Aimee Clesi: A Rhodes scholar with a passion for justice 

Young woman in coat standing in front of historic buildings

Aimee Clesi visited Oxford University in December 2021. She plans to attend the university as a Rhodes scholar in fall 2022. Photo Credit: Erika Clesi.

Welcome to From Florida, a podcast where you’ll learn how minds are connecting, great ideas are colliding and groundbreaking innovations become a reality because of the University of Florida. 

Aimee Clesi has long known that she wanted to be a lawyer. But an internship at the Jacksonville state attorney’s office solidified her focus on wrongful conviction, especially as it relates to the eath penalty. It also led to her selection as the University of Florida’s most recent Rhodes scholar. Aimee talks more about her plans to study at Oxford University and joins UF external scholarship and fellowship coordinator Kelly Medley in offering advice for other students pursuing scholarship opportunities. Produced by Nicci Brown, Brooke Adams and James L. Sullivan. Original music by Daniel Townsend, a doctoral candidate in music composition in the College of the Arts.

For more episodes of From Florida, click here.

Nicci Brown: Welcome to From Florida, where we share stories about the people, research and innovations taking place at the University of Florida. I’m your host, Nicci Brown.

Our guests today are Aimee Clesi and Kelly Medley. Aimee was recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, becoming the first woman and just the 13th student at UF to receive this prestigious honor.

She will graduate from UF this summer with majors in philosophy and history and is planning to attend Oxford in the fall. I’m sure you'll agree that Aimee’s perseverance and intellectual passion are both impressive and inspiring.

Kelly Medley is the external scholarship and fellowship coordinator in the university honors program and is Aimee's advisor. She’s going to share a little more about her role and how the university helps connect students to these outstanding opportunities. Welcome, Aimee and Kelly!

Kelly Medley: Thank you so much for having us.

Nicci Brown: Aimee, obviously, the Rhodes Scholarship is an enormous honor and a wonderful recognition of your past achievements and your potential. I'd like to hear a little more about your journey to this point and what made you decide to come to the University of Florida in the first place.

Aimee Clesi: Two things made me know that UF was right for me. The first is the Humanities and Sunshine State program that my sister and identical twin, Erika both participated in when we were 16.

It was led by the Center for Humanities and Public Sphere, and Dr. Sophia Acord and Dr. Steve Noll were the leaders of that program, and they come from sociology and history respectively. And the program was all about exploring Florida history, seeing the state in its rawest form, being on the water and canoes from Crystal Springs to the Ichetucknee. We explored the water in every way you can think of and its connection to the humanities.

That made me know that the humanities and a major in philosophy and history would be right for me. Dr. Steve Noll, in particular, is an inspiration for me in the way that he told the story of Rosewood, which is a town that existed a few decades ago, but it was taken from us by violence, and the legacy of that town and what happened to the people there is something that Dr. Noll was able to articulate and do justice by the people whose lives were taken by racial violence. And hearing him tell that is like no other historian I've ever met. It was impressive to me and I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be a historian like him and study history.

Dr. Sophia Acord is also the one who introduced me to this academic life. Her knowledge and expertise in the humanities was very exciting to me and to my sister as well, who ultimately pursued sociology here at UF.

The second thing that comes to mind about me deciding that UF was right for me is actually Justice Jorge Labarga from the Supreme Court of Florida. After the humanities program with UF, I started an internship with Three Rivers Legal Services, which has an office here in Gainesville. But the closest one to me and where I live in Branford, Florida was actually in Lake City. And so I would go 40 minutes to Lake City to go and volunteer at this small nonprofit law firm. And one year, they had a reunion and an annual celebration for having had the organization, and they invited Justice Labarga to speak.

And at the time, I didn't really know what a justice of the Supreme Court was, our state Supreme Court. But when he came, he introduced himself, and he was a double Gator, which was very impressive to me. It was at the Florida Museum for Natural History near the Harn Museum here in Gainesville, and he told his story, and how he practiced law in South Florida, and his journey to becoming a judge.

