Why We Run? To Learn

Biologist and best-selling author Bernd Heinrich runs with freshman Sean Lewis at Shades State Park during the naturalist/writer's visit to Wabash last Thursday.

Steve Charles—Bernd Heinrich said he doesn’t do this very often—visit a small college, join a class for an hour-long discussion about one of his books, then give a talk that evening about his life. (See a photo album here.)

Asked what drew him to Wabash and Professor Greg Redding’s freshman tutorial, the naturalist, world class ultra-marathoner, award-winning writer and best-selling author said: “It was the running.”

The students in Greg’s tutorial, The Theory and Lore of Running, had read Heinrich’s Why We Run: A Natural History, a retitled release of his book originally titled Racing the Antelope. Heinrich said he prefers that original title. And the students sure loved that image. One of the arguments of the book is that humans evolved to be ultra-distance runners that could run down even the swiftest prey, through a combination of endurance, intelligence, and the desire to win.

Greg is a professor of German and former cross-country runner turned ultra-marathoner. When he created the tutorial he envisioned introducing freshmen to a passion of his own and, through that passion and the close reading of texts and discussion, initiating these new Wabash students into the art of asking questions about things that matter to you. Then most of the freshmen on the College’s NCAC Conference Champion cross country team signed up. So rather than presenting his avocation to most of the class, Greg’s leading a group in which more than half share that passion.

Heinrich is a German-born American professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont, a writer, and runner who, now in his seventies, still holds records in the ultra-marathon. He was a perfect fit for this class. Much of the early back and forth during his visit with the class in the Detchon Reading Room focused on specific statements about evolutionary biology or moments about Heinrich’s own running exploits as detailed in the book. One student asked if Heinrich thought we could evolve to run even faster.

But the question that got the students sitting up and leaning forward to listen came from Sean Lewis ’15: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to chase down a pronghorn antelope?” Heinrich talked about a magazine article describing just such an attempt.

Then he had a scoop for the class. A tv producer had told Heinrich about a documentary inspired by Why We Run that he was shooting out west and in which they hoped to film human runners racing this animal (which can run at a sustained speed of 30 mph with bursts up to 60 mph) and eventually chasing it down. The producer had contacted him recently to say that “something dramatic” had happened during the filming, but he didn’t say what and didn’t want to give away the ending of the show. Heinrich takes that to mean they may have succeeded, but he didn’t know.

But the highlight of the day may have come when several of the students were able to join Redding and Heinrich after lunch for a run through nearby Shades State Park, where Redding trains for his own ultramarathons. Redding had planned a short run, but every time they’d stop to talk for a while, the group wanted to keep going.

Heinrich talks with freshmen Doug Baker and Kris Nickle on the trail.

Heinrich, who splits his time between Vermont and a cabin in the Maine woods, was in his element. His best-selling books include Winter World and Summer World, of which writer Bill McKibben has said, “It is possible there is a better guide to the world around us than Bernd Heinrich, but I’ve not come across him.” He was asking questions of the students and Redding about the trees, birds, the terrain over which they were running. He talked about the ways his running had informed his scientific research (one published paper had been based on the flowers that grew along his daily running course!) and his writing (the running freed him up mentally, allowed him to think in ways he otherwise would not have considered). Students shared their own stories. Heinrich and one of the students were picking up nuts from the forest floor and cleaning them. The conversations were more relaxed than in class, but the learning in that setting—inspired by running and walking together—may be even more long-lasting. Cross country Coach Roger Busch told me that several from the class had posted comments about the day on their Facebook pages; those who had run with Heinrich were the most enthusiastic.

After his moving talk on Thursday night, I asked Professor Heinrich if he’d enjoyed his time at Wabash. “Very much,” he said. I said that I thought the students had gained much from his time with them, especially those who had accompanied him on the trails at Shades. Just two months into their Wabash careers and here they were, running and exploring the outdoors with a world class ultramarathoner and a world-renowned naturalist.

