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A Note of Thanks to Our Teachers

My youngest son was a pole vaulter, and there was a point in his trajectory at which he seemed to defy gravity.

“You should see yourself,” I would say. “You were flying!”

My son’s response to such praise was a litany of things that had gone wrong, needed improvement, things he could have done better.

Some of us have a built-in resistance (or distrust?) of praise.

But my words came back to me on Thursday as my colleagues in Public Affairs and I wrapped up three days of photographing Wabash professors and their students as they worked together.

You should see yourselves.

You should see the intensity of Martin Madsen’s eyes as he engages his students in physics; the way Bobby Horton (talk about intensity!) shifts from one learning mode to the next to make sure his students understand a point; Dan Rogers quieting a normally talkative student and pointing to one more reserved who needs to learn to articulate his views; Maureen McColgin moving so fast you can’t keep up with her in lab as she answers students’ questions and brings them materials they needed; Larry Bennett’s love for the music as he guides his class through a symphony; Bob Foote taking time before class to help a student struggling with multi-variable calculus; Tobey Herzog drawing out student insights as he walks them through books whose authors he has interviewed, whose work he so clearly knows and respects.

Yeah, some of the guys were sleepy. A few were sick. Discussion doesn’t always go as hoped, the enthusiasm less than a teacher hopes for. The real world of fallible human beings.

But for so many, the teacher’s respect for the material, mastery of the subject, and commitment to giving these guys something worth holding on to, professionally or personally, breaks through.

And it’s contagious.

I think of Professor Madsen’s physics class, a student at the board writing out an equation with artful elegance. I remember another student in Professor Foote’s class asking “the next question” about an equation, pushing the example, and Bob’s smile as he admitted the equation didn’t really work in that particular application.

I’m a math idiot, but I know beauty and learning when I see them. That’s what Howard, Jim, and I saw these three days. Wabash is an engine of teachable moments, and watching that spark jump the gap over and over fires us up. Writing about them and photographing them is a great “job.” Writing to help that engine keep running, even more rewarding.

“Welcome to our lab,” Paul LePlae told me when I showed up late on Tuesday and things weren’t going exactly as he’d planned in class that day (which, by accident, gave me a chance to see just how good he is.)

“Thank you for visiting with us,” Agata Szczeszak-Brewer told me after skillfully leading her students through Joyce’s short stories, even though my presence had the potential of being a disruption to class discussion.

Thank you for allowing us to visit, for putting up with three guys lumbering about your classrooms with cameras.

In the end, there’s no way photographs can†do justice to what you do. That’s something only you and your students know. But in at least a few of the photos, I hope you can see in your colleagues and students the fire that burns in this place. For those of us who have worked outside of academia, it’s something we never take for granted. So much learning at such a pace is amazing to watch.

Some folks say that teaching is a lot like walking a tightrope, but you were flying.

You should see yourselves.


Click here for some photos from Day 3.

In photo: Professor Martin Madsen

Photo Shoot Gets Us Into Classrooms

Howard W. Hewitt - This is an update on our three-day photo shoot. Today, Wednesday, we’re back in classrooms again shooting professors and students.

In just a day and a half we’ve hit 30 Wabash classrooms. It’s interesting to note students seem to get a kick out of seeing the photographs. More than a few mentioned this morning they had come to the website and saw yesterday’s shots.

See shots from Wednesday’s effort here.

Personally, it was fascinating this morning to listen to English Professor Marc Hudson’s passion as he broke down poetry for a morning class. It was fascinating and fun watching Classics Professor Jeremy Hartnett bring an ancient language alive.

Hartnett divided his morning Latin class into teams and was giving each team a chance to translate a Latin sentence. Their were high fives and an occasional hoot as the teams competed. Hartnett awarded the winners a package of cookies.

It’s a tired cliche to talk about making learning fun – but football players high-fiving each other after correctly translating Latin is fun!

Tuesday – Howard W. Hewitt – From time to time we need to update photos that we use in marketing materials for the College and for the College website.

We’re going to be spending a large part of this week ducking in and out of classrooms to shoot photos of Wabash professors and students in a classroom setting.