And one of the funniest things he said, I think this might be the moment that I knew UF was right for me, but he was describing how he went to an annual conference every year. So, at the time, he was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Florida, and he went and he met the other justices from different states.

And I think that year, they had had it at Harvard Law School. And he's up there, and I think it must have been the justice from Texas, but he asked Justice Labarga, he said, "Jorge, what do you think at Harvard Law School? It's a very impressive place." And Justice Labarga, from how he told it, he kind of just stepped back, he looked around, and he said, "Wow, this must be where people go when they don't get into UF."

Nicci Brown: I think a lot of people here might agree with that. So just to be sure, a double Gator, too, is someone with two UF degrees, correct?

Aimee Clesi: Yes.

Nicci Brown: And how did you become interested in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship?

Aimee Clesi: I first went and met Ms. Kelly Medley, who's been my advisor through and through, and I approached her about the Beinecke Scholarship and the Truman Scholarship. It was more about, I had a project, and I wanted to find a way to carry that project out. Starting from there, the Truman was geared toward public service, and the Beinecke was a scholarship geared toward funding a graduate education in the humanities.

Nicci Brown: Kelly, can you tell us a little bit more? I mean, I know from talking with you that you were as excited, perhaps even more excited, than Aimee when she was awarded the Rhodes. So, you have this young student coming to you. She's got this potential. How did you work with Aimee on getting those applications together and helping her decide how to direct that energy?

Kelly Medley: I think a big part of it comes from talking to Aimee and understanding exactly what it was she wanted to accomplish, because a lot of students come to me and are interested in a particular award sometimes. But maybe what their actual goals are and what they want to accomplish really, really isn't specific to that award as they think it is.

And so, I often joke that a lot of times, I'll have a student referred to me, or a student will come to my office, and they'll say, “I'm interested in the Truman award or the Goldwater award.” And I'll talk to them, we'll talk a little bit about their goals, what they've done so far you know in their time at UF and beyond, and I'll say, “That's great. And you know what, that's a really great award, but that's not the award for you. These other three things are probably the better awards and the better fits for your time.”

Because applying to these awards take a lot of time, a lot of consistent effort over a really, really prolonged period of time, a lot of writing, and rewriting, and recrafting, and telling your story, and telling people why they should invest in you, right? And so with Aimee, I think, you applied to four, five different awards, some of which were better fits than others, ultimately, and a lot of it was about fine-tuning what her goals were, fine-tuning how to sell what she was trying to accomplish and who she was.

Nicci Brown: As part of that whole process, it sounds like it really helped you to understand yourself and understand your goals, Aimee.

Aimee Clesi: It absolutely did. And I owe a lot to Ms. Kelly for that. The Truman, in particular, was about public service, and right from the jump, I thought that would be the one for me. The project that I've been so concerned and so focused on for so long is about remedying wrongful convictions in the American south. It is about the death penalty as well, and people who have been wrongfully convicted, what can we do in our trial process, our appellate process to prevent that, but also combat it after the fact?

When I applied for the Truman, it's very particular in the way that it has you draft a public policy proposal. I had really wanted to model this proposal after State Attorney Nelson in Jacksonville, her conviction integrity review unit. I looked up how her defense attorney Shelley Thibodeau had funded her conviction integrity review unit. It's led by Ms. Thibodeau, and she has an investigator, and they go through many cold cases. But also people apply to have their case reviewed by the unit. That is something very rare in state attorney's offices, which are focused primarily with prosecution.

Looking back and seeing if a conviction was wrong is often very difficult for many people to admit, but that maybe somebody had made a mistake. But State Attorney Nelson and Shelley Thibodeau are two women I admire in the legal field for doing that very thing and seeing how they had received funding from the government, how they applied and won these grants to fund that office, the first in the entire state of Florida, was very inspiring. It made me even more passionate about what I am already doing, but it showed me how to do it. And the Truman Scholarship, I thought was a good avenue to pursue a project like that, doing something similar, funding, maintaining and starting up new conviction review units.

