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Rookies of the Year

6 students who made their mark their first year here

With the Class of 2019 getting ready to start their Carthage careers, let’s look back at six members of the Class of 2018 who made an impact during their freshman year.

Benjamin Tillema

Major: German and Physics
Hometown: Grandville, Mich.

Not many students get to do this. Ben Tillema got to do it during his first year at Carthage.

Ben was the only first-year student selected to travel with Carthage’s Microgravity Team to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This year’s trip allowed the team to continue the College’s development of a promising new technology that could help combat the effects of weightlessness on fuel gauge accuracy.

A few years ago, Ben’s older sister went on a tour of campus and while Ben was tagging along, he heard about Carthage’s work with NASA and was instantly hooked.

“That was a huge part in me coming to Carthage, for a small school to be regularly working with NASA was very enticing,” he said. “I did not expect to do it my freshman year, but I just kind of went for it.”

In addition to Microgravity Team trip to Houston, he traveled with Prof. Doug Arion to Arizona over spring break to conduct astronomy research at Kitt Peak National Observatory. “We were able to work with the telescope, which is pretty unique because most astronomers just have someone else position the telescope for them,” he said. “We were hands-on.”

Involved in:

Advice for incoming freshmen:
“From the very beginning, introduce yourself to people. Just really try to connect to as many people as possible because that’s how you find your friend groups. Start a routine to help you keep studying and doing your homework your first semester. I went to the library every day to do my homework. Jump at as many opportunities as you can. Clubs, opportunities like — Arizona or Houston. If it’s too much, you can always downsize. It’s easier to downsize than to branch out later. And don’t stress too much. It might be intimidating, but in the end, it’s not as frightening as it might seem.”

Jenna Leazott

Major: Political Science
Hometown: Elmhurst, Ill.

Spring break is usually a time to dial it back and relax. Not for Jenna Leazott. Jenna spent the first spring break of her college career traveling with the Carthage Model United Nations team to Bucharest, Romania, to participate in a global Model UN conference. It was a thrilling adventure for her first year at Carthage, and she was able to interact with students from around the world.

“I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but I always thought it would be when I was an upperclassman,” Jenna said. “The fact that I got to go to a foreign country with amazing friends my first year of college was an incredible experience. All of my friends from back home were so jealous!”

The jet-setting diplomacy won’t end any time soon. She plans to travel to more Model UN conferences in the future. After Carthage, she hopes to travel with the real deal as a humanitarian for the organization abroad.

Involved in:

Advice for incoming freshmen:
“Don’t be afraid to get involved. You’ll probably feel overwhelmed in the beginning of the school year, but getting involved right from the start puts you at an advantage: You’re able to meet a wider spread of people — from your fellow freshmen to graduating seniors. You’re able to set yourself up for leadership positions, and have something to look forward to on weeknights besides your homework. Don’t be afraid to try new things; I know it’s cliché, but it really is the best way to find out what you’re interested in. If you’re uncertain, go to a few meetings, talk to some people in the club, ask as many questions as you can. It’s totally ok to test the waters with social activities like clubs and Greek life. College is where you find out who you really are, and you might just find the best experiences in the most unexpected places.”

Larry Gill

Major: Classical Archaeology
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.

This summer, Larry Gill traveled to Omrit, Israel, to get hands-on experience at an archaeological dig. The Omrit excavations are a three-phase dig of a Roman temple and settlement in the Israeli desert dating back to the 13th century. It’s definitely not something first-year students do at many other schools. In fact many schools don’t even offer classical archaeology as a major — something Larry is acutely aware of. Spurred on by the study of classics in high school, Larry wanted to major in classical archaeology, but was getting discouraged in his college search because he had only found programs at Ivy League schools and Stanford. However he wanted to continue to play soccer — something he wouldn’t be able to do at one of those schools because soccer programs are only for athletes who have earned athletic scholarships.

Attending Carthage’s soccer camp as high school junior changed all that. “I was at camp and really loved the location and thought maybe they would have an anthropology program; at least that’d be close to classical archaeology,” he said. “I was shocked when I saw that Carthage has a classical archaeology program.” He received one of Carthage’s multicultural scholarships and that sealed his decision.

Involved in:

Advice for incoming freshmen:
“All I can say is that asking for help isn’t a bad thing at all and that they should not be afraid to try things outside of your comfort zone.”

Elizabeth Jackson

Major: Neuroscience and Social Work
Hometown: Palatine, Ill.

