Just Another Day Playing with Fire

Kim Johnson – When I woke up this morning and saw the ground blanketed with fresh snow it seemed like the perfect day to go back to bed for a few more hours, then spend the remainder of the day under a blanket with a book, but for me, duty calls!

This morning I headed to my first C&T lecture. All sophomores take the year-long C&T (Cultures and Traditions) course. From what I understand, C&T is a necessary evil. Full of readings, papers, and discussions, the course is not a favorite during the second year of study but by the third and fourth years of study, the students gain an appreciation for the skills they were “forced” to master as a sophomore.

So today, as part of the “Exploring the Nature and Culture of Science” section of the course, Dr. Lon Porter from the chemistry department did a presentation titled “The Culture of Science: Curiosity, Competition, and Collaboration.”

A lot of people, events, and ideas he highlighted were things I, quite frankly, had not thought about in a number of years. I hadn’t done the reading for today. I hadn’t been in the class all semester. I had no background as to what would be going on other than to go check it out.

Here’s what struck me about what I saw. First of all, I love chemistry. Even though I did not major in it and could likely not pass an organic chemistry course to save my life, I love what chemistry is and what it means for advancing technology, medicine, and knowledge in general. Plus – how cool are the chemical reactions! Fire, ice, glowing, heat, noise, color, light…

Second, and my point in writing today, is just how refreshing it is to see the cross-department, cross-campus collaboration of the Wabash faculty. This course isn’t a chemistry course. It’s not math or English or religion but all of those at the same time. The faculty work together for the purpose of providing the students with the preparation they need to succeed in not just one but all of their courses.

The students in the course now may not appreciate or even understand the trouble the faculty have gone to to provide the experience. However, the fact is it is just another example of how the faculty and staff at Wabash will do whatever it takes to ensure the men who pass through here get the depth and breadth of all a liberal arts education can and should be.

it’s a small world

Kim Johnson – My husband, David, and I just returned from our second trip to Disney World. We made our reservations shortly after we participated in the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in Indianapolis last May. While at the Mini Expo I discovered the Disney World Marathon Weekend and decided it would be a perfect excuse to get to go back to visit my favorite mouse!

On the Friday night before the race David and I were headed back to our room when I heard “does that say Wabash College?” in reference to my sweatshirt. “I graduated from Wabash College. I know you didn’t go to Wabash,” he said with a laugh.

Upon introducing myself and explaining my relationship with the College, I met Marcus White ’91. He said that he and his friend Keith Hall ’90 were also at Disney World for the Marathon Weekend.

While we were there for the half marathon, they were there for the Goofy Challenge. The Goofy Challenge is a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday morning (at 6:00 a.m. nonetheless) and a full marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday morning. Yes – that is Goofy if you ask me.

I met David at the finish on Saturday morning, where, I must brag, he cut 30 minutes off his last half marathon time. As we headed back to our resort we ran into Marcus and Keith. I took this picture of the two of them (Keith is on the left, Marcus on the right) and promised to get them a little “positive press”.

We saw them again on Sunday after the marathon. I am happy to report they both survived and were able to collect not one, not two, but three medals for the weekend – Donald, Mickey, and the highly sought after, but difficult to achieve – Goofy!

Congratulations Marcus and Keith for a well-fought race! Maybe next year Wabash should get together an even bigger contingent for the race and send someone from Public Affairs to cover it… but who on earth could that be…

A Wabash Man Is…

Kim Johnson – As I was clearing off my desk and getting things squared away before the holidays, I had some time to reflect about my first three months at Wabash. Even though I have not had a whole lot of interaction with students thus far, those interactions I have had have been particularly meaningful in shaping my view of Wabash men.

I have been working on updating a set of flyers for the Admissions Office that highlights each academic department including a junior or senior major from the department. I have been impressed with how articulate these young men are. Not that it surprised me, I guess, but nonetheless I thought sharing what these students had to say about their experiences at Wabash would be a great way to wrap up the semester and head in to the holidays on a high note!

