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Reflection on Big Bash 2017

Alumni Chapel Sing

Alumni Chapel Sing

Ian Ward ’19-

With Big Bash 2017 in the books and being able to meet Wabash greats and watch friendships reignited, it reminds me Wabash is special.

You can have a conversation with an alum celebrating his 50th reunion about fraternity tradition, having only met five minutes before. Everyone has a connection to common experience even with a 40, 50, or even 60-year gap. Nearly 42% of living alumni in the class of 1967 came back for their 50th reunion. It may be a number, but at a college where we have only 12,000 living alumni, 42% is amazing.

Three days, and five meals, and 320+ alumni descended on campus to relive college days for a few hours, and renew their love for this place. I heard countless stories, from pledge brothers helping an injured brother get ready for a date, to hearing how freshmen had to fight sophomores to keep their treasured freshman pot. I could tell the great traditions that we hold today were built on the shoulders of these generations of Little Giants. There was a feeling of camaraderie in every room, whether it was men from 2007 hanging out with Wabash men from 1967, or just the class of 1987 together. I could feel the love the alumni have for this place, and readily shared it with people like me; a current student. How else can you explain alumni coming from 36 states and three countries just to meet up for a mere 60 hours? How else can you explain a record setting $9.6 million 50th reunion gift?

You can’t. Speaking to alumni from the 1960’s up to the class of 2012, it’s apparent that the common links that connect Wabash men are there, from how they got here, to their paths on campus. They are all unique, highlighting the individuality of this place. There is no one word or phrase to describe it; it’s just SPECIAL.

At Big Bash 2017, I saw the paths alums have taken from remaining in Crawfordsville, to living across the globe. The choices they have made like going to law school 15+ years after graduating from Wabash. Then I thought of the contributions these men have made to society. They have made medical devices to save lives, run political campaigns, and defended our freedom on the battlefield. Through their support they have provided generations of students with top of the line facilities, the ability to immerse ourselves in travel, help us get jobs through Career Services, and provide the best education we can get. It makes me wonder what my story will be? What will I do and how can I, as a Wabash man, contribute to such a special place in my heart?

As a rising junior, I don’t really know what my path will look like in 2019 when I graduate, however, after listening to others, and contemplating for myself, it is apparent that many Wabash men feel this way at some point. It’s growing up. It’s becoming a man. It’s learning. It’s thinking critically. It’s never selling myself short.
This is what makes Wabash special, not the buildings and trees, but the company you keep, the connections you make, the ability you think for yourself. To paraphrase current Dean of Students Mike Raters ’85, “Be gentlemen guys, you are Always Wabash men.”


The Diligence of a Wabash Man

Christina Franks — When students need a little extra help with their work, they often turn to their professors. But who do professors turn to when they need help with their work? Sometimes, it’s those very same students.

Wabash College students are often called upon to help their own professors as they publish research. Many times students are asked to be editors, which can be a daunting task in itself. Other times, however, students are asked to take part in a professor’s research from beginning to end, which means that the College offers its students a chance to have their names on published work before they graduate.

Cole Crouch ’17.

“Having the opportunity to be published before graduation is a huge deal,” said Director of the Schroeder Center for Career Development Jacob Pactor ’04. “These experiences solidify the real-world applications of the learning and professional development we hope our students experience daily.”

In the summer of 2016, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Jeff Drury had focused work on Robert F. Kennedy that he thought would make for a great summer project with a student. So he hired Cole

Crouch ’17 as an intern for eight weeks, hoping the experience would be beneficial for both of them.

“I knew I could benefit from the diligence of a Wabash man, and I thought the student could benefit from the experience of going through the research process,” Drury said. “Cole was a great fit for the internship. He is someone who is eager to learn and open to new experiences. Our work together was a true partnership. We both contributed to the writing and revising, and I had total trust in Cole’s work.”

Though the now-graduated rhetoric major had research experience in this particular field and had writing experience, having been the Editor-in-Chief of The Bachelor, this was a brand new challenge.

Jonathan Murdock ’19.

“Co-writing and publishing a paper is a lot of work,” Crouch said. “However, it prepared me for senior year and it will help me in law school with writing more extensive and critical pieces. I thought we balanced well and had fun working together all summer.”

