Oral Histories

Mamatha Challa, Melcolm Ruffin, Jen Byers, Vidya Govind, Opeyemi Kusoro, and John Stark

Streaming Media


Mamatha Challa, Melcolm Ruffin, Jen Byers, Vidya Govind, Opeyemi Kusoro, and John Stark



John Stark speaks to five members of the class of 2009. Ope Kusoro first learned about IMSA from a cousin who was two years older who came. Over the next couple years he came to summer programs before applying himself. Melcolm Ruffin had an older brother who attended as a member of the class of 1999 and he would visit. By his freshman year of high school he couldn't wait to come himself. Jennifer Byers applied to IMSA after her family had moved from Philadelphia to Illinois just before her first year of high school. Mamatha Challa heard about IMSA from a family friend who had attended a similar school in Indiana. Her family liked the idea of her going to a good school, and she was attracted by the idea of living away from home with more independence. Vidya Govind also had an older brother who attended IMSA and who she looked up to. He described the interesting people he knew at IMSA and the sort of connections they had, which particularly appealed to her.

One of Kusoro's first memories of IMSA was being roommates with Ruffin at summer orientation, by chance, and the irony of coming from a predominantly black school to a much more diverse one, but ending up roommates with one of the other black students. Govind recalls being told about the W-curve adjustment process during orientation and being worried about it. Ruffin remembers convocation because his older brother was the keynote speaker. Challa also has memories of orientation and one of the activities the students had to participate in.

They recall their social lives and student interactions, how stories would spread around campus and how internet culture shaped their lives, even before smartphones became common. Challa and Govind met when they played in orchestra together sophomore year. Ruffin and Kusoro both played on the basketball team. Byers came to IMSA wanting to be a writer, so most of her activities revolved around art and writing, including the Acronym and an SIR project where she wrote a novel.

Academically, Govind says she appreciated all the teachers and the way they pushed students to do their best. In particular, she recalls Dr. Nok and Dr. Dosch for their support. Similarly, Challa says it helped to have teachers that were so passionate about the subjects they taught and they made her want to find something she was that passionate about to do. In particular, she remembers Dr. Dong's modern physics class. Byers recalls Dr. Kiely's world studies class and how the ideas he presented influenced her thinking and ability to make connections between disciplines.

During intersession, Challa and Govind took a full-day African cooking class with Sensei (Jonathan Besancon). Challa says she liked intersession for the opportunity to be engaged and spending time with other students, but in a more relaxed way. Byers went on two trips to Paris with the French class.

To wrap up, Challa says some of the most important things she learned at IMSA related to leadership and teamwork, and the perspective it gave her on the world, to see how she could improve things around her. Byers says seeing IMSA only as a math and science school does it a disservice, and that the most important things she learned were about how to live in the world, to develop friendships and interact with a community. Govind adds that whole IMSA community is very unique in the support people get within it. Kusoro also says the best aspect of the experience was the relationships cultivated, among students and also faculty.

Duration: 44:21




extracurriculars, friends, science classes, history classes, intersession, Student Inquiry & Research, residential life, faculty


Oral History


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Mamatha Challa, Melcolm Ruffin, Jen Byers, Vidya Govind, Opeyemi Kusoro, and John Stark