Meet five students who have made the most of their time at UNH. One taught English in Italy, another sang and danced his way across the university, and a third spent spring breaks helping underprivileged Americans. Their interests and activities may diverge, but they all have one thing in common: a very bright future.
Each year, five stellar seniors are selected through a competitive process to serve as fellows in the College. During their final year of study, these Liberal Arts ambassadors share their UNH experiences with prospective students, parents and donors.
After a 30-minute phone call with David Kaye, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, William Lombard knew that he wanted to go to UNH. “I got postcards and letters from other schools,” says Lombard. “But David Kaye called me. It was personal.”
Lombard came to UNH with a lot of theatre experience. “I began performing at the age of two,” he explains. “So that’s 20 years now.”
A triple-threat performer, Lombard can dance, sing, and act. “Dance is always a work in progress for me,” he says. “I danced all through high school and got used to being the ‘boy who does ballet.’ Despite the bullying, I could never imagine giving it up.” The singing and acting have always come easily. “I’m just dramatic by nature,” he says.
Not only did Lombard take classes with Kaye, he worked with him on the UNH stage in “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” as well as professionally in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” He grew as an actor and took on roles that really challenged his range.
Through the student organization, Mask and Dagger, he directed a musical cabaret this past fall and recently acted in “Assassins.”“In that play, my character was Charles Guiteau, who killed President Garfield,” says Lombard. “It was a challenge to play Guiteau realistically, as well as sympathetically. He was syphilitic, out of his mind, and very flamboyant. I had to convey all of that. It was a great way to end my college career.”
This summer, you can catch Lombard at the Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, Maine. Notably he’ll star in the “Fantasticks,” singing some great songs including the lovely duet, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”
For now, Lombard plans to focus on performance. “I’m a certain type,” he notes. “Someone who can play 16 to 25 year olds. So now’s the time.” He’s already connected with UNH alumni in New York City and Boston.
But theatre education will draw him back eventually. “A production can pull in kids who you’d never think would be in theatre — the tech kids or the shy kid who gets the lead. To see them all come together for a play is such a rewarding experience.”
Jordan Mrvos wants to bridge gaps between people. It’s something he’s been interested in since he was 10, when, on a family vacation in Mexico, he saw street vendors selling bracelets and small statues. Buying the items involved haggling, Mrvos’ parents told him. It was like a game. But all Mrvos could see were the gaps — the cultural differences between tourists and vendors, and the gap between the vendors and the resources they needed to survive.
“That memory stuck with me,” Mrvos said. And it influenced his career at UNH, leading to a dual major in communication with a focus on interpersonal relationships within cultural frameworks and international affairs, along with a minor in French.
Mrvos found his academic passions and embraced a rigorous schedule early on at UNH. A communication class with Prof. Renee Heath marked “the first time I had cared enough about a class to have an argument with the professor about one of the theories she presented,” Mrvos says. And a lecture series hosted by the Center for International Education and Global Engagement cemented his interest in peacebuilding and working out conflicts.
He saw those sorts of complicated conflicts firsthand during a study abroad experience at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. “I walked to campus … and there was a huge banner painted directly on one of the buildings that said, ‘We have started.’ … A professor explained they were students protesting a new work law. My question was, these are students, and they don’t work because in France, education is subsidized, so why do they care?”
That formed the basis of Mrvos’ capstone project, which he recently presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference. “It’s clear that sitting in a room with people who are like minded is not effective, so I examine a proposal about how a dialogue between opposing groups might work,” he said.
Mrvos is ready to put his interests and ideas in action. His internship with the Social Ventures Foundation, a Portsmouth-based nonprofit organization working to end poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, has led to a full-time job after graduation. “When people have basic necessities … they’re much less prone to argument, or they’re at least willing to work out their differences,” he said.
David Sharkey was in an inner-city Italian middle school teaching English in the spring of 2016 when he found himself making the sort of mistake that all new teachers dread.
“I was standing in front of the class for the first time and writing on the board and I looked over and saw I spelled something wrong,” he said. “I was so nervous.”
But like any good educator, Sharkey turned the gaffe into a learning opportunity. “The classroom was a place with a lot of cultural exchange,” he said. “If they could see me struggling to learn their language, but also see I was successful at it, then they knew they could do it, too.”
