Amherst Splash Program Acquaints Students with Teaching

Submitted on Wednesday, 12/5/2012, at 3:06 PM

By Daniel Diner '14

Amherst is accustomed to playing host to all sorts of scholars. But recently, the college entertained a collection of students rarely seen on campus grounds: preteens. On Saturday, Dec. 1, members of student group The EDU hosted the second “Amherst Splash,” an all-day event in which Amherst undergrads teach hour-long courses to local middle and high school kids. For a $10 registration fee, the local schoolchildren were invited to courses on topics ranging from Harry Potter to “How People Make Money,” from beat boxing to “Masks of the World” to “Instant Chinese,” all taught by Amherst students enthusiastic about public education.


Students in "Faces," a session taught by Alex Hettwer '13 

Setting up headquarters in a lounge, the EDU volunteers labored from 8 a.m. to turn Chapin Hall into a temporary secondary school. In between sessions, the halls would fill with students rushing to such lessons as “The Art of Fanfiction: Creativity and Plot,” taught by David Desrosiers ’14, and “Let There be Light!,” a flashlight-making session led by Sabrina Song ’13. Volunteers decided on the lesson topics in advance and then posted a list to the event’s website, from which the 131 attendees decided their day’s schedule.

Some parents reported that their schoolchildren were far more excited and receptive on Saturday than they normally are in class, perhaps because they had the agency to choose what they studied. ‘ “Splash is all about exposing kids to new fields of knowledge and making that exposure a very positive one,” says  Nifemi Mabayoje ’13, co-head of student recruitment for the event,  “so that learning new things becomes less threatening and daunting. It becomes something exciting.” She hopes that attendees will now be more inclined to explore and research hobbies and topics that they find interesting.


Lizzy Austad '16 taught a class on the Rubik's Cube.

he event was also rewarding to the teachers. “When you teach a one-time, 50-minute course, it’s important to be as versed in your topic as possible,” says Eirene Wang ’13, another of the volunteers. “I always wanted to get some teaching practice, since I am considering several teaching programs for after I graduate.” Daniela Fragoso ’13, one of the event’s organizers, says she was especially pleased with the diversity of Amherst students that stepped up to teach. “We have freshmen, sophomores, who are teaching and organizing for the first time. It introduces them leadership.” 

Julia Kim ’13, another organizer, says she was taken aback by the level of support the program received from Amherst volunteers. “We had friends waiting out in the snow all morning to guide the students,” she says. “We had peers teaching back-to-back courses. We had students willing to come and just clean up.”

Organizational support for Saturday’s Splash came from Learning Unlimited, a nonprofit devoted to bringing together college and pre-college students for Splash-like instruction. Started by MIT students, it oversees similar events at schools all over the country.

Meet Me After Class

Submitted on Monday, 12/3/2012, at 3:35 AM

By Adam Gerchick '13

You and a handful of your classmates are dining privately off campus with a distinguished Amherst professor. What do you discuss?

Finding your way around campus. “When I was first here, I would ask older faculty, ‘I’m going to this dorm; where is it?’” Professor of Psychology Catherine Sanderson tells her dining companions, commiserating with their occasional struggles to navigate campus. “They would say, ‘Oh, that’s the Sigma Chi house!’ or ‘the SAE house!’”—fraternity chapters that no longer existed.

“So not helpful,” she concludes.

With that, an hour and a half of freewheeling conversation begins in earnest.

Sanderson and four of her students are dining together at Amherst’s Fresh Side restaurant, a meal paid for by Amherst’s Take Your Professor Out (TYPO) program. Intended to strengthen academic relationships and facilitate open discussion between instructors and their students, TYPO funds groups of students who wish to host one of their professors for a modest meal off-campus. (The college has just announced a new, similar program, TYSO, that allows students to take out staff members.)


Founded in 2002, the program is one of Amherst’s most popular community-building efforts. For Sanderson and her student hosts, Class of 2014 members Lauren Belak, Allison Merz, Anna Pietrantonio and Keegan Watters, TYPO provides an opportunity to discuss classes, college news and personal interests at a restaurant on Oct. 15.

After ordering a dinner of tea rolls and Pad Thai, Sanderson and her students, who are all enrolled in her “Health Psychology” course, turn their conversation to the heavier topics within the class, including suicide. With advance notice and an opt-out policy, Sanderson has recently shown her students portions of a documentary that featured footage of a suicide attempt, as part of a broader discussion on injury and injury prevention.

Now she solicits advice from her dining companions on the wisdom of her decision. “Do you think there was worth in seeing that,” she asks, “or did the [emotional] costs outweigh the benefits?” The students offer their perspectives on the screening. Sanderson says she will consider each.


Though TYPO casts the instructor as the guest of honor, professors are often as inquiring of their hosts as those students are of them.  Sanderson spends much of the evening probing her companions for their perspectives on, among other things, the college’s efforts to foster a community of sexual respect. “So you went?” Sanderson asks in reference to a recent campus forum.  “How many people went?  Were people [there] all of one view?  Did people think differently?”

The variation between lighthearted and serious conversation is one of the hallmarks of TYPO, which encourages such open-ended discussion. The college does not ask participants to consider particular discussion topics or to report back on the event.

TYPO is administered by the offices of the Dean of New Students and the Dean of Students. Both offer funding to groups of three to seven students who are currently enrolled in a course with the professor they wish to invite. The offices pay up to $14, including tip, per diner, through charge orders that the students provide to their servers at the ends of their meals.

At Fresh Side, Sanderson asks her four companions what motivated them to choose Amherst. At least two had barely heard of the college when they started their searches. The students all say that they wanted a school that combined academic rigor with a respected athletic program—three of the four are on Amherst’s swim team—and a campus small enough to support a true academic community.

It may not be strictly academic, but dinners like this help Amherst to fulfill that vision.



Student publishes new novel

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/3/2012, at 10:44 AM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Lindsay Stern ’13 was visiting Amherst during her junior year of high school when she stopped in Northampton with her parents and noticed an awning for “The Rug Doctor.”

