Parent-Dean Conference Call 2012

Due to technical difficulties, the recording of the parent/dean phone call on October 4, 2012 was difficult to hear clearly, so instead of the recording we have posted a transcription of the evening's conversation.

To go directly to a specific question, click on the topic below:

Fall Break - campus eating options and more
Leadership Program
Airport Shuttle Service

Flu Shots
Security Presence
Work Study Jobs
President Martin
Athletic Facility
Health Services

Accounting Classes

Amtrak Train

Social Events


Work Study Program

Language Classes
Dean Office Hours


Dining Services


Family Weekend
Closing Remarks

Marcy Larmon: Good evening and welcome to our conversation with Interim Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East and Dean of First Year Students Pat O'Hara. My name is Marcy Larmon, and I'm director of on-campus programs in the office of Alumni and Student Programs.
Before we begin, I want to remind you that your phones are muted, so while you can hear us, we cannot hear you. You may email your questions at any time during the call. We will get to as many of them, as well as those emailed ahead of time, as time permits; some questions may be summarized and similar questions may be combined.

Charri Boykin-East, Interim Dean of Students, has been at Amherst since 1990 and stepped into the interim dean's position this fall. She is available to consult all students on all matters relating to college policy, regulations, and requirements. She is the dean responsible for Academic Support Services, and holds special responsibilities for the Peer Tutoring Program and students with disabilities. She is also available for general and academic counseling for the Class of 2015. Dean Boykin-East is a member of several of the College's committees, including College Council, the Committee on Academic Standing, the Orientation Committee and the Prize Committee and she chairs the Committee on Discipline.

Pat O'Hara, Dean of First Year Students and the Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Chemistry, has been at Amherst for 29 years. She has special responsibilities for the personal and academic counseling of students in the Class of 2016 and new transfer students. She may be consulted on matters relating to the general and academic counseling of first-year students, college regulations and requirements, the Orientation Program and the First-Year Seminar courses. Dean O'Hara is also a member of the Committee on Academic Standing and the Prize Committee, and chairs the College's Orientation Committee.

Charri, would you like to begin?

(CBE) Good evening. It's so nice to be able to have a chance to talk this evening. I'm sorry that it can't be in person. But I look forward to any opportunity that we will be able to meet anytime this year. I'm thrilled about having the opportunity to step into this role for this year, and I hope that if you do have any general questions about our dean of students office, or any support that you might need for your sons or daughters, please do not hesitate to contact us.

(PO) Hi everyone, it's Pat O'Hara, I'm the dean of new students and, I know I've met a lot of you, either when you left your children here at the college, left them with us, and I just want to say we're really happy to be with you tonight, and a little bit honored to be here after last night when you mostly were probably all listening to the presidential debate, and so it's quite a, quite an amazing time this semester too. I think I wanted to say a little bit about, sort of the academic time of year that October brings with it. So, students have been in classes, they're in the middle of the fifth week, there are midterms, there are papers due, we haven't had any days off for really quite a long period of time, so it's a moment when stress levels are high, flu season is almost here, it's just a lot of students who are feeling the academic pressure. I think I wanted to say a little bit to you about sort of how this works in to how the college, how we all try to take this into account when we are planning our programming and supports for students. I know we did have a lot of question from parents just about the, how do we know how well our students are doing in classes, how do they know about what courses they're supposed to take. And one of the things I just wanted to mention is, we're approaching the moment in the semester that we call the "midterm" and students who might be in any academic difficulty are notified by their faculty through the college's AC data which they all know how to use. So, if you wonder how your children are doing in class, I think the best thing you can think about doing, is just asking them if they had any warning grades or if they had any conversations with their faculty. And, I as well, as the dean of the first-year students, will be telling students about how they should be approaching the moment when they take stock of how they're doing in the semester. And we have a pretty explicit set of supports in place of peer tutoring, faculty office hours, discussions with me, extensions, and in the worst possible scenario, a dropping of a course that a first-year student might take if they are in real academic difficulty. This is a pretty intense academic moment, and if you're hearing that in your children's voices, it's completely normal. So, just know that we do plan to provide activities, events, fun things for them to do, all taking into account the pace and the moment in the semester.

(ML) We will start with a question from a family in Georgia. [back to top]

They say their daughter will be spending fall break on campus since it's too far to travel back and they want to know will there be on campus eating options, is it covered in her meal plan? What portion of students stay on campus during fall break?

