While the quality of the Mars Center is no surprise, the reality has me just a little awe-struck. This building represents many things, not the least of which is the incredible generosity of Wheaton’s alumnae/i, trustees, parents and friends. The college was able to take on this project in the midst of one of the nation’s deepest and most sustained recessions only because of loyal supporters who contributed $35 million to this effort. That would be exceptional at any time; in this economy, it is heroic.
It’s not hard to understand the attraction. The farmers’ market featured lots of good things: fresh fruits and vegetables, artisan breads, locally made cheeses, smoked fish, organic honey and much more. Student groups contributed to the bounty, too, making and selling panini with organic ingredients and traditional Vietnamese spring rolls; they also sold the fresh salad greens harvested from the student-run greenhouse next to the Presidents’ House.
The most remarkable thing about it, from my perspective, is that the market owes its existence to student initiative. It was created through the leadership of the student-run group, AfterTaste, with help from the provost’s office administrative assistant, Bernice Morrissey, and Jennis Heal, executive chef with Wheaton’s food service provider, Aramark. It exemplifies what can be accomplished when the college empowers students to be leaders and entrepreneurs, and it provides the space to experiment with new ideas. It’s also a good example of one way to create opportunities for learning. [Read more...]
Some commentators have interpreted that invocation of the 50-year-old Soviet satellite’s launch as a call for renewed investments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To be sure, these are worthy areas on which to focus. However, scientific innovation will require educators and policy makers to think more broadly and boldly.
Over the past six months, I have been reading about a movement among educators and scientists to integrate the arts into STEM education initiatives. (Wheaton Professor of Education Vicki Bartolini is engaged in a planning effort aimed at early childhood classrooms.) The resulting new acronym, STEAM, has provided a rallying point for some academics to assert the value of the arts in education. Personally, I was already convinced. Based on my own experience, I have always believed that there is a relationship between proficiency and natural ability in the arts and a proclivity toward math and science. A number of research studies seem to support this idea, particularly the link between math and music. Nonetheless, this emerging point of view underscores just how prescient the Wheaton faculty were when they developed the “Connections Curriculum” almost 10 years ago.
Initially, every success at being able to play a piece of music was supremely satisfying. I already appreciated classical music, thanks to my parents, whose passion for it led them to share it with my brothers and me. Being able to play it for myself was a revelation.
I couldn’t put the instrument down. I practiced for hours at a time, teaching myself how to play Bach’s Suite for Cello #1 by studying a film of a Pablo Casals performance, borrowed from the local public library. My mother later told me that she sometimes left the house, simply to get away from the constant sound of false starts, muffed notes and abrupt stops.
That initial drive to master the music brought me to the attention of music professor Elizabeth Potteiger at the nearby Miami University of Ohio. I took lessons from her every Saturday for four years, and I learned a great deal, about playing the cello, injecting artistry into performances, and life’s possibilities. Her life as an academic and a musician served as an early inspiration and model for my own path.