Exploring Your Passions

Paul J. Groff Jr. '15


In 2015, Paul J. Groff Jr. '15, of Mechanicville, N.Y., found himself on stage, about to sing one of two solos in front of hundreds of people at the International Competition for Collegiate Acapella (ICCA) in Boston. Perhaps best known for its inclusion in the Pitch Perfect movies, the ICCA invited MCLA's a capella group, the Allegrettos, to perform.

"It was surreal. I was like, 'Wow. I, of all people, am about to sing at this competition?" he recalled. "It was a feeling I cannot image feeling again."

With the encouragement of those he knew in the audience, Groff looked to his friends for support while he sang and danced.

"I felt like a natural. I wasn't really nervous anymore. I gave it my all," he said. "It was probably one of the best things I did at MCLA – besides research conferences."

Less than two weeks later, the sociology major was off to New York City, where he presented his research, "The New Sociology of Childhood in Journalism," at the Eastern Sociological Society.

"It was all original research, outside of the classroom. I had to write it while keeping up with my classes," Groff said. "I had professors from other institutions come up to my poster. They thought my topic was really compelling. It was a great experience."

At MCLA, Groff's experiences also included serving as an admissions ambassador and as secretary to the Education Club. In addition, he co-founded and served as the president of the Sociological Society club.

"I'd usually take six classes each semester, so the clubs really helped with my time management," Groff said. "I've always been passionate about my academics and studying. Singing with the Allegrettos took me away from that for a bit so I could enjoy the other side of college."

Groff decided to major in sociology after taking an introductory course during his sophomore year.

"I had no idea of what I wanted to do, but found I really had an interest in the topics presented. I've always had a strong interest in social movements and social policies, as well as different socio-cultural groups, how they face discrimination on a daily basis, and how we can bring about social change," he said.

After earning his master's degree, "I want to work with an underprivileged population – kids who lack the mentorship and resources that I was provided throughout my educational experience. The quality of education should be the same across-the-board for all children, because they're our future."

Looking back on his time at MCLA, the biggest influences on Groff were the opportunities to do undergraduate research, through which he realized he wanted to work with the specific population of disabled and minority children.

"When students don't have the necessary resources – even at young grade levels – they tend to drop out of school. That's what I'd like to change as an educator. Doing the research solidified exactly what I want to do with my life," he explained.

"I couldn't have asked for a better department to work with," Groff added. "Every single one of my professors has been extremely supportive. They pushed me to do my best."

He continued, "If I went to another institution, I don't think I would have been as involved with research. It's the small classes and the individualized attention I got from my professors that really got me involved with research. At a larger school, I might have been overlooked."

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