What’s Next: The Class of 2023
Maroun Mezher ’23 always dreamed of playing in a rock band. That became a reality during his senior year at Hamilton when he gathered “extremely talented individuals” to form the Blackberriez, which played 17 concerts before graduation.
When Mezher reflects on his time at Hamilton, the band is one of his proudest accomplishments. The other is the work he put in to leading the first executive board of the International Cultural Association (ICA), a student organization devoted to promoting cross-cultural conversations and improving diversity awareness on campus. He and his peers helped students learn about each other’s cultures and identities through events that facilitated conversations. Mezher hopes he has left a lasting impact on the College, just as the people he met on College Hill have left on him.
“I consider myself lucky to [have been] surrounded by peers, faculty, and staff who pushed me to become the best version of myself here,” he said. “Professor [Rob] Kantrowitz was a great professor, mentor, friend, and rock to rely on in times of need. Through good and bad times, [he] … was always helpful, and in this way made my Hamilton experience so much better. […] I also cannot forget all the R and Stata training that I got from Professors Conover, Sadigov, and Alloush as those skills helped me land my job.”
Mezher plans to work for NERA Economic Consulting as a researcher.
Four years ago, Ari Wheeler ’23 imagined attending law school after college. Now she’s off to Bulgaria after being one of six members of her class to earn a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) — and she plans to use it to jumpstart a career in education.
“I had no idea what to expect from college as a first-generation college student,” she said. “As I began learning more and accessing greater opportunities during my time at Hamilton, I realized how fundamental education was in transforming my life and its trajectory. This past year I have recognized that my newfound goal is to help provide that same opportunity to others.”
One of the experiences that influenced Wheeler’s new path was taking part in the College’s Joan Hinde Stewart Career Development Program (JHS), which provides four-year career development support to a select group of students with significant financial need. The program enabled her to pursue her interests in political campaigns, writing, and tutoring, and work for the Truman National Security Project as well as on Capitol Hill.
“Each opportunity helped me learn more about politics and foreign policy, [which] I would not have been able to financially pursue without JHS,” she said.
What Wheeler takes the most pride in as she reflects on her years on College Hill is not something she did, but rather who she found herself surrounded by.
“Hamilton has gifted me the opportunity to meet the most intelligent, hilarious, driven, compassionate individuals that are going to--as cheesy as it sounds--change the world. I am honored to know the people I get to call friends, and I think that meeting them is the best thing I did at Hamilton.”
What Jackson Vogt ’23 experienced when he visited the Christian Johnson Building for linear algebra’s open office hours was one of the reasons he decided to major in math, a subject he never thought he would pursue.
“You go in between 2:30 and 6 p.m., and see people come in to do work on the blackboard, students helping each other along the way. This really drew me in,” he said. “I also quickly fell in love with the course structure and material. The passion that the faculty have here for the subject is unparalleled.”
Vogt believes Hamilton’s open curriculum enabled him “to find [his] passion” for math and computer science and appreciates the College’s emphasis on developing strong communication skills. Both came in handy when he applied for a summer internship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) during his junior year.
“Many candidates were very proficient at coding, but I think it was my communication skills — the fact that I was able to have a conversation — that really got me over the finish line,” he said.
Vogt’s internship experience helped him firm up his plans for after Hamilton: he will return to AWS in a full-time role as software development engineer.
Salwa Sidahmed ’23 was back in her favorite city in the world – Paris, France – when she finally got the news: she was now a Watson Fellow. The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship provides fellows with a one-year, $40,000 grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States. Sidahmed will travel to the United Kingdom, Morocco, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand where she will conduct research on plant-based practices and the effect they have on building greater community, as well as the cultural and economic sides of the issue.
Sidahmed designed her fellowship project to broaden her understanding of different cultures’ relationships to agriculture and food and has been intentional about making sure her year-long plan remains flexible enough to match her curious nature. She hopes that who she meets and what she learns along the way will help guide what she does and where she goes next.
Some might say Sidahmed approached her time at Hamilton in a similar way. She made every moment count and her list of cocurricular roles and experiences prove it: Hamilton in France program participant, French teaching assistant, Analytical Lab Assistant, Muslim Life intern, Levitt Center Summer Research Fellow, Days-Massolo Center Student Ambassador, Sustainability Working Group member, a Sadove Support Staff Manager, a COOP Service intern, and more. With so many interests, it’s no surprise she opted to create her own interdisciplinary major: social justice and sustainability.
“The open curriculum has absolutely been so pertinent to my time at Hamilton. My interests have completely changed since I came in my freshman year, and a lot of that was through the opportunities that have been afforded to be able to explore these interests.”
With a Hamilton degree fresh in hand, art major Juasline (Juju) Plascencia ’23 is returning to their high school alma mater, Miami Southridge High School, to teach art. “While I could have chosen to get a job in a different state, I really wanted to return home to help my family and give back to the community that helped me get to Hamilton in the first place,” Plascencia said.