Nicci Brown: Did you get feedback from the scholarship adjudicators when you put in that application in or what took you to the next step to the Rhodes Scholarship, because it sounds like that one didn't work out as you thought it might?

Aimee Clesi: No, the Truman, it did not work out, but what did work for me and for Ms. Kelly with that scholarship is it let me fine tune what exactly it is I want to do. How do I want to approach the research? I learned much later that many Truman scholars do not pursue the exact policy proposal they had written about. They often change it, or they pursue something different. I did not receive any direct feedback, but Kelly on my behalf spoke with Truman advisors and the people who reviewed my application.

Nicci Brown: Yeah, Kelly, can you tell us a little more about that?

Kelly Medley: Yeah, so I think one thing that we really learned from that award, you have to articulate your graduate education plans, and that was something that you've thought about, but not really in the specific. In the general sense, you thought, “Okay, I'm going to eventually go to law school and this is what I ultimately hope to do after law school.” But hadn't necessarily really been doing the deep dive just yet into which law school and why.

And these applications are really tough. They ask sometimes really, really, really young individuals to say, “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” And so we worked and we picked one possible future, one possible law school, that she was interested in. She did a deep dive on that, and that was great, and I think you know what we take from that experience, even though that award doesn't work out, is this is a possible law school that's a really, really good fit for me.

This is really good to know, right? because it's an investment in yourself. Most of the people who apply for these awards don't win. I'm a super competitive person, so I love when students that I work with do win, that's always certainly my goal, but we know that that's not the case. So, we want this to be just as professional development and a personal development experience in applying as we do actually the potential of winning.

Portrait photo of woman with red hair

Kelly J. Medley is the external scholarship and fellowship coordinator in the university honors program. Photo provided.

Nicci Brown: And how long was the whole process from beginning to when you found out?

Kelly Medley: Ah, well, we start working on the application well before the application even opens for that cycle. I always say you don't make a Rhodes scholar in three months. That's not how that works. And so, we started working and talking about it early on. We knew what the criteria was, we knew what that application looked like. You can have a maximum of eight letters of recommendation n for it. Aimee, we knew was going to easily get that maximum of eight recommendation letters. But, you know we were having conversations way earlier on in the year about who those eight people were going to be, what the best distribution of it would be. And then I'm working with her on it, but that doesn't mean she's actually going to get even selected by the University of Florida to go forward to the competition.

So we actually have a wonderful group of faculty volunteer reviewers, who they will review application materials, interview students, and say, “These are the amount of students this year. And Aimee was one of the two students that we selected for endorsement this year. We worked on that application, talked about it again you know over a period of several more weeks before the national deadline in October, found out a few weeks later she was a finalist, and then just went into finalist interview prep mode for two full weeks. I think that's what we both completely lived and breathed and right up until we found out about it.

The one thing that is nice about the Rhodes Scholarship, when you're a finalist and you interview, they tell you right then and there if you have won or not. There was at least no more waiting after that.

My favorite thing about finding out that Aimee won, I was sitting on the couch and I was just about to watch the Gators football game that was coming on. I ended up not seeing a single play of that entire game! But I was just about to watch it when she FaceTimed me from where she was studying abroad in the UK, and I knew she was crying and yelling, and I couldn't understand at all what she was actually saying. And thankfully, Erika, her twin sister happened to be in the room-

Nicci Brown: And was the translator?

Kelly Medley: And was the translator! Just all of a sudden from the background, I hear, “She won.” And then I started crying and yelling as well. So, it was just a bunch of an incoherent mess, but we were all really, really excited.

And then she said, “I need to call my mom.” And I said, "Yes, you need to get off with the FaceTime with me and call your mom."