(CBE) Yes, thank you for your questions, particularly since we are now just now beginning to approach the fall break. This year the mid-semester break will be four days with Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 8 and 9, being off for the students. Most students, especially upper class students stay on campus especially since the mid-term is academically stressful. Folks stay on campus in order to kind of catch up on their academic work. The residence halls are open and so are the dining commons. In addition to that, we will be writing to all students and letting them know about some things that are happening around town that they might want to be able to participate in either for free or for a small amount of money. So, there are things like a dance performance at the Mead Art Museum or perhaps they may want to go to a sporting event or visiting the Museum of Natural History so we are trying to provide those students who do stay with some extra activities that might be around town. Amherst is a beautiful place to explore. Often times, many of our students just simply stay on campus so this would be a really good time for them to not only explore, but begin to look at the some of the budding foliage. Also, there are a number of students that tend to stay on campus during the Thanksgiving break and I guess what I would really want you to do is to encourage you, to encourage your child that if they live locally or if they are going home if they would maybe think about inviting someone to come home with them. Last year we had about 180 students who were here on the day of Thanksgiving and although we as a college do try to provide food and programming for those students who remain, it sometimes can be kind of a lonely place. So I would encourage you to encourage your son or daughter that if they can, to really encourage them to bring someone home. It's a growing number of students that stay here and many of them are international students or students from low income backgrounds so having a little extra company during the holiday for some could really be quite satisfying. [back to top]

(ML) Last year the first-year athletes participated in a leadership program. Could you please tell us about it, including whether it or anything similar extends into the second year?

(PO) This is Pat and I'm going to be answering that question and I went to the director of athletics to make sure I had this information correct. So the Amherst Leads Program is a leadership development program that is run with the student athletes at Amherst College. They have it tiered in a really kind of lovely way. They start out with the first year initiative, their FYI program, which deals with all of the first-year student athletes. And it's a program that has them really think deeply about their role as team members.  They think about how they can actually lead themselves even if they not a caption or something at that point. I think there's a lot of discussion in that program about how do you actually be a student athlete at Amherst College. It's a kind of a daunting task to be actually an athlete and a student at a place where such high expectations are held and both arenas. Then the second program of three is something called the Futures Program. For sophomores and juniors the future program prepares them for the challenges that when they will become leaders in their teams or at the college as they prepare to become seniors. So there are discussions about the particularly relevant issues regarding sophomores and juniors. And then there's a Captain's Program specifically for the captains of the Amherst 27 varsity teams and that serves as a capstone program of the Amherst Leads Program. So with these three initiatives, most of the Amherst athletes have a chance to participate in one or both or all of those different experiences.[back to top]

(ML) A parent writes: How does the shuttle service to the airport work? Is there a charge for this service? If a friend of my child comes to see him, what is the best way for him to get to the airport or from the airport to the college?

(CBE) So the Student Government Association, if you go to their website, you will see a transportation list- where there's a list of when the buses will be coming and picking students up. They generally have services just before each break and usually a few times a day for the 2 days at the start of the break. They go back and forth from the airport. So please check the website for that information. Other than break times, a list of airport shuttles may be found at About Amherst page under public transportation. There is one in particular, which is called Valley Transporter that has been around since maybe the early 1970's. They are a reliable service. There are many more cab services now in the area than there ever were before so there's lots of ways that if students do get out early in terms of getting back and forth to the airport. [back to top]

(ML)Does Amherst College encourage students to get flu shots and are they readily available at the health center?

(PO) So the college does in fact encourage students and faculty and staff to get flu shots and they are readily available at the health center. The Keefe Health Center just announced the student flu clinic that will start Tuesday Oct. 9th from 5:30- 7. Students can come anytime, the charge is$15 and that will be billed to the student's account so parents can submit that through insurance for reimbursement. [back to top]

(ML) Another parent writes that my daughter has noticed that there seems to be increased police and security presence at student social events this fall. Is there some reason for this?

(CBE) I would say that is not true in terms of there has not been an increased police and security presence at any of the social events this year. Nothing about our policies or procedures have changed in any way. What we have done though is we have had more conversations about how policies and procedures must be enforced and we have had lots of conversations with students about the alcohol policy. As many of you know the drinking age in Massachusetts is 21 and so we are certainly having those conversations with students about the appropriate ways to hold events. And if there are students who are not 21, who are not at the drinking age, we are having those conversations with students about that. [back to top]

(ML) We've had quite a few questions about changes in the curriculum and how students chose courses at the beginning of the year. I'll try to put a few of them together and hopefully you can cover that subject.

