Oberlin Blogs

7 Questions, 7 Obie Alumnx ~ Part 1

January 30, 2022

Aishwarya Krishnaswamy ’23

Oberlin's first-class dates back to 1835, so there's no doubt that Oberlin has a rich alumni network both within and outside the country. In the few years that I have been here, the alumni network has been an essential pillar for me to lean back on. Whether it was figuring out my major or even presently figuring out my career after Oberlin, they've been super-generous in their support for present Obies. So, taking inspiration from past blogger Joe Dawson '12, I went back to some of the alumnx I've gotten to know over the last couple of years. These Obies have been a part of various experiences on campus and held various identities, like being a co-op member, international student, lacrosse player, non-traditional Obie, etc. Many interesting stories are embedded in their experiences that we all can learn something from and/or just cherish!

Thanks to all the kind alumnx who took some time out of their busy schedules for a little chit chat about their Obie experience with me :) 

Alumnx background (from the most to least recent grads):

  Who are they?              What did they major in at Oberlin? Where are they now? 
1. Marcus Hill '19 Geology

 HHMI STEM Fellow at Oberlin 

2. Michelle Gonzales '14 Biology 

Program Coordinator at California Department of Public Health

  ~ ~ ~
4.  Ankit Mody '05 Economics Co-founder of India Metal Overseas Corporation
5.  Kirk Warren '00 Chemistry

Lab Technician at Oberlin's Chemistry Department

6.  Ben Jones '96 English & Environmental Studies Assistant Vice President of Admissions Communications at Oberlin
7.  Sarah Bansen '80 Anthropology & Sociology

OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner at Cambridge Health Alliance

8.  Susan Slowinski '77 Biology 

Pediatrics Specialist at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital

Bring on the Questions Now!!

1. How do we know each other? 

MH '19: Through Roots in STEM programming, the K100 study nights in particular. We discussed post graduation plans and in particular how to think about the future outside of expectations that other people put on you!

MG '14: Wisr, our Oberlin connection; you reached out to me on that platform! 

AM '05: We were put in touch through the Admissions Office at Oberlin and I joined you along with your family for dinner in Mumbai while you were still a prospective student (almost three years ago!) to talk more about Oberlin which was also wonderful for me. 

KW '00: You took chemistry 101 lab your freshman year and I was the lab technician, we interacted in that capacity and often run into each other in the science center to this day. 

BJ '96: I oversee Oberlin's blogging program and you are one of our rockstar bloggers!

SB '80: Well, we got connected through the Oberlin alumni and student network (Wisr), and you reached out to me to talk about health care since I'm a health care provider. So, then we got together, took a nice little walk (Fresh Pond, Cambridge), and had a long chat. We spoke about what it was like to be a women's health care provider.

SS '77: You reached out to me through the Oberlin alumni network (Wisr) since you were interested in medicine and wanted to understand more about my experience as a pediatrician and as a woman in this field more broadly. We had a lovely, long conversation and have exchanged letters since. 


2. How did you end up at Oberlin in the first place/ Why Oberlin?

MH '19: Completely by accident. My mom and I were staying at a hostel outside of Boston and a retired professor who was also there told me his wife taught here for a few years in the 80s. I was going into my senior year of high school and he wanted to do a mock interview with me, so I said sure, and he thought I'd be a good fit. My mom added the campus as a stop on our way home  and I thought it was a pretty cool place, so I applied. I stayed (and came back) because I could tell the faculty care about students in a way that is hard to find elsewhere. 

MG '14: How I first heard about Oberlin: I ran cross country and track in high school and received a few letters from the Oberlin coach, but I let them pile up because I just thought it was a random school in Ohio. It wasn't until I was doing some biology research in high school and someone in the lab mentioned they would be attending Oberlin that I decided to finally open the letters and consider Oberlin. 

My visit on campus as a prospective student was when I knew it was the right place for me. I wanted to major in biology, and Oberlin had a strong department. What really set it apart for me from other schools was the welcoming environment with friendly students ….and the cookies at Stevie were delicious.

AM '05: So I initially applied from Mumbai, India and went to Purdue, which I always felt was a little too big for me. It didn't really appeal to my interests at the time, and I wanted to go to a smaller college. I also had friends at other liberal arts colleges, so I was able to get some sense that I wanted to move to a smaller liberal arts college. I ended up researching and visited three or four of them, one of which was Oberlin. Once I applied and was accepted and decided to go to Oberlin. I felt it was a good fit, frankly speaking, my other two options were Macalester  in Minnesota, and the other one was Grinnell in Iowa. While both of those are great colleges, you know, one is more rural in a way (Grinnell) than Oberlin. While the other one, Macalester College, felt much more urban than Oberlin. So I think Oberlin gave me a good balance between the options I had at hand. It was slightly larger and had the music school, which was a unique factor. But mostly, Oberlin just felt like a right fit.  

