Photo Credit Jan Garrison
The Culver difference
March 12, 2020

Two alumni, a CGA senior and CMA first classman addressed distinguished scholarship finalists, their parents, and current recipients during their respective dinners Saturday night. And, while they spoke at separate sessions, their message rang two similar themes: we know what you are going through and expect to change.

The Batten, Duchossois, and Roberts scholarship groups met for dinner on Saturday evening. The Huffington Scholarship candidates conducted their dinner Friday evening. One speaker, Kim Asenbeck ’12, did a livestream speech with the Batten group from her home in Seattle, Wash., because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Asenbeck, past Duchossois Scholar Peter Bin ’11, and current Roberts Scholars Sophie Michi ’20 (Longmont. Colo.) and Diego Gordon ’20 (Ukiah, Calif.) told the group they understood what they were going through. Asenbeck said she was worried about taking too big of bites during her dinner. Bin said he still can’t explain why he decided to apply at Culver. He just knew he should. Gordon told the Roberts group his first weekend memory was sitting in a too-large suit waiting for his interview. And Michi remembers not wanting to shake anyone’s hands because her palms were “disgustingly sweaty.”

Kim Asenbeck speaking from her home in Seattle.

The Batten Scholarship

Asenbeck said she envisioned giving the keynote speech during her candidate dinner over a decade ago. “I wasn’t even focused on getting the scholarship,” she said. “I had fast-forwarded to the point where I’d be at the podium, speaking to all of you.”

She explained that she believes people live in the past, present, or future tense. “I firmly fall into the future tense camp. That might be one of the reasons why I chose a career in tech – there’s no field that’s more forward thinking.”

It was that thinking that motivated her to apply to Culver – “just to see if I would get in.” And, again, to apply for the Batten Scholarship. It was “an itch” that stayed with her throughout her time at Culver. The college application process her senior year, while stressful, also “gave me real joy, imagining what my future could be like at all these different schools.”

She deferred her college admission to spend a year in Brazil with Global Citizen Year. She wanted to “lay down some roots” and connect with her Brazilian heritage. But as the months rolled by, she found herself counting down the days until she would start college.

But her time in Brazil laid the groundwork for her career. Her questions about the country’s transportation system and infrastructure priorities, especially prior to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, led her into economics at college. That gave her the framework for understanding her experience in Brazil. But she realized that economic development work covered too long a period. At the same time she was introduced to computer science.

While economics provided Asenbeck with the knowledge to understand the problems, computer science provided the skill set to solve those problems. She now works at Uber on a team that creates earnings opportunities for drivers who can’t afford a car to connect with fleet owners and rental companies around the world.

The computer science skills allow her to solve problems at scale, she said, “and it’s the servant leadership I learned at Culver that motivates me to apply those skills in service of the greater good.”

She finished by telling the candidates and current students to continue to daydream, but to remember to pause, take stock, and consider that “once you dreamed of being where you are.”

Duchossois committee chair Susan Freymiller deVillier and Peter Bin

The Duchossois Family Scholarship

Peter Bin told the Duchossois Family Scholarship dinner audience he wasn’t “much of a risk-taker” before Culver. But he applied because “I think a part of me knew that if I went through with this, I would come out on the other side a changed person, changed for the better.”

After Culver, Bin graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied finance and accounting. He is working as a research analyst at the investment firm Ruane Cunniff in Chicago.

When he came for his fourth class year, it was the first time he had been away from home for an extended period. He was terrified, as was his mother, Bin said.

“But one thing that Culver understands particularly well, is that even 14- or 15-year olds have a surprising ability to adapt, and to rise to the occasion. When you trust them with the responsibility to not only take care of themselves, but also take care of each other – when you trust them with real leadership – they can do so at a level of maturity beyond their years.”

As he was unpacking, a second classman who lived across the hall came over and introduced himself, offering to help with anything. It was a small gesture, Bin said, yet one that stayed with him all through Culver and beyond. “This is a good glimpse of the kind of leadership that Culver cultivates – to lead by example, and to take care of those I lead.” And the students “really internalize that” in the best way.

Entering Culver, he didn’t “have a ton of self-confidence. Like many people, I wasn’t totally comfortable being myself.” But he learned “how to be more comfortable in my own skin. I am still on that journey, but I think it’s a journey that is very much worth going on.”

He credited the Duchossois Family Scholarship for providing the opportunity for him to attend a summer program at Penn, which paved the way for him to enter the college. And, at Culver, he realized “when you walk through one open door, you tend to find many more open doors behind it.”

“I encourage all of you to be just a little more mindful of the opportunities that cross your paths,” he said. “You just never really know what good things might happen, what new doors might open, when you keep an open mind and dare to venture out of your comfort zone a little bit.”

Sophi Michi and Diego Gordon in the Roberts Hall of Science.

The Roberts Scholarship

Senior Sophie Michi and first classman Diego Gordon told the Roberts Scholarship group they have become different people than they imagined when they first started at Culver.

“Luckily, I have not achieved the majority of my younger self’s hopes and desires,” Michi explained. “Culver, for me at least, has not been about achievements or success – although I’ve had plenty, it is about failure, and about realizing that what you want is not always what you need.”

When she first arrived, Michi said she had “a high opinion of myself.” She imagined all the great successes she would experience over her Culver career. “I wish I could go back and tell her to shut up and take it all in stride.”

During her time, Michi said she has shifted social groups, roommates, sports, fought to take AP U.S. History and won, and let the rejection of AP Biology stand, taking AP Environmental Science instead.

“It is a reminder that setbacks are a part of life here, and that everything works out in the end.” She is now planning to major in sustainable development in college, is on the rowing team, joined cheerleading, and is vice president of the Women in STEM club. She is also the aide to administration.

She told the scholarship finalists that Culver is a place to fail. “Failure is an important part of life, and Culver allows you to do so in an environment that is accepting and picks you up when you fall down.”

She added that actor Hal Holbrook ’42 said of Culver, “’There are places on this campus where I lived and died . . . and out of that I got me.’”

She understands Holbrook’s comment, adding, “you see, Culver did not mold me into the person I’ve always wanted to become; rather, it has transformed me into the person that I needed to be.”

Gordon said his transform includes traveling to Tanzania during second class year and visiting a local Masai tribe. The experience taught him that “that privilege and material goods do not always change the quality of a person.”

While the Masai had so much less, he said, they “were among the most joyful people I have ever met, with the most positive outlooks on life.”

During that year, he also went out for the rowing team and fell in love with the sport. “Rowing has taught me some very powerful lessons. I have learned that even when you think you have given something your all, there is still more to be given,” he said. “This applies to the classroom, to athletics and to anything you work for in life. Without rowing, my Culver experience would have been a much different one.”

The Roberts Scholarship has “allowed me to flourish in all the aspects of Culver life: academics, athletics, and leadership. If I were to take myself back in time to when I was a finalist at this very dinner, I would have never been able to foresee my future at Culver.”

Culver has allowed him “to grow, make mistakes, and make pivotal decisions, like quitting a sport I had played most of my life to pursue rowing.”

Gordon added he is grateful to everyone involved in the selection process for seeing him as an “unfinished masterpiece, and allowing me an opportunity to not always get everything right, but rather to grow, learn, and develop myself as I move onto the next stage of my life.”

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