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THIS FALL Pitzer College welcomed 243 new first-year students. They faced tough competition in securing their spots in the Class of 2011: Pitzer received 3,744 applications for the 2007-08 academic year, the largest number in the College’s history, and only 26 percent of the applicants were offered admission. The eight first-year students profiled here are just a few of the amazing students whose achievements and personal convictions made them stand out from the rest of the pool. Whether it's spinning fire, volunteering in Nepal or belting out lyrics on stage, these students' range of interests and goals are fascinating, and we know you will enjoy getting to know them.
Devin Von Stade
WHOOSH. As sizzling flames weave around his body and warm his sandy feet, Devin von Stade experiences the soothing, yet exhilarating power of fire-spinning. But for him fire-spinning is more than a hobby, it's a philosophy.
“Fire, like so many aspects of life, is never fully understood, never fully controlled, but through my experience with fire performance I have learned that regardless of how uncontrollable an energy may appear to be, if you are willing to lead it, to move with it, you can direct it on a chosen path,” Devin said.
Devin's chosen path is to examine the way life and people work by pursuing pre-med studies in human biology and physiology. Likewise, he is fascinated by mechanics and built his own computer, so when one part malfunctions he knows exactly how to fix it. This interest in the way things work also led him to volunteer at a wheelchair refurbishing center and to compete in the USFIRST Robotics competition.
Acknowledging that his exposure to different cultures has played a significant role in his life and education so far, Devin hopes to build upon his diverse cultural experiences while at Pitzer. He has already traveled to South Africa, Thailand, Japan and Nicaragua, to name a few, and earned his scuba diving certification in Belize.
Devin believes Pitzer is the perfect college to carve out a balance of academics and student life. “Having a well of knowledge to pull from helps me in every activity I do,” he said. “Whether it is sailing, writing a paper or just talking to someone new, I find that creating a broad range of experience is greatly advantageous.”
ELIZABETH TESFAYE bid farewell to her parents and two big brothers, and ventured out of the closely knit community of Inglewood, California, to Claremont. Elizabeth's family emigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia, and the transition to college has been particularly emotional. “Being the first in my family to attend college has always been my motivation to continue towards higher education,” Elizabeth said. “I'm pretty determined.”
Elizabeth is a premed student and plans to merge her interest in psychology with her medical ambitions. The freedom Pitzer offers its students by having educational objectives instead of general education requirements was especially attractive to her in accomplishing this goal.
“I've always wanted to help people. I think today, medicine is more ‘here you go, here's your medicine,’ not the emotional and psychological part of it. I want to mix these together and see how much I can actually help someone.”
In high school, Elizabeth co-founded and was elected president of a group called Young Women of Unity that serves young women in the community through health education, tutoring and fundraisers for breast cancer. Elizabeth plans to join the Pitzer Feminist Coalition.
“In Ethiopian culture women are not identified as intelligent or capable of making decisions like men. Women are known to be submissive, passive, as well as compliant,” Elizabeth said. She learned in school this was not her prescribed identity.
“I became motivated to speak freely about my thoughts and beliefs. There were clashes between the attitude and behavioral patterns I was raised to follow and the new possibilities I learned women were capable of accomplishing.”
Woodstock, New York
JESSE MEISLER-ABRAMSON will be able to tell his grandchildren how he drove to high school in upstate New York fifty miles each way. And maybe it wasn't uphill both ways in a blizzard, but it was on free fuel. With rising gas prices and a heightened awareness of the environment, Jesse chose to convert his car to run on used vegetable oil.
After watching an independent documentary on global warming, Jesse said to himself, “Wow, that is serious stuff. I've got to do something.” He bought a used car and paid $1,500 to have it converted to run on vegetable oil. Jesse went to a local restaurant that agreed to put their used vegetable oil into a fifty-five gallon drum he left there.
“They just throw the used vegetable oil in it for me. They would have to pay to get rid of it otherwise,” Jesse explained. The conversion process takes minimal time and effort. “In the basement of the restaurant, I hold open the valve and watch the used vegetable oil spew down and out of the drum and into my five-gallon bucket. Then, I take the oil home to be filtered and stored in my family's garage. I just pump it into my car and drive. And it's free, which is the best part.”
The grease-car has become a hobby for Jesse—cooking is another. Jesse hopes to start a cooking club at Pitzer, as well as contribute to the Colleges' green community as a member of the Ecology Center.
La Habra, California
AS THE OLDEST of three siblings, Maricela Ledezma has always aspired to be a strong role model at home and in the community. Now as a college student she is lending her talents to the Jumpstart program, which helps prepare preschoolers for their futures.
“In high school I did a lot of community service and nearly all of it involved children. I tutored at my library and volunteered at a children's art museum as well as volunteered at a daycare center. When I heard about Jumpstart I thought it was a great opportunity.”
Maricela discovered Pitzer through a college fair, and applied despite previous plans to go to a large university. She describes her visit, “I just got this feeling that I belonged here. Everyone at Pitzer was really warm and passionate about learning.” With plans to pursue a career in pediatric medical care, Maricela is enthusiastic about the Joint Science Center. She has also signed up for a number of activities, from Capoeira to camping with Pitzer Outdoor Adventures, from salsa dancing to Pitzer's new surfing club.
