and Camper Voices
Spotlight on: Erica Newland (SCATS 1998)
Erica Newland (SCATS 1998) graduated from Yale University in 2008 with a BS in applied mathematics. She was a senior policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology for three years before attending Yale Law School, during which she worked for the National Security Division at the Department for Justice and the Senate Judiciary Committee. She received her J.D. in 2015 and went on to serve as a law clerk for the Hon. Merrick Garland on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and as an attorney-adviser at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. She now works as counsel for Protect Democracy, a “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting attacks, from at home and abroad, on our right to free, fair, and fully informed self-government.”
What do you remember about SCATS?
It was the longest I'd been away from home, and I went with my very best friend, who ended up moving away the following summer, so it’s one of my last memories of us spending a lot of time together. It's very special to me for that reason, as well as others. I took a class in genetics which I remember the most clearly, and a class on acting with Julie Roberts. In all of my classes, it was wonderful to be with other kids my age who were also interested in spending time learning new things. The genetics class was the first time I was introduced to Punnett squares and the basics of genetics — a type of science education that I hadn't gotten at school to that point. I came back having learned a lot. It was also an introduction to living in dorms and being at a cafeteria, and that was exciting for me and also made me a lot more comfortable at subsequent camps and, ultimately, college.
You grew up in Auburn, AL. What were your experiences like going through school as a gifted student?
In my school system, there were not a lot of offerings for academically-inclined kids until tenth grade. I was bored a lot. One of the things I really enjoyed at SCATS was that learning was one of the purposes of being there, and the other campers were also curious. I enjoyed that type of engagement.
Was it a culture shock for you to go to school in the northeast?
It wasn't so much the northeast that was a culture shock — I had been looking forward to that. But in college, I did feel some envy toward students for whom the types of enrichment experiences that I had at SCATS were the rule rather than the exception. It’s part of why I remain so grateful for programs like SCATS: summer programs like the ones at WKU offered a special type of enrichment that can be especially hard to find in certain areas of the country.
Tell me a little bit about your professional path. You majored in applied math but also studied Chinese, and then you worked at The Center for Democracy and Technology, which protects online civil liberties and human rights. Then you went to law school, worked for the Department of Justice, and now work at Protect Democracy. How did you get from point to point?
It makes more sense than it may look like on paper! I studied applied math at Yale and the field didn’t play to my strengths. But I stuck with it — I’m stubborn like that — and ended up doing some computer science work as well. Through that work, I had the chance to spend time at Microsoft Research in Beijing over one summer. Yale had a good Chinese language program, so I then decided to use the opportunity to learn Chinese and, following graduation,I was able to study Mandarin in China on a Richard U. Light Fellowship.
When I was there studying Chinese, I spent a lot of time thinking about access to information because so many of the websites I liked to use were blocked. I started learning about China’s censorship mechanism. I discovered there was this whole field of tech policy that I hadn't known existed, and I was really interested in it — how government regulation affects the availability of information and our ability to self-govern. That's how I landed at the Center for Democracy and Technology. I loved my job — I was around a lot of awesome lawyers whom I really respected and who were working to make the world a better place, and so I decided to go to law school.
In August of 2016, after law school and clerking, I joined the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice, where the theme of howour democracy handles technology is very much present in some of the office’s work. Soon, though, a lot changed there — and I left in November 2018. I decided that what I felt was most useful was to go work on some of these rule-of-law and democracy issues that I'm working on at Protect Democracy.
Tell me what you see your role to be at Protect Democracy and what you hope you can accomplish.
The organization's mission is to keep our government from declining into a more authoritarian form of government. What I love about the organization — it's only two years old — is the integrated advocacy approach. We are kind of a Swiss Army knife of an organization. We do litigation to protect rule of law values, but we're also up on Capitol Hill lobbying, we're talking to candidates for office, we're writing op-eds, and we’re engaging with media, on the theory that change is difficult to make, so to make any change, you have to use all levers available. I'm doing a little bit of all-of-the-above, and it's an opportunity to be creative and not be limited to one tactic or one set of tools. It’s fulfilling.
Past interviews can be found in ourAlumni Spotlight Archive.
(posted December 10, 2019)
Jeff Carlyle (SCATS 1991)graduated from the University of Evansville with a BS in computer science engineering in 2001. He is a senior software engineer for Google and lives in Sunnyvale, CA. He is active on Twitter at @jeffcarlyle and on Instagram at @realjeffcarlyle.
Erin Cox (SCATS 2007, VAMPY 2008) received her BS in architectural engineering with a focus on mechanical, electrical,
and plumbing system design from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. She now works
for PEDCO E&A Services in Cincinnati. She says, “I work on a variety of projects for
such clients as P&G, GE, Fidelity Investments, and many more. My tasks and jobs vary
day to day, and I am constantly working towards our goal of helping our clients achieve
beyond what they can do by themselves and ensure that all of their needs are met.
The Center's emphasis on both academic and social development was crucial. I gained
both fond memories and important lessons there. I fully intend to send any children
I have to the program.”
James Detwiler (SCATS 1989) is a chaplain in the US Air Force. He received a BS in political science from the University of Kentucky in 1999, a Master of Divinity from Gateway Seminary in 2008, and a PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015. He writes, “I currently serve over 1,000 Airmen and their families within the 90th Maintenance Group and 90th Operations Group at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, WY. I provide pastoral leadership and care, advise squadron and group leadership, offer confidential counseling, and ensure the free exercise of religion. I have many fond memories of camp.” He is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @JamesDetwiler.
Chelsea Douglas (SCATS 2001-02) received her BA in economics from Centre College in 2010 and a certificate in accounting from University of Louisville in 2012. She works for Crowe in Louisville as an audit manager: “In 2016, I transferred to Crowe's London office for a six-month secondment. I was recently selected for a two-year fellowship within Crowe to develop firm methodology regarding technology and the future of the auditing profession, including the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. I am recently engaged and looking forward to celebrating our wedding in 2020.” She is on Instagram at @chelli_beanz.
Katherine Steinbock Dyke (VAMPY 1998-99) is a manufacturing project manager at Whip Mix Corporation in Louisville, which manufactures and sells dental supplies and lab equipment. A graduate of American University with a degree in International Studies, she says about camp, “I remember having an absolute blast! I loved being on a college campus and making new friends.”
Matt Flanagan (SCATS 1986) of Bardstown graduated from Center College in 1994 with a BS in mathematics and physics and from Campbellsville University in 2012 with Masters of Theology in pastoral leadership. Since 2018, he has served as the children and student ministry consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention in Louisville. He is on Facebook as Matt Flanagan.
Austyn Gaffney (Super Saturdays 1999) graduated from Transylvania University in 2012 with a BA in political science and
from the University of Kentucky in 2018 with an MFA in creative writing. She is an
editorial fellow at Sierra Magazine in Oakland, CA, and lives in Berkley. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram
Joseph Groom (SCATS 2002-03, VAMPY 2005, Gatton 2007-08,TA 2009, Counselor 2012) is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2012 with degrees in molecular and cellular biology and in German and from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a PhD in genetics. He writes, “I do research on prominent environmental bacteria that consume methane, with the applications of mitigating greenhouse gases and the industrial production of valuable chemicals from waste. Currently I am focusing on how metals and nitrogen oxides impact methane metabolism. I love living in Seattle with my dog, Dizzy. Going to VAMPY and SCATS prepared me academically and socially.” (Pictured with Nilesh Sahi (left; SCATS 2001, Gatton 2007-08, Counselor 2012) and Emily Peeler (center; Super Saturdays 2000-01, SCATS 2003, VAMPY 2004-06, Gatton 2007-08)).
Wei-Shin Lai (VAMPY 1990-91), who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2005 with a BA 2005 in cellular and molecular biology and received her MD from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville in 2005, is the CEO of AcousticSheep, which makes headphones “so comfortable you can wear them in bed.” In October, she was invited to Washington, DC, to participate in a panel held by Google and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss small businesses and digital innovation.