One parent wants to know: When the student enrolls for class should they expect that they are registered or is it still possible that the class could be overenrolled? Another parent wants to know what some of the new classes are and specifically inquiring about the Architectural Studies major. A few parents have asked about how students find the right major. So I will turn that over to you in a general way.

(PO) Hi everybody this is Pat talking again about the curricular issues. Something I can let you all know. The architectural studies question. So we do have this new architectural studies major. It's an interdisciplinary major, it interweaves with courses that are also available in the valley elsewhere. It's really an exciting major. I think we are one of the only undergraduate architectural studies majors in the country. This is not an architecture program. It really is one that draws on a range of disciplines across the college that includes art history, cultural studies, history, literature, economics, urban studies, visual and media arts, gender studies, physics neuroscience, sociology and environmental studies so you can see it really is a liberal arts curriculum in and of itself. So the new major is just taking its first students this year is something that a lot of the faculty are participating in and very excited about and we don't even have a single major declared at this moment but it's something we are pretty excited about.

Then there was some questions about how do students choose courses and how do they know if they are in the right level of courses. And I think that one of the things that I really hope to impress upon you is that we didn't open curriculum. It feels to the faculty that there is nothing more important that to have that conversation with your children. When they come to the college during orientation they will have a sit down one-on-one for one hour with their faculty member. Where that faculty member has a broad range of discussions to get acquainted but also to try and find out not only what are their intellectual interests, strengths, weaknesses that the student might self -identify and then to choose courses that build into strengths and maybe tend to some of the weaknesses that they bring with them to the college, but also to investigate what levels of courses might be appropriate. In some of the more hierarchical disciplines like math, chemistry, economics, it's often a little bit difficult to place the students in the right course at the very beginning. And I know Amherst doesn't have a policy of giving credit for AP courses like a lot of schools do but we take into account the different levels that students come prepared with and try to place them according to some placement exams given in math as well as the secondary schools transcripts and if the student doesn't think that the placement is appropriate, a conversation will follow. In every case that the student has the background that they feel would place them either more often they feel like we place them at a higher level, we invite them to have a conversation with the person that is teaching the course that they would like to skip over. Instructions for doing this are on the course disciplinary website for ECON, phycology, mathematics, chemistry, physics and it talks about how each of those disciplines has a slightly different way of doing it. But we are a small place and things really are so often solved face-to- face with a student telling the professor what is it that their background has and enabling the professor and that student together to judge the right level. If the levels not right what also can be part of that secondary conversation a week in, two weeks in, three weeks in sometimes as much as a month in to the semester, a student discovers they elected to take an upper level course and they no longer feel that was the right choice. So in many instances, especially with the language courses, they are welcome to drop down a level and to pick up at a lower lever and I just want to emphasize once again, we don't put prescriptions for all of this on our website because we really would like to encourage conversations between the students coming in and the faculty and the courses they would either like to take or to skip over. [back to top]

(PO)There were a couple of questions about overenrolled courses when students are shut out of courses that are overenrolled and also with regard to there were 2 group A and B during registration for first-year students this year and some students in group B who registered later thought that they had been disadvantaged as a result of that.

