic that isn’t core to your interests. The opportunity to hear from people from large think tanks and government agencies, the chance to hear from people in that broader government and political world outside of Gambier, on your home turf, is something that you should not pass up.”
Find Eric Geller on Twitter: @ericgeller