When I arrived at Wellesley in 1995, I was pre-med, which my friends find hard to believe now. My interest had more to do with my enthusiasm for the early years of the NBC drama E.R.—which I watched with many other Freemanites in our head of house’s apartment every Thursday—than with any aptitude for medicine. That year, I spent most of my class time in the Science Center. I enjoyed the collection of taxidermy birds by the Science Library and the L-wing’s bright color scheme, but I tried to avoid the building after dark. (Sage Hall had a bit of a Shutter Island vibe.) By sophomore year, though, I had decided to become an English major, thinking that maybe I’d attempt to make a living as a writer. The campus’s center of gravity for me shifted to Founders Hall and Billings, where I was a devoted member of WZLY.
But my solid background in the sciences became important a couple years after I graduated when I applied for my first magazine job, as an editorial assistant at MIT Technology Review. (Another selling point was my facility with the database program FileMaker, which I had mastered during my time as WZLY’s record librarian. Who knew?)
My colleagues in Career Education say that my nonlinear academic trajectory is typical. Most students explore and test a variety of interests during their time at Wellesley—and in the decades afterward. If you look at the majors of the alumnae leaders in STEM fields we highlight in “Inquiring Minds,” you’ll see classical civilization, studio art, and Africana studies alongside biological sciences and astrophysics. Nergis Mavalvala ’90, dean of MIT’s School of Science, told the American Institute of Physics during an oral history interview that she was very interested in languages at Wellesley and spent her junior year abroad in Germany. Now she tells her undergraduate students at MIT, “You know, don’t get too narrow too quickly. Try many things. This is the only time in your life when you can really do that.”
For some Wellesley students, these varied academic interests aren’t necessarily separate. Alexa Gross ’22, profiled in “Unraveling Family Ties,” uses inspiration from her neuroscience major in the prints she makes as part of her studio art thesis. Phyllis McGibbon, Elizabeth Christy Kopf Professor of Art, once told me that when a person creates a piece of art, “It’s about the dialogue you carry on with yourself as you investigate something you don’t know. That ability to weather uncertainty is a huge factor in all of the studio arts, especially in the ‘making’ arts, whether it be theater, music, studio—not knowing where the process is going to go next, figuring out several different ways to move ahead. … I think it’s a really important way of thinking, and it’s really compatible with the sciences.”
When I visited the new Science Complex for the first time early this year, I was astonished by the change in atmosphere. What once was dark and foreboding had become vibrant and welcoming. It had opened just days earlier, and students were already making use of every thoughtfully placed armchair, bench, and whiteboard. Many of those students will go on to rewarding careers in the sciences—and plenty will follow other interests. But all experiences at Wellesley have the potential of being foundational and transformative, even if it’s not obvious in the moment. And sometimes, if you’re as lucky as I was, they will help lead you back to Wellesley.