Emily Field: Helping the homeless and beyond

By Molly Booth ’13

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, and figured this would be a fun place to think about it,” said Emily Field ’11. She works as a shift supervisor at the St. Elizabeth Emergency Shelter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Emily keeps the homeless shelter clean and in working order—but that’s just the job description.

“Really, what I do is spend time with friends that I value beyond belief.” Emily loves to interact with the people who stay at the busy shelter—“Everyone has a different story. For a Marlboro alum like me, someone who hates it when things get predictable, this is ideal.”

Emily’s Plan focused on writing, and she has discovered how those skills translate to her job. “Because I spend so much time thinking of other people’s stories and how to write them, I am able to listen to people for long periods of time without getting bored or trying to tell them my own story.” Her writing skills have also helped in her work as a legal assistant for another shelter.

For Emily’s next step, she’s considering a law degree, editing jobs or becoming a kayak tour guide. “Who says you have to stick with one line of work? Marlboro sure never taught me that.”

 

Brady Godwin: Exploring the otter side of the mountains

By Molly Booth ’13

“I float down beautiful western rivers with my dog and get to take pictures of pronghorn, foxes, moose, coyotes, eagles and occasionally even an odd otter or two.” Brady Godwin ’08 isn’t describing a vacation adventure; he’s describing fieldwork for his master’s program in zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, studying river otters in Wyoming’s Green River basin. “When I crawl out of a tent in the morning and chase off a moose, or see a Wyoming sunset without another soul for miles I think, ‘This is my job.’”

While Brady’s Plan was in conservation biology, it doesn’t directly relate to his master’s work on otters. But he has found his Marlboro education was excellent preparation for the demand of graduate work.  “The amount of reading, writing and organization it takes for Plan is very similar to grad school. Also, the one-on-one meetings with my Plan advisors really helped me learn how to get the most out of quick meetings with very busy graduate advisors.”

After completing his program, Brady hopes to find a job with an environmental consulting firm or organization that reaches out to the public. “My studies at Marlboro really made me realize the need for good communicators to explain ecology to the general public.”

 

First Person Singular: John Whelan ’11 puts music in reach of low-income youth

I’ve started a nonprofit organization, Wolf Industries, which is devoted to putting musical instruments in the hands of low-income youth and teaching them how to play. The inspiration for the organization actually came from the combination of my Plan, which covered the industrial development of musical instrument manufacturing, and the Certificate in Non-Profit Management offered at Marlboro College Graduate School. I must also give fair credit to my incredibly skilled board of directors, including Marlboro senior Max Cliggott-Perlt, our treasurer and mathematician.

First of all, I am establishing a connection to potential constituents by volunteering my time as a mentor at a local outreach program called just-a-start. Second, I have been developing a professional network of music students at Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. I have been corresponding with the presidents of both of these institutions to establish an internship program between my organization and their music education students. The idea there is to give those students some practical experience in their field in exchange for professional references and college credit. The third piece will be to contact musical instrument retailers and producers about supplying us with instruments.

In the mean time, to pay the bills, I have taken a job with Laura Fisher & Associates, a subsidiary of American Income Life Insurance Company, which is proving to be a spectacular opportunity with plenty of growth potential. Laura Fisher & Associates works directly with labor union members, and as a licensed agent I carry the stamp of approval and support from a variety of unions. The largest union we work with is the International Union of Police Associations.

With high revenue sales like this the most important thing is energy, so I am keeping all my efforts toward a positive outlook. My favorite part about the job, as trite as it may be, is the money. There is of course a fair amount of speculative risk since I am not paid hourly or salary, but rather as an independent contractor. However, as a Marlboro alumnus I have little difficulty working independently. Commissions and bonuses add up quickly, so long as I’m maintaining a healthy level of tenacity.

My juggling act between LF&A and Wolf Industries has little to do with being sensible. But as a student of the esteemed Jim Tober, I learned reliable modes of time management and dedication. Having written a Plan of Concentration, I realize that I am the only thing that can stand in my way. For instance, I have taken on a hobby of filing taxes for a few friends. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the IRS website had all the information anyone would need. Of the many things you think you learn at Marlboro, the one that should never be neglected is learning how to learn.

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.

Lisa Orenstein: TEFLing in Ukraine

By Anne Saunders ’12

Ever since she was 8 years old, it has been Lisa Orenstein’s dream to join the Peace Corps. Now, after graduating from Marlboro in December 2009, Lisa has achieved that dream and is teaching English in Kodyma, Ukraine. “I love showing the children a different way of thinking, and learning their perspective on the world” she says.

Following an intense training in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), Lisa teaches classes of students from ages 8 to 15 and leads three English clubs each week after school. Her hope is to soon start an HIV/AIDS awareness club and begin seminars on female empowerment. “We are working on critical thinking in the classroom,” says Lisa. “I feel that that is one of the most important tools I can give them.”

