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Talent, persistence and resiliency on display at Furman Engaged

Springtime at Furman is when the campus comes alive – the trees show off new leaves, the grass grows greener and the lake displays its full charm. Springtime at Furman is also when the students get a chance to display their best work and share the fruits of The Furman Advantage in Furman Engaged.

The 13th annual Furman Engaged, held on April 13, looked very different than in past years, with presentations held over Zoom instead of in person. But what has remained is a clear communication of Furman’s commitment to deep learning experiences.

“Each year, we gather as a campus to hear our students reflect on and share the immersive and life-changing experiences they have had inside and outside of the classroom,” said President Elizabeth Davis as she welcomed participants. “Despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us and all of higher education, Furman Engaged is an excellent example of the talent, persistence and resiliency of our students.”

More than 650 students shared presentations on their internships, research, service learning, study away, creative projects, first-year writing seminars and capstone experiences. Sessions, both live and recorded, represented a full palette of experiences from all of Furman’s academic departments and institutes. Those strolling the campus saw, up close, evidence of the students’ work in displays of their undergraduate research, class project and internship posters. (Especially attentive students competed in a scavenger hunt among the posters, with a pair of Paladin-purple Nike Pegasus shoes at stake.) Live music performances and snack breaks punctuated the warm April day.

“We know this has been a challenging year, but this is a tremendous event that draws our community together,” said Beth Pontari, associate provost for engaged learning. “We are so happy that you’re with us, and so proud of our students.”

Here is a sampling of a few of the presentations from the 13th annual Furman Engaged.

‘Alive with excitement’

Mime and monologues. Dance and dialogue. Lighting design, anime dubbing and zombie killing. The capstone projects of the Furman Theatre Arts program were as varied and ingenious as the talents of the students themselves.

Take those zombies, for example. Makala Fuller ’21 blended both parts of her double major – chemistry and theatre arts – into her short film, “Makala Fuller Saves the World, ” in which one of her lab experiments goes awry, creating an epidemic of the walking dead that only she can resolve.

Makala Fuller ’21 during her presentation.

But for the senior, the film was more than a zombie flick.

“My journey at Furman has been so much more than academics – it’s a lot more personal than that,” she said. Her obstacles included depression, anxiety and self-doubt. “It’s hard sometimes, and it does feel like the end of the world. But I don’t want to tell a bleak story, because I know my story is not and will not be bleak. Think of my story as one of triumph, a journey of affirmation.”

Other presentations struck similar notes, affirming Furman’s Department of Theatre Arts as an incubator of creativity and self-expression.

“Now I can say confidently that I want to be an artist,” said Morgan Goldsberry ’21 in her presentation, “I Think… I KNOW I’m Smart!”

“I am an artist. The arts light me up and challenge me in a way that nothing else does.”

Clare Beth McConnell ’21 agreed: “I’m alive with excitement for what’s to come.”

Lily Mayfield ’21 presents, “The Clown: An Introspection.”

A conversation rooted in the classics, spanning centuries

Where do politics and religion meet? Or should they meet at all?

You can find arguments on all sides of this topic right now, on Twitter and in op-eds – and Associate Professor of Religion David Fink’s symposium students found them in 14th-century Italy, in the pages of a classic narrative poem.

Fink moderated a presentation of three of his students’ work during the Furman Engaged session “Dante at Furman: Identity and Difference in Time and Beyond.” Their papers examined Dante’s “Commedia” (“The Divine Comedy”) “at the intersection of politics and religion.”

First-year student Frances North ’24 focused on one canto of the work for her paper, “The Teleological Significance of Division: Religious and Political Authority in Purgatorio XVI.”

Dante uses the analogy of two suns, she explained, each of which illuminated a different road – one of God and one of man. The two suns represent the Roman emperor and the Pope, showing the paths to Earth and to eternal happiness, respectively. The danger Dante warned of was in confusing the two, which were “not interchangeable,” the religion major said.

With the “secularization of politics bleeding into our churches,” she said, “we are beginning to lose track of where one ends and another begins.”

Other students in the seminar brought their own contemporary perspectives to the medieval poem. Scott Johnson ’23, a vocal performance and religion major from Decatur, Georgia, saw similarities between Dante’s work and C.S. Lewis’ allegorical novel “The Great Divorce.” And Abigail Smith ’22, a religion major minoring in Greek and Roman studies, challenged the conventional wisdom of a majority of scholars about the fate of Cato in the “Commedia.” (Spoiler alert: He might not actually make it into Paradise).

Scott Johnson ’23.

Fink was justifiably proud of his students, who were “reading the text so carefully and coming to it with their own thoughts and questions,” he said, “seeing new things in there and presenting their findings with such clarity and elegance of expression.”

High-tech summer leads to student innovation

The world of technology is ever changing, making it difficult to stay current with the latest tools and trends. Last summer, Furman students interned with various industries to help them better harness technology. With the help of her Furman mentors, Hallie Miller ’21 landed a summer internship with Infotech Consulting in Gainesville, Florida, where she focused upon statistical analysis and data mapping. Miller even built an email automation application from scratch for her team, enabling her colleagues to wave goodbye to the days of sending emails manually.

Rebecca Wilhelmi ’21, a panelist, had an internship with Greenville-based Investinet, which let her use her technology skills to analyze correspondence and determine whether collusion may have occurred.

