Frost Library acquires rare and comprehensive Native American book collection

Submitted on Friday, 9/20/2013, at 4:45 PM

By Peter Rooney

Amherst College’s Frost Library has acquired what experts consider to be the most complete collection of Native American literature and history in existence, ranging from religious pamphlets published before the United States officially existed to first-edition novels by noted crime novelist Martin Cruz Smith.

Although just announced this week, the Pablo Eisenberg Collection of Native American Literature was acquired in August. It will be renamed the Younghee Kim-Wait ’82 Pablo Eisenberg Collection to honor the financial support of alumna Younghee Kim-Wait ’82, whose generous gift helped make the acquisition possible. Book dealer Ken Lopez of Hadley, Mass. assisted in brokering the sale.

examining the collection

Examining the collection

“This collection is significant because it is a collection of works written by Native Americans,” said College Librarian Bryn Geffert. “It presents a unique opportunity for Native American Studies scholars here at Amherst and elsewhere to mine the most complete collection ever compiled by a single collector.”

Two Amherst professors who are Native American Studies scholars and have begun helping unpack the collection from its 32 boxes say they are astounded by the intellectual treasures it holds.

“Since the collection arrived, it is difficult to describe how it has felt – like suddenly being amidst a seemingly infinite living sea, a literary and intellectual tradition that I have been studying and teaching, immersed in, my whole life,” said Lisa Brooks, associate professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College, and co-chair of the Five Colleges Native American Indian Studies program.

“It is one thing to know it exists, to write about the authors, the networks between them, to teach them in classes, to once in a while, hold a first edition, signed by the author, in your hands,” Brooks added. “It is another to experience that immersion, physically surrounded by these books – some of them hundreds of years old, in perfect condition -- and to see that vast network all around you, to visibly see the connections between them, to hold one book after the other in your hands, the pages opening before you, inviting you to know, to understand more.”

Holding and examining documents written by key figures in Native American history has been an emotional experience, said Kiara Vigil, an assistant professor of American Studies at Amherst.

“I was brought to tears upon finding an original handbook of the Constitutional by-laws for the National Council of American Indians, created and founded by Gertrude Bonnin in 1926,” Vigil said. “Bonnin’s life and writings are central to my first book on turn-of-the-20th-century Native intellectuals. As far as I know no other archival collection, including those that have Bonnin’s personal papers, have a copy of this particular document.”

Professors Vigil and Brooks react

Professors Vigil (L) and Brooks (R)

The collection is composed of nearly 1,500 volumes written by American Indian writers from the 1700s to the 21st century – including myths and legends, tribal histories, religious tracts, biographies and memoirs, fiction, poetry, drama and historical and political writings. It includes nearly 600 volumes of nonfiction and almost 900 volumes of literary works. According to Michael Kelly, director of archives and special collections at Amherst, the collection includes hundreds of items not held by any of the major collections of Native materials in North America, including at Harvard and Yale.

“If you read or hear about a book about any American Indian author from the 19th and 20th Century, I don’t even have to look – we have it,” said Michael Kelly, Frost Library’s head of Archives and Special Collections. “The comprehensive nature of the collection is what makes it special. We have the Native American authors you’ve heard of and for every Native American author you’ve heard of there are two dozen you haven’t heard of whose books we also now have.” (For a link with more information about the collection’s holdings, go here.)

Brooks agreed, calling the collection “startling” in its range and comprehensiveness. “It represents a vast knowledge of the depth and complexity of an indigenous American literary tradition that so many people do not even realize exists,” she said.

What is especially exciting to the two professors, Frost librarians and the donor alike is the relevance of the collection to the classroom. Brooks is planning a course focused on Native American literature and intellectual traditions, while Vigil is planning a seminar course called “History of the Native Book.’

“In this class students will be able to compare different editions of rare books by Native authors from the 18th century to today,” Vigil said. “Not only will they learn about book studies, Native histories, and the intersection between American Studies and Native Studies, but in many cases because of the scope of this collection it is likely that they will be able to conduct original research.”

One recent morning, Danielle Trevino ’14 met with Brooks, Vigil and Kelly to review the collection. Trevino later said she is very impressed with what she saw, and plans to tap into the collection as she writes her senior honors thesis.

michael kelly

Michael Kelly (C), with Brooks, (L) and Vigil (R)

“My thesis focuses heavily on contextualizing early 20th-century Osage life as a way of understanding social tensions affecting Osage author and politician John Joseph Mathews,” she said. “The collection includes some of his writing, but it's difficult to evaluate how much of it will be used in my thesis. Even as my professors and I were exploring the books laid out for us, there were boxes upon boxes stacked along the back wall of the reading room. I have a feeling there must be some sort of buried thesis treasure in there.”

Trevino added she has great hopes that the collection will play a key role in invigorating Native American Studies, at Amherst and elsewhere.

“My hope is that researchers will begin to see Amherst as a crucial place for this kind of work and will bring new perspectives to our academic and cultural environments,” she said.

That of course is music to Geffert's ears.

“As a librarian, nothing is so gratifying as seeing acquisitions promote and enliven the work of our faculty and students,” he said.

Kelly, who is planning a January exhibition (at Frost and online) of highlights from the collection, agreed.

“This is exactly how collection development should work – to serve the interests of faculty and students,” Kelly said. “We had almost nothing in this area before, and now we have a world class collection that we could not have accumulated on our own.”


The Poet and the Puppeteer

Submitted on Thursday, 8/22/2013, at 10:55 AM

Article by Katherine Duke ’05

Photos by Michael Bauman

On a warm July evening, on the grassy lawn of the Wilder Observatory, six actors and a musician from the Mettawee River Theatre Company gathered in front of an audience of all ages and used puppets and poetry to bring a medieval Welsh tale to life. Taliesin—which blends mythology and real historical figures—tells of a boy magically reborn as a sorcerer-poet and adopted by a fisherman and his wife, who uses his extraordinary gifts to shake things up in the king’s court. The performance was the result of a joint effort between two theater professionals who first collaborated at Amherst College more than 55 years ago.

Actors and puppets gathered around a cauldron
Actors and puppets from the Mettawee River Theatre Company, during a production of Taliesin on the Wilder Observatory lawn

Robert Bagg ’57 and Ralph Lee ’57 lived together in Phi Alpha Psi, which Lee describes as a fraternity full of “freethinkers” and “people who were into music and fine arts.” Lee had grown up in Vermont, putting on puppet shows, designing masks for the local Halloween parade and performing at Middlebury College, where his mother taught modern dance. Bagg was a fledgling poet and scholar of Greek, learning from such Amherst professors as James Merrill ’47 and Robert Frost. Senior year, Bagg translated Euripides’ satyr play The Cyclops; Lee directed the production and created masks for all the characters. According to Bagg, Lee then encouraged him to write a play based on The Odyssey, and together they dramatized its Nausicaa episode.

