Karen Brown Bryant ’74 and Clara Worrall ’22 celebrate what makes Geneseo special in any era.
By Kris Dreessen
This spring, Clara Worrall ’22 will graduate with degrees in French and chemistry and a minor in anthropology. She started her four years at Geneseo navigating outdoor challenges with other first-year students in the Adirondack Mountains, and she has since studied abroad in Western Africa, completed an internship in a forensic lab, and leads crew training with Geneseo First Response.
Back in 1974, Karen Brown Bryant graduated with a degree in elementary education. An avid swimmer, she helped less-skilled students prepare for their required swim test. Their physical education teacher later recommended her for a swim position in nearby York, and another Geneseo contact got her an offer teaching at York Elementary School, a position she held for 28 years. She earned a master’s in education from Geneseo in 1976.
Worrall’s and Bryant’s everyday campus life experiences were very different. Few students had cars in Bryant’s day; she walked everywhere and typed class projects onto erasable bond paper. Worrall tunes into class on her hand-held phone. Only a handful of students studied abroad in 1974; Worrall is now one of nearly 30 percent of students who go abroad before graduation. Bryant waited in line to draw index cards for open classes to register for; Worrall chooses classes online.
Still, what matters to them most about their experiences is similar. Each felt comfortable on campus from day one; each found a sense of belonging. Their teachers became their mentors, they challenged themselves, and they discovered important lessons to live by.
Q: How did you choose to attend Geneseo?
Bryant: “My family and I visited in the middle of the summer. It was very warm, and when I walked around and felt the breeze at the gazebo, it felt much more comfortable than other campuses — not just in temperature, but in other ways.”
Worrell: “I was undecided for my major. I chose Geneseo for flexibility in classes and study. In choosing Geneseo, I also found my people here, organically.”
Q: You both joined sororities. What are those relationships like?
Bryant: “I lived in Wyoming Hall during my first year, and the Phi Lambda Chi sorority was beside me. There was lots of laughing and enjoying life, but they were also hard workers and willing to help and give advice. In the sorority, I had a sense of belonging to something larger than myself. Now that our kids are grown, we have really reconnected, at reunions on campus, and lately, on Zoom.”
Worrell: “I live with one of my Delta Phi Epsilon sorority sisters, and we are really close. She was my first-year roommate by chance, but we’ve chosen to stay roommates. I’m also very close with recent alumni, who come back for various sorority events, and we stay in touch throughout the year. I also am extremely close with my ‘big,’ who is at grad school. I can’t imagine ever falling out of touch with her. I will stay close with my sorority sisters and look forward to seeing where their lives take them.”
Q: What academic experiences were transformative for you?
Bryant: “When I began participating at the Holcomb Campus School as part of my teaching degree, I found how much I really enjoyed working with the students. I also loved seeing how teachers got their students’ interest. Mrs. Berry used to play some chords on the piano, which meant the kids were supposed to gather around and sit down. I especially liked working in the kindergarten rooms with Mrs. Roodenburg and Mrs. Anderson.”
Worrell: “I researched health care in Senegal the summer following my first year, and it was a formative experience. French was my sole means of communicating with people. It forced me to use the language in ways I hadn’t before and made me realize how useful and important it is. Professor Kodjo Adabra really pushed me to go for it abroad. When I took his class freshman year, I wasn’t anywhere near being a French major; I was taking the class for fun, because I missed learning French. After going abroad, I declared a minor, and then junior year, I bumped it up to a French and chemistry double major.”
Q: What was your experience with faculty?
Bryant: “The professors were very accessible. There was no easy written communication with emails and electronics. We went to their offices, and they always made themselves available for any questions we had. I found them to be very kind and interested in me — not just as a student, but as a person. They worked to guide me in life, not just in class. They have remained friends throughout my life.”
Worrell: “Faculty have encouraged me and have been mentors. Last summer, I completed an internship with the Washington, D.C., Department of Forensic Sciences in the forensic chemistry unit. I analyzed illicit and prescription drugs as part of death investigations or investigations through the Department of Corrections. I had help with my application and a great recommendation from Associate Professor Jeffrey Peterson, my advisor, a mentor and physical chemistry professor.”
Q: What have you learned about yourself through your Geneseo experiences?
Bryant: “As a student, I realized that I had grown up in an area without much diversity. I met students with very different backgrounds at Geneseo. There were lots of people who had grown up in cities or on farms, neither of which I was very familiar with. The campus had many different races and cultures, and I had a chance to interact with them and learn about other ways of looking at life.”
Worrell: “I have bitten off more than I can chew on multiple occasions. Every time I take on too much, I’ve managed to succeed. It’s not ideal, but I’ve learned that I am adaptable and can finish it — and, of course, that I need to take on less sometimes.”
Q: As seasoned Geneseo family members, what advice do you have for current and future students?
Bryant: “Keep trying and be persistent. Make a list of what needs to be done throughout a day or for a big project and check those tasks off as you complete them. Breaking down large goals into smaller sections makes it easier to feel you can accomplish them. As a teacher, I had to handle many things during a day, and this helped me. Starting any project can seem overwhelming, but a list makes it more attainable.”
Worrell: “If something interests you, sign up for it! I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘no’ to doing something in college. I want to try it all. I’ve learned to just do everything, and I will eventually find my niche.”