Alumni Updates, Camper Voices,
and Alumni Spotlight
Since attending camp, Sam Boggs (Super Saturdays 2010-11, 2013; SCATS 2013; VAMPY 2014-16) attained the rank of Engle Scout. He graduated from high school in 2018 and is studying
history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Amelia Kolb (SCATS 2009-10, VAMPY 2011), who graduated from WKU this May with a degree in Spanish, has earned a Fulbright grant to teach English in Mexico. Amelia’s interest in teaching English is rooted in her work with Doors to Hope, an organization offering ESL and GED classes to Latinx families in Louisville. While at WKU, Amelia served as chapter president of Alpha Xi Delta and as an immigration case manager intern at the International Center of Kentucky. She also volunteered in Costa Rica and Belize and studied in Peru and Mexico. After her Fulbright year, she plans to pursue a career teaching English language learners in the U.S. and abroad.
Rebecca Wei Li (VAMPY 1999-2002; Counselor 2005) gradated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in chemical engineering in 2008. She works in Houston, TX, as an asset integrity analyst at PinnacleART, which provides comprehensive support across the areas of mechanical integrity, asset reliability, and inspection services.
Emily Powell (Super Saturdays 2006-08, SCATS 2009, VAMPY 2010-11, Counselor 2014-17) of Sunnyvale, CA, earned a BS in business administration and hospitality and tourism
management from the College of Charleston in 2017. She is a currently a contracted
event planner for Apple. She recently became engaged to fellow alum Andrew Thomas (VAMPY 2008-11, Counselor 2014).
Alex Pritchett (Super Saturdays 2009, 2014; SCATS 2014-16) of Hopkinsville was named this year to the all-state concert band as a percussionist and as an alternate for the Governor’s School for the Arts in instrumental music. He will graduate in 202 from Christian County High School.
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.
Dr. Kirstin Hamblin Squint (VAMPY 1986-89)
Kirstin is an Associate Professor of English at High Point University in High Point, NC. She received her BA in English from Eureka College in 1995, her MA in English with a fiction writing emphasis from Miami University of Ohio in 1998, and her PhD in comparative literature from Louisiana State University in 2008.
Her published works include the 2018 monograph LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature and the forthcoming Swamp Souths: Literary and Cultural Ecologies, co-edited with Eric Gary Anderson, Taylor Hagood, and Anthony Wilson. Her essay “Kentucky Coming and Going” appeared as a chapter in the 2019 Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. In 2019-20 she will serve as the the Whichard Visiting Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University,
What was VAMPY like for you?
The first year, I took an expository writing class, and for much of my life my goal has been to be a writer, so that class alone was really helpful. It was the first time I read Faulkner. I wrote a piece about my grandmother, and we did peer reviews with our classmates. I had never had any kind of formal writing training — that class was very powerful for me. I took other interesting classes, but that one was life-changing because of who I am intellectually.
The other thing was that I came from a very poor rural community in Kentucky, neither of my parents went to college, and no one I knew in my family had gone to college. I was meeting children of lawyers and college professors and people who were going to magnet schools in Louisville — people from socio-economic and educational backgrounds that were so different from mine. By becoming friends with those people and realizing the way that I had felt different from my classmates and my community, I didn't feel so isolated anymore.
At what point did you decide you wanted to go to graduate school?
I knew that pretty early on — I remember in seventh or eighth grade, I had this idea I was going to get a PhD, and I thought I was going to do it at Harvard or something — I had no idea. But that's the thing — I met people at VAMPY whose parents had gone to Harvard and who did themselves go to Harvard, so suddenly that was within reach to me, and it was not within reach previously. Again, VAMPY exposed me to a world that I had never been in contact with before.
I discovered as an undergrad that I wanted to be a a fiction writer, so I got into the MA program in English at Miami of Ohio. I wound up moving out to New Mexico and taught in a high school on the Navajo reservation for a year. I learned that I didn't want to be a high school teacher, but I learned that I did love teaching. After I finished my master’s, I started doing community college teaching, and I liked it because I had a lot of first generation students like me. It was work that was meaningful.
How did your research interests develop in graduate school and afterwards?
What really started my research was teaching on the reservation. It opened up my world in terms of seeing and understanding settler colonialism and the relationship of indigenous people to the United States government. I had a growing interest in native writers, and when I was at the community college in Flagstaff, AZ, I created its first Native American literature class. There was a really high number of Native American students who attended, a lot of of Hopi and Navajo students, so that felt like a really important thing to do.
I read Choctaw writer LeAnne Howe’s novel Shell Shaker when I was at LSU. That book moves between the 18th and 20th century in the Choctaw homelands of what became Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. I realized when I read it that I could look around Louisiana, and all these places had Choctaw names, like Bogue Chitto and Atchafalaya. It made me think simultaneously about native presence and absence in the southeast.
I wrote a dissertation on 20th and 21st-century Native American writers, called Native Spiritualities as Resistance: Disrupting Colonialism in the Americas. As I was thinking about what my next project would be, I thought about what I had enjoyed the most about the dissertation. I had done an interview with LeAnne Howe in 2008, and it became my first national publication. I thought, “I really want to write more about her” and then realized I wanted to write a book about her — nobody had written one yet. LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature came out from LSU Press in 2018.
I'm under contract for another book about her — it's an edited collection of essays with the University Press of Mississippi. I also coedited a forthcoming collection called Swamp South: Literary and Cultural Equalities. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of years, and it's been super exciting.
What is it like being someone who is not Native American working in native literary
Having had the experience of living on a reservation, I have an awareness of settler colonialism that a lot of Americans don't have. I'm always aware of my outsiderness, and I try to keep learning from the native scholars I know and whenever I'm in a native community. I never think that I know as much as I can know — I'm always learning and trying to figure out the best way to be an ally.
For example, I just wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my students who is Eastern Band of Cherokee. She's going to do a community health certificate program at Western Carolina because she wants to synthesize western medicine and native healing methodologies and wants to go on to graduate school. I'm so proud of her, and I feel like anytime I have an opportunity to mentor native students, I want to do that.
It sounds like you're leveraging power from your position to help people who don't
have that access, which relates back to when you were younger and you didn't have
access to certain things.
You're right. I taught on the reservation and at Southern University, an HCBU in Baton Rouge, but I didn't understand this until recently. The piece that I wrote for Appalachian Reckoning was about my family in dysfunctionality, how my grandparents came out of the mountains in southeastern Kentucky and their shame about their hillbilly identity. They carried that shame with them and passed it on — we weren't allowed to listen to banjo music because there was this real shame attached to it — “we don't want anybody to think we're hillbillies” — but of course, they couldn't see the extent to which they embodied that anyway. I went to school out of state because I wanted to get away from Kentucky. I had all this shame.
When I was on a panel at the Appalachian Studies Conference in March talking about Appalachian Reckoning, someone asked about Appalachian identity and double consciousness, and it hit me so hard. I've talked about the idea of W.E.B. DuBois’s double consciousness with other ethnic minority communities and when I've taught multiethnic literature, but it never occurred to me that I might also be carrying a form of double consciousness from a hillbilly perspective. For all of my life, I couldn't see the forest for the trees, why I was drawn to these places doing these things. The Appalachian Reckoning piece has been a big moment of me coming to some awareness about my life.
Anything else you want to say about VAMPY?
VAMPY was a transformational experience. It opened up the world in so many ways. It's hard to measure the impact that it had on me.
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