“Pitzer can be as big or as small as you want—I like that. With the 5Cs connected there are so many opportunities.”
STUDENT ATHLETE Shawn Campas strives to translate his work ethic on the athletic field to his performance in the classroom. “Being a member of a team has taught me that perseverance and hard work are essential ingredients for success,” he said. Shawn, who plays running-back, credits the camaraderie with his Pitzer-Pomona football teammates with easing his transition into college this fall as he adjusts to campus life and takes courses in microeconomics, psychology and Spanish.
It is his first-year seminar though that has really captured his interest. The course, La Familia, which focuses on the role of the family for Latinos living in the U.S., has helped answer many of the questions he has about his own family and their Latino heritage. “Before coming to Pitzer I didn't realize how beneficial a liberal arts education could be for me,” he said.
Shawn, son of Shawn Campas Sr. '84, is proud to follow in his father's footsteps. He shares, however, that his decision to attend Pitzer was entirely his own. After visiting the College, he was struck by the diversity in the people he met and the opportunities afforded by the 5Cs. In addition to playing on the Sagehen football team, Shawn also hopes to join the baseball team in the spring and to get involved with Student Senate and PAct.
A SEATTLE-AREA native, Mohammad Nasir is a selfpronounced coffeehouse junkie who loves listening to music, sampling new cuisine and watching independent films. He truly thrives on all the city has to offer, but is also concerned about how to reconcile urban living with the natural environment.
“I am interested in issues of urban sustainability and energy conservation. Eventually, I would like to work with city planners and help to lobby for changes that encourage urban growth while also preserving and respecting the environment,” he said.
Mohammad believes that his Pitzer education will keep him humble and aware that life is not just about taking, but giving. The son of Pakistani immigrants, he witnessed the great sacrifices his parents made to carve out a better life for their family in the United States. “I admire my parents' hard work and commitment and how they made the very best of the opportunities afforded to them here.”
Mohammad was the first sibling in his family born in the U.S. and therefore finds his identity is somewhere in the middle between Pakistani and American. As a Muslim, observing the month of Ramadan, in particular, has made him more aware of the privileged lives many Americans lead and how we should be grateful for what we have, but also acknowledge and assist those around the world who may be suffering.
“Growing up in an environment where iPods, cellular phones and receiving a car for your birthday are the norm, we seem to forget the millions who live off bread made from grass, who are orphaned, who don't have clean water, who don't have what we have,” he said. “Ramadan has influenced me greatly and allowed me to accept hardship in life, be appreciative and realize that there is much worse beyond my bubble.”
BORN IN Kathmandu, Nepal, Jyoti Gautam and her family moved to Hawaii when she was two years old and she grew up “Americanized” as her parents would say. Sixteen years later she returned, alone, to her roots in Nepal and was overwhelmed with the drastically different way of life she encountered. Yet her myriad experiences during this seven-week trip, including volunteering at a pre-primary school, inspired a powerful revelation.
“Helping Nepal is not a duty, but a choice and I choose to participate. My dream is to return to Nepal and start an organization that will teach the new generation the salience of peace, egalitarianism and charity,” Jyoti said. “I choose and aspire to help Nepal be a country I want to revisit.”
With an interest in psychology and sociology, Jyoti found the college best suited to further her participatory role in society is Pitzer. “A certain kind of harmony exists at Pitzer—the College believes and hopes with you to affect positive change,” she explained. “Pitzer's openness gives students freedom, but also immense responsibility.” Jyoti plans to continue her community service work by joining Claremont After School Programs (CLASP), a nonprofit organization that offers after school tutoring and mentoring for students from grades one through six.
Jyoti finds that when she wants to focus on her own thoughts and goals, though, she hits the pavement. An avid runner, she has completed the Honolulu Marathon twice, the second time finishing eighth in her division. “For me running is a type of meditation, it helps me become more attuned to my individual self and my place in this world.”
Sara Vander Zwaag
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
SINCE SHE was a child Sara Vander Zwaag has dreamed of performing on Broadway. She admits, whether it's acting, singing or dancing, she is addicted to the stage and the rush of an audience staring back at her.
“Through acting I explore the depth of my connection to others through emotion. On stage I can sing as loud as I want without fearing criticism,” Sara said. “During dance I let the world sweep me away and leave all concepts of reality on the ground.”
Sara knows that at Pitzer her artistic talents will continue to be nurtured. Impressed by the campus murals and artwork, she admires each student's choice to confidently display his/her work for all to see. A painter herself, Sara finds artistic expression a must.
“I can't imagine my life without painting—where a simple coat of paint can forgive any mistake, and a blemish can quickly become a mark of beauty,” she said. “When my paintbrush hits the palette, my brain instantly starts to sort itself out.”
Sara is eager to see the direction her art will take as Pitzer helps to expand her world view. “I look forward to how the courses I take and the people I meet here will open my eyes to things I didn't notice before and make me a more wellrounded individual,” she said.