Taner Kiral ’17 and Jonathan Murdock ’19 say they also had a lot of fun working with Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Colin McKinney when they joined his mathematical history research and worked through its applications.

“Working with Dr. McKinney was a lot of fun, and it was convenient having someone passionate and experienced to guide Taner and me as we edited, checked, compiled, created, and presented,” Murdock said. “I find it hard to believe that I would have gotten an opportunity to work as closely as I did with Dr. McKinney at a larger institution. To think that, as a sophomore, I have submitted an academic paper for publication in conjunction with my professor is amazing to me.”

Taner Kiral ’17.

The benefits for students is obvious. As undergraduates, working so closely with a professor and having published research will help immensely as they work on résumés, apply for graduate schools, and try to make themselves stand out.

As someone who has been working with students through the Wabash 3D Printing and Fabrication Center since 2015, Associate Professor of Chemistry Lon Porter knows that the experience can have a great impact on the professors at the same time.

“To know that I had some small part in introducing the students to what I believe will be the thing that sets innovators apart in the future makes me feel like I’m giving them a leg up in achieving their goals and dreams,” Porter said. “And that’s the best thing you can ask for as an educator.”


The Best Problem Solver on Campus

Richard Paige — Nearly lost in the shuffle of Senior Week and Commencement was a noteworthy announcement out of Goodrich Hall.

Yang Yang ’17 was named the FortKnight of the Year. Again.

Four-time FortKnight of the Year Yang Yang ’17.

Every other week, the mathematics department issues a Problem of the Fortnight that is open to any member of the Wabash community. Submissions are judged both on correctness and elegance. Nods are given for solutions, while the best ones are posted. The person with the most solutions over the course of a year is named the FortKnight of the Year.

To say he’s the best problem solver on campus might be an understatement. Yang has earned the FortKnight distinction four years in a row.

“We don’t keep good records, but I’m guessing no one has done it before,” said Mathematics and Computer Science Professor Robert Foote.

For the physics and mathematics major who earned distinction on comps, the uniqueness of this accomplishment is as appreciated as an elegant solution. To hear him describe it, each problem was 20 minutes of fun.

“It’s funny to think of this as a big deal for me at Wabash,” Yang said. “It’s just interest that drove me to do this. Every time I saw the problem, it was a fun diversion. There are some problems where the formula looks beautiful and once you get it, you get so excited about it.”

Now that he’s moving on to study physics in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, Yang has another problem left to solve – the weather.

“Summers are nice,” he says, “but it’s going to be cold.”


The Promise of a Silent Hour

Richard Paige — The pause lasted 12 seconds, so I knew the answer was meaningful.

During a recent visit to Phoenix, where Stephen Batchelder ’15 teaches eighth-grade science, I asked him about his favorite Wabash memory, and he took that long pause before responding.

“There are a lot of favorite memories,” he starts slowly, “but the one coming to mind right now, I think because its April now and the Springtime…”

He went on to describe “Poetry Hour,” a time during the spring semester his senior year that he and classmate Ryan Horner would carve a free hour out of a week and meet at the Senior Bench to share things of interest, whether it was a piece they had discovered or something one of them had created.

“We would kind of sit there and be quiet with each other and do some writing of our own,” Stephen remembers.

Ryan fondly remembers that shared time well, including the text message that started it all.

“Stephen sent me a text completely out of the blue, saying that he would be at the bench at so and so time, probably reading or writing a little bit of poetry, and that I’d be welcome to join him,” he says via e-mail from UC Davis, where he is finishing a master’s in creative writing.

It didn’t take long for these Poetry Hours to become a regularity, even a necessity. Nearly everything about the get-togethers were malleable. Sometimes they read (Horner started reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” during one of these sessions), other times, they wrote. They even took it on the road to places like Sugar Creek or Shades State Park. The only constant was friendship.

“We hardly ever talked,” Ryan shares. “Occasionally we would read aloud from whatever we held in our hands, no intro, no context, just conjuring poetry out of silence and then returning to silence afterward. Stephen is one of my best friends, someone who I look up to and who I know I can trust with anything, and the bench was our kind of shared space.”

Anyone’s senior year can rush by, and for Stephen and Ryan, those moments on the Senior Bench were much-needed respites of calm as a new chapter of life was dawning.