Nicci Brown: And what went through your mind? I mean, it sounds like you were in shock to a certain degree.

Aimee Clesi: I still am, Ms. Nicci. And the committee, they had deliberated on the final day of interviews, they had deliberated for about two hours. And during this time, they could have called any one of us 14 finalists back for a further interview. I was so scared that they were going to call me back. And talking to the other finalists, and you're laughing about one thing, and then the next second, you're like, “Oh, my God, they might call me back. They might call me back.”

And when they came back after that two-hour period, we were just ... the whole Zoom room went silent and I remember very clearly that Mr. Mark Crosswhite, the CEO of Alabama Power, and the chair of the committee for the Rhodes, he came back right away, and he said, you know the whole room was silent, and he said, “Well, we're not going to beat around the bush anymore. I'm about to announce the two.”

And then he just went into it, and he didn't stop for a moment to really say anything individually about us. He did make a comment, I think, about how hard each of us had worked, how our accomplishments were amazing, but he announced my name was first because of alphabetically it's . . . and I had kind of known while we were waiting for those two hours that if my name didn't come first, then it wasn't happening. And they said my name, and then Mr. Crosswhite said Shreeya Singh from Yale had won as well. They picked two of the 14 finalists to go on and win the scholarship, and we were it.

I remember the finalists dispersing really quick, leaving the Zoom call, and then it was us and the seven committee members, and it was very overwhelming right away. I don't really remember a lot of what they said. They said that we were going to send more information, follow up with an email, send a bunch of stuff about preparing to apply. But I think I missed everything they said, other than that. And as soon as they let us go from the Zoom call, I immediately called Kelly. She was the first person I called, and then my mom.

Nicci Brown: And what did your mom say?

Aimee Clesi: My mom at the time was driving, and she was with her friend, Suzanne, and they were coming from Home Depot, having just bought a ton of trim to redo the garage. Ms. Suzanne was going to help my mom paint and all I remember is my mom being on the phone with her, and Ms. Suzanne going, “Vicky, we got to pull over, we got to pull over.” And you know, and they're just both crying and hysterical, and I really remember my mom, she was so proud. It was like the first time she had heard Erika, my twin sister, on the radio, like I had made it, you know, in my mom's eyes. And I just remember, she's like, “Aimee, I got to get off the phone. I need to go tell everyone. Let me get off the phone, so I can go start telling you know everyone in Branford,” and it was completely overwhelming.

Nicci Brown: And you grew up here in Florida. You're by and large, a small-town girl, small-town girls, you and your sister, and your mom has been your greatest champion as well.

Aimee Clesi: Yes, my mom has ... she was adamant that when Erika and I were in high school, that we dual enroll, which we started taking college classes when we were 15 years old. And our mom, she gave us this option to go and take these classes. She didn't push us or really force us to do that. I mean, she greatly encouraged us, but it's not something that she said we had to do, but it's something that she really wanted us to do.

And my grandmother, her mom, had passed away around the age that my mom is today, and my mom was greatly concerned that maybe something would happen, and Erika and I would be in this world, just us, and my mom wanted to know that if something happened, we had a college degree to fall back on, that we could get a job, and we could do well with that degree. And I owe tremendous debt to Branford High School and Suwannee County because they funded me and my sister, our college education in that fashion.

Nicci Brown: Can you tell us a little bit more about the focus of your studies and how you actually became interested in that area?

Aimee Clesi: This started for me when I was at the Jacksonville state attorney's office. While I was there as an intern, there were undergraduates and law students, and I had mentioned earlier Melissa Nelson, Shelley Thibodeau, these two women who I greatly admire and want to be like. Before working at the state attorney's office, I had come from the Supreme Court of Florida. I had saw the justices, like Justice Jorge Labarga, who I mentioned, and these were all these people that I wanted to be like. So, during this internship, I found what I was truly passionate about. I had known I wanted to be a lawyer. I had liked the idea of criminal defense and going to trial. I thought, "Well, you know what, I'll see what it's about." So, the state attorneys and the prosecutors over in Jacksonville really took me under their wing. And they, I went to court with them. I saw first appearances. I saw a trial in one case, and it was just really, really cool being there.

