UMass Amherst Offers Strong Foundation
“When I came to campus as a freshman,” says Kara Cunningham ’08 (anthropology and journalism), “I didn’t have any strong direction that I wanted to pursue. UMass Amherst has helped me find things that I’m passionate about, things that will be my foundation as I think about what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
Cunningham, who graduated from Methuen High School, chose UMass Amherst because she wanted a large school with lots of options. She also points to the Five College Exchange, a cooperative program among Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst that allows for cross registration, as “enticing.” Although she hasn’t participated in the cross-campus exchange yet, it’s one of her goals before she graduates.
Entering as an anthropology major in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Cunningham had “a romantic notion of becoming an archaeologist. But after taking the intro class,” she says, “I found myself inclined much more to cultural anthropology. I loved learning about the world’s cultures, and it fueled my passion to explore them further.”
Cunningham is also very interested in photography. Initially she thought a self-created Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) double major in photojournalism would be perfect for her, but getting the project of the ground, she says, was problematic. Instead, Cunningham opted for the double major in journalism, which offers courses in photojournalism and travel writing—in Sicily no less! She also landed an internship in the photography department for the Daily Hampshire Gazette newspaper in Northampton, and has been a member of the Photo Society, so her photography interest has definitely not languished. Plus, she worked on the yearbook staff for two years, as an editor the second year.
A strong student who is part of the Commonwealth College Honors Program, Cunningham is a Citizen Scholar, meaning that she does volunteer community service work—in her case at the Amherst Survival Center—besides taking a series of four honors courses with a small, select group of students over the course of two years.
In spring 2006, Cunningham went to Costa Rica where she lived with a family and studied international development and Spanish at the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Jose. That fall she traveled to Nairobi, Kenya for two months and took courses at the Minnesota School of International Development in Swahili, international development and the social history of Kenya. “Then I moved on to Gil Gil, a rural community, where I was an environmental education intern at Kigio Wildlife Conservancy,” Cunningham says. “I helped write and edit an environmental education booklet, and then taught it in one of the local primary schools."
When the SBS Opportunity Scholarship for Cunningham’s senior year came along, the timing was perfect. “Going abroad was expensive,” she explains. “While I was gone, I couldn’t work for almost eight months—and I had trouble finding a summer job because I was available for only two months—not exactly a desirable candidate. I do work on campus, but because I don’t receive work study, it’s harder to get many hours. The $1,000 scholarship award definitely alleviated some of the financial strain I was under this semester.”
The SBS Opportunity Scholarship is funded by alumni gifts and honors SBS students who have achieved outstanding academic success. This year the endowment allowed the Dean to grant 10 awards. One of SBS’s missions is to increase the fund’s endowment so that the number of awards grants, as well as the size of the awards, can be increased. If you are interested in contributing to the fund, please contact the Development Office (413-577-1700) or give online now.
With graduation practically around the corner, Cunningham is starting to firm up her post-commencement plans. “I’m applying to the Peace Corps first, and then expect to attend graduate school for international development. All this has come out of my experiences abroad last year. I feel like UMass Amherst has given me a wonderful foundation for what I want to do and who I’m going to become.”
December 10, 2007