“When various responsibilities had piled up and the real world was calling out from beyond the gate of graduation, that’s when the promise of a silent hour, spent in mutual appreciation of something beautiful, at a special place with a dear friend, was enough to keep holding the world together for another week.”


Change of Plans

Not everything in college goes according to plan, not even for those focused and driven like Riley Lefever ’17.

One doesn’t collect 158 career victories on the wrestling mat, four national championships, including a spotless 129-0 mark against Division III opponents, and lead his teammates to three consecutive top-five national team finishes without those two adjectives linked closely to his being.

He came to Wabash thinking he would be a math major until his confidence was shaken by his first calculus class. “I didn’t do so hot,” Lefever explains.

That same semester, he also took an introductory English class with Professor Warren Rosenberg, which Lefever says sparked an interest in creative writing and literary theory that continues today.

“Anybody who knows Professor Rosenberg knows how awesome he is,” says the four-time champ. “That experience definitely persuaded me to take more English classes. I became an English major because of Professor Rosenberg.”

Riley Lefever relaxes in Rogge Hall.

The professor quickly returned the compliment.

“In the case of a student like Riley the pleasure is particularly great,” Rosenberg says. “He is an exceptional person and it is very gratifying to know that taking a class with me had an effect.”

Rosenberg went on to say he was particularly pleased that Riley, on the heels of that appearance in English 101 as a freshman, also signed up to be in Rosenberg’s final class at Wabash (he retired in 2016), where students took a deep dive into great texts, like “Moby Dick.”

“Riley showed me that not only did he have the skill, courage, and fortitude to win all of those wrestling national titles, but he had the requisite skill, courage, and fortitude to read, truly understand, and gain pleasure from studying such challenging literature.

“And, no,” he says, “it never gets old to hear a student believes you played some part in his making such an important life decision.”


Computerized Poetry, Is This a Game?

Two questions entered my mind when I found this tweet.

A computer makes poetry. Where is the humanity? How does that work as a teaching tool?

 

 

Thanks to the author of that tweet, Assistant Professor of English Derek Mong, I discovered the answers had all the elements of a good Wabash story: Enduring Questions (EQ), a dash of Kurt Vonnegut, the efforts of a computer, and the requisite suspicions.

Dr. Derek Mong.

Students in his EQ class had just read Vonnegut’s “EPICAC,” the classic 1950s short story where one unromantic computer programmer uses a supercomputer to generate love poetry to woo a co-worker. Being a professor of American literature and poetry, Mong knew that computers have created poetry in chance fashion, and the results reside an avant-garde world of poetry. Setting out to further engage his students, he went digging.

“I pulled the first links that looked sort of interesting, that I could clickably generate poetry,” he says. “I brought them into class and asked the students is this poetry knowing it’s a computer that made it?”

Mong says his students didn’t write it off immediately, but there were suspicions. The computer could recognize syllable length and was filling in spaces by surfing text. Click a button and a quatrain or a haiku was generated. Seeing it work made them curious.

From there, Mong had his students do a found-language experiment. Collect 10 sentences at random in the library, put them down in a notebook, take that material home, and create a poem or short story using the found material. Now, it becomes a teaching tool, because it creates limits similar to how the computer operates.

“It changes our idea of what authorship is,” Mong says. “Our associations with poetry are individual genius at a desk creating beauty. That’s what Vonnegut’s story pokes at. If a computer can do this, what are our ideas about the creation of literature? It’s useful intellectually for students to ask what are the possibilities of computational poetry, and for me what are the ideas of how poetry can change.”

Perhaps that change can inject an element of fun.

“A lot of what’s happening with these poems is play,” he says. “Can this be a game? Can I go on to write poems that are playful, game-like, and fun?”


Crossing the Unexpected Line

Growing up, Jordan Smith ’17 said there wasn’t much for high school students to do in his hometown in northwest Indiana.

Jordan Smith ’17 wearing his DC’s Country Junction shirt.

They were pretty close to Chicago, but that was expensive. There was the mall, but that was normally overrun by middle school students. And because they weren’t 21 years old yet, that ruled out a lot of the other options.

So Smith and his friends learned how to line dance.

“I had a group of friends who always wanted to go to this place called DC’s Country Junction,” Smith said, “and I was always turned off by it because it was country. So they spent a good six months trying to trick me and get me to go.”

