Chowder with Changemakers: Chowder Fest 2020
(left to right: Lee Gaines, Kulani Abendroth-Dias, Cara Gross, Bryan Tamburro)
By Milena Germon (’21)
Although we could not gather in person for this year’s annual Chowder Fest, in many ways, I found myself doing the same thing I would normally be doing at Anderson House: wearing a big cozy sweater, enjoying some soup, and listening to a few of the English Department’s incredible alumni. Out of the three types of soup that the Department so lovingly packaged for student pickup, I chose the “New England Chowder,” which felt like the most traditional choice for what would be my last Chowder Fest event. The same sentiment is true of Professor Jay Elliot, who expressed his nostalgia and appreciation for the (digital) gathering, and was thrilled to welcome the four alumni speakers of the night: Cara Gross (‘13), Bryan Tamburro (‘97), Kulani Abendroth-Dias, and Lee Gaines (‘11).
Between belly-laughs and serious wisdom, each speaker shared how their experiences in the Clark English Department helped guide them to where they are in their careers today. Despite all four speakers working in extremely different fields, one pattern was clear: each of them were, and are, interested in making the world a better place. Cara Gross, for example, originally entered Clark pursuing Psychology. But after taking “Speculative Fiction” with Betsy Huang, she became infatuated with the power of words and how that power could be used to make environmental differences. Today, she works at a Trident Media Group, which is a prominent literary agency in New York City, and is considering returning to school. Two years Cara’s senior, Lee Gaines was inspired by the same class taught by Professor Huang, and after finding her love for journalism and storytelling, now works as an Educational Reporter for Illinois Public Media. Later in her academic career, working with Professor Elliott on her Honors thesis solidified her love for writing. She has been featured by the likes of NPR and the Chicago Tribune, and like many English Majors at Clark, is excited to get at the heart of any issue.
Bryan Tamburro and Kulani Abendroth-Dias both took their English degrees abroad, each involved in impressive international work and business. Bryan Tamburro, now a prominent energy entrepreneur, credits his ability to articulate and present his ideas to the English Department. More than getting good grades and writing papers, he explained that the most influential professors “taught [him] how to think.” Kulani, calling all the way from Geneva, Switzerland, shares this view. She now works as a Strategic Analyst within the Executive Directorate of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and sees the timeline from freshman-year-classroom to international organization very clearly. For example, she uses the analytic skills she developed at Clark to understand security data, and can frame its relevance to her coworkers with ease: “you need to be able to express yourself well, regardless of your specialization.” In particular, she points to her experience in writing an Honors thesis with Professor Lisa Kasmer in honing this skill. This skill, as she explained, is what allows you to make legitimate change.
This year’s Chowder Fest, albeit a bit more unusual than others, truly illustrated how the careers that await English Majors are vast and diverse. From radio journalism to development, and from publishing to international business, it is clear that our alumni are using their English degrees to make positive change in a variety of inspiring ways. There is no singular path forward after graduating from Anderson House, but as we learned that evening, perhaps possibility itself is the most exciting thing that the English Major can provide.