A Sense of What’s Possible

Social Sciences5 MIN READ

A student conference at West Point empowers Amanda Alpert ’25 to initiate change

Amanda Alpert '25 represented Colby at the 73rd Student Conference on U.S. Affairs, where she joined civilian students and U.S. Military Academy cadets to solve problems around a theme, "American Foreign Policy in an Era of Polarized Politics and Revisionist Powers." (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)
By Laura Meader
February 13, 2023

Amanda Alpert ’25 felt like an average college sophomore before her government professor chose her to represent Colby at the 73rd Student Conference on U.S. Affairs at West Point. The selection awakened in Alpert her potential to bring about change.

Who’s to say that a college student in Waterville can’t make a difference? Not Alpert. Not anymore.

While the four-day conference at the United States Military Academy gave Alpert a new perspective on participating in national policy discussions, it also motivated her to act closer to home. During Jan Plan, she made progress on her initiative to introduce student-centered events to the Global Studies Program. Her goal is to create an inclusive, cohesive environment for GS majors.

“You leave a footprint wherever you go. Why shouldn’t the change you leave at Colby be a good one?”

Amanda Alpert ’25

At the Student Conference on U.S. Affairs, or SCUSA, Alpert joined 60 cadet delegates and 200 undergraduate and graduate students to identify solutions centered around the conference’s theme of American foreign policy in an era of polarized politics. Roundtable groups allowed them to focus on specific topics while interacting closely with a subset of peers.

These interactions opened Alpert’s eyes to the thoughts and opinions of students from more than 100 institutions worldwide. She experienced the most diverse conversations she’s ever had, she said, opening new dialogs and connections.

This is exactly the conference’s goal, to build civilian-military relationships among future leaders in the military and public policy.

A high point of the conference for Amanda Alpert was meeting the keynote speaker, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who “clearly cares about issues and voices them on a global stage,” said Alpert.

Growing up in Wilmette, Ill., Alpert had no prior exposure to the military or anyone who served. West Point was completely new to her and a setting very different from Colby.

At SCUSA, Alpert received a firsthand taste of cadet life. She ate in the mess hall, slept in the barracks, exercised—and climbed a rope—in the gym, and watched demonstrations like parachuting and an armed exhibition drill. The 24/7 interactions with cadets, including discussions during the roundtables, gave her an appreciation for who makes up the armed forces.  

“It really put into perspective the individuality that’s present in the military,” said Alpert. “It’s actually a really diverse place with diverse people. It’s not a monolith.”

Capability and capacity

Invitations to the conference are hard to come by, but Assistant Professor of Government Laura Seay procured one when she was a faculty participant at SCUSA in 2016. She’s selected a talented student to represent Colby ever since.

This year, Seay found that student in Alpert.

“She was deeply engaged and always prepared for class,” said Seay, who had Alpert in her Introduction to International Relations course last spring. “Her questions were always so smart and so prescient. It was always evident she had done the reading, and she was active in asking and answering questions.”

Seay believes that an experience like SCUSA can spark an interest that’s potentially important for the future of our country and for students’ careers. It opens a door. “If this can be one way of helping a student to have a little more confidence to start believing that, yeah, I do have this capability and I do have this capacity to go out there and do big things, that’s great,” said Seay.

A Colby legacy

Alpert initially heard about Colby during a virtual college fair that included her first-choice schools—Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Michigan. After the call, Colby moved to the top of her list. Talking with her mom about it, she learned that her grandparents met at Colby. Barbara Weiss Alpert ’53 and Herschel Alpert ’53 left a legacy that Amanda Alpert, a Chinese-American adoptee, followed to Mayflower Hill.

Before she left for Colby, her family gave her one of her grandfather’s keepsakes, the Condon Medal—the highest student award presented at commencement, for constructive citizenship—that he won in 1953.

Barbara Weiss Alpert ’53 and Herschel Alpert ’53
Amanda Alpert’s grandparents, Barbara Weiss Alpert ’53 and Herschel Alpert ’53, as seen in the 1953 Oracle, the College’s yearbook.

Alpert came to Colby as a Presidential Scholar, which allowed her to conduct research with a professor as a first-year student. Declaring a global studies major followed naturally from her interest in interdisciplinary studies and ideas. It’s a “great fit,” but the program doesn’t allow for close interactions with other GS majors because students take courses from multiple departments. That’s why she’s instigating cooking events, a mentorship program, and a student handbook to foster a stronger GS student community.

Alpert is fueled by the spark kindled at West Point.

SCUSA challenges a student’s sense of what’s possible, “where being young doesn’t have to limit the kind of leadership that you can engage in,” said Seay.

“There’s a lot of potential out there.”