There’s no substitute for experience. Any journey, particularly a road less traveled, is often bumpy, uncomfortable and, at times, seems never-ending. But it’s rewarding, too. Absorbing life lessons brings self-discovery, sharpens one’s focus and develops valuable leadership skills.
Kenneth Davis and Yasmine Hachimi are University of San Diego seniors and they know what awaits them. In May 2015, they will walk across the Jenny Craig Pavilion stage to reach what for many is an academic finish line. Davis and Hachimi will earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English, respectively.
When this happens they’ll think about far they’ve come. Davis is a transfer student. Hachimi attended USD for one year, left for seven, and returned in 2011. Both will credit their participation in the TRiO/USD McNair Scholars Program because they plan to attend graduate school in Fall 2015.
“Let your passion guide you and enjoy the process,” states the 28-year-old Hachimi, who first attended USD in 2004. She took business classes, but said it wasn’t her choice. She left school, worked and paid her own bills. Eventually, she reapplied and returned, only this time it was to pursue her passion for arts, literature, reading and writing.
“You have to go with your talents and not try to pursue a business degree when you know you’re really gifted in literature,” she said. “Pursuing my passion is something I’ve really experienced here. I’m beginning to see the fruits of it as I’m applying to grad schools, taking the GRE and seeing my journey as an undergrad come to an end. It’s bittersweet, but exciting, because it has prepared me for all of the challenges and opportunities ahead.”
Davis, who is in his early 30s, chose the Army National Guard after high school. He was successful in marketing and did art as a creative and innovative outlet. When he was ready to seek a college education, he attended City College of San Francisco. He then came south to attend San Diego Mesa College and San Diego City College for a year. When he first visited USD’s campus, he had a copy of Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment in hand.
What he didn’t know until he met with USD Philosophy Department Chair and Professor Michelle Gilmore-Grier, is that her scholarly work was tied to Kant. She even authored a 2001 book, Kant’s Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion.
“It was serendipity that here I am, wanting to attend USD, to study philosophy, wanting to learn to read (Kant) and I end up talking to a great person to study it with,” Davis said. “Dr. Grier is one of the smartest people I know.”
Davis, whose first semester was last spring, has enjoyed his time at USD. He’s quickly built community on campus and he’s making great strides in philosophy, specifically, from an aesthetics and creativity standpoint. “I’m glad I’ve found an area within philosophy that really speaks to me,” he said. “This is what I want to do. When I’m tired, it’s the thing that keeps me going.”
Davis: Creative Approach
Davis and Hachimi’s academic passion has been enhanced as McNair Scholars. The program identifies and prepares eligible students for graduate studies that can lead to a PhD through research training and early scholarly experiences. It has given them a supportive community among fellow McNair students, staff, USD alumni and faculty mentors, and the ability to unleash their respective passions through original research projects.
“Continuity, Disruption and Creation: A Sunrise Inside Experiential Creativity,” is the title of Davis’ project. He’s spent much of this summer working on his visual art piece at an on-campus studio space in Camino Hall.
“The painting pretty much draws from the title,” he said. “You’ll never have a definitive answer for creativity, but what you will get are some necessary conditions toward creativity.
“I want to set a foundation for a theory of creativity,” he continued. “I use words and key terms to emphasize the experiential account of creativity. But the cool part is explaining abstract concepts through art. This way, I’m not only providing an explanation that’s an experiential version of the philosophy of creativity, but also I’ve created an experience for the audience.”
Grier, who serves as Davis’ McNair faculty mentor, appreciates what she’s seen. “I’ve always been impressed by Kenneth’s drive, originality and commitment, but what I’ve enjoyed most about working with him on the research is watching him develop what I take to be a very insightful and original exploration of the creative process. We’re still in the early stages of what I hope will be an ongoing collaboration on the development of his original work. I’m very proud of him. I’m proud that he’s a philosopher, an artist and to be included in his work.”
Hachimi: ‘Power’ of Love Letters
Hachimi’s research is an examination of love letters sent from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, who would become his second wife. Hachimi’s interest in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, a semester study abroad experience at Oxford University and a cable TV series all factored into her topic.
During her academic hiatus, she watched “The Tudors,” which focused on Henry VIII. Though she was interested in this era, she was initially skeptical. “As with any creative work on TV, I wondered how much history was involved and what liberties they might have taken,” she said. “But, I think, many would agree you don’t have to take creative liberties with Henry VIII.”
Still, Hachimi had early reservations. “There were moments when I thought maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I thought scholars had so much to say about Henry VIII that I wondered, ‘what could I add?’ But I felt I had an interesting perspective and I definitely wanted to enter the conversation.”
Examining the letters as a “power play,” not as straightforward love letters, Hachimi sought to answer questions and she tapped into French theorist Michel Foucault’s works, Discipline and Punish and Power and Knowledge, to illuminate Henry’s letters. “I book-ended Henry and Anne’s relationship in the love letters with Foucault’s works at the beginning and at the end because of her trial and execution. I think they’re both great examples of monarchical power at work,” she said.
Maura Giles-Watson, assistant professor of English, is Hachimi’s McNair faculty mentor. She said the opportunity to work with a McNair student is very rewarding.
“Yasmine’s curiosity and enthusiasm are so refreshing and energizing. She’s breaking new ground with her daring reinterpretation of the love letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and with her acute analysis of the disturbing power dynamics that emerge early on their epistolary relations. Working with such a committed research student on a specialized topic of her choosing is also an opportunity for me to learn something new. Her insights have encouraged me to reconsider some of my own long-held views of Henry VIII.”
Davis and Hachimi’s research topics were important beyond just being a McNair requirement. Both showcase the students’ desire for self-expression.
“Both projects show a true depth of maturity, originality and forward thinking, which is reflective of both Kenneth’s and Yasmine’s character,” said McNair Scholars Director Shelley Barajas-Leyva. “As seasoned students, their choices are well informed, their work more directed. They are unafraid to take risks, be creative, and enjoy the process of research, something that takes a lot of patience. Their sense of maturity involves discipline, responsibility and time management. These qualities influence their intellectual approach. When working with them, it is evident how much they value their education. They both appreciate the experience and challenges of learning from McNair mentors and staff, and their incentive for success includes becoming a professor and exercising their passion for learning.”
It’s an experience that just can’t be beat.
— Ryan T. Blystone