Studying abroad in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, and at Cambridge University in England were the highlights of a rich four years at UNH, according to Sharkey, who pursued a dual major in English teaching and Italian studies.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I really owe a lot to my professors for helping steer me in the right direction for those majors, and allowing me to explore who I might want to become,” he said.
During his semester in Italy, Sharkey shared an apartment with other UNH students. He received the full Italian cultural experience, he said – which meant everything from fresh pasta dinners to navigating an unfamiliar city. “It really forced me to learn the language – I had to learn to survive and get food and all those other normal, everyday things,” he said.
Sharkey’s career in education is in honor of his grandmother, a longtime educator who taught English for speakers of other languages. After graduation, his next stop is Madrid, where he plans to work as an assistant teacher in a high school.
“It will be a great opportunity to practice the teaching methods and the resources I’ve acquired here in a setting that’s not high-stakes,” he said. To prepare, he’s been teaching himself Portuguese and Spanish by reading news sites and listening to Spanish-language podcasts.
“I really do love English, and that’s why I want to teach it,” he said. “Being able to model how I speak English and how I think of the language is fun, and it’s why I want to go into an environment where kids are learning English as a second language.”
Teaching runs in Hannah Vagos’ family — both of her parents are educators. And though she initially tried to resist the siren song of the classroom, Vagos couldn’t deny her passion for education.
“I was studying abroad and taking English literature courses and I was surrounded by English literature majors, and I realized how much I missed education. I realized that’s what I want to do with my life,” she said.
That’s why Vagos, an English literature major, picked up a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) during her junior year, a course of study she immediately fell in love with, she said.
“I find it so inspiring to watch the progression of students, watching them grow and fostering this love of learning,” Vagos said. “It’s so amazing! It’s empowering, not only for them, but also for you.”
In the last four years, Vagos has traveled the world. In the summer of 2015, she spent six weeks in Cambridge, England. And in 2016, she spent the spring semester at the University St. Andrews in Scotland.
“I spent my life in the library” in Scotland, she said, but she still found time for side trips to France, Spain and Portugal, where her father’s family is from. And she took part in a long-standing St. Andrews tradition: the May Dip, in which students rush into the North Sea at sunrise just before final exams, in order to “purge your academic sins.
“I was just ready to kill those finals,” Vagos joked. “It was amazing, plunging into the North Sea at the break of dawn.”
As an instructional assistant for English professor Charli Valdez, Vagos said she “saw the other side” of the classroom, experience that she’ll use on her next set of adventures: working as an instructor in the ESL Institute and, later, teaching English in Madrid. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in TESOL.
“I’ve learned so much about myself here,” she said. “UNH has allowed me to be extremely independent. I’ve been afforded so many wonderful opportunities and experiences. It’s really prepared me.”
During her four years at UNH, Erinn Vittum has traveled to more than 11 countries, studied philosophy in Dublin, Ireland, and learned how to play basketball thanks to some kids in East St. Louis. And those, she said, are just a few of the highlights of her college career.
“I’d never have the opportunities I have now without UNH,” she said.
A first generation college student with a double major in psychology and philosophy, Vittum arrived at UNH knowing she wanted to help others. But it was after joining the student organizations Aspiring Hands, which connects student volunteers with local after-school programs, and Alternative Spring Break Challenge (ASBC), which organizes community-oriented spring break trips, that Vittum realized how to direct her passion.
It was an ASBC trip to East St. Louis, Illinois, that cemented her path. There, Vittum and the group worked with underprivileged kids at the Christian Activity Center. She read to the kids, helped them with homework and got a crash-course in basketball.
“When we went to eat in the cafeteria, they’d talk about their day and the struggles they went through,” she said. “We were able to listen to them and just help them get through things.”
At UNH, Vittum conducted research for an honors thesis on domestic and sexual violence prevention efforts among middle school students with professors Katie Edwards and Victoria Banyard. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in either clinical or counseling psychology and is currently applying for case manager jobs in the region.
“It’s about what I can do for kids,” she said. “It’s about making an immeasurable difference in their lives.”
Vittum is as serious about having fun as she is about academics. During her semester in Ireland, she worked in weekend trips to 11 countries while balancing a full course load.
“I went paragliding over the Swiss Alps, which is probably the coolest thing I’ll ever do,” she said. “The university helped me travel the world. It introduced me to some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. The student organizations I joined introduced me to my passion. It shaped me.”