Will Arvin ’08 – “I never knew that I could work this hard in academics and get such a great pay-off. I have never worked so hard in my life and I have never enjoyed working so hard in my life. I tell people looking at the program here, ‘If you are looking for an easy way to do it, then don’t come here.’ It is definitely worth it though. If I had to go back and choose again, there is no way I’d go anywhere else.”

Jay Brouwer ’09 – “I didn’t come to Wabash with the intention of being a music major, but when I thought about what I really enjoy I decided I probably won’t get a chance like this after I graduate. I’m still getting my pre-dental requirements met with my minors, but I’m also learning the theory and history of music. Music really encompasses all subjects — from mathematics and science to history and literature.”

John Chuang ‘08 – “Studying history makes me think a lot more about where I am in the world and the roots of how society came to be where it is today. It really centers me in a spot where I can fit into history. I see and understand the bigger picture. I am thinking more critically on today’s issues.”

Andy Deig ’08 – “The economics faculty here are brilliant. I think the work they have recently published is really going to be changing the way undergraduate economics is taught.”

“As I was researching colleges, what was really appealing to me about the program at Wabash was that I would not be getting a degree in finance or a degree in accounting but as an economics major I know finance and accounting. I know all of those special niches where many other people get a degree in one alone. I am learning those things without lending myself to one or the other. The skills that come along with being liberally educated in economics will be valuable in business and has made me competitive in the job market.”

Chris Geggie ‘08 – “I had the opportunity to study at the ICCS in Rome. After studying there I would argue I have received a better education at Wabash College than most of the other students including those from the Ivy League. The quality of the educational opportunities they had received was similar to mine, but at Wabash I have had the opportunity to work one-on-one alongside the faculty. They understand my individual interests, goals and needs, as well as those of all their students, allowing them to tailor our studies so we can better ourselves personally and professionally.”

Dan Gillespie ‘08 – Art Major “My relationship with the faculty is really good. It’s nice because we are so close. They make themselves very available to talk to — to bounce my ideas off. My relationships with them are the most personal I have ever had with teachers.”

Andy Leshovsky ’09 – “Wabash can get you wherever you want to go. I think in today’s world, whether it be employers or graduate schools, they are really looking for a well-rounded college graduate. Wabash definitely provides that. You get a breadth of experience during your time here majoring in whatever you want and you can still go on to do any other thing.”

Alex Nolan ’08 – “I spent the summers after my freshman and sophomore years doing research on campus with one of my professors. Most students don’t have that opportunity until graduate school or maybe as upperclassmen and even then only if they have good lab skills. I did not have good lab skills but because of that opportunity was able to develop good skills.”

Lincoln Smith ’08 – “The education at Wabash is tailored to what you want to do. It’s not prescribed—like if you want to do ‘this’ you come to Wabash. You come here to figure out what you want to do and the faculty and staff help you get there. The teaching is excellent and the mentoring that you get on research is phenomenal.”

Aaron Spolarich ‘08 – “The faculty in the English Department have pushed me to not just be content with achieving a high level of language and literature comprehension and analysis, but to excel at it. I feel I am well prepared as I look ahead to Law School. The critical thinking and interpretation skills I have developed will serve me well.”

I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from these men. They are all heading on to do great things.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Kim Johnson – When I interviewed four months ago for my position at Wabash nearly every person I spoke with (ten different people if I remember correctly) asked me the same question. Why Wabash?

The answer is easy.

First, it’s Wabash! Having grown up in Crawfordsville I have always been around the College. The campus is beautiful. The faculty, staff, and students are always friendly. And Wabash is consistently ranked as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

Second, I have always been drawn to the higher education setting. There is an energy on a college or university campus that just can’t be matched any place else. There is almost always something going on, there are always great conversations in which to get involved and there is so much potential just bubbling in every corner – the academic buildings, the athletic facilities, the residences. There is constant dialogue, struggling, growing, learning…

What can I say? I’m selfish. I like surrounding myself with great people and engaging environments.

