Rachel Philbrick '07
Leaving Cambridge, Loving Biology
As a daughter of two Harvard grads, raised in Cambridge, MA, Rachel Philbrick had been attracted to Cornell because of its strong biology program, particularly in the area of environmental science. Also, because she had wanted to spread her wings beyond New England, her guidance counselor recommended a look at the Ivy in Ithaca.
Knowing she wanted to combine a "social aspect along with the science," she selected Biology & Society as what she thought would be her primary field of study. In addition to challenging courses in the life and social sciences, it offered her opportunities to get off campus—among them an environmental skills career program at the 1,619-hectare Arnot Teaching and Research Forest.
Not wanting to start cold with another language, she chose Latin, which she had enjoyed in high school. "The more classes I took in the department, the more I enjoyed it," recalls Rachel. "I found a fabulous undergraduate advisor who was a great mentor doing very interesting work" and she enjoyed being part of a small department. She came to know well the ten other majors with whom she graduated.
On the Ground and On the Air
Rachel participated in many of the Classics Department's social functions. She found more friends there, as well as in a triathlon training course that she took for four semesters, and at the student-run radio station, WVBR-FM, where from freshman year on, she deejayed a weekly four-hour music show. Senior year, she was an assistant programming director for the station. "It wasn’t something I thought I would do at college, but it definitely was a really interesting experience." She mastered all the technical equipment to air the broadcasts.
Latin Kept Beckoning
As a Pauline and Irving Tanner Dean's Scholar, Rachel was awarded a grant for summer research/travel between junior and senior year. She chose a program in Rome, taught by a member of the Vatican’s Latin translation office, where she got to speak and read Latin all summer. "It was amazing, really the best two months of my life," says Rachel, who takes pleasure in belonging to the subgroup of Latin speakers within the classics community. She ended up writing her senior thesis in the Department of Classics on the Roman foundation myth during the Augustan period.
After graduation, Rachel found herself surrounded by Latin, living in Washington D.C. just minutes from the Jefferson Memorial. "D.C. is fascinating," she says. "You walk around the buildings—modeled after classical architecture—and there are all these inscriptions in Latin. For thousands of years -- until quite recently, in fact -- Latin has been the language of scholarship."
She went to Washington to teach middle school science through Teach for America (TFA). Without having taken any education courses when she started, she found it pretty rough going, particularly in an under-resourced school setting. ("I knew going in that it would be hard, but had no idea how hard!") But in the process, Rachel discovered her love of teaching. Not teaching science, however.
A New Career Path Discovered
"As I was going through my undergraduate experience, I found that I was increasingly interested in Latin, and in the last two years I kept returning to that interest; I've missed it," she says. She’s been taking courses at American University as part of the TFA program, and will have earned a master’s degree in education by the time her commitment to her science students ends. Then she’ll apply to graduate programs for a master’s degree in classics. With both degrees in hand, she’ll head back into the classroom, this time to teach Latin to high school students.
"My mother takes every opportunity to send me newspaper articles about how they need Latin teachers in the public schools," she says. "I’m confident there will be jobs out there when I’m ready."