On and Off the Hill

Students in Costa Rica, Paul Nelsen in London, Jason Beaubien in Nigeria, sensitive fernes in "the meadow," Northern Borders in the Latchis Theater, salamander eggs in the woods, and seedlings in the greenhouse. You never know what you will find on and off the hill, but it is sure to edify.

Literature and writing professor T. Wilson (above) beckons the line of graduates to make their move toward commencement. Photo by Elisabeth Joffe 

Paul Nelsen takes a bow

When theater professor Paul Nelsen first came to Vermont in 1971, fresh out of graduate school, it was to work at Windham College in Putney, where he helped establish an innovative and ambitious theater program. The program thrived, but Windham’s enrollment decreased from 1,000 to 300 students in a matter of six years, forcing the college to close. Paul began working with a consulting group of which Marlboro College was one of the first clients, and the rest is Potash Hill history: Marlboro invited Paul to join esteemed theater professor Geoffry Brown on the faculty, and he started in January 1978. He retires this year after 35 years on, and off, the Marlboro stage.

“The first play I directed at Marlboro in the spring semester 1978 was Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler,” said Paul, who immediately upon starting at Marlboro launched into theatrical experimentation with great energy. “I had a group of wonderful students eager to get their teeth into some classical drama.”

During his first semester at the college, Paul and his students altered Whittemore Theater, rebuilding the stage and removing the balcony in order to expand the playing space. Intensive rehearsals, often entailing four-hour sessions, six days a week, with set building on Saturdays, spanned a total of six weeks. That same semester, Paul directed two additional plays: a version of Spoon River Anthology and Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box.

The 1983 production of Dido and Aeneas was one of the more ambitious projects taken on by Paul and his students, including Christopher Allen ’85 and Lynn Guala McDonnell ’86.  “I was young, ambitious, and maybe a little foolish,” Paul grinned. “But I continued with that level of intensity for many years, trying to do everything myself. There was no tech director, no work-study crews. All design, construction, and production work was accomplished by me and some dedicated students.”

In 1979, during the January “Winterim”—a period designed for students to explore new horizons—Paul, along with his wife, kids, and mother-in-law, led a student trip to London, the world’s mecca for theater. The program proved so successful that he repeated it a couple of years later, and subsequently expanded participation to include Marlboro College trustees, other faculty, and friends of the college from the local community. Paul’s trips to London have continued on a regular basis to this day: what began with 11 students and Paul’s family has grown to three trips a year, with over 120 participants from across North America.

“Paul was an excellent leader on our trip to Britain—heavenly days of castles, cathedrals, contemporary theater, and Shakespeare out the wazoo,” commented Gina DeAngelis ’94. “He didn’t just teach acting or directing, he taught us theater folks how to use our talent and develop our skills to reflect, for an audience, life itself.”

In 1983, inspired by his London experiences, Paul invited a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ted Valentine, to play the lead role in King Lear. The production involved a yearlong immersion process, with a weekly close reading of the play in the fall semester and rehearsals beginning in the Winterim, and featured students as well as members of the community.

“It was an immense project,” recalled Paul. “Three quarters of the auditorium at Persons was the stage. There were only a hundred or so seats at the back of the auditorium. It was an immense space with giant stone arches.”

The following year Paul worked on Sophocles’ Antigone and a Harold Pinter play, The Birthday Party. These high-profile projects required Paul to raise money, some of which came out of his own pocket. Paul was selfreportedly obsessed with achieving something that was exceptional, beyond standard intercollegiate quality. With a lack of technical infrastructure and reliable financial support, however, he became unable to sustain the energy for such an ambitious program.

British actor Ted Valentine appears as the lead role in Paul’s production of King Lear. Photo by Roger Katz “At first, when I started, it was possible to get by—perhaps by sheer mania, but I cannot say I regret that,” Paul joked. “The theater program has changed over the years. When I first came here, there was an emphasis on performance as a medium for learning. In the first 15 years I was here, I directed 28 productions. Students collaborated actively in the design and production aspects, but like Geoff Brown before me I was involved hands-on with all elements of putting on the shows—as well as teaching a full load of classes and tutorials.”