For a while, though, I wasn't getting any assignments. And so, I remember going to the division chief and saying, "Hey, can I, can I help you with a case?" And I mean, they wouldn't have me write anything like the law students were because I wasn't in law school. But being able to see what these lawyers were writing in certain cases was really amazing. I remember going into this division chief's office, and she had a huge box of files on her desk and I told her, “Hey, I want to work on something." And she points to this box, and she goes, “Go through this box and make sure everything's there.” And I thought, “Okay, I got my first assignment, you know.”

While I was going through this case, I was looking at all the evidence. I was looking up Florida rules of criminal procedure, how the case was tried, and all kinds of things. I learned exactly what the division chief was doing by going through this case file. And I remember this young man who’s at the center of the case, and I was convinced that maybe the state attorney’s office had gotten this wrong. There were pieces of evidence that were not presented at trial that I thought merited particular attention that could have changed the outcome of this boy’s future at the time, and the jury never heard any of it.

So, I went back to the division chief and she was concerned because I wasn't a law student, maybe I didn't know what I was doing. And really, I showed her all the notes that I had taken and she did give me a chance, and she said, "Well, go upstairs. Go to the conviction integrity review unit, go see the defense lawyer and bring her what you found.” And that is how I met Shelly Thibodeau. And I will add, too, that this case, it was started prior to State Attorney Nelson's tenure. It was before the conviction integrity review unit was founded. So, Ms. Thibodeau looked over the case, and they could not take it because of the stage of appeals that it was. But I went back to the division chief. I explained this, and I said, “Is there any chance that you could write a favorable response so that maybe this boy, now a grown man, could have a chance at another trial to have certain pieces of evidence heard?" And she said something along the lines of, "Well, I'll think about it."

And I remember going back to my desk where they had me and writing up a draft of her document, and I know she couldn't use it, and she didn't because I'm not a lawyer, but I remember taking it back to her and showing her later. And ultimately, the response was not favorable, and that was devastating to me. But from there, the focus on wrongful convictions started with this young man who was African American, who was in an impoverished section of Jacksonville, who had had violent crime in and out of his whole life. That's where it started for me, and ultimately, the court did grant him an evidentiary hearing, is what they call it, even though my division chief, she did not write a favorable response, and he awaits a hearing to this day. COVID-19 has postponed it. I mean, I interned in 2019 with the state attorney's office, and then fast forward, he's still going through the system and I keep an eye on his case to this day. When I'm a lawyer, I hope it's not going on when I do become a lawyer, but maybe I could do something. But that's where it started.

Nicci Brown: So It sounds like justice is just something that really drives you.

Aimee Clesi: It truly is. And the justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Labarga, Justice Carlos Muniz, those two men, I see the opinions they write and the impact that they have apart from trial. They have it in the world of appeals, and some of the biggest cases have gone to them. And being at both levels, being at the supreme court and then being at a state attorney’s office, you know, in Jacksonville, those are the two things that showed me. It gave me an overview of the justice system that I had never seen or had before. It's one thing to say you want to be a lawyer, but then to be able to say exactly what you want to do, that has to come from research and knowing where you want to be.

Nicci Brown: Kelly, I've got to imagine that the passion that Aimee has shown struck you in your role.

Kelly Medley: Absolutely. I think Aimee is amazing. I think she's going to go on and do amazing things, and she knows that. I think one of the things you know that we worked on so much was that she had this story, but it's how to craft it in a convincing way to different audiences, how to write in a manner that is convincing, that is emotive to really get that story and that vision across that she's trying to convey. It was another one of those challenges, but that she obviously did successfully here.

Nicci Brown: Can you tell us anything about the university's previous Rhodes scholars?