“That undergrad exposure to Greek drama set me off on a lifelong career vector, translating the Athenian playwrights into contemporary speech,” Bagg writes in his Amherst Alumni Directory profile. To date, Bagg’s translations of eight plays by Euripides and Sophocles have been the basis of nearly 70 productions around the world. His Oedipus the King and Antigone are included in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, and his Antigone in the forthcoming second edition of The Norton Anthology of Drama. Bagg also taught at UMass for many years and has published numerous collections of original poetry. His current major project is a critical biography of poet and Amherst lecturer Richard Wilbur ’42 (an excerpt from which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Amherst magazine).

Bard, King and Queen puppets

Lee’s path after Amherst led him on a Fulbright Scholarship to study mime and modern dance in Paris, followed by a year at the London Academy of Dramatic Art. Then he found employment as an actor, mask-maker and designer in New York City, creating props and puppets for Shari Lewis’ TV show and the “Land Shark” for the iconic Saturday Night Live sketch, as well as working with numerous theater and dance companies. While teaching at Bennington College in the mid-1970s, Lee staged a theatrical event with giant puppets all over the campus and realized that “they took on a very vibrant life when they were outdoors.” This inspired him to found and direct the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, for which he won an Obie Award in 1975, and to sign on as artistic director of the Mettawee in 1976.

Based in Salem, N.Y., and Manhattan, the Mettawee specializes in shows with “large puppets and visual effects that are especially arranged for the out-of-doors. And a lot of the plays are based on myths and legends from one culture or another, which all really have a lot to do with the forces of nature,” Lee says. “To be out there in nature, and perhaps have … an incredible moon come out toward the end of your show, or a blue heron fly out of the swamp that’s in the area behind where you’re performing—little surprise events like that just tend to contribute something marvelous.”

Actors hold branches with figures of moon and stars against the night sky

Early this year, Lee sought someone to script the Mettawee’s planned Taliesin show. “I was really looking for a poet, because it’s all about poetry and inspiration,” he says. “That’s why I called Bob.” Bagg was at work on the Wilbur biography, but he decided he owed a favor to the friend who had led him into the world of Greek drama. So Lee and his wife, costume designer and founding Mettawee member Casey Compton, wrote up a scenario, which Bagg fleshed out with dialogue and lyrics, based on existing translations of the Welsh folklore and the writings of at least one real medieval poet who went by the name Taliesin. For several months, they collaborated mainly by phone and computer—Bagg sending drafts from his home in Worthington, Mass., and Lee giving feedback from New York, where he was rehearsing with the actors, creating masks and puppets out of papier-mâché,cardboard and a variety of other materials

In July and August, the Mettawee took the show on the road, performing on lawns and in parks throughout New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. The Wilder Observatory show was part of the Kō Festival of Performance, which takes place every summer on the Amherst campus; the Mettawee has been involved with the festival for some 20 years. Lee appreciates the many features of the Observatory lawn that make it a great venue for a play: it’s tucked away from the noises of the street, the surrounding trees enhance the acoustics, and the ground slopes gently, giving the audience a better view.

“And occasionally,” he adds, “there are still some old friends of mine from my Amherst days that will show up, which is really wonderful.”

This time, it was Bagg who showed up, not just as a name credited in the program but as a viewer in the crowd as well. He declared the show “just about perfect.”

Bagg and Lee with arms around each other's shoulders  
Robert Bagg '57 (left) and Ralph Lee '57 at a production of Taliesin in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

The Mettawee River Theatre Company’s summer season will culminate in September with several performances of Taliesin at Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, where Ralph Lee ’57 is a longtime artist-in-residence.


The Alchemy of a Successful Internship

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/6/2013, at 11:48 AM

Julia Alexander, the Center for Community Engagement’s public service internship coordinator, is bringing reflection and social justice to the heart of the CCE’s internship programs. Story by Jenny Morgan, photo by Eugene Lee '16.

As 127 students are immersed in internships across 15 states and 13 countries, public service internship coordinator Julia Alexander is eagerly waiting to learn how these internships might shape their future work or lead to unexpected discoveries. This summer—her first in the position—Alexander is coordinating two internship programs: the Civic Engagement Scholars and Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer.

Alexander knows firsthand that internships can lead to unexpected discoveries.

In the summer of 2007, Alexander traveled to Stellenbosch, South Africa, as part of an undergraduate service-learning program. She lived and studied in the city and worked as an afterschool volunteer in Kayamandi, a nearby township. “Just seeing the contrast in wealth distribution and the racial segregation was profound for me,” she says. “As a young white woman having grown up with a lot of privilege, I often questioned inequality in America. In South Africa, I was able to see this weirdly parallel racial history. It took me stepping outside of my community to fully understand it. When I returned, I had this whole other lens with which to view race, society and myself.”

Alexander credits this program with transforming the trajectory of her career—and that’s exactly the kind of experience she hopes interns are having now. “I think my role is to challenge students to be critically engaged with the process,” she says. “I don’t want students to just go and do something. I want them to think about how it relates to their academics, their passions or their professions.”

Part of this critical engagement means asking students to reflect along the way. As part of the Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer, Alexander facilitates a Friday seminar with the 19 interns, who are living together at Amherst. Interns share their experiences, write reflections and engage with community members through lunches and panels.

Alexander is also zooming in on how interns engage with the idea of social justice—regardless of the internship’s focus. “Social justice asks us to be reflective of who we are and where we are and how our position in society affects our relationships,” she says. “When you are talking about a program that is asking students to engage with people they might not necessarily have contact with before, [understanding] social justice is the key to a successful internship.” As a trained facilitator in intergroup dialogue, Alexander has already facilitated some student-initiated dialogues at Amherst on gender and socioeconomic class. “It’s about being open and listening,” she says. “There’s a demand that students are making to have their identities and experiences heard and valued.”

Alexander looks forward to guiding students through reflections after the summer draws to an end. She plans to ask them: “What changes have happened? Who are you now, who were you before?” Much learning takes place “in the process of reflection after the experience has taken place,” she says. With Alexander at the helm, this year’s interns are in good hands every step of the way.

The Medical School Doctor is In

Submitted on Monday, 7/22/2013, at 4:33 PM

Summer days at Amherst College are among the busiest of the year for Dr. Richard Aronson ’69, a physician who spends his days reviewing medical school applications, writing letters of recommendations, mentoring students and alumni and doing anything else needed to help prepare Amherst graduates for careers in health.

