Vol. 13. No. 4
Spring 2004


Like snowflakes, no two U of U students are alike. They all have their own stories about why they are at the University and where they want to go from here. And since there’s not enough space between these covers to introduce all 28,437 U of U students to Continuum readers, we instead chose a handful, a mere six, whose differing lives and goals offer a glimpse into the varied student body. Grad students and undergrads, native Utahns and international students, musicians and engineers—you just never know who you’ll run into on campus.

“When I got into jazz, I started to see that you can be analytical but also have a passion for music."
—Courtney Smith

For some students, choosing a major is an arduous decision, a hopscotching effort to align avocation with vocation.

For Courtney Smith, choosing a major was a no-brainer: it had to be music.

“I’ve been playing piano since I was three,” says the Salt Lake native, “and I started to get interested in composition when I was 12 or so. Most of my family, especially my dad’s side, has musical talent. I grew up listening to all kinds of music—Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, and gospel singers James Cleveland and Clay Evans. And I love The Who.”

If that weren’t enough to determine his path, the second- year music composition major has also had an ongoing gig since age six: playing for the Calvary Baptist Church choir. “He started as a very small child, just beating on instruments when his father was in the choir,” says Rev. France Davis, pastor of the church. “And he became our primary pianist for the church.”

Still, Smith’s path did deviate from that of most other music majors. “I didn’t have formal training in any traditional sense,” he says. “I played by ear and learned unconventionally.” That includes playing only with his right hand until an uncle taught him to play with his left, too; falling asleep to tapes of music which he’d somehow memorize in his sleep and play in the morning; and sneaking into the auditorium at Bryant Intermediate School to begin composing on the piano there. (He’s been known to practice on a piano hidden behind the risers in the Union Ballroom, too.)

Perhaps because of his somewhat free-form path to the U, Smith has become more interested in studying jazz since he’s been at the U. He and three classmates from a Jazz Ensemble II class—“the jokers of the class,” he says—have started playing together at Sugarhouse Café and other venues.

“Before then, I felt like an odd duck because the other music students had formal training,” he says. “When I got into jazz, I started to see that you can be analytical but also have a passion for music. It doesn’t have to be all about what you know, but how you feel.”

Smith has also found camaraderie through the Utah Opportunity Scholarship (UOS) program. Now in its third year, the program offers 20 four-year scholarships for tuition and books to first-generation college students from the Salt Lake area. “When I first got to the U, I didn’t see another black person in the music department,” says Smith, a 2002 UOS recipient. “I thought that was going to be weird. But the UOS program is great for networking you with some diverse people, so that you’re not so isolated. I needed that group to touch base with.”

His first year behind him now, Smith feels more comfortable at the U. “I see people getting stressed, running around with their day planners,” he says. “I’m more laid back, and I like to have a more natural schedule. If I could,” he says, readjusting his ever-present headphones, “I’d like to go by the sun.”

“At first, I didn’t want to leave [Kenya] because I was having fun at home, but I figured I should take a chance.”

—Elizabeth Adoyo

At age 17, Elizabeth Adoyo left her home in East Africa to begin her post-secondary education at Utah Valley State College (UVSC). It was an adjustment, to say the least.

Adoyo’s poise and affability belie the reality that the now 20-year-old University of Utah sophomore lives alone in a foreign country, manages a hefty course load, and still finds time for an active social life. Ever resilient, she laughs at the enormity of it all, attributing her success to a supportive family, her “backbone” at home.

Home is Nairobi, Kenya. English is her first language, though she also speaks Swahili and Luyia, a tribal language. She says one must speak English to get around in the “very cosmopolitan” city of Nairobi, where she grew up with her sister, Luciana, who is studying in Montreal. Their father, Bonifes, pastor of Nairobi Pentecostal Church, and mother, Adah, a former schoolteacher, are a constant inspiration. “Everything I do, I think, ‘Oh, I want to make Mummy and Daddy proud,’” says Adoyo.

