Albion College was established in 1835, meaning there have been over 150 graduating classes to have walked this campus. Among them are Richard Smith ‘68, Kathryn Walsh ‘88 and Alexandra Yaw ‘14.
Though each of these alumni attended Albion College in different decades, they all have fond memories of their time here.
While attending Albion College, Smith was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, played basketball and worked as sports editor for the Pleiad. In his junior and senior years, he also worked as the “campus stringer” for the Battle Creek Enquirer, which was “the first paid journalism” he ever did.
Smith later went on to become the editor-in-chief of Newsweek, chairman of the board and C.E.O, “all at the same time,” Smith said.
Years later, when Smith was getting ready to retire, he had a decision to make.
“While I was at Newsweek, a member of the board of the Washington Post company asked me to join the board of the Pinkerton Foundation,” Smith said. “He was also the chairman of the board of the foundation.”
He answered his colleague with a simple, “Yes, I think so, but I need to talk to my wife.”
Now, he is President and CEO of The Pinkerton Foundation which Smith says focuses, “entirely on programs for at-risk and low-income young people in New York City with the goal of supporting the kinds of opportunities that middle-class and upper-middle-class young people often take for granted, but are life-changing if you are in diminished circumstances.”
Smith said coming into the job of CEO of the foundation, “like most things in life, was chance.”
Much like Smith, Walsh’s experience getting into her career had a lot to do with chance. Currently, Walsh works as the editor of Hour Detroit. On the path to this position, 30 years prior, Walsh was offered a job “pretty much right out of college” in 1988. She’d applied to work for the old Tiger’s network, Pro-Am Sports System (PASS).
“I’d done an internship in New York for TV production and thought that was the way I wanted to go, so I accepted that job, but it didn’t start until September,” Walsh said. “In the meantime, I’d already applied for jobs in New York, and I got this offer from a soap opera magazine to start right away. And I was like, ‘Alright let me do this for the summer, see how it goes, if I like it I’ll just tell PASS that something came up.’”
Well, something came up.
She moved to New York with some of her college friends and found that she “really loved” her job writing for the magazine. Said friends were ones she had met during an internship through the Great Lakes Colleges Association New York Arts Program. She said it was “just a bunch of Midwest kids living in Times Square in the late 80s!”
“It was really crazy and you know everybody was working in different arts. Broadway, off-broadway, working for George Plimpton at the Paris Review, TV shows, Saturday Night Live, sculptors, painters,” Walsh said. “Everybody lived in this space and came back and talked about their experiences and it was really a great program.”
When she wasn’t busy working and living in New York City with her friends, she played softball, was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority, participated in the SOAR program (now known as Albion-O), worked for the Pleiad as features editor and as an RA in Seaton Hall. When in the classroom, Walsh said two of her favorite professors were Judith Lockyer and Jim Diedrick, the latter of which was her advisor.
“I don’t think I had a bad class there. Even the sciences, I wasn’t crazy about, but I ended up really liking geology and I took an econ class just for the heck of it my senior year,” Walsh said. “I really like that about Albion, that you can just kind of explore things. You weren’t just stuck in something because it was your major.”
The flexibility that Walsh talked about is something that Yaw felt during her time here as well.
“I feel like I have a very typical Albion story,” Yaw said. “I came in wanting to be a physician, so I came to Albion because obviously there’s an incredible science program.”
Later, Yaw took some psychology classes to get her modes and categories out of the way, while on her way to gaining a minor. Though she still planned to major in bio-chem, she eventually became a psychology major with a biology and chemistry minor. It wasn’t until she did research with her professor, Tammy Jechura, that she found her calling.
“FURSCA changed my life. It was like, everything that I love is research. I love asking questions, I love reading literature, I love designing experiments, looking at data – it was so funny because it was like everything clicked,” Yaw said. “It was like this career path that I’d never even thought of that is amazing – I love what I do. So, once I got bit by the research bug, grad school was the plan.”
Yaw credits her ability to do research pre-graduate school as setting her on her career path.
“The interests that I came in with are still very much the same,” Yaw said. “I think the work that I do now is much more aligned with how I approach problems – it’s a much better fit for me I think.”
When she wasn’t spending time in the lab, she played softball, was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority, part of the Global Health Brigades and was an RA and SRA at Wesley Hall and Whitehouse – among many other things.
“I was in roughly nine clubs and organizations and I was on the exec board for seven of them or something like that,” Yaw said. “I don’t know how I did it all.”
To this day, Yaw continues to do it all. After receiving her doctorate in 2019, Yaw’s official title is neuroendocrinologist, but she also works as a post-doctoral research assistant on her way to one day becoming faculty at Michigan State University.
Yaw isn’t the only one who appreciates the rigor of academia.
One question Smith says he likes to ask people is: “Who is the most influential person in your life, outside of your immediate family?”
For Smith, part of that answer are two of his harshest professors.
“The value of great teachers is that they push their students, that they’re always challenging students by saying: You can do better,” Smith said. “Learn to cherish – more quickly than I did – the value of a rigorous, challenging professor, who is willing to say – you can do better. That’s my advice.”
When Smith thinks back on his time at Albion College, it is the toughest teachers he remembers, the ones who challenged him to be better. Walsh had a similar experience with her advisor, who encouraged her to join the Pleiad.
“He just kept saying ‘I think you should do it, you don’t have to be a news writer,’” Walsh said, adding that, at the time, she wanted to be a movie critic.
“They were like ‘That’s going to be a hard job to get’ and I was like ‘Well somebody’s gotta do it! How do you get into that?’” Walsh said. “Then, I was features editor and I enjoyed it. I just did more of the fun stuff and I thought, ‘Well I can do journalism if it’s this kind of journalism.’”
Walsh says that it’s important not to “be afraid to ask for help or advice,” and to “really think about what you want to do.”
To close, Yaw had a piece of advice for Albion students.
Yaw said that Albion is the perfect place to “try and fail because the support is all there.”
“You can do all of the things you want to try,” Yaw said.