(PO) So just with regard to enrollments, what happens at the college is during pre-registration caps are not enforced in classes. And so what that means is, that we do not give any preference to the person who got to their advisor first and registered first. We want to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at pre-registration so that they can all register for the courses they want to take and then there's a methodology that is actually in the course description for how if the course is overenrolled the professor is going to select the students who are actually going to take the class. So those numbers of the spaces in the class and number of students who have registered for the classes are published - the students know this- and sometimes faculty reserve, often faculty have a cap of let's say 20 students in the class but it says in the course description that they're holding 5 spaces or ten spaces for first-year students. And again, all of this is transparent, it's on the website. Thirty upper-class students sign up, the course looks like it's overenrolled but we know that there are 10 spots being held for first- year students. So, courses stay open until we have all the first-year students enrolled in the fall semester. And then what happens is we fill up the registrations for the classes. So this year the different thing that we did, is we separated into groups A and B and then with the Registrar, after the students met one-on- one for one hour with their advisor, they then sat down for a half an hour with personnel from the Registrar's office to get themselves into those classes. So what did happen was some of the multi-section courses, if you have ECON there were 7 sections, so the multi-section courses, the popular times filled up but the course itself was not filled up. So some students that registered in B were not able to sign up for the times that they preferred that the courses were to be held. There were indeed a few students who got closed out of one course or another and those were some wrinkles and we are definitely cognizant of those and are working to get rid of them . So, that was the first time we did it. Now, what happened as a result of this method that we did for the first time this year is on Thursday, so registration was on Tuesday, 88% of our first-year students had 4 classes. And I think that was the first time in my history of being first-year dean that we were so able to get first-year students with a full set of courses. And so while there were wrinkles, I know we can do it better. We can perhaps reserve some slots in the popular times for the students registering late.  We are still working that out but I still believe this idea of half the students registering in the morning and half of the students, with the guidance of the Registrar's office, registering in the afternoon produces an overall outcome which is so much better than it was when the students doing it on their own and not doing it with the handholding this first time they register with the Registrar's office. [back to top]

(ML) Next question is what can Amherst College do to encourage and help to initiate freshman students to find work study jobs on campus and the jobs that are available to them?

(PO) So that was a question that comes up a lot when first-year students arrive on campus. And I think that the best thing to say to answer that question is that the students are given access to the jobs that are on campus when they just look under student employment on the campus' website. All the jobs are posted, they can easily go on that, new job are updated regularly. So that's a task that we usually just direct students to the proper place on the website and they can just follow up and get the jobs on their own. [back to top]

(ML) Does President Martin open her home to the students so that all students at some time during their time at Amherst have a chance to talk with her and be a guest in her home?

(CBE) I can't say for certain that every student over the course of their 4 years here will have an opportunity to visit President Martin in her home. I do know that throughout the year she does invite students to come to her home often times as groups so maybe it might be a group of international students or maybe it might be a group of students who are part of a particular club or event. But President Martin also has meetings whereby she goes into the residence halls and she's already identified some dates for this month where she will go into each first-year residence hall or there will be groupings of residence halls that will be coming to meet with her so not only does she invite some students into her home but she's also going to the first-year students homes. [back to top]

(ML) Can you please provide an update on the new athletic facility?

(PO) So that was a great question that I actually had to go and find out the answer to because I wasn't really sure myself (this is Pat speaking). So Suzanne (Coffey) filled me in. There is a website about this called About Amherst/Projects/Pratt Field and some of you may know that the Amherst College Pratt Field is really an unbelievably beautiful spot to watch football games from. I'm sure to play sports, to do your field hockey and do your other athletic work but it is in fact one of the oldest NCAA football playing sites in the nation so it's really due for some renovations. And there's going to be some fairly extensive renovations and it's also going to add a field house, grand stands and a new track such that it is going to be able to host championship level track meets for the first time since 1996. The field house itself that is going to be developed will have flexible space. It's going to have enough rooms and square footage that it's going to include football and field hockey in the fall and men and women's track, men and women's lacrosse and softball in the spring. The buildings going to open to the lower level to the Gooding Field which is to the west which is where they will play the football and the soccer and the upper level Pratt Field to the east. There's going to be coaches, referee locker spaces and about 15000 square footage which is going to be about the same size as a small dorm at the college. The field house will also have a state of the art medical facility and an equipment and laundry room. It's going to have a third level in fact, that's going to have a team video, meeting, alumni gathering spaces and windows oriented to offer the great views to Gooding and Pratt field. [back to top]

(ML) According to our daughter, health services is open from 8:30 to 4 and I actually think it's open a little later than that, our daughter needs a blood check which has to be in the morning but her courses start early. How can you solve that problem?

(CBE) Well, all you would need to do is contact Michelle at health services and by contacting health services, your daughter can make an appointment. They have made arrangements in the past for professionals to come in early to accommodate a student's needs. And if the receptionist is unsure then they should just be sure to ask for Michelle. [back to top]

(ML) Do any of the schools in the consortium offer accounting or other finance classes so students can gain those important life skills?