“The next morning,” she says, “I wrote a few paragraphs on a rug doctor who loses his shadow.”

That rug doctor is now the main character in Stern’s debut novella, Town of Shadows, published by Scrambler Books last month.

Stern read from Town of Shadows at Amherst Books on Sept. 27.

Lindsay Stern '13

After writing the initial paragraphs, “I left the story alone,” says Stern, who is from New York City. She picked it back up the summer before her sophomore year at Amherst, when an editorial internship fell through and “I was left with three months of empty afternoons.” Back at Amherst, she took a Special Topics class on poetry with Writer-in-Residence Daniel Hall, adapting many poems she wrote for the course into book chapters.

“I sent the book out to a few small houses one night on a whim,” she says.  “I didn’t expect to hear back, because I didn’t have an agent or many connections.” She was surprised when not one but two small presses expressed interest.  She chose Scrambler because it “offered the better contract” and would publish the book more quickly.

The book is a dystopian novel set in a town with a tyrannical mayor who banishes vowels and declares mathematics the national dialect. Stern took inspiration from books such as Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, in which the protagonist disappears.


Which brings us back to the rug doctor who loses his shadow: “The book,” Stern says, “is about how he uses language as a way to withstand” the town’s absurdity. “In the end, though, erasure becomes a theme of his work.”

Stern was also inspired by her own writing: As a younger teenager, she compulsively recorded the day-to-day events of her life. In the book, she says, “I wanted to test the idea of language as a bulwark against transience and to see if my characters could find a sense of meaning in impermanence rather than permanence.”

Stern is already at work on her second book. “It’s about an astronomer,” she says, “who discovers the night sky is speaking in Braille.” The book will be her senior thesis in English. She’s writing a philosophy thesis as well,  and after graduation, she hopes to make a career as a writer. 

Since her initial visit in high school, she’s returned to Northampton many times, but she’s never seen “The Rug Doctor” awning again. She can find no record that it ever existed.


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Remembering David Foster Wallace ’85

Submitted on Thursday, 9/13/2012, at 4:56 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

David Foster Wallace ’85, the author of Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, died four years ago, on Sept. 12, 2008. This past Wednesday, 20 people gathered at the War Memorial to commemorate Wallace’s life and work and to mark the somber anniversary of his suicide.

Daniel Pastan '13 reads passages from the work of David Foster Wallace

Daniel R. Pastan ’13 organized the informal memorial, which drew a mix of students, professors, staff members and others. “I found Infinite Jest at a time when I badly needed to interact with a representation of reality that felt true to my experience of this fucked-up world,” Pastan said in opening the service. Someday, he added, “I plan on reading IJ out loud to a child, either my own or someone else’s.”

Dressed in a purple hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Pastan offered coffee to the group and invited others to speak. A few students read excerpts from Infinite Jest (with one describing “the point at which I decided not to stop reading”). Another student read from “This is Water,” the much-forwarded Commencement address that Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

Professor Dale Peterson recalls personal experience with David Foster Wallace

Dale Peterson, the Eliza J. Clark Folger Professor of English and Russian, described the “cascade of pages” that greeted him whenever he and Wallace met to discuss the young man’s senior thesis in English. That thesis—one of two that Wallace wrote at Amherst—became his first novel, The Broom of the System. Peterson also recommended the new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max (Viking). “To read the book from cover to cover,” Peterson told the group, “was an enormously emotional experience.”

I first met Pastan a few weeks ago, when I interviewed him for an upcoming Amherst magazine article about the month he spent in the Wallace archive at the Henry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Pastan plans to turn his archival research (which he did with the help of an English department grant) into his own senior thesis in English.  

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Free Speech: Feingold Talks Campaign Finance at Amherst Colloquium

Submitted on Thursday, 5/3/2012, at 2:46 PM

May 3, 2012

by Adam Gerchick ’13

“Speech doesn’t corrupt. Money corrupts. Money isn’t speech.” So argued former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold during his keynote address at an Amherst political science conference on April 20.

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, spoke to about 100 Amherst faculty members, students, alumni and guests as part of the college’s Colloquium on the Constitution and the Imagining of America, a twice-yearly conference organized by Amherst’s Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST).  Each conference explores a different aspect of the character of the U.S. Constitution and its relevance to modern legal, political and social debates.

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold addresses
the audience at the Colloquium on the Constitution
the Imagining of America on April 20.

The senator’s message fit neatly within the focus of the colloquium’s spring conference, which explored corporate influence on American politics. Feingold, who with Sen. John McCain cochampioned the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002, argued that unchecked campaign spending by corporations and other special interests corrupts candidates and undermines democracy. He said that large corporate contributions in support of political candidates, including when given to partisan groups officially unaffiliated with the campaigns themselves, are “transactional situations,” given with the hope that successful candidates will feel beholden to those donors and vote in favor of their interests.

Speaking at Valentine’s Lewis-Sebring Dining Room during a colloquium dinner, Feingold excoriated the Supreme Court for striking down much of the past century’s campaign-finance law in the 2010 Citizens United case. In ruling that private spending on political activity, with certain exceptions, constitutes free speech protected by the First Amendment, the court struck down most limitations on political spending and contributions. 

“It was essentially a lawless decision,” argued Feingold. His assessment of the decision, together with others by the current justices, was unequivocal: “The court is in danger of losing its legitimacy.”

The colloquium—which was organized by Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and chair of political sciencecame on the heels of the semiannual Colloquium on the American Founding, held one week prior by fellow faculty member Hadley Arkes, the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions. Sarat’s conference provides something of a liberal alternative to Arkes’s historically more conservative gathering; that event explores the philosophies of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln regarding the concept of natural law.

At the colloquium, Feingold accused both major parties of allowing contributions to corrupt them. In particular, Feingold cited the deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the normalization of trade relations with China as two laws for which campaign donors essentially ensured their passage.

