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Jay Brennan ’81
to read Alumni Spotlights.
(photo by Andrew Daddio)
— Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services; on staff since 2001
— BS, Lafayette College; MA, PsyD, University of Indianapolis
— Hometown: Groton, N.Y.
You have an array of responsibilities on campus. Can you describe them?
My primary function is clinical work — providing individual and group counseling. I also coordinate the outreach for our department. If requests come in for counseling center assistance, I help people figure out who in our office is best to reach out.
What is one of your primary outreach projects?
I have worked on sexual assault prevention for a really long time while I’ve been here. I brought together a committee called Keep it Sexy Colgate, and changed the tenor of that discussion. Instead of always telling people what not to do, Keep it Sexy helps them think about what they can and should be doing. Underneath the umbrella of Keep it Sexy is certainly sexual assault prevention, but the focus is also on what people want in relationships.
With what kind of attitude do you approach your work?
I look at the bright side of things, even when it is not obvious. I also think it is important to work as a team. When doing outreach, I try to get to know people so that we can think about collaboration. It is important to collaborate so that we can help educate the campus community, even those who don’t seek out our services.
How do you see that manifest itself in your work?
One way is that I work closely with the Colgate chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute. A few years ago, I was trained to do workshops in prejudice reduction training. We decided that it made sense to train a group here to present workshops helping people to welcome diversity, to figure out what to do if they hear somebody say a racial slur or prejudicial remark, and to understand and accept people who are different.
What do you do after work?
I have two kids, Chloe, 3, and Zach, 6, so I run around chasing them a lot! I like to run, I like to walk, I mountain bike — I hit the trails on campus sometimes. I also started water aerobics this summer. Remaining physically active in a lot of different ways is important to me. [Editor’s note: That must explain why she placed first for women at the 38th Annual Dan Sutton Memorial Race 5K in Cazenovia on July 4 — winning by 38 seconds!]
I dabble in gardening. This summer, I worked on a perennial garden. We’ve been members of Common Thread, the farm outside of town, but next year we’re going to try to grow our own vegetables.
Did you get a chance to recharge over the summer?
My family spent a week up in the Adirondacks at a place called Beaver River; we do that every year. We stay where we have no cell phone or Internet access, and we do a lot of fishing and biking. It’s fun!
— Jason Kammerdiener ’10
(photo by Andrew Daddio)
— Associate professor of religion and Jewish studies; chair of Core 151
— Her forthcoming book is
The Good Book in the Promised Land: The Bible in America
How did you become interested in biblical interpretation?
As an undergraduate English major, I took a class in the history of Jewish biblical interpretation. For the term paper, we had to find 100 interpretations of any passage in the Bible. I chose Genesis 9:22, which talks about what happens to Noah after the ark alights. It was eye opening to see how one verse can be read so many different ways.
What happens if one takes the text literally?
You run into all sorts of problems. Take Noah’s ark. He’s on a boat for a year with all of these animals. What did he do with all that waste? And how did he manage animal instinct? How did he keep the two bunnies from becoming 200 bunnies, or the two lions from devouring everyone else? People throughout history have imagined elaborate back-stories — the animals were in a state of divine hibernation. Once you start filling in the gaps like this, you’re up to something new: creative interpretation. That’s what I’m most interested in.
How do you teach something so amorphous?
With undergraduates, I push them to slow down and read closely. They need to see the surface irregularities in the text in order to see why people have spent 2,000 years trying to smooth them over.
How is it different when you teach older students?
The Lifelong Learners in Hamilton, or the alumni and parent participants of Summer on the Hill, like the possibility that text can mean multiple things simultaneously. This comfort comes, I think, from having had more life experience. It’s very hard to convince college students that they’re mortal — which is what a lot of the literature I teach is grappling with.
How do you teach your own young children?
Well, they’re two and four, so we’re not really focusing on mortality yet! And, while we read a lot of books about Jewish traditions and rituals, I don’t read them the Bible — despite the prevalence of Noah’s ark nursery decorations, it is simply not a children’s book.
What should everyone know about the Bible?
People should be deeply skeptical when someone says “the Bible says x about y,” because there’s a very good chance that somewhere else in the Bible, it says q about y. Readers of all backgrounds with all kinds of agendas plumb the Bible for the prooftexts that support their positions on issues. And they find what they need, but you can be pretty sure that someone looking to make the opposite case is also going to be able to mount a biblically based argument. And that’s where things really start to get interesting.
— Barbara Brooks
Jay Brennan ’81
– Alumni Council member since 2008; class gift committee, eight years; reunion gift committee
– Consultant, Brennan Consulting
– JD and MBA, University of Virginia
We hear that you have an entrepreneurial spirit.
A lot of my entrepreneurial effort has been buying troubled companies and turning them around. For the last couple of years, I’ve been an active angel investor. I mentor entrepreneurs, and I do consulting work, solving whatever problems companies have and helping them move forward.
What appeals to you about turning around a struggling company?
I love being on the steep part of the learning curve. In working with start-ups and turnarounds, it’s a new challenge every day. I get to learn new markets, new companies, and new problems, and then figure out solutions.
What issues are you passionate about on the Alumni Council?
I am chair of the career services committee. We’ve launched Maroon Advantage [career advising for alumni], with in-person networking events and career-related webinars.
How did you develop the idea for the Student Philanthropy Council?
The concept behind it is giving students the chance to experience philanthropy and hopefully make it part of their lives.
What student activities did you participate in at Colgate?
I was involved in theater, which was the best business preparation I got at Colgate — I’m not afraid of speaking in front of crowds. I sold advertising for the
. I was vice president of student government my junior year.
Tell us about your family.
I met my wife, Anne, in law school. We have two daughters, Claire, who is a sophomore at Davidson College, and Hannah, who is a junior at Greensboro Day School (Greensboro, N.C.).
What are your hobbies?
I’m active with my church. I went on my first mission trip about two-and-a-half years ago to Costa Rica. When I was there, I started taking guitar lessons from one of the guys on the trip. I’m now the leader of our church band. Besides that, we are season ticket holders to Duke’s home basketball games. And my youngest daughter, Hannah, is a tremendous athlete, so we spend significant time watching her sporting activities.
What kind of music do you like to play on the guitar?
I love playing the Beatles.
Favorite Beatles song?
“All My Loving”
What is your personal philosophy?
Bad news first. It’s human nature that we want to deal with the positive, but if you deal with the bad stuff first, you do a much better job of solving it and making sure it doesn’t get out of control.
Hiep Tran ’11
(photo by Heather Ainsworth)
– Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam
– Extracurriculars: Student Government Association senator; plans to start a Vietnamese Culture Club this semester
– Colgate summers: In the summer of 2009, he composed and recorded original music for a visualization lab show, which will premiere this spring. Last summer, he conducted economics research with Professor Tom Michl on financialization.
How did you choose Colgate?
Financial aid. Good reputation. I knew people who had come here from Vietnam and they were very happy with the experience.
Had you been to the U.S. before?
I participated in a month-long ESL program in Hawaii in 2004. That experience with the American culture motivated me to study in the U.S. for college.
What is your academic focus?
My freshman year I spent most of my time studying math and economics and was proud of my high GPA. My second year, I started taking piano lessons and learning Italian to participate in the Venice Study group. I spent more time socializing. Now, after three years, I am a double music and mathematical economics major, and I am proud that my knowledge has expanded greatly. My experiences in America and in Europe have made me a more multicultural person.
How else have you changed since coming to Colgate?
When I first came, I was just “me,” a high school graduate from Vietnam. Now I am a Vietnamese-cultured student at an American university — a very different person. I owe much of the difference to what I have learned about the American culture. I am sure many American students feel the same way about foreign cultures brought over by international students. There is a mutual benefit: international students learn at the same time as they teach. American students teach at the same time as they learn.
How has your cultural context affected you as a student?
I wasn’t aware of any disadvantage at first, but certain material, such as music history of the Baroque period, was like a blowing wind. I could understand the material semantically, but I couldn’t absorb it. Staying in Venice, I suddenly recognized, “Wow! So this is where Monteverdi was working. This is what it feels like to compose, to play, to listen to music in the 16th century.” At the same time, I tend to compare what I see and learn to what I know of my own culture, which poses other interesting questions.
Given all you’ve learned about yourself while at Colgate, what’s a life lesson you’ll take away?
The human capacity is boundless, and I have learned that you can do something practical and at the same time follow your passion. I don’t think there is any limit on what a human can learn or can do.
— Barbara Brooks
Wil Redmond ’08, Colgate Trustee
– Joined the board in 2009; Presidential Search Committee member
– Student involvements: Religion major, track and field, RA, Campus Safety student coordinator, Office of Undergraduate Studies program coordinator, Konosioni, Urban Theater
– Master’s degree student, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
– Fraternity house director, Emory University
Where will your masters of divinity take you?
I want to teach religion at the undergraduate or graduate level, so this is the second step toward my PhD. I’m applying to doctoral programs this fall.
How did you come to choose that path?
Sophomore year, I took a class with Georgia Frank and fell in love with studying religion, how people think, and their belief systems. And, at the same time that I was taking a higher-level theory and methods course, I took Chris Vecsey’s intro course, where I was able to teach things to my friends in the class who were freshmen. I really enjoyed that, and decided to make that my life’s work. I had good mentors in Georgia, Chris, and Harvey Sindima, who all really pushed me.
Did any personal experiences with faith have to do with it as well?
My grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness, and she would push her religious beliefs to the side in order for us to still experience life as kids. We would get birthday gifts and things of that nature, just not on those days. That always puzzled me — Oh my God, my grandmother is going to hell! What am I going to do? — and provoked my curiosity in religious studies.
Tell us about your outreach efforts.
For the past year and a half, I have been leading one class group at Essential2Life, a nonprofit program for inner-city high school students in Atlanta. I got involved through my curriculum, which requires an internship. This year, we brought in 37 high school sophomores. We’re going to see them through their senior years and getting them into college, which is our main goal. Teaching them leadership skills and making sure that they’re influential in their community is what we really want.
As a young alumnus, how do you think you contribute to the board?
Because I have a closer connection to current students, they are more willing to come to me and say, “This is what’s going on,” or “We have a problem with this.” Getting students’ perspectives helps us when we’re making decisions. Also, our alumni base is getting younger, and reaching young alumni is tough. I can reach out to those people and say, “We need your help. This is where you can plug in.”
Is there a particular initiative at Colgate that’s most dear to your heart?
We have to step up in getting alumni involved, such as coming back to speak at events, or hosting things in their cities. This summer, I helped organize an event with an alumni discussion panel introducing high school students in Atlanta to Colgate. An event like that does two things: it helps admissions bring in great students from a diverse pool, and helps alumni feel they have a stake in Colgate.
What do you do in your spare time?
I play rugby at Emory; I like to get out and run around with the team. I’m also a video game junkie — senior year, my friends and I would plug into the TV in HRC and play for hours.
— Rebecca Costello