Jennie Smith '08 was not expecting to attend Kalamazoo College when she visited here with a friend in 2003.
"I wanted her to go to the University of Michigan with me, and she was trying to convince me to go to 'K' with her. She ended up there and I ended up here," laughs the Traverse City native.
Many things drew her to our hilly campus - the intimate size and passionate professors, the opportunity to play soccer and to study abroad. Those things all garner mention when she reflects about her years here, but one of the last endeavors she took on turned into an ongoing influence she credits with real lessons for her professional life.
"My work with the Guilds was the best introduction to the professional world I could have asked for," Jennie says. "It gave me the opportunity to work with professionals in a business setting. I learned very valuable lessons. One is that committees and partners are a big part of the business world, and being open to change is key."
Launched last January, the Kalamazoo College Guilds Initiative builds connections between students and alumni around issues of common interest and presents opportunities for professional networking, collaborative action, leadership development, and lifelong ties to Kalamazoo College. The charter guilds are Sustainability, Health, Business, and Justice & Peace. Jennie became student liaison for the latter.
"Jennie was one of half a dozen seniors who were inspired by the possibilities of the guilds," says Guilds Director Joan Hawxhurst. "I hope it will be fun for them to look back ten years down the road and be proud of how they helped this get started."
Each of the four guilds - made up of faculty, students, alumni, and community members - are open to anyone with a connection to Kalamazoo College, and activities range from on-campus lunches, speaking engagements, Friday Forums, and Passion to Profession workshops, to informal regional gatherings as far away as Traverse City and Washington, D.C. Each group determines the ongoing agenda and collaborative response to their issue. A new guild may be created if interest and support develop around a new area.
Each guild developed a first-step event during spring term of 2008. Having acquired a passion for the work of the Alliance to End Hunger during a SIP internship in Washington, D.C., Jennie had a firm idea of what the Peace and Justice Guild should choose as their rallying issue. And she also had strong feelings about what kind of event the guild should sponsor, hoping the group would stage a multi-day conference on hunger.
"I was so attached to this event being three days, but I had to learn how to be flexible and to take other people's input," says Jennie, who is proud of the Hunger Forum panel discussion the guild presented in late April. "I had to relax and not hold onto my ideas so rigidly," she says. "It's been very helpful to me in my new work."
Today Jennie is an education coordinator for So Others Might Eat (SOME) in Washington, D.C., an interfaith organization that serves the poor with food, clothing, health care, and job training. Preceding that post, she served a summer internship with Urban Farming in Detroit, where she got her hands dirty cultivating healthy food at community gardens. She hoped to be more directly involved with feeding people in need at her first job out of college, but again, being open to change has served her well.
"It's not exactly what I had in mind," Jennie says about her work to help people gain job skills. "But I've grown to love it. I'm definitely working with people who are living with problems I want to help solve. Besides, I have a roommate who works at DC Kitchens, so I'm able to live vicariously through her. I'm always grilling her about her day."
In a kind of connection the guilds seek to create, Jennie met up last fall with Liesel Flashenberg '67, creator of Through the Kitchen Door International, a culinary arts training program for low income and recent immigrant adults and at-risk youth.
"I thought we'd just meet for coffee, but we went to the farmers market, and she took me home, fed me, and introduced me to her family. She was so welcoming," Jennie says.
"Jennie is an amazing example of personal and professional growth that can happen for students who take leadership roles," says Joan. "Most students come here familiar with leadership positions. But the guilds give the
"My work with the Guilds was the best introduction to the professional world I could have asked for."opportunity to co-lead, to collaborate, and that involves developing a different set of leadership skills. It was exciting to see her gain those partnership skills needed for sharing leadership."
Robert Barnhart '70, Regional Director of Church World Service, was a guest presenter at the Hunger Forum. He was gratified to be invited back to campus, and has good things to say about his experience. "I think the Guilds offer a unique opportunity for students to network, and to put their talent, energy, and learning to work. I was impressed with the event," he says. "Jennie had a lot of passion for the project. She kept the momentum moving forward, and it was well organized. She did a good job, and I felt appreciated."
In talking about her own momentum, Jennie says her future may bring graduate school in public policy or social work - or it may not. Either way, Jennie's training and talents are rooted in service, leadership, collaboration - and flexibility.
The Guilds' First Step Events
Beginning just three months after a January 2008 launch, each of the four Guilds presented a "first-step" event that focused students, alumni, the community, and primarily a spotlight on an issue of current concern. The Health Guild presented a symposium, Insect-borne Diseases and Related Issue; the Business Guild presented a two-day event, Entrepreneurship: From Idea to Reality; and the Sustainability Guild sponsored two days of Earth Day festivities.
The Justice & Peace Guild presented a Hunger Forum at Stetson Chapel in April. Sixty students, staff, and alumni engaged with a panel of speakers to discuss a range of topics, including the underlying causes of hunger such as poverty, elitism, and social inequity. Circuit Court Judge Alexander Lipsey '72 moderated, and other guests included Robert Barnhart '70, Regional Director of Church World Service; Anne Lipsey, Executive Director of Kalamazoo's hunger-fighting Loaves and Fishes; Carol Salisbury, a nurse practitioner with expertise in nutrition and disease; and Jordan Kough, New Site Development Manager of the Washington, DC-based Campus Kitchens, which helps colleges redirect unused food to people in need.
To check in with this year's Guild activities, see guilds.kzoo.edu.
by Katie Houston