Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Snow long, winter

By the time you read this, I hope that I’m wearing a lovely short-sleeved blouse, stylish capri pants and high-heeled sandals, and sitting on a bench on the deck of Balfour-Hood complaining about how hot it is.

Page2-Between-lines-1I write this today not quite sure that this will be the case. It is the fifth day of spring, and, yet, I just wrote the umpteenth winter storm alert to email to the campus community, because the “s” word is on the way—again.

It has been an ugly New England winter. Just consider the numbers: By early March, Wheaton’s buildings and grounds crew had used 250 tons of rock salt; 2,000 bags of ice melt (50 pounds each); and responded to 19 snow or ice-related storms (double the amount during the same time frame last winter).

However, there was still great beauty to be found. The campus landscape, of course, was gloriously picture-perfect draped in white. But the most beautiful sights were the ones that took place in offices in the hours leading up to the storms, when staff members began watching forecasts, making plans; and in the darkness of the late nights and early mornings, when buildings and grounds crews showed up time and again eager to dig out the campus parking lots and clear off the pathways to make everything nice and safe for everyone, before we even considered venturing out.

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Auto reply: Out today, living

Between-Lines-ElliotCatching up with Elliott Mazzola ’09 (in photo) isn’t easy. Often it can take several emails and a few pokes on Facebook to get him to respond. And, when he finally does, you might get something back like this:

“Hi, Sandy, sorry for the delay. I’ve just come back from the Cannes Film Festival and I am moving to Berlin tomorrow, where I will be skydiving for the summer.” 

Or, the adventurer, who lives in France, will just show up in the Wheaton Communications Office in Norton, Mass., on a random October afternoon, as he passes through town on his way to California to rack up some hours skydiving in preparation for maybe one day trying out BASE jumping (from a fixed object, using a parachute to break the fall).

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Singing praises 

Although I graduated from Wheaton in 1985 (at the age of 60), I don’t believe I’d given much thought to the day-to-day operations and preparations for events at the college until my youngest son, John [Mitchell], joined Wheaton’s Building Services Department in 1993. That’s when I first began to hear about what he referred to as the “smoke and mirrors” that contributed to the success of almost every campus event, and throughout the next 17 years, John was to share with me funny, frustrating and incredible stories of Wheaton’s behind-the-scenes staff—Wheaton’s unsung heroes.

The individuals who collectively are Wheaton’s staff work at all hours, on weekends as well as weekdays, in the daylight and in the dark. They arrange for food, reroute the traffic, keep the campus safe, deliver packages, unlock doors, make the lights turn on and the toilets flush. They monitor the weather, ring chapel bells, and move tables and chairs. To the rest of us (alums, students, faculty, guests), the day-to-day operations, meetings, events and landmark occasions just happen.

John was Wheaton’s supervisor of materials management when he died of cancer in 2011. To my surprise, I was contacted in 2012 about an event the staff and Wheaton was planning to hold in his memory. Last April, the Second Annual John Mitchell Memorial 5K Race/Walk was held.

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And so we begin

This is a dangerous time for me. Fall. New school supply season.

It doesn’t matter that I have been out of school for more years than I care to remember; there is just something about all those new, fresh glue sticks, unsharpened pencils, and crisp tablets (the old-fashioned kind that don’t involve a keyboard, thank you very much) that call my name—and wallet. I resist, of course, lest I end up on one of those hoarders TV shows.

I think it is the promise of “beginning” again that gets me every time—new pencils for solving new problems, new tablets for gathering new information, new glue sticks for, well, who knows what.

The possibilities are endless.

And, of course, the sight of our first-year students beginning their journeys at Wheaton and the returning ones picking up where they left off just fuels that feeling. All of them are new stories in the making.

In this issue of the magazine, we celebrate beginnings—Commencement, that walk across the stage into the real world; national awards taking graduates to new places to explore; and full-time jobs that present new opportunities for them to continue to learn.


Professor Tom Armstrong is beginning to catch on to knitting, which he is learning while hanging out in FiberSpace.

Mary Howard ’85 has written a story about alumnae working in the field of information technology, an area sorely lacking in gender diversity. Reading about their career paths, you will find that the beginning of something great can start where you least expect it.

Also, our cover story explores the Wheaton Autonomous Learning Laboratory and FiberSpace, founded by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong. Both places offer members of the Wheaton community hands-on learning opportunities to make stuff. Be it a game piece created with the college’s new 3-D printer (very Star Trek) or an old-fashioned knitted scarf, like the one Professor Armstrong attempted last semester, the goal, he says, is to “try, fail, try again, learn.”

I’m thinking about getting over to FiberSpace myself this semester to figure out how to make a fiber-optic tutu to wear to Zumba class.

I might need a glue stick.

Photo by Sandra Coleman