BA Writing & Literature, Poetry concentration
A writing and literature graduate from Omaha, Nebraska,Heather Akerberg found herself drawn to Naropa's Writing & Poetics Department by its most famous teacher. "I saw Allen Ginsberg perform in Lincoln, Nebraska with Philip Glass," she says. "Ginsberg was so charismatic; I remember thinking to myself, 'I want what he has.' In that evening's printed program, it mentioned that Ginsberg had started a writing program at Naropa in Boulder.
"I went on to open a small bookstore/café. After a year of running my own business, I decided that instead of selling books, I'd like to learn how to write them. There was a series of serendipitous reminders about Naropa throughout the year. At some point, I finally decided to apply to the program."
Heather found the diverse class offerings stimulating, and it wasn't long before participation in studies such as t'ai-chi, African dance, and somatic psychology began to influence her writing style. "My creative work tends to manifest itself in long prose poems, meditations if you like. I don't think I would express myself the same way creatively had I not been exposed to such a variety of contemplative practices. Just as the learning experience at Naropa is experiential and tends to bleed into every area of your life, I feel that the knowledge I gained at Naropa is a part of who I am and is expressed in all that I do."
Heather, who has taught English composition and bookbinding, as well as worked as a freelance writer, recalls the Summer Writing Program as a highlight of her time at Naropa. "It's a real gift for a young writer; it's like having an all-access pass to the contemporary writing world. If you want to challenge yourself, then apply to Naropa. If you're open to changing your mind, quieting your ego, and living with compassion, this is for you."
BA Interdisciplinary Studies
When the Buddhist lama walked into Dana Henderson's northern California sangha and asked what Henderson was doing with her life, she said "meandering." Evidently, the lama saw potential for more and put her in touch with a former Naropa employee. One road trip and an application later, Henderson arrived in Boulder to study Writing & Poetics, Religious Studies, and Gender/Women's Studies.
Philosophy and foreign language also call to Henderson, who is fascinated by nearly all subjects within the humanities, and wouldn't be afraid to add them to her already crowded academic plate. "I was first attracted to INTD as a major because it allowed me to transgress the boundaries of one field," she says. "I have always excelled when I can have many different kinds of learning happening simultaneously, and the INTD program allows students to expand their thinking outside of, as well as between, the disciplines. I would tell a prospective student that if they are willing to live creatively, explore/contemplate their inner narrative, deeply engage in scholarly research, and form a strong foundation for their undergraduate education, then INTD is a good place to be."
Henderson graduated in spring 2009, and hopes to work with globally oriented nonprofit organizations that address "women's rights as human rights." In the meantime, she praises the department's organizational structure. "The faculty are exceptional teachers," she says, "And I have always felt encouraged to stretch my boundaries through action and contemplation." It's a habit she intends to keep.
BA Peace Studies
From a San Diego family that made politics and religion topics of regular dinner-time conversation, Jenna Corbin has never been satisfied with conventions, instead preferring to apply critical thinking to all parts of life. By the time she settled on Naropa as her university of choice in the fall of 2005, she had already tried and rejected four other institutions. "I had a friend who, while practicing with a Buddhist community, kept saying that I should come here," she says. "I was always interested in the idea that personal process should be a part of the learning process."
Shortly after arriving, Jenna got involved with the Student Union of Naropa (SUN), which directed her attention to peace studies. "Last year, the Sakyong presented the Dalai Lama with a Living Peace Award at the Shambhala Mountain Center, and he wanted it to have a connection with Naropa, so some of us in SUN interviewed Sudarshan Kapur. I was really impressed with his insights and perspectives, and took a course with him in the spring. I've always been interested in what inspires and sustains political action, and what was happening in that class allowed those parts of myself to show up.
"Honestly, when I first heard about Peace Studies I rolled my eyes, but I was secretly curious. I had already been through a period of burn-out and was rather cynical. It was actually by engaging my doubt about peace as a viable option that I was able to broaden my imagination and understand what is possible when 'peace' becomes a verb rather than a noun. For me to believe in something or feel it's truth, it must become an experimentation process. I remember Sudarshan talking about the areas of the degree program, and he was making this idea of peace into something tangible, graspable, relatable--it ceased to be a vague concept.
"What's brilliant about the courses is that we're starting to look at peace and war from a variety of perspectives, and the multitude of voices is really useful to me because, with all respect to the Dalai Lama, I need more than just him to tell me that peace is an option. In my experience, the alternative perspectives of well-respected authors and teachers who affirm love--when so many others want to talk about hatred--helps us engage the mainstream discourse on war and peace. Those voices seem to reflect a story of humanity that is less often heard, and they seem to come back to a common answer of love. I think it's a very complete program, and I just wish I had more time here."
An internship is required to complete the Peace Studies major, and Jenna worked for the Denver Justice and Peace Committee, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting economic justice and human rights in Latin America. The work, she explains, involved writing letters to Congresspeople and Senators, as well as researching economic policies in Latin America. "I spent the summer in Nicaragua doing an independent study," she says, "And the issues around fair trade versus free trade became alive for me."
Jenna's aspiration is to work with young people, supporting their civic engagement. Since graduating in 2008, she has worked with PeaceJam, and is now employed with Planned Parenthood of the Rockies. "Underlying Peace Studies is the idea that we can't just say what we're against; we have to say what we're for. So how do I name what I'm for? I'm still learning how to shift my paradigm, to create alternatives to militaristic thinking, but this program has changed who I am, so wherever I go, whatever I do, that will ultimately show up."