Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Maker Feature

Making matters

Labs engage campus in creative hands-on learning, collaboration

WHALE LabLast semester, when William Cohen ’13 needed to tackle a term paper for his “Philosophy and Literature” course, he found help in an unexpected place—a box of Legos in the Wheaton Autonomous Learning Laboratory (WHALE Lab), courtesy of founder Professor Tom Armstrong.

“I spent a lot of time building things with Tom’s Legos,” says Cohen, who majored in English with a minor in studio art and computer science. “I find that focusing on some sort of immediate, often mechanical or tactile problem (such as building something with Legos), lets me work through larger, abstract problems. Some sort of organic problem solving happens when I’m otherwise occupied.”

Scattered about the WHALE research lab and FiberSpace, those Legos may seem like toys—well, they are—but they also are important brainteasers, notes Armstrong, assistant professor of computer science. “The goal is to create an environment of play and experimentation, to remind students, staff members and faculty that whimsy is important in fostering the joy of learning, and to encourage everyone to think differently about what ‘college’ is,” says Armstrong, who also founded FiberSpace. [Read more...]

570_Bhutan Elliot 2

A beautiful journey

Students live, learn, explore in Bhutan

Bhutan is breathtaking and unforgettable, says James Elliott ’15, pictured above

Flying into Paro, Bhutan, you go through a blanket of clouds that slowly dissolves as mountains emerge, cradling the emerald lushness of a valley dotted with colorful buildings. Even before your feet touch the ground, Bhutan takes your breath away. And, once you are there, it starts working on your heart and mind, say students who have participated in Wheaton’s study abroad program in Bhutan.

Bhutan dancing

Devotees seek blessings from the enormous silk appliqué thondrol depicting Guru Rinpoche in his many incarnations, displayed at the conclusion of the masked dance festival (tsechu) held at Nyimalung Monastery in Bumthang, central Bhutan.

“When we first flew over Paro, I was utterly speechless, and almost in tears. It’s undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have ever been,” says James Elliott ’15, one of six students who spent the fall 2012 semester in Bhutan.

Months after the experience, with his feet firmly planted in Norton, Mass., Elliott’s mind is still there. “Seeing the happiness and contentment of Bhutanese citizens, who have a very simple lifestyle in such stark contrast to how most Americans are brought up, really has expanded my worldview and solidified my convictions about how I live my life,” he says.

“One man started a conversation with me while I was waiting on the street, and it ended with him offering me a job, a place in his home and food for the duration of time that I would work for him. Each time someone gave us a ride that was clearly out of their way and refused any compensation, or helped us find a destination across town by personally escorting us there, I thought to myself I would feel so proud to be a part of this culture.”

The psychology major now plans to seek an additional independent major in contemplative studies, saying the Bhutan experience intensified his interest in psychology and sparked a desire for a more holistic approach to his studies. “I want my education to be more than a means to a monetary end. I want it to benefit as many people as possible.”

[Read more...]

Lasting impressions

Sarah Collins ’13 

  • International relations and  biology major
  • Bhutan participant, fall 2010

“I wrote a research paper for a class I took in Bhutan with Professor Bianca Cody Murphy. I was interested in the generation that has experienced the rapid modernization of the country since 1960. So, I interviewed a daughter, mother and grandmother of three different families to compare their similarities and differences in experiences and values.

[Read more...]

Building blocks

Adam Goldberg ’12 

  • Conflict and social change major
  • 2012 Watson Fellow
  • Bhutan participant, fall 2011

“A Buddhist kingdom that is undergoing a transformation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, while simultaneously presenting to the world the revolutionary idea of Gross National Happiness in accordance with its Buddhist heritage? Bhutan was like a vast land of unexplored wonders. I had the chance to be one of the few to see how Bhutan is attempting transformations and applying Buddhist philosophies to every sector of its society, including economic development and nation building. What an opportunity!

[Read more...]