Through the Student Lens – Experiential learning opportunities on and off campus allow students’ talents to shine

Caitlin Perrigo ‘24
Majors: Biology and Visual Arts
Hometown: Old Orchard Beach, Maine

How does Wheaton’s liberal arts education help students make connections that transform their interests and skills into a career path? Meet a talented student who is exploring her passions through experiential learning, as you take a look through the student lens.

Could you describe how your coursework and professors at Wheaton have helped you explore and make connections between your passions for art and biology?

When I came to Wheaton I was nervous that I would not be able to make connections with professors due to Covid-19. In order to get to know my professors, I made it a priority to attend office hours.

At first, the idea of going to office hours seemed intimidating to me. I was not sure what to expect but I got to know my professors on a personal level. I asked about opportunities on campus and in the classroom where I could incorporate art and biology more into my everyday life. Through this, I was able to work in the Watson Fine Art Gallery as a monitor and gained a second job as a studio assistant. I asked for assistance with finding a science illustration internship in the biology department. With my professor’s help, I was able to get an internship in science illustration through Mass Audubon. I also was given access to Wheaton’s collection of taxidermy birds so I could practice my illustrations.

Not only have my professors helped me find opportunities outside of the classroom, but they have also encouraged me to incorporate art and biology into the classroom. In my printmaking classes, I have been introduced to new art mediums that I was encouraged to use to make my illustrations. In my human gut microbiome class, I was able to create an illustration of what we had learned in class as part of a project. By working with professors in both departments, I was able to find ways to combine my passions in and out of the classroom.

What kinds of experiential learning opportunities have you been able to take advantage of and how has your experience prepared you for your desired career?

As a first-year student, I started searching for internships that would help me decide if science illustration was the right career path for me. At first, the process was very overwhelming and I struggled to find any internship opportunities. I decided to reach out to Career Services and my professors for help. They showed me resources, such as Handshake, and where I could find the internships I was looking for.

This is how I found my internship with Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. Throughout the summer I worked closely with my advisor to create a booklet of the common wildlife that visitors can find at Stony Brook. Every day I went to Stony Brook and walked the trails to observe the species present. I also documented the time of day and the month that those species were most active. I Illustrated what I saw and compiled information into the pamphlet that you see below. About 30 species were illustrated with acrylic paint and the pamphlets were available to all visitors to the sanctuary.

Below is Caitlin’s Science Journal: Stony Brook. Medium: acrylic paint, 2021

While at Stony Brook I also worked to create a new macroinvertebrate identification key for their summer camp programs. I learned how to collect samples from the bottom of the ponds and identified the invertebrates with the help of my advisor and books. We used microscopes to get clear images of the invertebrates we found.

Stony Brooks Macroinvertebrate Key. Material: pen, 2021

This was a great experience for me to have real-life practice creating science illustrations and has solidified my desire to pursue this career.

Another great opportunity that I am currently working on is a series of eight cards that depict life at Wheaton. Working with Donor Relations, I am creating colored pencil drawings of my favorite places and memories on campus. These cards will be sent out to the alumni and the originals have been purchased to be placed around campus. This is my first large commission and I am grateful for the chance to gain more experience with this type of work.

Below is Wheaton College notecard artwork by Caitlin Perrigo ’24

Could you talk about the Wheaton Ireland trip and how traveling abroad enriched your undergraduate experience and helped you acquire new skills and perspectives? What was your biggest takeaway from this experience abroad?

Never before in my life have I been able to spend a month solely working on art, let alone exploring a stunning new country and culture at the same time. I applied for this program for the ability to grow my artistic skills, learn about myself as an individual, and become an even more well-rounded person. I can confidently say that I have accomplished all of those things and more.

By immersing myself in an incredibly foreign environment early in my academic career, I gained a clearer understanding of what I wanted to accomplish during my last two years of college socially and academically. This trip opened my eyes to the possibility of artist residencies in foreign countries and incorporating writing into my artwork.

Not only did I grow my artistic skills, but I was able to do it with other talented artists. And the best part is, is that these artists are fellow peers on campus that I have made lifelong connections with.

Lastly, going abroad exposed me to a completely different culture than I am used to living in America. My confidence grew as I navigated through this experience and it increased my global awareness. These are things that I want to continue to grow throughout my lifetime, and I believe that it was important for me to start this growth as soon as possible. My biggest takeaway from this experience was that going abroad as soon as possible during my academic career was a great move for me.

Consuming, Submerging, Yearning, Flight. Medium: Acrylic paint, 2022

When it comes to making the most of your time at Wheaton, and exploring all that the college has to offer in the way of experiential learning and studying abroad, what advice would you offer parents who would like to support their first-year students?

I believe that parents and families should support their students in whatever field they choose and should embrace their first year of college as a year of exploration. As a first-year, I explored many different classes but I was also discovering myself as a young adult living on my own for the first time. My mom has always supported me with my art and because of that I never have had to worry if I was making the correct choice. Having her support means everything to me and is the best way to help your first-year student. Living on your own for the first time can be a hard adjustment but having the encouragement of a parent or guardian can help ease the transition.

My mom fully supported my travel abroad to Ireland and every internship and job opportunity that I decided to take on at Wheaton. She believed in me and my passions and helped me become the person I am today. The best advice I can give is to support your student in their growth and journey during college so they can explore with no reservations.

Caitlin is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents and guardians, you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.