Monthly Archives: June 2011

What Are We Tweeting For?

Since late last summer, a group of intrepid wanna-be social media mavens from various offices at the College have gathered periodically to discuss the in’s, out’s, up’s, down’s, do’s, and don’t’s of Web 2.0. It’s equal parts brainstorming, salivating, and group therapy. We’ve covered the usual suspects, like Facebook and Twitter, but we’ve also touched on some platforms and technologies you may have never heard of, such as foursquare, Photosynth, Murmur, Quick Response (QR) codes, Gowalla, scvngr, and mobile web. We share what our respective areas are currently working on; bemoan the demise of long-standing, well-used features (we’re looking at you, Facebook Groups!); and philosophize about what social media tools Middlebury should pursue further (like foursquare) and what we should pass on for now (like a three-dimensional image of President Liebowitz via Photosynth).

It was in one of these meetings that the seed for using social media to address the Great Dish Crisis of Forever was planted. Mind you, Communications did all of the heavy lifting and thinking: creating and developing Aunt Des, filming and editing the Godfather-esque videos, designing posters with fancy-schmancy QR codes, and finding just the right shade of red nail polish.

Earlier this year, our ring leader, Pam Fogg, introduced us to Murmur. Dial up 802.443.2600 and enter a three-digit code to hear a story related to a building on campus. Punch in 127 to listen to Hugh Marlow tell of hearing Robert Frost say his poems to packed crowds in Mead Chapel, or 118 to hear Sarah Franco (oh, hey, that’s me) tell the gripping tale of meeting my husband in Coltrane Lounge way back in September 2004. Middlebury’s repository of Murmur stories is a great way to show prospective students how they can build unique experiences and lives on our campus or to help alumni reconnect with the College and classmates they parted with years ago.

Slowly, but surely, we’ve been working on building Middlebury’s presence on foursquare, “a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore.” All of Middlebury’s buildings have been added to foursquare, including 51 Main and the Museum of Art, both of which offer special deals to users who check in. In the coming months, we plan to add downtown venues and outdoor areas of interest (like the footbridge over the Otter Creek and the Robert Frost trails in Ripton), all in an effort to introduce first-years and other newcomers to our community and to encourage upperclassmen, staff, and faculty to try new things. Be sure to check out Middlebury’s page on foursquare and add us as a friend.

I could blog on and on about social media at Middlebury. Is it worth the investment? Is the message getting out? Should institutions be early adopters of new technologies and media platforms? These are just some of the questions we have been asking ourselves this year. But we’d love to hear from you: How have you been using social media as part of your work at Middlebury? Are there things the College could do differently or better when it comes to such tools? Hit up the comments and stay tuned for more from this ragtag crew.

A Commencement Day

Syndicated from Tim Parson's blog, The Middlebury Landscape, this is a humorous, behind-the-scenes look at all of the hard work that goes in to making the quad beautiful for Commencement Day. - Tim

4:30 comes early. I like to say I’m a morning person, but the alarm goes off, it’s summer, it’s dark, and well, that’s just too early. I drive to campus, and park behind Kenyon Arena. All facilities staff park there, so the incoming guests can park closer, and we walk to the Service Building, not talking a whole lot. I’m mainlining coffee. The walk towards campus feels a bit like a fish swimming upstream, as most of the senior class is walking away from campus, towards Alumni Stadium to watch the sunrise. Both sets of people, though, look a little bleary eyed and tired. They get to go take a nap later.

The work day starts at 5, with all hands walking the campus picking up any trash we may find. It’s never really all that bad, more like sweeping the front porch before 6000 guests arrive. We walk our snow shovel routes, with others dispatched to hot spots. I like this time of day, the calm before the storm. I also like ending up near the stadium as the sun rises. The shouts, whoops, and hollers of the graduating class as the sun comes up quickly gets subdued, and all becomes quiet, maybe as the reality of the light of day hits-it feels like an end, and a new beginning for them.

At 6 or so the swarm of workers descend to the commencement site, the main quad below Mead Chapel. The tents were erected previously in the week, including the main tent, technically called the clamshell. Some in Facilities spent part of yesterday setting chairs in front of the tent. It’s a delicate balance. While it’s nice to have some of the many many thousand chairs we need to place already up, we could spend a large chunk of the morning drying them off from dew or, even worse, rain. Towels work best, although we have resorted to backpack blowers in the past.

My day begins in earnest as well. My job is to set up the flowers in front of the commencement tent. There is a giant seal of Middlebury College right in front of the stage, and 300 red geraniums are placed at the base. First secret exposed? I leave them in the trays, and mound mulch around them to make them look like a planted bed. All life is a stage.