KW '00: I was attracted to the idea of Oberlin–to the town as much as the college. I grew up about 30 miles east of here in Cleveland and Oberlin's history and reputation fascinated me as a child, so in my mind Oberlin was inevitable.

BJ '96: I wasn't a huge fan of my high school. I had some great friends and teachers there, but it wasn't a good culture match for me. It felt stuck in the past, most folks seemed comfortable with the status quo… meanwhile I kept thinking about all the ways things could be better, but the school wasn't particularly interested in my idealism. :-) 

    When embarking on my college search, I was determined to find an experience that would feel like a significant leap forward instead of just "Grade 13." I really felt like I'd earned that. I visited 15 colleges and they were all fine, but also just so… similar. Nothing stood out, and I had no idea how I was going to choose. 

    I was chatting about this with my college counselor one day (he was a cool guy) and, after all those visits, was able to better articulate what I was looking for (and also not looking for) in a college community. He told me to check out Oberlin. I'd also heard good things about Oberlin from a friend's sister who was a current student at the time. And then I got Oberlin's mailing with "Think one person can change the world? So do we" on the cover, which sealed the deal. 

    So I took a bus out to Ohio. I knew within moments of arriving on campus and meeting Oberlin students that I'd found my home for the next four years. I applied early decision and never looked back.

SB '80: Well, I grew up in Philadelphia. When I was looking at schools, somehow I just had the feeling that I didn't necessarily want to be applying to the sort of classic northeast colleges that so many of my classmates were applying to. I knew a couple of people who'd gone to my school who went to Oberlin and just thought that going someplace different, even just a slightly different part of the country. Even though Ohio is not that far from Philadelphia, it still felt like a little bit of a stretch. Then when I read about Oberlin, I was really intrigued by a lot of things that I read, the food co-ops, etc. I visited Oberlin and stayed overnight; it just felt like a really interesting place with very creative and intelligent people. So I ended up applying early decision. I just felt like if I got in, I would go, and I did. So, yeah, it worked out really well.

SS '77: I went to a girls' school in New York City, and it was a good school in many ways, warm and friendly, but I felt really suffocated by it. I just wanted something bigger and different and wanted to make up my own mind about it. When I applied to Oberlin in 1972, it was in the midst of the Vietnam War, and Oberlin had a visible presence. I also had a lot of friends who were 10 years older than me, who were going to protests. Many of them had gone to another college in Ohio. Still, they just kept talking about Oberlin, so that's how I got to know about Oberlin. Eventually, I went to protests in Washington, and there would be a big Oberlin banner. 

    So I was really convinced that I wanted to go here and took a Greyhound bus out to Ohio and explored on my own, with many mistakes that a new traveler would make, like not knowing where to stay, etc. When I got to Oberlin, it was clear, just right from that moment, that that's where I wanted to go, so I felt fortunate that I was accepted and was able to attend.

3. What is something at Oberlin you loved being a part of? 

MH '19: There are so many things, but without hesitation it has to be the geology department. My Oberlin experience would have been so drastically different had I not found a home in Carnegie. The people, classes, and experiences were so amazing.

MG '14: The cross-country team! This was one way I made many friends early in my freshman year. Though I ran all four years of college, the team welcomed runners of various levels and was so supportive that some people joined later. I still keep in touch with many of my friends from the team/ lived with one of them (best roomie ever!) since graduation.

AM '05: Well, the community without a doubt. The Oberlin community is just very diverse and very unique. I mean, you, you come from Bombay, like me; you know that this city is also very diverse in its own way (completely agree!). But Oberlin is just on a different level, it's like a bubble which is a good thing in some ways because it breeds a different energy and sense of community. It's so small and you have so many people from diverse backgrounds expressing their opinions freely, which was not something I was exposed to before Oberlin. 

KW '00: I loved, and continue to love, being a part of the Chemistry Department. I found refuge in the department. I am what we call a lab rat & whenever I wasn't in class I was in a lab. Over the years the department became like a family to me. 

BJ '96: There were so many. I was part of the acappella community and loved that experience – it's actually how I met my wife. I was a manager at the Cat in the Cream for three years and probably spent more time there than in the library. I played in a folk-rock band that made a record and toured the east coast and was pretty popular on campus. But more than all of those things I think I'd have to say just being part of the Oberlin community. Most of my closest life-long friends are Obies. That includes not just fellow alumni, but the faculty who taught us. This is a magical place, it's just a magnet for really amazing people.