Dean Aronson, the health professions adviser at Amherst’s Career Center, says he might be one of only a handful of physicians in the country working as an undergraduate career adviser and mentor in higher education.

He believes – and his colleagues agree – that his professional background as a clinical pediatrician for 10 years, and as a public health official in Vermont, Wisconsin and Maine provides Amherst students a rare opportunity to gain perspective from someone who’s been through what they aspire to achieve.

Richard Aronson, M.D. '69 advises a student about medical school.

The soft-spoken and unassuming Aronson is a passionate mentor to his students, and he tirelessly reaches out to anyone who can help students achieve their personal and professional goals. Working from his College Hall office but willing to venture wherever he’s needed, Aronson estimates he’s had more than 500 meetings or encounters with students and alumni in the past six months alone.

Aronson, who also has a master’s in public health, recently took a break from his busy summer to discuss his important job with Peter Rooney, Amherst College’s Director of Public Affairs. An edited transcript follows below. 

Q: Compared to when you were at Amherst, are more or fewer students interested in becoming doctors?

A: I don’t think [the number] has changed. Every year we have approximately 50 to 60 applicants for medical school, but these days, that number spans several graduating classes. So this summer we’re working with 50  applicants for medical school, along with one dental school applicant, from the classes of 2014 to 2009.

Another thing that has changed in a significant way is that most students don’t go right to medical school from Amherst. Most students who go onto med school take one or two or even three years between college and starting medical school.

In a broader sense, the number of students interested in public health and global health has skyrocketed.  While some of these students incorporate this interest into medicine, an increasing number discover ways to integrate public health into a wide variety of other health professions careers.

Q: Why are students taking that extra time before medical school?

A: Students want to get more experience and to do something concrete in the world before going into another intensive period of study.

Taking time after Amherst also makes them a stronger candidate, because they have that much more experience and maturity to balance out their application.

Q: How is your advice to students informed by your experience as a physician?

A: I feel very strongly that it’s important [for students] to really explore why they want to pursue the health professions, to be sure that it’s their passion and they love it.

I also emphasize that having a low grade in one class isn’t the end of world. There are many paths to medical school, and if medical school doesn’t fit, there are many other professions in health. I’ve had the opportunity to work with all sorts of health care professionals, not just many kinds of physicians, but also nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, social workers, dentists, mental health professionals and public health professionals.

The other thing that being a doctor helps with is that I’m able to connect with the alums in the health professions to create some amazing mentoring opportunities.

But perhaps most important is that I try to convey from my experience the central importance of learning how to honor and respect the dignity of patients, to listen intently and humanely to their unique stories. This is a lifelong journey, and students can start to develop and value this approach while  at Amherst.  There’s a relatively new field of medicine called Narrative Medicine, and Amherst is a natural match for exploring it - the nuance and sensitivity of honoring the stories of illness and healing.

Q: Your own major was religion. Other distinguished alumni in medicine, such as Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus ’61, studied English. These aren’t typical “pre-med” majors. How common are they at Amherst?

A: Amherst has a tradition of turning out humane doctors who have a broad exposure to the liberal arts. We have a substantial number of students who go on to medical school from here who major in non-sciences, probably roughly 1/3. This year, for example, we have students applying to medical school who majored in music, English, history, anthropology, sociology, political science, black studies, psychology,  Spanish, French, and Asian languages/civilizations.

It does require planning and time management and we provide a lot of that support throughout the year from this office in the Career Center and from Professor of Physics William Loinaz, who chairs the health professions committee. We strongly encourage students with even a slight interest in health professions to come and meet with us early on in their Amherst careers so we can get to know them and provide resources for them – connecting them with alumni through the Pathways Mentoring Program who are of great help, dynamic student organizations on campus, the Center for Community Engagement, and many community partners. And for students majoring in science, we strongly encourage them to take a wide variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences.


Q: Why is summer your busiest time?

A: Summer is when students apply to medical school, to dental school and to other health profession schools. They apply in the summer a year before they matriculate at medical school. This summer, our office is working intensely with this year’s cohort of applicants as they write applications. We provide support, advice and guidance as they try to figure out and navigate this very complex and often daunting and competitive process. Also, we work with the large number of professors, coaches, deans, and other staff who spend countless hours writing detailed individual recommendation letters, and to whom we’re always grateful.

Q: How does your office help these students distinguish themselves?

In the summer, in addition to advising students as they apply to medical school, I write what’s called a committee letter. The committee letter is an in-depth portrait, in a sense, a mini-biography, of each applicant in which we tell their unique story – academic, extracurricular, and personal - in a way that’s going to be the most compelling for their candidacy.

We do this in partnership with the health professions committee that consists of four faculty members and is chaired by Professor Loinaz.  I work very closely with Professor Loinaz throughout the entire year.

 The committee letter is a summary of a student’s presentation as a candidate for medical school. It’s drawn from the individual recommendations letters, transcript, resume, personal statement, questionnaire, and my personal knowledge of the applicant gained over the years I’ve worked with them. The personal statement – where the student writes in essence why they want to be a doctor – is a key part of the process. The Writing Center is a key partner in this.  This committee letter takes a lot of work to produce. It has to go through the health professions committee for review and approval. This whole system was created by Professor Stephen George 20 years ago, and fine-tuned over the years by (associate dean of students) Carolyn Bassett. I’m grateful to them for setting it up. Our office is an integral part of the Career Center. In fact, under the direction of Ursula Olender, the Career Center is moving to build on the model of the health professions program and apply it to other fields such as education and the arts.

Q: Has the system been successful?

A: Yes, very. The key is that students apply when they are competitive and ready. We probably average in any given year a roughly 75 to 80 percent acceptance rate. Many students who don’t get in will reapply, and the combination of applying once and then reapplying takes our acceptance up to more than 90 percent.

We pride ourselves at Amherst in not being a cutthroat pre-med environment. We don’t have a pre-med track or major. The students here are collaborative with each other. We’re proud of that.

Our job at Amherst is to provide optimal support so our students will do as well as possible. We have a great group of candidates for medical school. [They represent]the kind of doctor we will need in the future, someone who is  not just a technician and expert in the science of disease but also a healer who is able to combine the science of medicine with the art of medicine. That’s a unique and important contribution. We feel that Amherst is great at turning out that kind of doctor. The same applies to those who end up working in other health professions fields, as an increasing number of students are doing.

Q: Are the common reasons for going to medical school the same as they were a generation ago?

A: Compared to when I was a student, more and more students are interested in medical school as a path to addressing deeper issues that concern them, [such as] unequal access to healthcare, health disparities, and public health issues such as  obesity and diabetes. There also are many students who have a passionate interest in the science of human health and disease and already have done incredible work in biomedical research.