To give you some idea of how long Facilities plans the commencement ceremony, I first get asked to order the geraniums in September. I say you bet, but I don’t worry about them all too much. (perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this?) I buy the geraniums from a local wholesale grower, so 300 is just a tiny little drop in the bucket. It doesn’t even make a dent in the greenhouse. He gets the stress though, and the fact that they have to be right shade of red, so he doesn’t pick on me too much when I’m ordering plants 9 months in advance.

While I’m there working, I’m also watching the second coolest job for the day, the hanging of the flags. Behind the tent, hanging off of Voter Hall, are flags of every country represented by the graduating class. I was told we had to buy 9 new ones this year. I counted 59 flags when they were done, but I was supposed to be working, not counting, so there may have been more. They use a lift truck, 65′ boom, and I bet it takes them a good hour or two. One year, someone in Facilities that was attending the festivities looked up, and noticed one of the flags was for the Boston Red Sox. Oh, the horror, and the humor. Mostly horror, but we had to admit it was pretty funny. We got into the student’s room, where he thoughtfully leaned the correct flag against the wall after he leaned out his window and made the switch.

The lift truck hanging flags

I also rent some shrubs to do a fake little planting where the tent guy lines get staked in front of the clamshell. When I first arrived on campus, I noticed a plethora of White Potentilla and Dwarf Garland Spirea planted here, there, pretty much any little corner. You see, they used to come buy them off me when I worked up the road at Greenhaven, for the very same purpose I now use Ivory Halo Red Twig Dogwood (not white flowers, but a pretty variegated leaf). I don’t want to fill the campus exclusively with a plant that looks for great for two weeks in the spring, so I just rent them and bring them back to Greenhaven the next week. They don’t make a habit of it, but I still have a little bit of influence. (I also tend to help a customer or two while I’m there-old habits and all)

There is a huge amount of activity taking place around me. It’s too much for a blog post, it could be it’s own blog. The brunt of it, though, is chair setting. Some chairs get set the day before, but the bulk are set this morning. And by bulk, I’m talking thousands. We have a tractor trailer we keep filled with chairs, I think it’s about 4000. The trailer is parked on the road, and trucks and gators are used to ferry them to the setters, following the lead of the string setters, who assure the chairs are placed in straight lines.

Seriously, we use string and stakes to set chairs. Not because the person setting chairs is a civil engineer, although that helps, but because looking at 5000 chairs set out, well, they just NEED to be straight. For a great video picture diary of chair setting, view the pictures taken by the communications department of the (very wet) day before.

The early arrivals for the ceremony begin arriving around 8 or so. There’s a couple key places to sit, and they usually go first. One  is the area around a Red maple, which offers some key shade most years. The other isn’t in the chairs at all, but up the hill towards Gifford, where the day beforehand the landscape department sets all the Adirondack chairs out. Watching commencement while reclining in a comfy chair? Oh yeah, that’s the way to do it.

Graduates start arriving soon as well, and get staged east of Old Chapel. I usually run into Matt Biette, the extraordinary head of dining, for the first of several times today, handing out water and breakfast sandwiches to the seniors. Starch and re hydration-Matt’s a genius.

Time to pull out, get out of Dodge, and pretend we aren’t even there. Some years, the landscape department goes and pulls weeds, radio close by. I have another semi-official job, though, that of weather-boy. Luther Tenny, Chair General (you did click that link on chair setting above, right?) calls me occasionally, wondering what the weather radar looks like. I’m the local weather geek, next to Luther, who is in an information tent on site, so isn’t close to a computer. I was watching this year by Android phone, as it was a spectacular day to pull weeds. The year Bill Clinton was the speaker several thunderstorms were forming in upstate New York, and I was freaking out. 6000 plus guests, and a storm on the way? I deferred to the experts, and called the National Weather Service in Burlington, who thought I was nuts, until I explained just exactly why I was calling, and they set my mind at ease. It rained for about 3 minutes, and then the sun came out and all was well. So, really, I’ve never seen the ceremony.

11:30 all the workers start traipsing up the hill towards Mead Chapel, where we get fed. All parents and graduates get fed by Matt Biette and crew, and that’s another blog post all together. Middlebury has an amazing home-grown dining service, and the food is great. They are brave feeding the landscape crew before the guests, but they certainly cook enough. Second Matt sighting-right below Mead Chapel telling guests walking up the hill that food is on both sides of Mead, and the lines are never too long. It seems like almost every student stops to talk to him.

The lure of the food works, and the chairs and stage empty soon enough, and facilities goes berserk in reverse. It’s easier to take things apart than put them up, and the chair trailer fills again. We also store chairs all over campus, so trucks are dispatched to places I haven’t even seen yet in my 5 years here. It’s a logistical nightmare, and always goes off without a hitch. I take apart the flowers, and plant them in the coming week by Admissions.  We’re done by 3 or 4 PM most years.