New Students

Countdown to Orientation: 2 Days and Counting

get ready, get set, GO!!!

A few of you who came from across the globe are here, some of you are on your way, and many others will be making the trek Saturday and early Sunday morning.  We are ready for you.  We have worked for one year on this year's Orientation.  The anticipation on campus is palpable.

Remember to start by visiting us in the Lobby of Converse Hall between 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM Sunday morning August 25 to pick up your Orientation packet.  If you arrive late, you can pick up your packet and keys from Campus Police.

Countdown to Orientation: 9 Days and Counting

 Get ready, Get Set….

 I know the anticipation is rising.  Your nervousness is palpable.  Perhaps the butterflies seem to have set up permanent residency in your stomach.   What to bring?  How to prepare?  What is my roommate going to be like?  What if I don’t like my RC (impossible) or I can’t make friends.  What if I have to eat at Val by myself?  How do I know if I’m smart enough to make it in the classrooms?

·      You have been getting ready for Amherst College your whole life.  Each time you read long after the lights out call, each moment you ventured to make a point that was perhaps not the most popular one, each risk you took to think of a new perspective, each time you sat back and appreciated the beauty of a solution to an equation, a painting on canvas, a well executed dive, you were getting ready.

·      You will be welcomed into this community for yourself, not who you want to be or who you were.  This institution will change because of you just as you will be changed by it.  You have what it takes to make a difference here.  You just have to believe it.

·      In fairytales, your roommate is your best friend forever; best man or maid of honor at your wedding, like a brother or a sister.  Sometimes that is true but it doesn’t have to be love at first sight to be an amazing experience for you.  Each one of you has a story to tell, and many, many stories to hear.   Find your voice and listen with an open mind and an open heart.  Start with your roommate.  The rest will follow.

·      Don’t take yourself too seriously.  You will make mistakes, you will do embarrassing things, and you will survive.  Hopefully you can laugh at yourself.  The flip side of this is that you shouldn’t be too hard on others.  Know that they are trying their best and have the grace to give them the benefit of the doubt.

·       Trust your faculty and administration to be devoted to your success.  At the end of the day, we are on your side.  Together, we ARE Amherst College.    


Countdown to Orientation: 16 Days and Counting

Why is contributing to the e-CHECKUP TO GO  survey so important?

 Your class will arrive at a very different Amherst than did the class of 2016 and previous classes with respect to our consciousness and vigilance regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment.  Last year’s events revealed a serious lack of transparency and communication between the student body and the administration, a revelation we have tried to remedy through a multi-tiered approach, consisting of re-training, re-formulating, and re-learning how to be an institution that is open, caring, and accountable to its students. A blue ribbon committee of faculty, staff and students put together a report based on its analysis of the data that had been collected for sexual assault and harassment cases at Amherst College.  This analysis highlighted several areas relevant to you, the entering class of 2017.   One is that education regarding sexual assault must be front and foremost in our Orientation.  To that end, we have completely re-worked the discussion of the honor code on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing in some outside expertise and new on-campus leadership.  Perhaps more importantly, we have recruited a team of student leaders, and worked with them since last spring to train them to be the role models and mentors that will guide you through some of the rough spots that accompany your transitions to this completely new social scene. 

 What does all this have to do with alcohol?  Our data is consistent with national data and shows a high correlation between the incidence of sexual assault and alcohol consumption.  Please do remember that correlation is not causation, and we do not wish to imply that if you choose to drink alcohol, you will commit or become the victim of sexual assault.  Furthermore, it is NEVER the victim’s fault in a sexual assault.  Still, in our programming to make sure you have the best start to your four years at Amherst as possible, we wanted to give you a tool to assess where your own behavior might put you at risk. 

Our new Dean of Students, Director of Health Education, Dean of Student Conduct, and the head of Information Technology worked together to investigate what instrument might best achieve that goal.  They consulted with other institutions and read national evaluations of the various electronic tools out there.  Working with several recent graduates and a handful of current students, they “test drove” several of the products.  In the end, though we knew it was not perfect, e-CHECKUP TO GO was selected as the best of the available instrument.  As you know, it is totally confidential, and your results will never be shared individually with anyone.   You were the first class to be asked to take this online program in the beginning of July when we launched e-CHECKUP TO GO.

