KDS Roots Helped to Grow MASH Magazine
The connections made at Kent Denver School extend far beyond the classroom. For three alumni, it brought them together across college campuses thousands of miles apart. Willa Sobel ‘18 founded MASH Mag while she was a student at the University of Michigan. MASH Mag is a publication that explores the intersection of business and fashion and has since grown to have campus-specific offshoots at the University of Southern California and Ole Miss, both also started by Kent Denver alumni. Tate Schmergel ‘19 served as editor-in-chief at USC, and Taya Breda '20 founded a version of the magazine at Ole Miss. We recently connected with Tate and Willa to learn more about the beginnings of MASH Mag and how their roots at Kent Denver played an important role.
After graduating from Kent Denver in 2018, Willa attended the University of Michigan where she founded MASH Mag. She was motivated by the activities she did while in high school at Kent Denver, which brought her joy, meaning and connection. She describes how this translated into the beginnings of MASH Mag: “Clubs are really competitive at Michigan and going through this intense process of having to apply and jump through all these hoops, I didn’t find a place that really spoke to me. I’ve always had an interest in fashion and retail as a whole. A couple clubs on campus were related to fashion, but I was most interested in the intersection of business and fashion. I also love to write. I wrote for the Sun Devils’ Advocate while I was at Kent Denver, and wanted to bring that in. I had the original idea for MASH Mag and recruited some friends to serve on the Executive Board. From there, it was off to the races, and I spent every spare minute that I wasn’t in class working on those first editions.”
Tate worked with Willa to start the USC version of MASH Mag when he was a student there. The two were close friends at Kent Denver, and their KDS roots allowed them to collaborate to build MASH Mag. Tate talks about his friendship with Willa as spurring the beginning of MASH Mag at USC: “MASH had been in the back of my head since Willa had posted something about it. I thought it was really amazing, and I reached out to congratulate her. Right away, she said to let her know if I ever want to do something similar at USC, and of course that really grabbed my attention… It was a lot of ‘How can we replicate this but also tailor it to a different school across the country with a unique context?’ USC is a lot of creatives, so we wanted to tap into that focus. Willa was super open to new ideas, which was amazing. There was a lot of mutual respect, and we got to try different things at the different schools.”
Both Tate and Willa were motivated by the sense of community they enjoyed at Kent Denver. Willa says, “The Kent Denver community means so much to me, and I’ve tried to replicate that community in different aspects of life. MASH was probably part of that. I loved the tight-knit community of Kent, and that is something I cherish and still seek out.” And for Tate, he was actually seriously considering transferring out of USC before he connected with Willa about MASH Mag because he was having such a challenging time adjusting: “It was a big change moving to LA and being at a school that was so Greek life-dominated. The close, tight-knit network we had at Kent Denver felt far away. I was actually on track to transfer out of USC because I was feeling like it wasn’t a good fit… Andy Warhol’s Factory is super inspiring to me, and it applied to building our team at MASH Mag. It was all these people from different backgrounds with varying perspectives and a wide range of skills coming together to create this whole. It was an experience in building a creative community. All my best friends came from MASH. It was my life.”
They both credit many learnings and activities from their days at Kent Denver to their success with MASH Mag at their respective campuses and beyond. Willa currently lives in New York City and is pivoting from work at a big consulting company to work at a talent agency. Tate lives in Seattle and works for Microsoft’s Bing Chat Enterprise.
“In so many ways, my time at Kent carried over and helped me with MASH Mag,” Tate says. “My activities at Kent Denver from serving as editor-in-chief of yearbook to secretary general in Model UN and A Team for Mock Trial, all of these were formative experiences. They led me to feel very trusted and very secure in the fact that I can be a leader. I learned the importance of being very open to growing and working with other people to do that. I felt very empowered coming out of Kent, and I saw all this in Willa, too. It was very encouraging and a special experience to be able to do this with a close friend.”
We asked both Tate and Willa about an aspect from their time at KDS that inspired them and also if they have a favorite KDS memory.
Willa: “Greg Chalfin ‘04 was my 7th grade history teacher and then followed my class as our Dean all the way through high school. He was also my Creative Writing teacher and helped to instill a love of writing in me. I was a business major but took writing classes all through college and will continue leaning into my passion for writing. Mr. Chalfin had an immense influence on me and was such a huge part of my high school experience and beyond.
A special memory, as someone there as a student from 6th–12th grade, is the first day of school. I remember coming in as a 6th grader and being so intimidated. I yelled at my dad to roll the windows up because I wanted to hide. I grew up through those first days of school, and I have such strong memories. I remember driving my own car for the first time and then in my senior year, participating in that first day tradition.”
Tate: “Corky Dean was someone who had a great impact on me. I ran cross country and track and took photography class with him. He gave me a really good perspective on creativity and living a creative life. I learned how to work with other people in his class, and I learned that it was best to be open to feedback. Working collectively is so much better than working alone. And again, coming back to working with Willa, leveraging working with her was so much more powerful than starting alone and working alone. The output was infinitely better.
At Kent Denver, I remember the walk to and from lunch was the best part of the day—seeing teachers, seeing all your friends. The whole space and community comes into view during that walk, and while there, you get to enjoy food with people you care about.”
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Bill Tepley ’78 and Jon Starr ’78 first became friends on the KDS basketball court. They soon discovered a shared interest in music and have been playing in bands together for decades.
Willa Sobel '18 created MASH Mag and then worked with two other Kent Denver alumni to create offshoots of the groundbreaking magazine.
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