Student Spotlight: Tess Liddy C’20

Tess Liddy C’20

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Boston, MA, raised in Plymouth, MA, and currently reside on Cape Cod.

What attracted you to Drew?

I was drawn to Drew’s proximity to New York City and the United Nations Semester.

Did you know what you wanted to major in your first year? 

I came to Drew believing I would become a lawyer and so I decided to study Political Science. This was the only one of my four fields of study I knew I would pursue when coming to Drew.

I had a professor push me, during freshman summer advising, to keep dancing (I had danced for 12 years before arriving at Drew) and so I took a dance class. From the dance class, Professor Kimani Fowlin encouraged me to audition for the fall dance show; the rest was history. I have taken about 20 dance classes in my time at Drew and choreographed/danced in 7 dance shows.

During the winter break of my first year at Drew I watched the movie Genius (2016). The movie focuses on the relationship between writer Thomas Wolfe and editor Maxwell Perkins. While watching it, I had this “why am I not studying that” moment. My biggest passion has always been reading and editing. I went to my advisor then and told her I wanted a double major and a minor.

My dad immigrated to the US from Limerick, Ireland in 1992. I have spent much of my life learning about Ireland and I try to steer most historical, political, and literary studies I engage in towards Ireland. When my advisor mentioned you can create your own majors and minors at Drew, I asked her about the possibility of creating an Irish Studies minor. We created a plan for me to study abroad in the city my dad was raised in and worked with a variety of professors on campus to form this minor.

Have you done any internships?

I completed 4 internships in my time at Drew. I worked as a preschool assistant teacher at Neighborhood House in Morristown, NJ for both semesters of my sophomore year and the spring semester of my junior year. Though I originally wanted to be a lawyer I now plan to become an elementary special education teacher. I began at Neighborhood House as a part of my Civic Scholars requirements. Working with the students there quickly became my favorite part of my time at Drew. My mother is a BCBA in the Carver Public Schools system in Carver, MA and when she heard how much I loved working with the kids in New Jersey, she helped me apply for a job at her school for the summer program with the special education students. I never thought that this was anything more than a summer job but it quickly turned into my biggest passion. After that summer, I continued to pursue opportunities to work in schools and/or with people with special needs. After working as a Developmental Specialist at Transitions Centers Inc. in South Yarmouth, MA during the summer of 2019, I decided I wanted to pursue more similar experiences during my time at Drew. In the spring of my senior year, I worked as an aide in the special education unit of The Connection in Summit, NJ. Due to COVID-19, this internship was cut short and completed through alternative means.

What is it about Special Education that draws you to it?

I could discuss each of my academic fields, but I want to talk about my intended career. What draws me to Special Education can’t really be defined; it was a series of moments that all collected together until I realized this is where I belong. I always thought the idea of waking up excited to go to work was a myth until I found myself bright-eyed and singing with the windows down on my way to the Carver summer program. I truly can’t understand why anyone would want to work at anything else and I think that’s when you know you’ve found what you were supposed to do. Sadly, there aren’t enough special education teachers out there. I found a field that needs more workers, that I’m good at, and that I love. I think finding that community is rare and I’m so lucky to have found it.

 Have you done any NYC, short or long TRECS or have you done other study abroad experiences?

During the fall of 2018, I studied abroad at the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland. I was able to study politics and English, with an emphasis on Irish literature and the Irish political system. Perhaps the most exciting part of my studies in Ireland was that I was able to take a “Traditional Irish Music and Dance” at the World Academy of Irish Music and Dance. Though I had been dancing at that point for 15 years and knew much about Ireland, I had never been able to learn Irish dance before then. I was able to expand on this through the UL Dance Club’s Irish class, while keeping up with my contemporary training through their other club classes.

Outside of my immediate academic endeavors, studying in Ireland was a life-changing time. I was able to live with my aunt, uncle, and grandfather and commute to class. Living with my grandfather was the highlight of my study abroad. Many grandchildren never get to have that kind of experience and I am so grateful for everything from the trips to the local Chinese food restaurant to getting to celebrate my 21st birthday with him. He passed away this February and I have thought so much about how lucky I am to have spent that 4 months with him.

I was able to hike mountains in Connemara National Park, swim in the Atlantic at Inch Beach in Kerry, take a road trip from Kilkenny to Waterford to Portmagee. I traveled to Amsterdam, Madrid, and London, visiting friends who were studying abroad elsewhere. I had been to Ireland many times before but this time I was able to travel to Northern Ireland and see the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

During the fall of 2019, I participated in the Semester at the United Nations. This semester was the entire reason I came to Drew so that first day in New York felt like a dream come true. To anyone who is thinking of a nycTREC, the train rides are long and you’ll get up REALLY early, but there are so many “I can’t believe I get to do this” moments that make it more than worth it. In true Tess Liddy fashion, I geared my research during the semester towards Ireland. I was able to study the role of UN peacekeeping in the Irish border conflict, commonly known as “The Troubles”. Though I no longer aim to become a lawyer or enter the world of politics, the UN semester reminded me of why I wanted to pursue a career in this field in the first place and why politics matter to me.