In mid-July, student feedback prompted us to further review the language in some of the questions of e-CHECKUP TO GO as it was found to not be sufficiently sensitive to the issues surrounding sexual assault.  The language was deemed problematic as it could be understood to imply that a survivor of sexual assault who is drunk bears some blame for her/his assault.  We immediately communicated with the company and they rewrote those questions to be more clear that it is never the survivor’s fault.   So, if you took e-CHECKUP TO GO in early July, you may wish to revisit the site and see if you can notice the difference.  

I will end this blog post by re-emphasizing that, at Amherst College, you matter.  What you think matters, and we pledge to work with you to co-create a campus that fully embodies and supports the depth, talent, and diversity of not only the College as a whole, but also your amazing class of 2017.

Countdown to Orientation: 23 Days and Counting

 Catastrophe is my topic for today. As curious as that may seem, it explains many things about why Betsy Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe,” was chosen as your freshman book by a committee of students and faculty, and by your president, Biddy Martin.  Regardless of what you may hear from others, I hope to convince you to read this book carefully and critically.

So, your book was chosen in an effort to integrate your freshman read into other intellectual themes on campus that have a life beyond Orientation.  This book connects with the 2013-2014 theme for the Copeland Colloquium “Catastrophe and the Catastrophic.”  The Copeland Program is a cross-cultural initiative that has been at the College since 1971.  This year, the theme was chosen so as to address “the social, cultural, and historical meaning of catastrophe and to examine the role and representation of catastrophe in religion, the visual arts, literature, law, and politics as well as understandings of catastrophe that emerge in the natural and physical sciences and in the study of the environment.” The Copeland program will bring to campus scholars from “the humanities, social sciences, and natural or physical sciences, including anthropologists, literary scholars, historians, sociologists, philosophers, legal scholars, environmental scientists, and others whose work illuminates, directly or indirectly, the role of catastrophe in art, literature, religion, law, science, and politics.”  There will be speakers, courses, and discussions throughout the academic year to which we hope you will contribute. 

During Orientation, you will all take part in a discussion of the book with a faculty or staff member on Monday, August 26th just prior to Betsy Kolbert’s lecture at 7:30 PM.   These discussions will be in small groups of 10-15 students.  Your voice will shape the discussion, and to do that, you must read the book carefully, critically, and be ready to contribute.  I would challenge you all to think about our collective human and individual response to catastrophes and the catastrophic in general.  Be ready to answer the question which is the theme of our Orientation “What will YOU do?”

Countdown to Orientation: 30 Days and Counting

A milestone of one month to go!  By now, many of you have noticed that your first year seminars are on AC_Data.  I am pleased to let you know that over 90% of you got your first, second, or third choice.  It is not possible to change seminars, and even if you were one of the one or two students who got your sixth choice (no one got their last choice) you will have a great experience. 

This first year seminar grouping is very important.  I work with the Registrar's Office to fit you in to as high a choice as we can while maintaining gender and other demographic balance within each classroom.  While it is not possible for a group of 15 students to ever represent the diversity that is present in a group of 464, we try. This is also important to the faculty who teach you and to the experience you will have in the classroom.

Perhaps you might not remember from our Admissions info, but your First Year Seminar is the only required course at the College (with the exception of your major).  The emphasis is on critical reading and writing, and while each seminar is a bit different in content, they each have that as an ultimate goal.  For some of you, you might hear from your Professor before the semester of a reading assignment or writing sample that you might have to do before you meet with your first year seminar for the first official meeting on  September 3rd.  Check you email account periodically over the month.  Others will not hear anything until the first meeting. 

Countdown to Orientation: 37 Days and Counting

Field Notes from a Catastrophe

In your summer reading, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert  presents the case for anthropogenically induced climate change. I write this from my sweltering non-air conditioned home, where the temperature hasn't dipped below 37oC for several days after having left my even hotter office since a power emergency in New England resulted in the College reducing power to non-essential services (at least I now know where I stand).  Are the wide fluctuations of hot and cold, and hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, or snowstorms like that of October 2011 which left us without power in our home for a week- just random or are they glimpses of your future and your children's future? We are an adaptable species, but at what cost?  Our legacy to your generation - of bigger and faster and more - seems to have been a toxic one.