Besides the everyday challenges of a classroom of kids with “a lot of energy,” Lisa reports that she has felt very welcome in Kodyma. “Everyone says ‘hi’ on the street, and I am invited to lunch, dinner or tea almost every day.” She says that the confidence she gained at Marlboro has been integral in attaining the leadership skills and independence necessary for her Peace Corps work. “If I can face the intense, difficult and time-consuming work of Plan, I can achieve almost anything.”

Alec Koumjian: recycling technology skills

By Anne Saunders ’12

Shortly before graduating in 2010 with a Plan on the physics of wind turbines, Alec Koumjian was pleasantly surprised to have his current employer literally come knocking at his front door. He thus became the online business manager for Recycle Away, a growing company based in Brattleboro, Vermont, that sells recycling containers for public spaces.

Although there is no immediate connection between his job and his Plan work at Marlboro, Alec is constantly using the skills and technologies he picked up during his four years on the hill. He was hired because of the breadth of his skills, and has had the opportunity to hone new ones “on the job.”

Alec’s work is a real mix of tasks: web development and design, IT, search engine optimization and automated systems. “In a business that is expanding faster than we can handle,” Alec says, “the main challenge is having enough time in the day to get everything done.” Though there are challenges, Alec loves the trust and autonomy that Recycle Away gives him with his work. “My decisions and work have an immediate and direct effect on the success of the business and my opinion is highly valued.”

Katherine Partington: balancing acts

By Anne Saunders ’12

Since graduating in 2009, Katherine Partington has been busy working in New York City at several jobs simultaneously, but primarily as a freelance performance artist for a variety of choreographers, directors and filmmakers. She recently received the L.A. Movie Award for “best actress” for her role in the movie Overload.

“In one week I will work as an intern, hostess, choreographer, dance teacher and performer,” says Katherine. “I finish a shift at a restaurant to then go perform at the Guggenheim Museum, or teach a dance class on Long Island, or take a yoga class at Yoga to the People.” Katherine has to keep every job part time in order to allow for the flexibility she needs to structure her life on a project-to-project basis, and her income varies accordingly. This can be very challenging, but thanks to her fierce ambition and experience at Marlboro she knows how to plan, prepare and get it all done.

Katherine says Marlboro gave her the ability to recognize a group’s purpose and potential, and how she could best contribute. She says, “Before Marlboro, I wanted people to give me permission to work and take risks. After Marlboro, I am not only giving myself permission, but I am creating my own opportunities as well.”

First Person Singular: Sarah Mutrux ’05 makes an art of non-profit community center

 

After Marlboro I returned to Craftsbury, Vermont, where I grew up. I wanted to do something to use my degree in visual arts and creative writing, and decided that teaching art classes to community members would be a good way to earn some income and share my interests and skills. I opened the Art House Gallery, Studio & School in June 2009. A year ago we joined forces with another business that was in transition, Stardust Books and Café, and created one non-profit called The Common Place. Our mission is to cultivate the creative and literary interests of youth and adults in the Northeast Kingdom while supporting the local economy.

My official title is co-manager, but my role is more that of the director. I am the only person working in the organization not on an interim basis, other than our board of trustees. I make the calendar of programs, host events, teach classes, and manage the physical plant and the studio schedule. My time at Marlboro helped me make connections and understand how galleries work, and gave me the basic knowledge to jury good art and curate shows.

I first heard about Marlboro College Graduate School’s certificate program in nonprofit management in an email I regularly receive as a Marlboro alumna. My nonprofit is headed into its second year, a crucial time for development, and I felt that I needed to know more about how the nonprofit sector works. The classes in the program confirmed that I was moving in the right direction, corrected my actions when I was off base, and gave me the inspiration, motivation, and knowledge to move my organization into the future. As a certified nonprofit manager I feel capable and qualified to lead The Common Place through its second year and into the future.

The hardest part is finding the free moments between my paying job, as an admissions counselor at Sterling College, to return those phone calls, send emails, order supplies…there is so much to do, and so little time to do it all in. But I love creating community bonds through the programming, seeing how much people like to participate and seeing people engaged, learning and enjoying themselves. I’ve also become accustomed to the long days, and miss my work when I take a day off.

I enjoyed the open critique discussions we had at Marlboro, and I incorporate this format into classes here whenever I can. Broadening people’s perspectives of art, enhancing exposure, and raising awareness are some of the biggest goals of The Art House. One program that we host each month is the First Friday Art Talk. I asked former Marlboro visiting professor and outside evaluator Brian D. Cohen to speak in February-the gallery was full of his watercolors and copper etchings. It felt great to have one of the people who taught me printmaking at Marlboro exhibiting work and presenting in my own gallery.