Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Letters to the editor

Autism story shows contrast to earlier days

Congratulations on your article about autism in the winter Quarterly. It is truly amazing to see how many media stories there are now about autism spectrum disorders, something few people knew of back in 1974 when I was hired to teach a class of 3-year-old autistic children.

I answered an ad in the local Westchester County newspaper looking for a teacher in this field. When I read the ad, I thought it said “artistic” children. Since I had majored in art at Wheaton and had a master’s degree in elementary education, I thought I’d apply. Little did I know what I was getting into. I had four children in my first class, all nonverbal, severely autistic, self-abusive, spinning, no social skills, etc., and it was quite something to deal with.

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Full STEAM ahead

President Obama’s State of the Union address yielded one sound bite that has been replayed and re-examined a great deal. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said, arguing for a concerted effort to reinvest in the foundations of the American economy.

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.

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Home grown: Students cultivate “real food” movement

Farmers market“Eating local” is a practice that’s growing faster than corn in July. In a 2009 survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, professional chefs ranked locally grown produce as the hottest food trend of the year.

When it comes to local, you can’t get any closer than your own backyard—or in Wheaton’s case, the Dimple.

Last fall, a group of Wheaton students teamed up with Jennis Heal, executive chef in Dining Services, to organize a weekly farmers’ market in the Dimple. Students, faculty and staff flocked to the Friday afternoon markets to purchase produce, breads, cheeses, soaps and other goods offered by local farmers.

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Exhibiting an interest in art and medicine

Rebecca Sieburth '11

Sculpting in the art studio at Wheaton.

Rebecca Sieburth ’11 enjoys working with her hands—whether it is sculpting clay in the art studio, or handling supplies in an operating room.

It is not often that one gets to do both, but Sieburth, a studio art major who is also focusing on courses that will prepare her for medical school has. Last summer she interned at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Assigned to a vascular surgery team at a Veterans Affairs hospital, she spent eight weeks on a surgery rotation, in a role similar to that of a medical student.

Assisting in the operating room

Assisting in the operating room

Work began with rounds every morning at 6 a.m., with Sieburth carrying supplies and assisting with bandaging. Then, at 7:30 a.m., when the operating rooms opened, she would scrub in to have an up-close look during a variety of surgical procedures—from amputations to carotid endarterectomies, which involve removing a fatty buildup of plaque from the carotid artery. Under close supervision,  she occasionally got to hold a retractor to help surgeons see inside the incision site.

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