However, this won’t be Plascencia’s first time teaching. They received a Kirkland Summer Research Grant in 2020 — during the COVID pandemic — through which they taught art online to Miami Southridge students and provided them with art supplies.
Working as a docent at Hamilton’s Wellin Museum under Marjorie Hurley, museum educator and docent program supervisor, further bolstered Plascencia’s résumé. They said Hurley made sure to provide as many opportunities as possible to foster their teaching skills. “From scheduling me to lead K-12 tours, events catered to local educators, and giving me one-on-one advice on teaching about art, Ms. Hurley was truly one of the individuals at Hamilton that helped guide me on my path to becoming an art teacher,” Plascencia said.
In addition to taking as many art courses as possible at Hamilton, Plascencia also took advantage of other opportunities. They were contracted by Hamilton on multiple occasions to create promotional works of art for events like the Yusef Salaam Virtual Roundtable in 2020 and for Juneteenth in 2021. Plascencia also served as a visual communications ambassador for the Days-Massolo Center, working with student-led organizations to develop and design promotional materials such as flyers & logos.
As a former Miami Southridge High School student, Plascencia understands firsthand the lack of art teachers and artistic programs available to students in the district. Through their full-circle journey back home, they hope to help increase access and demonstrate the value that art adds to students’ educational experience.
Sophie Maniscalo ’23 spent a majority of her time at Hamilton helping her peers tackle problems. It started with a difficult Calc II course with Associate Professor of Mathematics Courtney Gibbons, who saw Maniscalo’s potential and recommended her to the College’s Quantitative & Symbolic Reasoning (QSR) Center. This led to a three-year role as a math/research tutor and developing lasting relationships with others involved with the QSR Center. “I have gotten so close with the QSR staff, it's almost like a big family,” she said.
Maniscalo was also one of Hamilton’s peer counselors, which is a group of students supported by the Counseling Center that listen, support, and provide resources to students in topics related to everyday aspects of the student experience. That’s how she met someone who helped her: Counseling Center Director David Walden, who supervises the program.
“He has had a profound impact on my growth and development, both professionally and personally,” she said. “Maniscalco is most proud of how she has grown throughout her four years at Hamilton. “I truly feel as though I am unrecognizable from who I was during my first year here.” She plans to continue helping others after pursuing a doctorate (Psy.D.) in clinical psychology at William James College.
Ryan Smolarsky ’23 came to Hamilton knowing he wanted to major in physics. But he was also interested in pre-med. “While bio, chem, and neuro are more streamlined with the pre-med requirements, physics is fascinating to me, and I have a strong interest in how things work at the most fundamental level,” he said.
So, at Hamilton, he explored how those two interests could intersect.
“I’m interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon, and studying mechanics and dynamics allowed me to frame the musculoskeletal system in my mind differently than I previously had,” Smolarsky said. “Studying thermodynamics gave me a deeper understanding of why biochemical reactions happen in a cell. The list of intersections between physics and medicine goes on and on, and each time I discovered a new intersection, I found it fascinating and it just reinforced my decision to major in physics while being pre-med.”
Smolarsky said his faculty advisor, physics professor Gordon Jones, helped him ensure that he was making good progress toward the completion of his degree. “[Jones] also helped me explore potential paths that combined both physics and medicine,” Smolarsky said.
Another mentor was Leslie Bell, a previous director of Hamilton’s Health Professions Advising program. Smolarsky said that she “helped me carve out a four-year plan as a physics major, discussed with me what I should be pursuing outside of my classes for professional development, and really helped me figure out what my overall plan through Hamilton should concretely look like.”
For Smolarsky, who received the College’s James Soper Merrill Prize this year at Class and Charter Day, those outside interests included earning his certification and volunteering as an EMT with the Central Oneida County Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He minored in math and music, served as a physics student mentor, and, through Stony Brook Hospital, was a contributing author and researcher on two papers on cardiovascular surgery. This summer, he’ll present his Stony Brook team’s research at the Vascular Annual Meeting 2023 in Maryland.
After a gap year, Smolarsky plans to conduct further research before heading to medical school.
Retired Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard, the first female four-star admiral and chair of the 2020-22 Congressional Naming Commission, presented remarks to the Class of 2023 at Hamilton’s 211th commencement on Sunday, May 21. Other speakers included Ryan Smolarsky ’23, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, and class speaker Juliet Davidson ’23.
Some 159 students were honored with academic prizes and scholarships, and faculty were recognized for receiving teaching awards and dean’s scholarly achievement prizes, at Hamilton’s annual Class & Charter Day convocation on May 9. Earning special recognition were Ryan Smolarsky ’23, who received the James Soper Merrill Prize, and Eleanor “Ellie” Sangree ’24, who was awarded the Fillius Drown Scholarship.