New Ath Fellows to Cast a Wide Net for Premium Speakers

David Leathers ’15 and Meredith Reisfield ’13, newly named Ath Fellows for the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, are largely keeping mum about the slate of upcoming speakers booked for the 2012-13 Ath seasonthe better to build some suspense. However, what they will say is that the talking heads thus far will be “intriguing.”

Freshman Leathers (a possible Philosophy, Politics and Economics major) and Reisfield (an Environment, Economics and Politics and Spanish dual major) consider the Ath to represent everything that is best about CMC in microcosm: a curious and passionate student body, intense discourse, and engaged professors all under one roof, and in one evening.

What the future foretells for these two CMCers, even they can’t pinpoint right now; graduate school looms large for both, and with a joint MBA and master’s of environmental science, possibly, for Reisfield.

We caught up with the two movers and shakers … and bookers, to ask a few Ath-centric questions:

CMC: Who would you like to book as your dream guest speaker at the Ath?

David: I’m no rocket scientist, but Elon Musk is. He is my dream Ath speaker. Musk is a young South African entrepreneur who studied in the U.S. First he co-founded PayPal and then co-founded the electric car company Tesla Motors. Now he is CEO of SpaceX, a company who has sent a rocket into space (joining the elite entities that have done that such as China, the U.S., and the Soviet Union). SpaceX is now vying for a NASA contract to build the next Space Shuttle. I think Musk embodies the entrepreneurial vibe here at CMC, as well as also combining this with the sciences, which are sometimes underrepresented here.
Meredith: I have so many people I’d like to see visit the Ath, but Rory Stewart, author of The Spaces in Between, which recounts his solo walk across Afghanistan directly after the fall of the Taliban, and Albert Lin, a National Geographic explorer who’s combining archaeology, crowd sourcing and 3-D immersive technologies in his search for Genghis Kahn’s tomb, are both at the top of my list.

CMC: O.K., but realistically speaking, who do you think you can get?

David: I don’t know how she does it, but from the recent speakers we have had here, and the names that are rattled off on tours, there doesn’t seem to be any limit to the magic of (Athenaeum director) Bonnie Snortum. I am hoping we can get Elon Musk, as well as Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most successful women in the technology industry. I think our limits are not with the caliber of the speaker, but with their schedules. In other words, I’m sure Bonnie could convince President Obama to come, but he probably is sort of busy.
Meredith: The Ath won’t release its speaker schedule until we get closer to the beginning of fall semester. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until then for full disclosure. But I will say that I believe there are going to be a number of intriguing speakers this coming year.

CMC: What does the Ath mean to you personally?

David: When you think “college” and “social life,” professional attire and a fancy dinner probably don’t come to mind. This is why I love the Athenaeum. To me, it is the perfect intersection between academics and social interaction, which, in my opinion, is the best way to learn. It is a conglomeration of students, professors, and distinguished guests in a multi-dimensional interaction, not a binocular-worthy lecture hall.
Meredith: The Athenaeum is basically everything I love about CMC in a nutshell. The intelligent, passionate and curious student body, the one-on-one time with professors, and the depth of the resources available to CMC are all combined in an evening at the Ath.

CMC: What led you to enroll at CMC?

David: When I was applying to college, I wanted to find a liberal arts school, but I knew that I wanted to study something in the social sciencesinternational relations, philosophy, government, economics, etc. There is no better fit than CMC. I am getting a great breadth of an education, but the focus on my interests made it the perfect choice because I still don’t know what I exactly want to study.
Meredith: I really liked the idea of having both the benefits of a small school in CMC, and the resources of the consortium. I knew after I visited that I could see myself spending four years here.

CMC: What was the process like in applying to be an Ath Fellow?

David: The application process included a statement of interest explaining past experience that is applicable to this unique position. We also had to pick a handful of speakers we would like to invite, and write an intro to one of those speakers. The application, which involved submitting two letters of recommendation, was reviewed by the current Ath Fellows, Ath Staff, and other CMC staff on the board of the Athenaeum.
Meredith: Prospective Fellows have to explain why they want the job, submit a list of potential speakers, write a Fortnightly article for one of these speakers, and give a few questions for past speakers. They should also be prepared to introduce one of the speakers they suggested.

CMC: What piece of technology can’t you live without?

David: Recently I’ve discovered the amazing benefits of noise-cancelling headphones. I usually just put classical music on when I am studying and I can actually focus. I can’t work without listening to calming music now. It seems too quiet.
Meredith: I use my computer for everything, from school to Skype. It was my lifeline to the U.S. while I was abroad in Salamanca, Spain, last spring.

CMC: What’s your favorite book/movie/tune that you’ve read, seen or heard?

David: While it isn’t a “movie”, I was (and am) completely addicted to the TV show, LOST. I started LOST Club at my high school, and almost froze when I saw one of the actors on a plane over spring break. (For those of you who know anything about the plot, I joked with the actor and said, “I hope the plane doesn’t crash!” Yes, I really did.) It combines action and mystery, and has more to analyze than most books taught in English classesin my opinion.
Meredith: I’ve really enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. It’s a novel set in Prague during the Prague Spring and the Soviet Union’s August 1968 invasion. I love how Kundera mixes an intriguing story with philosophy and with his country’s history.

CMC: What is the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

David: One of my professors this semester told me something that has led me to look at learning completely differently. She said that she forgot everything from college. She doesn’t remember anything she learned in classes or any dates for a test. But she said that nevertheless, it made her smarter. It taught her how to think. This may be obvious to some, but I wish I had realized this during high school. I was too caught up with memorizing instead of conceptualizing and theorizing and I think I missed out on a lot of “big picture” revelations that I have experienced so far in college.
Meredith: Do what you love.

CMC: Do you have a personal hero?

David: My great-aunt is definitely someone that I look up to and someone that I have learned lots from. She is a hero to me because she always gives me perspective on thingsalways congratulating me on my accomplishments but never letting me sweat the little things. She is rational, witty, and down-to-earth, characteristics I aspire to have.
Meredith: I’m really inspired by people who can reframe how we approach a problem and think outside the box. A great example for me is what William McDonough has done in architecture. I read Cradle to Cradle, which he co-authored with chemist Michael Braungart, and was attracted by the idea that ecologically intelligent should mirror natural systems.