Q: Does today’s U.S. healthcare system discourage or encourage interest in health care and medicine?

A: I think students are wisely exploring health care in the U.S. today and becoming aware about the immense challenges we face. They come out of Amherst wanting to make health care more accessible, more affordable and more humane.

Q: One hears about parents wanting their kids to be doctors, and pushing them on that path. Do you see much of that at Amherst?

A: Yes, we do have students whose aspirations when they arrive here have been shaped in large part by their parents. One of our responsibilities is to work with them and help them clarify what they themselves want to do with their lives, and help them answer what they really want to do to make them feel fulfilled, productive and happy in their professional life, and not what somebody else will feel is best for them.

Q: How concerned are students about the working conditions and the loans they’ll have to take on if they go to medical school?

A: The students  I work with are overwhelmingly motivated by service, by a desire to alleviate suffering and be involved in a profession that’s fundamentally about healing and helping people in need.

Students are very concerned about the financial aspects of medical school, though. One thing that is fortunate is that Amherst provides need-based support for its students. That means that [our] students are typically not going into medical school with as much debt as students from other colleges.

Even so, the cost of medical school is a huge issue that’s not easily solvable. In spite of that, students who are passionate about medicine as career are going ahead with it.  


Memory and Movies

July 26, 2012

By Angelina Gomez ’14

My parents recently went on a vacation to Hawaii. While talking to my mom about the trip, I heard about the colors of the flowers they saw on a hike, how she felt about taking time off work, how she had arranged for someone to take care of their cat while they were away, the flavors of the fish they ate and more. My dad’s report of the week: “We hiked. We swam at bit. The hotel was nice. It was fun!”

I’m sure others have noticed a general difference between the stories told by males and females. When you ask a woman how her weekend went, you had better be ready to hear all of the details, including explanations of emotions, relationship dynamics and relevant previous events. Conversely, men are more likely to stick to factual accounts of what happened, where and with whom. This observable difference is more than just a stereotype: Studies show that men and women have different abilities to remember events in their lives. In the field of psychology, this is known as autobiographical memory, and most research has found that women are much better at it than men.


The author, in front of an oft-quoted film (at right)

But are women actually better at recalling events in our lives, or are we simply more loquacious storytellers? The “factual bias” that men display could deter them from telling the rich, detailed stories that women tend to tell. The basic idea is that, when men are told, “Tell me about an event from your past,” they interpret that to mean, “Tell me all the facts from an event,” while women hear, “Tell me about an event and provide insight into how and why it happened.

This summer, Matthew Schulkind, associate professor of psychology, is testing whether this factual bias extends to other areas of memory, using subjects’ ability to recall movie quotes as a measure. He has noticed that only males seem to have internal caches of movie lines that they can spontaneously produce and quote at one another. Could he turn this anecdotal evidence into scientific evidence? Throughout last semester, he asked students to recall movie quotes and dumped the data into a massive Excel spreadsheet that would make Hollywood proud.

And this is where I come in. My task this summer is to sift through that spreadsheet and code the accuracy of all 635 quotes. This means that I get paid to search the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), watch YouTube clips, download entire movie scripts and generally comb the Internet to find movie quotes. Needless to say, I love this job.

Let me give you an example of a typical day’s labor. Subject Number 6’s seventh quote was “Lunch will be canceled today due to a lack of hustle,” supposedly said by Tony Perkins in the movie Heavyweights. Eleven words. The actual quote, according to IMDb, is, “Lunch has been canceled today due to lack of hustle.” Ten words. Therefore, the subject got eight words, the character and the movie correct. So I go to my spreadsheet and enter a code that states all this. I am proud to say that I just finished coding all the quotes, ending with a sassy quip from Clueless.

A portion of the survey from subsequent phase of the
study. How many can you recognize? (Answers are below.)

I’ve found commonalities in the subjects’ selection of quote-worthy movies. To sum it up: my generation likes oddball humor, chick flicks and Harry Potter. There are also a lot of quotes from animated movies (Finding Nemo and Shrek were the favorites) and other movies from childhood (The Princess Bridecleaned up, with 12 quotes). I have a theory that these movies hold a special place in undergraduate hearts, as we are letting go of our early years, and thus we recall the trials of Princess Buttercup and her Westley with ease and fondness

However, what I refer to as the “ridiculous movie” category was by far the most popular. In first place, with a whopping 38 quotes, was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the source of such salient lines as, “I’m in a glass box of emotion!”; “I love lamp”; and, of course, “You pooped in the refrigerator? And you ate the whole wheel of cheese? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing,” spoken to a semi-communicative dog. The next most-quoted movie was Step Brothers, another Will Ferrell flick, with 19 quotes. In fact, I’m going to simplify my earlier summary: Young adults today remember, word-for-word, what Will Ferrell says in movies better than we remember our grandmothers’ birthdays.

The point of this study, however, is not to comment on the movie preferences of undergraduates (that’s just fun) but rather to see how accurately people can remember quotes. As the statistical analyses are forthcoming, I can make only general observations: Some subjects were better at technical accuracy, and others wrote quotes that, while identifiable, were only vaguely correct—a trend Schulkind was hoping to see in the data, as it indicates a factual bias. I wasn’t given the subjects’ genders, so I can’t make any preemptive conclusions, but I am excited to see how the study pans out.

I am just one of many students doing research with various professors this summer. I have one friend who, for an LJST project, has to watch hours of footage from executions; another who is using GIS (geographic information system) software to analyze deforestation in Mexico; and a third who excitedly told me that her bacterial cells have finally matured and now she can infuse them with estrogen. It is hugely exciting to take part in the process of bringing more information into the world. And we aren’t even grad students! So what may seem like another depressing day of hangings or another fun day of Star Wars quotes is ultimately one of the many benefits of being an Amherst College student.

Answers: 1) Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), A Streetcar Named Desire; 2) Brody (Roy Scheider), Jaws; 3) Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger); The Terminator 4) Captain (Strother Martin), Cool Hand Luke; 5) James Bond, any James Bond movie 6) Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), Titanic

Select Dinners Bring a New Kind of Party to Campus

Submitted on Monday, 4/29/2013, at 3:33 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

While studying abroad in England, Jeehae Kim Goddard ’13 took part in regular formal dinners with professors and fellow students. She enjoyed these dinners so much that she decided to bring the concept back to Amherst.

Thus were born the Select Dinners, sophisticated meals held this spring for Amherst students of legal drinking age. With orchestrated guest lists and seating charts, the Select Dinners aimed to spark discussion among students who were not already close friends, while allowing them to learn from professors and one another in a social setting.