He even went so far as to argue that corporations risk becoming partisan entities, with consumers having to consider whether their purchases advance policies they oppose.  Feingold suggested the Citizens United decision could give rise to “Democratic and Republican toothpaste,” with consumers picking their preferred brands based on the politics of their respective manufacturers.

Despite his dire assessment of the current state of American campaign-finance law, Feingold expressed hope either that the Supreme Court would reverse itself—it recently accepted a case from Montana that would give it such an opportunity—or that the collective impact of small donors could mitigate the new power of special interests.  After all, Feingold argued, it was the strength of individual donations in 2008 that motivated corporations to strengthen their political efforts. Said Feingold, “The corporate powers saw the face of this democracy and it terrified them.”

Several dozen students were invited to attend the dinner and a preceding cocktail party at which the students chatted with professors over drinks—soft ones for the under-21 set. After the speech, a few students took the initiative to meet Feingold individually, lining up to introduce themselves. The senator engaged them, asking their thoughts on his remarks. And he didn’t even follow up by soliciting a contribution.

Hair Braiding in Ancient Greece

Submitted on Monday, 4/23/2012, at 12:34 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

In searching for the next retro trend, Hollywood stylists would be wise to stay away from the beehive and the perm and look a bit further back—to the 5th century B.C.



On Wednesday, April 18, in a workshop sponsored by the classics department, three students volunteered to have their hair braided like the subjects in the Erechtheum Caryatid statues of Ancient Greece.

Professor of Classics Rebecca Sinos helped plan the event after a guest lecturer in her “Archeology of Greece” course, Katherine Schwab, described her work in recreating the statues’ elaborately braided styles. (Most of the statues are on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.)

Laurie Canter, academic department coordinator for classics, moonlights as a hair braider to the stars (well, to her daughter), and so she acted as the event’s stylist. The volunteers were classics students Kyra Schapiro ’15, Sophie Padelford ’15 and Hampshire College student Josh Parr.

Canter fashioned Parr’s hair into a sort of wreath—which he removed once he got home. Schapiro, on the other hand, was so pleased that she asked Canter to redo her braids for tonight’s Spring Formal. Sinos can understand why: “She really looked like a queen.”

Photos by Niahlah Hope ’15

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The Lord Jeffery Inn Reopens, Along with Amherst’s “Living Room”

Submitted on Friday, 2/3/2012, at 10:52 AM

By Peter Rooney

Opening day was fast approaching and General Manager Robert Reeves was a whirling dervish of energy as he led an impromptu tour through the Lord Jeffery Inn, just days before its official opening on Thursday, Jan. 5 and more than three years after it closed for extensive renovations. On today’s to-do list for Reeves and his crew: unload boxes, hang paintings, clean construction dust, arrange restaurant furniture, begin staff training and compile invitation lists for various opening events.

View the gallery of images from the final days of construction and leading up to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
(Photos by Rob Mattson/Amherst College)

Inside one of the Lord Jeff’s two sparkling kitchens, fresh produce and meats from area farms were already being delivered, along with pots, pans and other equipment. Wearing a starched white chef jacket with his name embroidered in cursive letters on it, Executive Chef Dino Giordano presented, for Reeves' approval, an exquisitely arranged roasted beet salad, one of many menu possibilities under consideration.

Reeves predicts that diners from throughout New England will savor the ambience at 30Boltwood, the new restaurant that will anchor the renovated inn and feature “farm to table” contemporary American fare at reasonable prices.

“Everyone is expecting the Elijah Boltwood Tavern with a facelift,” said Reeves, referring to the New England-themed eatery that formerly occupied the Lord Jeff. “This is not that at all. The dining here will be unique, cutting edge, with an unbelievable décor. We’re trying to elevate the dining experience in Amherst. This will not be another pub or tavern with sandwiches, wraps and French dips.”

As employees carefully removed stacks of gleaming dishware from boxes, Reeves listed some of the distinctive features of the $18 million renovation project that has been eagerly anticipated throughout the Pioneer Valley: 49 guestrooms and suites that have been extensively remodeled, outfitted with new furnishings and high definition televisions; complimentary high speed Internet, with plenty of bandwidth for all guests; a well-equipped exercise room; a garden area, complete with a wedding pavilion that can accommodate a tent as large as 40 by 80 feet; energy-efficient features throughout, including a heating and cooling system powered in part by 50 geothermal wells; a ballroom; and expanded conference facilities.

As initially planned and conceived by a Lord Jeffery Inn Committee, headed by former Amherst College Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Longsworth ’51, the renovation would have added 20 rooms to the Lord Jeff, as well as the features described above. Then, against the backdrop of economic uncertainty, trustees halted the project in Fall 2008, keeping the inn closed while they directed the committee to examine less costly renovation options.

The scaled back project trustees approved about a year later didn’t increase the number of rooms, but it was nevertheless extensive. Although the handsome brick-clad exterior remains, with a fresh coat of whitewash, every interior section of the 46,000-square-foot building was gutted “down to the studs” Reeves said. The building was then refurbished with a careful attention to historical detail that has earned it inclusion in the Amherst Central Historic Business District. Reeves expects that it will also garner recognition as a Historic Hotels of America, an exclusive group of about 200 members.

Longsworth estimates he’s stayed at the Lord Jeff more than 100 times over the decades and counts his engagement to his wife Polly as one of his fondest memories there. Although his inn committee work is finished, he’s volunteering his time to ensure that the interior of the inn will feature photos and other reminders of its historical connection to Amherst College. (The Amherst Inn Co., a subsidiary of Amherst College, owns the inn. College treasurer Peter Shea is the company's president.)

“I’ve taken on that assignment because I think it’s very important that the inn be recognized as part of the college, and that the college’s history and the inn’s history be glorified by evidence on the walls,” Longsworth said. That history, he added, will only serve to burnish the inn’s appeal.

“It’s going to be quickly recognized as the finest inn and hotel in the area,” he predicted. “It’s going to be very popular.”

