being kira waldman The women’s basketball co-captain is a dedicated community servant, a future geologist, and a fierce competitor on the court.

Kira Waldman’s California roots run deep. The Middlebury senior is a sixth-generation San Franciscan, the youngest branch on a family tree that reaches back before the catastrophic earthquake and fire at the beginning of the 20th century.

But running counter to this West Coast genealogy has been a history of heading east for college. Waldman’s mother graduated from Barnard, and her father and two older sisters graduated from Brown. It helps explain how Kira’s (pronounced KEERAH) path led her to Middlebury.

The Waldman Family [L>R: Kira, Peter, Jenna, Charene, Mikela]

Waldman is now immersed in the Panthers’ basketball season, where she is a cocaptain and starting guard. But athletics occupy only one part of her college landscape. Basketball shares the stage with a daunting academic regimen and a deep commitment to community service.

“Kira has a passion for everything she does, and she finds a way to manage all three parts of her life,” said women’s basketball coach KJ Krasco. “She’s figured this out.”

Waldman played every sport imaginable growing up but realized in high school that basketball was her first love. She popped up on Middlebury’s radar at a summer camp at Brown, where Waldman’s sister, Mikela, was a soccer standout.

Kira in action during a high school game.

“I was intrigued by the idea of coming east for college because of my family’s experience,” Waldman said. “But Middlebury kind of found me, actually.”

Waldman and her father toured the campus in the second half of her junior year, and the visit did not go well initially.

“It was mid-April and there was like 10 feet of snow outside and I was like, no way, this is not for me,” Waldman said. “But I continued my tour, and when I got home I was thinking about my experience on campus. It felt like the most ‘home’ vibe that I had felt from any of the schools.

“I loved the idea of being sandwiched between some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and having the opportunity to follow my passions on the court and in the classroom. I was excited by the chance to move east for a few years to see a different way of life and meet people from different backgrounds.”

Basketball and academics were two givens for Waldman. What she had not anticipated was how important community service would become to her. Waldman’s commitment has been so deep that as a junior she was awarded the school’s Peter Kohn Award honoring the student-athlete who best exemplifies the spirit of community and service. She also was the youngest finalist for the Vermont Mentor of the Year Award given by the nonprofit MENTOR Vermont organization.

Although Waldman had participated in student government in high school, year-round athletics precluded much community service. That changed during her first year at Middlebury when she learned about Community Friends, a one-on-one mentoring program that pairs Middlebury College students with Addison County children between the ages of six and 12.

“Originally, it started off as something fun to do and a way to connect with Middlebury a little deeper,” Waldman said. “Coming from California and feeling so far away from home, I felt like I needed a little bit more to ground me.”

Waldman became a mentor to six-year-old Margaret during the second semester, a partnership that will continue until Waldman graduates in May. As a sophomore, Waldman became a Community Friends board member and now, as a senior, she oversees the entire program as a staff member at the Center for Community Engagement.

Kira and her mentee Margaret

“Kira brings so much energy,” said Kailee Brickner-McDonald, the CCE’s assistant director. “She shares the power in the relationship with the children and is such a skilled collaborator. She sees possibilities, lets others take the lead, and then celebrates what they achieve.”

Under Waldman’s guidance, Community Friends has doubled in size over the past year to 150 mentors and mentees. The program will celebrate its 60th year in 2020, and more than 2,500 Middlebury students have participated over that span.

Kira and Margaret pose with Margaret's sister and her mentor.
“At the end of the day nothing matters as much as the feeling of being in a room with 30 kids and their new mentors and seeing the smiles bounce off the walls,” Waldman said. “I love being connected to this community through youth. It brings me happiness when a couple of kids just want to hang out on a college campus and see what a potential future could be for them.”

Waldman is a geology major with a specific interest in hydrology—the science of the earth’s water and its movement in relation to land. Last summer she served as an assistant on a field project in Minnesota conducted by the United States Geological Survey, a branch of the Department of the Interior. She then traveled to Costa Rica with Middlebury geology and environmental studies professor Peter Ryan to assist in research into the impact of arsenic in the local aquifers.

The two-plus weeks in Bemidji, Minnesota, were spent analyzing the impact of a pipeline oil spill in 1979 that leaked 400,000 barrels before the leak was discovered.

Kira digging wells at the USGS field camp.

“There were over 50 scientists from around the world on site—geophysicists, chemists, all sorts of people,” Waldman said.

That experience, in addition to Waldman’s fluency in Spanish, made her a welcome addition to Ryan’s team, which has been working in Costa Rica for 20 years under the auspices of Middlebury’s undergraduate research office.

Kira and Professor Ryan in Costa Rica

“Kira had the background, and this seemed like the perfect project for her senior thesis,” Ryan said. “It’s an environmental problem, but also a social problem with a scientific angle. Now she can apply a lot of what she learned to this academic question.”

The official title of Waldman’s thesis is Analysis of Volcaniclastic Sediments as a Potential Source of Groundwater Arsenic in the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica.

“Part of my research is linking this source of arsenic to specific rock formations and one specific volcano in the town,” she said. “I’m spending a lot of time in the lab right now crushing up rocks.”

Ryan, who is Waldman’s thesis advisor, admires how she has matured academically.

“She’s undergone a great evolution as a student,” Ryan said. “She’s just starting to learn how smart she is and how much of an intellectual person she is.”

As if Community Friends and a senior thesis aren’t enough to manage, there is this basketball season, a gauntlet that brings out Waldman’s most competitive nature.

“She’s the last kid to leave the gym and the first to be back the next day,” Krasco said. “She has brought a real fire to our program.”

Middlebury went 17-8 in Waldman’s first two seasons before finishing 20-8 last year and earning an NCAA Division III Tournament bid for the first time in 21 years. The Panthers defeated John Carroll in the opening round before falling to host DeSales in the second.

“It was the coolest weekend of my life,” Waldman said. “It was an incredible experience being in that atmosphere.”

Middlebury is 12-10 this season with a roster that includes five seniors and five first-years. Waldman is averaging 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists a game.

“I really, really want to win at least a NESCAC championship,” she said. “I think we have an incredible group building on the success of years past.”

Waldman is now looking at internships and fellowships to possibly teach geological research in South America.

As for these final months in Vermont?

“We don’t know exactly where I’m headed, but I think I’ve really created an amazing home and community at Middlebury, which I feel very fortunate for,” Waldman said. “I’m trying to find ways to make that last."

Kira with current and alumnae members of the women's basketball team.
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Alexis Paquette