The third of five meals in the series took place on March 29 in Alumni House. At 7 p.m., some 55 students found their seats at seven round tables decorated with gerbera daisies, wine glasses and more forks than many people would know what to do with. The men were dressed in jackets and ties, the women in dresses and heels.

Hansol Park ’13, saying she’d always wished for “opportunities like this outside the classroom,” introduced the guest speaker, Professor of Political Science Javier Corrales, who gave a 15-minute talk on U.S.-China relations. (“Don’t be nervous,” Corrales insisted. “The 21st century is going to be the American century.”)

The students got to know their tablemates as the waitstaff poured pinot grigio and served a first course of oysters and scallops. Later came an asparagus salad, fish with morels and more wine. At one table, the discussion moved effortlessly from Corrales’ research on Venezuela, to language study (one woman spoke five languages), to plans for the future. A pre-med student described her lifelong desire to be an ophthalmologist—to experience the satisfaction of helping people see.

As the evening wrapped up, Jeremy Roush, executive chef at Dining Services, gave brief remarks on the food and wine pairings. He said such meals allow his staff to shine.

The meal allowed students to shine, as well—to dress up, to make conversation, to practice dining etiquette and social drinking. “This is kind of taking us out of our comfort zone,” said Nicholas Koh ’14. “It adds some formality to the college experience.”

Students Increase Entrepreneurship on Campus

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/24/2013, at 10:02 AM

By Daniel Diner '14

While still in high school, Samson Tan ’14 founded a nonprofit that introduces lacrosse to underprivileged youth, an initiative that would later win him a Global Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Malcolm McClain ’13 took a gap year to work at a startup, helped his team place second in the UMass Amherst Entrepreneurship Initiative's 2011 Executive Summary Competition and even experimented with starting his own business on campus during his sophomore year.

Henrry Rivera '15 (second from left) won the first Amherst College Business Plan Compettion on April 7 for his business idea, StyleStream. He's pictured with (from left)  Malcolm McClain '13, Samson Tan '14 and Justin Ramos '13.

Now the pair has a new venture: the Amherst College Entrepreneurs' Society. They’ve reinvigorated the group and kick-started its efforts to encourage students to look beyond traditional professions and “see the world through the lens of a problem-solver.”

A victorious Rivera hugs a competitor and classmate.

To those ends, the group recently launched two initiatives: a speaker series and a round of competitions. They helped bring to campus Shaukut Aziz, former prime minister of Pakistan. Other speakers have included a former NFL contract negotiator, a green social media marketing group CEO and an NFL contract negotiator turned nightclub owner.

McClain (right) with former prime minister of Pakistan Shaukut Aziz.

In conjunction with the Social Entrepreneurship Leadership Team, the club also hosted the Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition last December. Participants gave elevator pitches—90-second business idea propositions—in hopes of winning a $300 prize. Then, on April 7, the groups hosted the similar Business Plan Competition, which offered a total of $3,200 to the top participants.

Students network at an Entrepreneur's Society event.

The objective behind these competitions, says Tan, is to encourage people to “think critically [so as to] open their minds and to encourage them to become problem-solvers. We want to take people away from the idea that entrepreneurship is just the process of starting a particular business.”

The pair hopes that the newly active club will become a fixture on campus. “I think it’s very representative of the liberal arts,” says McClain. “You’re drawing on a variety of disciplines, and students from a liberal arts background can do very well as entrepreneurs.” What’s more, entrepreneurship is not limited to any particular field or profession.

Matt Tower '15 at the business plan competition. His team received an honorable mention for their business idea, called The Option. 

“We definitely learn some business, but at the end of the day it’s more figuring out how to solve problems,” says Tan. “Especially when you’re doing a startup, you can’t specialize in any one thing. You have to know something about marketing, finance, the industry in question, and you have to be very broad and capable in many different areas. And I think that fits very well into the skill set of a liberal arts student.”

Rachel Maddow Comes to Campus

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/3/2013, at 2:32 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, is not only a cable news celebrity but also a local kid who made good. She got her start at two radio stations in Western Massachusetts—WRNX in Holyoke and WRSI in Northampton. Now she splits her time between the Pioneer Valley and New York City, where she hosts The Rachel Maddow Show.

On Sat., March 30, she arrived in Johnson Chapel to deliver a talk that centered on warfare. But first, several a cappella groups warmed up the crowd; President Biddy Martin and Association of Amherst Students President Tania Dias '13 gave short introductions; and the Zumbyes led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Maddow, who turned 40 on April 1.

Watch video of the talk.

In front a full house, Maddow referred often to her recent book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.  Her talk touched on U.S. nuclear bombs: “Our current arsenal of nukes is about 5,000”—far higher than necessary, she argued. She also tackled the subject of tax cuts during wartime: “Normal countries do not do this. But for us, war feels free.” And she argued against leaving Congress out of the decision to go to war.

Noting that fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population fought in Afghanistan and in the current war in Iraq, Maddow maintained that one way to not have to convince the American people to go to war is to ask only a few citizens to fight it. She said veterans of those wars return home with the fear that their fellow citizens will pity and fear them. “We as civilians," she said, "are alienated from the people who have been fighting in our name."

Maddow gave detailed answers to the 11 questions she took from the audience. One woman asked about the idea of reinstating the draft. The draft is one way to connect many people to the sacrifice required in war, Maddow said, “but it’s not a magic bullet.” Other questions took up Republican support of gay marriage (the supporters are a vocal minority, she said, not the decision makers in the party) and whether MSNBC is to the Democratic Party what Fox News is to the Republican Party (No, she argued; “The guy who runs MSNBC—I don’t even think he votes.”)

Maddow's talk was sponsored by the Office of the President.

Watch video of the talk.

From Theory to Policy: A Look at at the Fed Challenge

By Daniel Diner '14

It’s not often that a professor devotes an entire course to a single, hands-on project. It’s even less often that a class revolves around an intercollegiate competition.  But last semester, eight students and an economics professor came together in this unusual way.

In the Special Topics course “Federal Reserve Challenge,” taught by Geoffrey Woglom, the Richard S. Volpert ’56 Professor of Economics, students spent the semester preparing for the annual Federal Reserve Challenge in Boston.


The Fed Challenge requires teams of undergraduates from various schools to research the state of the current macroeconomy and produce a comprehensive proposal regarding federal monetary policy.  This policy proposal must be based on the team’s macroeconomic forecast and must take into account every possible factor and consequence, including biased statistics and unintended inflation. Teams have 15 minutes to present their recommendation to a panel of experts and another 15 minutes to answer questions. 