Other alumni who were anxiously awaiting the Lord Jeff’s reopening included college trustee Cullen Murphy ’74, who chairs the trustees'  Building and Grounds Committee.

“As a gateway to the college the inn performs all kinds of useful college functions,” he said. “It’s a place to meet and socialize and when it went offline it became enormously clear what an asset it is to the college and community.”

The Lord Jeff will be managed by the Connecticut-based Waterford Hotel Group, an arrangement that Murphy said will benefit the college as well.

“We expect this to be a viable business,” Murphy said. “It may not generate the profits that a chain innkeeper might want, but we expect that it will be a good investment for the college.”

To Betsy Cannon Smith ’84, P ’15, the Lord Jeff’s absence has made her appreciate its importance to the college even more than before. For all of its admittedly threadbare appeal in recent years, the inn always remained popular with visitors to campus and was an important stop during alumni events, she said.

 “The Jeff’s reopening is like the return of a living room for Amherst College,” she said. “It’s a comfortable place and you know that you’ll be welcome there. Even if you don’t know anybody when you stop by, you know there will be people there who you’ll want to get to know.”

Image icon 2012_01_05_RM_Lord_Jeff_AR_104.jpg44.72 KB

When Parents Visit

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/13/2011, at 3:42 PM
By Adam Gerchick '13

My parents’ visit began with a wake-up call at 11 a.m. “We just landed,” my mother told me. “We’ve got to pick up a rental car, but we should be there in an hour. I’m sure you’re already up.”

I could hear my father laughing in the background.

The writer with his father, Mark Gerchick '73
The writer with his father, Mark Gerchick '73

By the time my parents arrived at Cohan Dormitory, I’d managed to fully prepare both my room and myself. My hair was merely damp. I’d made my bed. I’d folded most of my clothes, shoved the rest in a bin under the bed frame, hidden my beer and found, behind my printer, the phantom container of shrimp fried rice I thought I’d been smelling for a few weeks but hadn’t been able to locate.

My father, an Amherst graduate from the class of 1973, was taken aback as soon as he walked inside my dorm-room door: “It’s like a three-star hotel!”

“It needs posters,” my mother countered.

Having never lived in the Amherst Chi Psi house during the early 1970s, Mom apparently couldn’t appreciate the carpeting and relative immaculateness of a Cohan dorm room in the way my father could.

My parents, who’d arrived on an early-November Saturday for Family Weekend, took their seats, Mom beside me on the bed and Dad in the wooden desk chair across the room, preparing to speak face-to-face with their son for the first time in more than a month.

“Look,” my dad began, “there’s no way anyone’s going through all those free condoms in the bathroom, so when the sign says to call the dorm counselor if they run out, I’m guessing that’s aspirational.”

It was good to see him, too.


Family Weekend
A family makes some noise at the football game.
We went to the football game. Amherst was playing Trinity, and it was the sort of football that my dad likes: cookouts, simple bleachers and the ability to sit fewer than 300 feet from the field without needing a loan to buy the tickets from a scalper. The Goodyear Blimp was conspicuously absent. Pre-entrance security was nonexistent. Instead, all we got was a football game, and without commercial breaks at that.

A quick survey of the Amherst stands found them filled with students’ parents and siblings, and it was strange to see my classmates—those whom I regarded essentially as self-managing adults—sitting between their mothers and fathers, skulking behind them into and out of the field and taking direction from them on where to stand for family photographs beside the end zone. Like the children next to their naval rescuer at the end of Lord of the Flies, we were all, in a sense, diminutive again.

That night, as we dined out, I was reminded that there are certain traditions that come with a Gerchick Family Weekend Dinner. These are the Food-Quality Survey, the Academic Inquest and the Love-Life Review.

“Val’s getting better, right?”

“You’re doing well in class, right?”

“Look, I know you’re going to hate me for asking this, but that girl from Mount Holyoke…?”

My father likes to offer what he calls his “moments of Polonius.” On this night they were, compared to Shakespeare’s, lacking: “I don’t have the dough to buy you into law school, so don’t go shooting up and blowing all your classes.” My father’s advice was, admittedly, easier than Shakespeare’s to follow.

Morning Walk
A family walks beneath the fall foliage on campus.


The next morning, the call came early. “We’re coming,” my father said in his most ominous voice, giving me fair warning that he and my mother were about to leave an alumni brunch. They were in my room when I got back from the shower.

“You’re getting a gut,” Mom told me as I walked in the room.

“Morning,” I offered.

“See!” my dad said, gesticulating toward my mother from his newly preferred spot at my desk. “I’m no worse than her. And your hair’s too short.”

We decided to go for a walk. My parents would be flying home to Virginia that evening, and my dad suggested we visit the Quabbin Reservoir’s Windsor Dam, the half-mile span we had crossed the day before my freshman orientation two years ago. And so, after lunch, we drove the 12 miles to the reservoir.

We arrived around 3:30 p.m., just as the sun was getting low enough to hit the surrounding mountains with a yellow glow, bringing out the New England autumn in their leaves. The park was virtually empty, and we walked the length of the dam, talking about grandparents and vacation plans and prospects for summer jobs. We stopped to watch a lone mallard dive into the water, and we waited, each unwilling to admit we were concerned for it, for several minutes until we realized it had re-emerged several dozen yards away.

The walk led me to think about the real virtue of family visits. It’s not that they let students see their families, and it’s not that they let families see that their students are all right. These visits show parents that the college is all right—that Amherst, not as an instructive institution but as an environment and a community, can serve its students well. For new Amherst families, a visit offers some level of assurance, a confirmation that the college is a safe, stimulating and satisfying place in which students can pursue their talents, develop substantive relationships and ultimately live, and learn to live, well.

But for my father and the fellow alumni who repeatedly return to campus, these weekends are a chance to revive their relationships with Amherst. Perhaps not with the classes or the social dorms or their former classmates, but with the spirit of the institution. As much as he had come back to see his son, my dad had come back to visit his college memories, and the weekend was as much his as it was mine.