(PO) So we have a number of five college courses in accounting that are offered. I think the most popular one is at Smith College. There's a financial accounting course which is cross listed both as an economics course 223 and an accounting course 223. So most students at the college who want to take a financial accounting course, will take the one at Smith College. There is also one at Mount Holyoke College which is again listed as ECON 105 and there are sometimes in the past when students have taken some at other universities but recently more of the students distribute themselves between Smith and Mount Holyoke. And just in case I didn't say this clearly enough, the students are allowed to take one financial accounting course while at the college for credit.[back to top]

(ML) We have a question about the loss of the Amtrak train. The train has, up until now, stopped in Amherst. I think at some point, if not already, it's moving over to Northampton. And this parent wants to know if the college is going to be doing anything to help the students get to the train.

(CBE) That's a good question. I think we are going to have to find out more information about it. What I would say about it is that when the trains did stop in Amherst, the times were very infrequent. And I, a longtime resident of Amherst, have often taken the Valley Transporter directly to Springfield, where the train travels more regularly. So, as we said before, there is local transportation and there are also the buses that go to Springfield on a regular basis, so I don't think it's going to be any more of a hardship simply because when the Amtrak train stopped here in Amherst, it was often times very infrequently. [back to top]

(ML) A parent writes, what was your assessment of the formal dance this past weekend regarding the attendance, student reaction, etc.? She adds, I only heard positive things and I hope the school plans to offer more formals like this and other social events that offer positive experiences for Amherst students.

(CBE) This is Charri again. I'm a very, very old lady so I don't know how much fun it was but I've heard from the students Monday night because I was at a student government meeting and there were quite a few students in the room and they had nothing but very, very glowing things to say. We have a very talented dean in student activities by the name of Hannah Fatemi and she put out a list of events that they're hosting and organizing on a regular basis.  So, The Great Gatsby Fall Formal was just one of many events that have already occurred this year and there are many more to come. Some of them include; relaxation nights, there's going to be a Halloween event, for homecoming there's going to be a bonfire, there are Amherst College after dark craft nights and letter writing socials, there is the Keefe café, there are study breaks. There are just all kinds of events and I would encourage you to also go on the website at Keefe Campus Center to find out more information. [back to top]

(ML) How disruptive will the construction of the new science center be to campus tranquility?

(PO) This is Pat, who's laughing, because that's the million dollar question that everyone on campus is asking and concerned about, not only for student life but for academic work and for the experiments that we have to do in our laboratories. All I can say is it's pretty clear to me from all of the background work, from the engineers and the construction people that every detail is really being considered and reconsidered and thought is being taken to make sure that the disruption will be the minimum it can possibly be. The construction is going to be a huge undertaking. It's going to really reshape Amherst in a way that I think is going to make every single one of the students, alumni, faculty and parents really, really proud. But it's not going to be a pain-less process. I think from the perspective of the faculty, they've been doing vibration tests all along to make sure that as they construct the new space that they will not compromise the integrity of the experiments that are going to be conducted in Merrill over the next few years. They also have moved the schedule of the initiation of the construction to a point where the students will not be on campus so that the initial 60 foot trench that they have to dig in order to start the construction, won't be a safety hazard for students who might be traveling from the socials back up to the freshman quad. I hear that there is like 11,000 dump loads of dirt that have to be taken off of campus. So every campus roadway, every campus corner has been reshaped so as to accommodate the traffic that will be going back and forth. So, I think, I won't lie and say it's going to be as tranquil as it would be in the absence of this construction, but we need it and when we finish the way the college has used vision to really imagine the science center that is going to redefine what science centers for liberal arts colleges are, I just think it's going to be worth every ounce of disruption and every penny that we spend. [back to top]

(ML) A follow up on the discussion of work study program, does the college run out of available work study jobs? If the student hasn't already found one, are they likely out of luck?

(CBE) No, there are more desirable jobs on campus. Some jobs are in quiet study spaces or some jobs might be in libraries, some jobs may be sitting but there are jobs to be had on campus, particularly in Valentine, the dining hall, where they are always looking for extra hands as well as through facilities. So a student who is really determined to have a job on campus can usually find one. [back to top]

(ML) Another parent would like to know if entry level language courses, in particular Spanish, are geared towards students who have never studied the language before or are they expected to have some background in the language?