Are you in any clubs or sports?

I did not participate in any clubs or sports during my time at Drew because of my heavy involvement in the Dance Department. Taking the Choreography and Performance Studies class means committing to 7-8 hours of class time, minimum 4 hours of your own rehearsals each week (add 4 more hours for each piece you are dancing in), a weekly production meeting, a weekly Theatre Practice and 2-3 weeks of tech rehearsals and then finally our show. Being a part of this community has been my top priority and has provided me a family and a home at Drew.

What are some of your favorite memories of Drew over the last 4 years?

It can feel a bit overwhelming when you don’t meet “your people” in your first year of college, but they do come. For that reason, my favorite memory at Drew in the past 4 years is probably meeting my best friend Seychelle Kulik during my sophomore year. There aren’t many people who will bear hug you the day they meet you in your first dance rehearsal with them.

Some other highlights at Drew have been each closing night of the dance shows, the day I defended my thesis and passed with no revisions, my 22nd birthday, and opening night of my last dance show, when the dance show cast put me inside a solo circle and each danced with me for a few seconds, the day I moved into my senior dorm with the best roommate, and the day a dancer told me I had created a mini-family out of my favorite piece I choreographed.

Did you have any mentors at Drew?

Professor Kimani Fowlin has also been with me since my first semester at Drew. She has spent the last 4 years pushing me to become a better dancer, choreographer, and all-around artist. She advocates for dance and her students consistently. Kimani helps her students realize that dance is for everyone and helps them process their feelings and lives through dance. I’m going to miss her guidance and enthusiasm so much next year.

Professor Neil Levi taught the first English class I took at Drew, when I had just decided on that as my second major. Over the past 4 years, I have been able to come to him about all kinds of issues that were impacting my academic performance and he has always been supportive and understanding in helping me succeed. I had asked for 3 years for Neil to teach an Irish Literature course and in my senior year, he finally did. He responds to the interests and passions of his students always. On the days that you feel like you can’t get out of bed because you were up until 4am working, going to Neil’s classes remind you why you put in all that work in the first place. His classes and passion for literature have consistently reminded me of the love I have for literature.

I would not have graduated from Drew without the consistent help of Professor Sandra Jamieson. Two majors, two minors (one of which was self-designed), a 5-time choreographer, participating in the UN semester, studying abroad in Limerick, graduating with Civic Honors, completing a thesis for Specialized Honors in Political Science and Irish Studies, and 4 internships was a lot for her to help me organize. Each time I came back with something new I wanted to tackle, I was never told “no”. Sandra has treated me as more than just a student; she’s interested in helping us all become good people. Even in the COVID-19 pandemic, she has spent all week meeting with all her students individually for 40 minutes to an hour to discuss how they’re handling the situation and get individualized assistance on their projects and classwork.

What world issue(s) are you most passionate about?

I am most passionate about the treatment of people with special needs. This doesn’t just mean that we need to treat people with special needs better (we do), but that we need to educate people on these populations. Too often, people with special needs are lumped together as if all their needs are the same. I believe that we should be educating people on Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disorders, and more. We’re all just people and we all have needs. What makes your desire to relax on the beach more “normal” than a person on the Spectrum’s desire for their preferred sensory stimulation? Any form of acceptance and better treatment begins with learning and understanding.

Are there any hobbies, activities, or fun facts you would like to share?

I like to write, draw, paint, knit, crochet, and travel.

Fun Facts: My favorite superhero is Spiderman, my favorite color is green, I have dyed my hair 7 different colors in the last 3 years, my 2020 New Years’ Resolution was to watch at least 1 movie a week that I’ve never seen before; I’m currently 8 movies ahead of schedule at 26 movies over the past 18 weeks.

 What is your dream job?  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

My dream job is to teach dance in special education classrooms. I believe in the way that dance and the arts can help us all access new parts of ourselves. In 5 years, I hope to have graduated with my master’s degrees in Special Education and Dance Education. I hope to be living in New York City with some of my best friends and be teaching every day.

 What advice would you give first-year students?

My advice for first year students is to try it all. If it sounds interesting, go to a meeting. If you think you may be right for the position, apply. We’re taught to fear rejection as children but as you get older, rejection is just a part of life. The very fact that you applied to something shows your growth and forced you to develop new skills. If you’ve always wanted to dance, audition! If you’ve always wanted to get involved in student government, run for office! My time at Drew taught me that there truly is no limit to what you can achieve if you push yourself. Your life is yours – use it.

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