Reed Community

Students Explore Careers by Shadowing Alumni

By Chris Lydgate '90 | February 17, 2017

Reed students are finding new opportunities to explore careers before they graduate, thanks to an initiative at the Center for Life Beyond Reed.

More than 100 Reedies participated in the college’s Winter Shadows program, which pairs students with alumni, parents, and friends of the college who work in their field of interest. The students spent anywhere from two to 10 days at the jobsite getting their hands dirty and learning more about everything from particle physics to photojournalism.

Biology/CS major Amy Rose Lazarte ’19 spent three days shadowing Arwen Davé ’89, a mechanical/systems engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain Park, California. Amy Rose explored a botany lab where biologists see how plants will react to zero gravity and low light and a robotics lab where Arwen is working on the next Mars rover.

“Three days may not seem like much,” Amy Rose said. “But this experience really had a powerful effect on me. It opened my eyes all the possibilities and gave me so much more confidence about my future.”

As a biology/CS major, Amy Rose was initially hesitant to visit a NASA station where the focus is more on physics. But she has a longstanding interest in space exploration—as a kid she wore out a VHS tape of the Hollywood film Apollo 13—and decided to give it a shot. Financially, she made it work with help from CLBR, which paid for an airplane ticket, and Arwen, who put her up in a spare room.

She made the most of her experience. She did some troubleshooting with Arwen on the rover’s drill bit, which is engineered to extract samples from the frozen Martian soil. (The prototype bit broke, which caused some headaches for the robotics team.) She talked with data scientists who use supercomputers to simulate the impact of meteors on major cities. She had lunch with center’s chief scientist, Jacob Cohen, and is pursuing an internship at NASA for the summer.

“I didn’t realize all the possibilities that a biology degree might lead to,” she said. “I thought I had to be in a lab for the rest of my life.”

History major Isabel Lyndon ’17 and environmental studies-history major Patrick Stein ’19 both did a shadow on magazine writing at the High Country News in Paonia, Colorado, with digital editor Kate Schimel ’13. The students got an inside look at a newsroom and came away from the experience with valuable bylines: Isabel wrote a short history of storms in California titled The Land of Rain and Patrick wrote a piece about the trials and tribulations of a misbegotten artificial ocean titled Why Keep the Salton Sea?

Now in its fourth year, the Winter Shadows program is more successful than ever, according to CLBR director Alice Harra. A total of 109 students took part in the program, a jump of 73% over last year. They worked with 64 hosts, who included alumni, parents, and friends of the college. With help from the President’s office and a generous donation from Suzanne Bletterman Cassidy ’65 and Christopher Neal Visher ’65, CLBR set up a $10,000 fund to help students offset costs such as airfare, accommodation, or an appropriate wardrobe, so that cash-strapped students could take full advantage of the program.

Tags: Alumni, Students, Life Beyond Reed