SB '80: I would probably say the dining co-ops were really an essential part of my experience. I joined Old Barrows. At that time, you couldn't be in a co-op until you were a sophomore. And there was this whole big lottery system. And at the time, when nobody had personal computers, there were these giant printouts of the results posted in the mailroom. This showed the lottery system results, which showed who got into which co-op. So Old Barrows was, I believe it was just an eating co-op. I was there for a brief time before switching to Fairchild co-op (a new co-op that had opened). Since it was just a lot more central to the main part of campus, many of us who had gotten into Old Barrows transferred to Fairchild, and then I stayed at Fairchild for the rest of the time that I was on campus. I loved just the participation in making choices about our food and just rolling up our sleeves and cooking and doing the menu planning.

    I was a bread baker, which I really enjoyed. I did various other jobs, but I really enjoyed that the students were doing the work and making the decisions. I also liked getting a refund. We always got a refund at the end of the semester if we hadn't spent all the money allotted for our food, and there was some competition. I still have a friend here in the Boston area who was in Baldwin co-op. He still jokingly reminds me that Fairchild got a bigger refund back then because Baldwin ate more expensive food than Fairchild did (reminisces fondly!). So, yeah, most of my close friends were part of the co-op, and it was just, it was a really good experience for me. 

    In fact, being a bread baker in the co-ops and preparing large volumes of food helped me land my first job as a baker in a collective co-op bakery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So, it led pretty directly to that job which was an interesting job for several years after I graduated, and I still bake bread. So, yeah, that was a big piece of my experience; there were a lot of other really good experiences at Oberlin, but I think that was sort of the biggest, most kind of focus since eating is an important part of our lives.

SS '77: I loved being part of Oberlin. I loved that I came from a small school in a city and suddenly I was exploring everything, you know, well not everything obviously! There were a lot of things I didn't explore, but for the most part, I was going on out on club trips, and I started swimming laps in Carr Pool and I'm still a lap swimmer, so there were just so many things that started for me at Oberlin. I developed a greater appreciation for Allen Art Museum as many times as I wanted for free, just on my own. Then there was also Dr. Jones, a botanist who basically took people on walks every Sunday afternoon. So there were so many things like this that I wouldn't have tried anywhere else, and I liked being part of everything.

    But if you want to be specific. I liked being part of the co-ops, and I was a co-oper for as many semesters as I could be. The co-ops were like a big family where you all did the dishes together. It wasn't all that smooth sailing some of the time, yet definitely had some of the best meals ever and some of the very worst. I was a major contributor to one of the worst of the worst, in fact, I was the cook (laughs!!). So it was a 'learning by doing' situation that I think really stuck with me, and it affects even the way I eat now.


4. If there is one word (close to one word ;)) you could use to describe Obies, what would it be and why? 

MH '19: Overcommitted ~ Obies have such passion and drive for so many things I think it sometimes (often times) can be a negative thing. There's a recognition that things need to change without acknowledging that one single person can't do it all. It's really inspiring but also exhausting.

MG '14: RealWhile at Oberlin I was surrounded by honest people who were not afraid to share what they were thinking. Obies have the courage to be themselves, even if it means wearing a robe, being barefoot all the time, or going under a table during the middle of an award ceremony. 

AM '05: Different It is just a unique little bubble with a diverse student population unafraid to express their opinions and spark change.

KW '00: chose not to respond 

BJ '96: That's a hard one because I think if you asked 20 Obies that question, you'd get 20 different answers and they'd all be right. Smart, talented, curious, innovative… I know I am dodging the question. I'll post something in the comments if a good answer ever comes to me!

SB '80: Interesting ~ Yeah, that's been true, in my experience, the people that I met as my, my roommates and friends and other folks I've known, the people that I still am very good friends with from Oberlin, are all really interesting people who think and have a lot of creative ideas. 

SS '77: Intense ~ It's a small little universe in the middle of Ohio. It feels like it's the center of the world when you're in Oberlin; at least it did for me. I studied a lot. I had friends who studied a lot, but I had other friends who were intensely involved in ceramics for no credit or maybe Experimental College credit, or dance, or, you know, sometimes went out of their way for a major. No matter what people did, it was intense. Including soul searching and wondering what to do next. So, my word for Oberlin is intense. It's a small place, but a lot is happening. I borrowed this word 'intense' from the people who encouraged me to apply.


So that's it for part 1, stay tuned for part 2, which covers other interesting questions like challenges at Oberlin, "only in Oberlin can you..." and some sound advice for future Obies from our very own alumnx. In the meantime, current Obies, alumnx or community members reading this, feel free to share 'how you would describe Obies in the least number of words?' in the comments below :-D


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