Alumnae in Focus
The Department of Anthropology is pleased to be able to profile the accomplishments of select alumnae. We ask each to describe her career path and to reflect on the relationship between her work and the perspectives gained by majoring in anthropology as an undergraduate. We envision this page as a way for current students to see how broadly anthropology applies to a wide variety of careers. We invite alumnae to contact the Department's Chair, Suzanne Gottschang (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information on how they might participate.
Michelle L’Esperance (Class of 1997)
Certified Professional Midwife and Doula
Michelle works in Western Massachusetts as a birth and postpartum doula, a midwife trained in homebirth, a teacher and a mentor to aspiring doulas and midwives, as well as a mother of two boys born gently at home. Initially, she chose an anthropology major because it was a very adaptable course of study, with great relevance to international work. Michelle had come to Smith as a transfer student with a degree in fine arts photography; her objective was to gain skills in cultural and historical sensitivity before launching her intended career in international photojournalism.
During her sophomore year at Smith, Michelle was dramatically diverted from this plan when she happened to attend an evening lecture on campus by internationally renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin (Spiritual Midwifery, and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth) of The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. Gaskin’s articulate presentation upended everything Michelle thought she knew about birth, stripping away layers of ignorance and fear to reveal the incredible potential for love, empowerment, and even bliss in the birth experience. Soon after that pivotal experience, she felt a calling to midwifery - a certainty that dedicating her life to this work would be the best use of her mind, passion, and energy.
Michelle realized that anthropology afforded her an ideal opportunity to gain an important theoretical foundation for learning midwifery. She found that her studies were infused with tremendous energy as she delved into explorations of cross-cultural studies of birth, medical anthropology, and women’s health. It quickly became clear to her that in choosing to pursue a career in homebirth midwifery, she was aligning herself with a non-dominant paradigm of women’s health. Michelle’s research for a medical anthropology class on electronic fetal monitoring led her to the fascinating realization that the routine use of many birth interventions in mainstream obstetrics is actually contraindicated by mainstream studies. She learned that although homebirth midwifery is often considered to be rather radical, its practices are very evidence-based - supported by data from published mainstream research.
After graduating from Smith, cum laude, Michelle completed a year of traditional apprenticeship with a group of homebirth midwives and became a birth doula. She then continued her studies at a small midwifery school in Florida, earning a degree in Licensed Midwifery. Concurrently, she attended births in homes and at a freestanding birth center as a student midwife, as well as in hospitals as a birth doula. She completed her clinical studies attending births at Casa de Nacimiento in El Paso, Texas and in a high-volume inner-city clinic in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The physical conditions in San Pedro were incredibly difficult, but she learned how "birth happens” despite a lack of basic necessities. Subsequently, Michelle earned the designation of Certified Professional Midwife, a nationally recognized designation offered by the North American Registry of Midwives.
Currently, through her practice Warm Welcome Birth Services (http://www.warmwelcomebirth.com/ ), Michelle works as a birth and postpartum doula, as well as an instructor and mentor of aspiring doulas and midwives. While she has a deep love for the intimacy and individuality of homebirth, she also supports the large number of women who birth in hospitals. As a homebirth-trained midwife hired by families who birth in hospitals -- usually for social, financial and emotional reasons -- Michelle dwells in a fascinating place of ambiguity. Because the standard practices of these institutions are sometimes discordant with the client's birth vision, she strives to co-create with hospital staff and client a satisfying, safe birth experience that fulfills the very deep human need for a meaningful rite of passage into parenthood. Michelle also currently practices as a homebirth midwife under the auspices of Warm Welcome Home Birth, (http://www.warmwelcomehomebirth.com) providing complete prenatal care, attending homebirths, and providing European-style home postpartum midwiferyu care. She enjoys using her mind, passion and energy - supported by her anthropology studies - to teach new parents and doulas about birthing, and she strongly believes that our culture needs many more doulas, childbirth educators and midwives. She knows that these professionals, in partnership with educated, empowered families can increase the health and humanization of birth in our culture.
In her spare time, Michelle enjoys baking organic artisan breads, hiking & camping in Western Massachusetts with her partner & children, heirloom gardening, running, knitting, and dancing with wild abandon.