Even today my absolute favorite times of the year include move-in weekend, move-out weekend/commencement, and finals week. (Yes, I was one of those freaks who loved taking final exams – I’m crazy, I know – all the studying, cramming, quiet hours, last minute study sessions – but after all the anticipation, I loved walking out of my last exam knowing I’d done all I could… I would do it all again in a heartbeat!)

Other days that rank pretty high on my list include the first snow of the season (today! see photo album here) and the first “warm” day in the spring. While they seem to be opposites, they are really quite similar.

When the first flakes of snow start to fall, the sleds come out, all studying gets temporarily pushed aside, and it’s all about getting outside and playing! There’s no better excuse to be a kid again than a blanket of fresh snow. (Read more from one Wabash freshman.)

It’s the same with spring. The heavy coats and hats get peeled off and thrown aside. Forget the paper that’s due tomorrow – that’s what midnight is for. The main objective – get outside and play! I love heading across campus and having to dodge Frisbees and walk around hoards of people just sitting on the mall enjoying the simple pleasure of the returning warmth after a long winter.

Ah, there’s just something about being on a college campus, especially this time of year.

A Fitting Tribute

Kim Johnson – I’m a girl – okay, so I’m a 31 year-old “woman” but “woman” makes me feel old. What about “lady?” Point being, I’m on a campus of men. One thing I have learned in life is that men and women communicate very differently.

This has been a difficult week for all of us at Wabash College. The loss of a student on a small and tight-knit campus like this affects everyone. Even though I didn’t have the privilege of meeting Patrick, my heart still breaks for the loss of a young person who, from what I understand, was the epitome of what it means to “live life to the fullest.”

My heart also breaks for the young men on campus who were his friends, his teammates, and his brothers. I have been there. I know how that feels. It really sucks. It’s hard to make sense of it and hard to know how and when to move forward.

I have seen boys grow up really fast this week. As I was standing outside the Chapel yesterday after Patrick’s memorial service I just wanted to reach out and hug every single one of them.

Here’s the point in my whole rambling. In my experience, when “girls” are upset they want to talk and share and hug and talk and share and hug. Guys just want to “fix stuff” (often with a grunt). So as I have moved about this campus of men these last few days, I haven’t seen guys talking and sharing and hugging and talking and sharing and hugging like I’m feeling drawn to do, but they are “doing and fixing.”

They have dealt with their broken hearts in a very different way than I am accustomed. That’s not to say there haven’t been tears and hugs, But the way they have come together to honor Patrick has been amazing and beyond what I would have ever been able to do.

Before Sunday even ended, his fraternity brothers and teammates had painted the Senior Bench in Patrick’s honor. (I nearly cried when I noticed the sphinx on either end of the bench had white tears flowing from its eyes.) There were several candles, photos, and a few words about him.

Several of the student bloggers have written very nice pieces on their sites.

His fraternity brothers put together a memorial service for him. Dressed in suits, they led the service. They asked friends, a coach, and a professor to speak. They closed the service quietly and led the very large crowd out of the Chapel. Outside they honored him again as a Lambda Chi Alpha brother.

No 19, 20, or 21 year-old should have to go through what they have this week. But they have. I know it hurts and always will, but all of the Wabash men could not have honored him any better than they have – even those who didn’t know him.

As I headed back to my office after the service, I noticed the day was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was so blue, the leaves so orange, and the grass so green. I thought about a very similar day a couple weeks ago when I was headed back to my office after listening to Dr. Rosenberg speak of his time visiting the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

He commented how life seemed to be “obliviously going on” around him. That comment really stuck with me because when I have been dealing with something difficult in the past, I have felt the very same way. Why did life just seem to be going on around me? Didn’t anyone understand, feel, or hear my pain?

But yesterday life was not obliviously going on around Wabash. When 11:00 rolled around, I was standing on the mall getting ready to take a seat in the Chapel. I turned and looked out over campus. There were people coming from all directions – students, professors, coaches, staff, and friends – pouring out of buildings to come honor one young man.

