Nicky McCann admits to not caring much for politics before enrolling at Albion College.
In the liberal arts tradition, however, it's common for one class to impact how a student thinks about the world. For McCann, that class was a first-year political science course titled "Democratic Transitions" taught by Professor Carrie Booth Walling.
"I believed all politicians were corrupt, the government needed to be thrown out and I was making all of these statements and accusations blindly because I didn't pay attention," McCann said of her mindset before college. "I thought there was no point in paying attention because it was all negative.
"All of a sudden I went from not knowing anything about politics to having to understand the ins and outs of every democracy in the world.
With a nudge from Albion faculty who bring current events into the courses, McCann has continued to build on the foundation from that seminal class.
A double major in psychology and sociology with a minor in communication studies and a member of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program, McCann brought many disciplines together in a European Integration course this fall when she was paired up with a student in Europe to study "Euroscepticism in the European Union."
The highlight of the project came the week before Thanksgiving when McCann and her partner Ryan Garry, a Hofstra University student studying abroad this semester, presented some of their findings at an international conference hosted by John Cabot University in Rome.
"Ryan looked at it from a historical perspective from the sixth Century and I looked at it from a sociological aspect from the 1980s forward," McCann said. "My part of the presentation looked at how academic, political and cultural Euroscepticism in the E.U. impacted the U.K.'s decision to leave.
"It took group projects to the next level because I didn't get to meet Ryan (a student from New York who is studying abroad at John Cabot this semester) face-to-face until 20 minutes before our presentation," she added. "There was a six-hour time difference and we were thousands of miles apart. I tried to stay on top of my portion (of the project) and there was a lot of sitting, waiting and checking for Ryan to put his part in. We would have to find blocks of time when we were awake and weren't busy so we could talk about it."
A swimmer who has reached the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association finals in the sprint freestyle and backstroke events in her first two years at Albion, it's not like McCann has an abundance of time. After all, time is allotted for working jobs on campus, training for swimming and preparing for classes, so it's no wonder McCann says she follows a strict schedule.
"The deadline schedule kept me motivated," she said. "I live by my planner and to be sure I fill in all the nooks and crannies every day to make sure I get everything done and that's how I was able to pull this off."
Identifying herself as a politically aware person, McCann is an aspiring sport psychologist. Thanks to her liberal arts foundation, McCann can find the connections between gender, race and other unnoticed biases in the same way she found the cultural, economic and political connections in the European Union.
"I struggled with mental illness recently and it impacted swimming in a way that I deeply regret," McCann said. "I want to go into sports psychology so I can help others and make it so they don't have to feel that way ever again. I want to help a person take their mental illness and have that motivate them versus hinder them in their sport.
"Everything impacts something in ways we may never understand or are just blind to," she added. "I still am blind to many, many things, but the more I invest in these interesting courses that make me work and make me think – completely blindside me – the better off I am to be the best sports psychologist I can be.
"However, I wouldn't be surprised if I get to graduate school and I suddenly change my mind when a professor brings something to me and I think that's what I want to do with the rest of my life."
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