Michelle Fischer: Welcoming humans to the wilderness

By Anne Saunders ’12

When Michelle Fischer graduated from Marlboro in December 2009, she tackled the job hunt with the same vigor that she applied to her Plan in anthropology. She found that the National Park Service best suited her values and goals. “I’m a professional boy scout now,” she says. Michelle lives at the base of a mountain in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, in Texas’ Chihuahuan Desert. “This is a lifestyle,” she says. “About 35 employees attend to 87,000 acres of remote wilderness. My task is to make humans feel welcome here.”

Specifically, Michelle creates and delivers weekly lectures, guided hikes and publications. But living at the park, there is so much more to do. Describing her day-to-day assignments, she recounts, “Yesterday, I hiked over 25 miles to scout a long-forgotten park trail. Tomorrow a fellow ranger and I will teach a college class in North Dakota via Skype-like technology. I catalogue artifacts excavated by archaeologists, help fight 14,000-acre forest fires and keep an orchard at an historic ranch.”

Michelle says Marlboro remains a strong foundation for her character. “The community values that Marlboro taught prove invaluable in the workplace.” For the future, Michelle does not have goals so much as ideals. “Honesty, balance, compassion… I hope to listen, to keep trying, to walk narrow passageways, and to forgive myself as I explore what being an adult means.”

Geri Medina: Working locally, thinking internationally

By Anne Saunders ’12

After graduating last May with a Plan in anthropology, Geri Medina decided to stay in Brattleboro. She is now working at The Experiment in International Living, a program of World Learning that sends high school students abroad on short programs. An alumna of the program herself, Geri works with the admissions team, “enrolling new students, answering questions about our programs and working directly with students to get them prepared for their summers abroad.”

Geri loves the comfortable environment that comes from working in a small organization, but it has its challenges. “We are a small team for a very big operation, so everyone shares in taking on all tasks, responsibilities and frustrations. It gets chaotic, and everyone’s on their feet.” Geri is excited by the possibilities for international travel with this job. She is thinking of leading one of the programs during a summer, or doing work with SIT Graduate Institute, another part of World Learning.

Marlboro helped Geri feel comfortable and confident with the demands of her job. “I think that the methodical process of writing Plan helped me to think on my feet and be adaptable, organized and dedicated. As much as a job like this can be stressful, I know I can handle it, and I know I can do it well.”

First Person Singular: Kenny Card ’10 reflects on being a rebellious grad student

To me, interdisciplinary study supports the battle between ideas. The skirmish of my Plan of Concentration at Marlboro was between disciplines with writing, film and community architecture. I have gone on to study in an “interdisciplinary” architecture masters program based out of Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany. But now I realize that interdisciplinary study does not translate easily between different institutions. Not all schools support the ideological battleground.

In my program, we travel every six weeks for workshops in Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Spain and Israel. We are 19 students from 8 countries, and we live the life of tired travelers. By now, the romance of travel is long gone. The program consists of fieldwork, travel and multicultural classrooms, but the multicultural experience—jumping from city to city—feels more touristy than ethnographic to me. While diverse, we students are also similar. We share Western heritage: lineage, safety, comfort, privilege and education. When possible I have tried to jump outside these trends by living with locals in Poland and Austria—to hear their tongue, to eat their meals, to walk their streets, to learn from their everyday routines.

Generally, I have chosen the role of the rebellious student—to subvert the self-justifying institutionalization of knowledge in the program—by making projects that draw on theory from in and out of architecture. In each workshop, I have expanded my spatial reading and theorizing of political architecture. I have drawn on recent political geography, urbanism and political philosophy, and my projects have confronted theory with the practices of real political architects.

In my experience, architectural discourse is thirsty for this kind of political critique. My sociology of architecture writing has been accepted by peer-review journals and conferences, including a conference called “Architecture and the Political” at Lebanese American University, Beirut. I am trying to continue developing sociological analyses, while forging new connections into practice. I am training myself to confront standard practices with “the political.” I hope to continue this work. I may go the PhD route next, or try to gain professional experience practicing political architecture, or both.

At Marlboro, I chose sociology, documentary film and architecture to root my activism in rigorous academic thought and communication. In my graduate program, interdisciplinary study is conditional, restricted and de-politicized. As I reflect from the trenches of graduate school, I am grateful to have been so challenged, supported and encouraged by the Marlboro faculty and community. Only through my undergraduate experience—between the borders of disciplines, among the multiple approaches of different Plan projects—did I equip myself with the academic artillery to subvert from within.