Victoria is an ORISE Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where she works on cholera surveillance in the WHO AFRO region. She works within the Field Epidemiology and Lab Training Program that enhances the public health workforce capacity in African countries. Her team collaborates closely with USAID and WHO to improve disease detection and response by enhancing disease surveillance. These efforts have primarily focused on communicable diseases but are slowly incorporating chronic diseases as they become a pressing imperative in many developing countries.
While at Smith, Victoria focused on Development Anthropology and studied abroad in South Africa on a public health program with SIT. There she was able to do a thesis on exclusive breastfeeding and HIV in a Durban township. After graduation, she did a year of Americorps NCCC, volunteering in 3 states; she worked to reduce homelessness in Louisiana, improve education in California and reduce teen drug-use in Alaska. From there, she went to the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University for a Master’s in Public Health, focusing on Global Health. Through her Master’s program, she was able to travel to Malawi to conduct a qualitative research study on barriers to cervical cancer screening among women living near a hospital that offered the service free of charge. Victoria was invited to present this data at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in 2010 and it is currently under review for publication.
Victoria’s favorite Smith experience was living in Hopkins House, one of the two co-op houses on campus. Discussions at the central table often brought several disciplines of theory and practice together to enrich the inter-connectedness of thought within academia and beyond. Out of Smith, she felt that being an Anthropology major equipped her to continue facilitating horizontal views of programs in international development.
Victoria grew up with four siblings in the mountains of southern Tennessee. She learned about health as social justice by watching her father volunteer as the doctor for the local jail and rural health clinic. She speaks some French, Zulu and Chichewa and is learning Arabic. Victoria volunteers for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta and is a member of a local artist’s collective where she throws pottery. She is also a bike commuter and is planning her second 100-mile ride for diabetes. She may be contacted at: email@example.com.
Laura Taylor-Kale '00
Foreign Service Officer/Diplomat
U. S. Department of State
A career diplomat of the U.S. Foreign Service since 2003, Laura is currently on detail at the World Bank as an advisor to the U.S. Executive Director. Laura reviews Bank Group loans and strategies for the Middle East and Africa and relating to environment and energy policy and extractive industries. She coordinates with U.S. Treasury and State Departments and USAID to develop official U.S. government positions on loans and strategies that Bank management presents to the Board of Directors. Following this special assignment, Laura will join the State Department’s Office of Development Finance as the Asian Development Bank desk officer.
From 2008-2009, Laura served as an economic affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan where she focused on transportation, telecommunications, labor, and environmental policy issues. From 2006-2008, Laura served as the political affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire with primary responsibility for the human rights and trafficking in persons portfolio. From 2004-2006, Laura served as a consular officer for a year and special assistant to the Ambassador her second year at U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India. While serving in India, Laura was cited for her exceptional service in working with the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka to account for over 950 missing American citizens in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Laura interned at the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2001 and at State Department Headquarters in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in 2000 as a Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow.
Laura has long held interests in international affairs, development and public policy. In 1998, she was an Operation Crossroads Africa volunteer in Burkina Faso on an environmental conservation project. While studying at the University of Dakar as a Boren Scholar from 1998-99, she interned for development NGO Africare. In 2002, she interned at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Niger and prepared a socioeconomic analysis of ICRISAT’s market gardening and small drip irrigation project. From 2000-2001, Laura was a research assistant in healthcare and social domestic policy at Mathematica Policy Research. Laura has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Anthropology from Smith College and a Master in Public Affairs with a specialization in Demography and Economic Development from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. As part of high school, Laura completed the International Baccalaureate diploma at the United World College-USA in Montezuma, New Mexico, a two-year international boarding school for youth aged 17-18 who are interested in international affairs and cross-cultural understanding.
Laura is originally from Chicago Heights, Illinois, and her paternal family is from Cameroon. She has traveled throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia and speaks French and some Spanish, Hindi, and Wolof. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is active as a youth mentor in Southeast Washington, DC. Her personal interests include writing, jogging, reading, and cooking/baking. Laura is slowly completing a cookbook and considers herself a lifetime student of African Diaspora and South Asian history and culture.