(PO) So, the languages encompass a fairly large number of both active languages and languages that are not actively used, like Latin, any more. But the Spanish department, as an example, has a huge tiered level of courses that they offer and yes, their introductory courses are supposed to be geared for people who have not had experience with the language. They have language classes for example, for heritage speakers. They have language classes for students who have had previous experience. Having said that, I also want to say that our language classes are tough, rigorous classes. And so, it's a lot of work, often five days a week, for students to start in a language and so I know, I speak with students all the time about how they took a language class because they thought it was going to be easy and those are not easy classes. Between the grammar and the vocabulary and the speaking they are tough academic classes and yet I also know that the faculty in those courses are 100% devoted to working with students in both private one-on-one's if they are having struggles or with teaching assistants or tutors if they have problems. [back to top]

(ML) Here's a fairly straight forward one. Are there office hours for the deans? Are there walk in hours and what else is available for the students to have direct contact with you?

(CBE) At this point in time, I don't think any of us have any open walk in hours. We are just always here so just come on down whenever you're ready. So we also this year have instituted an opportunity that we are calling the series, "Meet, Greet and Eat with your Student Life Staff" in Valentine. And we started that just this week and we're going to be in dining hall every other Wednesday and we're hoping that students will sit and eat with us and get to know us and talk to us. You know all of us are in this job because we love working with students and we don't like the fact that many students think of us as the Principal's Office. We really are some really nice people who really care a lot about students so we hope that students will not only come in and just say hi, I think it's really important that students get to know adults on campus for a variety of different reasons; recommendations or listening about classes and that kind of thing and just how to get along in classes. So do please encourage your students to come and be with us. [back to top]

(ML) What are the office hours? And when are you here usually?

(PO) The office is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and that's when the door is open. The deans' are here before that and after that and every other time in between. But I can also just say that you know, sometimes we actually go home and my husband, I would give him a shout out if he was listening tonight but he's not here. I was joking around there. When students want to see a dean, they can see a dean. I think it's always the case that if somebody has a critical need they will come in the office, they don't need an appointment, we will reshuffle.  We have a class dean structure where I do the first-year students and Charri does the sophomores and Carolyn Bassett does the junior's and Denise McGoldrick does the seniors. If Denise McGoldrick is not here and a senior comes in and they need to speak with someone, they'll speak with somebody. So we have a really open door policy in that regard. One of the things I did for the first-years', I started last year, is I would have a regularly scheduled meeting with the student government leaders who were first-year students. So once a month they would gather in my office. I would just find out what their issues were, what they were excited about, what I could do to help them. I also do liquid nitrogen ice cream events in the dormitories. I do seven of those in the fall and so I'm in the residence halls talking with students. So we have a lot of interaction with groups of students and then our one-on-one's are typically students that are going to make an appointment with us and if, for whatever reason they don't have an appointment but need to see us, we will absolutely speak with them whenever.
(CBE) And another thing I guess I want to emphasize is Dean on Duty system that's starting at 4:30 in the evening through the next morning until 8:30 a.m. There is always a person on duty, a Dean on Duty. So if there is any kind of crisis or information, you can always be able to reach a dean.
(ML) And I can testify to 2 things: They are as Charri said; really nice people and they do indeed keep very long hours. Those are two things I personally know are true.

(ML) What is Interterm and what happens during Interterm?

(PO) So, interterm is the period between the end of the first semester well, officially it starts after New Year's, typically the Monday after New Year's and it goes to the beginning of the next semester. The Friday before, well... if I sound a little confused it's because we just changed the way our semester started. They used to always start on a Monday for the spring semester, the winter/spring semester but now because we are trying to get in articulation with the five colleges, the start dates are sometimes Thursdays but most often on Mondays. But they are typically somewhere between a two and a half to a three and a half week period of time during which students are pretty free to do what they want to do. There is some programming, maybe I think last Interterm there may have been 50 or 60 programs that students can sign up for. These programs are often run by either groups on campus or faculty might run a small workshop, the math department runs a math review, there's a program to train students to be emergency medical technicians, there's an LSAT prep class, there's a Turkish poetry class, there's a go teach in the middle school class. So these are formalized programs but there's, formalized in the sense that you can register for them, but they try to take recognition of the fact that this is Interterm and we do want students to be not as stressed out and to do things that are fun, to do things that have an end product that is realizable and a lot of students work in research so, I have a research lab and my senior thesis students will always be doing their senior honors work over January. Occasionally, some sophomores and juniors will also ask to come back and work in the laboratories. So there's that as well and some students honestly come back to campus, they read, they go see movies, they talk to each other, they go to the gym, and that's fine too. The first-year students probably tend to be back for less of a length of time. We find that first-year students typically are home until maybe the middle of January and then come back after MLK day. [back to top]

(ML) We have a follow up question here from some of your introductory comments. A mother writes, your introductory comments mentioned that students are stressed concerns me. Why are so many students stressed out and are you seeing a larger number of students having trouble with stress than you would expect?