I would guess that fewer than half of the people there had actually met Patrick, but when one Little Giant is hurting, all Little Giants hurt together. There could be no more fitting tribute on this campus for a brother than the mature, heartfelt display I have witnessed this week.

Patrick Woehnker, you are Some Little Giant. And you will be missed.

A New Kind of History

Kim Johnson – Yesterday I participated in a “Stylized Movement/Kung Fu Workshop” as part of the Visiting Artists Series here at Wabash. The workshop was a follow up to the group’s performance the night before of Tales from the Beijing Opera.

When I was first given my assignment I thought surely Jim had to be kidding me. I’m the rookie in the Public Affairs Office so I was half expecting the rest of the team to break out in laughter and razz me for falling for Jim’s preposterous request! And laugh they did, but I think it was more, “boy am I glad she got called out to do it and not me!”

Something like this is totally outside my comfort zone. I absolutely hate to be embarrassed or caught off guard (I think most people do but for me it’s almost an absolute fear). Plus, my sister got all of the grace and dancing ability in the family and my brother the martial arts skill. That leaves me on a good day with the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Granted, Jim did say if I felt uncomfortable participating in the workshop I could just go cover it with a camera, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, how often does the Beijing Opera come to Crawfordsville? I better take advantage of this! Plus it could be really fun!

So off I went to Ball Theater for a little Kung Fu!

The first thing I learned from the program was that “Kung Fu” means “time.” In China, the relationship between skill and time is embedded in the language and the term kungfu refers to anything that takes time to learn. Good! They already know if I’m going to learn this stuff, we’re going to have to have lots of time!

The workshop began with a brief history of the Beijing Opera – when it began, how it evolved, the culture of China, how different dynasties of China affected the social class of the actors and how that has evolved over time. The movements, costumes, and colors are all representative of culture and status.

The troupe leader, American Merrianne Moore, explained the typical training of actors. Many begin learning skills at a very early age, usually from a parent who is an actor or has a love of the theater. By the age of 10 or 11 they go to “opera school,” which is a boarding school where they learn techniques and skills six days a week. (The opera school training now includes academic coursework but didn’t always which served to perpetuate the existence of actors as a low social class.)

Our workshop followed a “typical day” at the opera school. We started by learning to walk and how to hold our hands and arms. Each movement was very systematic. There was a rhythm and purpose for everything.

We did leg training next which included kicks of which we would do 50 to 100 of each if we were students at the Opera School (there were four or five different kicks). Thankfully we only did a few. Between the kicks, jumps and arm movements I was beginning to feel like a plate of spaghetti. (I probably looked about like one too!)

Next was carpet training to help us stretch our waists and hips. I was thinking, “finally we get to sit and stretch.” I was imagining something like yoga class – long stretches with periodic rest poses. NOPE! Carpet training in the Opera School starts with five-minute handstands! Handstands are followed by cartwheels, no-handed cartwheels, front and back handsprings, tucks and whatever other flips, flops, jumps, and contortions the limber body will allow. I decided not to volunteer for this knowing full well the last time I attempted a cartwheel (about ten years ago!) I nearly broke my wrist.

We ended our workshop by learning a few techniques with the weapons and how those techniques would fit into a stage battle. By that time I felt like I had endured a battle and wondered if I could ever survive a day in opera school.

It was fun to share the stage with several Wabash men. (Check out photos here and here.) I was impressed with their willingness to take off their shoes and participate. Many of them were attempting handstands, cartwheels, and fighting with “the warrior” and truly enjoying the experience for what it was – a chance to take advantage of an opportunity that will likely never cross their paths again.

I figured if they didn’t care how silly they looked walking, kicking, and jumping across the stage there was absolutely no reason why I should! That’s the beauty of learning, right? A safe place to grow and stretch our minds (and bodies in this case), mess up, correct it, and try again, and if we’re lucky it’s in a fun and engaging atmosphere.

When we reached the end of our three hours together, I really felt like I had accomplished something or at least had given my best. As I headed back across campus, my new experience in hand, I pondered the last couple days – the afternoon discussion with the troupe on Monday, the Tales from the Beijing Opera performance that evening and the workshop I had just completed.