“I was just another runner,” Heinrich said. And that, of course, is the power of such moments.

German Fest, Concert a Welcome Respite

John Dykstra ’13 – Wabash’s social life boomed Saturday with Oktoberfest and this fall’s National Act.

The German Club celebrated Oktoberfest and provided a welcoming environment for parents’ weekend. Asher Roth and Mike Posner were a good National Act, despite some calling Posner’s performance subpar.

Octoberfest featured authentic German Sausages from an Indy German market.

For Oktoberfest, the German Club brought in vendors for German beers and cooked German sausages on the Mall. With parents’ weekend taking place, the festival served Saturday’s series of events in a subtle manner.

See Drew Casey ’12 photos form Octoberfest here.

There was a beer garden located in front of Sparks Center. Members of the Sphinx Club administered drinking cups and wristbands, while keeping a watchful eye on IDs. Living units did not have to purchase cups this year unlike in previous years. Money for cups was taken out of student activity fees.

The nail hammering competition challenged the depth perception of festival attendees. Contest participants had to hammer a four-inch nail into a log. The humor was evident as some participants had difficulty in making contact with the nail.

Wabash had yet another spin-off of the festival by selling t-shirts. The t-shirts showed Wabash’s tongue-in-cheek humor by emphasizing that Wabash “Does [the sausage fest] best.”

National Act took place a few hours after Oktoberfest. Compared to Lupe Fiasco’s performance last semester, Asher Roth and Mike Posner were not as great but still decent.

Asher Roth invited 'guests' up to the stage during his show.

Roth opened with his electrifying onstage presence. He began his set by boasting about Wabash’s 47-0 win over DePauw in last year’s Monon Bell game. However, some students were bittersweet about said comment. Roth performed at DePauw in 2009 and criticized Wabash. Needless to say, the students’ initial reaction to him represents how much pride they have in Wabash.

See Casey’s photos from concert here and here.

As the show went on, Roth became more lively by bringing students and women out of the crowd. He had a student perform one of his songs with him on stage. In the midst of another one of his songs, he and the rest of the band did a breakdown of “Jump on It,” which was rather humorous. Prior to his closing song “I Love College,” he had women parade onto the stage. In that regard, he served as a rake character, unveiling the “college” personality of some of the women on stage.

Roth was embraced by the crowd at the end of his performance by crowd surfing. He attended a party hosted a Sigma Chi later that evening.

Posner was the final act of the night. Compared to Roth, his performance was subpar. His mellow voice and tunes did not have the same energy as Roth’s grungy, college kid anthems had. However, the light show during his performance was unbelievable.

While concluding his performance, Posner signed a Wabash basketball jersey and tossed it out to the crowd.

In terms of music, Roth certainly had more talent and a better onstage presence than Posner. But, tastes in music vary by person.

A typical weekend at Wabash helps students relinquish the burdens of a week of intense studying and homework. The Wabash community seemed to enjoy the opportunity to experience German culture and catch an alright concert.

Rokita ’92 Discusses Tax Policy

John Dykstra ’13 – Increasing income taxes on the poor stirred a heated discussion Tuesday evening that engaged students, faculty, and Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita ’92.

Rokita returned to his Alma Mater to honor the late Dr. Edward McLean and to provide a lecture about the increasing American debt. He targeted mandatory spending as the driving cause of our nation’s debt.

Rokita spent time one-on-one with students before his evening talk.

“We have to ask ourselves as a country who we are going to be,” Rokita said. “We have always been a country that put its future ahead of ourselves and I want to know if we are still that. We can call [this time] as Reagan called it, ‘a time for choosing.’ We have to choose who we want to be. Are we going to be a people that puts the government ahead of us in terms of decisions we make for individuals because we think they can do it better or are we going to be a nation that puts individuals ahead of government? It is an open question – who we are going to be and how we are going to go about doing it.”

Rokita opened his lecture by playing a clip from his Congressional hearing about the late Dr. McLean from last Friday. Ian McLean, the son of Dr. Edward McLean, expressed his appreciation succeeding Rokita’s lecture and felt the honorary special orders hearing about the late Dr. McLean represented his father “very well.”