Ayako Takamori lives in New York City and teaches anthropology courses at New York University and Fordham University. In June 2010, she defended her Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology at New York University. Her dissertation, based on fieldwork research conducted in Tokyo from 2005 to 2006, focused on the experiences of Japanese Americans living in Japan. She recently published an article, “Rethinking Japanese American ‘Heritage’ in the Homeland,” on heritage language speakers in Critical Asian Studies. Her research interests include Asian diasporas, transnational migration, visual and media studies, and comparative race and ethnicity. She is now in Tokyo for two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow
at the University of Tokyo/Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and will be doing follow-up research and starting a new project in
Ayako received a graduate certificate in Culture and Media, a joint program offered through the Departments of Anthropology and Cinema Studies at NYU. During her studies, she produced a documentary video, Portraits of Tomoyo, which followed a Japanese-Mexican artist living in New York City who used art to come to terms with the question of where “home” for her is located. Her M.A thesis was about the politics of history and memory in Japanese American auto-ethnographic film and video.
Prior to her graduate studies, Ayako worked in the non-profit world, for the National Council for Research on Women, as an Executive and Project Assistant. At the Council, she had the opportunity to assist on the report, Balancing the Equation: Where are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering and Technology?, among other projects. She encourages Smith College undergraduates to seek out internships at places such as the Council if they are interested in learning about the NGO and non-profit sector.
At Smith, Ayako double majored in Women’s Studies and Anthropology. She also played piano throughout her time as an undergraduate. Her experiences working for the Smith College Archives/Sophia Smith Collection and the journal, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, were particularly memorable. Ayako credits her education at Smith and the mentorship she received from the faculty for inspiring her to pursue graduate studies in Anthropology.
Ayako is excited about her research and teaching, and looks forward to embarking on a career in academia. She occasionally blogs about her interests at http://spectralasia.blogspot.com.
After graduating from Smith College, Suzanne spent a year working as a Consumer Insights Specialist at Mediaedge:cia (MEC) a media buying (part of advertising) agency in New York City. There she researched market and media trends and was part of a team that conducted consumer research on what people bought and what media they used to inform advertisement placement (which TV show an ad would run in, which magazine it would be printed in, etc.). The research enabled clients to place their advertisements in spots that would maximize reach to the people most interested in their product. Suzanne’s work at MEC included one-on-one interviews, focus groups, focus group blogs (focus groups that take place in a chat-room setting) and video-based research. She also developed and delivered presentations to clients on consumer and media trends.
From August 2008 to August 2009 Suzanne lived in India on a Fulbright Fellowship and a Critical Language Enhancement Award for Hindi Study. For her research she investigated the branding and marketing of consumer products in India, focusing on issues of economic growth, women and the media, and women in the workplace. She conducted interviews with advertisers, branders, marketers, models, actors and media personalities, and conducted observational research at two marketing and advertising offices in both Delhi and Mumbai. One of these resulted in a six-month case study of an advertising agency and one of their clients, a cosmetic brand, in Mumbai. During her Fulbright Fellowship, Suzanne presented preliminary findings at the annual South Asian Fulbright Conference in Kolkata. She also presented her research at a high school in New York City upon her return to the US, and was asked to mentor students’ final research papers, helping them find research resources and think about current South Asian events and US - Indian relations in relation to their paper topics.
Suzanne is currently working as a Research Assistant at Westat/ Westat India in the Washington D.C. metro are. Suzanne is part of a new, small team that has opened a Westat office in India. As part of the Westat India team Suzanne writes and researches new business proposals and explores potential partnering opportunities within India. She also works on funded projects, including a large-scale research project on child malnutrition in the poorest districts in India. For this project Suzanne used her anthropological knowledge of variances in culture to help team statisticians develop the project’s sampling plan and in the design of the interview protocol. Suzanne is also using her knowledge of Indian culture and the Hindi language to help write survey questionnaires. Along with Westat India, Suzanne is part of a team that monitors federal government data collection and which is currently monitoring and evaluating the use of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. These funds were allocated to States to save and create jobs - including in the education sector - in a strategy to spur economic growth.
Suzanne was born in New York City to two anthropologist parents who are excited to visit her whenever she is not in the US. When not comparing D.C.’s Metro to New York City’s subway, Suzanne can be found revising an article on her Fulbright research which she was asked to re-submit to an academic journal, running in D.C.’s beautiful parks, playing soccer, cooking, and exploring museums and memorials.
Shelley Silverman (Class of 1988) lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and has a private practice for psychotherapy at King Kalakaua Center for Humanistic Therapy. She works collaboratively with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. She is both a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist and Family Nurse Practitioner. The clinic, founded by Dr. Rene Tillich, provides psychodynamic individual and couples therapy. Shelley considers Dr. Tillich (son of the theologian Paul Tillich) and Dr. Laurie Sanford (Psychologist, trained at Harvard with Dr. Judith Herman in violent trauma work) as important mentors.
