When Jane K. Rosegrant '85 was growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she dreamed about traveling to exotic jungles to unravel the great mysteries of unknown animal and plant kingdoms.
With a down-to-earth air, the 22-year-old explains that her naturalistic yearnings began while exploring forests near her home and leading field trips through a wildlife park. Jamie R. Jenkins '85, a four-year roommate of Rosegrant, recalls noticing tinges of the anthropologist/explorer Jane Goodall in her cohabitant. "We all swore that she would go to Borneo with an anthropologist to study primates."
But like other well-laid plans in Rosegrant's life, this ambition was soon replaced. The summer after her sophomore year, she decided to give her ecological bent "one last try," studying plants and animals at a site in Concord. But the vote for the life of a naturalist was a unanimous "No" among her psychic constituents. "I couldn't pick up a book and study mountain gorrillas because it didn't interest me anymore," she says of that turn-around summer.
Returning for her junior year, Rosegrant duly switched from the biological to the social track within her major of anthropology. At the same time, she heightened her involvement with Phillips Brooks House, a coalition of student-run public service projects.
Rosegrant speaks matter-of-factly about that decision two years ago, and it seems clear that the senior has, characteristically, taken the shift in stride. When she doesn't like something, she stops doing it. "I basically hated high school," she says, chuckling. Consequently, she skipped out a half semester early to make money for an expedition to the Phillipines.
A Late Application
Of course, she later scrapped that goal too and moved to Cambridge. However, even this third plan was close to accidental. While her future Harvard-Radcliffe classmates were putting the final touches on essays in time for the January I deadline, she says she had not even considered applying to the big H. It was not until February, while visiting her sister in Brighton, that she was convinced to apply to Harvard.
"She was cranking out the essays and I was typing them up," recalls 30-year-old sibling Susan Rosegrant of the February night four years ago when the two sisters put a Harvard application together. Late or not, Byerly Hall accepted the Rosegrant bid.
Even so, Rosegrant had doubts. But two days before leaving for her freshman year at the University of Michigan, Harvard beefed up Rosegrant's financial aid package. With this new deal, the then-aspiring ecologist accepted Harvard's offer and replied just seven days before Freshman Week.
Once at Harvard, Rosegrant continued to recast her goals. One roommate describes Rosegrant's four college years as a three-phase dialectic progression: anthroplogy took up her first two college years, social work in Phillips Brooks House dominated the next year and a half, and the two activities fused in her senior thesis--a study of the lives of five lower-class women she met during PBH work in a housing project.
The PBH work began when, as a sophomore. Rosegrant adopted an eight-year-old girl named Christina through the PBH Big Brother Big Sister program. She admits to having been skeptical about working for the 92-year-old community organization. "I thought PBH people were going to be a bunch of annoyingly wishy-washy, do-good type of people. But it was just the opposite." From there, her social work snowballed into heading committees, raising $30,000 for a summer youth program and spending late nights at shelters for the homeless. Later she was elected president of Phillips Brooks House--the largest student organization at Harvard--during her junior year.
"She virtually lived at PBH. I don't know how she did her academic work," says Greg A. Johnson '72, the graduate advisor of PBH.
Last summer, Rosegrant worked as a live-in counselor for teenagers at Roosevelt Towers, an East Cambridge low-income housing project. Although she says she lived in roach-infested quarters and worked 60 to 80 hour weeks. Rosegrant adds that much of the summer was spoat reading books with her six girls, taking them berry picking and on camping trips.
During camping excursions. "All the kids that were cool in the project, tougher than everybody else, were just as scared out in the woods as anybody else," she says. "It's really nice to just see them treating each other like people." The program, which was financed by PBH, culminated with an outing to Vermont and a tour of Montreal.