The mission statement of Amherst College directs us all to strive for "Lives of Consequence."  Kolbert's purpose is not to evoke despair or even to offer hope, but rather to lay out the case. While despair or hope won't change the present, they are the key elements to shape the future for worse or for better.  It is my hope that this critical challenge presented so compellingly by Kolbert,  will be one we don't shy away from.  Each of us has a role to play to make ensure that future generations might build their own "Lives of Consequence." 

Countdown to Orientation: 44 Days and Counting


The Robert Frost Library is the main library on campus, though there are several branch libraries including Science, Math, Music, Russian, and probably several more that I don't even know about.  This should be the first stop many of you make to do some background research for your first paper.  Some of you may get a chance to work with materials in the special collections (my favorite is a copy of Darwin's Journal written on the Beagle).  Many students find the Library a great place to work in the evenings because it is quiet and is open until 1 AM most nights (open 24 hours during finals).  You won't find a more supportive group of people in the library staff and their real mission is to help you learn.  Today, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the folks in the library. 

First, there’s Bryn Geffert, the Head of the Library.  One of the first things he did was to establish a baseline of what has come to be called "information literacy" for students at the college.  He is also passionate about equal access to scholarship and has helped the faculty come to a consensus that they would fight to retain copyright of their scholarly work so that the College could allow access of it to people who might not be able to afford journal prices.  He helped start up an Amherst press.  You can catch him in the gym at lunchtime, or at the basketball games in the Winter.   

 Geffert stands with a long line of staff who are all here with the goal of helping you be the best student you can be.  When you are there late at night, Bilal Muhammed will keep an eye on you and help you find what you need. 

 A new addition is the Frost cafe´ where Tony Esposito will be happy to pick out the freshest killer brownie for you and pulls a mean latte.   The class of 2013 voted Tony an honorary member of the class when they graduated.       

Countdown to Orientation 51 Days and Counting

Some of you have written to me to ask about Student Employment. Many students get casual jobs on campus, though there is a limit to how many hours that students are allowed to work. When I hire students to work in my lab, I limit them to ten hours per week.  You can find out about the opportunities for this at the New Student Job Fair on Tuesday, September 3rd, from Noon to 2:00 PM in the Friedmann Room of the Campus Center. 

My experience for students who wish to get jobs in particular departments, such as Chemistry, is to stop by the department offices during the first few weeks of school (location and name of the departmental coordinator is usually on the website for the department) and just ask if there are any employment opportunies in the department.  If you have a faculty member you really enjoy, ask them if you might work in their lab or help them with their research.  Sometimes faculty may invite you to join in on a project as a volunteer.  If it is possible to do that, say yes!  Once you show your interest and responsibility, that can turn into a paid position.

  Gayle Barton, Head of Information Technology has this to say to folks who wish to work in IT: We do hire freshmen as lab supervisors and hire upperclassmen to staff the help desk. We also hire experienced students to support the multimedia development facilities in the Center for Creative Technology.  The lab supervisor application process starts with the Job Fair at the start of the freshman orientation week.  Applications are taken online and screened, then students are interviewed by experienced IT student workers and the staff member (Linda Allen) who supervises them. Multimedia support hiring is done by John Kunhardt's team.

 Other students like to work with Campus Safety and Security.  Others volunteer with Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS).  These jobs take specialized training, usually offered in January, so they might not be appropriate for your first semester, but stay tuned to announcements to sign up for January trainings.


Countdown to Orientation - 58 Days and Counting

Hello everyone.  What an amazing week it has been with the weather here in New England: lightning and thunder storms of great majesty followed by a light show put on by lightning bugs in my back yard. As the storm passed over on Wednesday, a most amazing full moon rose in the east to a chorus of coyotes.  Yes, we do have lightning, lightning bugs and coyotes in Amherst, MA, but I reassure you they bring wonder and remind all of us of how small we are in the big scheme of things. 

One of you asked me if I could speak of my first days at my College.  This made me laugh as it means I have to make a confession to all of you.  Your Dean who is organizing your Orientation in fact never got to go to her own Orientation.  