Growing up, Adoyo knew studying abroad was a possibility, but she hesitated when a cousin in Utah encouraged her to move stateside. “At first, I didn’t want to leave because I was having fun at home,” she recalls, “but I figured I should take a chance. At home, I was always known as Pastor Adoyo’s or Mrs. Adoyo’s daughter. Being away, I have to forge my own path.”

Following her cousin’s advice, Adoyo spent two years at UVSC before deciding to pursue a lifelong interest in architecture. For Adoyo, architecture is a “happy marriage of art and science,” her favorite subjects. She planned to transfer out of state, but was drawn by the U’s reputable architecture program and campus atmosphere. “Most of my interests have to do with people and socializing,” says Adoyo, “and people from the U were so fun and so cool.”

A typical day at the U for this budding architect begins with early-morning physics and ends with a calculus lab. She also volunteers at a multi-ethnic senior citizens center, as part of an optional service-learning program in pre-architectural studies. Adoyo loves volunteering; assisting people with specific needs helps her understand how architects can solve problems by designing environments that address those needs. In addition to her coursework, Adoyo is president of the International Student Senate, a student group that aims to integrate international and diversity clubs on campus. She also tries to keep up with her hobbies—piano, tennis, and reading—and rarely misses afternoon coffee with friends at the Union.

Adoyo intends to graduate in 2006 and seek a master’s degree in New York or another major city. After that, she says, “The world is my playground!” She wants to focus on adapting old buildings for modern use and may move to London to launch her career. She may also return to Kenya. “Someone’s got to build Kenya up,” says Adoyo, and this charismatic, young Kenyan could be just the person for the job.

“One of the most rewarding things about my job is working with parents who have children with autism.”

Mikle South

Mikle South MS’02 and his wife, Kristin, traveled 26,000 miles during their first six years of marriage. The reason? Higher education.

“Our life has been defined by educational institutions,” says South, a Ph.D. candidate in the U’s clinical psychology program. Both he and his wife grew up in Orem, Utah, but they met and married as undergraduates at Yale University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology while she studied to become an Egyptologist. As graduation approached, the two made the Yale Daily News: they were the only married undergraduate couple on campus.

Marriage was not the only unorthodox aspect of South’s Ivy League experience. He funded his education by teaching at a day care center and washing dishes in Yale’s opulent dining hall. Before marrying, he put school aside for two years to serve as an LDS missionary in East Germany. He was also atypical in that he became a father as an undergraduate; the first of his three sons was born during his senior year. A return missionary/ working father/student may not seem unusual in Utah, but South was a rarity at Yale. He has found the U very supportive by comparison. “This is a family friendly department,” he says. “Now we fit in.”

After graduating, South worked in California and Connecticut, and even spent a year in Cairo while his wife studied under a Fulbright Fellowship. Ten years passed before family ties and graduate school brought him back to Utah. He felt a sense of camaraderie at the U. “All of the graduate students I met here seemed to be enjoying themselves,” he observes, “and that’s not the case with other programs.”

Today, 34-year-old South is finishing his dissertation. He studies the neurobiology of autism, investigating the impact of emotion on learning and memory. “Most of us tend to recall emotionally charged events,” South explains. “With autism, people tend to recall details, but not the emotional content of events.”

As a clinician, he works with adolescents detained in correctional facilities, and at the University’s Adolescent and Child Psychiatry clinic in Research Park. “One of the most rewarding things about my job is working with parents who have children with autism,” says South. “My biggest clinical interest is with families, helping them cope and understand.” After earning his doctorate, he plans to maintain a small clinical practice and to continue his research, perhaps as a professor or in a research institute.

South has made the most of his six years at the U, winning an Eccles Graduate Fellowship and a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. He also participated as a teaching assistant in the Summer Research Opportunity Program. “I do work hard,” he says, “but I have had a great time.”

