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At the inaugural All-College Symposium, 165 seniors who participate in the College’s Integrative Pathways and Centers for Interdisciplinary Scholarship showcased how their coursework and experiences have informed their studies and learning over four years. The milestone event highlighted students’ integrative learning in Connections, the College’s reinvention of the liberal arts. 

To see the full list of student presenters, view the Symposium 2019 Full Schedule.

Meet some of the student presenters:

Headshot of Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20 
, Class of '20

Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20

Decolonizing the Syllabus: One Book at a Time

Viri, an English major with a concentration in poetry who is also pursuing a secondary education certificate, is exploring educational inequity within higher education—specifically within English classrooms—through the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy.

“My project aims to address the issues of the current use of ‘canonical’ text in the English literature classroom, and how text selection can be improved to better serve the ever-diversifying community of U.S. college students,” she said. “I decided on this topic through my own experience in a philosophy class, where I felt as though my classmates—most of whom did not come from inner-city schools like I did—already knew a lot of the material because they had access to more classical texts than I did in high school. This experience highlighted the fact that simply because students make it to the same elite colleges does not mean that all students receive equitable resources prior.”

As a junior, Viri studied abroad in Athens, Greece, where she also had the opportunity to work in a school setting. She has also worked in the New London public schools and at the Noble Network Support Team Office in her hometown of Chicago.

A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Viri plans to pursue a Ph.D. in education and hopes to become a professor of education. She presented a PowerPoint presentation, “Decolonizing the Syllabus: One Book at a Time,” at the All-College Symposium on Nov. 7.

“I want people to reflect on their educational experiences and question everything, whether that means to question what is being taught on their syllabi or how their identity has affected the way they experience the classroom,” she said. “I hope that people realize how much culture truly affects people's educational experiences.”

Headshot of Esteban Melendez ’20 
, Class of '20

Esteban Melendez ’20

Unearthing the Sustainable Applications of Fungi in Food, Medicine and Ecology

Esteban, a botany major with a concentration in ethnobotany, joined the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) to share his passion for the natural world and learn from peers and faculty looking at critical issues from very different perspectives.

“I wanted to surround myself with a cohort of people who would broaden my perception of various world issues,” he said. “My experience in the center has been extremely humbling, empowering, mind-opening and inspiring.” 

Esteban studied away in Costa Rica, where he conducted research on the potential of agroforestry to mitigate climate change in agricultural land sectors in tropical and subtropical climate zones. He then self-designed an internship in Guatemala, where he collaborated with several non-profit organizations dedicated to developing environmentally and socially sustainable farms on projects that use agricultural waste, like corn husks, to grow mushrooms. 

At the All-College Symposium, he presented his research, “Unearthing the Sustainable Applications of Fungi in Food, Medicine and Ecology.” 

“Fungi have been decomposing and recomposing life for billions of years. Often referred to as ‘nature's internet,’ fungi connect entire ecosystems underground, allowing plants and bacteria to exchange much-needed resources like water, nutrients and minerals; fight off pathogens; and tolerate the effects of a changing climate,” he said. “The fungal fruit-bodies we know as mushrooms are a delicious, nutritious and sustainable food source that anyone can learn to cultivate. They can even be grown on ‘waste streams’ such as straw, corn waste, spent coffee grounds, grain hulls, unbleached egg carton and more.

“I hope the audience walked out with a greater appreciation for and understanding of fungi and their roles in most, if not all, of the Earth’s ecosystems.”

Headshot of Margaret Davey ’20, Class of '20

Margaret Davey ’20

Life Behind a Screen: How Technology is Changing the World

After taking courses on the psychology of sleep and the psychology of women, Margaret joined the Bodies/Embodiment Pathway and discovered that she is fascinated by the many ways technology influences different parts of our lives.

A psychology major and sociology minor, Margaret studied abroad in Copenhagen, where she took a course on cyberpsychology, interacted with a host family and used her interest in squash to connect with local residents to get a better sense of their views on technology’s impact on society, sports and the body. This past summer, she interned with the Boston-based market research company C_Space, where she worked on ways to use a survey mobile app to get different age groups to best answer questions in order to get the most effective information. The experiences led her to her animating question: What are the ways in which the mind and body are affected by technology? The question is also the basis for her senior psychology thesis.

At the Nov. 7 All-College Symposium, Margaret gave an interactive presentation, “Life Behind a Screen: How Technology is Changing the World,” that utilized everyday technology like personal smartphones to demonstrate technology’s impact on the mind and body.  

“I covered how I have been able to explore my animating question, and showed how technology has become so pervasive that it often affects everything a person does,” she said.  

Headshot of Cameron Segal ’20
, Class of '20

Cameron Segal ’20

Straight as the Blade, White as the Ice: Hockey as an Exclusionary Sport

Cameron, an American studies major who is also pursuing a teaching certificate, joined the Cities and Schools Pathway because he hopes to teach at an independent school after graduation. He is also a hockey player who has, at times, been made to feel like he didn’t fit in with his teammates because of his olive complexion. After a black hockey player for the Washington Capitals was taunted by Chicago Blackhawk fans chanting “Basketball,” Cameron decided his animating question would be: Why is hockey considered a ‘white’ sport? 

After considerable research, Cameron developed a Learn to Skate Program to introduce Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School students who have recently immigrated to the United States to the sport of ice hockey. Cameron worked with the Dayton Arena rink manager, his club hockey team, the figure skating team, Bennie Dover teacher Rocio Tinoco ’17, the Connecticut College Education Department and Residential Education Fellows students to launch the program. This summer, he was a faculty intern at Loomis Chaffee's Summer Program, where he served as a teacher assistant, coach and residential adviser for students in grades 7 through 12. 

At the All-College Symposium Nov. 7, Cameron presented a PowerPoint presentation, “Straight as the Blade, White as the Ice: Hockey as an Exclusionary Sport.”

“This presentation explored the roots of hockey as a sport for straight, white men,” he said. “Specifically, it focused on the factors that have made hockey more accessible and inclusive to people who live in the suburbs or have lighter skin, while restrictive and exclusive to people of color in cities. I analyzed the steps being taken by the Hockey Community and how successful they have been in creating safe spaces for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations."

Headshot of Paloma Camarena ’20 , Class of '20

Paloma Camarena ’20

Do Not Let History Repeat Itself: Undocumented Immigration to the U.S.

Paloma came to Conn knowing she wanted to be a change-maker. A sociology and human development double major, she joined the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy (PICA) and took advantage of every opportunity to engage with the local New London community. 

As a sophomore, Paloma interned at York Correctional Institution, where she tutored incarcerated women and learned about the criminal justice system. During her junior and senior years, she has interned at the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center in New London, where she has gained a great understanding of the immigration system through the experiences of local immigrants.

Last summer, Paloma continued to pursue her interest in the immigrant experience with an internship at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Coalition.

“Currently there are about 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States,” she said. “The current immigration system is pushing individuals to immigrate to the United States by crossing the border unlawfully or overstaying their visas. As a PICA scholar, I have been exploring current and past immigration policies and the effects these have had.” 

At the All-College Symposium, Paloma presented “Do Not Let History Repeat Itself: Undocumented Immigration to the U.S.,” which addressed how the system can change to help legalize undocumented immigrants and reduce the number of individuals immigrating to the U.S. without documentation.  

“PICA has not only allowed me to explore an issue that I am passionate about, but it has opened my eyes to other important societal issues and helped me develop as a responsible activist through community engagement,” she said.

After graduation, Paloma hopes to work for a non-profit organization dedicated to college access or immigrant advocacy.

Headshot of Marissa Domantay ’20, Class of '20

Marissa Domantay ’20


Marissa’s interest in the representation of diverse stories and bodies in media led her to join the Social Justice and Sustainability Pathway. A Posse Scholar who founded and chaired the South and Southeast Asian Alliance at Conn, Marissa drew on her own experiences for her animating question: What do the experiences of intersectionalized bodies in higher education look like and how can people—incoming students, undergraduates and administrators—learn from these experiences? 

“I reflected on my preparedness in transitioning to college and realized that a lot of booklets and guides on the subject do not consider intersectionality,” she said.

Last spring, Marissa, an art major and mathematics minor, studied abroad in Ireland, taking courses on media studies and different platforms for storytelling. In her free time, she also conducts research in the field of Filipino-American studies.