Daniel Bernal ’21 served the El Paso, Texas, community during his internship with the Community Education Program. Channeling his inner educator, Bernal helped teach agricultural workers seeking their GEDs the ins and outs of society’s often-used technological tools, including Zoom and OneNote.

Caleb Roberson ’21 spent his summer working with the Houston Astros’ front office to make technology as synonymous in baseball as peanuts and Cracker Jack. Using his experiences at Furman, Roberson built a predictive model to help the Astros make decisions that increase the likelihood of winning.

Furman Mathematics Professor John Harris helped Roberson secure interviews with five Major League Baseball clubs. The key to landing the internship, according to Roberson, was having a portfolio.

“One thing that’s really helpful to get your foot in the door is to have some work you’ve done on your own,” he said. “Without that, I don’t think I would have gotten invited to any interviews.”

First, they listened

Lifting up a struggling family can be as simple as providing art supplies or as complex as helping a mother secure housing assistance.

That was one insight students gained while working with The Family Effect, a Greenville nonprofit that works to reduce addiction in order to support healthy families. The students were part of a social justice-track group, one of the Sophomore Shucker Fellows teams that presented their Shucker Leadership Institute projects. The team assisted with the nonprofit’s efforts at Serenity Place, an extended living and rehabilitation center for women and children.

“People don’t tend to realize that drugs and alcohol play such a big part in the way families are put together,” said Nagiah Ferrell ’23, who presented on behalf of her team, which included Mia Saltrelli ’23, Mark Calvin ’23 and Rhaynae Lloyd ’23. They interviewed women served by The Family Effect, determined that housing and childcare were their biggest needs and compiled a folder with resources for the women.

“With public housing in Greenville, it’s very hard to get on the list, and to even be considered, there are interviews,” Ferrell said. “So what we wanted to do was to get that woman a little bit closer to the finish line, so they can provide for themselves and their children.”

The students also learned about smaller needs, such as art supplies for use in bonding activities between the women and their children. The social justice group sold stickers during an art supplies fundraiser outside the Trone Student Center back patio on April 12 and will do so again on April 14 and 15.

Reflecting on the experience, Lloyd said: “Being given a task without any direction is daunting. But as long as you’re not afraid to ask questions and brainstorm out loud, it’s surprising how quickly you can come up with something you’re proud of.”

Members of the social justice track, one of four Sophomore Shucker Fellows groups to share their experiences from their 2020-2021 Leadership Challenge Project working with Greenville-area businesses and non-profit organizations.

The stories of ourselves and what we love

A quilt can provide much more than decorative warmth. It can be an autobiography, as Elizabeth Mangone’s senior thesis project, “Influences of Identity,” showed. Her project consisted of three quilts that speak to identity, self-perception and how relationships influence those things. She used self-portraits and representative images of things that have been important to her and finished by painting the quilts’ surfaces.

Elizabeth Mangone ’21 presents one of her quilts.

One piece, representing a youthful period, has primary colors and a traditional pattern.

“The traditional pattern, that to me speaks to the idea that when you’re younger, a lot of your life is structured for you,” she said. “The soccer team your parents put you on or the school that you go to and the friends you meet there. So, I wanted to exhibit that through the structure of the quilt itself.”  She pointed to her technique of disassembling and then reassembling the elements.

“Unfettering,” one of Elizabeth Mangone’s quilts from “Influences of Identity.”

“The idea behind cutting those self-portraits apart and using them as pieces in the quilt was the idea that identity can be fractured, especially so when you’re younger,” she said.

Molly Jennings’ senior thesis project, “Flora + Fauna at Furman,” sent her – iNaturalist app in hand – deep into some of her favorite subject matter: “I absolutely love nature and animals,” she said. “If I’m doing anything in my free time, I’m out fishing by the lake or looking for frogs or doing something outside.”

That love is evident in her work, four 18” by 24” pieces, depicting places around campus across the seasons and area creatures such as a swan, a largemouth bass, a blue dasher dragonfly, red fox, Eastern gray squirrel and an American black bear. Jennings used “wash,” a semi-opaque water-based paint, which she described “as if acrylic paint and watercolors had a baby.”

The paint was a fitting choice.

“It’s not very well known,” she said, “and I think  that reflects a lot in my project, of some of the wildlife that might not be as well-known on our campus.”

Molly Jennings ’21 presents her “Flora + Fauna at Furman” work.

Engaged learning leads to health care passions

Giving students the opportunity to put thought and theory into action is one of the cornerstones of The Furman Advantage. But there’s a bit of magic that emerges when the ingredients of engaged learning are mixed together – finding one’s passion.

Just ask Bhumika Jakkaraddi ’21. Her observing cardiovascular surgery with Prisma Health sparked an interest in perfusion, leading her to research and analyze extracorporeal circulation and perfusion services.

Then there’s Alyssa Rice ’21, whose research on dementia was fueled by the time she spent with a patient battling dementia and its companions, isolation and loneliness.

During her internship with TriHealth Hospital System, Nicole Weyer ’21 worked with and observed genetic counselors. She then used her internship experiences to shape her research on human cancers and genetic testing.

What began as an internship has transformed into a job: Weyer accepted an offer to become a genetic counseling assistant at TriHealth, which will help her as she pursues a graduate degree in genetic counseling.


Will Gribble and Sarita Chourey contributed.






Last updated April 14, 2021
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Clinton Colmenares
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