Leaning into curiosity and art

“College taught me how to ask for help in a respectful but confident way, and now I know it’s not something to feel guilty about doing. It also helps that people at Mount Holyoke want to help and want to see you succeed.”

Alex Finch had a clear plan for how their college life was to go. They’d apply to one of the universities in their home state of Colorado, get accepted, study STEM, graduate and hopefully tolerate it long enough to make a career out of it. However, everything changed when Finch and their mom took a trip to Massachusetts to visit family and on a whim decided to visit Mount Holyoke as well.

“I’d been getting emails from the College, and I’d never heard of a gender-diverse women’s college, nor did I fully understand what that meant,” they said. But their interest was piqued, and as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began to shut everything down, the pressure to make a final decision was palpable. “I was deciding between a path I’d always seen for myself, even if I wasn’t that excited about it, and this unexpected dream that was attending Mount Holyoke.”

Finch chose Mount Holyoke with the thought that if they didn’t like it within their first year, a state school back in Colorado would surely accept their transfer application. They were also determined to stick to part of their original college plan, so they decided to double major in chemistry and mathematics.

But after their first year of STEM coursework, all done on Zoom because of the ongoing pandemic, Finch wanted something different — a class to break up the monotony of equations and hypotheses. So they enrolled in a drawing class with former professor Gina Siepel. What was supposed to be a course that served as a break from a science and math-heavy course load became a new opportunity they’d never considered.

“I’ve always been a doodler during class, but I didn’t imagine I could build on those doodles and make it more. Gina gave me a lot of self-belief and helped me see that I had more than just the mind of a doodler. I had a creative mind,” Finch said. “Then it became a thing where I only wanted to do homework for my drawing class.”

With their professors’ encouragement and newfound confidence as a creative, Finch decided to switch their major to art studio and never looked back. Since then, Finch has worked to soak up all the information the College offered on art and creative expression. They’ve taken additional drawing courses, sculpture and printmaking, which they now help teach as a teaching assistant.

Coming into the art studio major with virtually no prior experience was a daunting task, but Finch said the professors in the department and the supportive nature of the campus made those feelings quickly dissipate by normalizing the need to ask for help, something Finch said had left a lasting impression on them.

“I now know that asking for help is a lifelong skill. You are always going to need the support of other people,” Finch said. “College taught me how to ask for help in a respectful but confident way, and now I know it’s not something to feel guilty about doing. It also helps that people at Mount Holyoke want to help and want to see you succeed.”

After graduation, Finch plans to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and immerse themselves into the art scene they’ve grown to love there. They will continue to create art but also want to serve as an art teacher for adult and college-aged students who, like them, may believe that because science and math comes easy to them, there is no place for them in the art world. Finch hopes to encourage students to lean into their creativity the way Mount Holyoke professors encouraged and supported them.

“Mount Holyoke has always made me feel like I belong. There is this belief from my professors and peers that I can do whatever I put my mind to,” Finch said. “I’m grateful for how I’ve been taught to lean into curiosity here as well. That curiosity is what led me to explore Philly, and I loved it. I want to pass on that curiosity through my artwork and teaching.”

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Christian Feuerstein
  • Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations