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SPARC Festival Celebrates Academic Achievement

Katherine Stohlman

SPARC session library

Fulbright Scholar in Residence Cyrelene Amoah-Boampong, Ph.D. kicked off the SPARC Festival, held April 27 and 28, with a discussion titled “Listening Across the Atlantic: Dialogue between Africa and the Diaspora.” Amoah-Boampong joined the Mount’s History Department last fall from the University of Ghana, where she teaches history and coordinates the summer study abroad program.

sparc-session-in-text.jpgThe annual celebration of scholarship, performance, art, research and creativity, showcases students’ scholarly and creative projects. Among the highlights were Honors students’ senior project presentations that reflected students’ year-long studies of work mentored by faculty as well as panel presentations, musical performances, poster presentations and short lightning talks on topics from theology to computer science and from psychology to economics. Students and their faculty advisors proudly showed off the culmination of weeks of careful research and preparation.

sparc-dr-amoah-b-in-text.jpgAmoah-Boampong opened her talk by asking the audience to compare two popular 1980s songs from a Western effort to provide relief to Ethiopians suffering from famine, “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” She discussed how these, and similar media messages, have contributed to the perception of Africa as a poverty-stricken, war-torn continent.

At the end of the talk, she tied the importance of questioning certain narratives about Africans with the Mount’s continued efforts to provide a welcoming and diverse environment, and then opened the floor to student and faculty commentary on how to do so. Insights included a core curriculum that reflected the cultural origins of all members of the Mount and continuing to provide clubs, gatherings, and events for students of various backgrounds.

Amoah-Boampong, who specializes in African women’s activism and African-diaspora relations, will return to the University of Ghana this summer.

The SPARC keynote speaker Rev. Adam Bucko, an Episcopal priest, on April 28 addressed listeners in Knott Auditorium on the topic of vocation and social justice. He discussed his background, and how he felt called to join the “new monasticism” movement and begin working with the poor. The address is available on the university’s Livestream channel, as well as the honored faculty address by Assistant Professor of History Elizabeth Strauss, Ph.D.

sparc-bucko-in-text.jpgBorn in 1970s Poland, Bucko’s childhood was marked by tensions, fighting, and suppression between the communist government and the growing movement for democracy and independence. His childhood parish priest was brutally killed for speaking out against the corruption of the government. As a teenager, he and his family immigrated to New York. It was there that he began practicing contemplative prayer, a technique he learned in therapy.

He spent some time in and around India, learning Eastern principles of spirituality, but eventually felt the desire to return to Christian roots, bringing meditative techniques he’d picked up. While in India, he also began ministering to the poorest of the poor; those suffering from homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, and more. He recounted that he initially felt fear, even revulsion, during many of these encounters. But he also felt drawn to the people he was aiding, and eventually, his misgivings were shattered as he started to see them as friends and fellow creatures.

Returning to the U.S., Bucko began working with homeless youth in Orlando. He eventually became an Episcopal priest and a committed member of the new monasticism movement, teaching contemplative prayer to and mentoring the young people he worked with. He is the author of two books on new monasticism, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation and The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living

Additionally, Bucko moved back to New York and co-founded the Reciprocity Foundation, dedicated to helping homeless teens and young adults. Today, he is the director of the Center for Spiritual Imagination at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York, a center that offers aid to homeless young adults.

Drawing on his own experiences, Bucko encouraged listeners to find God’s call in the area where their joy and their heartbreak over the injustices they see coincide; for him, that has meant working with young people who are facing extreme poverty. His own tumultuous childhood has made him sympathetic to them, and he has a genuine passion for walking alongside them and seeing their growing hope.

sparc-lighted-corners-in-text.jpgAfter Rev. Bucko’s talk, the Mount’s student-run journals began launching their 2022 editions. First up was Lighted Corners, an award-winning annual literary and arts magazine. Volume 41 features more than 60 creative writing pieces and artwork from students on the theme of “ghost.” The magazine’s faculty advisor is Associate Professor of English Thomas Bligh, Ph.D.

Senior Emmy Jansen, C’22, editor-in-chief, opened the launch of volume 41 with a few remarks on the theme. She also spoke of the success that Lighted Corners has again enjoyed—it won a Silver Crown from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, and several pieces within won Gold Circles from the same organization or took prizes in Delta Epsilon Sigma’s writing contest. After Jansen’s talk, some of the contributors read excerpts of their pieces and discussed the meaning behind their artwork.

Following Lighted Corner’s release, the seventh volume of Moorings debuted. Senior Editor-in-Chief Betsy Busch, C’22, opened by thanking everyone and giving an overview of this issue of the journal. Moorings is a humanities journal and this year, featured articles cover topics as diverse as the effects of the Great Migration on R&B, influences in modern architecture, and a comparison of the main characters from My Antonia and The Great Gatsby.

Busch then detailed the editing process and announced that Rita Marcotte, C’23, would be taking over as the senior editor-in-chief next year. Faculty advisors for Moorings include Assistant Professor of History Elizabeth Strauss, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of English Sean Lewis, Ph.D.

Immediately after came the launch of the 15th volume of the theology and philosophy journal, Tolle Lege. Harry Scherer and Lexi Zambito, both C’22, are the current editors-in-chief. They discussed the process of collecting submissions, editing, and synthesizing the journal, and thanked their faculty advisors, Assistant Professor of Theology, Joshua Brown, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Theology and Department Chair Thane Naberhaus, Ph.D., for their support.

Zambito announced that Olivia Prevost, C’22, had won the prize for the best submission to Tolle Lege for her essay titled, “A Critical Analysis of Antiracism.” The 15th volume also includes pieces such as exegeses of different Bible passages and analyses of everything from IVF to Star Wars.

sparc-csi-in-text.jpgThe April 28 SPARC events also included the CSI Challenge, a popular annual event that is usually an intercollegiate event held on a Saturday with universities from the surrounding states and Canada participating. Organized by the Criminal Justice Student Association (CJSA), the challenge uses forensic science and law enforcement techniques to teach students how investigations work in the field by solving a mock crime scene case that is based on an actual case. Working in teams of three, the students spend weeks preparing for the challenge. This year’s winners were Pat Doherty, Richard “Ford” Rubell and Madison Stanchina. CJSA is advised by Lecturer Joseph Vince.

The SPARC Festival Committee is cochaired by Associate Professor of Biochemistry Michael Turner, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Economics Solomon Tesfu, Ph.D.


Katherine Stohlman