When he’s not working, South keeps busy teaching a church youth group and playing indoor soccer. He also spends as much time as possible with his family. “I have three boys, and I’m interested in seeing them grow up well,” says South. All his achievements aside, that is his number one goal

“[Diversity Service Learning] was the best course I had at the U. I discovered that I could help resolve problems in society by being an active instrument of change.”

Tiffin Brough

Senior Tiffin Brough is an activist—not the “attention- getting” variety, which often carries a negative connotation, she explains, but the “advocacy” kind, which means engaging in constructive, community service- oriented projects.

And that’s what Brough is all about. A service-learning scholar at the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, she is fully caught up in the community-style activism for which the center is known, on campus and off.

Born in Riverton, Wyo., Brough and her mother, father, and brother moved to Utah when she was five. She graduated from West Jordan High School, where she did so well academically that she was offered, and accepted, a scholarship to the U.

At the beginning of her college career, Brough wasn’t sure in which direction to head and admits to having changed majors many times. She eventually found her focus in community service, which led to a major in political science.

As a service-learning scholar, one of her first projects was to bring together the Bennion Center, CARE (Conservation and Recycling Evolution), an on-campus student group, and the Terra Firma recycling project, which she eventually directed, as a collaborative campus recycling effort. But she found it frustrating. “Recycling is such an involved and long process that the turnover in students is really inhibiting,” she says. “It’s a volunteer effort and people often aren’t willing to give up their time. Plus,” she adds, “there is no budget and no designated staff position at the U, so the project has been pieced together.”

Brough hastens to point out that both BYU and Utah State have campus recycling programs, which have been operating successfully for years. As the state’s flagship institution, the U, she observes, is flagging.

In spite of the occasional frustration, being a service- learning scholar has been the highlight of Brough’s University experience. In the beginning, she says, “There was a component in academics that was missing,” which was the opportunity to apply her knowledge acquisition to real-life situations.

Brough cites one applied course where she got that opportunity—Diversity Service Learning, taught by sociology professor Dennis Willigan—that extended her vision beyond the classroom and provided invaluable real-life experience. By volunteering at a homeless shelter and the Fourth Street Clinic, she saw firsthand how adversity affects diverse populations. “It was the best course I had at the U,” she says. “I discovered that I could help resolve problems in society by being an active instrument of change.”

She firmly believes that, rather than simply complaining about societal ills, people should dig in and get involved in order to make a difference. She admires former President Bernie Machen for his advocacy of “bringing the gown to town” by supporting projects such as the University/Neighborhood Partners program.

After graduation in May, Brough is looking into working with political or environmental advocacy organizations, she says, or possibly doing a stint with AmeriCorps or with global nonprofit organizations, such as Oxfam America or the United Nations. Obtaining a graduate degree in international relations hasn’t been ruled out, either.
Now that she’s breached the walls of the ivory tower, anything is possible

“Salt Lake is laid-back, safe, and relatively inexpensive—the perfect place to do research.”

Karthik Ramanathan

According to Karthik Ramanathan, Salt Lake City is similar in many ways (apart from the level of humidity) to his hometown, the city of Pondicherry on India’s southeastern coast.

“Salt Lake is laid-back, safe, and relatively inexpensive,” he says—“the perfect place to do research,” which is currently top on his mind. For after earning his M.S. in chemical engineering at the U, Ramanathan is now working on his doctorate in chemical and fuels engineering. And although researching the transportation of converted natural gas liquid mingled with crude oil for his dissertation is a top priority, that doesn’t mean his life is all work and no play.

For starters, Ramanathan is president of the Indian Students Association (ISA), which serves to orient new Indian students to the complexities of campus life, helping them find accommodations and adjust to a different academic system, and introducing them to the city.

“Most Indian students haven’t been outside India before,” he explains, “and we try to make life easier for them.” To create a sense of community, the ISA, each year organizes “India Night” to celebrate “Diwali” (Festival of Lights), a national holiday that symbolizes unity in diversity and dispels darkness with light.

