I am honored to be joining the Kilachand community as its third director. I have appreciated the warm welcome from students, faculty, and staff. The phenomenal outgoing director, Professor Carrie Preston, generously provided support to allow for a smooth transition as well.
Throughout the spring I had the opportunity to attend a range of Kilachand events. Each showcased what this unique learning community has to offer, and introduced me to Kilachand’s incredibly impressive students. Kilachand’s mission and values particularly came alive at the 2023 Keystone Symposium, at which Kilachand seniors presented their substantial work in which they had deeply entrenched themselves for over a year. Projects reflected the wide range of disciplinary interests of Kilachand students, their commitment to bridging and integrating seemingly disparate fields to better address challenges facing our world, and their willingness to tackle projects outside their fields. One student with whom I spoke worked on a project focused on how people experience emotions, which in part involved the student creating art and music pieces. In speaking with this student about their intended career path, they indicated their degree was not in Psychology but rather in Earth and Environmental Science. This further highlighted what an extraordinary learning incubator Kilachand is. It is designed to appeal to, and to nurture, students whose intellectual curiosities reach beyond their primary field (or fields) of study. I also witnessed Kilachand’s community of care during the Keystone Symposium. Keystone mentors sat in the audience, proudly listening to their students’ presentations; peers smiled encouragingly as friends stepped up to the podium. As our lives are more frequently marked by disconnection, these connections are vital.
The skills and knowledge developed through Keystone projects, coupled with rigorous interdisciplinary coursework and co-curriculars, uniquely position Kilachand students to speak out about pressing issues and to contribute to local and global change. One timely question of relevance to the Kilachand community is: How do we think about building diverse incoming cohorts of students that reflect Kilachand’s culture and mission in a post-affirmative action context? Further, the next generation of college students face considerable challenges, both structural and otherwise. The world is still grappling with the aftermath of COVID, including the ways in which it brought to the forefront striking disparities based on race and ethnicity that will have longstanding effects in domains including student learning and achievement. Mental health challenges among youth are increasing yet access to care remains challenging, and also is an area in which marked disparities in access exist. Increasingly, states and schools have passed policies that target the rights of transgender students, making schools unwelcome and unsafe spaces.
Whether Kilachand students choose to address these issues or others, I am confident that they are committed to engagement and advocacy, and in line with Kilachand’s mission, using what they have learned to benefit their communities. In my tenure as director of Kilachand, I, too, am committed to continuing to develop a community ethos of actively contributing to change as a defining component of who we are as a college. I am eager for the Fall, for the energy of new and returning students, and to collaborate with the Kilachand community to collectively shape our future.
Melissa K. Holt
Associate Professor, Counseling Psychology
Director, Kilachand Honors College