Here is link for video of Rokita’s Congressional salute to Dr. McLean.

“The debate represented my father very well; the concern for the future of the country and the preservation of liberty represented him very well,” McLean said. “One of the nice things about my dad is that he was exactly the way he was at home the way Representative Rokita described him in public. And my father liked truth and true solutions more than he liked solutions that certain groups require.”

Rokita presented McLean’s family with the speech he made during the special orders address as it appears on Congressional record.

Rokita suggested reforming Medicare into a “contribution structure” rather than “defined benefit, fee-for-service structure” and increasing the age to receive social security according to the normal age retirement.

Rokita greeting students and staff at a 4:15 p.m. reception.

“Let’s compare today to the last time that our debt equaled one hundred percent of our GDP, which was in World War II,” Rokita said. “Why can’t this debt situation be solved? Number one, World War II was a one-time event. One way or another we knew the war was likely going to end and the debt we were encoring would be paid back. The drivers of our debt today are not one-time events; they are continuing government programs that really don’t have any intention of stopping.”

“Forty-seven percent of our debt is owned by foreign nations, the largest of which being China. So you can see why the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff had said that terrorism is not the main threat to our National Security. The main threat is our debt.”

Rokita’s audience gave mixed reviews to his solutions. A debate took place between Professor of Economics Frank Howland and Rokita which expanded to debates within the audience.

“I thought Rep. Todd Rokita’s presentation was great as a non-partisan presentation of the national debt being an issue that is continuing to define every aspect of US politics,” Philip Robin’13 said. “However, I think the ‘talk politics’ concept he presented for bringing change was very much wishful thinking. I understand that in order for anything to happen public pressure needs to occur, but generally the majority of the people are unconcerned with the problems of tomorrow and are too distracted or reluctant to really engage the problem. His solution of reorganizing Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security were much more feasible, but congressmen are naturally adverse to cutting things and risking accusations of not bringing benefits by their constituencies.”

Professor Howland questioned Rokita on whether he supported raising taxes on lower income families. Howland disagreed with two specific aspects of Rokita’s solutions.

“One was he seemed to think that he wasn’t advocating to raise taxes on poor people, but I think that was clearly wrong because he said that about 50 percent of the population does not pay taxes and that 50 percent of the population is overwhelming people on the low end of the income scale,” Howland said. “And if he wants more people to pay income taxes, it is going to be those people.

“The other part of the disagreement was a more philosophical one and less of an empirical one, and that was: should we raise taxes on the rest of us? He thinks that people are already paying their fair share; I think that they could pay more.”

Professor of Political Science Alexandra Hoerl praised the discussion.

“I think that being able to model this sort of interaction and being able to talk to an elected official and being able to engage is an important lesson for students. Hopefully this is a behavior that they will emulate; but, I think it was nice to see dialogue between the professors and Congressman Rokita: to watch a disagreement be played out and then resolved—things of that nature.”

Howland also found the debate useful to Wabash students.

“I think it is useful,” he said. “I’m very glad that students talked to (Rokita) and I am glad that they listened to him. I wish more students were here because he raised some important political issues and because he is a Wabash grad. I’m glad he came and I’m glad he opened it up; he wanted to hear from students—that is a good thing.”

Webb Quoted in NY Times

For more than two decades, Wabash Professor Stephen Webb ’83 has written about the theology of the relationship between man and animals. His 1998 book On God and Dogs (Oxford University Press, 1998) received much national attention.

On Saturday, Dr. Webb was quoted in a New York Times story on the growth of pet ministries in Christian churches.

Read the article here.

Webb graduated summa cum laude from Wabash in 1983 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. He received his Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Chicago and began teaching at his alma mater in 1987.

He is the author of 11 books, including the recent Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2011), The Dome of Eden: A New Solution to the Problem of Creation and Evolution (Cascade Books, 2010), and Good Eating: The Bible, Diet, and the Proper Love of Animals (Brazos Press, 2000).