Finally, his friends’ efforts paid off. Smith thought they were carpooling to go celebrate his friend’s birthday. Instead, he ended up at DC’s Country Junction without a way out.

“It was $5 to get in,” he explained, “and I’m the type of person that, if I’m going to spend money, I’m going to at least attempt to enjoy myself.”

It took a while, though. The first time he got out on the dance floor, Smith laughs remembering how he didn’t know how to do anything the other people were doing. There was a lot of confusion, and a lot of bumping into other people.

For many, that type of experience would be a turn off. But for Smith, it was a challenge he wanted to take on.

“I went back the next week and got a little bit better. And then the next week. At first, I just wanted to show people that I could do this, but then I eventually started to like it.”

So then for three years straight, the dance floor of DC’s Country Junction was where Smith could be found almost every Saturday night.

Though he doesn’t get back home much anymore, Smith can still be found breaking out some of his line dances at local clubs and bars. Sometimes he dances alone; other times, people who know the dance jump right in there with him.

“DC’s Country Junction taught me two things: to never judge a book by its cover and that you’ll never know what you like until you try it,” Smith said. “I saw the word country, and automatically assumed that it was not for me.

“It doesn’t come up much in conversation,” Smith laughed, “but I still remember how to do most of the dances, and I will happily do them anytime, anywhere if you ask.”

 


Humanizing Prison

Richard Paige — We weren’t 50 feet inside the dual fencing that surrounds the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility when the catcalls came from two inmates shooting baskets at outdoor hoops.

This had the makings of a very uncomfortable immersion experience.

The maximum-security facility in Carlisle, IN, was the destination for Assistant Professor of History Sabrina Thomas’ History of Mass Incarceration class. It was an opportunity for 18 students to step inside those 14-foot electrified fences topped by razor wire.

It was supposed to be a reality check.

“We are studying prisons, we are studying systems, theories and ideas,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at the prison objectively as academics, and we sometimes forget that this is a real thing with real people involved.”

From the maximum-security Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), where inmates are escorted to and from cells by pairs of guards with handcuffs and leads, to the minimum-security J-House, where the dormitory style housing provided more smiles than anticipated, the students saw those inmates on their turf.

The tour included a visit to the PLUS unit (Purposeful Living Units Serve), a faith-based outreach program that provides hand-made quilts and clothing to the surrounding community, as well as a stop at the Educational Department, where one student got an impromptu lesson.

History of Mass Incarceration students view the maximum-security Restricted Housing Unit from inside a security pod.

“I was surprised by our close contact with the inmates,” said P.J. Mays ’19. “Often times they would say something just to make contact. In the educational facility, one guy said to me, ‘this is not what’s up,’ and his message was obvious.”

The RHU might have provided the most eye-opening experience. From their vantage point inside a security pod, the students could see four hallways of maximum-security cells, watch inmates transferred to and from, and get a peek inside those cells from the bank of video monitors on the guard’s desk.

It was an immediate lesson to the real impacts of prison, especially since the RHU was the first building on the tour, and just moments after those initial catcalls.

“It was powerful to see in real life,” said Evan Frank ’19. “It’s like caging people. They are able to obtain some access to the outside world if they are really fortunate, but they are completely isolated. They can’t do anything.”

Multiple times during the tour, we heard that prison is its own city. It’s no different than any other community. At times, admittedly, it felt like we were the center of attention on this tour. At times, it felt like prison tourism.

“Everything we’re talking about in class has real-life effects,” said Thomas. “There are human consequences. (The tour) definitely humanized the idea of incarceration. “It may have humanized it a bit too much.”


Leadership, With a Side of Bacon

Nearly 220 Central Indiana Wabash men packed the Ivy Tech Culinary Center banquet room Thursday morning as the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men’s Leadership Breakfast honored Kelly Pfledderer ’96 as its Man of the Year.

Now in its second year, the event included a panel discussion with Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State; Marc Nichols ’92, Legal Counsel & Director of Compliance, Rolls-Royce North America; and Jake Gilbert ’98, head football coach at Westfield High School.

Brandon Clifton ’06, the Deputy Secretary of State, introduced Canvas Founder and CEO Aman Brar ’99, who moderated the discussion that addressed civic and political engagement, mentors, and risk taking.

