A grad school dream fulfilled

by Maureen A. Nolan

Think of the Hamilton alumni network as a renewable energy source: Biology major Salome Kuchukhidze ’14, a vibrant force in her own right, plugged in late in her senior year and is now propelled toward graduate school. She plans to reciprocate some day.

Kuchukhidze discovered her passion for international public health, specifically in the realm of HIV/AIDS and women’s issue, when she worked in a South African hospital while studying abroad. She was accepted into four health graduate programs­ — Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Boston University and the State University of New York at Albany — and although she received partial tuition offers, graduate school was out without a full package. Kuchukhidze, who is from Tbilisi, Georgia, says that, as an international student, she couldn’t get a loan to cover the gap. Back home, her mother, who is a physicist, badly wanted to help but lacked the resources.

As her senior year wound down, Kuchukhidze applied for jobs she didn’t have a heart for, but none panned out. “I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’m going home,’” she says.

In February, when the Hamilton Board of Trustees hosted a reception for the Class of 2014, her host mom, Barbara Britt-Hysell, encouraged her to attend. Britt-Hysell is coordinator of and instructor in the College’s program for speakers of languages other than English. The reception, she told Kuchukhidze, would give her a chance to develop networking skills. She might even meet someone connected to one of the grad schools she got into. Britt-Hysell was a rock for Kuchukhidze at Hamilton, and she took her host mom’s advice. She braved the party where she found herself chatting with trustee Julia Cowles ’84.

The senior’s post-Hamilton plans were a natural topic of conversation for Cowles to broach. An attorney from California, Cowles has been active with the Hamilton Career Center and efforts to increase alumni engagement with students. She was impressed with Kuchukhidze’s clear career vision. “And when she mentioned to me this career path — public health and women’s issues — I remembered that one of my classmates, Lisa Messersmith, was in that field,” Cowles says.

Messersmith ’84 is an associate professor of global health at BU’s School of Public Health and an associate professor of anthropology at BU’s College of Arts and Sciences. Her research and experience include gender, sexuality, HIV, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Cowles arranged for an introduction to Kuchukhidze, and Messersmith became her advocate at BU.

Messersmith says she didn’t pull strings; she just talked to people to see if there was a way for Kuchukhidze to receive tuition as an international student. When BU evaluated all of the candidates, they found Kuchukhidze was eligible for support, explains Messersmith, who has always wanted a Hamilton student in her class. Kuchukhidze will likely be the first.

Kuchukhidze intends one day to extend a hand to a future Hamilton graduate, as Messersmith and Cowles have done for her. “The only way for me to repay what I’ve gotten from Julia and Lisa is to help other people as well,” she says.

She hasn’t forgotten the first Hamilton alumnus who helped her. That’s Giorgi Chavleishvili ’08, director and founder of an American-Georgian education center and school in Kuchukhidze’s hometown. She met him as a high school student, and he became her college counselor. With her intelligence and writing ability, Chavleishvili figured that Kuchukhidze would be a good fit for his alma mater. “After five years, I am glad to learn that I was right,” he says.

Six Degrees

Legendary professor Sidney Wertimer once noted, “It’s a small world, and Hamilton is at the center of it.” Six Degrees is a new column that will feature stories illustrating encounters that link members of the Hamilton community. The premise is based on the theory of six degrees of separation — that each of us is six or fewer people away from connecting, or in this case making a difference in someone’s life. If you have a story you’d like us to consider, send it to editor@hamilton.edu.

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