Howard W. Hewitt (Bachelor Advisor)- “What’s special about this place,” asked Director of Public Affairs Jim Amidon, standing in the Bachelor office Thursday with a handful of students.
Steve Charles—Vic Powell H’55—Professor of Speech Emeritus, Dean of the College Emeritus, Acting President of the College Emeritus—will be 90 years old next Wednesday, November 25. The day before Thanksgiving.
I discovered this last June at the Big Bash Reunion, where Vic and his wife, Marian, were guests of honor at the Class of 1959’s 50th Reunion. Just as they had been guests of honor at the 50th reunions for almost every one of the classes from that decade. In fact, Vic’s name almost always comes up when I travel to interview alumni, whether they’re from the 50s and 60s or from generations after he’d retired from formal teaching.
Still, it is hard to believe that this man I see almost daily from my Kane House window walking the two-plus miles from his home to campus and back is turning 90.
So when we began putting together an issue of Wabash Magazine on “men’s health,” I thought, Why not sit down and talk with someone whose life is evidence that he knows something about the topic?
We’ll print highlights from that interview in the Winter 2010 issue of WM, but here is one of my favorite moments from our talk.
About halfway through the interview I asked Vic to define “well-being.” He’d actually been doing this through stories about his and Marian’s long walks and his wonderful friendships with Professors Butch Shearer and Jack Charles, dinners with the Degitzes and the Strawns, but I wanted to hear him sum it all up.
“I suppose you would want at least a fair measure of health, but beyond that, the network of relationships is so important. I think isolation would be soul-destroying,” Vic said. “There’s family—I’m blessed with two great daughters who call every single week—and a network of friends. A sense of well-being means you have a sense of community, people whose companionship you enjoy.”
Then he included something I hadn’t expected as being “important to one’s well-being.” He told the story of a debate he had one day with Professor of Political Science Phil Wilder at the round table in the Scarlet Inn:
“Phil and I were at opposite poles politically… and we got into it, not in a nasty way, but a real knockdown political argument. By the time the bell rang for class, there were students and faculty crowded around that table just following this argument.”
“I thought it was important that students see faculty disagree with each other, argue with each other, but clearly respecting each other and enjoying each other’s company.
“Disagreement didn’t mean disregard or enmity. We could disagree and argue but there was a fundamental respect for each other.”
I was moved by what I heard Vic saying: That this capacity of respectful but often vigorous disagreement that’s so essential to the well-being of a community is equally essential to the well-being of the individuals in that place.
I thought of something else Vic had mentioned earlier in our talk: Butch Shearer would often drop in on the Powells to listen to St. Louis Cardinals games with Vic (a love of the Cardinals and of Wabash College being the only two things these men had in common, Vic has often said.) One night one of Vic’s daughters heard the two men downstairs, their voices raised, debating one thing or another. The little girl ran to her mother. “I thought Daddy and Mr. Shearer were friends,” she said. And they were. Good friends. They just had an unusual way of showing it!
Vic also called Professor Jack Charles “as close a friend as I’ve had.”
“We would meet every Sunday morning in his office, smoke at each other, and solve al the problems in the world, “ Vic said. “He was the most learned man I’ve ever known in my life.”
Vic would try to stump Jack during Scarlet Inn conversations:
“No topic would come up that he didn’t know,” Vic said. “So I was gonna get him. I took out the encyclopedia and, thumbing through it, I found what I thought was an obscure queen from around 1100. It wasn’t easy dropping that into an Inn conversation, I’ll tell you that right now. But I bided my time and saw an opening and I dropped a casual reference to this queen. Charles says, “Oh yeah; she drowned her husband in a bathtub. Just like that!”
Vic laughed as he recalled the moment, then added, “He was a very special man to me.”
Finally, a few stand-alone quotes from our conversation:
On walking: “You can solve a dozen problems a day just walking, you know. Sometimes I get up feeling lethargic, but by the time I’ve walked down to the school, picked up the New York Times, go to the Inn, with my colleagues around, I’m restored.”
On “working” at Wabash: “There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t eager to get down here to teach. It wasn’t a job. I feel sorry for people who have jobs. I thought Wabash students were the world’s best, the faculty colleagues were wonderful.”
On life: “There is a sense of spirituality about life, a wonderment… a sense of wonder about the world. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think anyone else does. But there are lots of wonderful questions to think about, turn over in your mind, and pursue in all sorts of ways.”
On the family dog:
Me: What kind of dog is it?
Vic: That’s a good question. [laughs] A very democratic dog!
Vic ended our conversation, not surprisingly, with a story about Wabash students—one he calls “a wonderful vignette of Wabash students at their best.” But I’m way over the limit for blogs here, so that’s a story for another day. We’ll have more in the Winter 2010 WM.