Director of Public Affairs Jim Amidon, Magazine Editor Steve Charles, and I, as web editor, will be visiting classes through Thursday. It’s not possible to get everyone in a three-day photo shoot, but if all goes well we’ll take pictures in more than 30 different classrooms.

One of the fun side benefits is getting to absorb a little of the classroom discussion while we’re quietly doing our jobs. For instance, I listened in to some fascinating student discussion during Professor David Hadley’s freshman tutorial on political cartoons. The students had some strong opinions about what was appropriate and what was not on newspaper editorial pages.

But the students’ insight went beyond ‘political correctness." They also recognized economic pressures on a small newspaper might lead to different decisions on controversial cartoons than at a metropolitan newspaper.

Good stuff!

Here is a photo album from our first day of shooting to give you an idea of what we’re doing. Here’s another set from Tuesday.

In photo above: Seniors Adam Hawkins and Allen Chatt lead discussion in Melissa Butler’s senior seminar in political science.

New Seeds of Thought

Jim Amidon — My friend and colleague, Joy Castro, a professor in the English Department at Wabash, gave the 27th Annual LaFollette Lecture in the humanities Friday afternoon. Being selected to give the lecture is quite an honor, to say the least.

The lecture was established by the Wabash Board of Trustees to honor their longtime colleague Charles D. LaFollette. The task: to address the relation of a faculty member’s discipline to the humanities, broadly conceived.

With a room full of students, faculty, staff, trustees, and community members, Professor Castro talked about her personal scholarship, life-writing, by which she means memoir and fiction based on the events of her life.

Last summer, she had published her memoir, The Truth Book, and completed a successful book tour and speaking circuit, and found herself at a crossroads. Having spent so much of her recent past honing her skills as a life-writer — and having published her own story — what was she left to do as a writer, as a scholar?

She told the crowd in Salter Concert Hall about her summer in Wyoming on an intense 10-day immersion with graduate students from the University of Utah. There she worked with her friend and fellow writer, Terry Tempest-Williams, to lead a course designed to teach students how to write about themselves in connection with nature and the environment.

While Joy admits to having little real knowledge of the environment, Williams hoped to bring together a group of people representing an assortment of academic disciplines. The way Joy described it, the experience looked closely at the environment through the lens of the liberal arts.

Joy was among those representing the humanities, but as I listened, I kept coming back to the notion of the LaFollette Lecture itself, “the humanities, broadly conceived,” and the way she was assembling science, nature, and writing into a neat package.

The experience appears to have served as a combination of a wake-up call and new direction for Joy Castro’s life and her life-writing.

She discussed her discovery of serotiny, the evolutionary gift that some plants in nature possess.

I had known of the botanical concept, but didn’t know the word or specifically what it meant. The way she explained it, elegantly, of course, is that a serotinous pinecone falls to the ground where it holds its seeds tightly until a forest fire disperses them. Non-serotinous cones release their seeds while still hanging in trees or as they fall to the ground, only to be lifted and placed where the wind takes them.

And some trees, she said, produce both types of cones. Talk about the key to survival: the lodgepole pine is an evolutionary wonder.

At this point in her lecture, though, I began to wonder if she wasn’t going a bit far with the “broadly conceived” aspect of her assignment.

Then, as she does with her moving stories, she brought it home.

“I wondered about a human brand of serotiny, about a kind of tightness or remaining closed to change so that only the most extreme adversities, when our very survival is at stake, can make us open,” she said.

There, last summer in the Grand Tetons, Joy Castro appears to have written a new chapter for her life. There, in one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth, she linked the metaphor of the evolutionarily advanced pinecone to our immediate environment, global warming, social justice, and making change at Wabash College.

Over the last half of her lecture, she imagined a greener, more caring Wabash. She imagined this community opening up to new ideas about how we might do our part to preserve our earth, to strive for peace, to act now instead of when the metaphorical fires are all around us.

She challenged students and faculty to be open to seeds of ideas like revised courses that study a culture’s relationship with nature; opening up the College’s nature park, Allee Woods, to an engaged public; and she even proposed an environmentally friendly student center.

