Binghamton spans generations for family of Lizz Magowan '13
(Pictured: Lizz Magowan '13 and her family: sisters Colleen and Mary, brother David, and parents Kirsten '83 and Dan '82)
By Eric Coker
When Lizz Magowan was a baby, her father wrote a song for her that contained this line: When you discover a truth, you must teach someone else what you've learned.
Whether it's helping families rebuild their homes in post-Katrina New Orleans or tutoring Binghamton University students at the Center for Learning and Teaching, it's a line that Magowan has never forgotten nor neglected.
"I really enjoy passing my information along to others," she says. "I like to make people's lives easier because there are people who helped me along the way."
The wise words of Magowan's father take on extra meaning, as he is a Binghamton University graduate. Dan Magowan graduated in 1982, while wife Kirsten Magowan graduated a year later. Lizz's grandfather, Bill Nicolaisen, is a professor emeritus at Binghamton University and a renowned folklore specialist.
Her mother's three sisters Birgit Nicolaisen '88, MA '99; Moira Prister '84 and Fiona Nicolaisen '81 are all Binghamton graduates as well as her father's brother David Magowan '75. Birgit Nicolaisen and her husband, David Lee, still work at the University.Magowan's parents, who met on a University music trip when they were undergraduates, did not pressure their daughter to attend their alma mater.
"They were good about letting me make the decision," says Magowan, a 21-year-old from Baldwinsville, N.Y. "I came here to visit with my mom and she had a lot to say about how the campus had changed. There were anecdotes, but no 'you should definitely go to Binghamton.'"
Magowan, impressed by the academic offerings and the Nature Preserve, decided to follow her parents' footsteps and attend Binghamton University. She became a double major in biology and French, with a minor in global studies.
She put her love of French to the test in the spring of 2012, when she spent the semester at the Sorbonne University in Paris, studying literature, art history, film and grammar. She also did a communications internship at a French school and traveled to countries such as Italy, Germany, Croatia, Greece, Morocco and Great Britain.
"The experience taught me to enjoy the present. Six months flew by!" she says. "It showed me that time goes by quickly, so enjoy what you are doing. I applied that to my senior year (at Binghamton).
"Being an international student also gave me insight into how others feel at Binghamton University, in a country that's not their own and speaking a language that's not their own."
Magowan also gained life lessons – and practical lessons – during her three trips to the Gulf Coast to help residents recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"I actually learned a lot of carpentry skills while I was there," she says. "I put a roof on, did some dry-walling – real building skills."
The third visit, in spring 2011 to New Orleans, was an Alternative Spring Break program sponsored by the University's Center for Civic Engagement.
Magowan did not know anyone on the CCE trip, but the experience helped her learn how to work better with strangers, she says. The circle was completed when she aided a fellow volunteer whose Binghamton-area home was flooded in the fall of 2012.
"It was a great experience to help him rebuild his house because the reason I knew him was from rebuilding homes in New Orleans," she says.
At Binghamton University, Magowan has tutored students in biology and chemistry at the Center for Learning and Teaching. She has also served as a teaching assistant in French classes and is treasurer for Phi Sigma Iota, the foreign language honor society.
Dora Polachek, a visiting associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, calls Magowan one of the "best and brightest" at Binghamton University.
"Lizz loves learning, comes to class thoroughly prepared, and asks such intelligent questions about the texts we are reading, and comes up with such thoughtful answers to the discussion questions I ask students to prepare when doing their readings before coming to class," Polachek says. "She is the kind of student all of us love having in class: prepared, engaged, loved by her classmates and always ready to go the extra step in order to improve.
"It's been a pleasure working with her, guiding her in her choice of study-abroad programs, and seeing her flourish not just as a student, but as a human being."
Magowan will next attend SUNY Upstate Medical University, where she gained early acceptance during her junior year. She hopes to follow in her mother's footsteps again – this time in pursuit of a medical career.
"This is something I've wanted since I was in pre-school," she says. "I remember coming home with a picture that said: 'I want to be a pediatrician just like my mom.'"
Kirsten Magowan – who also attended Upstate Medical – remains a pediatrician in North Syracuse, and her husband is the office manager.
For Lizz Magowan, giving back to others – and taking advantage of the opportunities provided by Binghamton University – has changed her life.
"I've learned that you never know where life is going to take you and who you are going to meet," she says. "Going with the flow and rolling with the punches is my life philosophy...After tutoring, I got a teacher's perspective. Going abroad gave me an international perspective. It's all about taking these different perspectives, putting them together and getting a better understanding of yourself."