A holistic approach to learning
By Brittany King
Shannon Bennett was born and raised in the Bay Area where she spent 15 years working in the culinary industry at different restaurants, bakeries and cafés before she moved to Massachusetts and decided to return to college. “I was feeling really burned out by that work and wanted to pursue a new career,” she explained.
She started a two-year program, but soon realized her career shift would require more schooling, so with the encouragement of her community college advisor, she began looking at four-year programs in western Massachusetts where she and her partner had recently moved. Bennett was pursuing a degree in biological science and was drawn to Mount Holyoke for both its strong science program and the people.
“I like the holistic approach Mount Holyoke takes to learning. It’s not just about memorizing things but understanding how a concept we’re learning is relevant in the real world,” she said. “It’s also set on a very beautiful, classically New England campus. You’re kind of in this bubble of country living in a really tight community. It creates this warm feeling of comradery.”
Not only did Bennett get admitted to the College but she also became a Frances Perkins scholar, a program for nontraditional-age students and those whose paths to Mount Holyoke were not linear. The program provides academic funding and is a built-in network of students with similar experiences and life paths. That informal network fosters a community among nontraditional students at Mount Holyoke.
“Throughout my time here, I’ve had other [Frances Perkins] scholars in my classes,” Bennett said. “We gravitate toward each other. It’s been nice to have those anchors in class to work on projects together and lift one another up.”
In addition to being a Frances Perkins scholar, Bennett also completed an internship with Mount Holyoke’s Botanic Garden, an interest that was sparked during her previous stint at a community college. “I took a botany class there and fell in love,” she said. “The class opened my eyes to how intricate and diverse plants can be.”
During her internship she did daily greenhouse upkeep, watered and fertilized plants, and helped organize and plan the spring bulb show on campus and helped propagate more than 1,200 “Firstie Plants” to give to incoming Mount Holyoke students.
But of all the work she has done with the Botanic Garden, the project she’s most proud of is the planning for a pollinator garden that will be planted over the next few years. Bennett researched 50 different native Massachusetts plants that will be included in the garden. It will be the first campus garden to showcase exclusively native pollinator plants.
Upon graduation Bennett will continue working at a native plant nursery in Whately, Massachusetts, giving advice to the community about planning pollinator gardens and how to select a plant and support its growing conditions. Her dream career is to head back to California and be a consultant for wineries. For now, she’s happy to build her experience in her industry and thankful to the College for making her dream possible.