Celebrating 40 years at the Ath: Meet the new Fellows

The 2023 Ath Student Fellows.

Photos by Anibal Ortiz

Ath speakers invoke spirit of CMC community

The Athenaeum Fall programming kicks off Sept. 11 with Nury Turkel, Commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.


CMCers treasure their memories of evenings at “the Ath,” which this fall celebrates 40 years in its current campus location, as the center for the College’s thriving intellectual life.

Claremont McKenna College’s spirit of constructive dialogue and responsible leadership comes alive four nights a week at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, which debuts its 2023-24 speakers programming on Monday, Sept. 11, and officially celebrates its anniversary in true Athenaeum style, with cake and tea on Sept. 12 at 3:30 p.m.

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The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum – which celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year – kicks off this week by bringing world-renowned speakers to campus for constructive dialogue to advance CMC’s mission to prepare students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions.

Hosted by four Woolley Ath Fellows, a highly sought-after role for CMC students, the Ath opens September 11 with Nury Turkel, commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and author of No Escape: The True Story of China's Genocide of the Uyghurs.

In addition to suggesting speakers, the Ath Fellows sit at the head table with guests and lead the question-and-answer session following the formal presentation. This year's Ath Fellows include: Adrian Flynn '25, an International Relations and Public Policy dual major from New York City; Henry Long ’25, a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) major with a Data Science sequence from Eden Prairie, MN; Bilge Tayyar ’24, an Economics major with a Data Science sequence from Antalya, Turkey; and Angela “Angie” Zhao ’25, a Mathematics and Literature major from Beijing, China.

As the new Ath Fellows prepare for a busy year ahead, they shared how they hope to add to the cherished CMC venue's legacy.

Why were you interested in becoming an Ath Fellow?

Flynn: To me, the Ath is a cornerstone of the CMC experience and what it means to be a student here. I wanted to do everything I could to support the Ath in its crucial mission of promoting constructive dialogue and intellectual curiosity in a welcoming environment, and the role of an Ath Fellow is uniquely situated to do exactly that.

Adrian Flynn ‘25.
Adrian Flynn ’25

Long: I want to help facilitate constructive dialogue on campus. Since applying to CMC, I have always been enthusiastic about the way that the Athenaeum embodies CMC's commitments to viewpoint diversity, freedom of expression, and constructive dialogue.

Tayyar: I love the daily exposure to new topics and the opportunity to meet people who are as intellectually curious as I am. This is why I was already attending events at the Ath three nights a week last year. I love the personal exposure you get as Ath Fellows and the interactions we have during planning sessions!

Zhao: Selfishly, my aspiration to become an Ath Fellow is rooted in my desire to practice navigating difficult dialogues within an increasingly divided world. As a student, I am already confronted by more frequent occurrences of intellectual discourse soured by ideological intolerance, and I want to be better prepared for it in my future professional and personal life. At the same time, as a Literature major, my heart has always gravitated toward the intricacies of human narratives. Though the prospect of learning from these professionals excites me, I am more drawn to the potential of understanding these speakers not just as experts but as individuals with stories to tell.

What characteristics make an ideal speaker at the Ath?

Tayyar: The most important qualities are being down-to-earth and open-minded. We all have meaningful questions to ask. Therefore, a speaker who respects all perspectives is incredibly valuable. Personally, I'm drawn to speakers who delve into controversial topics. I find that the conversation becomes particularly engaging when a safe space is created to discuss contrasting ideas.

Zhao: In addition to the customary hallmarks of expertise, enthusiasm, and engagement, I believe that a crucial characteristic of an ideal speaker is the art of connecting their content with our specific audience—the community of Claremont students. Whether delving into topics as diverse as politics, finance, or physics, it's imperative to recognize the intricate web of interconnectedness that binds them all to us. When a speaker discusses not only the issue at hand but also its relevance, significance, and potential integration into the lives of undergraduate students and young adults like us, the impact resonates far more profoundly. Such an approach could linger in our minds, prompting thoughts and discourse for days to come.

Henry Long ’25.
Henry Long ’25

Long: An ideal speaker at the Athenaeum interacts amicably with students, speaks in a dynamic and engaging manner, informs students about important issues, and challenges students to reflect on their deeply held beliefs.

Flynn: I think anyone well-established in any field has, to some extent, the gift of gab. But an evening at the Ath does not rest solely on the person’s ability to deliver a good presentation. An ideal speaker at the Ath does not just speak, they engage.

How does the Ath contribute to constructive dialogue and responsible leadership across campus – and how have you experienced those values directly as a student?