In 1985, Paul sought to expand Marlboro’s capabilities by helping a group of local citizens purchase the former arts building at Windham College, which they renamed the River Valley Playhouse and Art Center. The project aimed to collaborate with Middlebury and Smith colleges to develop a summer theater program with professional actors, students, and faculty from all three institutions and produce a summer season of three or four plays. Concerned about the economic prospects and under financial stress, Marlboro pulled out of the project before its launch. Paul adjusted, using community actors to deliver a season of plays: Chekhov’s The Seagull, Good by C.P. Taylor, and Noël Coward’s Present Laughter. “They were artistically successful, and ticket sales covered all expenses,” Paul remarked with a smile.

Over the next decade, Paul continued to support student productions but decreased the frequency of his own. In 1996, he directed his final play, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and began to focus his teaching on dramatic literature as well as on exploring the history and practices of theater and film from diverse angles, often in collaboration with other faculty.

Paul strikes a pose by the Rose, an Elizabethan theater threatened with destruction by a building development in the late 1980s.“The impressive works produced by Marlboro students are the greatest testaments to Paul’s ability to nurture and inspire,” declared Edward Isser, professor and chair of theater at Holy Cross College. “Possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of theater and a generosity of spirit, Paul has been a remarkable teacher, a treasured colleague, and a transformative mentor.”

“One of the reasons I chose Marlboro College was so that I would have professors who really cared about, and interacted with, their students,” said Jesse Nesser ’13. “Paul Nelsen turned out to be exactly the kind of teacher I had hoped for. His curiosity, passion, insight, and dedication extend beyond his department and his classroom.”

In the mid-1990s, Paul was one of a dozen National Endowment for the Humanities Fellows who convened at the Folger Shakespeare Institute in Washington, D.C., to explore practices of teaching Shakespeare through performance. His research and publications in academic journals on Early Modern English playhouses resulted in an invitation to serve from 1990 to 2002 on the Academic Advisory Board for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

In 2007 Paul collaborated with visual art professor Tim Segar and music professor Stan Charkey to create a field-based, summer “interarts” intensive encompassing eight weeks of seminars and experiential encounters. This included live performances of theater and dance, numerous concerts, and diverse exhibitions of visual art.

“We got as far west as Cooperstown, New York, to the Glimmerglass Opera, the New York City Ballet at Saratoga, the Williamstown Theater for a few shows, some dance festivals around the area, and ended with our wonderful own Marlboro Music Festival right here,” Paul explained. As if that was not enough, the group stayed in London for another three weeks, following the same model.

Saraswati Rogers Kibit ’99, Alex Greenfield ’97, and Jodi Clark ’95 appear in Twelfth Night, Paul’s final production as director.Not at all coincidentally, one of Paul’s final courses in spring 2013, titled Happy Endings, was an exploration of ways in which different kinds of plays and films arrive at closure.

“Only Paul would choose to end his Marlboro career with a course on Happy Endings,” remarked Dana Howell, professor of cultural history. “The class offers his students—as always—his enormous range of knowledge of theater and film, along with his critical insights and his open-ended curiosity about new ways of telling a story through performance.”

His own closure at Marlboro is made much easier by the many retirement projects that await him at home.

“In many ways an academic life is a wonderful rehearsal period for retirement. I can look at it as if it is a very long sabbatical,” Paul quipped. “I will continue to conduct my London seminars, three of which I will lead in 2013, possibly four in 2014—interest among participants keeps growing. I have boxes full of research for two book projects, and a number of essays that I may return to.”

“Paul has contributed both breadth and depth to the whole college in several ways,” remarked Tim Little, retired history professor. “He sees the theater as a powerful force in the intellectual world, both to the performers and their supporters and to the audiences that observe them.”

