Yes, classes have started, and students are finally settling down to reading, writing and feverishly preparing for this weekend’s broomball tournament. But on top of taking the usual highbrow classes, with erudite titles that role of the tongue like Gender Trouble: Modern Women Writers in Latin America & the Afro-Hispanic Diaspora, or Art on the Walls: Ceramic Tiles in Seljuk and Ottoman Architecture, Meaning and Design, a select group of students is shuffling off to the bright lights of Brattleboro for a taste of postgraduatiana. That’s right, for students who are thinking about real-life situations where they might apply their new philosophical axioms, like “whoever desires the ends desires the means to that end” or “natura abhorret a vacua” (nature abhors the void), there are a suite of practical courses available at the Marlboro College Graduate School.
I know this because I sat in on the awesome intro class of Fundamentals of Non-Profit Management, taught by Kate Jellema, program director at the graduate school. Up to four undergraduate students will shuffle down to join this class, alongside executive directors, board members, project managers and other important-sounding professionals. The program in nonprofit management is just crawling with seasoned idealists, entrepreneurs, community leaders and social innovators, the kind of cool grown-ups that many Marlboro students will become some day. Having the undergraduate students along for the ride, as they learn about fundraising, strategic planning, governance, and other topics involved in running a nonprofit, is a breath of fresh, snowy Potash Hill air and a source of reflection for all involved.
But wait, there’s more! Several of the programs at the graduate school offer a dual degree program that allows Marlboro students to go on and get their master’s degree faster than you can say, “self-directed learning.” Not really that fast, of course, but for most programs they can earn graduate credits while they are still an undergraduate, working on a Plan of Concentration on environmental studies and the economics of butterfly farming. This makes a kind of no-brainer, two-for-one deal: I mean, students can start their graduate program with up to nine credits that count toward both degrees. Even better, while in the mini-metropolis of Brattleboro, students get to stop at Mocha Joe’s for a maple vanilla cream latte on the way to class.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a flourish of Islamic calligraphy! It’s an orgy of nematode worms! Actually, this somehow attractive, seemingly random rat’s nest of squiggly lines is one person’s impression of the cross-disciplinary nature of academics at Marlboro College. That person is mathematics professor Matt Ollis, who is accustomed to assembling somehow attractive, seemingly random squiggly lines in the service of all kinds of cool things (such as in a recent article published with his former student Devin Willmott ’11 called, enigmatically, “On twizzler, zigzag and graceful terraces”). In this case, Matt assembled data from all of the Plans of Concentration of Marlboro students stretching from 1990 to the last academic year. Where the squiggly lines meet at “nodes” represent faculty sponsors, and each squiggly line indicates when more than one faculty member sponsored a student’s Plan.
Getting away from the sort of Rorschach-test impression of a fettuccini explosion, Matt’s chart does a brilliant job of illustrating how very common it is for Marlboro students to combine areas of study in their work. I mean, some paths between faculty members are clearly well-worn, but the veritable nematode’s orgy of possible combinations is what really takes my breath away. If you have never checked it out before, another great illustration of cross-disciplinary Plans over the years can be found in the Virtual Plan Room. The second version of Matt’s chart to the right, a little easier on the eyes, represents just the current faculty and has only one line to connect them, regardless of how many Plans they might have cosponsored.
Now, I can stand about 10 minutes of mathematical calculations before my eyes glaze over. But, being the mathematically energetic individual he is, Matt didn’t stop there, no-no. In the string-art illustration on the left he showed how it would look to organize all of the faculty members to emphasize their distance, cosponsorship-wise, from retired history professor Tim Little. Sort of like “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” except instead of Kevin Bacon it’s Tim Little, and instead of six degrees of separation it’s, like, three at the most. Matt defines the “Little Number” to be the number of steps any faculty member is away from Tim, and that number is indeed, ahem, “little.” By the way, Matt is teaching a course this spring called Painting by Numbers: Using Data to Visualize Marlboro College, which will use methods of data visualization just like these to look closely at other aspects of life on campus. Did you have any idea math could be this much fun?
I know, you probably think that dorm living is all about staying up late to debate Trotskyism versus Stalinism or post-apocalyptic poetry or the latest episode of How I Met Your Mother. But there is another side of living on campus at Marlboro that is fantastic preparation for life beyond college, whether that’s sharing an apartment with flesh-eating zombies or starting a family of little compañeros. I’m talking about the dorm charter, that hallowed document that is drafted at the beginning of each year to help define the behavior and expectations of residents. You know, like who takes out the recycling when, and how late you can stay up noisily debating popular television.
For Exhibit A, I present to you the dorm charter adopted last fall by the Farm Cottage, which not surprisingly gives particular attention to food and cooking. These guys know what it takes to coexist happily and with gusto.
- Thou shalt drinketh thine fine tea or coffee as one wakes in the sunshine of the forest. Existeth not in the dark depths of thine cave! (i.e. spend time in the common room.)
- Thou shalt watch at least one episode of Doctor Who in good company every fortnight.
- If thou art watching weird cooking shows, thou shalt do so in one’s cave because it stresses Mia out.
- When feeling solemn, one shalt remember Father Philip.
- Thou shalt always feed thine sourdough starter and eat a weekly dose of sauerkraut.
- Thou shalt not neglect thine vegetables—save and preserve the vegetables!
- Thou shalt cook and eat meals with thine brethren.
- Thou shalt spend a sufficient time in laughter with thy brethren (and without).
- Thou shalt remember and honor the compost.
- Thou shalt turn off the lights (within and without thine abode) if thou art the last one to bed, and turn off lights when not in use in general.
- Thou shalt store up the riches of egg cartons and milk containers!
- Thou shalt get sufficient sleep and take care of thine health.
- Singing Saturdays! Thou shalt sing and dance and do handstands.
- Applying soap to cast iron pans is punishable by immersion into the compost.
- Spontaneous contact improv is compulsory (for all residents who are not Clare).
- Baked goods shall be regularly produced and shared with all cottage residents.
- Keep the galley clean!
- The spilling of balsamic vinegar is punishable by mandatory push-ups.
- Thou shalt maintain and honor thy dorm charter, and adjust it as good judgment demands.
- Thou shalt invite thine friends over for merry gatherings and sushi making parties.
- Thou shalt not forget to eat ice cream.
- Thou shalt inquire into the well-being of thine brethren.
- If the mood striketh thee, thou mayest sweep any floors or clean any surfaces as compels thee.
- Put not the pickling spices in thy beans of dill, or they will be wreckethed.
- Do as the Cheerios box doth instruct: smile!
- Inviteth thine friends over for cookies, and share cookies with thine neighbors.
- Judge not thine fellow friend who drinketh pickle juice by the glass.
- Thou shalt use plenty of butter and garlic.
Okay, so maybe all dorm charters are not so quirky and food-obsessed and fluent in archaic English. But just like this particularly mouth-watering example, all dorm charters help students live together in understanding and harmony, a worthy habit that several world leaders would probably find useful.