Charles Gordon McKemie (VAMPY 1997, 1999), received his Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Emory University in 2007. After working as an analyst at Lehman Bothers, as an assistant vice president in high yield research at Barclays Capital, and an associate in leveraged finance at Citigroup, he became a principal at GSO Capital Partners in New York, NY, in 2012. He is also a U.S. credit research analyst involved with the ongoing analysis and evaluation of primary and secondary fixed income investments and sits on LCS’s U.S. Syndicated Credit Investment Committee.
Kathleen Overly (SCATS 1995) is the director of judicial programs at the University of Texas School of Law. She received her BA in political science from Wake Forest University in 2003, her JD from the University of Michigan Law School in 2005, and her EdD in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of education in 2012. She lives in Pflugerville, TX.
Justin Penny (SCATS 2004-05, VAMPY 2006-07, Counselor 2010) doubled majored in biology and classics at the University of Kentucky, graduating in 2013. He received a DO and an MA in bioethics from Kansas City University in 2017. He now is a resident physician at the University of Minnesota’s Smiley's Family Medicine Residency Program in Minneapolis. You can follow him on Twitter at @JPennyDO.
Morgan Stone (SCATS 2003-04) received a BA in sociology from WKU in 2013, and an MA in criminal justice from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016. She was a member of the United States Peace Corps from June 2016-July 2018, serving in the Republic of Moldova as an English Education Volunteer where she worked alongside Moldovan English teachers in teaching students from grades 5-12. She began a PhD program in sociology at the University of Kentucky in 2018 and is studying education and crime in rural spaces, with a focus on school discipline in rural schools. She is on Facebook at Morgan Stone and Instagram at @morganstone485.
Mac Bettersworth (Super Saturdays 2014-15, Camp Innovate 2015-16, SCATS 2017-19): Instead of being in common core classes, you get to choose classes you enjoy, and you get to meet people who have the same interests as you. It causes you to make friends because all of us are nerds here.
Eric Eastman (Super Saturdays 2012, SCATS 2015, VAMPY 2016-19):There's no overarching goal at VAMPY besides the betterment of ourselves. We're not preparing for anything. It's “What do we want to learn?” and “What do we want to do?"
Malachi Ibn-Mohammed (SCATS 2019): I've been learning how to read and write and do math since I was two. And then I've been growing as a reader, as a writer, as a mathematician, but I'm in classes where everybody else's levels are not quite there. So I have to sit back. At SCATS, I'm in classes where everybody is either at my level or above. And I love that.
Hollis Maxon (SCATS 2015, VAMPY 2016-19): One of my favorite parts of being a fourth-year was seeing younger students come into their own. There was a kid in Pop Culture who came into camp incredibly smart but really quiet and not very active because it can be intimidating being in a class with older kids. But VAMPY helped this camper blossom. Eventually, during our breaks, we’d put a Dance Dance game on the screen, and this person would get up and do it. The class atmosphere of “no pressure” and “we’re there to help each other and learn” helps younger students feel accepted. It’s a special part of the camp experience.
Will Sayler (VAMPY 2016-19): The environment at VAMPY makes people willing to make themselves vulnerable, and so they will put themselves out there. They're a lot more willing to make new friends here than they are at school, so you're making deeper connections with campers. You also have a much deeper connection with the teachers and the counselors.
Elias Sierra (Super Saturdays 2012-15, SCATS 2017-19): My two brothers and I have been going to camp at The Center for almost 10 years. My oldest brother told my parents that it was fun, and because of that, brother after brother after brother has come here. It's so much fun, and it's also work. The teachers give us more time to be hands-on.
Phoebe Wagoner (VAMPY 2016-19): A big part of what influenced me to come back for all four years was the connections I made with campers who had come for four years and told me how much it was worth my time. Also, I wanted to be one of those campers during my fourth year who influenced first years to come back and kept the community alive.