Never at a loss for eloquent words, Paul waxed modest regarding his hopes for the future of theater at Marlboro.

“The best thing for me to do is leave it behind to allow others to reinvent theater at Marlboro in their own vision,” he stated. “We can create a program of excellence where theater, dance, film, music, and visual arts begin to see themselves not as isolated fields of study but as ‘liberal’ investigations of shared interests, creatively and continuously pursuing the joy and dignity of learning.” —Christian Lampart ’16


Students take TESOL to Costa Rica

Costa Rican students explore local ecology and environmental issues with the help of Marlboro TESOL students. Southern Vermont is remarkable in so many ways, but having large numbers of people learning English as a second language is not one of them. It was imperative for the students in the TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) Certificate teaching practicum, which involves six hours of observed classroom teaching, to find some. Fortunately Mary Scholl, TESOL instructor at the Marlboro College Center for Graduate and Professional Studies, is also director of Centro Espiral Mana, a language school and teacher training organization in Costa Rica.

“We wanted to provide an authentic teaching experience where Marlboro students had to respond to the language-learning needs of students from a different linguistic and cultural background,” said Beverley Burkett, director of the TESOL graduate program and instructor for the TESOL Certificate. Twelve students went to Centro Espiral Mana with Beverley during spring break for eight intense days of preparation and teaching.

The Marlboro students took a project-based approach to lesson planning and design that involved using English to learn about and protect the local environment. In particular they focused on the nature and environmental issues associated with a trail along the local river that had been developed by town government to promote awareness and conservation.

“We were excited about not only teaching English but also contributing to increased environmental awareness and sustainable job opportunities for local inhabitants,” said Bev. “One local teenager said, ‘We learned English, but most of all we learned how to look after our river.’”

“When we first arrived, our students knew a few phrases, but they mostly knew isolated vocabulary,” said sophomore Louisa Jenness. “We worked a lot on forming sentences. Hearing our students start to express themselves for the first time was a beautiful thing.”

Junior Ben Glatt said, “For me, the highlight of the trip were those moments standing in front of the students when they really got it. That joy of discovery was amazing both to witness and to be a part of.”

“The Marlboro TESOL students worked together in cohesive groups and never missed a beat in a very tight schedule of work. I was really proud of them,” said Bev. “One student said he had learned that ‘It’s not about me.’ That summed up the miracle that I witnessed— the group shifted from focusing on themselves and their needs to being teachers responsible for the learning of others. Remarkable!”

The trip to Costa Rica was just one of three international trips that brought Marlboro students to new horizons over spring break. Students in a course on Cuban history spent nine days immersed in their subject, joining anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson and American studies professor Kate Ratcliff on a field research trip to Havana. Five other students explored mosques, palaces, and markets in Turkey with art history professor Felicity Ratte and ceramics professor Martina Lantin, part of their course on ceramic tiles in Seljuk and Ottoman architecture.


Speakers bring global issues to Marlboro College

Chemistry professor Todd Smith hosted NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien in April. “What I’ve come to realize through the reporting that I do is just how interconnected our world has become, for better or for worse,” said National Public Radio correspondent Jason Beaubien in a Marlboro lecture last April. “And the effects of it are often not what you would expect.”

In a talk titled “On Wars, Plagues, and Disaster,” Beaubien described traveling to northern Nigeria last fall, to a cluster of tiny villages suffering from lead poisoning at unheard-of levels. More than 400 children had died, and many more were disabled by the poisonous heavy metal, as a result of local gold mining efforts using crude extraction techniques. This environmental disaster, ironically in remote villages that don’t even have electricity, was driven by global markets.

“This disaster wouldn’t have happened if the international price of gold hadn’t gone to incredibly high levels over the last decade,” said Beaubien. Although the gold deposits are marginal, and interlayered with deadly lead, they became profitable enough for miners to make 40 or 50 dollars a day. “The cost of remediation is far greater than any of the profits they have managed to reap.”