“A problem-solving, opportunity-seeking, multidisciplinary approach to issues of social justice and environmental care is congruent with the way we think about the liberal arts: as multiple lenses, multiple disciplines, multiple ways of knowing, to help us lead good, effective, smart, humane lives,” she said.

Indeed, as I walked away from the lecture, I couldn’t help but think Charles LaFollette would have been proud of Joy Castro, for she carefully linked her own scholarship to the broader humanities, and in doing so imagined a new path for her own life and for Wabash College.

A Challenge to Learn New Things About Each Other

Howard W. Hewitt – When one of our own takes the stage for a Thursday Chapel Talk we’re all there for support. Brent Harris made the Public Affairs staff proud Thursday when the honorary Sphinx Club member and Sports Information Director talked about, "The Secret Lives of Wabash Men."

Harris noted his considerable sports involvement and interests but that secretly he was a Civil War buff. His interest started when he was a an elementary school student growing up in Crawfordsville. He shared Civil War history as he learned it from a frequent visitor to that elementary classroom.

It turns out that visitor was a former Crawfordsville Journal Review Sports Editor. Much as that sports editor had a secret life, Harris developed his own alternate identity studying the civil war.

Brent talked about people known around campus and not-so-well known who have interests or hobbies that most people may not know about.

"Look around the Chapel this morning," he told the students, faculty and staff gathered. "We know each other and often get placed into convenient categories. I’m a sports guy, he’s a history major, he’s a member of this living unit, he does this on campus. But what is that secret life we don’t know about?"

Harris urged the Chapel Talk audience to learn the secret lives of their friends, classmates and instructors. "If you don’t know how to start those conversations, maybe just learning something fun about another person will open up that conversation, making it easier to discuss the more difficult topics."

He suggested that such conversations bring us all into the ‘grand conversation’ described by President White to kick off the school year. Such conversations are the building blocks of the Wabash Community.

A Taste of Farm Living

Steve Charles—On a cold, windy spring day in 2003 I was visiting Professor Scott Feller’s farm when I noticed an odd-looking contraption with cranks and buckets in the laboratory-clean ‘tack room’ of his barn.

"That’s the cider press we just ordered," Scott said, pointing out the little black plaque that read: "Specially handcrafted for Scott and Wendy Feller, Happy Valley Ranch, Paola, Kansas."

Both Scott and Wendy grew up on farms in Oregon—Scott’s dad was a dentist, so his was more of a hobby farm. But Wendy’s family were large-scale farmers. So soon after Scott arrived to teach chemistry at Wabash, the couple had bought this property as a place for their family to work and relax together and stay in touch with the values and pleasures Scott and Wendy had grown up with.

The cider press was a way to extend that a bit, Scott said. He talked about his and Wendy’s notion of inviting friends, and colleagues out to the farm some autumn afternoon to get the feel and, literally, a taste of the Indiana countryside.

So last week, when I received an invitation to a "Cider Squeeze" at the Feller Farm on Sunday, I just had to see how this now annual event had turned out.

It was sweet and refreshing as a gulp of cider on a gorgeous fall day.

About 50 plus friends of Scott, Wendy, and their kids stopped by, transforming one pasture into county fair-like parking lot, mixing their conversation with the occasional bleats and baahs of the farm’s goats and sheep.

Scott and Professor Charlie Blaich, longtime friends who have collaborated on various projects at Wabash (including the first Celebration of Student Research and Creative work), grilled lamb burgers over flames that only occasionally got out of control (like most Feller/Blaich collaborations!).

And master chef and Professor Rick Warner wisely stepped back and took it all in.

Younger kids tossed apples into the chute while older kids—and, later, Scott and Professor Dan Rogers—worked the press. And the rest of us talked with other guests, wandered the farm, pet the goats, sheep, or Hannah the Morgan horse.

It was a relaxing, wonderful time, bringing together the Fellers’ 4-H, Crawfordsville community theater, school, and Wabash friends. This little farm intended to introduce their kids to the work, values, and pleasures of the family farm has enriched their friends’ and colleagues lives, too. And there’s even a touch of Wabash heritage there—Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Roy Miller’s old Ford tractor still works the land here.