“India has much diversity,” says Ramanathan, “and we try to let the community know of that by introducing other students to Indian culture.”

Contrary to the oft-held view of India as a homogenous society, “There are more than 30 states in my country, and each has a different language. he explains. [India has 16 official languages, including English.] You can travel for 200 miles and the dialect changes. And each region has its own dance forms, language, and cuisine.”

However, one thing that all regions share, says Ramanathan, is a devotion to cricket, which enflames passions in India similar to those ignited over football in America. British colonial holdover or not, cricket is the national craze. By extension, the ISA each year organizes a cricket tournament on campus.

Ramanathan has also used some of his time in Utah to see the sights. Traveling is one of his favorite pastimes, as is photography, “a natural accompaniment.”

He believes that Salt Lake is “the perfect environment for students” because of its easy access to recreational activities and proximity to so many national parks, which he visits regularly.

After completing his degree, Ramanathan plans to return to India but also wants to travel the world, perhaps eventually landing a job in a research lab somewhere. His area of expertise—crude oil transportation—is one that provides many options.

Overall, his experience at the U has left a positive impression. “Students have the freedom and opportunity to do whatever they want, and there are so many people to help you—not just professors, but also fellow students,” he says.

The one aspect of campus life he would change if he could is the scarcity of late-afternoon students at the U. “It’s deserted by four in the afternoon,” he observes. I wish it were more of a student place.” Otherwise, “It has been a privilege to study here.”

“I’ve really had a world-class education, and I’m only an hour and a half from my parents’ house.”

Laura Weiss

An interview with Prince Albert of Monaco. Personal compliments from Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. An article published by The New York Times.

Talk about making the most of your college years.

“I have lots of energy,” says senior Laura Weiss, in an understatement, “and I think it’s important to put it to use in creative ways. I’ve been able to find world-class activities here at the U.”

Indeed, the Presidential Scholar from Logan chose to attend the U of U because of those activities. “My brother was already in the Honors Program,” she says, “and that program influenced my decision to come to the U.”

A double major in English and political science, Weiss will also graduate—in four years—with an Honors diploma. “What makes the Honors Program great is the quality of the classroom experience and the opportunity to interact with students equally passionate about their academic and extracurricular work,” she says. “I’ve had wonderful moments in my classes, like in Mark Matheson’s Intellectual Traditions class. He is so kind and just exceptionally eloquent.”

Articulate and outgoing, Weiss has also ventured far outside of her classes to enhance her academic experience. Her interaction with Justice O’Connor came as the result of a spring 2003 internship at the U.S. Supreme Court through the Hinckley Institute of Politics—“one of the most inspirational, insightful experiences in my life,” Weiss says. She directed public education programs and conducted tours for personal guests of the justices, many for O’Connor, who told Weiss she was “a bright spot in the court.”

Weiss has also been writer, opinion editor, and, during the summer of 2002, editor for The Daily Utah Chronicle, which led not only to one of her articles being published in The New York Times college online edition, but also to a job as a reporter for the Olympic Record, the athletes’ newspaper during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In an interview she arranged with Prince Albert, who was participating in the Games as part of Monaco’s bobsled team, she asked, “What’s on the forefront of your mind on the eve of competition?” The prince replied, “Asking you out for a date.” Ever the journalist, Weiss notes, “And that’s recorded!”

And in May, after she graduates, Weiss will spend a month in London as part of the English department’s British Studies Program. The seminar, “‘Unreal City’: Imagining London, 1380-2004,” marks Weiss’ first trip outside of the United States. After that, she says, “I hope to go to law school eventually, but before then, maybe a stint in the Peace Corps or some other international experience.”

Add in her other activities—working in the U’s legal counsel office, running (and training for the Salt Lake City marathon in April), playing the violin (since she was five, but learning bluegrass now), and watching documentaries—and Weiss’ time at the U has been, as she says, “exceptional. I’ve really had a world-class education, and I’m only an hour and a half from my parents’ house.”

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