For the course, Woglom recruited top students from his “Money and Economic Activity” and “Advanced Macroeconomics” courses. “I was drawn to the class,” says George Tepe ’14, “because I loved Professor Woglom and central banking.”

The semester began with crash courses on central banking and monetary policy, with a focus on Fed operations. The students soon began to think about which economic statistics they needed to single out. They began meeting, with some guidance from Woglom, two or three times each week to discuss the current conditions of the macroeconomy. They used their research to come up with policy recommendations and, eventually, to construct a presentation.

Each student brought a different talent and perspective. March Fan ’15 says the intimate setting of the meetings accentuated their individual abilities. Alex Jiron ’15 was the “macro genius,” Fan says. Tepe became known as the resident “inflation hawk.” Duncan Morrissey ’14 had the kind of polished speaking voice that made him a natural for the smaller team that would present in front of the judges.

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Ultimately deciding that the economy required additional stimulus, the team settled on the following policy proposal: “If the unemployment rate remains above 7 percent and core inflation remains below 3 percent, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases and employ its other policy tools as it sees fit.”

Then the students’ focus turned from economics to performance. The smaller crew that would present in Boston rehearsed in front of and sought critiques from Amherst (and at one point, Smith) faculty. 

Special help came from Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Ronald Bashford, who teaches a two-semester course called “The Craft of Speaking.” When Bashford heard the team’s presentation, he gave them advice that would rework their entire oral approach. “These guys were very good students of economics,” Woglom says, “but making a presentation involves a wholly separate set of skills. It was a little bit scary because basically he said, ‘Start over again. Here’s what you need to do.’ But the way the students improved their presentation was absolutely awe-inspiring. The way they learned how to make an effective oral presentation was a side effect I had not anticipated.”

In November the team headed to Boston for the presentation. They received near-perfect marks on their talk, but they were defeated in the first round by the defending national champions from Harvard, and so they never made it to the finals. Still, the professor and students have no regrets. The group “worked harder than students have in most of the other classes that I’ve taught,” Woglom says. “I brought in this diverse group—from student government, athletics and international backgrounds—and thought to myself, ‘How am I going to make a team out of [them]? But it was never an issue. They worked together and came together as a team.”

Chris Friend ’14, another student in the course, hopes  that Woglom will teach “Federal Reserve Challenge” in future years. “It was one of the best crash courses you could take in learning about the Federal Reserve and its inner workings,” he says.

A Slice of Pi

On March 14, or 3.14, students celebrated National Pi day by waking up at 6 a.m. and burning through 15 sticks of sidewalk chalk. Here, digits of pi trail off in front of Fayerweather Hall on National Pi Day. 2,010 digits of pi stretched from Valentine Dining Hall to Merrill Science Center.

Mr. Gad's Performs for Inaugural Community Hour

Submitted on Wednesday, 3/6/2013, at 2:14 PM

By Daniel Diner '14

Community. It’s the sense of togetherness that defines us as a college. It’s the connection between students and alumni several generations and thousands of miles away. It’s the understanding that all which is achieved here, no matter how unique and innovative, is done in one place, under a common roof. It’s the one thing about Amherst that we can all get behind, communally.


So when Jessica Mestre ’10 determined that the sense of collective Amherst belonging could be yet stronger, she set out to extend its scope. Mestre—who since her graduation has taken on the role of student life fellow for the dean of students office—has been developing and championing a new Community Hour initiative for more than a year.

The inaugural event took place on Feb. 23 in Stirn Auditorium with an hour-long show by the student comedy group Mr.Gad’s House of Improv. To encourage mingling among groups, the seating was arranged so that students were beside professors or staff members, not other students.


The Community Hour originated with Mestre’s efforts to extend more support to students from lower-income backgrounds, which is a central objective of her job in the dean's office. When, during a focus group that Mestre held, one such student expressed her concern that the campus lacked an overall sense of community, Mestre was surprised. “I never thought of that,” she says. “I felt connected both as a student and as a staff member. It was interesting that something I felt quite strongly was lacking in someone else’s experience.” Mestre, after researching initiatives at other institutions, concluded that a regular community hour would help emphasize the college's inclusiveness.

Then, this past November, the college held a day-long community meeting in response to a rising concern about sexual disrespect on campus. That meeting led many to ask for more campus-wide events, and so Mestre, together with Association of Amherst Students President Tania Dias ’13 (whose candidate platform last year largely pivoted on the creation of a campus common hour) and Brendan Burke ’13, who holds the AAS position of all-campus tradition coordinator, drafted a formal proposal for the community hour. They won support from faculty, staff and President Biddy Martin.


At the inaugural event, Martin made a surprise appearance in one of the skits. Two more Community Hours are planned for this semester. Like the Mr. Gad’s performance, they will aim to foster a common community experience, to encourage dialogue and to highlight internal talent.

Mestre, whose term at Amherst ends this year, is delighted to see so much interest in Amherst community cohesion. “I hope that this becomes a more central, celebrated and beloved event,” she says. “I’m excited to see how this facilitates a larger sense of community on campus.”

To submit an idea into the Community Hour Suggestion Box, click here.

Let’s Hear It for Soundfest

Submitted on Sunday, 3/3/2013, at 12:25 PM

Article by Katherine Duke '05

Photos by Cole Morgan '13 and Rob Mattson

The sunny afternoon of Sat., March 30, certainly looked and felt like spring—and sounded like it, too. But I was on campus to immerse myself in the more unusual auditory stimuli of Soundfest, a featured event of the 2012–13 Copeland Colloquium: “Art in Place / the Place of Art.”

As Wendy Woodson, the Roger C. Holden 1919 Professor of Theater and Dance, had told me the previous day, this year’s colloquium is designed to make the arts more visible (and audible) at Amherst College; to allow for interactions between the academic realm, Copeland Fellows from around the world and the many artists who are active in the local community; and to encourage greater cross-disciplinary collaboration by the college’s Departments of Music, Art and the History of Art and Theater and Dance, as well as the Mead Art Museum and Frost Library.

“I think all of us in the different art departments feel very energized by this interaction. It’s been a huge amount of work, but we’ve all gotten to know each other and are having, I think, a really good time,” Woodson says of the yearlong colloquium. “We are fervently hoping that we will be able to continue this dialogue and interaction and initiative—that there’s more of a sense of ‘The Arts’ at Amherst, rather than, ‘Oh, there’s this department, that department, that department.’”  

Tim Eriksen '88 points to shape notes on a chalkboard in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where Amherst's first music professor, George Cheney, led singings 150 years ago.

