Katharine Tatum was in a peculiar place when she decided on a major. “I was in the library working on a take-home exam for my French class, and I was having such a good time,” she said. “I really liked the idea of learning languages, so I decided right there, in the middle of the test, that I would major in French.”
Tatum’s interest in languages began in high school when her family hosted a foreign exchange student. “I was a junior at the time,” said Tatum. “Our foreign exchange student spoke three languages and was studying two others. I was impressed and inspired.”
That inspiration led to two trips to France with her high school French Club. During one of those trips, she unleashed her interest in photography while in Paris, where she “took as many photos as possible.”
When it came time to choose a college, Tatum selected Wooster over Earlham, where her older brother had gone. Despite her love for languages, she planned to major in something else, “maybe English or political science,” but that was before her epiphany in the library.
“I really didn’t like French all that much in high school,” she said, “but when I came to Wooster and started working with the French professors here, I had a change of heart.”
Tatum also concluded that one major would not be sufficient, so the ambitious student from Ann Arbor, Mich., decided to pursue her interest in photography by majoring in studio art as well. “I look at it as cross training for the mind,” she said. “Each major requires a different way of learning.”
As a junior at Wooster, Tatum spent a semester studying abroad in Paris. She then applied for a Copeland Grant so that she could return to the French capital this past summer to begin work on her Senior Independent Study (I.S.) project, Wooster’s nationally acclaimed undergraduate research endeavor, which matches each student with a faculty mentor in pursuit of a particular topic that culminates in a thesis, performance, or exhibition of artwork. “Of all the trips I’ve taken to France, this was the best,” she said. “I was surrounded by people, but, at the same time, I was totally on my own as an observer.”
Tatum will use those observations to methodically map out her experience in a project that combines both majors. “I plan to create a large scale (10’ x 12’) papier maché map of Paris using some of the 3,000 photos I have taken to create a sort of whimsical and selective view of the city,” she said. “I will also write a creative essay about my experience as a flâneur in the streets of Paris.
“I am excited to combine both majors,” she added. “That’s what’s so great about I.S.: the student chooses the topic, and creates a new school of thought.”
Tatum says that her experience at Wooster has helped her to build a strong foundation for lifelong learning. “This is a place where everyone is excited to learn,” said Tatum, who has made the Dean’s List in all but one semester. “It is exhilarating to be immersed in this intellectual environment.”
After graduation, Tatum would like to go back to France yet again, this time to teach English, travel, and take courses so that she can continue to develop her language skills. She also plans on attending graduate school, and hopes to learn other languages as well.
“Wooster has been a great place for me,” said Tatum. “I didn’t have any connections before I came here, but I know that I will have a lot when I leave.”
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