There’s planning out your college career, and then there’s what Elizabeth Jackson did. With a double major in neuroscience and social work, a spot as a diver on Carthage’s swim team, and her responsibilities as a member of the Carthage Women’s Ensemble and Concert Bands, Elizabeth was bound to face some scheduling challenges. Instead of giving up one of her extracurriculars, she was determined to make it work.

“I bought a pack of note cards and laid out my schedule for the year and for the coming years and arranged them in a way that worked,” she said. “It was literally like putting a puzzle together.”

What’s even more impressive? Not only did she make her schedule work, she excelled in both the classroom and the pool. She continued to improve throughout the diving season and set several personal records while also maintaining a 3.578 GPA.

“Psychology 1010 and Phage Hunters were definitely challenging because they were taught very differently from any other classes I had taken,” she said. “I had to talk with my professors to figure out how to do well in class and that helped a lot, but mostly I just had to use the resources available to me, and use in them in a way that lined up better with how I learn on my own time.”

Elizabeth hopes to use her degrees to help the homeless deal with what is often the first barrier to getting on their feet: mental illness.

Involved in:

Advice for incoming freshmen:
“Be open-minded. You might just find that the subject you were less than pleased with in high school is a lot more interesting now and you don’t want to miss out.”

Marcelo Hernandez

Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Kenosha, Wis.

Marcelo Hernandez wants to be a high school math teacher. So he spent his freshman year gaining some valuable teaching skills. He worked as a tutor for every single math class offered by Gateway Technical College. Being a tutor might help pay the bills, but the job he values most is role model. The winner of a Kenosha Oaks Scholarship, Marcelo is the first in his family to attend college and he hopes to be an example for his younger sister.

“Once I learned I got the scholarship, my parents said it was like I had a full-time job,” he said. “The amount I got in scholarships is actually more than they made last year, so it makes me treat my college career as if I’m going into work every day.”

Involved in:

  • Math Club
  • Tutor at Gateway Technical College

Advice for incoming freshmen:
“My advice for the incoming class would be to learn how to manage their time properly. If they don’t know how to manage their time, they should at least set realistic goals for themselves. If they know they have a paper due in a day, and they know they get distracted easily, they should account for that. For example, I know if I sat down and focused, I could finish a five-page paper in about three hours. However, because I know I get distracted, I’ll give myself about six to eight hours to write it. As the year went on, I also learned my optimal studying time (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.), which allowed me to socialize with friends and participate in clubs anytime before 6 p.m. It allowed me to be well rounded as well as stress-free.”

Meredyth Wenta

Major: Biology
Hometown: Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

What do a lot of first-year students do their first summer as a college student? Move back home, maybe get a summer job or an internship, and take a little break from the books.

What is Meredyth Wenta doing this summer? She’s representing Carthage and presenting research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Philadelphia. Bacteriophages are small viruses that are found throughout the environment, and they specifically infect bacterial cells. These infections can lead to bacterial cell death, and in the future, phages may be used as anti-microbials to treat bacterial infections. Her research was part of Carthage’s Phage Hunters program. Phage Hunters is a two-semester research-based course in genomics for freshman biology majors, providing them with an authentic research experience that they can’t get anywhere else.

Involved in:

Advice for incoming freshmen: 

  • “Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself with things that you never would imagine doing because those things may end up revealing hidden talents or interests.”
  • “Study. Actually read the material your professor assigns and ask questions if you don’t understand. Start a study group with your fellow classmates; those people will end up being your best resources because everyone brings something different to the table.”
  • “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professors or ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try to new things. Don’t be afraid to meet someone new. College is full of new opportunities, so make the most of it!”


  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2019), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • The Tower, Carthage’s newest residence hall, provides some of the best views on campus — if not in the Midwest! In addition to #carthageviews of the lake from seven stories up, residents enjoy suite-style living and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about all housing options.

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wings, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • 96% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit Career Services.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. 95% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • Carthage has been named a top producer of Fulbright Fellows three years running: 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018. Read about Carthage Fulbright winners.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our science center, student union, athletic and recreation center, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 15 years.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from archaeology to neuroscience, nursing to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our more than 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of students receive financial aid. Carthage awards more than $20 million in scholarship and grant assistance. That includes $1.5 million in competitive scholarships in business, mathematics, science, languages, the fine arts, leadership, and overall academic strength. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” recalls biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 35 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from 75% tuition up to full tuition, room, and board. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about the Carthage core.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 12:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 120 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Fencing to Frisbee, Chem Club to Stand Up Comedy. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …