Mentoring: an essential element of success
Corrine Wiesner’14, who transitioned from an economics and dance double major at Beloit to a Ph.D. candidate in environmental microbiology at UNC-Chapel Hill, found lifetime mentorship with Beloit professors to be extremely important and useful to her professional future.
What drew you to Beloit College?
The liberal art education was what I had always yearned for since high school. In my high school years, you can easily spot me participating in various extracurricular activities: I played softball and music, composed my own songs, was intrigued by environments and politics, and was interested in languages. And Beloit College caught my attention as my high school English teacher recommended I check it out. After researching Beloit College, I immediately fell in love with this place and decided that it would be my next destination. Beloit College offered me the freedom to create and design my own path, academically and non-academically. Its strong focus on international studies, such as study abroad opportunities and a wide range of foreign language courses, also made a significant impression on my decision to attend Beloit. The generous financial package that Beloit College offered also contributed to my decision.
How do you feel about your first year in college? Did Beloit College help you transition smoothly from high school to college? Were you able to freely explore everything as you expected?
My freshman year was great, and Beloit College did indeed offer tons of opportunities for students to get involved and engaged I could not ask for more. I continued pursuing my artistic passion by joining the school jazz band as a pianist in my freshman year and had that going every semester of my college journey. I also took a private music class. Regarding the academic side, since I already enrolled in a rigorous program (International Baccalaureate) in high school, I did not find it hard to keep up with my college education. I also discovered what fields of study I loved to go in-depth; I declared a double major in economics and dance in the spring semester of my freshman year.
Why did you choose to major in Economics?
Economics stood out to me because it was a good mix of statistics, philosophy, and was almost an engineering primer. I enjoyed all the economics courses that I took in my freshman year, especially the Introduction to Advanced Microeconomics course with Professor Josh Hall and the Economic Development course with Professor Nimish Adhia. But it was not the key reason behind my decision to major in Economics. It was because of the connections I made with the professors and students in the departments. They were supportive, and I loved spending time with them. Professor Jerry Gufstason and I also shared a love for music when he played saxophone, and I was in a jazz band. I was always excited to meet and talk to him.
What one piece of advice would you give to first-year students?
Find. a. mentor. It will take time, but I suggest that new students go out of their way to interact with Beloit faculty until they find a few that they find super engaging. Ask them about everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Ask them about careers, research, mental health, world politics, college politics, race, gender, and everything.
What opportunities did you have as a Beloit College student?
I think, because of the tight-knit community essence of Beloit College, I was able to find faculty, staff, and friends that have supported and motivated me to make the most of my experience there. In my sophomore year, I had my first on-campus job as an Assistant to Professor Chris Johnson. I supported in organizing dance productions such as “CinderElla” (a story representing jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald) and “Protestant Reggae Ballet” (which was performed at Art-o-Matic in Washington, D.C. later). I also met and have been friends with some of the most wonderful people on campus when living in a specialty housing, Interfaith House, which was a wonderful place to explore my Jewish and Catholic upbringing and spirituality. I got to know my cohort of fellow economics majors after taking the Quantitative Methods course with Professor Jeff Adams in my sophomore year. I not only acquired a solid quantitative foundation but also improved my soft skills. I learned what I had to offer the group and what I was lacking. I learned how to collaborate, a soft skill that probably almost determines one’s success in this world.
What is your favorite experience that you remember the most when reminiscing about your college life?
Everything that I have mentioned so far is some of my fondest memories of when I was at Beloit. I also want to add my experience with my jazz band that I still remember up to this day to my collection of treasured moments. It was the summer after my junior year our band, Dupond Dupont, got its first international tour in Europe. We went on tour in the Midwest, on the East Coast, but this Europe tour was a huge milestone. And we could not have been able to do it if it had not been for Professor Chris Johnson, who obtained a grant to take us to an international dance festival in Prague, Czech Republic. During that summer, I explored myself artistically, healed many things from my childhood, gained a lot of confidence, and allowed myself to regress into a childlike state where I felt truly free to explore my interests. Also, in my junior year, I got a chance to meet with an incredibly organized and patient professor, Bob Elder, through his Game Theory course. That course was fun, and it opened my mind to a different way of thinking about the world, and it inspired me to read peer-reviewed literature of a quantitative nature.
How have you explored your career interest in Dance and Economics double major?
With a double major in economics and dance, I decided to pursue a career in arts management or researching art and healthy communities. Through economics, I learned to think critically, write, and understand probability and statistical inference. Combining this with my dance major taught me to put ideas together creatively (I found it super helpful for my current research career pathway later). And with the support of Professor Brian Morello, I was nominated as a director of WISE-Foundation. Through this opportunity, I was able to really explore my interests. I successfully organized an arts festival (in my senior year); however, the festival did not attract as many Beloit College students compared to community members. With some of the organizational problems, I realized that I never wanted to do event planning again. But at the same time, I found a deep passion for understanding why people were uninterested in attending free arts events. The answer to this question sparked my interest in public health in which I am currently working. My journey with public health started with the project with Professor Ron Watson even after my graduation. He helped me understand what an exciting research question might be and how to formulate it. These two things are beneficial in helping with my current Ph.D. research. I also considered myself lucky to have had valuable mentorship from Professor Arielle John and Professor Laura Grube in my senior year and even after graduation.
What path did you take from graduation to where you are now?
My first job post-graduation was a non-paid curator position for a castle building. I organized a music program, a small arts festival, concerts, dance classes, and tutoring for this entity. However, I realized that perhaps this was not what I wanted to pursue in the long run. So, I got a job as a substitute teacher at Beloit Memorial High School, learned to code in R, and worked with spatial data while still having time to play shows, go on tours with my little band, and enjoy my early 20s. I conceptualized a research project with Professor Ron Watson, which sparked my interest in working in the public health field. I spent many nights on Professor Brian Morello’s porch talking about various entrepreneurial and creative ideas. I feel that I truly found the mentorship I needed the year after I graduated. I spent the next year serving the southside of Milwaukee as an AmeriCorps Community Healthcorps member in the environmental health department. And currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. degree at UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Could you please tell us more about your Ph.D. research? Why did you choose to work on this particular topic? Do you think that your time and education at Beloit College have prepared you to thrive in graduate school?
My work focuses specifically on spatial relationships between sources of microbial contamination and responses in the environment and human health. In particular, I look at antimicrobial resistance and am interested in emerging pathogens. When looking for programs for my Ph.D., I tried to find a program in which I could include advanced quantitative skills in my research and get the chance to interact with people within this field. Together with my interest in public health that I later found while researching with Ron Watson, I chose to work on the intersection of microbiology and stochastic space/time modeling for my Ph.D. research. Surprisingly, I picked up environmental microbiology, laboratory work, more advanced statistical methods, and coding in Matlab and Python pretty well, even though one of my college majors was related to the public health field. But honestly, I am thriving, and I think it is thanks to how thinly I spread myself at Beloit across so many disciplines and extracurriculars.