Beaubien gave several other examples of the reach of global impacts, from earthquakebroken Haiti to the scourge of tuberculosis in Moldova. Not all of these impacts are negative, as in the case of the campaign to eradicate polio. While there were once hundreds of thousands of polio victims around the world, last year there were only 223 new cases, the lowest in history.

“Polio eradication gets at the great possibilities of what humanity could accomplish around the globe,” said Beaubien.

Other speakers at Marlboro this spring included the inimitable Tim Little, retired history professor and storyteller par excellence, who spoke about the political career of Charles de Gaulle, the “Liberator of Paris.” With his usual wit and whimsy, Tim helped clarify the circumstances of de Gaulle’s rise to power and the conditions of French politics that sustained it until 1970.

Cynthia Enloe, a Clark University professor of political science, also appeared in Ragle in April, presenting a talk titled “Is allowing women soldiers to serve in combat a step toward real liberation?” The presentation traced the growth of militaristic values in the U.S., and pointed out that women serving on the front line was nothing new, much less the result of egalitarian motives.

“Insofar as a country is militarized, women’s exclusion from the military becomes women’s exclusion from public, valued life,” said Enloe.

These three lectures filled out a very full spring of events, which also included readings by renowned poets and fiction writers, dance and theater performances, and of course the regular Music for a Sunday Afternoon concerts.

For details on upcoming events, go to www.marlboro.edu/news/events.


Cultivating the heart of campus

The landscape plans for “the meadows” were drafted with substantial feedback and support from the college community. Last September, many students, staff, and faculty joined together to clear juniper, scrape rock, prepare the soil, and get their hands into the earth planting hundreds of plants on the hill by the admissions building. The result is a welcoming gateway to the college, leading from the visitor’s parking area to the heart of campus. This summer the community is turning its attention to that heart, with a significant landscaping project in the open space between the dining hall and campus center, a focal point for many campus activities.

“The new south bank enhances our sense of place and the kind of place Marlboro College is, with our attention to environmental issues and hands-on learning and exploration,” said William Edelglass, philosophy professor. The redesign of the meadows, as the area behind the dining hall has been called, “will create a more inviting, beautiful, useful, and cohesive heart of the Marlboro campus,” added William.

The project was accomplished with the initiative and support of students, faculty, and staff over the past year and is the second half of a larger landscaping effort funded by a generous donor and led by the Regenerative Design Group (RDG), a permaculture-inspired landscape design firm based in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In the fall semester, professionals from RDG taught a course on the principles of design to regenerate natural and human communities, focusing on the meadows as a class project.

“Ideas about what we wanted in the meadows were gathered from the community, and initial designs were drawn up,” said William, a member of the Standing Building Committee that oversees campus improvements. “These designs were then presented at Town Meeting and hung on a board in the dining hall to gather feedback and more ideas. The new design responds to the desires of the community.”

Some of changes were visible as early as April, through a Work Day project to expose the ledge between the dining hall and the OP building, under the direction of Sunny Tappan ’77, receptionist extraordinaire. During the week before commencement, students in a one-credit class learned to implement the design and planted in three areas, installing companion species for apple trees and native rocky outcrop plant communities on the exposed ledge. Larger changes to the meadows started shortly after graduation and will continue through the summer. These include a large level lawn for games and activities, a wildflower meadow, a stage for performances, an outdoor classroom, benches for smaller gatherings or study, and a raised stone fireplace.

According to William, “The design includes a number of different kinds of social areas for various activities, from events for the whole community to more intimate spaces for study and conversation, or solitude.”



College offers guarantees for graduate programs

Beginning with the class of 2013, Marlboro is guaranteeing admission to its Graduate and Professional Studies programs for graduating seniors, within 18 months of commencement, and awarding these students a scholarship equivalent to 50 percent of the tuition. This offer is also being extended to all other alumni for a limited period, ending in February 2015.

