Before they were accomplished graduates, they were luggage-toting first years on Move-in Day 2017. We tracked down a few students we met then to see how their UVM journeys unfolded over four years.
On a day in late August of 2017, thousands of bright, ambitious students and their families descended upon campus from far and wide for Move-in Day. Between the boxes, bookstore hauls, tearful goodbyes and nervous excitement, we spoke with a handful of students as they settled into their new lives at the University of Vermont. Four years later, we checked back in with those same students as they once again packed up their boxes and prepared to move on to the next chapter — this time, as alumni.
Elias Whitney | BS in Agroecology | Necochea, Argentina
Then: From his family farm in Necochea, Argentina, Elias Whitney landed in Vermont for the first time ever on move-in day with plans to study ecological agriculture and not nearly enough yerba mate to get him through the fall semester. “It felt like getting unloaded from an airplane and just like falling with a parachute on my back. It was kind of wild, honestly.” He went on to study abroad in Australia and intern with UVM’s Horticulture Research and Education Center.
Now: Making good on his plans to hike often, Whitney climbed Camel’s Hump the day his classes wrapped up this May. However, plans to bring his new knowledge back to the family farm are a different story. In just a few weeks he’ll be passing the baton to younger brother Willy, who followed him to UVM to study molecular genetics, as he heads to Modesto, California, for a vineyard job at the largest exporter of Cali wines, E&J Gallo Winery.
In their own words: “Here in Vermont, I think it's impressive how every small community can be so self-sufficient with farm to table programs or whatnot. Being connected to your surroundings is more than just the environment, it’s being connected with people and with other living organisms too.”
Self-Discovery: “I guess the realization for me was that at the end of the day, people are people everywhere and we're all in the same boat. It was crazy to see how human we all are and just that nationalities or race — to be mean to other people over that just does not make any sense. We're all human at the end of the day.”
Sean Hanke | BA in Anthropology, Minor in Theatre | Amherst, Massachusetts
Then: Before Sean Hanke came to UVM, “I was always interested in studying people,” they say. “When I found anthropology, I was like, oh my god, that’s perfect.” Though Hanke attended a performing arts high school, they expected to study linguistics — and that “college would be strictly reading from books and writing essays.” Instead, Hanke discovered museums and theater work, digging deep into the study of objects and performance. It wasn’t long before their interest in anthropology led them to UVM’s Fleming Museum of Art, a museum of art and anthropology where Hanke had classes and multiple internships while at UVM.
Now: “It’s amazing. It has a huge collection,” they say of the Fleming, including an array of art objects from the Luba people of central Congo that Hanke developed into an independent research project with support from the museum’s staff. They now plan to go into museum work — which their parents are very happy about. “Both of my parents are exhibit designers,” Hanke says, “I was always interested in my dad’s job working with museums, but I didn’t realize it connected so deeply with anthropology.”
In their own words: “I've been learning about how different cultures interact with museums, and how museums can be more accessible and work with cultures that they're displaying. This issue goes way back to the beginning of museum work. There are so many stolen objects and so many that we don't know anything about. So, how can we communicate with the people whose objects are in museums, and how can we bring their voices into museums?”
Indira Kulkarni | BS in Neuroscience | Poughkeepsie, New York
Then: “Looking back, I vividly remember the excitement and fear of living in a new place. I was so excited to be more independent, meet new people and study something I cared about. I was scared for roughly the same reasons!” Kulkarni’s fear subsided quickly, and the Honors College neuroscience major went on to volunteer at UVM Medical Center’s NICU; conduct research in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department; and earn certifications in CPR, AED and EMT.
Now: “I barely recognize that person in the photo!” she says, cringing at her use of the word “quarantine” to describe her soggy TREK gear back then. She’s been accepted to University of New England to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in fall 2022. In the meantime, she’ll be adding to the wear and tear of her outdoor gear while doing trail conservation work in Oregon through AmeriCorps and teaching English in South America.
Self-Discovery: “I discovered that I cared a lot about the environment and about social justice. I think these are things that everyone should care about, but when I got here, I just didn’t know enough about a lot of the problems in this country and the world. However, being surrounded by people who did and by learning a lot (in and out of class) I realized how important it is to be involved.”
Arianne Conde | BS in Electrical Engineering | Bethel, Vermont
Then: “I acquired many house plants in substitute of my mom's garden which has been super nice. I also still do as much reading as my schoolwork will allow. I still have that same hat with me, and I would still consider myself as ‘wide-eyed and weird.’ I think it's served me quite well in my years here,” Conde says. But some things changed, including her hair color and her major.
Now: She graduates with a BS in Electrical Engineering — which might have shocked the Arianne Conde from 2017 — and as the department’s Atwater-Kent Award winner for excellence in judgment and understanding of electrical engineering principles. “The main goal is still to help the environment,” says the newly hired operations engineer at a Vermont electric services company that manages the state’s transmission grid sustainably.
