What’s the most memorable experience Furman gave aspiring rocket scientist Zack Miller? The “Math and the Mouse” May X at Disney World? An award for undergraduate research in Chicago for work developing a computer model of how pulmonary cilia push fluid?
Nope. The Greek. Literally.
“Whenever I’m talking to a prospective student about why Furman’s been so great for me, I always bring up the research I did with my Greek professor, Christopher Blackwell,” he says. “It’s such a cool experience for a physics major to go to Germany doing ancient Greek research and something I can say for sure I would have never had the opportunity to do at another school.”
While it’s unlikely using digital tools to translate Greek texts will have an impact on his career, the fact that he had the chance showcased the reason Zack decided to go to Furman in the first place—even though he knew he wanted to be an engineer. Engineering schools often require students to select an area of study at the outset, and when Zack saw SpaceX land the first stage of Falcon 9 on a droneship in April of 2016 he realized material science was out, and rocket science was in.
This fall, he will start the Stanford School of Engineering’s master’s program in aeronautics and astronautics.
“That’s what has put me on the path to aerospace engineering, and I wouldn’t have had that chance if I’d gone to one of these engineering schools,” he says.
When Jacqueline Bendrick wasn’t in the lab conducting skin cancer research or getting the kind of grades that qualify for induction into Phi Beta Kappa, she was helping the Furman women’s golf team to a top 10 national ranking. That’s just as hard as it sounds.
“We don’t get class preferences,” Jacqueline says, “so it’s really challenging trying to work classes and labs around golf.”
Being a biology major and playing college golf at the highest level were both pleasant surprises for Bendrick, who didn’t take up the sport until high school, didn’t break 80 until two years after that, and walked on at Furman as a long-hitting work in progress before earning a scholarship. She also planned to be a chemistry major until biology professor Adi D. Dubash showed her how “exciting” research could be.
On the course, Jacqueline and her teammates have returned the golf program to the excellence it experienced under legendary alums Betsy King ’77, Beth Daniel ’78 and Dottie Pepper ’87. The Paladins are currently ranked No. 7 in the nation and are attempting to advance to the NCAA Championship for a third consecutive year.
Jacqueline’s immediate plans after graduation are to try and qualify for the LPGA Tour, but a career as a college biology professor is a distinct possibility, too. Either way, Furman proved to be just the place for an aspiring golfer who didn’t mind hitting the books.
“You come to Furman’s campus and it’s just gorgeous, and the golf course is right there across the lake,” she says. “It’s all I could have asked for.”
Kuda Chinyama can name his share when asked about significant out-of-classroom experiences at Furman. None, however, top the out-of-country experience that made them possible in the first place.
“One thing that I like about America is you can be yourself and find people who love you for who you are. It’s not like a single culture where if you come here you have to adapt and be like everybody else,” Kuda, a native of Zimbabwe, says. “Americans are used to hosting people from different parts of the world. I think that’s one thing that’s made it easier for me.”
Any help is appreciated when you’re more than 8,200 miles from home, but the relationships Kuda formed have turned out to be much more and rank as high as anything on the list of things he gained from Furman. His friendship with Alex Kramer ’18 and annual trips to Walt Disney World with Alex’s family stand out in particular. “I can’t imagine calling him a friend anymore. He’s more like a brother to me,” Kuda says. “They are wonderful people who have made me see life differently in many ways.”
Kuda was always intent on becoming an accountant. He cites an internship with Greenville firm Elliott Davis, which led to a job offer, as the most pivotal moment of his education – just ahead of a research project into microfinance success aided by funding from The Furman Advantage. “Overall, I’ve just ended up on the path that I always saw myself,” he says.
Educational injustice isn’t just something Lucy Lansing has studied in a textbook. After 13 years attending a Title 1 school, she left frustrated, angry – and curious about how she could make a difference. With the help of Asian studies professor and mentor Katherine Kaup, at Furman she found a way by discovering her passion for advocacy.
“I believe each of us is here to better the circumstance of those around us,” Lucy says. “And I have an obligation to advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves.”
Kaup was the first person who told her she could ask for what she wanted, and, if something frustrated her, she should do something about it. That’s why Lucy is returning to a Title 1 school in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a member of Teach for America. Starting in the fall, she’ll teach English to middle schoolers from the important perspective of someone who understands both where they are and where it’s possible for them to go.
Lucy did a lot of “going” at Furman. She had an internship in Washington, D.C., studied abroad in the British Isles and spent half a semester in multiple Latin American countries. She also explored her Appalachia roots by presenting English research in Cincinnati and studied social activism and the rhetoric during a May X in California.
“My internships and study away and abroad trips were things I couldn’t have done somewhere else – and that’s not to say look at me, but look at Furman,” she says. “It’s inspired me to give back.”
