How Scholarships Help: Joe Soonthornsawad ’15

29 April 2015

Joe Soonthornsawad ‘15
Gillette-Pike Scholarship Fund

Though he came to Carleton wanting nothing more than “good grades in general,” Joe Soonthornsawad soon found so many fields of study that appealed to him that it was difficult to choose just one. Now a music and sociology/anthropology double major, Joe says his learning and life is all about where his passions intersect.

“I loved making the connections between seeing a music performance and using it to reflect on bigger, historical themes,” Joe says. “Studying music allows meaningful and rich reflection on broader considerations we have—it raises questions about how people from different cultures interact and how we end up where we are.”

Community is a large part of that, he says. As a classically trained pianist, Joe had experienced music in largely isolated ways. He rehearsed on his own, and he performed solo, with a mostly removed audience clapping politely at the end. At Carleton, he found the exact opposite—a community of like-minded souls where everyone was involved and ecstatic about it.

Through a friend, Joe began playing with different student bands, including an R&B group and an eight-person soul/funk group. They play a few times each term, usually at Farm House or The Cave.

“It doesn’t matter where you play when you can tell the crowd is feeling it,” he says. “Music is a part of everyday life, and that is not something I had considered before I came here.”

And life—particularly society and culture—intrigues him. As a SO/AN major, he also studies what makes up our lives and how it shapes us. As the son of Thai immigrants, Joe says his cross-cultural upbringing was good training for making connections between what he studies and who he is as a person. At Carleton, he is a part of the Mellon Scholars Program, which means he needs to complete a research project in the humanities. To satisfy that requirement and his comps, he spent a term in Thailand studying how global consumerism interacts with what it means to be Thai by studying how ad campaigns are created at a local advertising agency.

“It gave me a deeper appreciation of the place my parents are from, and I realized there were subtle things that made me Thai that I had never realized,” he says. “I’d been to Thailand before, but looking at it through an anthropological context made it more profound.”

The other thing he learned from his trip is that he wants to make even further connections—in political science, where he’s lending an anthropologist’s view to the Global Public Health Project, steered by Carleton Political Science Chair Al Montero, and in computer science, where he feels a draw to learn how to create different types of music.

“I’m so grateful for the constant drive the school has to improve undergraduate learning,” Joe says. “It’s pushed me to think of myself as a scholar. And there are opportunities that exist here because professors make connections with students, and the school has a culture of supporting that. It’s in the air; it’s just what we do here. And it’s not just a buzz word – these connections open real doors for students.”

Joe Soonthornsawad '15, recipient of 2013-2014 Gillette-Pike Scholarship Fund

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