Click here for a few photos of the afternoon.

Thanks, Scott, Wendy, Amanda, and Jake.

Photo above: Jake Feller works the cider press.

Semi-Random Thoughts on Homecoming Traditions

Wabash College is fond of its traditions — really fond of its traditions

Homecoming is nearly a century-old Wabash tradition. It was the idea of the late Jasper Cragwall, a professor who taught at the college from 1901 through 1929. His notion was that the college should set aside a special day to welcome back its alumni. The tradition has evolved over time, but the basic concept remains the same.

Homecoming is among Wabash’s most cherished traditions.

Embedded within Homecoming Weekend, which began Thursday with Chapel Sing and continued through Saturday evening’s Glee Club concert and theater production, are several unrelated traditions. The only common link between the many traditions is the weekend itself.

Call them traditions within traditions, for lack of a better phrase.

Take Chapel Sing, for example. After about 20 years of screaming, students have returned to the original tradition of singing “Old Wabash” on the steps of the Pioneer Chapel. While not exactly true to the early Chapel Sing competitions, Thursday’s event came pretty close. There was more emphasis on class unity than on living units. The guys were actually singing, and melody mattered when the judges made their final decisions.

Saturday was a day filled with traditions: living units creating parade-style floats (that don’t float) to decorate the fronts of their buildings; alumni from nine decades coming back to campus; sporting events; and an evening of music and theater.

A couple of traditions stand out:

The Alumni Chapel on Saturday morning is the official annual meeting of the National Association of Wabash Men. It’s also the time when the college honors its alumni for service and volunteerism. The event honors the spirit of the late Barney Hollett ’36, who was the epitome of the Wabash gentlemen. Barney would have been proud of the alumni who were honored.

I, too, was proud when my good friend and local attorney Greg Miller, Wabash Class of 1983, was presented the Frank W. Misch Alumni Service Award, which honors the alumnus who has given the most of himself to his alma mater. In addition to his many civic responsibilities, Greg has served Wabash as a Class Agent, a member of the NAWM Board of Directors, President of the Sugar Creek Association of Wabash Men, and President of the Phi Gamma Delta Housing Association, to name only a few of the ways he works on behalf of Wabash.

At lunch, alumni and friends of the college gathered for the traditional Celebrating Leadership Luncheon, which honors and salutes those who have been generous in their financial support of the college. Philanthropy is, perhaps, Wabash’s greatest and most enduring tradition; a tradition of Wabash alumni providing the resources for future generations of Wabash men.

When people think of Homecoming traditions, they really think of the Homecoming football game.

At Wabash, the more “interesting” tradition happens at halftime of the football game. That’s when freshmen from the various living units put on skits, chant or cheer, raise banners, and dress up like queens.

Yep, one of the more hysterical aspects of Homecoming is the queen contest, when living units choose one lucky freshman to be their queen. (Picture very large men with thick, dark chest hair wearing low-cut dresses, fishnet stockings, and heels. Got the idea?) It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a cherished Homecoming tradition.

There was one year when the queen contest was held on Friday night. Alumni (and their spouses) were outraged and complained there was no halftime “entertainment.”

But aside from the queens, football, and colorful decorations, Homecoming remains what Jasper Cragwall imagined almost a century ago. It remains a time when alumni return to Wabash to catch up with old friends, see the changes, and reconnect with the institution that meant so much to them in their college days.

One of those alumni who reconnected with Wabash on Saturday was Jim Price, Class of 1929 (pictured left), a 99-year-old alum who would have known and learned from Jasper Cragwall.

Linking the generations, past and future, is the real reason we celebrate Homecoming at Wabash.

Bringing Back Brunch

Change the eggs and cooking utensils to acid solutions and beakers, and this photo from the Delt house kitchen could be a chemistry lab.

But that’s history professor (and former professional chef) Rick Warner, introducing members the Wabash Cooking Club to a tradition he thinks deserves to be brought back.