Leyly Bagherof enjoyed having a camera run down her throat as a part of a vocal pedagogy class—especially when she regained consciousness. “It was fun. I fainted, but my excuse is when they take it out it messes with the balance in your head,” she says with a laugh.
Getting scoped was the price Leyly was willing to pay to learn more about a voice box able to produce a mezzo-soprano so beautiful she’s one of the few whose dreams of being a professional singer could actually come true. That talent has taken her all over the world and helped land significant roles in Furman Lyric Theatre’s annual productions, directed by mentor Grant Knox, every year.
“What I want to do is perform, and those shows have helped me get prepared for that the most,” Leyly says.
Her German mother and Iranian father aren’t “musically inclined in the slightest,” but they did pass along the ability to speak fluent German and Farsi as well as unconditional support for Leyly to do all she’s ever wanted to do. She’ll follow in Knox’s footsteps this fall when she starts Eastman School of Music’s Master of Music program, with an eye on one day earning a doctor of musical arts with a focus on the physiology of singing.
“I definitely appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to take the classes that I wouldn’t have been exposed to,” she says, “but I just want to spend all my time doing music all day, every day.”
A bright achiever following in the footsteps of sister Ayesha ’03 and brother Amer ’06 as the third member of the family to attend their hometown school, Sulaiman Ahmad couldn’t be a more typical Furman student in most ways. There were times, however, the son of Pakistani immigrants was acutely aware of one thing that made him different—especially after the burst of rhetoric swirling around his religion leading up to the 2016 election.
Sulaiman, a Muslim, heard and saw things he found offensive and at one time doubted his direction until the Washington, D.C., Internship Experience study away program charted a new course. “The way that D.C. built me up was you can’t do anything without action,” he says. “And from there on I came back to Furman and said ‘let’s do it.’”
“It” was spearheading two major initiatives to increase voting participation by Furman students, including being the lead plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against Greenville County that challenged handling of voter registration for college students. “I wanted to say that Muslims aren’t terrorists,” he says. “They aren’t unpatriotic, if you want to believe that.”
Sulaiman has received a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to spend the summer in Lucknow, India, studying Urdu, his parents’ native language. After that, could be law school. Could be politics. Could be intelligence.
“That concept of taking a second and realizing that your perspective is not the only perspective that matters is what Furman really taught me in the long run,” he says.
It’s entirely possible no student has taken more advantage of the opportunities Furman provides for undergraduate research than Jackson Pearce, who has worked on no fewer than five projects. That certainly wasn’t the plan for the aspiring physician.
“I don’t even think I knew what research was coming into Furman,” he says, “but once I found out there was this whole field where you just asked questions and went about getting answers—that is so exciting for me. So I definitely went full force ahead.”
And, in true liberal arts fashion, ahead meant anywhere Jackson’s curiosity led him. The psychology department. The admissions department. The public health department. A summer at Vanderbilt University doing clinical research on acute kidney injury stands out, however.
“It was the first time that I was removed from the Furman community and put in a whole new environment,” he says. “It was exciting and the most significant thing I’ve done because it really challenged me in a way that I had not been challenged before.”
Jackson still found time to get involved with seemingly everything on campus, from being a Shucker Leadership Institute student director to “Din It To Win It” game show host. He admits his mother, Beverly Wiggins Pearce ’80, was right to badger him into visiting campus over his objections.
“There have just been so many wonderful experiences that I didn’t even know that I wanted coming into Furman,” he says. “I guess the surprise would have been the availability of the opportunities and the accessibility.”
“People are like, ‘you study chemistry? Wow! You must be really smart!’” Alexis Myers says. “But I’m really not that much smarter than the average Joe, Jane or whatever … I’m definitely not going to get any chemistry awards.”
The only problem is, Alexis actually has gotten some chemistry awards. The American Chemical Society named hers the best undergraduate poster at its regional meeting, and she and classmate Noah Vieira ’19 were two of only three undergraduates at an international symposium in Oxford, England, where they presented their revolutionary research on dye-sensitized solar cells.
That honor was the climax of three summers spent doing research with chemistry professor and mentor Paul Wagenknecht, who Alexis says “tends to make me think that I’m capable of more than I think that I am capable of.” Not surprisingly, the University of Colorado’s chemistry Ph.D. program is where Alexis’ path is leading. What is surprising are some stops along the way.
A first-generation college student, Alexis nearly had enough credits to double major in religion, and “the most significant thing” she experienced in college was a study away trip to Jerusalem—her first time living abroad. Perhaps the most fun, though, was a spur-of-the-moment decision to join student improv group Improvable Cause. The public-speaking skills she gained showed when Alexis delivered one of the highlights of TEDxFurmanU2018 with a talk on the challenges of living as an American of mixed race.
“I like to do things that I’m not particularly great at,” she says with a smile.