I couldn’t help but think if I had learned history like that – experiencing it – when I was in school, I wouldn’t have gotten a “C.”

Photos by Steve Charles


Kim Johnson – I mentioned last week in my first post how much I am enjoying getting to know this campus and my surprise at all that was happening in this little community inside the community I’ve called home for so long.

This week as I wandered through my week still trying to get my bearings I couldn’t help but wonder if the students, staff and community (myself included) really understand how lucky we have it to be so close to Wabash College and Crawfordsville.

I spent part of evening yesterday listening to award winning writer Philip Caputo read excerpts from his new book Acts of Faith. He is this year’s Will Hays, Jr. Visiting Writer. He told about the events that led to his writing of this book and detailed a few of his real-life encounters that brought life to his characters. Afterwards, he signed copies of his books and answered questions from the audience that included Ginny Hays, wife of the late Will Hays, Jr.

On the other side of the wall in the Fine Arts Center, the play Never the Sinner was opening the curtains on the second night of its four night run. The show includes several Wabash students, staff and community members. It is the opening show of this year’s theater season. (Check it out if you can!)

Just a few blocks north and east in downtown Crawfordsville, The Vanity Theater is kicking off its second weekend of The Sting while many of the downtown store fronts are lit up through this weekend with art for the 6th Annual Crawfordsville Art League Juried Art Show.

A couple friends of mine from West Lafayette came to town this week to see the art show and commented on how impressed they were with the show, the uniqueness of its presentation and the caliber of the art in the show. While many of the artists are from “the big cities” of Lafayette and West Lafayette there are 37 artists in the show from right here in Montgomery County! Two of the award winners (Professor of Mathematics Robert Foote and Steve Miller ’08) and seven others are connected to Wabash College.

I realize there are events like this going on all the time on college campuses like Purdue, Butler, and IU and all around Indianapolis and Lafayette/West Lafayette but how many rural Midwesterners can say they drove or walked less than ten minutes in virtually no traffic and spent $10 or less to participate in such events (most of the events are totally free of charge!)?

With all that said, even I like to throw some sports in every now and then. We have that too! There are three county schools with outstanding athletic programs and two of those schools go head-to-head tonight on the football field for a great match-up. The Wabash football team is currently ranked 15th in the AFCA’s Division III poll and 16th in the poll. (They play away this weekend but will be at home for the next two.) It’s all the joys of college football – great football, tailgating, great atmosphere, an energetic mascot. The added bonus is it makes for a great Saturday activity for the entire family without having to fight your way through 75,000 of your closest friends!

Every week there are great events just like these all over campus and all across the county. I’m glad I’m finally coming to senses enough to recognize what awesome opportunities are right in front of me on a daily basis. I just wish it hadn’t taken me 31 years to realize it!

Tarred and Feathered

Kim Johnson – So here it is, my first entry, of what I hope becomes many entries as a Wabash blogger. I started Monday in the Public Affairs Office and have spent much of my first week making my way around campus to meet new colleagues. The rest of my week has been an attempt to decipher how I fit into this unknown community within the community that I have known and been a part of nearly my entire life.

In a sense, I feel like a freshman starting over again at Purdue. I remember my mom’s advice after I came home from my math placement exam in tears feeling completely overwhelmed by the huge world that is Purdue University. “You only have five classes your first semester,” she said. “Learn where those five buildings are, then next semester learn the next five.”

Fortunately, I have been around the campus in the past enough to basically know which building is Baxter and which building is Detchon but as with anywhere Wabash has its own vernacular that makes me do a double take as I sit in meetings and think “what are they talking about?” And so, the “five buildings” that I am learning this week are more on a figurative level than literal.

It’s Thursday of my first week and I have not yet been dipped in a vat of hot oil until I turned golden brown so I would say it’s been a successful week but it isn’t over until the Homecoming Queen is crowned at half-time on Saturday. (I’d say until the “fat lady fraternity pledge sings” but from what I have been told, those may be one in the same – which scares me a little.)