Self-Discovery: “My friends and I are all a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. It wasn't a community I was exposed to growing up in a small town in Vermont, so it wasn't until I came to UVM and met my friends that I finally realized some things about myself, most notably that I'm non-binary. My friends have been so supportive, and this community is just something that I've come to love and care about a lot.”
Penny Saltzman | BA in Environmental Studies, Minor in Art | Bethesda, Maryland
Then: Though surprised to have been greeted by then-president Tom Sullivan and his wife Leslie on Move-in Day — for the most part, Penny Saltzman felt anxious arriving at UVM. “I was really scared to leave my family and my home. It’s so…existential, coming to college,” she says with a pause. “My parents comment that I look ‘more and more Vermont’ each time they see me. My hair has certainly been through many colors and styles since coming to UVM.”
Now: UVM has proven to be “a really, really good choice.” Having studied environmental science and art, the past four years have given Saltzman a love for the outdoors, the wisdom to question everything — "especially the things in my local community” — and a soft spot for campus’s iconic Williams Hall. “I took pottery in the basement of this building in the dead of winter, at the height of lockdown. Bowls were my thing and I really loved it.” Looking forward to the enrichment and gratification that come with the next chapter, Saltzman’s next journey will begin where this one ends: in Burlington – at least for the summer. “The place is awesome. The weather is beautiful; the people are freakishly nice — ok, not freakishly, but like, super nice — there’s a lot of community care; a lot of people who care about the environment and care about each other. Plus, a lot of people who like cooking good food.”
In her own words: “I look at that photo and I remember being 18 and that was a really hard year. I thought I couldn’t do it; I almost didn’t go to college. Spending four years at UVM, growing emotionally has shown me so much: that I can create a community for myself, make good friends.”
Mallory McFarland | BA in Chinese Language and Literature, Minor in Writing | New York, New York
Then: “For someone who didn’t go through the traditional school system, I’m pretty pleased at how well I’ve been able to excel at college,” McFarland says. Homeschooled in New York City, she spent a few years working in the performing arts scene after high school before making her way to UVM at age 20 to study Chinese. Along the way she developed a love and talent for creative writing under the guidance of Professor Philip Baruth, who encouraged her to draw on Chinese culture and language in her writing; she studied abroad in Qingdao, China; was a teaching assistant and writing tutor (“Big shout out to Sheila Boland Chira, UWC Director and my former professor”); and founded UVM’s Student Language Advisory Committee to promote foreign language studies and their language departments at UVM.
Now: “I’m really satisfied with the work we’ve been able to achieve in collaboration with faculty and staff to encourage more students to seriously study languages,” McFarland says. She graduates among the top in her class as the winner of the Peter Seybolt Academic Award for outstanding academics and is preparing to start the next chapter of her life in New York City. McFarland has been accepted to The New School’s creative writing MFA program this fall and will be working full-time in performing arts communications.
Self-Discovery: “I quickly realized that my initial idea of ‘Doing All The Things’ wasn’t going to be sustainable, so I figured out early how to prioritize certain aspects that mattered most to me,” she admits. “But I didn’t know I’d come to care so much about my awesome Chinese department and the value of learning a second language. I didn’t fully comprehend how knowing another language and being familiar with another culture is so important in terms of personal growth and endless opportunities.”
Zach Harris | BS in Community Entrepreneurship | Denver, Colorado
Then: “Coming to a big research university in New England exposed me to a lot of new people, new ideas; it’s definitely exceeded expectations,” says Zach Harris. The musically inclined student who founded a youth orchestra in Haiti stayed the course in his community entrepreneurship studies, and recalls a specific moment in an ecological economics course that struck a chord with him. It was when professor Josh Farley broke from lecturing on conventional economics, turned to the class and said, “‘You know it doesn’t work like this in the real world, right? You have to deal with environmental externalities,’” Harris remembers. “That was a cool moment. Like, teachers don't often call out the fundamentals of their field.”
Now: Though Harris didn’t major in music, he’s had a major musical experience in Vermont: playing the bass and other instruments with several bands, including with faculty members Alex Stewart and jazz musician Ray Vega. This summer, he and some friends in a band called Peruse have a folk album coming out. After that, he’ll begin a master’s program in September with the School for International Training to study development practice and will travel to Ecuador, Uganda, and Malawi.
In his own words: “Ray Vega? Yeah, he’s a Burlington icon, everybody knows him; he's a famous dude. I've spent a lot of time with him and he has definitely been a great mentor at UVM. My music is all extracurricular — somehow, I fit it in — I spent between fifteen and twenty hours a week in the music school, without having any of that go on my transcript.”
Writing for this piece contributed by Josh Brown and Kaitie Catania. Photos by Josh Brown and Sally McCay.