The IAWM Leadership Breakfast panelists included (from left) and Jake Gilbert ’98, Connie Lawson, and Marc Nichols ’92.

Lawson spoke early about the need to get involved in your community. She mentioned that even though many think of politics more broadly, a great deal of impact can be felt close to home.

“Participation starts young,” she said. “Not just at the national and state level, but locally as well. That’s where much of the political work happens.”

Gilbert, whose Shamrocks captured the Indiana Class 5A state football championship in November, was asked about how he deals with adversity, and how he shares those lessons with his students.

“Adversity is an opportunity,” he said. “It’s part of the process. You weather the storm and control what you can. Knowing that (adversity) won’t last forever, it’s about your long-term growth.”

When asked of career paths, Nichols told the gathering that simply having a plan was essential to his success.

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be General Counsel at a major corporation,” he explained. “I asked myself what do I need over the course of a career and all of those things become building blocks. I always have a five-year plan. Knowing what I am going to do next keeps me from fearing the unknown.”

He also spoke of the importance of mentors. Not simply on the impact they have on you, but on the impact you could have in another’s life.

“Mentors are incredibly important no matter how old you are,” Nichols said. “No one can figure out the path to life without mentorships. Be sure to return the favor because there are always people looking up to you.”

Pfledderer, the founder and former CEO of Apparatus, was humbled to receive the honor amongst a room of his peers and mentioned how Wabash aided in his success.

2017 IAWM Man of the Year Kelly Pfledderer ’96.

“This award is very meaningful to me because I realize how many people in this room are friends and colleagues of mine,” he said. “Wabash College built my confidence. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker, but I’m a better risk taker because of the experience.”

Brar, a former co-worker at Apparatus, spoke highly of Pfledderer’s leadership qualities.

“His eye for talent, for great design, and for doing things the right way, combined with a willingness to empower people to accomplish great things shows that he has a lot of classic leadership strengths,” Brar said. “There is no one more deserving for his business accomplishments and for his commitment to the community, which is an even bigger statement about who Kelly is.”


Lasting Impacts

In this time of year when nets are cut and trophies won, sometimes the impact coaches and players have on each other is taken for granted. Not here.

Thirty-five years ago today, Coach Mac Petty guided the Little Giants to the last of 19 consecutive victories en route to the 1982 NCAA Division III national championship, the singular team accomplishment in Wabash athletics history.

In the end the game wasn’t close. The Little Giants shot 59 percent from the field, grabbed nine more rebounds than Potsdam State, and collected 24 assists on 29 buckets. Teddy Parker hit a jumper with 10:48 to go in the first half – his only field goal of the game – and gave Wabash a lead it did not relinquish. Pete Metzelaars netted 45 points (still a DIII championship game record) and the Little Giants cruised to the national championship with an 83-62 win.

Recently, I asked Coach Petty what it was like to lead a team to a moment that, when it mattered most, every one of his guys delivered.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “It was like a dream. It just happens.”

The 1976-77 Wabash College basketball team. Coach Mac Petty is in the back row (far right), while Bob Knowling is front row (third from the left/#12).

That dream was built with hard work, practice, and time spent together forging a bond, that when tested, would not be broken. Championships don’t happen by accident.

Coaches are measured by victories, or championships won, especially in March. Petty’s 541 wins and that national title secure his championship legacy. However, the impact on his players is measured differently.

Bob Knowling ’77 was a standout football and basketball player at Wabash, and was a rising senior when Petty was named the head coach in 1976. They spent one season together in 1976-77, and it turned out to be a memorable one for Knowling.

“I bought into you and your vision totally when you arrived in Crawfordsville and it was an easy decision for me to choose between football and basketball,” he wrote to Petty in an e-mail prior to the 1982 team’s 35-year reunion in January. “Even being a three-year starter on the football team, my love of basketball and the opportunity to play for you was exciting. While we won more games than any of my previous three years, the lessons I learned from you are what I remember most. Thank you for investing in me and for pushing me. It made a difference. Know that you influenced hundreds of young men to be great, including that championship team.”

Forty years later, Petty’s impact still resonates with Knowling.

“I played on numerous teams and played multiple sports,” he said, “yet when people ask me who I played for I only mention one name: Coach Petty.”



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