As she finishes her second year, studio art major Kelley Yang, ’16, still hasn’t settled on a firm direction for her future. The sophomore year is often about exploring and honing interests, after all. At Richmond, she’s had a lot of options to explore, and she’s set out to do that inside and outside the classroom.
Because boundaries between living and learning blur at Richmond, she could do both at the same time through a course called Technology, Cognition, and Behavior, which asks students to consider how modern technology influences human learning, behavior, and relationships. The course was offered through the Sophomore Scholars in Residence program, so she not only studied with her classmates, but she lived with them, too. For this student-athlete, the experience was golden.
“I love swim team and everything, but sometimes I eat three meals a day with them. I see them at practice,” she says, laughing, one afternoon in Tyler Haynes Commons. “It’s worth it to make an effort to meet other people, and this class helped with that. The whole class lived in one wing of one dorm.”
It’s a move that doesn’t surprise her coach, Matt Barany, who describes her swimming motion as “like an eel in the water.”
“We’re a team with different personalities, and we respect the differences among us,” he says.
Yang probably strikes people who meet her as “whimsical,” says Barany, “but I think as you get to know her, you learn she’s a very strong observer. I think it gives her a unique advantage in her relationships with other people.”
A keen eye for observing others served her well in her SSIR class, where students spent a semester studying “how technology attracts and tracks us,” Yang says. The focus of the second semester was a project in partnership with Richmond’s Faison School for Autism, where Yang worked on a team developing an interactive floormat to aid social interaction.
Yang has been working with young children since she was a girl herself. Her mother, a piano teacher, would ask her to play duets with the music students coming to her home, Yang the accompanist keeping the tempo. She thinks her mother’s teaching style has something to do with her interest in art education, which she is considering pursuing in graduate school after her undergraduate years at Richmond. Her mother taught technique but focused as much on musicality and enjoyment, in contrast with teachers who drill students repetitively for the sake of competitions.
“I appreciate how art gives some wiggle room,” Yang says. “It’s not straightforward. I think there’s a huge loss of creativity in the school systems and the world in general, so I enjoy helping students be creative and finding different ways to explain things. I like the challenges the teaching profession gives a person.”
For now, the challenges of being a student and an athlete are enough to keep her busy. Five a.m. practices come early, especially for Yang, who’s not a morning person. A sprinter, last season she unexpectedly set the school record in the 200-yard butterfly, a longer race. Her coaches want her to keep building endurance, putting her through the paces of the euphemistically named “low rest-interval” training. Setting the school record “proves how much I’ve improved” under her coaches, she says.
As an artist, she is finding her medium while leaving room in her coursework for classes like the SSIR combining technology, psychology, and education. Richmond’s capacity to see across disciplines — and to offer a place where her desire to become an artist meshes comfortably with a high-caliber swimming program — is what brought her here, and she’s making the most of it.
“Right now I’m a sophomore, so I’m still just getting a feel for what the heck I want to do,” she says.