Banner

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?”


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.”


‘Three Time’ And So Much More

Nicknames and sports kind of go hand-in-hand, so it’s not surprising that someone on campus refers to Riley Lefever ’17 as “Three Time.” When you win three individual national championships, monikers like that are bound to follow.

It’s Riley’s response to sharing the story that sheds light on the person behind that championship veneer.

“I find it a little embarrassing,” he says. “I try to shy away from that stuff.”

Yes, Riley is a top-notch student-athlete, the leader of a nationally ranked wrestling team. He is also an English major who dabbles in poetry and has plans to teach following graduation, as well as the head resident assistant on campus, overseeing Rogge Hall, so his impact is far reaching.

Riley Lefever ’17 in Center Hall.

According to Associate Dean of Students Marc Welch, Riley relates well to a variety of people with the ability to lead through his words and actions. His attitude is contagious.

“As an R.A., Riley is naturally caring and concerned for others,” Welch says. “He is an encourager while at the same time holding them to a high standard.”

Fellow R.A. Brian Parks ’18 understands the commitment and integrity that goes into the job, and he witnessed some of those qualities at their first meeting.

“He automatically makes the room more relaxed,” says Parks. “Even though the job is stressful, he tries to put everybody at ease. He cracks jokes, but at the same time, he is a leader. He keeps us in order and makes sure we’re on task.”

One of Lefever’s character traits surprised Parks. Riley is a goof ball.

“He’s goofy. He seems to put a smile on your face every time you walk by,” Parks explains. “You can be yourself with him, and that translates very well to being an R.A.”

Chris Wilson ’19, who claims Riley as both a teammate and an R.A., says that Lefever earns respect on the mat and in Rogge Hall because of who he is, “You can look at him and tell that he’s athletic. I mean, he’s big and strong, but I don’t think everybody realizes how unique he is. He’s laid back. We respect him because he allows us to be ourselves.”

As Riley shoots for a fourth consecutive national championship and a B.A. degree this spring, one professor noted the attributes that help him stand out athletically and as a mentor, also aid him in the classroom.

“The excellent work ethic no doubt helps him in athletics, but it also defines him as a student,” says Agata Szczeszak-Brewer, Associate Professor of English. “He is a good listener, and his responses to texts or to other students’ comments are detailed and always respectful. I view Riley as a humble, down-to-earth guy who never brags about his achievements.”

Riley has impacted the Wabash community in a number of ways, but he is quick to point out the positive effects on him along the way, too.

“Being an R.A. has made me more approachable. I enjoy being able to impact young men’s lives,” “To be someone to talk to – to be a presence in their lives – has made me who I am. These experiences have shaped me as a person, a learner, an educator, and a leader.”


Scholarship Impacts Felt Around the World

Three Wabash students spent last semester abroad as part of the Gilman International Scholarship program. While each resided in vastly different locations, they returned to campus with a similar thought: the connections made through cultures, people, and experiences made for a rich experience.

“The education, trips, and, most importantly, the different cultures to which I was exposed made this experience very enlightening and eye-opening,” said Rodolfo Solis ’18, who was based in Valencia, Spain. “As a result, this led me to appreciate the Spanish language and literature much more.”

Much of that appreciation can be seen in the interactions with people, whether it be host families or strangers met while traveling.

Dominick Rivers at the Great Pyramids of Giza.

While on a trip to Cairo, Egypt, Dominick Rivers ’19 was on a run at the Great Pyramids of Giza, when he befriended a watchman named Nasar, who took him to parts of the site not available to the general public. From there, Rivers shared a dinner with his family, viewed Nasar’s artwork – a sculptor – and meditated.

“It was truly a fantastic experience that affirmed an already held belief,” said Rivers, who was based in Prague, Czech Republic. “As humans, we are in this together just to make life that much easier and enjoyable for one another.”

Solis was moved during a visit to Peñiscola, Spain. The town holds a noteworthy castle that dates back to the Crusades, and was recently featured prominently on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Such a journey was like a trip through time, according to Solis.

“I was able to do something that I never thought was possible, set foot in a historical monument previously used for an event that took place a little over 900 years ago,” he said.

Immanuel Mitchell-Sodipe ’18 spoke of shared experiences with his host family while in Guatemala. He remembered conversations with his host mother, Rubi, and connections made when discussing the issues that affect the poor and underrepresented.

Immanuel Mitchell-Sodipe  snaps a photo in Guatemala.discussing the issues that affect the poor and underrepresented.

“The world seems smaller, like people share my politics and experiences,” he said “People love, and they imagine a better world.”

Two of Wabash’s Gilman Scholarship recipients had traveled outside the United States previously. For Rivers, it was his first trip abroad, and he appreciated the familiarity he discovered.

“There might be a lot of land and sea that separates us, but deep down we are all looking for the same thing – to enjoy the time we have and to make it last,” he said.


Your Sense of Place in the World

Richard Paige — I felt like Bob Royalty’s REL 290 immersion trip to Israel needed closure, and the podcast and this blog were deemed necessary to finally and properly wrap my arms around all that an immersion experience could be.

I waited 10 days after we returned from Israel to schedule a podcast recording to give those shared experiences a chance to marinate a bit in their mind. The best part is that even 10 days later, the guys were just as engaged and thoughtful as they had been when we were in country.

We were midway through the podcast recording itself when the question hit me, so I scribbled it at the bottom of my notes to make sure that I remembered to ask it: what did trip do for your sense of place in the world?

Your sense of place in the world. Their words are better than mine.

(From left) REL 290 students Jimmy Suess, Aaron Becker, Anthony Douglas, Tim Riley, and Cameron Glaze during the podcast recording.

Anthony Douglas ’17: After this trip, the world for me became a little smaller. I realized that many of the problems we face in our own country aren’t just confined to what happens in America. The things that are happening here are happening everywhere. I saw a lot of the issues that the people of Palestine are facing in my own struggle as an African American. After this trip, I realized that people inherently are not much different from each other. This being my first time out of the country, I expected to meet people that were completely different from me, people who we had not much in common – almost aliens, you know – but I realized that the world is much smaller than we think.

Aaron Becker: ’17: It gave me a perspective of myself as being a very small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Though our time here at Wabash is valuable, though our experiences are fantastic and it is meaningful, in the grand scheme of things, the world’s a lot bigger than all of us. Though we are a very small part of it, we can make a difference. We can still listen to people on both sides. We can still have those conversations and, hopefully, it will help inspire people to make a difference in the lives of others.

Tim Riley ’18: For me it kind of made the world seem a little bit bigger. I’m coming from the same boat that this is my first international trip and I saw a lot more narratives that we need to hear out and a lot more adventures that we need to go on so that we have a broader understanding of everybody’s different backgrounds and stories and how that all comes together to produce the society that we live in today.

Jimmy Suess ’17: (What) I really took away most from this was not to take my freedom for granted. In this, I realize the responsibility that I have to do as much work that I can to promote the most good that I can in my life because there are people who don’t have the same fortune out there to be able to do what they want and help others.

Cameron Glaze ’17: I’d like to compare it to if you are wearing your fraternity letters and you go out and do something bad, you are going to have a negative light shined on you and who you represent. Going to Palestine and hearing what they had to say about our election and our government really made me think that while we are very lucky to be in the country that we are, we still have things to improve upon and before we can help other people, we need to help ourselves first.

In hindsight, it’s kind of disappointing that I didn’t think of the question sooner, as these answers address the essence of what makes immersion trips valuable. They are unique. They are intimate. They are insightful. It took less than four minutes for these five guys to generate these thoughtful responses, but they speak volumes to the sort of impact these trips have.



1 2 3 5