What is something you own, but everyone else uses? The answer: your name.
“Namesake,” a new podcast by Liza French ’19, examines names and the effect they have on our lives. French researched, wrote, recorded, and produced the three-episode series as her honors thesis this year.
French devotes her first episode to examining the origins of her own name and interviews others about how their names impact their lives. She concludes that not only do our names identify us to others, but they also play a critical role in how we identify ourselves. Through interviews, she discovers that “not every name is unique, [however] every name story is.”
French majors in Media, Culture, and the Arts (MCA) and Spanish; she combined the two disciplines while studying abroad last year and interning at Radiópolis, a community radio station in Sevilla, Spain, where she helped produce a radio show, researched events, conducted interviews, and prepared segments. French also interned at WICN 90.5, a jazz radio station in Worcester, and helped coordinate the station’s participation in community events including the city’s “Out to Lunch” festivals and “Jazz at Sunset” concerts.
Hugh Manon, associate professor and director of the Screen Studies and Media, Culture and the Arts programs, described French as “undoubtedly one of the brightest undergrads at Clark.” She received the 2018 James Bogdanoff ’82 Fellowship, an award given annually to an undergraduate student who shows demonstrated interest in journalism or television journalism, as well as exemplary character and integrity. An active member of the Clark community (she is a member of the women’s cross country team, serves as an Admissions Ambassador and is a mentor in the All Kinds of Girls program), French is also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
In the interview below, French reflects on her Clark experience, describes what she likes best about her major, and elaborates on her future plans.
How has your time at Clark prepared you for experiences outside the classroom?
At Clark I’ve learned how to collaborate and network, and to rely on my peers for help. In high school, I felt like an individual — I was really kind of a loner — and I prided myself on completing all my work on my own, without help from other students or teachers. That’s not really how Clark works. At this school, you meet too many people who have amazing skills and cool ideas. It doesn’t make sense to isolate yourself.
My hope is to work on a radio show or podcast team, and my time at Clark has shown me how to offer my best self to a team while accepting others’ skills as well.
Why did you choose to attend Clark?
I was looking for a school in an urban location — different from my rural-suburban hometown — and I was interested in a liberal arts education. Clark is one of the few schools I know of where these two criteria converge. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study or where I wanted to be when I graduated from college. I was thinking very logistically when I applied, but once I arrived it was the community that made me love Clark.
What do you like best about being a student at Clark?
I value the close student-professor relationships at this school. Academics are the principal component of my life at Clark (I’ll out myself as a “school is life” kind of person!), and I have always appreciated the consistent support the faculty have offered me. I’ve never had a class where the professor didn’t know my name, and I’ve always felt like I had access to the resources I needed to be successful and go the extra mile.
Why did you choose your majors?
Spanish was a no-brainer for me. I knew I wanted to continue improving my Spanish skills while I had access to college Spanish courses; a second language is a useful skill in any discipline. I also think that opening your mind to another culture, both how it developed and how it functions, not only helps you to better understand your own, but also makes it easier to empathize with people who have different perspectives. Those skills have always been important to me.
I chose Media, Culture, and the Arts because I love thinking about how human beings create the cultural norms and ideologies that we all take for granted. Art is a critical mode of expression and thought. I wanted to feel like I was able to make effective art, analyze its impact, and influence society in a constructive way through my own expression.
What do you like best about studying your majors at Clark?
Spanish has given me some of the skills I value most. My relationship with language has changed completely. I feel empowered to access a whole new category of literature, art, film, and music. And, in terms of my interest in culture, it’s always easier to make a comparative analysis than an independent one. Learning about various Spanish-speaking cultures has shown me how to notice when I don’t know something and also allowed me to better understand the place I grew up.
MCA has some of the coolest classes offered at Clark. You can study glitch art, punk music, cult films, black and white photography, and so much more. I think MCA is deeply challenging, seriously rigorous, and a ton of fun. If you allow yourself to take culture seriously, you can learn why memes matter, how films change people’s minds, or how public art influences political decisions. The things we talk about at dinner with our friends are the things that are changing the world. The fact that I can study that in a serious academic setting is so exciting to me.
Can you describe a memorable learning moment at Clark?
I took Radio Journalism in the Community as a sophomore, and that class really taught me a different kind of work than the classes I had taken before. In high school, I was used to essay writing, tests, quizzes, and homework. My first year at Clark, I learned how to present in front of a class, organize a research paper and develop a group project. But Radio Journalism had us out in the field. We reached out to our subjects, organized interviews, figured out transportation or how to record over the phone, wrote our narration, edited our audio, published, and more. I learned about organizing my own time and taking into account other people’s busy lives. It was a crucial lesson and, ultimately, that was the class that introduced me to radio and made me want to pursue radio and podcasting.
Who are your faculty advisers, and how have they helped you?
My faculty advisers are Hugh Manon (MCA) and María Acosta Cruz (Spanish). Both of them are amazing advisers, and I truly appreciate all of their help these past four years.
Professor Manon sent me an email while I was a first-year and asked me if I would be interested in being part of the first group of declared MCA majors. He recognized my potential that early in my college career and has helped me throughout my time at Clark. We’ve had meetings where we discuss course selection, my honors thesis, my post-graduation plans, and even just funny moments from class or our lives.
Professor Acosta Cruz has also known me since I was a first-year. She helped me plan my study abroad journey and apply for grants, and we’ve been out to lunch and talked about the politics of linguistics and art.
Besides faculty advisers, are there professors or staff members who serve as mentors or inspire you? Why?
I really appreciate where the Screen Studies staff is at right now. When I arrived as a first-year, the team was a little more homogenous, and I think that since I’ve been here, the department has worked hard to develop into a group of people with a much wider range of expertise. Now you can speak to each member of the program faculty about a topic and get really varied (and still pertinent!) answers. And each person on that team is committed to their students and can put together a rigorous, interesting course. I’m upset I have to leave and stop taking their classes!
What do you hope to do after you graduate from Clark?
After Clark, I’m hoping to work at a radio station or for a podcast where I could learn team-style radio production skills. I’d love to continue researching, interviewing, and making radio stories. I’d also consider continuing working independently, either on “Namesake” or another podcast.