For a poet, Kristin George Bagdanov ’09 took a prosaic approach to graduate school. She considered the merits of Master of Fine Arts programs, read the work of faculty and asked about financial aid. Her careful search yielded a full-tuition scholarship with a stipend for teaching and two prestigious fellowships. This fall she enters the MFA program in poetry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins as a 2012-2015 Lilly Graduate Fellow. She also received a $5,000 2012-2013 Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship. She’ll get teaching experience each semester and spend the third year of the program refining her creative manuscript.
The third Westmont graduate to receive a Lilly Graduate Fellowship (she joins Kristen Bergman ’06 and Kristen Gaylord ’09), Kristin aspires to teach at a faith-based college like Westmont. The Lilly Program provides $3,000 a year, ongoing mentoring and networking, and an annual conference for graduate students like Kristin seeking an academic career at a Christian college.
“The intimate and challenging nature of my studies at Westmont helped me realize I wanted to teach at a small, church-related institution,” Kristin says. “I think my involvement in Christian higher education will challenge students to think about faith through the uncertain and ambiguous lens of poetry. I’m not interested in writing Christian poetry for Christians only. Rather, I seek to infuse my writing with the depth and hope I have absorbed from the Gospel message, to fight against the trend of poetry that holds chaos preeminent.”
It’s been an eventful spring for Kristin: She published her first poetry chapbook and married a fellow English major, Levi Bagdanov ’10, in May. Finishing Line Press printed the chapbook, “We Are Mostly Water,” because she was a finalist in the 2011 New Women’s Voices Contest. Her work has also appeared in RATTLE, Rock & Sling and The Cresset.
“In my poetry, I’m interested in exploring the tenuous link between faith and doubt, grief and joy,” she says. “I began to examine these crossroads during my junior year as I prepared for my Senior Honors Thesis, ‘Multiperspectival Novels: How Fiction Re-envisions History.’ Westmont encouraged me to develop wholly—in my understanding of the Gospel, in scholarly and academic pursuits, communal relationships, as well as in my artistic ventures in poetry.”
Professors continue to mentor Kristin, and she appreciates these ongoing friendships. “It’s great to see how the student-teacher relationship can transform to one of fellow poets and writers,” she says.
Kristin’s mother, Dottie Spencer George ’74, graduated from Westmont and teaches elementary school. Initially reluctant to attend her mother’s alma mater, Kristin got excited about opportunities with Westmont Student Ministries, and she co-led Off-Campus Ministries for a year. Drawn to service in nonprofits, she spent summers interning at different organizations, from United Way to a prison ministry to an HIV and AIDS program at Saddleback Church in California. After graduating, she assisted Westmont professors Chris and Cheri Larsen Hoeckley as they led the 2009 Europe Semester. For more than two years, she has served as director of development at Sarah House, a facility that provides Hospice care for patients with HIV or AIDS and the indigent.
“I hope to seek ways to combine my interest in non-profits with my poetry,” she says. “I’d love to explore using poetry as a healing mechanism.”