Lydia Beller-McKenna ’17

I felt that MHC would give me the academic rigor and community structure that I was seeking and I’ll be forever grateful for having the willpower to shift gears.

Name: Lydia Beller-McKenna ’17

Hometown: Durham, NH

Major: English

Campus involvement: One of my most fulfilling experiences at Mount Holyoke has been working as a mentor in the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing (SAW) program, which I began training for in my sophomore year. I have worked both in the SAW Center and as an assigned mentor for introductory courses within my major. I am also an active member of the Mount Holyoke Vocal Jazz ensemble, and I recently acted as the production manager for the Big Broadcast, our 1940s-style radio show. While literature and writing are my primary academic interests, music has always been a source of joy and community for me and I have valued my time in the jazz ensembles enormously.

Proudest accomplishment at MHC: For me, even the act of choosing to come to Mount Holyoke felt like an accomplishment. I came in as a transfer student in my sophomore year and the decision to leave the conservatory in Manhattan where I was studying at the time was a complex and difficult one. Ultimately, I felt that MHC would give me the academic rigor and community structure that I was seeking and I’ll be forever grateful for having the willpower to shift gears.  

Favorite course you thought you might not like: The English department requires majors to take two courses in literature from before 1700. I came to MHC certain that I wanted to study 20th-century poetry, so the idea of taking a break to delve into medieval literature wasn’t my idea of a fun time. However, I loved Literature of the Later Middle Ages with Wesley Chihyung Yu so much that I decided to continue with his 300-level Chaucer seminar last fall. Professor Yu introduced me to a body of scholarship that has helped shape my own writing and understanding of my own academic interests, none of which I would have been exposed to without those pesky major-distribution requirements!

Best takeaway from internship or research experiences: Because I came to MHC with no credits in my major, I spent my summers doing catch-up coursework at both MHC and other universities, rather than pursuing internship opportunities. One of the most eye-opening experiences was a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course, which I took on campus with Mark Shea in the Professional and Graduate Education (PaGE) program during the summer following my sophomore year. We had the opportunity to gain practical experience by giving language lessons to MHC staff members for whom English was a second language, which was an invaluable exposure to the real world of teaching.

Future plans: My experience in the SAW Center has spurred me to pursue the study of writing and composition with the eventual goal of heading a university writing center or a writing-related nonprofit. This fall I will begin a master’s degree in English at the University of Rhode Island. I was also lucky enough to be offered a teaching assistantship that will allow me to teach my own introductory writing class as part of my graduate education. I'm very much looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life in beautiful and tiny Kingston, Rhode Island, but I am already making plans to visit Mount Holyoke as often as possible.