Soundfest, in particular, was set up to prompt students and community members to traverse the campus, experiencing various indoor and outdoor sound installations and performances along the way. The afternoon began in the Babbott Room of the Octagon, where acclaimed Americana musician Tim Eriksen ’88 led local shape-note singers and “church bass” (bass viol) player Loren Ludwig in renditions of 18th-century American hymns. Publication of these hymns flourished in Northampton and Amherst, Eriksen explained. In the mid-19th century, the college’s first music professor, George Cheney, was involved in a revival of them—he would lead, in that very room, “Old Folks” concerts involving students and townspeople.

A visitor to the Rim light installation lies on the floor of Studio 1 in Webster Hall.

Colloquium Coordinator Phil Dupont ’12—dressed in a black tailcoat, as if for a formal concert—then led the Soundfest audience over to Studio 1 of Webster Hall for Rim light, an installation scored by Woodson and local composer/percussionist/sound artist Jake Meginsky, with lighting design by Kathy Couch ’95. We took off our shoes and crept into the dim blue light of the studio. Out of four speakers on the floor—first in one corner, then in another, then in several corners at once—came the recorded voices of California-based artist and former Copeland Fellow Zeina Nasr ’06 and Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Ron Bashford, reciting poetic texts by Woodson on a 12-minute loop. ( ) The effect was both eerie and calming. Woodson had told me that, after creating Rim light as part of a Mellon Seminar in the summer of 2012, she staged it again in November, and “the audience came in, and all of a sudden they started performing in the space, and this was really interesting to me.”Sure enough, I saw a few audience members around the room begin, without any prompting, to lean against one another in strange poses, curl themselves up in seated positions or drag themselves across the floor on their bellies. While taking notes, I dropped my pen, and as I reached down to pick it up, I wondered, “Does this look like a performance? Am I performing as part of this installation?” There was, of course, no clear answer.

Visitors pass through Jake Meginsky's Secret Beach in a hallway of Holden Theater.

Eventually, we emerged back out into the sunshine, and Dupont directed us to Holden Theater for Meginsky’s Secret Beach. To my surprise, the installation was not in the black-box stage area itself but in a narrow hallway behind it. We passed between two steel sheets through which transducers were sending low-frequency vibrations. “If you listen along the surface of the sheets,” the artist had written, “certain areas contain patches of higher volume as these collisions create standing waves, while other areas of the surface suddenly drop in volume as juxtaposed waves cancel each other out.” Secret Beach was Meginsky’s attempt “to to recapture and formalize [the] early aesthetic experience” of leaning in close to the foundation of an interstate highway and listening to the vibrations from passing vehicles.

Eric Leonardson sits near his Springboard during his Similaria performance in the Mead Art Museum's Rotherwas Room.

Listen to an excerpt from Similaria:

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The fourth part of Soundfest, Similaria, took place in the Mead Art Museum’s historic walnut-paneled Rotherwas Room. The audience sat in a square around Chicago-based artist Eric Leonardson, who was positioned with a laptop computer and his original invention the Springboard—“an electroacoustic percussion instrument made from readily available materials” such as metal springs, pieces of wood and what appeared to be a dish rack and an elderly person’s walker. While recorded “sounds from around Amherst” played from four speakers, Leonardson coaxed sounds from the Springboard by touching it with bows, mallets and his fingers. In the resulting “sound collage,” I heard noises of heavy machinery and plumbing, but also hints of a string quartet and vaguely humanoid voices; it led me to ponder both the construction of the Rotherwas Room and the artistic uses to which it is now put—its past and its present.

Just outside the Mead, in and around Stearns Steeple, was the final installation, by electronic sound artist Steph Robinson, a visiting lecturer in theater and dance. Isosteeple featured amplifiers playing highly processed recordings of the carillon located inside the steeple (the carillon player being Campus Utilities Engineer Aaron Hayden). As Robinson wrote, compositional elements were based on the medieval and Renaissance technique of "isorhthm" (listen to a sample stereo rendering here). Thanks to motion-detection software written by Mark Santolucito ’13, we visitors could change the sounds subtly with our movements. Santolucito—a computer science and music double-major on his way to study computer music in a Ph.D. program at Yale—also designed a video projection inside the steeple that cast swirly colors onto a plaque. (You can check out Isosteeple between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day through April 4.)

As we headed away from Stearns Steeple, I overheard one Soundfest visitor ask another, “Shall we proceed to the real world?”

I knew what he meant. What I’d seen and heard on the Amherst campus that day was positively otherworldly.

College Republicans Bring Scott Brown to Campus

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February 18, 2013

By Daniel Diner ’14

Weekend Amherst snowstorms usually draw thoughts of fires and lazy afternoons, not formal attire and certainly not anything that involves students leaving their dorms. But contrary to these conventions, Johnson Chapel found itself teeming with a smartly dressed and enthusiastic crowd on Sunday, Feb. 10. The crowd was composed largely of Amherst students who braved the aftereffects of the February snowstorm to witness, among other events, a speech of former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Brown—along with former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, armless “toe-picking” guitarist Tony Melendez, and conservative producer and activist Bill Whittle—was commissioned to speak by the Amherst College Republicans, in an event to mark the group’s revival. The event, appropriately named “The Resurgence,” was originally scheduled for Saturday but had to be moved and restructured because of the weather. On Sunday, it featured Brown and Melendez only. 

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown addresses Johnson Chapel

Senator Brown focused largely on his personal narrative, starting with a difficult and abusive childhood that culminated in his being arrested for shoplifting a record. Curiously, Brown described the incident as being rehabilitating rather than punitive, as the judge was kind but firm. He eventually won a basketball scholarship to Tufts and subsequently attended law school at Boston College.

When describing his professional and political life, Brown referred to himself as having a “Type A” personality, keen to take on challenges as they presented themselves. He said his motivations for getting into politics hinged largely on problems and inefficiencies he thought he could correct in the system, and he called for young leaders in the audience to follow his example. He told the crowd, “One of the reasons I wanted to come here and speak [was to] challenge you and see what you would be doing.”

Sunday’s event, along with the return of the Amherst College Republicans, owes much to the work of Robert Lucido ’15. In October, Lucido attended a viewing of the second presidential debate in Converse’s Red Room and found absolute himself the “the lone conservative voice” in the room. He says that the "resurgence" of the Amherst College Republicans was initiated on that same day, when the event’s moderator, William H. Hastie ’25 Professor of Political Science Thomas Dumm, approached him after the viewing and said the college needed a Republican student group.

As membership grew, Lucido planned the February event. “I wanted to organize an event that would not only mark our official return to campus,” he says, “but that would also create a venue to promote a greater level of political diversity on our campus.” For months he worked to organize, promote and raise money for the event. He tapped the college's alumni network and wrote to many politicians, commentators and entertainers, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Brown.