Kelly Medley: I can. As you may have heard, Aimee is the first woman from the University of Florida to win a Rhodes Scholarship, which is absolutely wonderful, and I also couldn't be more proud of that fact as well. UF has had 12 Rhodes scholars prior. The overwhelming majority of them came between 1910 and 1933. When Aimee, you know, came into my office that first time, I don't know that I necessarily saw, oh, she's going to be the next one, right, the next Rhodes scholar, but I definitely saw that she was going to do some really, really great things. And I'm just happy that we ended up finding a scholarship that is going to give her the permission to do all of those amazing things.

Nicci Brown: Can you tell us a little more about some of those other prestigious scholarship and fellowship opportunities?

Kelly Medley: So, we've mentioned Truman, Beinecke, Marshall today a little bit, but there's also Fulbright, there's Goldwater. There's a number of different awards out there, and they all have a different set of eligibility, they all then on top of that, of course, have a different set of competitive criteria as well. So, what my office does is really coordinates the nomination process for these awards on behalf of the university. But what I do specifically on a more day-to-day level is I'm obviously working with the students to help workshop their applications, help them tell the stories that they want to tell to really show who they are and what drives them.

So that's a little bit about what my office does. But like I said, I have a lot of faculty volunteers who are very, very giving of their time because they help ultimately determine, okay, based on the criteria of this award, this is who we should put forward.

Some of the awards we work with also don't require a campus nomination. Anybody can apply to them. So, I also help students with workshopping those kinds of applications. And like I said, mainly helping students find is applying to a prestigious award something that makes sense for them, is a good fit for them? And if so, really which ones, right? Because they do all fund something a little bit differently.

Nicci Brown: Speaking of opportunities, Aimee, you were with your sister when you were over in the United Kingdom. That must have been quite the adventure.

Aimee Clesi: It absolutely was. I think Erika and I were very fortunate in the way that we met Ms. Lynn Fisher, who lives in Staines-upon-Thames. And it's a little bit south of Heathrow and not too far from London, about 30-minute train ride. But while Erika and I were over there and we were figuring out how to get to Royal Holloway, which is the school we exchanged with through UF, Lynn was just so helpful in the way that she recommended the secret places to go to, you know, the best food, where to go and see the things that people often miss when they visit London.

Lynn is older, and she worked from a very young age in London. She knows the area extremely well, and we just owe a tremendous debt to her for taking both of us under her wing and being like ... She wrote me a card, and it said that Erika and I, we had adopted British family now. You know. Her two sons, both tremendous young men, the whole family just, they really took us in.

And being over there and also being at Royal Holloway, we met an extraordinary range of people in different fields, different disciplines, different life experiences. We learned about the educational system in the UK, how it differs from how we've been brought up in education in America. And the classes that Erika and I took, we were very lucky in the way that we took one together. So that was something that we'd never done at UF before.

And we had an amazing time there, and we recommend UF exchange programs to everyone at UF. It’s a way to diversify the things that you're able to do. Maybe if you’re scared to travel abroad for the first time, like I was, it can help break that fear, you know, and see a whole new place, and how other people live in the world.

Nicci Brown: Providing context for those things that you learn in the classroom.

Aimee Clesi: Absolutely.

Nicci Brown: And you met with the Rhodes registrar. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience?

Aimee Clesi: That would be Ms. Mary Eaton. So, while Erica and I were in Staines and attending school at Royal Holloway, Oxford is not a far distance at all from Staines and from our school. So, what Erica and I did was we took a train ride up to Oxford. I had been communicating back and forth with Ms. Mary Eaton, but many scholars, especially American scholars because of the pandemic restrictions and things, they weren't really able to do something like this, go and meet Ms. Eaton, the registrar. The Rhodes Scholarship and The Rhodes Trust, they have their own building, their own kind of community within Oxford. And Oxford is a big place. I immediately noticed when Erika and I got there that the city is the school, and the school is the city. It's a very amazing thing.

So, while Erika and I were there meeting with Ms. Eaton, she provided some really good insight into what I was about to face. And what I mean when I say that is applying and winning the Rhodes Scholarship is only the first step. If we thought that was incredibly difficult, then the next step is actually applying and being admitted to Oxford.

That is an entirely separate application process. You are just like everyone else applying. They do flag your application as a Rhodes scholar to indicate that you have full funding. But other than that, you're still expected to write the same proposal. In my case, it was for a D. Phil. in law is what I ultimately applied for. I applied for two other scholarships at the recommendation of Ms. Eaton, just to ensure that I would be admitted, because what a horrible thing that would be to win a full ride, and then not be admitted to the university? So, Ms. Eaton's job was clear to me as soon as Erika and I got there, that she wanted to make sure that I was admitted. And applying to three programs is how it's going to happen to ensure I had the highest chance.

Nicci Brown: And when do you find out about that, Aimee?

Aimee Clesi: Ms. Eaton just emailed me recently and Kelly, and that'll be around before or on about very specific March 18th.

Nicci Brown: Okay. Well, somehow I have some positive feelings that things might work out, knowing you as we do, but good luck.

Aimee Clesi: Thank you.

Nicci Brown: Kelly, what advice do you have for students who might be interested in coming to the University of Florida and pursuing these types of opportunities?

Kelly Medley: Yes, advice for other students, I have leaps and bounds of advice for other students. So, I think I've narrowed it down to maybe an aspirational advice, and also one piece of very practical advice. The aspirational advice is really quite simple. If you don't apply, if you don't take the risk, if you don't invest the time you can't win. If you don't apply, you can't win. Right?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I'll be talking to students that I think are really, really smart and have really, really interesting goals. And they just come up with some kind of reason why they're already giving up. Before they even open the application, you know, before they even start down the road of thinking about what it would really mean to apply, they just already go ahead and say, “This isn't for me. No, nobody wins that. Or that's only for students that go to Ivy league schools” or whatever that kind of misinformation is.

And my really practical piece of advice, I honestly take this just right out of a page of Aimee's playbook, cultivate faculty relationships early and often.

With Aimee, we were talking early on about which eight people or which professors, because she has been a force anytime that she's on campus at networking and you know building this team of mentors around her and so cultivate those faculty relationships, go to office hours, even when you don't have questions, is what I always like to say.

Don't be afraid of us faculty members. You're the best part of what we do day in, day out, and we really do want to be mentors, and we do want to talk to you. And I think if you just approach faculty and kind of get the ball rolling from there, it pays off in both directions.

Nicci Brown: And Aimee, what about your perspective, what advice do you have for someone who might have a similar story to your own?

Aimee Clesi: Take the chance that is presented to you. Don't be afraid to go, like Kelly says. I remember distinctly approaching Dr. Jaime Ahlberg and Dr. Sheryl Kroen from philosophy and history. And I was interested in something that they had wrote; in Dr. Ahlberg's case, it was more of philosophy, in Dr. Kroen's case, it was European history. And I wanted to know how had they gotten to where they were. How did they go into graduate education? How did they make it possible for them? These chances come along and present themselves, but what you have to do is be in a position to take those chances.

I commute to the University of Florida to attend classes to be part of student groups. And what I try hardest to do while I'm here is to maximize my time, to meet with professors, to go to different events, to see faculty-led research efforts, to find where it is that I want to be, and what's possible. I would recommend other students do the exact same thing.

Nicci Brown: Well, thank you so much. I can only imagine what you're going to achieve in the future. Aimee and Kelly, thank you for being with us today.

Kelly Medley: Thank you so much for having us.

Aimee Clesi: Thank you.

Nicci Brown: Listeners, thank you for joining for another episode of From Florida. I’m your host Nicci Brown and I hope you’ll tune in next week.

From Florida March 1, 2022