Science Teachers Recognized

The Admissions Office and Wabash College Science faculty partnered to host its firstScience Teacher Recognition Program.

Students in science courses were invited to nominate teachers who had a profound influence on their high school science careers. Those teachers received a letter inviting them to come to campus for a recognition lunch and to learn more about the science curriculum at Wabash. Faculty members hope that these teachers, in turn, will refer good students to the College.

Sixteen teachers from across Indiana (and one from Illinois) had the opportunity to sit in on multiple science classes, tour the biology and chemistry facilities in Hays Hall, the physics and math facilities in Goodrich Hall, and the neuroscience facilities in Baxter Hall, along with touring the rest of campus.

At the recognition lunch the students were reunited with their high school teachers and enjoyed conversation and networking. Each teacher present received a small gift from the College honoring their work and influence on science students.

The afternoon session included a panel discussion with faculty and staff about pre-health professions, the dual degree engineering program, graduate school, summer internships, and off-campus opportunities. The teachers had the chance to ask questions about science and liberal arts, unique science opportunities at Wabash, and which students might be a good fit for the College.

A local teacher from Crawfordsville High School was happy to be part of the program. “Getting the letter of recognition was enough for me. The day today has just been icing on the cake. Even though I live in Crawfordsville, this is my first time on campus.”

The science faculty and Admissions Office hope to partner again next year for a similar program.


Career Services Offers Gap Year Ideas

Pete Robbins ’12, Bachelor Editor – As part of the first Wabash CareerFest, Assistant Director of Career Services James Jeffries, Assistant Professor of Psychology Eric Olofson and Spencer Peters ’14 led an information seminar Wednesday about gap years.  The presentation divided gap year programs into six categories: travel, fellowships, entrepreneur, art, teaching and nonprofit.

Peters explained some of the things students can accomplish with a gap year.

“If you know what you want, this is when you can further your progress toward getting there,” Peters said.  “And if you don’t, the gap year is when you can find out what you want to do.”

Jeffries elaborated for those who are undecided about their future careers.

“If you don’t know what you want to do as a career, that’s fine,” Jeffries said.  “There are lots and lots of options for you, even if you haven’t even figured out roughly what you want to do.  But there are also some very unproductive things to do with your time.  You don’t have to have it all figured out, but you should move forward prudently as you figure out your plan.”

Olofson shared his experience with Americorps, part of the travel category, with those in attendance.

“Through Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), I created a mentoring program in Morehead, MN and made sure it was sustainable by connecting it to a curriculum,” Olofson said.  “But I’m also an advocate for Americorps not just for career building.  For those who are thinking, ‘I’m not ready to start my career, and I know I won’t have another opportunity to do something like this,’ Americorps is perfect.”

Olofson explained that through Americorps, students can get their loans deferred, as well as receive $5,200 of education credit which can be applied to their loans.  He also offered guidance for those students interested in fellowships, as he is the Chair of the Graduate Fellowship Committee.  He mentioned the prestigious Fulbright program in particular.

“If you have a passion for something that doesn’t fit in a traditional academic program, fellowships are a great way to go,” Olofson said.

Jeffries also urged students to look into post-graduate internships, which are popular with many companies given the poor economy, particularly in sectors like advertising.

Brent Harris ’03—Taking in a Game

Steve Charles—My friend Brent Harris H’03 was named an Honorary Alumnus of Wabash on Saturday. I’ve watched Brent’s work for 16 years, from his days as a volunteer and then as our Director of Sports Information and my colleague in Public Affairs. I know of no one more deserving of this honor.

Much of the year he’s on the road when most of us are home, awake and writing when most of us are sleeping, working a game when the rest of us are watching one.

He treats Wabash scholar/athletes with knowledge, respect, and enthusiasm I doubt you’ll find at any other level or school; he believes deeply in what they’re doing, as athletes and as scholars. And as a professional statistician with the Indianapolis Colts on Sundays (ah, a day off!), he passes on to his student staff here a wealth of knowledge and experience.