(PO) Academic work at the college is pretty rigorous. And I think that students knew that, we said that at the very 1st day of orientation. I think the intensity of the work, the number of pages of reading, the number of exercises that the students are expected to do, is greater than most students are used to. So, this is nothing new. This is something that Amherst College students all get used to over the course of their time here. It feels particularly acute for first-year students because they are not used to the academic work and sometimes it's taking them a while, they thought they were really going to like this course in psychology and it turns out when they are actually into the course that they don't have as great an affinity for that as they want. So as students get more used to the academic work, as students get courses that seem to resonate better with their own interests and skills, they...I really just think it's the experience that they have which is why the stress level is most acute with first-year students. [back to top]

(ML) One parent was wondering, she heard something about the new provost and what will this mean for students? What does this position represent? Can you talk about that at all?

(PO) This is Pat talking again. So a provost position at Amherst College is conceived in a way that will help Biddy Martin, our new president, do her work as effectively as possible. This person, I think, the job description that I read for the provost position, is one that really is going to serve to sort of cross boundaries between faculty, students, staff. This person will be involved in developing programs for internationalization, bringing Amherst into a global community.  I don't have the job description and I'm kind of loathe to say too much because I might misspeak but I think it's pretty much a right hand person for the president. And she feels as though there's a lot of work that can be lifted from some of the existing deans and then for her it would help coordinate some of her work better. So it really does feel like a bridge position, unlike in some places it's sort of like a financial, a person that focuses on financial issues, at Amherst it's not conceived that way. It's conceived as a person who can really take across from the dean of students to the dean of faculty to the student affairs to the staff affairs and be kind of a bridge person for those positions. [back to top]

(ML) We almost always get a question something like this and I'm always a little surprised since I eat in the dining hall frequently and I love the food but a few parents have written to ask how the food might be improved whether there could be more vegetarian options. Do you have any comments about that?

(CBE) I know the dining services staff is working very hard with consultants here on campus to try to make improvements. You know, recently a young man came to me and said he wanted there to be more fresh vegetables this year in the dining common. And what I did immediately was I sent him to speak directly to the director of the dining services, Mr. Charles Thompson. The young man wrote back to me immediately and said thank you very much for sending me to Mr. Thompson. He had a great conversation with him. He provided some ideas and suggestions and he's really glad that he had that conversation. So I guess what I would say more than anything else is I think the food there is pretty good. I know that they are working really, really hard to continue to make improvements. And I think if your sons or daughters do have any concerns about the food options or ways of improving it, I encourage them to go and speak directly to Mr. Thompson. I know that they have made special meals for students in particular, if there are certain kinds of yogurt they want to have; he's made those things available. I think that one parent asked maybe there could be two salad bars there. That's a suggestion that we're happy to take back to Mr. Thompson. So please know that we're working on it and that we're always looking for people's ideas. (PO) And maybe I can just talk about some first-hand experience with the dining commons. I went there with my husband for dinner last night at the end of a long day and I had roast leg of lamb with zucchini and rice as well as a nice salad and a dessert and my husband had Coq au vin, chicken with wine, and we thought that was pretty awesome to be able to pick those foods up at the dining common. Now I did notice the big lines were for the pizza and for the pasta and that the students were not really interested in some of the foods that we thought were terrifically wonderful. I think that it's certainly true that we could make improvements to the food. I think it's certainly true that we could perhaps try to bring in cultural cuisines or try to use more fresh vegetables but I think one thing that I'd like to say is that I'm amazingly impressed with how this dining service can feed 1800 people on a regular basis with such creativity and such attempts to work with students. Maybe some of you have heard that there's going to be a farm that Amherst is going to start and there are some students who are going to work with Charlie Thompson and his staff to see how they might be able to bring some more local produce into the dining commons at Amherst. In addition, there are students who are very concerned about having organic foods, foods that are prepared without the addition of additional pesticides and they are concerned about foods that are trucked in long distances, the amount of fuel costs that it takes to get those foods here. And Charlie is always open to discussions, he's actually done studies were he's analyzed the types of how much food at Val is local food, how much is of it is trucked in, how much of it is organic and he's working with several groups of students to try provide a more nutritional and more aware food that's seasonal, local, organic and culturally sensitive. [back to top]

(ML) My daughter has written about something called TYPO. Can you tell us what that is?

