26 Sep Alumni Spotlight – Tin Tin Su ‘81 and Soe Soe Thwin ‘84
Tin Tin went on to do a BA in Biochemistry from Mt Holyoke, then a PhD from Carnegie – Mellon University and a Postdoc from the University of California, San Francisco.
Soe Soe went on to Beloit College in Wisconsin to get a Bachelors in Mathematical Biology, then on to the University of Washington in Seattle to study Public Health and Epidemiology and finally to do her PhD from Boston University to study Biostatistics.
Where are you from and what brought you to Woodstock?
We were born in Burma. We were living in Bangladesh with my father, when I went to Woodstock. Tin Tin had done her O’levels and was looking for the next school, preferable in another country so it would be a good adventure. The pastor of the international church in Dhaka came for a home visit. We found out that his children went to Woodstock. We begged our parents to send us there. They reluctantly agreed, reluctant because Woodstock was in another country and they had never parted with their children for that long before. But the fact that many families in Dhaka had their children at Woodstock mitigated their concerns. Soe Soe finished grade 8 in Dhaka and moved to Woodstock.
How did Woodstock shape who you are?
Tin Tin – Hiking club sparked my ongoing love of nature and outdoors. I made friends who are like second family to this day. I lived on my own away from home, and that fuelled my independence. Supervised freedom was a good way to learn to be responsible.
Soe Soe – Woodstock was a fabulous microcosm of so many colorful characters. It introduced me to all sorts of different people, cultures, practices, foods, languages, smells, sounds, oh the list goes on. It allowed me to acknowledge and embrace both similarities and differences and taught me how to get along with everyone and work with anyone. It also instilled in me my love of international travel. With students and teachers coming and going, and with all their stories, there was a greater sense of the world out there and coming home to Woodstock.
What were you involved in during your time at Woodstock?
Tin Tin – Sports (I was on the volleyball, soccer and badminton team, was House co-captain), hiking club, plays, Indian dance, yoga, bible study, school newspaper, painting murals in the hallway at Midlands, and academics (did GCE A levels and American high school diploma).
Soe Soe – I dabbled in many things and essentially went with the flow. There was always something going on, but my favorites were intramural and varsity sports (badminton, volleyball, soccer), dances at Hostel, movies in Parker Hall, and square dancing in the gym. The gym was not enclosed, so it got pretty chilly in the winter time. There were also day and overnight hikes, weekend bible retreats, meditation trip to Bodhgaya over Activity week, going out of boarding with my mentors, and hanging out at the teashop with fellow classmates. But…mostly, I studied. I was really into Math (Mrs. Swain and Mr. Dunning were fabulous teachers), and Physics (no one explained the principles of Physics like Mr. Black!).
What are you involved in now that you’re passionate about?
Tin Tin – Science research, hiking, gardening.
Soe Soe – I currently work for the World Health Organization in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research. I lead the team that provides statistical and data management support to research studies on topics that range from maternal and child health to sexually transmitted infections to adolescent health and at-risk populations. For one of the projects we are evaluating the performance of a point of care rapid test to screen for both HIV and syphilis together. This test would be performed at the time the patient is seen by the provider and the results would be available right away, hence cutting wait-time to initiate treatment. This is a multi-country consortium to determine if such a rapid test could be made available globally. I am very excited to be a part of the team. I have been involved in setting up the data collection system that is web-based so that 24 clinics across 13 countries could enter data and these data are available in real time in Geneva. This allows us to manage the study centrally and collaborate more effectively and efficiently.
Another facet to this study is to strengthen research capacity in our partner countries so that they can continue with similar research once the WHO funded study is completed. I’m very passionate about setting up the infrastructure and disseminating both statistical and data management expertise so that this potential is realised.
How important do you think it is to have Alumni offer their expertise to the school? Should there be more avenues to do this?
Tin Tin – I don’t know about expertise but networking is really important. yes, there should be more avenues.
Soe Soe – Alums are a wealth of information, experience, and expertise, and it would be a shame to not tap into this pool. Yes, absolutely, there should be expanded avenues to do this, perhaps piggy-back with reunions, big-brother big-sister kind of open forum mentoring, for example.
What is valuable about the WS experience and why we understand each other in a unique way?
Tin Tin – Being in an environment without barriers, with people of your age but from different backgrounds. By barriers, I mean socio-economic, religion, etc. We sort of got thrown in together in ways that we may not have been if we stayed in our own countries/communities. And not just for a few weeks but for a much longer time. This is how you learn to understand each other deeply, see their point of view, and have empathy even if you don’t agree with them.
Soe Soe – For me, WS experience is synonymous with independence. Woodstock is a safe place to explore your boundaries, in mind, body, and spirit. It’s small enough that everyone is your extended family and you are never far from support, yet it is large enough that you can explore to your heart’s content and come to your own terms. We understand each other in a unique way because Woodstock experience is a shared experience. Everyone walks away feeling you always have a family of friends that transcends your time at Woodstock.
Class sizes were smaller then. There were 49 of us in our graduating class, and a group of us forged an unbreakable bond though our shared moments of joy and misery. We return to Woodstock every 5 years and in April of next year, it will be our 35th reunion. We catch up on news of our respective families, jobs, kids, and travels. Our palate is a little more sophisticated now, and it sure doesn’t take long before we become kids ourselves. We return to our adolescent jokes and pranks. This is our shared Woodstock experience that keeps bringing us back.
If Woodstock had had a professional networking platform when you were graduating – would you have used it ? If yes, why do you think it is important?
Tin Tin – Professional networking may be more useful for a student when you graduate from college than when you graduate from high school. But networking should start as soon as possible even if it is used later. So, start networking while at Woodstock. In my field (bio research), college students intern in labs at different universities during the summer. So, with a network in place, a college student can go to a alum’s lab at another university, for example. This could be true of any profession.
Soe Soe – Probably not. I was not really thinking professional networking platform at the time of my graduation. I was excited to go off to college, period. That was going to be another whole new adventure, having never been to the US before. That being said, I would have liked to have read what other alums were doing, not so much for networking but because it’s interesting to learn the exciting things we are all capable of.
Share with us a note on your time in Mussoorie
Tin Tin – Wonderful experience that shaped me in many ways. Not much to add beyond the answers above.
Soe Soe – My 5 years at Woodstock is now a wonderful memory. One of the things Midlands girls did each school year was to dabble in home decorating. Midlands, at the time, housed girls from 9th through 12th grades and we changed rooms as well as roommates (usually) every year. There were so few girls in our senior year that we each had our own room. Anyhow, at the beginning of each year, my roommate(s) and I would go into the Bazaar and spend our time going through all sorts of fabric bolts for each to choose the “one”. This would then be our bedspread, curtains, pillows, and sometimes matching pajamas. That was so much fun!