It’s ironic, perhaps providential, the Vic’s 90 birthday comes the day before Thanksgiving this year, for there are not many men in this College’s history for whom we could be more thankful. We’ve had our share of loss this past year; watching Vic as we talked, his leg flopped over the arm of his chair, and listening to his wisdom and stories, reminded me of how rich we are at Wabash in the things that matter, and what wonderful lives we’ve been given to share. A moment and a man to celebrate.
just stop by the Scarlet Inn!
Howard W. Hewitt – Every now and then photographers will be shooting an event – say a Monon Bell game – and find something with a photographer’s eye others might miss.
The shot above taken Saturday morning in Greencastle, captured beautifully by junior Bachelor photo editor Alex Moseman, makes you wonder if Wabash might had even a little more going for them during Saturday’s game?
Without suggestion of any divine intervention, what a cool photo on Bell Game day!
Howard W. Hewitt – The communications revolution gives everyone a chance to create community and share in ways a cell phone or even e-mail has never allowed.
This morning (Nov. 7) Brent Harris and I are leading a session on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging for Wabash alumni leaders. We have 16 Wabash men in the room and another 7 following along through a virtual classroom online.
We’re showing some of the things you can do with today’s media and electronics. The photo at right shows Bryan Hutchens ’13 working with Jon Pactor.
The first 45 minutes of today’s program focuses on Facebook. Here is a short video I recorded as we started on a $150 flip video recorder.
Jim Amidon — Not long ago, I wrote about an innovative approach Physics Professor Martin Madsen is taking with an introductory physics course at Wabash College. The course is modeled after the Discovery Channel’s hit show, “Mythbusters.”
Six weeks ago, I got caught up in the excitement of watching 40 Wabash students attacking the forces of mass, gravity, velocity, and acceleration with unbridled enthusiasm. Again, remember this is a course dominated by seniors who are not majoring in physics or math.
Since that first week when I saw them using their bodies as crash test dummies to explore the validity of automobile crumple tests, I’ve stopped in to visit the students several more times. I saw them figure out ways to drop eggs safely from atop a three-story building.
In one “experiment,” students riding on skateboard-like carts tried to catapult themselves over tall objects to see if a popular skateboarding You Tube video is real or faked.
In all of these experiments, the teams of students grapple with physics concepts that go far beyond entry-level.
So I decided to pay a visit to Professor Madsen’s class last Thursday to get a mid-semester update on how the new class is going. I asked the professor what he has learned about this new way of teaching physics to a bunch of economics and history majors.
“What’s really wild about this class is that I do far less teaching than in any other course,” he told me. He also believes the pedagogical approach is sound. The students are not just memorizing facts and numbers, they are applying the concepts, teaching them to each other, and communicating them out when they produce videos for their “exams.”
And, it turns out the students are spending between 10-15 hours on out-of-class research and project development — more than double the time they spend in the slotted lecture and lab time.
“The videos keep getting better and better each week,” said Madsen. “The students are learning how to communicate the science more effectively each time out, and the production quality is vastly improved.”
All of the students purchased inexpensive digital video cameras for the class instead of textbooks. The class also has access to a high-speed video camera that can capture up to 6,000 frames per second. By now, the students are fully competent videographers, and all of them are mastering high-end digital video editing software, too.
Last Thursday, the teams were spread across the floor of the Knowling Fieldhouse. The myth they were testing was whether a train car loaded with grain could increase its velocity by dumping its cargo while in motion.
One group of students went north on US 231 to talk to guys at the grain elevator to learn about the train cars and how grain can be dumped, and designed their experiment based on that conversation.
With video cameras mounted to the carts and set at various angles to capture the experiment, the students pushed their carts down a path then dumped the cargo of pea gravel as the carts sped across the fieldhouse.
The high-speed camera captured frame-by-frame images that allow the students to measure the rate of velocity throughout the run. By measuring all of the variables, including the mass of the cart and its cargo, the rate the cargo was dropped, and the overall rate of speed, the students are able to determine if it is possible to gain speed by dumping the gravel.
Rabin Paudel, a brilliant and advanced physics student who helps out with the class, whispered to me, “These guys don’t realize this is upper level physics they’re learning.”
Once this project is wrapped up, the students will test one more popular myth before their final exam. The “exam” is a month-long project for which the students will choose their own myth, design the experiments, produce the equipment necessary to test the myth, and write, shoot, and edit a video.
Professor Madsen gets noticeably excited when talking about how well the class is going.
“Oh, it’s definitely working as well as I hoped it would,” he said. “Just watch how the guys throw themselves into these projects. They’re figuring out things on their own — learning the science as they apply it and test it.”
The course also got some international recognition when the Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” program did a short feature on the slow motion techniques the students are using.
Late in the morning on Thursday, one team accidentally dumped its load of gravel for the third time. Madsen burst out laughing — so hard he turned away so the students might not notice. Moments later, he walked over, leaned down, and helped them scoop up the gravel, all while teaching them how to make sure the experiment worked the next time.
The teaching and learning, in all its forms, never stops in this class.
Note: Anyone can see the finished videos. Just go to Wabash’s YouTube channel and click on Physics 105.