All kidding aside, I must say for as long as I have lived in Crawfordsville (nearly 31 years minus the time spent at Purdue and one year in Michigan), I have overlooked how much Wabash is truly a gem in our community.

Every person I have met this week has been so welcoming and helpful but the thing the sticks in my mind the most is how much every single person here cares about the students. Whether he or she is a professor, a dean, an administrative assistant, a coach, a librarian or an IT expert, it’s not just about a job but it’s about being passionate about the students and their education.

It’s about pride in the heritage and tradition that have carried so many men through life. Most importantly it’s about grooming high school boys to become men who, as the mission states, “think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely”.

And that’s a really cool thing.


A Classroom Immersion

Jim Amidon — Spending a couple of days in the Wabash classroom with Details magazine reporter Jeff Gordinier was precisely what the doctor ordered to start the school year. Over two days, we made it to nine different classes taught by Wabash’s newest and most legendary professors. While the goal was to give Jeff a sense of what it’s like to attend a college for men, the experience charged my batteries in a meaningful way.

John Aden took his world history students outside to the Fuller Arboretum, where they broke into a pair of warring armies. Aden didn’t carefully choose the groups; he just split the class in half. He acknowledged that only a handful "had read the text" and knew what to do. For example, archers (who could move five steps when it was their turn) took high ground, naturally, but were too far away to strike. One side filled its ranks with catapults, the other had none. It was a crude display, but it was also quite clear that Aden was making his point about the strategies that went into medieval warfare. If I imagined really hard, I could almost see our guys dressed for a scene in Gladiator. Okay, not really, but it was a cool way to bring the material to life.

Before David Kubiak’s Intermediate Greek course, I asked the students what they thought of their professor. One said, "He terrifies me." Another: "The hardest teacher I’ve ever had." Then, in unison, three guys said, "Probably the best teacher I’ve ever had." When Kubiak came into the classroom, he briefly discussed the quizzes from the previous week. "Don’t you know by now I only give you these quizzes so that you’ll know the things that really irritate me." He then went over the various issues the students continue to get hung up on, that "irritate him." He was, in that 50 minutes, equally tough, challenging, and supportive.

Bill Placher’s Religion in Literature class provided a completely different look at classroom dynamic. I would later learn that the class includes freshmen through seniors, roughly 25 percent of each. And the conversation was amazing. They were discussing John Updike, and while I didn’t know the text, I felt as though I did by the high level of conversation and the way Placher eased it along. Bill’s been in the Wabash classroom a long time, and I doubt any student has ever felt embarrassed in his presence. His classroom is a safe one, where students can express themselves freely.

We dropped in on Greg Huebner’s figure drawing class in the art department on a day when the students were sketching a nude model. What shocked me most was the "all business" approach the students had. If anyone felt uncomfortable in the room, it was either Jeff or me — the outsiders. When the model disrobed, the students started sketching as though it was a disciplined exercise involving a bowl of fruit. This at a college for men!

I never had "Fast" Ed McLean for Constitutional Law, but I gather from most of my Wabash lawyer friends that it was their best training for their careers. Jeff and I sat it on an early morning version of the same class taught by one of McLean’s former students and a practicing lawyer, Scott Himsel ’85. At Wabash, we don’t go in much for adjunct professors, but Himsel was amazing. What he got out of the students at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning was spectacular; they were well prepared and discussed the day’s Supreme Court case with detail and clarity.

There were other classes, too, that were equally impressive: Steve Webb’s freshman tutorial class during which he had students read aloud their essays and critique one another; Joy Castro’s creative writing class that began with a 10-minute free writing exercise in which Jeff participated; Warren Rosenberg’s freshman tutorial on Men and Masculinity, during which the guys — in sometimes blunt terms — said that "Yes!" men can be friends; and Peter Bankart’s Human Sexuality course where guys, with some discomfort, discussed hormonal problems in women.

What an immersion for our reporter friend and for me. In fact, I think I’ll make such immersion experiences a regular beginning to every semester.

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