BY JANET TOBIN
When Sarah Croog '01 arrived at Mount Holyoke in 1997, she planned to major in English. During her first semester, "to get a distribution requirement out of the way," she enrolled in multivariable calculus. Croog thought she would be in over her head, but her professor provided inspiration and encouragement, and Croog "fell in love with the subject." By the end of her first year, she had declared mathematics as her major. Outside the classroom, Croog was embracing other new challenges, such as learning to ride a horse for the first time. Now a senior with a serious interest in algebraic geometry, she is applying to mathematics Ph.D. programs. Oh yes, Sarah Croog is also a member of Mount Holyoke's champion equestrian team. As a result of all the hard work she put in as a first-year, she made the cut as a sophomore.
Transformational first-year experiences such as Sarah Croog's are not unusual at Mount Holyoke. While the College designs programs such as orientation and first-year advising to enable all entering students to feel included and supported, ultimately this pivotal foundation year varies according to the individual. "The first year is a time of transition, exploration, and transformation," says Leah Glasser, Mount Holyoke's dean of first-year studies. "It's exciting to work with students as they begin to explore new modes of critical thinking and independent inquiry. My role is to listen to students' discoveries and to encourage them to claim and actively shape their educational experience."
Robert Shilkret, professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke, has been studying adjustment to college for the past decade. "The transition to college is important because it represents a kind of long-term experiment in independence," he notes. "In our culture, students are expected to be independent from their families in a number of ways, yet they are often still dependent financially and in other ways. The first year is an important developmental transition toward adulthood."
COMMUNITY FROM THE GET-GO
Despite the mathematical talent she exhibited from kindergarten on up, Croog was discouraged in school from pursuing math seriously. "My guidance counselor called me in one day and said flat out, "Girls don't do math," recalls Croog. By high school, much of her interest in math had been squelched, but the idea of attending a women's college began to take shape. "I figured that at a women's college, I would be taken seriously," she says. And she was--right off the bat--by Robinson.
Not only was Robinson (as well as the three other female professors in the College's math department), living proof that a woman could do math, but she encouraged Croog to take Calculus III, which typically requires a prerequisite. Croog became one of a handful of first-years to enroll, and a new world opened up for her. "I loved the subject," she says, "and Margaret was the first person to recognize my abilities and call me a mathematician." Of Croog, Robinson says, "Sarah is tenacious and hardworking. She loves getting to the root of a problem and summarizing why it works."
That first calculus class was a springboard to a whirlwind of math experiences that culminated in Croog's undertaking research at Mount Holyoke last summer-- sponsored by the National Science Foundation--and doing an honors thesis, with Robinson as her adviser, this year. This semester, Croog is also the only undergraduate in a graduate class in applied algebraic geometry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
When Croog isn't investigating projective space or resolving singularities, she can often be found riding. After demonstrating "fierce determination to succeed," according to riding instructor Lani Sattler, Croog not only made the equestrian team during her second year, but was third in the region in the walk-trot division last spring. Says Croog, "I had a great first year. I discovered two interests that I will have for the rest of my life."
NEW COUNTRY, A NEW CULTURE, A NEW COLLEGE
"My first semester was no joke," recalls Dalea. Although she made friends quickly and found the international orientation "amazing," Dalea struggled with a heavy course load and voluminous reading in a language she had not yet mastered. With the support of friends like Julia Sienkewicz '01 and her own determination, Dalea made progress. Sienkewicz, who describes Dalea as "a huge part of [her] Mount Holyoke experience," remains "blown over by the fact that Raluca arrived at Mount Holyoke, never having been in the U.S. before, and having taken only a few trips outside of her country." She adds, "I couldn't imagine packing two suitcases and heading off into the unknown. I admire the strength with which Raluca faces hardships and the firmness with which she follows her dreams."
During the course of Dalea's first year, she was "overwhelmed" by the New England fall; soaked up courses in everything from baroque dance to game theory; and savored new foods. As a means of bettering her speaking skills, she joined the College's debate society and also became a member of the International Student Orientation Board. By the time the second semester drew to a close, Dalea was arranging a summer internship--something unheard of in Romania--to make the most of her summer at home.
Now a senior, Dalea has built on the successes of her first year, participating in student government, leadership programs, and the Italian club, and serving as co-president of the Debate Society. She followed up her successful first internship in Romania with others at the United Nations in Geneva and the New York offices of J. P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Currently interviewing with Wall Street firms, Dalea hopes to start "advancing through the ranks" right after graduation.
FIRST YEAR: JUST THE BEGINNING