Alumna Earns Master's from Harvard,
Now at Dana-Farber

Alexandra Nichipor '12


Alexandra Nichipor ’12 at her graduation from Harvard Divinity School in 2015.

After MCLA, and following a year in China to teach English, Alexandra Nichipor '12 went on to earn her master's degree from Harvard Divinity School. She recently accepted a position at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she's a research assistant for its Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality.

The Initiative's mission, Nichipor explained, is to understand the roles that religion and spirituality play in health – not only in public health on the macro level, but also in the lives of the individuals who come to the Dana-Farber clinic for treatment.  

In addition to handling the Initiative's finances and communications, Nichipor conducts research and assists with academic projects, which includes preparing manuscripts for publication. Soon, she'll conduct qualitative interviews with patients to learn more about the roles that religion and spirituality play in the lives of those who face a terminal diagnosis.

Nichipor set a goal to attend Harvard Divinity School when she was in high school.

"It's one of the very few interfaith divinity schools in the world," she explained. "I attended class with Israeli rabbis, Buddhist monks, Catholic feminists, and all kinds of other amazing folks."

With a main interest in the study of women and gender in religion, Nichipor in 2015 earned her Master's of Theological Studies with a focus on women, gender and religion. At MCLA, she decided to double major in sociology and philosophy because of her intense interest in the social, scientific and historical study of religion.

"Philosophy gave me ways to understand religious doctrine, and sociology showed me how to understand the social systems undergirding religions, as well as the ways people actually experience their religions," she said. "It's also a pretty fantastic combination. A background in sociology gave me more factual data to work with in philosophy classes, and my philosophical training gave more bite and rigor to my sociological analyses." 

Nichipor said her MCLA professors prepared her well for Harvard by holding her to a high standard and by promoting critical thinking.

"MCLA encourages fresh perspectives and unique ways of viewing old problems," she explained. "At Harvard, I was willing to take intellectual risks and make connections between ideas. Having a network of friends from my time at MCLA also supported me greatly during my graduate studies, and ensured I didn't fall into the isolation that plagues so many graduate students."

Nichipor's "high impact" experiences at MCLA included her work at the Women's Center, which provided her with experience in event planning and writing; her time as a tutor-counselor in the summer Individual Enrichment Program (IEP), where she supported first-generation college students; and her experiences as a teaching assistant in philosophy and sociology.

Although her grant-funded position at Dana-Farber will end after two-and-a-half years, Nichipor already anticipates what's next: she plans to enter a Ph.D program in anthropology or the history of science.

Because of this work, Dilthey, who double majored in English and environmental studies at MCLA, recently won the 2016 New England Outdoor Writing Association's Award.
 
"I write about things that mean a lot to me, and I think anyone can connect with someone's experience if the story they're telling is meaningful and honest," Dilthey said.
 
"I think it's great that a lot of my work resonates with people. I especially love the community on my site, where I have regular readers who comment and tell me what they think about my articles. That feedback really makes me want to write more and more," he added.
 
Dilthey originally planned to major in art. He switched to English after a positive experience in a writing course. Then, during his sophomore year, he became "hooked" on biology after taking a course to fulfill a science prerequisite, and ended up adding the environmental studies major soon after.
 
"I don't think I'd have picked either of these majors if I wasn't inspired by the courses and professors at MCLA," Dilthey said.
 
Now a graduate student in the Sustainability Science program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he is completing his master's degree and beginning work on his Ph.D., Dilthey's many activities include working with a team of Ph.D. students and faculty to co-author a paper on adaptation and mitigation for climate change resilience in coastal environments.
 
Dilthey also teaches his own class," Sustainable Living: Solutions for the 21st Century," a four-credit course for first-year UMass students.
 
In addition, he's working with the Residential Academic Programs Office to develop new connections for first-year students and programming partners across the University of Massachusetts system as they create a general education course on life at college.
 
"I push the benefits and importance of a diverse, rich, and multifaceted education to my students any chance I get, using my time at MCLA as an example of the power of interdisciplinary learning. I am immensely proud of our school, and I am lucky to have started there. I would not be here without MCLA," he said.
 
In fact, Dilthey finds himself spending a good deal of time telling students about the benefits of his experiences at MCLA, such as how they can find opportunities in clubs and the value of  learning from a diverse selection of classes.
 
Dilthey, whose writing also is featured in Adventure Cycling and Bikepackers magazines, discovered his love for camping, hiking and backpacking during his senior year through the MCLA Outdoors Club. There, he learned everything he needed to know to eventually lead trips himself. The experience, he said, was "transformative."
 
At UMass, Dilthey said he has one of the strongest backgrounds in environmental law among others in his department. "MCLA taught me that the courses outside of your major or focus can sometimes be the most valuable to your career. 
 
He recommends MCLA – and the English and environmental sciences programs, in particular – to prospective students.
 
"Both of these degrees are absolutely as rigorous and comprehensive as degrees from other colleges, and I have never once felt underprepared for my career and graduate school. I know a lot of my peers that graduated with me would say the same thing," Dilthey said. "Our entire group is doing amazing things, and we're all still connected because of the sense of community we had at MCLA."
 

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