“This new program expresses our confidence in and commitment to graduates of Marlboro College,” said President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell in her announcement of the new guarantees. “One of the fundamental tenets of liberal arts education is to spur students on to deeper exploration and greater achievement. As members of the Graduate and Professional Studies programs, students will gain the relevant knowledge and practical skills they need to focus their scholarship further in a particular career path.”

The announcement is just the latest move to cultivate the connection between the two campuses in Marlboro and Brattleboro. Other recent initiatives include offering dual-degree programs that link the undergraduate and graduate trajectories and facilitating joint seminars that draw on the expertise of both faculties and student bodies. For more specific information about graduate and professional studies admission, please contact Joe Heslin at 802-258-9209 or jheslin@gradschool.marlboro.edu. 

And More

A nature walk to nearby vernal pools was just one of the highlights on campus during the week leading up to Earth Day, April 22. Other happenings included a sustainability fair of campus initiatives, a mini-symposium of environmental projects, therapy goats, and the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, two evenings of new short films on wildlife, conservation, and activism. The festival was presented in coordination with Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, a local nonprofit, with support from Patagonia.







One of the most exciting projects on Work Day this spring was the re-opening of the old bike workshop, which had been occupied by extraneous Outdoor Program gear for years, as a new bike workshop. Writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard led students in the organization of equipment and refurbishment of some bikes still left in the shop.





An art show by Catherine Siller, Mellon Teaching Fellow, graced Drury Gallery in March. Titled “Semi Permeable,” the show included a performance work-in-progress that combined movement with responsive digital projections. Catherine brought new horizons in video technology to Marlboro, teaching courses in Digitally Mediated Performance and Digital Studio: Introduction to the Moving Image.




In February, philosophy professor William Edelglass and seven others from Marlboro College joined the crowd of more than 40,000 for the Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C.









Following nearly two years of planning and preparation, Northern Borders premiered to a sell-out crowd at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro. Based on the novel by Frank Howard Mosher, the film was the product of the Movies from Marlboro intensive film semester in spring 2012. Director and film professor Jay Craven is already preparing for another production in spring 2014.









As reported earlier this year at CBS MoneyWatch, a study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity listed Marlboro College among the “25 colleges with the best professors.” Based on a broad methodology that includes scores found on RateMyProfessors.com, Marlboro ranked 15th among 650 colleges and universities included in the study.




The introduction of seedling tables and other improvements to the greenhouse (Potash Hill, Winter 2013) assured that this new Marlboro landmark will be a well-utilized community resource for years, thanks to a generous donation from David and trustee Karen Davis, parents of Jacob Davis ’03.




Kipling in America
Save the dates for a two-day symposium sponsored by the Kipling Society, October 7 and 8. The first day will take place at Marlboro College, the site of an extensive collection of Rudyard Kipling’s books and other items dating from his stay in the Brattleboro area, from 1882 to 1896. Details and registration at www.kipling.org.uk.

Worthy of note

When star marketing writer and freshman Christian Lampart (right, see his article on Paul Nelsen) is not creating powerful press releases or scintillating student profiles, he is interning at the Deerfield Valley News, an independent weekly newspaper out of West Dover, Vermont. “Writing for Deerfield allows me to sculpt my writing to a particular voice and style that encompasses both a Marlboro-esque ease and a journalistic succinctness,” said Christian, who reports on programs and events at the college. “It’s a great opportunity to shed light on an academic environment like Marlboro, for which I truly have a passion, and learn much more about the people I simply ‘see’ here everyday.”

“Instead of translating Buddhist moral thinking into Western categories, scholars will understand Buddhist ethics better if approached on its own terms, an approach that leads to a richer philosophical dialogue,” said philosophy professor William Edelglass. He presented a paper at the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy on features of Buddhist ethics shared by Western moral philosophies. The panel was one of two group sessions that he chaired at the American Philosophical Association meetings in San Francisco last March. The other was a panel for the International Association of Environmental Ethics, where he presented a paper on the ways in which morality is embodied in acts of pilgrimage in the Himalayas.