(PO) TYPO is a program run for the dean of student's office. I don't know who started it. Frank, who was a dean of new students a while back. TYPO stands for Take Your Professor Out and that stands for a program where students are hosts for an evening. A student can just call the dean of students office, take up a purchase order with 2, 3, 4 as many as 6 of their friends take a professor out to dinner, the dean of students office actually pays for the dinner, there are 4 or 5 restaurants in town that we align with so they have a choice of going for Indian or Chinese or Italian or Fresh Side. So there are a couple of choices. And you know we don't take them out to Chez Albert for French dining but it's a minimum of 15 dollars per dinner, of course we don't pay for alcohol and I think students absolutely love the program. It is one of the most popular programs. I don't have the numbers but I would not be surprised if it was hundreds of faculty were treated to dinner this past year by your sons and daughters on the colleges and the dean of students purchase orders. [back to top]

(ML) Great. Well we are almost out of time. I want to take a minute to remind all the parents who are listening that Family Weekend is coming up. It's the 26 - 28 of this month and we hope a lot of you are planning to come back. And I believe that there are some activities that I think the deans are involved in. Specifically, I don't know if you'd like to talk about that?

(CBE) Well, earlier that day, at 8:30 in the morning we will be hosting an open house and so we hope that you will come by and visit with us and we will offer you coffee and other refreshments and you'll get a chance to put a name with a face and tell us about how the experiences for your sons and daughters have been thus far and if there's anything that we need to be thinking about.
I'll let Pat say her closing remarks but I'll say mine now and that is, thank you so much for the honor of allowing us to spend some time with you this evening and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at Family Weekend. [back to top]

(PO) So, I just also maybe want to take a minute to share with you some of the comments that I've gotten back from faculty about the students. You know I'm the first-year dean so I hear mostly about first-year students but the faculty are thrilled to death to have your sons and daughters in their classrooms. They feel that the conversations that they've had are ones that are eye opening for people who have revisited subjects for 20 years. I think the intelligence and sensitivity and respect that students are bringing to the classes, particularly faculty are noting this year as they are just be delighted with your children in their classrooms. So, I think my closing remark to you might be you guys have done a great job and thank you for trusting us with your children for four years. It's going to be an amazing four years for them but it's also an amazing four years for us and thank you for that trust.

(ML) Thank you very much Pat. Thank you Charri. I would like to remind everyone listening that this recording will be on our website within a few days. If you go to you will find it listed. And thank you all for joining us. I hope that we will see you at Family Weekend. This concludes our program. Thank you. [back to top]

Parent-Dean Conference Call: October 4, 2012

Every year, Alumni and Parent Programs hosts a conference call in the early Fall. On Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. EST, Acting Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East and Dean of  New Students Patricia O'Hara will answer questions from parents and guardians of the Classes of 2015 and 2016.

 If you you like to participate in the call, please register here before 4 p.m. EST on October 4. You will receive an email with the phone number to call and the pin code you will need.

Fall 2011 Parent Dean Conference Call

Listen to the audio of the Fall 2011 Parent-Dean Conference Call with Dean Allen Hart '82 and Dean O'Hara:

Parent-Dean%20Call%209-21-11Parent-Dean Conference Call
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Join us for the 2012 Parent/Dean Conference Call

All parents of students in the Classes of 2015 and 2016

Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2012, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

Anywhere! Just dial the toll-free* number from any phone.

Acting Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East and Dean of New Students Patricia O'Hara and staff from Alumni and Parent Programs will share the latest news from campus and answer your questions about student life in and out of the classroom.

RSVP by 4 p.m. EST on Thursday, October 4 and receive the toll-free number* by clicking here or calling  (413) 542-8235.

Contact Marcy Larmon, Director of On-Campus Programs, at (413) 542-8235 or before 5 p.m. on October 4.

*Toll-free number does not apply to international calls.




Alumni and Parent Programs
P.O. Box 5000
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2313

Contact Advancement Staff


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