This job of his, though, is insane! One minute you’re toting Pepsi 24-packs up the stadium steps to the press box, the next you’re teaching complex stat programs to students or rewiring a sound system or hosting a tv show or interviewing a coach or tweeting alumni (which sounds illegal) or soothing parents or solving any number of potential crises or welcoming visiting teams and coaches and tv crews and whoever else shows up. You get to drive a wicked Toro four-wheeler, but it’s loaded up with all this crap (sorry—fine electronic equipment) you have to carry 52 steps (one way) up to the press box. And the printers—there’s always something wrong with the printers. Or the microphones. Or the scoreboard control console. And guess who gets to fix them?

And then there’s the game. Oh yeah, the game. And the other two or three you’ve either set up or are covering from afar and won’t get results from until there’s nothing on tv but infomercials.

I spent one Saturday (that’s day only) trying to keep up with Brent, taking photos and notes for a story I’m writing for Wabash Magazine. Thought you might like to see some of the photos from that day.

These are from the morning.

These are from the afternoon.

There’s no room or context for one of my favorites—four grade-school-aged boys playing a pick-up game on the turf hours after everyone had left. That love of play and camaraderie and the friendly rough-and-tumble that’s the source of all these games we watch. Brent was still in the press box faxing stories and writing another. He just may write theirs someday, too. And the printers probably won’t work then, either.

These photos are a little out of sequence and Brent will have to help me correct some of the captions and get the terminology right, but you’ll get the idea. Of course, Brent would never get by with such a slacker’s approach covering a game, and this day was relatively short one for Brent—it’s 8 p.m. and he’s headed off (on his bike) for a celebration. I, on the other hand, am headed for about an hours worth of tv drug, some melatonin, and bed. I’ll be counting the steps of Little Giant Stadium in my sleep.

Campus Celebrates Professor Tucker’s Book

Professor Brian Tucker ’98 accepts congratulations from President White.

Wednesday’s reception honoring the publication of Associate Professor of German Brian Tucker’s book was the culmination of hard work, scholarship, and collegiality.

“This is a really gratifying celebration, not only for Brian, but for this department,” said Professor and Chair of Modern Languages Dan Rogers. “Many of us got to see this book in manuscript form, and we attended colloquia and listened as Brian worked through these ideas. And [Wabash Professor of Modern Languages ] Greg [Redding] and I were the first to see the book—maybe even before Brian—at MLA in Los Angeles.

“We’re very proud of the book, but we’re even more proud of Professor Tucker, who is a tremendous asset to this department and the College.”

Reading Riddles: Rhetorics of Obscurity from Romanticism to Freud, was published earlier this year by the Bucknell University Press. “This book is about how the theory of literature in early German romanticism lays the groundwork for Sigmund Freud’s approach to the psyche,” Tucker writes in the book’s introduction. “More specifically, it shows how the riddle emerges in romanticism as a key figure for a mode of writing that privileges obscurity, difficulty, and interrupted communication, and how this figure in turn provides a model for Freud’s interpretive practices.”

“The research that went into the book also serves as the background for much of my teaching in literature and intellectual history,” Tucker ’98 said. “sometimes offer a seminar on “Freud and the Question of Interpretation,” which introduces Wabash students to many of the issues that I explore in the book.”

President Pat White and Dean of the College Gary Phillips were among the scores of faculty who stopped by to offer their congratulations.

After all his hard work, the publication of the "Reading Riddles" was icing on the cake for Professor Tucker.

“It’s wonderful to have so many people come to the reception,” Tucker said. “Research and writing often feel like solitary, isolating endeavors, so it’s nice to celebrate the fruits of that labor with friends and colleagues. It’s especially flattering when you think about how many of those colleagues are working on their own important books, exhibits, and creative projects.“The book represents the culmination of many years of work and allows me to embark in earnest on the next chapter in my career. With the book finally out, I can turn my attention to new projects.”