The liberal arts in action

issue 01 | summer 2024
Three young people standing beside one another with a colorful graphic behind them.

Rachel Mabie ’16

How introspective thinking guided her career choices

Rachel Mabie ’16 spent a semester abroad, studying in the Czech Republic and interning at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Working for a government-funded media outlet that broadcasts news into Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East seems like a natural fit for a communications and international studies double major.

But it wasn’t. Mabie discovered she didn’t enjoy writing press releases and news headlines for stories, or conducting interviews. That didn’t make the internship a waste. On the contrary, it reinforced one of her biggest takeaways from her time at Denison.

“It’s about having the courage to think introspectively,” said Mabie, a global marketing manager for Hyatt. “You ask yourself, ‘Do I enjoy what I’m doing? Do I want to keep investing in something I don’t think is for me long term?’ I’ve probably had five of these big moments in the past six or seven years when I thought about shifting gears. In these moments, I relied on the muscles I first flexed at Denison.”

Mabie, the daughter of two alums, Doug ’86, a board of trustees member, and Andrea ’87, chose the university because she liked the campus vibe and the chance to keep playing field hockey — at least through her sophomore year.

What she came to appreciate is how Denison flushes students out of their pockets of comfort. The structure of a liberal arts education, Mabie said, helps produce open minds by requiring students to take a variety of classes and explore different paths.

“When I was 22, I didn’t necessarily think I would be on the track I am now,” she said. “I am here because of the perspective I gained from being at Denison.”

Mabie thrives in an environment that involves strategic planning, accountability, and being part of the creative process.

In eight years, Mabie has gone from placing ads on social media platforms to developing marketing campaigns for brand strategy. She’s been with Hyatt in Chicago since 2023 after spending the previous four years with Vail Resorts in Colorado.

“I’m definitely in a more creative space now from where I started my career,” Mabie said. “It’s been a winding path, but I’ve learned a lot from being honest with myself.”

Cameron Moore ’19

Translating numbers into words is a Denison tradition

Cameron Moore ’19 analyzes data to assist banks in assessing credit risks for potential loans.

Moore can crunch numbers, but what employers seem to like about him — and other Denisonioans in the same field — is his way with words. His explanations to clients are clear and concise in conversations and emails.

“Anyone can be analytical, but if you cannot explain how you go through your process and arrive at a result, that can be a problem,” said Moore, a senior analyst in structured finance at S&P Global in Chicago.

Moore uses his own experience to make a larger point about the liberal arts at Denison. While he majored in economics and minored in history, Moore graduated with a broad-based education — an appealing trait to employers who need workers with a diverse skill set.

He spent four years working at Morningstar, the world’s fourth-largest credit ratings agency. There’s a rich pipeline that runs from Denison to Morningstar, with many grads starting their careers at the agency.

“One response we’ve heard from Morningstar is they like candidates from Denison because of their writing skills and ability to communicate with clients,” Moore said.

The Morningstar development program, Moore said, requires its employees to spend ample time on the phone with clients, answering questions and solving problems in a way that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch.

It makes Moore grateful that he had to attend writing seminars and hone his communication skills at Denison. He recalls working with fellow students to edit each other’s papers.

“I developed a broad background there,” Moore said. “It allowed me to be knowledgeable about a lot of different topics. I never feel out of place in a situation.”

Moore, who’s from the Chicago suburbs, made three visits to Denison before committing to the university. He didn’t need to wander far outside of Oak Park and River Forest High School to learn of Denison’s reputation. Keeping with a Chicagoland trend, the school has sent many grads to Granville.

“There are so many Denison alums in the area,” he said. “I went to a Chicago Bulls game the other day and saw a couple in the stands. I hang out with Denisonians all the time.”

Michael Ball ’22

He travels the world in search of ah-ha moments

Michael Ball ’22 grew up in rural Colorado, or as he likes to say, “five miles up a dirt road.” The scenery is breathtaking, and the nature hikes can uplift the most jaded souls.

His bus rides back and forth to the public school in Woodland Park (population: 7,920) were one hour each way. While proud of his roots, he was eager to discover a world beyond them.

