Catja Christensen ’23 grew up immersed in the performing arts: Her father is a musician, she and her brother are dancers, her sisters make music and her mother sings. But it was an image she saw in a dance history class, of a bird with its feet facing forward and head looking backward, that inspired her to spend four years studying communication across disciplines—from dance performance to nonfiction writing. She analyzed the preservation of multicultural societies and explored her animating question: How does reporting on arts and cultural events reflect and influence societal values?
“The image of the bird is called the Sankofa, a Swahili word that means ‘learning from the past to ensure a stronger future,’” Christensen told faculty, staff and students gathered to hear her presentation at Conn’s fourth annual All-College Symposium in November. “It struck me as a perfect example of how careful preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts is important in order to progress more equitably in modern society.”
A dance and English double major and scholar in the Media, Rhetoric and Communication Pathway, Christensen was one of 240 seniors who presented at the day-long Symposium, the culminating Connections conference highlighting students’ integrative learning through four years. In talks, panels and poster sessions, the student presenters showcased the connections they have made among their courses and research, their jobs and internships, and their work in local communities and around the globe—along with the questions that animated their choices.
In their presentations, Christensen’s fellow seniors covered a range of topics, including racial and gender disparities in health care, cultural xenophilia in the context of war, the anthropological evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, bias in machine learning algorithms, the economics of food access, inequities in the American foster care system, the role of women in the IRA, the future of addiction recovery and COVID’s impact on plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
President Katherine Bergeron, who attended more than 30 of the presentations, said she was moved by “all the smart ideas, the thoughtful presentations, the beautiful visuals and the kindness and generosity of this amazing community.”
Bergeron praised the seniors for persevering in the midst of a global pandemic to make important connections among all of their coursework, research, internships and experiences on campus and in communities around the world.
“The idea that everything is connected is something that I felt all through the day. It is the reason why this College and this curriculum are so special,” she said.