“I had given the composting toilet a pretty serious test drive, and found the throne lacking,” said writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard (right). His humorous essay on the subject, “Dumping Compost: A Literary Look at Human Waste,” appears in the 20th-anniversary issue of Whole Terrain, the journal of reflective environmental practice published by Antioch University New England. Kyhl also has an essay in the new collection Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive and Unwanted Species (University of Minnesota Press), called “An Unlimited Take of Ugly: The Bullhead Catfish.”

Not one but three Marlboro students in computer science presented posters at the April regional conference of the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC), hosted by Siena College in Loudonville, New York. Sam Auciello, whose Plan focused on programming languages, presented a poster about a programming language that compiles to JavaScript, designed for web development. Alex Hiam studied microcontrollers and presented a software library for the BeagleBone, a tiny computer for do-it-yourself electronics. Physics and computing student Chad Daniels created a simulation of an “ideal gas” that runs in a web browser. If you did not understand the last three sentences, consider this one: that’s just three of the five computer science graduates this year, a Marlboro record.

“In the United States, public education has stood apart, physically and philosophically, from the community and society in which it serves,” said senior Maddie Holm (right). “By asking students to participate in other types of learning opportunities, schooling becomes a dynamic process between not just the student and teacher, but the larger community,” Maddie was recognized for her commitment to community with an Engaged Student Award from the Vermont Campus Compact in April. As part of her Plan of Concentration, on the role of community service in education, she talked with students at the local Montessori school about different kinds of community engagement and made ceramic bowls with them for the Empty Bowls Dinner.

“We must enlarge and enrich our definition of ‘value’ beyond the purely monetary,” said Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, president, in a March New York Times editorial. “Students must be prepared for a lifetime of engagement, not for specific jobs that may change or even disappear.” Ellen shared her perspective on the civic value of a liberal arts degree in an ongoing series of NYT editorials on higher education. She also published editorials on related topics in Inside Higher Ed in February and the Huffington Post in April. Ellen suggests that college students stand to gain a broad range of skills, like effective communication and problem solving, that are not considered in the race to quantify a “return on investment.”

Art faculty member Tim Segar has had three shows in the past year, including one that marked the grand opening of a new fine arts gallery at Landmark College, in March. Tim’s work in the inaugural exhibit, composed of steam-bent arcs of oak and ash, explored the intersections between sculpture and drawing. Last October Tim had a show with fellow art faculty member Cathy Osman at the Oxbow Gallery, in Northampton, Massachusetts. One of his pieces in that show, called “The Watchtower,” was chosen for the Biennial Regional Juror’s Choice Competition at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery, at Keene State College.

“I really enjoy working with all the creative, flexible, and engaged folks here,” said Amber Hunt (right) reference and technology librarian. Library Journal named Amber as one of 50 librarians who are “movers and shakers” for 2013, citing her efforts to move and shake the college over to using open source systems. Amber led Marlboro to be among the first in the United States to adopt open source software called CUFTS, developed in Canada, to manage its e-journals. “Using open source library software improves our services and budget, and also allows us to participate in a software community that basically uses what academics call a peer-review process to make improvements.”

Marlboro’s professor of French, Boukary “Abou” Sawadago (below), has had a busy year already, and it’s only summer. In February Abou authored a new book on films from Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and other West African nations, titled Les Cinémas Francophones Ouest-Africains. “The book is a study of films through the prism of marginality,” said Abou, who came to Marlboro in September. An article about Abou’s own recent documentary film, titled Salut Y’all, was featured in Burkina Faso’s popular news website LeFaso in January. The film, which profiles African educators teaching French in Louisiana, screened in St. Louis in March and Cameroon in April as part of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival.

For the most up-to-date scoop on what’s going on around campus, see:

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