Alumna January Spotlight: Pia Furkan '12

Catch up with 2012 graduate Pia Furkan.

Name: Pia Furkan
Year Graduated Westover: 2012
College/University attended: Smith College
College/University Graduation Year: Smith College, Class of 2016, B.A. in Government and Sociology (with high honors)

1. Going from Westover to college that first year, how did Westover prepare you to head into a brand new environment, socially/academics, etc.?

I felt very academically prepared for college because of my Westover classes. Although the classes in college were challenging, I had the tools and confidence to succeed in them. Being able to talk about the things that mattered to me with my senior year dorm parent, Crystal, prepared me to participate in the academic and social conversations that were prominent at Smith College.

2. How did Westover give you the confidence to find yourself or find success in college?

Because I left Westover with a good sense of myself and my interests, I was able to make friends and find my passions in college with relative ease. The mentors I had at Westover always encouraged me to pursue whatever interested me, even if those interests were niche and disconnected. They also always supported my growth process and helped me become confident in myself. This type of support have me the confidence to try out sociology in college and then pursue it even though I was unfamiliar with it.

3. What is something you discovered about yourself during your four years? Meaning a new passion, deciding on a major, etc.?

I discovered my love of sociology. I originally took Intro to Sociology my first semester of undergrad because someone suggested I take it, and it happened to fit into my schedule. I had no idea what sociology was and struggled to even understand the readings for the entire semester. However, towards the end of the semester, it all finally clicked, and I knew I wanted to major in sociology because it gave me the empirical and analytical tools that helped me understand my social world. I am now pursuing a career as a sociologist.

4. Life after college: Since graduating, what are you up to? Pursuing graduate school/jumping into the workforce?

After college, I waited a year to go to grad school. I am currently in a Sociology PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

5. How did you decide on what to do after graduating? What was that thought-process like for you?

Doing my undergraduate honors thesis, which examined how Bengali Muslim immigrants in the U.S. live their day-to-day lives in light of surveillance and widespread targeting of Muslims by the government and civilians after 9/11, clarified for me my enthusiasm for producing scholarship that centers marginalized people in academia. Furthermore, sociology fundamentally changed my life and how I saw the world, and I wanted to pass along this powerful set of lenses to others. I knew I wanted be a sociology professor so that I can introduce sociology and cultivate the sociological imagination in others. A PhD degree would allow me to do the research and teaching that I wanted to pursue in my life's career.

6. For you, how valuable are the Westover connections?

Westover connections are absolutely integral to my life. In college, I was able to find mentorship in Matilda Cantwell, a Westover alumna and the Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and College Chaplain. I am currently living with Tam (Westover Class of 2012), who was also the first peer I met at Westover during orientation. Our mutual friend Nicolette (Westover Class of 2012) visits us several times a year, and we talk every day. There are several other friends with whom I talk and visit when possible. I still keep in contact with my Westover adviser, Chris Sweeney, as well as some other influential mentors at Westover. These decade-long relationships are so incredibly precious and rare and give me the support I need to get through my daily life.

7. For the upcoming Class of 2019, what advice would you give them as they prepare to start their senior year, college applications, and thinking about life after Westover?

Keep an open mind to new ideas and to try new things. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and do what makes you happy, and sometimes, doing what makes you happy isn't easy. Find a support network of friends and mentors who can guide and support you through professional, academic, and personal hurdles and encourage you to be yourself and stay connected to your communities through everything you choose to do.