Alumna Eyes Ph.D.

Jenna O'Connor '16

Jenna O'Connor '16 of Haverhill, Mass., entered MCLA with a strong desire to become a journalist, but instead quickly discovered her passion for sociology. After being accepted into five of the six graduate programs she applied to, she will head to Boston this fall to pursue her master's degree in gender/cultural studies at Simmons College.

"Within my first few days at MCLA, I serendipitously fell in love with sociology, and declared the second major almost immediately," O'Connor said. The following semester, she added a minor in women's studies. "It is very rewarding to contribute to the field in the hope of awakening others' sociological imaginations," O'Connor said. "Sociology is a field that continues to aggressively create and maintain remarkable research, and inspire critical thinking that will, I believe, eventually change society for the better."

She attributes her successful acceptance into multiple master's programs to her family and friends, and to her professors at MCLA. "They have not only taught me how to write, present, and interact with academia, but how to think independently and critically about many different issues."

At MCLA, O'Connor pursued a rigorous academic program. "Since my freshman year, I took between 18 and 21 credits every semester, and still wanted to take more. I was constantly working, studying, reading, and writing, but I loved every minute of it. She continued, "I recommend all of my departments very highly to anyone who wants to pursue higher education. Not only are all of the professors brilliant and dedicated individuals, but the course materials will push the boundaries of one's intellectual capacity, and leave an insatiable hunger for more."

O'Connor, who finished her double major in English/communications and sociology with a minor in women's studies within four years at MCLA, highly recommends that others consider majoring in two disciplines. "Take advantage of everything that MCLA has to offer," she said. "If you're like me, you want to get your money's worth, so do as much as you can within your four years."

Ultimately, O'Connor, who worked as a teaching assistant and a research assistant to two of her professors during her senior year, aims to become a college professor. These experiences, she said, taught her more about herself and her trajectory in academia than she ever hoped for.

"I also gained priceless advice from these professors, which will undoubtedly help me in my future career as a professor myself, and through my many years of graduate education ahead," she added.

Her many activities at MCLA included participating in LEAD Academy, serving as president of the Sociology Club, and attending a number of conferences. These included MCLA's Undergraduate Research Conference, as well as conferences of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) and the American Sociological Association's Honor's Program.

Everything about MCLA, O'Connor said, was the "best part" of her college experience. "Not only are the classes and professors amazing, but the social situations and mingling with different kinds of people really helped me to find my true self," she said.

"MCLA nurtured my confidence, and I am now able to apply everything I've learned in my majors and minor to my everyday life," O'Connor added. "The community, students, professors, courses, events, clubs and the greater Berkshire community truly helped me find my true self in this non-linear journey, and I couldn't be more thankful."

Since he graduated from MCLA in 2013, Max Roman Dilthey has amassed more than five million readers through his cycling, hiking and backpacking website,, and with online publications his writing has appeared in, such as The Solar Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and
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."

Copyright 2015 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts