When her father, a colonel in the Indiana National Guard, was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in 2008, Haley Townsend ’16 wanted to learn more about a region of the world she said she knew “absolutely nothing about.”
“That was a formative time for me,” said Townsend, who was a high school student in Greenwood, Indiana, during her father’s deployment. “I didn’t quite understand what was going on or why he was there or what was happening.”
At Kenyon, Townsend rekindled her interest in the Middle East by taking an Arabic course and declaring a minor in the language to complement her major in international studies. A “History of the Islamicate World” course followed and her passion for the culture blossomed.
Townsend spent the first semester of her junior year in Rabat, Morocco, where she taught English and attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The national championship swimmer even managed to participate in a Moroccan swim club in preparation for the upcoming season in Gambier.
Her study-abroad experience inspired Townsend to apply for a summer internship in Washington, D.C., where she worked for the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the Middle East Policy Council. During the 10-week program, she was involved with editing the council’s quarterly journal and planning its Capitol Hill Conference series, as well as taking on duties in social media, teaching outreach and research.
“I learned a lot, not only about the news stories and politics in the region, but also about myself, my potential interests and the opportunities available to students like me,” she said.
Now Townsend is enriching her senior-year curriculum with courses in energy studies, including “Economics of Oil and Natural Gas” and “Physics of Solar Energy.” She also is connecting with alumni to explore her career options in the energy field. “It’s neat how energy, and oil specifically, is directly tied to the Middle East,” she said. “It conveniently merges a few of my interests.”
Townsend appreciates the opportunities Kenyon offers her to tackle her wide-ranging interests. “When I decide to pursue a path or a goal or a class, I completely devote myself without question or hesitancy,” she said.
That intensity of focus serves Townsend well in the pool, where she has earned 15 All-America awards, won the 2013 national title in 400-yard medley relay and received the NCAA’s Elite 89 award, given to the student-athlete at the national championship with the best cumulative grade-point average. Head Coach Jess Book ’01 describes Townsend as “reliable, diligent and passionate” and credits her success as a student-athlete to her “willingness to take on challenges and explore different places and cultures.”
“If I had decided to [swim at] a Division I school, all these extra things wouldn’t be possible,” Townsend said. “Kenyon is just a really special place. I feel very balanced here.”