"I’m very excited to see the cooking club take off," Rick told me when I asked what brought him back into the kitchen with the 30-plus Wabash students who showed up for the weekly meeting Sunday. "I was thrilled when [club president] Robert Van Kirk asked me to make this presentation to the club, because I never completely left the kitchen world when I came to academe. I love to cook and I love bringing that joy to others, as my children will tell you."

"I decided to teach eggs benedict because brunch is a meal that fell out of favor in the 90s, probably because the notion of sleeping in and then consuming major quantities of saturated fats with champagne does not fit with the expectation of a more physically fit lifestyle" Rick laughed. "All things in good measure, though. Every gentleman should know how to make a good hollandaise sauce."

Living on Wabash Avenue across from campus, Rick and his wife, Kerri, frequently host students, faculty, and staff in their home. Their hospitality and Rick’s cooking prowess are well known on campus. But seeing him pass along those social and culinary skills to students is even better.

And the students in the club—from practically every living unit on and off campus—are into it.

"I’m going to be out on my own soon, and I need to learn how to cook††some time," Lambda Chi Matt Kraft ’09 told me when I asked him why he joined the club: To eat or to cook?

"I’m here for it all," senior independent Nate Mullendore told me. "I live off campus, so I cook for myself, and I wanted to learn more."

"I’m hear so I can learn to cook," freshman Delt Elliott Allen laughed. "And to impress the ladies!"

Rick will be teaching a freshman tutorial next fall entitled "Food and the Liberal Arts," where students will study food from a variety of scholarly angles: history, politics, chemistry, culture.

If Sunday’s Cooking Club presentationis any indication of interest, attendance shouldn’t be a problem.

—Steve Charles

In photo: Nate Mullendore ’07 and Mike Wartman ’09 learn how to prepare Eggs Benedict during Sunday’s Cooking Club meeting.

Click here for more photos.

Love…and a bit with a dog

Steve Charles—So this pug wearing a dress walks onto campus with a Scotty wearing a rented tux.

"What’s the news hook?" my colleague Howard Hewitt asks, uncharacteristically skeptical.

"Howard, the dog is wearing a dress," I say.

"And?"

"I took a picture of them in front of the chapel."

"And?"

"And…the pug made the dress himself."

"How does this advance the mission of Wabash College?" my boss Jim Amidon asks.

"Are you blind, Jim?" I say, barely able to restrain my frustration. "That Scotty is a screaming metaphor for the Gentleman’s Rule."

"NO!"

But Jim and Howard are in meetings right now, so here you go—just in time for Homecoming Weekend—Animals in Clothing. (Not to be confused with tomorrow’s Queen Contest).

(Willy Wabash courtesy of Mark Flexter ’79 and Angie McGlothlin, Angie McGlothlin, costumer/Barkley the Scotty courtesy of Guyanna and Jack Spurway ’69. Action figures sold separately.)

Wabash History 101

Steve Charles—The Purdue Boilermakers got their name from Wabash.

The Glee Club used to have its own Queen Contest.

The annual Class Fight (thankfully, a lost tradition) was covered by The New York Times in the 1890s.

These were just a few of the nuggets the 90-plus students attending Wabash History 101 heard today. That’s right—more than 90 students turning out to learn more about Wabash history.

Wabash Archivist Beth Swift is the reason. We call her the "activist archivist." She’s been bringing Wabash history alive with her digital archives, on-campus presentations, and articles in Wabash Magazine and the Parent’s Post.

Wabash yearbook editor and Sphinx Club member Ross Dillard ’07 spent part of last summer doing research in the archives and realized how fascinating Wabash history could be when Beth talks about it. He invited her to speak to students about it, and the turnout was gratifying.

"There’s a real interest in the history and traditions," Beth told me enthusiastically after her talk—well, a few minutes after her talk. I had to wait for four students and an alumnus to finish asking her questions before she could leave.

By the way, Purdue got its "boilermaker" moniker after playing Wabash, whose team members found the West Lafayette team lacking gentlemanly refinement. Playing "a bunch of foundry molder and boilermakers" is how the Little Giants put it, I believe.

As for the Glee Club Queen Contest—let’s not go there.

But you can check out the digital archives here.