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"Snowtober" Cleanup Means Work Through "De-Timber"

Submitted on Tuesday, 11/22/2011, at 12:09 PM

By Rob Mattson


amage from the late-October snowstorm that wreaked havoc on Western Massachusetts may be out of sight, but it's not yet out of mind. Bob Shea, the grounds supervisor at Amherst, says that 95 percent of the cleanup effort is finished, for the main campus, but the remaining 5 percent may not be complete until well into December.

Photo by Rob Mattson

Those who frequent the college's expansive trail system should exercise caution. Shea recommends keeping a watchful eye for any of the remaining 25 percent of branches that snapped under the weight of the snow but have not yet fallen. The 33-year veteran of Amherst winters says these "hangers" are indicative of the challenges ahead for his nine-person staff, in part because many of the remaining hangers are too high and can only be accessed by companies who have sky-reaching bucket trucks. Out of approximately 850 trees that have roots in Amherst College soil, Shea says, 400 to 450 have some degree of damage, with 40 of those being complete losses. More than 10 trees still need to come down and will be reduced to chopped timber in the winter months, when a layer of permafrost will allow crews to more easily access the rugged ground on which the trees lived prior to the storm.

The greatest challenge for the Facilities crew immediately after the storm, according to Shea, was clearing roads and avoiding fallen or falling timber and power lines. "It was like a war zone," he says. The storm caused tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damages, but the students, staff and faculty who volunteered for cleanup on the morning of Oct. 30 kept the toll from climbing even higher. "It was just a blessing to see those kids come out," Shea reflects, adding that the volunteers accomplished a month's work in less than one day and cleared close to half of all fallen brush.

In the coming weeks, the Facilities team will make more progress in leaf removal and other efforts, before winter arrives-- officially, this time --and covers the ground, once again, with snow.

Scenes from a Blackout

Submitted on Tuesday, 11/8/2011, at 1:55 PM

By Mark Idleman '15

Early in the afternoon on Saturday, the sky was a blank gray and the air was crisp. Flakes began to fall as I walked to the men’s soccer game, and by the time I got there, a few inches were already on the ground. The game was a mess; players were slipping and sliding everywhere, and the ball would only roll for a few feet before it picked up snow and became a snowball. By the time soccer was over, around three inches had fallen, and the large, wet flakes were still hitting my face as I walked back to my dorm. Later that night, friends and I walked out to the freshman quad to have a snowball fight. The snow was falling heavily, and the quad was silent. You could hear the creak of trees overhead as they bent under the weight of the snow. It was clear that our location wasn’t very safe.  We moved to a more open patch of the quad, away from trees, and watched as branches snapped and crashed to the ground.  It was chaotic, with large limbs breaking violently and falling, leaving clouds of snow in their wake.  We opted to return to North and went to sleep without any power.


When I woke up, the power was still out. Along the way to Val, I realized that the storm had wreaked havoc; branches were sprinkled all over the snow and paths were blocked by huge limbs. When I arrived at Val, the front hall was jammed with students who had brought power strips and were charging their electronics.  People were sprawled out anywhere and everywhere. Students were sitting against the walls in hallways, using the outlets in the food service area and crowding around tables throughout the dining hall. I also noticed a large number of people who had come from town seeking food, electricity and heat.  It was obvious that Val would be serving as a central refuge for both the college and the town of Amherst, and there was a strong sense of community as everyone huddled up and waited to see what would happen next. The power was restored later that evening to many buildings (including my dorm), but the campus was clearly still recovering and no one was surprised when classes were canceled for Monday.

On Monday morning, students and townspeople met on the freshman quad to organize a cleanup effort around campus. The quad looked like a warzone, but as the swarm of volunteers and workers cleared away debris, it began to look better. Several maintenance workers, equipped with chainsaws, cut the larger branches into sections that students could pick up and carry to the edges of the quad. After most of the limbs had been cleared, the group split up around campus, helping to clean up at the gym and other locations. Everyone banded together. Students were eager to bring the campus back to its previous condition. Cooperation was key: groups would get together to clear the larger pieces, carrying and dumping them as a team. The cleanup lasted most of the day, with volunteers working until the grounds were sufficiently cleared of debris.


By Adam Gerchick '13

The Halloween party was well underway when the fire alarm went off around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night. The immediate reaction among the dozens of revelers in a Davis Dormitory suite was one of exasperated disbelief: things were just getting good, and now this? After staring at one another, the costumed partygoers slowly pushed toward the exits, tromping down two flights of stairs in their costumes and emerging into the frigid, snowy night.  The tuxedoed gangster looked rather comfortable in the weather; the sleeveless lumberjack, not so much. 

I followed Tarzan and the pimp to Pond Dormitory in search of another party. Refugees from the Davis festivities soon crowded Pond, spilling out from the entrance. I worked my way into a sort of human stream slowing pressing upstairs along the right stairway banister. I made it into the common room of a friend’s suite, glad to talk with friends and listen to music while the snow fell heavily outside.

This arrangement proved fleeting: before midnight, the power died, pitching Pond into darkness. From the windows, I watched an exodus of costumed students crowd the outside pathways and head elsewhere for the second time that hour.

The early snowstorm was catching the trees still with their leaves, providing additional surface area on which the snow could weigh down limbs. Branches seemed to be coming down in rapid succession, pulling down power lines and overloading transformers all across the college. The transformers were exploding, flashing fluorescent blue into the night and allowing me to make out students running through the snow. 

Looking out the window with me, a friend gestured toward the grass between the Pond and Stone dormitories. I looked, and together we watched a lone figure in a penguin suit walking through the bombardment of branches and blue explosions like Halloween’s answer to Francis Scott Key.