So when Ball — the first member of his family to attend college — heard President Weinberg encourage students to mingle with people from different cultures and chat with those who didn’t share his worldview, he took the advice to heart.

“I recall Adam sharing those thoughts at a welcome event for the Class of 2022,” Ball said. “It’s guided my approach to the things I’ve done.”

Ball is a policy analyst at USAID, a government agency working to end global poverty and enable developing societies to realize their potential. He will attend graduate school in the fall of 2024 as a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow and, if all goes to plan, enter the foreign service of the State Department as a diplomat.

“I’m super excited and grateful,” he said. “It’s beyond what I could have imagined as a senior in high school.”

Ball believes immersing himself in the liberal arts experience at Denison prepared him for a career in international affairs. He became a better problem solver. He learned to examine and defend his beliefs while also respecting and learning from the opinions of others.

The writing skills he developed allowed him to communicate ideas concisely — imperative in the arena of policymaking. His desire to travel and understand Middle Eastern cultures came from getting to know Arabic-speaking students at Denison.

The political science major studied in Morocco and Jordan during his final two years at the university.

“You begin seeing things from different perspectives and have those ah-ha moments, where you realize the world is bigger than you first thought,” Ball said. “But also that people from other countries have much more in common with Americans than we do differences.”

While he lives in Washington, D.C., Ball enjoys visiting home. His parents are supportive of their son’s commitment to public service. His father is an Army veteran and a retired carpenter. His mother is a bookkeeper and a museum docent.

“My parents have developed a love for hummus, falafel, and shawarma, which is a pita wrap stuffed with chicken and a healthy dose of garlic,” Ball said. “It’s my duty to bring back insights from my trips and share them with my community.”

Imani Holmes ’19

She’s first in flight with global commerce

Imani Holmes ’19 still recalls the words of global commerce associate director Jane Palmer as the new major took flight in the fall of 2016.

“Jane used to say we were building the plane as we were flying it,” she recalled.

Holmes never regretted being one of its first passengers, earning her degree as part of global commerce’s inaugural graduating class. An account supervisor at Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, Holmes possesses the skills to navigate rapid change and clients’ ever-shifting needs.

The interdisciplinary major teaches students adaptability and allows them to explore how markets and commerce operate from a liberal arts perspective.

Holmes is not surprised global commerce has become the college’s fifth-most popular major in less than a decade.

“When you matriculate from college, you carry the skills you learned with you,” Holmes said. “Global commerce allows you to pursue various disciplines and unearth new passions within the major. That’s given me a lot of confidence in my post-graduate life.”

Holmes had a “hodgepodge” of interests in her first year at Denison, including international affairs and health care. The more she learned about global commerce, the more she realized it satisfied most of them.

“It gave me a well-rounded experience and perspective,” recalled Holmes, who minored in Spanish. “It’s very much what the liberal arts are about.”

Holmes is a health equity advocate, which puts her in contact with different facets of the intricate and dynamic health care industry. She works with premier biotechnology and pharmaceutical clients, among others. The wide range of challenges and clients’ complex needs, she said, could fluster someone not equipped with broad-based knowledge of the field.

Denison provided that foundation. She often thinks about the messages of President Weinberg, who stresses the importance of intellectual curiosity, lifelong learning, and relationship building.

In her line of work, Holmes said, establishing relationships is critical. That includes returning to campus and sharing her story with students preparing to enter the workforce.

“When you think about your college experience, you want it to be something that reflects what you will experience in the real world,” she said. “I credit the liberal arts education I received for being the impetus for my career in health communications. I couldn’t be happier with the choice I made.”

Maureen Madar ’19

What else she learned continues to benefit her

Maureen Madar ’19 didn’t fully appreciate the value of her liberal arts education until she left Denison and began talking to friends, fellow grad students, and even patients she was about to anesthetize.

“I work clinically in an operating room,” said Madar, a certified anesthesiologist assistant at MetroHealth System in Cleveland. “I’ll have people tell me, ‘You’re very conversational for someone who’s in science.’”

Madar assumed her college experience was typical until she heard stories from those who didn’t go the liberal arts route. Friends who played sports were surprised to learn she was part of the Big Red golf team for four years and still had time for scientific research.

