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A Most Enlightening Dinner Party

Mary Naydan '15 poses outside of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pa.

Mary Naydan '15 poses outside of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pa. Photo courtesy of Naydan.

Mary Naydan ’15

You’ll find her in the quiet section of the library, nestled amid the Wordsworth books, or perhaps gathering with friends for a Dr. Who marathon. She’s published blog posts on a major museum’s website and plunged the depths of digital humanities research, and she was the first Dickinson student to earn the prestigious Beinecke Scholarship. In a perfect world, she’d host a dinner party for two of her favorite literary and philosophical figures (even though she says she’s not a great cook). Meet Mary Naydan ’15, an award-winning English major and avid student researcher with a fascination for all things wizardly.



Clubs, organizations and activities:

Belles Lettres Literary Society (co-president), Student Advisory Committee to the English Major, Writing Center (tutor and writing associate).

Honors, scholarships and awards:

Dean’s List, John Dickinson Scholarship, Beinecke Scholarship, Kappa Delta Pi (education honor society) and four English-department awards (2012 Angeline Blake Womer Memorial Prize, 2013 Agnes Sterrett Woods Prize and two Ruth Sellers Maxwell Prizes in English Literature).

Favorite book:

Lord of the Rings (trilogy) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Favorite movie:

Peter Jackson’s adaption of Lord of the Rings.

On studying abroad:

I studied abroad in Norwich, England, at the University of East Anglia [UEA]. I loved immersing myself in the country’s rich history and culture and traveling to Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury and Bath. Traveling and living abroad teaches you things you can’t learn in a classroom. The highlight of my experience was joining the Doctor Who Society at UEA and being in England for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. It was such a cool and timely experience.

Favorite place on campus:

There’s this table in the upstairs quiet section of the library, by the Wordsworth books. It’s my spot.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Pizza bagels.

Favorite professor:

I can’t possibly pick just one. All of the professors in the English department—especially professors [Wendy] Moffat, [Siobhan] Phillips, [Jacob] Sider Jost, and [Gregory] Steirer—have been instrumental to my academic and personal development these past four years. One of the great things about Dickinson is that the small size of the college lets you develop close professional relationships with professors. Each professor has a unique personality and perspective, and I’m glad I’ve had so many opportunities to work with them inside and outside of the classroom.

Little-known talents:

I really enjoy cross-stitching, and I’m a pretty decent artist.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

… J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If I had to choose just one, I’d love to have a lively philosophical-religious discussion with C.S. Lewis. His essays on Christianity have had a huge influence in my life. He’s helped me through some tough times, and I’d like to thank him over a nice "cuppa" after dinner.

About my internships:

It’s really special that at Dickinson undergraduates can conduct research side by side with faculty members to see advanced scholarship in action. In my most recent internship with Professor Sider Jost—which we began in 2013 under a Dana Research Assistantship—now, it’s funded by a Mellon Grant for the Digital Humanities—I’m researching how poets in the 18th century made a living. I like how this project balances valuable economic-historical questions with literary questions regarding the role of poetry in cultural consciousness. Last summer, I was an intern at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., where I was a teaching assistant for the summer art camp. I also designed and produced educational materials for the museum’s exhibitions, created a yearbook and published my writing on the Michener’s blog. During the spring of 2014, I was a Dana Research Assistant for Professor Carolina Castellanos. I helped edit her translated dissertation and conducted research on writing book proposals and submitting to university presses.

On forging the digital frontier:

[Working with Professor Sider Jost, I’ve] conducted extensive archival research, using the library’s electronic resources to compile our own comprehensive database of biographical and publication information for more than 300 poets. [Postdoctoral Fellow] Patrick Belk created a new Web site for us to use this semester. It’s great! We transferred our old data into this new platform, and it made it much easier to input information and analyze our data. I learned research skills that will certainly help me write my senior thesis and succeed in graduate school. I also really liked being on the cusp of something new, since the Digital Humanities is still a pretty nebulous concept in literary studies.

Biggest influence:

Definitely my mom. She’s a tireless worker, a faith-filled Christian, and a three-time cancer survivor—she’s taught me what it means to be a strong woman. I admire her generous spirit, selflessness and boundless energy. She’s also a fantastic cook; I didn’t get that gene, unfortunately.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I’m looking forward to continuing my study of English literature in graduate school. I can definitely see teaching in my future; helping someone learn something is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever experienced. I’d also like to write a book someday, preferably a New York Times best-seller, of course. My current dream is to save up enough money to travel to New Zealand. Above all, I hope my post-Dickinson life is happy, healthy and love-filled.

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Published February 20, 2015