I arrived in Valentine Hall on Sunday morning to find it filled with like-minded snowstorm refugees. Well over 100 students had crowded the dining tables with backpacks, cell phones and laptops, searching for electricity and Internet access in what had suddenly become a technologically disconnected campus. Earlier that morning, Amherst’s facilities staff had parked a large generator outside of the building, turning it into an oasis of heat, power and web connectivity. 

Seemingly every power outlet had been taken. Phone and laptop chargers occupied many. Several students, knowing outlet access would be in short supply, had brought their power strips, those foot-long accessories with multiple outlets.

Few students had enough gadgets to occupy the entireties of their power strips, and so an altruistic economy  developed, with students offering to share their unused outlets with friends and strangers who happened to be sitting nearby.

As I was eating breakfast, a town resident walked by my table, searching in vain for an available outlet along the wall.  A student seated next to me had her own power strip and asked the resident if he would like to share it. The man almost stared in surprise and thanked her as though she had offered some extraordinary gift.  

By Emily Gold Boutilier

The morning after the power went out, my husband, daughter and I went in search of a hot breakfast. Downtown Amherst had no open restaurants, so we turned onto Route 9, where we found the 24-hour diner dark. Back in the car, we downgraded our requirements: a hot meal no longer necessary, we decided that hot coffee would do just fine. Alas, there was no coffee on Route 9 in Hadley. We pushed on to downtown Northampton, where everything was closed.


As we turned around the car, I knew two things: First, for the sake of all involved, my husband needed caffeine. (There's a remote chance he was thinking the same thing about me, but that's only because he doesn't realize that I could stop any time.) Second, I knew there was an excellent chance that Valentine was open.

Returning to Amherst, we practically cheered as we saw lights on in Val. Inside the college's dining hall, we found bagels, cereal (my 7-year-old concocted a mix of various frosted grains), scrambled eggs, sausage and roasted root vegetables. The coffee was not only hot but also good, and I am hard to please when it comes to coffee.

We found a round table and were soon joined by three friendly students. We mentioned that since no one was there to scan my staff ID or take my money, I'd call during the week to own up to the three meals. Later, I learned there was no need to call: Val was open to the public, for free, in the days after the storm, when so many in the area were without heat and electricity. In my family and in many others, the gesture did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Photos by Rob Mattson

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Of Note: Late-Night Event Inspires Student Letter Writers

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/26/2011, at 3:00 PM

By Adam Gerchick '13

Rohan Mazumdar ’12 had not expected to spend his Friday night with a typewriter. But on Friday, Sept. 16, he arrived at Amherst’s first “letter-writing social,” where, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., hundreds of students pressed envelopes with sealing wax and tapped away at classic typewriters. To Mazumdar’s surprise, he is now inspired to continue the practice.

Sponsored by the college’s Student Activities Office, the letter-writing social—first in the Amherst After Dark series of late-night events—gave students the opportunity to mingle and relax while reviving the nearly lost art of pen-and-paper or typewritten-letter writing.

"Everyone was really into it," says Mazumdar. “I think both the ‘letter-writing’ and the ‘social’ parts of the event were really well appreciated.”

The brainchild of Crista Reed, assistant director of student activities, the social “was the kind of thing I always wanted to do as an undergrad,” she says. After discussing the proposal with Student Activities Dean Hannah Fatemi, Reed purchased—online—several traditional typewriters. Then, Reed admits (slightly sheepishly), she “figured out how to use them.”

Reed organized two stations, one in which students could operate typewriters and the other for those wishing to delve even deeper into history by using ink and quills. She also purchased envelopes and sealing wax.

Reed expected attendance to reach 150 to 200. Instead, by her estimate, more than 300 people arrived. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” she said. When students asked her to do it again, she decided to incorporate typewriting and letter writing into a Dec. 8 “craft night.”

The experience led several attendees to independently continue the practice of old-fashioned writing. “I actually wrote a letter to a friend in the week following the event,” Mazumdar says. So did Chris Lim ’12: “I was inspired to maintain correspondence with someone who moved out of Amherst through traditional letter writing. In fact, I took extra supplies from the event and wrote letters the next day.”

And thanks to Reed, the Amherst student body might now include a manual typist: Mazumdar heard a rumor that one student went to the typewriter store on North Pleasant Street (yes, there is such a place) asking to rent one.

Gender Matters

Submitted on Thursday, 10/20/2011, at 8:58 AM

In 1962, Amherst hired Rose Olver, now the L. Stanton Williams '41 Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies, as its first female tenure-track professor. On Oct. 1 of this year, nearing the  50th anniversary of Olver’s arrival and facing the impending retirement and replacement of a large proportion of the faculty, the  college held a symposium titled “Half a Century of Women Teaching at Amherst: Gender Matters.” More than 150 people packed the Cole Assembly Room, including current professors, students, alumnae and 60 percent of the women who taught at Amherst between 1962 and 1983.

Ellen Ryerson (left), who taught in the Department of American Studies from 1968 to 1975, with Olver

You can watch video of the symposium here.

The following are just a few remarks from the addresses and panel discussions:

“[E]ven when we began planning this event, we had no idea that we were at yet another milestone: that Amherst was about to have its first female president—unthinkable in 1962…”

Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Aries, introducing the symposium


“I remember sitting here [at a faculty meeting] and thinking, ‘I need a tie,’ and feeling like I maybe better not sit with more than one other woman.”

Elaine Brighty, who arrived at Amherst in 1979 as the first tenure-track woman in the biology department


“The ‘one plus one equals more than two’ effect is really important.”

Laura Wexler, assistant professor of American studies and English from 1977 to 1985, on how helpful it was when a female faculty member could find support and camaraderie from at least one other woman on a committee or in a meeting


C. Rhonda Cobham-Sander (left), the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Black Studies and English, with Associate Professor of Biology Caroline Goutte

“I was one of the token women elected to the Committee of Six [the executive committee of the faculty] twice when I was untenured. … A rumor was circulating around campus that radical feminist lesbians were in cahoots to elect Gewertz.”