I began my College career at Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y. in 1972 -  an auspicious year in which the aftershocks of the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Rights, and antigovernment protests were still being felt. I was a (little) bit of a rebel and felt more comfortable protesting than participating.  I was also dirt poor and though I had a full scholarship, I (like many of you) was working full time that summer to help pay for my additional college expenses.  I was a chambermaid and a bartender at a resort in the Catskills, Edgemere.  My employer believed he couldn't spare me for that Labor Day Weekend as it was a big end of summer event - they needed all hands present.  So, I stayed and worked, and missed my own Orientation.

My classes at Adelphi were predictable for a future chemistry major:  Intro Chem, Intro Calculus, an English class, and German (at that time required for a chemistry major).  This is what I remember from my first classes:  a chemistry class where I met my best friend who was my lab partner for 4 years and who six years later married our lab instructor; a calculus class after lunch with a Prof whose pacing back and forth in the front of the room lulled us into a deep hypnotic trance, a german class that I loved, and an English class that I hated.  Why? That's another story.

Two of my ten brothers attended Adelphi as well, one, Tom was fourteen months older and a computer science major and the other, John was a first year graduate student in Psychology. None of my four sisters went to a four year College.  All of my siblings lived at home, with our parents, and I commuted the 25 miles back and forth - most days.    Other days, I crashed with my best friend, Diane, and her room mate, Evelyn, on their dorm room floor.  They fed me food from the dining hall squirreled out in styrofoam coffee cups and bags, and we had the best time ever.

All my collegiate siblings had jobs during the semester as well.  My job was a salesgirl in the junior sportsware department at Macy's in the Mall.  I was well loved there because I could count and I liked the employee discount to buy my clothes.

So, my first year went by in a blur, I was happy and busy, and I met some of the most important people who even to this day are people who inspire me and keep me grounded.  It is really the people who shape you even as you shape those around you.  For this reason, I can not wait to get you all here, so as to play a small role in the way in which you all will be transformed even as you are transforming this College.



Countdown to Orientation - 65 Days and Counting

We are putting the final touches on many of the programs for Orientation, and will meet next week to get the brochure to the printer.  I do believe we have the longest and most comprehensive Orientation Program of any small (or large) college.

The rough outline for the week is introductions and welcome, academics and registration, discussion of the honor code, and community building events. There are two large public talks, at least two student written, directed and acted shows, and almost 200 other events over the week.   

Families are welcome for the first one and a half days of welcomes, photos, celebrations, barbecues, open houses and other events.  

Day two, Monday, focuses on academic matters, with panels meetings in the AM after which family are asked to leave, academic department meetings Monday afternoon, a small group "class" on Monday evening followed by the DeMott Lecture by Betsy Kolbert on your summer reading, "Field Notes from a Catastrophe."

Tuesday you will be meeting with your Academic Advisors and registering for classes.  You also have other meetings to speak about (and sign) the honor code.  The RC show is that evening (great fun!)

Wed wraps up most of the mandatory programming with four hours of programming regarding Title IX issues, respect for persons, and diversity and inclusion.  Wed evening is the not to be missed upper class student comedy "New Voices" in which your admissions essays are (anonymously) excerpted.  

Thurs begins the optional programming - fall athletes will be at practice, some of you will go on Outdoor Trips, others will be doing Community Service trips, and still others will be networking with Faculty on Campus and enjoying some special program put on by a variety of student clubs.  

Friday is the free trip to Boston for those who sign up early and are not on the athletic fields, in the woods, on the Conneticut River or climbing rocks or working in food shelters or otherwise engaged with the community.

Saturday you get a chance to "Mix-it-Up" with returning upperclassmen who flock back to campus by this point.

Sunday, President Martin will host a barbecue at her house.

Monday, we bring Orientation to a close with another student script "Classroom 101" that treats with great humor some of the concerns and worries that students have in anticipation of their first days of College.  Monday evening is the official start of the College with a formal Convocation during which the President gives a speech, the faculty wear funny academic regalia, and the choirs sing the college songs.

Tuesday, classes start.

Please let me know if there is any aspect of Orienation you would like to know more about.  I can include it in a future blog.  You can always email be at