April 18, 2023
Angelica “Jelly” (Mazza) Nigam ’06 stays engaged with Culver Academies because she believes the Indiana boarding school is “transformational.”
Nigam says that what she learned as a student at Culver laid the foundation for her career as an executive producer on Google’s “Brand Studio” marketing team, which makes commercials that air during major TV events, such as the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and the NBA Finals. Her association with Culver also led to her meeting her husband of 10 years, Avneesh Nigam ’96.
“One of my biggest beliefs is that going to Culver and having that experience is transformational,” Nigam said. “Culver gives students the ability to shape how they think and shape who they are. I believe it's a safe space that really cares about student development and the future of academics.”
She said Culver has so many strong points it’s sometimes hard to decide what areas to highlight.
“Is it the academics? Is it the sports? Is it the leadership program? Is it the language and travel programs?” she said. “It’s hard to identify because there are so many strong programs and reasons to choose Culver.”
Nigam, a member of the Culver Legion Board, first became interested in in the school after seeing how much her sister, Aly Medrano ’04, enjoyed the school. The Mazza sisters grew up in Munster, Indiana, about 60 miles northwest of Culver.
“What drew me to Culver was essentially the independence of being away from home but also this magical place that offers a lot for high school students,” Nigam said. “I think for me it was having a level of both independence and structure. I saw my sister playing sports there and going through the dorm environment. As an eighth grader, I thought: ‘I want to do that, too’.”
She still carries that love for Culver, saying her strongest friendship bonds were built here.
“There's a group of friends that I made at Culver who are above and beyond any college or adult friendship that I've ever made. That's because we grew up together,” she said. “It’s not just the tight-knit group of friends. It’s a community of people who it feels like you can just pick up where you left off, even if you don't know them that well. If they're associated with Culver, you can just pick up from nothing and it's like you know each other. You are connected. You have this common ground. You're speaking the same language.”
She recalls two people at Culver as being particularly influential on her during her four years at school: Ciel dorm counselor Debbie Turner and Spanish master instructor Tom Thornburg. Nigam said she didn’t appreciate all Turner did for students until after she graduated.
“Now I think, ‘Wow, she was really trying to listen to every student.’ She was really the front line for every anxiety-ridden parent. She was really in charge of this housing unit of girls and their behavior and their academics,” she said. “She did it so well.”
Nigam said she loved learning from Thornburg because of his exuberance in the classroom.
“Señor Thornburg embodied someone who has passion for language and someone who I saw bring his whole self to every class. He was the consummate professional. He was so passionate about what he was doing. Every single class for Spanish was so engaging and you learned about culture, you learned about language, and you learned about yourself through the Spanish language.”
Nigam attended Ithaca College in New York and then transferred to Columbia College in Chicago, where she graduated in 2010. She was working at an advertising agency in Chicago when she attended a Culver Club event at the Palmer House.
“I met a lot of people that night. We all kept in touch,” she said.
She made one special connection that night, her husband.
“We didn't know each other at Culver. We just had this similar – and we still do -- have this similar set of values and similar connection and experiences. I think a lot of that was just the building blocks for our relationship,” she said.
They now live in San Rafael, California, and have two children. She said there are a lot of Culver graduates on the West Coast who keep track of what is going on at Culver, and a handful of current students who live in the area.
She said she’s run into a lot of parents who are looking for school options outside of California. She said her message to them is that Culver is “as high-echelon and top-notch as any other big-name private school.”
“I think just from a competitive standpoint, academic offerings and teachers, I think there is just something to be said about this special place next to Lake Maxinkuckee,” she said. “It's the horses. It's the polo. It's the sailboats. It's crew. It’s fencing. There are so many things that are offered that are so unique and unusual to have all in one place.”
She said the leadership programs also are an important component, especially for the girls.
“I personally I have a passion for making sure that people know that even though it's a coeducational environment, there is something really important about being around young women and learning from each other. I think the leadership and prefectural system really helps support that. Giving girls and teens that confidence and a role and a real-world life structure to show how you can develop yourself in that environment is really special,” she said.
Nigam said one of the best parts about staying involved with Culver is to watch how it changes.
“We can see the school evolving and growing in front of our eyes. For me it’s not as much about money as it is time and effort and picking up the phone and texting your Culver people to see if they're coming for a reunion or sitting on the Legion Board and the subcommittee talking about what West Coast Culver folks are interested in,” she said.
Nigam finds giving back to Culver Academies fulfilling because of the opportunity to interact with Culver students.
“You can see the impact clearly and directly after you either donate your time or your resources. There’s nothing like talking to seniors and walking away with this feeling of: ‘This is an outstanding group of students, and what I'm doing is absolutely worth it to see these the future members of society growing in this wonderful place.”