At graduate school, Madar listened to medical students describe their undergraduate existence as little more than science labs and classwork.

Madar played varsity sports. She belonged to the Delta Gamma sorority. She was an undergraduate researcher and a teacher’s assistant. And while the biology major focused on science, Madar found time to study religion, languages, ceramics, and queer studies.

“The liberal arts allowed me to be a more well-rounded individual,” Madar said. “I was able to check a lot of boxes in my time at Denison. I took everything I wanted.”

The broad-based approach exposes students to lessons that might not directly pertain to their major but can be useful in the workforce.

Madar took queer studies from associate professor Warren Hauk, who also teaches biology and deals with a life-altering trauma triggered by light sensitivity. She considers Hauk the “embodiment of liberal arts.”

What the professor taught her about the LGBTQ+ community has become valuable in terms of patient care. Madar works at a hospital that performs gender-affirming surgery. She’s also a clinical student coordinator who helps prepare future anesthesiologist assistants for her role.

“Part of the job is talking to patients and putting them at ease,” she said. “In some cases, I would have been wholly unprepared for those conversations if not for that queer studies course. What I learned in those classes truly broadened my perspective and readied me for my career.”

Madar still golfs. She loves to travel and enjoys life with her dog. A natural-born conversationalist, the only way she’s putting anyone to sleep is with anesthesia.

Seed Zeng ’14

His ambitions were nurtured at Denison

It’s tempting to think that the computer science degree Seed Zeng ’14 earned at Washington University in St. Louis is more relevant to his software engineering career than the physics degree he received at Denison.

Zeng says that’s not an accurate assumption.

“I would argue the reason I’ve grown faster in my career compared to peers my age is because of the education I got at Denison,” he said.

Zeng participated in the 3+2 program offered at Denison, in which students study for three years on The Hill and two additional years at affiliated engineering schools, resulting in a pair of bachelor’s degrees.

Ambition is not in short supply with Zeng, whose goal is to found his own startup. A staff software engineer at DoorDash since 2022, he worked at Klaviyo and Meta previously. Zeng also co-hosts a podcast, Venture Vibes, in which he interviews CEOs and founders of startups.

He was an excellent student at Denison, but some of the most valuable lessons he learned were tangential to physics.

“As you grow as an engineer or in any industry, you need to know how to deal with people,” Zeng said. “That’s where the liberal arts education comes in. You’re taught the importance of collaboration. You have to resolve conflicts. You have to understand other people’s motives and where they’re coming from. I learned that at Denison.”

He remains in close contact with physics professor Wes Walter, who visited him and his family in China.

“Professor Walter told me I will always be a physicist in the way I think,” Zeng recalled. “Being trained in that discipline definitely gave me an advantage of high-level thinking.”

Zeng maintains a personal website that includes podcast links and blog posts on systems and technology. He would love to have Terry Jones ’70, founder of Travelocity and Kayak, on his podcast.

A native of China, Zeng already is following Jones’s advice for would-be entrepreneurs: Gain experience working at a startup or large company before founding one yourself.

Zeng lives in Boston, but his long-term goal is to return home.

“Entrepreneurship is my next move,” he said. “I want to move back to Asia to be closer to family and better food.”

Jacobs Rains ’21

An avid runner, he learned to think on his feet

Two years removed from student life at Denison, Jacob Rains ’21 addressed a Congressional committee seeking expertise on an important health care matter.

His liberal arts education, Rains said, taught him to “think on my feet” and to interact with people who don’t necessarily share his worldview. Those are handy skills for someone working in Washington, D.C., and trying to influence health care policy.

Raines, appearing before the House Committee on Agriculture in 2023, spoke of the need to attract more doctors and nurses to rural areas. The shortfall of trained health professionals, he said, has contributed to a disparity in life expectancy between those living in urban and rural areas.

A specialist in Medicaid policy, Rains understands how federal health programs can benefit rural and underserved communities.

“The issue has been around for 50 years but accelerated in the past 20 years,” Rains said. “Dealing with shortages, particularly with nurses, is something that the committee urgently wants to solve.”

Rains, a political science major, didn’t arrive at Denison looking to become a health care advocate. He was drawn by the sense of student community and the cross-country team he captained as a senior.