Deborah Gewertz, now the G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology, who has taught at Amherst since 1977


“I dreamt [last night] that we were all sitting here, giving our little speeches in Chinese. And it only occurred to us about halfway through that nobody in the audience could understand us. I think that’s actually a lot of what was happening in the early years here. … Where we were coming from, the way we were framing things—it just didn’t compute with the traditional accepted way of communicating here. … This is true in any kind of environment where you have dominant culture, a dominant group—and diversifying that group is something that means a very fundamental change in the culture.”

Kathleen Hartford, assistant professor of political science from 1974 to 1981, who traveled from China to attend the symposium


“My second child was born in 1977… We had no maternity leave and no day care, so Phoebe was planned to arrive in June, and she did, but there was great concern that she might arrive early—specifically, during Commencement… that my water would break on the front steps of Frost. … We compromised, and I marched until I got to the end of the line, and then I threw off my robe and faded into the audience.”

Jane Taubman, now professor emerita of Russian


From left: Susan Lewandowski, assistant professor of history from 1974 to 1984; Hartford; Waller; Stark

“There was one particular group of students who decided that they wanted to call me ‘Mom,’ … and that got around among the men in my department, and I think that was really the kiss of death. … If you were liked by the students, then you must be doing something not-rigorous…”

Ruth Stark, assistant professor of chemistry from 1979 to 1985, on how her teaching style was “more nurturing” than was the norm in her department


“It was just so unbelievably important for me that [Brighty and Stark] were there, because they were the only women in the sciences that I had to look up to.”

Emily Stern ’83, on being a premed student at Amherst


“[T]he most conservative thing about Amherst is the unspoken codes… it’s assumed you know them. And I think what many people felt offended by was the idea that there could be so many women faculty who were critical and unhappy and didn’t appreciate this institution in the way that male faculty did [and who] were not only speaking about the conditions of women faculty but saying, ‘You know, this isn’t the healthiest way to live.’”

Amrita Basu, the Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies, on the response to the 1984 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Conditions of Work for Faculty Women at Amherst College. The minutes of a meeting quoted faculty describing the report as “antithetical to the life of the mind,” “propagandist” and “shrill.”


“The response was the best demonstration we could possibly have hoped for of exactly how accurate the report was, because really, everything that was in the report was performed in those [faculty meeting] minutes.”

Marguerite Waller, who taught English and women’s studies at Amherst from 1974 to 1991. The 1984 report helped to spur an increase in the hiring of women and the creation of a women’s studies department.


“I don’t see diversity as an opportunity or a goal so much as simply a reality that one either denies, wards off, or embraces. It’s simply the fact of human existence.”

President Biddy Martin, during her lunchtime talk in Lewis-Sebring Dining Commons, on her intention to help increase the diversity of the Amherst faculty


“He’s carefully penciled out ‘men’ and written in ‘writers,’ and among the 17 male names, he has included ‘(caret) Vera Brittain.’ It was, I thought, a real moment in which I literally saw a woman enter into the course catalog.”

Michele Barale, the Thalheimer Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies, on finding a page in a late-1970s course catalog on which a professor had edited a course description


Barale and Raskin look on as Bateson speaks.

“You cannot bring people in at the most vulnerable stage of their lives and expect entrenched, experienced senior figures to treat them as equals.”

Mary Catherine Bateson, professor of anthropology from 1980 to 1987 and the first female dean of the faculty, on why she pushed for the hiring of more women into senior faculty positions, as opposed to hiring only young women who were just out of graduate school




“[H]e said, ‘This is an outrage. I am taking this to the top.’ And I said, ‘Professor So-and-So, I am the top.’”

Lisa Raskin, now the John William Ward Professor of Psychology (Neuroscience), on having a conflict with a senior faculty member during her time as dean of the faculty from 1995 to 2003


“I am so proud of my department now. In a department of nine, there are seven women.”

Patricia O’Hara, the Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Chemistry


Photos by Jessica Mestre '10

Amherst’s Tango Club Steps Out

Submitted on Sunday, 9/18/2011, at 10:05 AM

The Argentine tango, a dance that finds roots on the streets of Buenos Aires, has endured to thrive in many global locations, including Amherst. Explore this club, and close to 100 other student groups here and watch a tango audio slideshow below.

Career Center Welcomes New Director Ursula Olender

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/13/2011, at 12:17 PM

Interview by Rebecca Ojserkis '12

This fall, Amherst welcomes Ursula Olender as the new director of the Career Center and associate dean of students. She comes to Amherst from Colgate University, where she became director of career services in 2007. She was previously associate director of career services and chief health professions adviser at Dartmouth College. She received a master’s degree in counseling from Springfield College and a bachelor’s in psychology from Greenville College. She recently spoke with Rebecca Ojserkis ’12 about her plans for Amherst. The edited and condensed interview is below.


What is the value of a liberal arts degree in today’s job market?

I think the liberal arts degree is more valuable than ever. The competencies gained through a liberal arts education are competencies that every employer values: critical thinking, analytical reasoning, exceptional communication skills, writing skills. Students who are able to hone these skills will be able to nimbly move between jobs within an organization. They’re going to be able to master new material. I believe that the liberal arts [provide] the best education for the top career fields, especially in this economy where people are changing careers more frequently than in years past. Technical knowledge is important, but being able to master new information in the way that you do as a student in a liberal arts institution is more important than ever before.


That’s a very reassuring answer for me as a rising senior! What are some challenges that a liberal arts graduate might face?

The main thing that I have to do as a career services professional is help our students present their qualifications, strengths and competencies as effectively as possible so that employers, graduate programs and fellowships programs truly understand the value that the liberal arts student or graduate brings to the organization. The student needs to communicate succinctly and directly what they may be able to offer and what skills and training they have that will enable them to contribute.


I’ve noticed many graduates applying to graduate or professional school right out of the gate instead of entering the workforce. Is this a good thing?