After settling on the four speakers, Lucido had to raise roughly $25,000 for their combined fees. He met his fundraising goals through a combination of private donations and grants from the Association of Amherst Students, the political science department and the student activities’ office.

Future plans for the College Republicans include rescheduled events featuring Rosario Marin and Bill Whittle, as well as a debate with the College Democrats about gun control.

More information about the Amherst College Republicans may be found at

Rose Olver Becomes First Woman to Have Portrait in JChap

Article by Emily Gold Boutilier; photos by Rob Mattson

Rose Olver came to Amherst in 1962 as the first woman to hold a tenure-track position on the faculty. More than 50 years later, she is the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel.

Rose Olver with her portrait

Some 130 colleagues, friends and admirers attended the portrait’s unveiling at 4 p.m. on Jan. 22. Olver—the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita—sat in the front row, next to the artist, Sarah Belchetz-Swenson.

View a slideshow of the event and hear audio from the ceremony: 

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The portrait hangs just to the left of the stage (when facing the stage). In opening the ceremony, President Biddy Martin explained why she chose such a prominent location: Olver’s portrait joins those of college presidents and alumni (including President Calvin Coolidge, Class of 1895). “But there is no portrait,” Martin said, “that tells the story of what is foundational to the college”—the faculty.

Until now. In the portrait, Olver is wearing a red academic gown and holding the faculty mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. “She represents the significance of faculty to the success of an academic institution,” Martin said.

Olver was the first woman to chair the psychology department at Amherst, and she served on the committees that guided the transition to coeducation. She also chaired the committee that created the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.


Board chair Cullen Murphy ’74, Olver, artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson (front row, l-r) and the crowd view the new painting. Additional images from the celebration can be viewed on the Amherst College Flickr site.

Other speakers at the unveiling included Cullen Murphy ’74, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, and Dean of the Faculty Gregory Call. “At Amherst, we are all linked to you in so many ways,” Call told Olver. Murphy remembered watching Olver, in her role as marshal, placing ceremonial hoods over the heads of honorary degree recipients—even the very tall ones—with “a flick of elegant athleticism.” He said, “She never broke a smile, and yet you could tell there was an undercurrent of amusement.”

Professor and Associate Dean of the Faculty Rick Griffiths gave his tribute in verse, while wearing a laurel wreath. (Among many other highlights, he rhymed “not surprising” with “gender theorizing.”) He thanked Olver for “so gently” leading the college’s transformation.  

Olver herself also spoke, describing Amherst in the early 1960s. “Back then, the idea of a portrait of a woman in this hall was unimaginable,” she said. As she recalled, her arrival put the Amherst College Faculty Club in a bind, as it had no official rule barring female professors. The club, she said, sent a senior colleague to “issue an invitation but request I decline.” Looking out at the crowd in the chapel, Olver said, “Well, I didn’t join that year, but I did join the following year.”

The crowd cheered for the portrait and gave a standing ovation to Olver. At the end of the ceremony, Marie Fowler, secretary and office manager to the dean of the faculty, presented the guest of honor with a bouquet of pink roses.

Audio icon Rose Olver Portrait Unveiling.MP332.23 MB
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Long-time Dean of Financial Aid Honored

Submitted on Monday, 12/10/2012, at 11:52 AM

Since its founding, Amherst has championed the idea of providing access to the college for talented students from all backgrounds. Today, Amherst’s financial aid program is regularly cited as one of the nation’s best, thanks in large part to the vision and commitment of Joe Paul Case, the college’s long-time Dean of Financial Aid.

On November 15, the Amherst community honored Case as he prepares to retire after 31 years of defining financial aid best practices and guiding principles for Amherst and, in many ways, for higher education institutions around the world. In a fitting tribute, Dean of Admission Tom Parker announced the creation of the Joe Paul Case Scholarship Fund, which was established by Charles Myers ’88.

Joe%20CaseJoe Paul Case

Amherst signaled its modern-day leadership in this area by being one of the first U.S. colleges to adopt a need-blind admission policy where an applicant’s financial need is not considered as part of the application process, and every admitted student receives financial aid that meets demonstrated need. In 2008, the Board of Trustees voted to extend need-blind admission to international students.

Similarly, the college demonstrated its leadership in financial aid policies when in 1999, the college replaced loans for low-income students with grants. Again, Amherst extended one of its most generous practices in 2008, when it eliminated loans as part of the aid package for each and every student on financial aid.

When the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) honored him with a Meritorious Achievement Award in 2004, it noted that Case "has devoted more than 35 years of his career to developing and maintaining the principles of need-based aid. Through his work with the College Board, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, and NASFAA, he is one of the principal architects of the current financial aid system. In addition to his participation in the financial aid conversation at the state and national levels, he continues to maintain daily contact with students. He believes that the opportunity to touch students' lives is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of the work he does."

A prolific writer on financial aid topics, Case is regarded as an expert on everything from the technical aspects of need analysis and the specifics on federal student aid legislation to the public perception of college endowments and the roles of government, colleges, and families in paying for higher education. In 2004, as part of the 50th anniversary of the College Scholarship Service (CSS),  Case was chosen as a first recipient of the John Monro Memorial Award. The honor recognizes education leaders who have contributed to CSS and to the financial aid profession, particularly by recruiting talented, low-income and underrepresented students for higher education. One of the founders of CSS, John Monro was the long-time dean of Harvard College who crafted the basic principles of need analysis in the early 1950s. Case was also among the first inductees into the CSS’s 50th Anniversary Hall of Fame.

 “Throughout his career, Joe Paul Case has advocated for students—not just on the Amherst campus but worldwide,” said President Biddy Martin. “His dedication to access has transformed higher education, as well as countless lives.”

Myers counts himself as one whose life was changed by Case. “I would not have made it through Amherst without Joe’s help, and I imagine many other alumni feel the same. His commitment to students over the years always impressed me,” said Myers. “I wanted to celebrate his legacy by creating the Joe Paul Case Scholarship Fund.” Myers hopes others will contribute to the endowed fund so that the scholarship support given in Case’s honor can be expanded.

A Commitment to Educational Access

The majority of Amherst students—55 percent—received need-based financial aid in the 2011-12 academic year. Amherst provided $41 million in scholarships and grants or 91 percent of the total aid offered to students.


Thanks to the generosity of Amherst alumni, parents and friends, the college has more than 400 endowed scholarship funds. Last year, these endowed funds provided 26.2 percent of the overall aid from Amherst and are guaranteed to provide scholarships to students in perpetuity.