“It’s a shock of a community.”
That’s how Jenny Schollaert ’15, describes Chatham University, from which she is set to graduate in three days. “A good shock,” she quickly clarifies. “Because we’re so welcoming and everyone wants you to succeed. And I think it’s that shocking to some people, and they’re like are you really this excited about seeing me succeed? But yes, they are!”
It’s safe to say that in her four years as a double major in English and Women’s Studies, Schollaert did not disappoint. In 2015 alone, she won the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader Award, the Excellence in the Humanities Award, the Anne Harris Aronson Prize in English, and was a runner up for the Elva Bell McLin Sigma Tau Delta Senior Scholarship. An incomplete list of her other accomplishments at Chatham includes:
- Presented original research or sat on academic panels at 10 conferences across the country
- Published an article on the art of Kara Walker in New Errands: The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies
- Studied abroad in Cambridge, England
- Completed an internship consisting of working with high school girls at The Ellis School, generating and executing lesson plans concerning women’s activism, and a second internship with the League of Women Voters
- Served on the University-wide steering committee for the creation of the Women’s Institute in response to the transition to coeducation (as Executive Vice President of Chatham Student Government, a role she held for two years)
- Founded and served as President of the Beyond the Page Book Club
- Served as Late Night and Traditions Coordinator for the Office of Student Affairs
- Worked as a tutor for the PACE Center
“It’s been a great four years. I really sucked the marrow out of it. I got my money’s worth,” Schollaert laughs.
Schollaert—who is from the Pittsburgh area—knew about Chatham because her aunt had gone there “way back,” but it wasn’t until she visited campus that she knew it was for her. To be precise, it wasn’t until Dr. Bill Lenz, Pontius Professor of English, kicked her parents out of his office that she knew it was for her.
“I walked into his office with my parents,” Schollaert recalls. “We chatted for a bit, and then Dr. Lenz said to my parents: ‘You two, go out to the café and have a coffee, this is Jenny’s education; I’m going to talk with her now.’ They balked a bit, but they left, and I was immediately at ease, able to talk so freely with Dr. Lenz about all of these hopes that I had for what I want to accomplish at Chatham.
And the opportunities he presented, the leadership roles—he told me that I can do anything here, that there’s nothing too big. “
Dr. Lenz would prove to be a huge mentor for Schollaert. “I took his Mark Twain seminar during my first year here, and it was an absolute joy,” she says. “I had no idea that this was what English Literature students were capable of, all the things you could do with these words on the page. That seminar gave me the confidence and tools to get really serious about studying literature.” Dr. Lenz was her advisor for all four years, and also chaired her tutorial.
Schollaert names Dr. Lynne Bruckner, Professor of English and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Department as another major influence during her time here. “She has been fantastic at providing opportunities like an internship at The Ellis School, and since I will have to teach in graduate school, she offered to do an independent study with me, where I learned pedagogical practices and actually took a stab at teaching a class. Does that opportunity even exist elsewhere? Words cannot express the help she’s given me throughout my four years here.”
“The English and Women’s Studies faculty have influenced my thinking in such a huge way,” Schollaert continues. ”I’ll be writing a paper and after each sentence thinking so what would Dr. Lenz , Dr. Bruckner or Dr Prajna (Parasher, Professor of Art, Film and Cultural Studies) think about this. That, I think, is the mark of a really great, really comprehensive education. Even though all these people are so influential, you’ll come up with something that’s completely you.”
“People look at Chatham as that former woman’s college, or Rachel Carson’s alma mater, but what they don’t realize is that we have this huge breadth of faculty and they’re so brilliant and so helpful and you can take a class that’s completely outside your comfort zone and then you you’ll just fall in love with the professor and what they have to offer and then they’ll just be part of your life forever.”
“There’s something magical about Chatham that you don’t see anything else,” says Schollaert. “When your friends come home and talk about their experiences, you think there’s something different about Chatham, something about the way we can get together inside the classroom or outside the classroom and have these conversations that people don’t have often elsewhere. I’m going to miss that. It’ll be interesting to see how the conversations move forward as the transition takes hold. I’m excited for the men to see what we do here.”
Schollaert’s main academic interest is the author Willa Cather. She wrote her tutorial on two of Cather’s novels, O Pioneers! and a lesser known work called One of Ours, which was written in the 1920s and has a male protagonist. “For a woman writer to write a war novel with a male protagonist was just phenomenal. She was able to use him to critique the ideals of masculinity that men were forced to live up to, and by the end of the novel, she brings us back to women’s spaces and women’s voices to say that this ideal of masculinity is not serving us well if we don’t have a balance and spectrum of gender identity, instead of forcing male and female ideals into boxes. Throughout history the novel has been viewed just as a war novel, but it does so much more.” Schollaert considers Women’s Studies to be a great complement to the study of English Literature. “We can look at the text through that lens and see why these words were chosen and how they used the stories for a greater purpose.”