Long: The Athenaeum makes incarnate CMC's Open Academy commitments to freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and constructive dialogue. The Athenaeum provides an arena in which students can engage constructively with speakers from diverse perspectives who have the leeway to express themselves freely. Throughout my time at CMC, I have had the opportunity to hear from speakers who challenged both mine and my peers' ideas.

Tayyar: The Ath serves as an intellectual and social hub for 5C students. By hosting speakers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, the Ath offers an opportunity for students to encounter ideas that may be entirely novel to them. This broadens the students’ worldview and encourages respectful, meaningful dialogue among students, faculty, and guest experts. My own time at the Ath has been eye-opening; it's where I've met students with different opinions and learned to engage in thoughtful discussion. I specifically remember reading “The Social Contract” after having a heated discussion on politics and law with a fellow student at the Ath. Experiences like this expand my understanding and appreciation for different viewpoints.

Flynn: Ath events, topics, and speakers provide a constant stream of inspiration for discussion. As many Ath speakers are leaders in their fields, being able to engage with speakers directly provides an invaluable lens for students to reflect on what responsible leadership is and how it manifests. Furthermore, the Q&A during any given Ath evening doesn't end when people leave the building! I've loved how I hear my fellow students discussing Ath speakers and topics days, weeks, and months after the event itself. Being a CMC student means I get to experience these values both in and out of the classroom, and my learning has been much enriched because of that. Many institutions of higher education purport to challenge their students to think critically and engage with ideas on the cutting edge, but the Ath is one place where this is clearly done in practice.

Bilge Tayyar ’24.
Bilge Tayyar ’24

Zhao: Above all else, the Ath, serving as a miniature representation of CMC, unites individuals from various walks of life, including both students and faculty, thereby creating a fertile ground for multifaceted discussions. The Ath’s structure also champions the value of productive discourse by instilling in students the importance of active listening and assuming responsibility for their own thoughts and contributions. Meanwhile, industry leaders, by sharing their personal experiences and knowledge, shine a light on their distinctive journeys towards responsible leadership, serving as a wellspring of inspiration for each and every one of us.

Is there a favorite Ath memory you’d like to share?

Flynn: A core memory of mine at the Ath was sitting at the head table with Dr. France Córdova in my freshman year. While discussing with her the complex relationships between science, public affairs, and religion, as well as my budding interest in astronomy, she encouraged me to give physics a college try. Inspired, I took astronomy, physics and astrophysics courses here at the 5Cs. While I decided not to pursue a physics major, my core area of research in international relations is now space affairs and science diplomacy. So, the space the Ath facilitated, as well as Dr. Córdova’s kindness and willingness to engage, fundamentally changed my trajectory at CMC and possibly beyond. I have often heard others describing how an evening at the Ath sparked a shift in their own pursuits, just another reason why this institution is so special!

Long: One of my first Ath experiences was attending a talk by Steven Pinker, a renowned psychologist from Harvard University. I was excited to see a speaker with whom I was familiar. Because I signed up quickly, I was able to sit at the head table and talk directly with Professor Pinker.

Tayyar: My favorite Ath memory is meeting with Davy Rothbart! His talk was extremely funny, and he stayed for almost 1.5 more hours after the Ath, just chit-chatting with students. He also added us on Instagram and wanted to stay in contact. I loved the personal interaction, as well as his unique perspective on life and adulting.

Angela “Angie” Zhao ’23.
Angela “Angie” Zhao ’23

Zhao: I remember during my freshman year, a remarkable event took place at the Ath—a wedding reception. We, the servers, stole glances through the side door window, drinking in the festivities. Covertly, we slipped in and out of the familiar room that was then brimming with laughter, dancing, and love. Though it wasn’t a typical Ath experience, it encapsulated the warmth and joy that Ath provided. That evening, people came to celebrate the love of two people, just as our community unites in celebration of the love we share for learning and companionship.

How often do you attend the Ath tea? What is your favorite treat?

Zhao: Like many other CMC students, I regard Ath tea as an essential part of my daily routine. A visit to the Ath courtyard meant not only a chance to renourish, but also an opportunity to chat up a fellow CMCer as you both stand in queue, poised in anticipation, for the treats in sight.

Long: I attend Ath tea around four times a week. It is a great way to spend time with friends in the middle of the afternoon or to use the break in the middle of a three-hour seminar.

Tayyar: I attend Ath tea twice a week. My go-to treat is Rice Krispies.

Flynn: At least once a week. I love seeing fellow students as well as a bunch of professors there. The Ath tea has many times become just an extended and more casual session of office hours. My favorite treat will always be the white chocolate-covered strawberries (especially when they’re gargantuan.)

Gilien Silsby


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