Graduate school is a very expensive endeavor. It’s not a great place to hole up if you’re not absolutely certain that you want to pursue that [career] path. You do it because there’s nothing else you’d rather do, or because it’s a means to whatever career you want. [Without] that rationale, people are going to find themselves very unhappy at some point: they’re going to have a lot of debt, or they’ll have to commit themselves to a profession or career that they may not [want]. The other danger is that a student may not get in. Graduate school is the right option for lots of students, but it’s not a great place to protect oneself from the perils of the job market.

Those are some of the conversations we can have in the Career Center with students in helping them assess their qualifications for graduate school and brainstorm ways to really improve those credentials, so that they’re applying to a job or a school at the right time. I want all students to be successful, and success is going to be defined by that individual student.


What do you view as the role of Amherst alumni in students’ career searches?

Alumni are critically important. Alumni at Amherst or at most any institution are going to be more than happy to help students identify resources and opportunities. We need to go a step beyond that. We need to find ways to help alumni better understand how they can hire Amherst students for internships, postgraduate employment or even employment years [after graduation]. [Exposing students] to different models of success and bringing more alumni to the attention of current students is something we’ve been very good at here at Colgate and something that I hope to continue to do at Amherst as well. Making sure that the alums are as engaged with students—it’s one of the ways that alumni can give back that doesn’t require traveling to campus or writing a check.


What immediate plans or ideas would you like to implement?

There’s a program that I’m very proud of at Colgate. We call it the Spring Immersion program, where we take students to different cities over spring break. We take sophomores to explore the nonprofit sector. We have a group that goes to New York and looks at art. We have a group that goes to Washington; they focus on civil society and international NGOs. And we have another group that goes to Boston [to] look at education. We’re looking at career paths that students may feel the Career Center has not been as strong at introducing, providing opportunities for students to interact with potential employers, internship sponsors and alumni colleagues through a program of this sort. I’m hoping that we can find a way to introduce or expand upon this idea at Amherst—perhaps also [including] other sectors that interest students, [such as] the sciences, the environment [and] communications.


What advice do you have for first-year students and, in contrast, for rising seniors?

My advice for first-year students is to engage the Career Center as early as possible—in fact, in the very first year. Probably by October or November, students should make their way to the Career Center, meet with a career adviser and establish a relationship with someone in the office. It’s not important that a student knows what she wants to do, but it is important that she understand the resources and the services available.

My advice for a senior who hasn’t been in is the same as for the first-year student. It is never too late. Career advice is something that one should seek out throughout [life]. I still spend time chatting with mentors and obtaining advice related to my own career.

When working with a senior, I want them to know how important it is to establish connections, whether it’s to peers, to faculty members, to administrators, to alumni, to friends’ parents. To learn how to communicate goals to people who are able to connect you with opportunities is such a critical skill and one that I hope all Amherst seniors will have before they leave campus. A career counselor can work with a student on how they communicate their interests, their strengths, their goals.


How important are internships to launching a career?

More and more employers expect to see at least one [relevant internship]. They want students to come in with some experience. [Internships also] allow students to explore what excites them. 

But I also understand that other types of experiences can be equally or, in some cases, even more meaningful. A summer spent traveling might enable a student to think about her or his future. I think of research experience in similar ways as I think of internships, volunteer service and summer jobs—all are valuable.

What ties it all together is this ability to communicate how these experiences have been meaningful [and] have prepared them for the types of postgraduate opportunities that they want to pursue. As students are looking for summer jobs, internships or research experiences, it’s important that they understand the skills and competencies they want to develop, that they are able to achieve those goals over the course of the summer and that they’re able to communicate what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown.


Since we have only three summers as college students, how do you recommend exploring different fields if students are uncertain where to even begin?

On-campus jobs can be an effective way. Probably the easiest way to learn about different fields is [to have] informational interviews with alumni and with almost anyone who will talk to you. Everyone has a story, and being able to introduce yourself and interview people about what they do, what they find satisfying and how they got from point A to point B is going to provide insight that will enable students to make decisions about what to pursue and what to avoid. I suggest that students think about doing three to six informational interviews every semester. The Career Center can help recommend individuals who students should be connecting with.


Of the recent graduates I’ve known, most who enter the workforce receive jobs in one of three fields: finance, teaching or scientific research. What do you recommend for students who don’t want to pursue those fields?

One of the concerns that all career centers have is that students perceive the center as supporting certain groups more effectively than others. I think that is a false perception. The reality, though, is that, in the humanities, there is far more diversity of opportunities, and there aren’t neat pockets or websites or hiring organizations that are out recruiting humanities majors. The student is going to need to spend more time navigating a process that isn’t as clear-cut. That’s where a career counselor can be most helpful. No two students are alike, no two paths are alike, and that’s very interesting and exciting for the career team.

I think a lot of students imagine that you need to know what you want when you come into the Career Center. The reality is that very few students have a well-defined goal when they walk in. I think a lot of humanities students may feel a little intimidated, a little less certain about what the future holds. I want to help those students understand what the Career Center can do to help them support their plans, even their short-term plans. I think trying to plan the rest of your life at age 21 or 22 [is] perhaps not very realistic.


How does the Five College Consortium play into the Career Center’s work?

Each school has different strengths in our ability to bring different types of employers to the area. One of the challenges I had at Colgate is that we were in a rural area, not really on the beaten path to anything. It’s quite expensive for employers to recruit, and they’re not as willing to come to Colgate. But Amherst, being part of a Five College system, should be able to expose students to a wider breadth of career opportunities.


Is there any other information you want to get out to the community?

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of the Amherst community. I lived in Amherst about 20 years ago with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. We feel like we’re coming full circle. I can’t wait [to support] the hopes, dreams and goals of Amherst students and alumni.

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Irene Joins the Class of 2015

Submitted on Thursday, 9/1/2011, at 9:26 AM

Public Affairs' Rob Mattson spent Sunday afternoon with first-year students, international students and officer Jeffery Edwards of the Campus Police as they watched Tropical Storm Irene pass through Western Massachusetts on move-in day.