At the All-College Symposium Nov. 7, Marissa presented “IntersectiXns” (pronounced “intersections”), a gallery and collage showcasing why people believe intersectionality is a crucial part of their experiences in higher education. She collected submissions from students and members of the community through her website and through Facebook. 

“I hope people reflected on their own experiences and came away with a better understanding of what intersectionality is, why it is important, and how it plays a role in higher education,” she said.  

After graduation, Marissa plans to continue pursuing her passion for representation within education and media. She is considering career paths ranging from art professor to writer and illustrator.

Headshot of Maryum Qasim ’20, Class of '20

Maryum Qasim ’20

Efficacy and Revised Protocols for CIA Drone Operations

In her first-year class on law, Maryum wrote a paper on the legality of the employment of drones. She’s been conducting international research on conventional arms issues and strategies for minimizing collateral damage in drone warzones ever since. 

“My research focuses on the cost-benefit analysis of employing armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPAs) in general,” she said.

An international relations major and scholar in the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA), Maryum studied international human rights law at the American University in Paris, then interned at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2018, she was awarded a prestigious Stephen and Pamela Rearden '67 Travel Fellowship to conduct field research in Waziristan, Pakistan, where she recorded testimonies from witnesses and civilian victims of drone airstrikes.

At the All-College Symposium Nov. 7, Maryum, who serves as president of Conn’s Student Government Association, presented a PowerPoint presentation on three independent factors that can impact the long-term sustainability of drone operations.

“I wanted to convey the idea that drone technology or UAV technology is developing at a pace much faster than any other and must be regulated in order to have sustainable international security,” she said.

After graduation, Maryum is considering working for an organization that specializes in policy recommendations to governments and international institutions on matters of disarmament before pursuing a graduate degree.

“Ultimately, I want to be involved in Pakistan’s foreign office specializing in conventional weapons policies,” she said.

Headshot of Ken Colombe ’20, Class of '20

Ken Colombe ’20

Entrepreneurial Mindset in Professional Basketball Team Development

Ken, an economics major and finance minor, joined the Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation, Value and Change Pathway to learn how to apply his liberal education to everyday life. “My experience with the Pathway has been incredible. Not just for my own learning, but also being educated on what my fellow classmates are interested in and how they have applied their different perspectives to similarly posed questions. We all had the same thematic inquiry class, and learned the same entrepreneurial processes, but, as you saw at the Symposium, our projects all went in different directions,” he said.

Ken interned in the front office of the Indiana Pacers, an NBA basketball team, and for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, experiences that were critical to informing his animating question: How is the entrepreneurial mindset and approach used in NBA front offices in developing team rosters?

“I became fascinated by the cultures of the organizations I was able to intern for. I really wanted to see what made them successful and found there were a lot of the thought processes used, explicitly or not, that we learned about in the thematic inquiry,” he said.

Ken, who hopes to work for an NBA team after graduation, presented a poster, “Entrepreneurial Mindset in Professional Basketball Team Development,” at the All-College Symposium Nov. 7.

Headshot of Sharon Van Meter ’20, Class of '20

Sharon Van Meter ’20

Narratives of Childhood Well-Being

It all started with a theater prop: For a performance in the musical “The Cradle Will Rock,” Sharon made a protest sign—inspired by a quote by Maximilien Robespierre—on which she wrote, “Knowledge is Power.” A year later, she joined a Pathway with almost the same name, the Power and Knowledge Pathway. Her interest in theater and media, combined with a desire to understand what makes us who we are (which she regularly explores as a history major and religious studies minor), led her to her animating question: What role do corporations play in forming our concepts of childhood well-being? 

Last spring, Sharon studied at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she took a Broadcast Analysis class about the media’s role in producing knowledge. Currently, Sharon is studying how Times Square's transformation into a site associated with family friendly entertainment and well-being is associated with the roles that gender performance and class play in the entertainment it provides. She presented a PowerPoint presentation, “Narratives of Childhood Well-Being,” at the All-College Symposium Nov. 7.

Outside of the classroom, Sharon explores the production of narratives through her involvement in Wig & Candle, Conn’s student-run theater organization, and The College Voice, Conn’s student newspaper. She hopes to translate these interests into a rewarding career in publishing, museum work or education.