Hawaii is an ideal place for someone with a cultural anthropology background due to its diverse population. During clinical supervision, cultural issues are often discussed. Shelley relies on her strong foundation in critical thinking and theory from her Anthropology and Advanced Practice Nursing training in her practice. She adheres to a holistic assessment incorporating culture, medical history, environment, spiritual beliefs, family, and health status.
Prior to entering into private practice, Shelley developed a Psychiatric Homecare Program for Queen’s and Kuakini Hospital. She worked as a clinician for the Healthcare for the Homeless Project, for which she was honored by the American Psychiatric Nurses Association for “Best Practices in Schizophrenia.” She has worked in primary clinics in the Hawaii Prison System. She has also taught undergraduate and graduate Nursing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Doctoral level Psychopharmacology at Argosy University.
Shelley is actively involved in the Honolulu community. She is President of the non-profit Pacific Island Concert Artists, a Chamber Music Organization. She likes to walk the beach collecting shells, making jewelry, and caring for homeless kitties in her neighborhood. Shelley is originally from Memphis, Tennessee. She is the third generation in her family to attend the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. (Interestingly, her grandfather was nearly not admitted to the medical school when they discovered he was Jewish). She credits her parents, Michael Silverman, M.D. and Kay Silverman, B.S.N., RN, for strongly encouraging her to enter into healthcare.
Grace Lee '00
Special Service for Groups
As part of the Research/Evaluation Unit at Special Service for Groups (SSG), Grace Lee provides technical assistance on community-based action research to nonprofits throughout Los Angeles County. She conducts key stakeholder interviews, facilitates focus groups, and designs databases and evaluation tools for agencies such as First 5 L.A., Koreatown Youth Community Center, Downtown Women's Center, and Asian Pacific Islander AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT).
Grace has been committed to working with marginalized and disadvantaged communities. At Smith, she volunteered at the Northampton needle exchange program and wrote her honors thesis on the role of needle exchange programs in HIV prevention. With a Praxis grant, she interned at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation/HIV Prevention Project for a summer and was hired as staff upon graduation. She also interned at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy for a summer, conducting research on pesticide use in family farms. After graduating from Smith, Grace applied her anthropological training while working on several research studies and community health projects. She recruited and interviewed homeless injection drug users at San Francisco's county hospital emergency room and provided intensive HIV education for a study on hospital-based syringe exchange, and interviewed incarcerated youth for a demonstration grant to implement an integrated system of care to reduce recidivism. She interviewed multiethnic pregnant women for a study examining ethnic disparities in birth outcomes, administered hepatitis testing in Bay Area bars for a pilot study, and recruited gay men for a San Francisco Department of Public Health HIV vaccines trial. Grace also served as a hepatitis test counselor/phlebotomist at the Berkeley Free Clinic and conducted street outreach and overdose prevention education for the Berkeley needle exchange program.
Upon the encouragement of her Smith advisor, Dr. Joralemon, Grace decided to pursue a Master of Public Health at UCLA, and completed her practicum at the youth peer education program of a women's reproductive health organization in Guatemala. While completing her M.P.H. in Community Health Sciences, she worked as a Field Observer for a study on California Assembly Bill 13 compliance, conducting ethnographic observations in L.A. County Asian bars and interviewing Irish bartenders and patrons. She also received a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies (with concentrations in Spanish/Portuguese, Anthropology, and Public Health) from UCLA. Upon graduation, Grace served as a HIV/AIDS Officer for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Dili, East Timor, where she provided HIV education trainings and rapid testing to peacekeepers and managed data monitoring and evaluation. Subsequently, she returned to Los Angeles and worked as a consultant for Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, where she coordinated the Los Angeles Overdose Task Force and facilitated a training for LAPD officers on drug overdose response before starting her current position at SSG.
Grace was born on a U.S. army base in Seoul, Korea and was raised on military bases on three continents. She studied at a music conservatory in Caracas, Venezuela (where she developed her interest in Latin America) on a year-long scholarship prior to entering Smith. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and serves on the community advisory board of Points of Distribution, a mobile needle exchange program serving Oakland and San Francisco. Her interests include vegan cooking/baking, Daoist yoga, writing, attending art/music/food events, and exploring the vastness of L.A. County. She is working on a vegan cookbook and a memoir.