But during his time on The Hill, internships exposed him to rural and underserved health issues. He even joined a medical reserve corps, testing patients for Covid who lacked health care coverage.

“I got great advice at Denison,” Rains said. “The Knowlton Center got me every opportunity you see on my LinkedIn page.”

He attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina and was a research project manager for its health research center. That work earned him his Capitol Hill invite.

Rains is now a consultant for Manatt Health. He said his Denison education and exposure to students with different backgrounds helped him navigate the world of health care.

“The Medicaid program serves more than 80 million people,” Rains said. “It serves people experiencing a wide variety of challenges. Being able to incorporate their lived experiences into policymaking is vital.”

Rains has brought something else to Washington from his days on the Big Red cross-country team.

“Running helps a lot with stress,” he said. “There are a lot of runners in health care policy. It’s not a coincidence.”

Lauren ’18 & Laine Ratzer ’20

Parents see liberal arts as a platform for sisters’ success stories

Lauren ’18 and Laine Ratzer ’20 have made it easy for their parents to visit them when mom or dad travels from California.

The sisters live in Chicago, under the same roof, in the same downtown apartment.

“There was a time when we were also working on the same floor at Google,” Lauren said. “We spend a lot of time together, but we like it that way.”

Debi Hemmeter and Jim Ratzer are proud of what their daughters have achieved. They attribute part of that success to their kids’ previous address in Granville.

“I love the liberal arts education they received,” Hemmeter said. “They have become phenomenal at critical thinking and problem solving, and it’s why they are thriving in their careers.”

Lauren is a senior specialist at Salesforce, working in the software developer’s innovation center. Laine is an account strategist at Google.

“Debi and I are both from the Chicago area, and we have connections there,” said Jim, an attorney. “But it was great to see how the girls learned to network in their time at Denison. They developed their own connections.”

Parents play a role in helping their children select a college. Sending multiple kids to the same university is one sign of a family’s satisfaction.

Hemmeter said Lauren and Laine have different personalities, and both excelled in the liberal arts environment. What impresses Hemmeter is how students at Denison are taught through a “Socratic approach,” which involves a shared dialogue between faculty and students. Professors lead with thought-provoking, open-ended questions that promote classroom discussion and additional questions.

“Denison checked a lot of boxes for me,” said Lauren, a communication major. “I really liked the small classroom learning environment. There were a lot of passionate students.”

Lauren and Laine agree the emphasis on a well-rounded curriculum provided multiple avenues for employment. Lauren interned in the hospitality industry and the sales and marketing sector.

Laine, an economics and communication double major, could not believe Google recruited both sisters simultaneously. They shared the same start dates.

“How you shape your educational experience to employers is super helpful,” Laine said. “Talking about all the different classes and experiences I had at Denison helped me stand out.”

Laine and Lauren are part of a large and loyal alumni base in Chicago. Each is willing to help current students make connections and teach them how to network. They also have a strong mentor in their mother.

Hemmeter worked for four Fortune 50 companies before co-founding Lean In, a global community dedicated to fostering leadership and inclusion for women in the workforce.

“I taught my girls that they must be unapologetically ambitious,” Hemmeter said. “Dimming their own light does not serve anyone, but being the best they can possibly be inspires everyone around them and raises them up.”

Hemmeter and Laine were featured speakers at Denison’s 2024 ReMix + Women event. They stressed the importance of advocating for yourself.

Laine had begun training for the Chicago Marathon in 2023 when she learned Google was running two promotion cycles. She paused her training to prepare for potential advancement, ending up with her choice of two promotions in different parts of the country. She remained in Chicago with Lauren, who celebrated the start of her new job at Salesforce in January 2024.

Laine recalls visiting her older sister at Denison during her senior year of high school. She was undecided about her college options until that trip. The warmth and intimacy of the campus sold her on Denison and its mission.

Four years removed from The Hill, she’s happy to help students turn their liberal arts education into a rewarding career.

“When I get a text from someone at Denison, I will always respond,” Laine said. “Whether it’s interview prep or answering questions about the process, I’m here. Denison helped me get to where I am now.”

Published June 2024
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