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Cover Essay: What’s on His Mind?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

harlowWebFor many years, my parents had a rough-coated Jack Russell terrier, a breed of dog known to be tough, tenacious, very smart, and extremely moody. (About the only quality he shared with Harlow, our cover dog and model on this page, was his smarts. Harlow is chill and very sweet; and very sweet; Woody, most definitely, was not.)

In his later years, as Woody’s energy began to wane, it seemed that his mental acuity—which would occasion behavior best described as devious—increased. Jack Russells are an active breed; when Woody’s stamina started to slide, his mind took over. Or so it appeared.

When my sister was getting married, my parents threw a cookout for out-of-town guests; my family being from the South, barbecue was the featured fare. It was a casual gathering, paper plates on laps enjoyed outside in the mid-spring weather. Of course, paper plates on laps subsequently became paper plates on the ground. And this is where Woody comes into the story. At one point that night, I witnessed Woody trot by with a half-eaten barbecue sandwich in his mouth. I chalked it up to him having received a right generous snack from one of our guests—until a few minutes later when I saw him trot past with another sandwich. I followed him this time, watching him scamper under a bush, only to emerge moments later with no sandwich. After he had trotted off again, I looked under the bush and discovered a pile of sandwiches, in various states of being consumed. Woody had been pilfering sandwiches off the plates of unsuspecting folks and . . . was saving them for later? Are dogs capable of planning ahead?

I hadn’t thought much about this particular episode until I found myself sitting in on Jason Arndt’s first-year seminar on animal cognition. On the morning of my visit, the class was discussing mental time travel. The question being examined: “When animals plan, are they imagining the future?” I was barely sitting down before I was wondering, Was Woody imagining himself in the future chowing down on those sandwiches?

While my thoughts were on Woody, the attention of the class—eight women and five men, plus their instructor, arrayed around a long table—was focused on a chimpanzee that lived in a zoo in Sweden. On the days when the zoo was to be opened, this fellow would gather rocks, store them in specific, strategically located piles, and then, hours later, hurl them at gawking visitors.

“I don’t know how strong of an argument this is, but he had to have thought this through,” one student said. But does planning ahead equate to mental time travel? Arndt wondered. Is the chimp thinking, as he’s gathering rocks, I’ll show them! “As far as I know,” he added, “chimps don’t cache things in nature.”

The consensus  was that yes, this chimp was picturing himself throwing those stones as he gathered them. (“He’s thinking, I’m so pumped.”) The scientific community seems split on the subject of
mental time travel in animals. But I know where I land. I’m convinced that Woody was thinking, on that spring evening, I’m so pumped.

Regarding Stameshkin

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

StameshkinWebAround Middlebury, the name Stameshkin is more of a proper noun. As in, “Check Stameshkin,” or, “Here’s what I found in Stameshkin.”

David Stameshkin is the author of The Town’s College: Middlebury College, 1800-1915 and The Strength of the Hills, 1915-1990, a two-volume set that serves as our official history. Many, though, no longer link the name to an actual person and instead simply affix the moniker to disembodied authority. So on an otherwise languorous summer afternoon, I had a hard time reconciling this accepted definition of “Stameshkin” with the bushy-haired, mustachioed, spectacled fellow who had just popped into my office and good-naturedly introduced himself as David Stameshkin. My confusion only deepened when he proffered his latest book: not the long-awaited (in some quarters) third volume of Stameshkin—see!—but a slender paperback whose title immediately signaled a twist on the now-familiar conceit of people listing all the activities they wish to do before shuffling off their mortal coils. Playfully tweaking the form—even after strategically inserting asterisks, we’ve chosen to leave the actual words to your imagination—and announcing “things I will not be doing before I die,” David Stameshkin’s new book left me briefly speechless. But not for long.

Since reading this riotously funny, yet also poignant and reflective book, I’ve been recommending it to friends, colleagues—even strangers. It’s refreshing how Stameshkin (the man) has prompted me to think about what I wish to accomplish in ways that the myriad and plentiful “bucket lists” never have.

Before leaving my office, the author told me he still wants to write one more historical monograph before he kicks the…you know. It won’t be volume three, he said, but it will be Middlebury-centric: a biography of Joseph Battell, one of the more pivotal characters in this institution’s history. Not to knock the 19th-century benefactor or what will surely be an insightful account of his life, but doesn’t this news make what Stameshkin doesn’t plan on doing with the rest of his years more enticing?

The Big Idea(s)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

ideas.cover.cmykMiddlebury DNA is everywhere. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. We frequently see the names of fellow graduates in the highest ranks of government; on the mastheads of top academic and literary journals; and in leadership roles in the worlds of business, art, engineering, medicine, agriculture, and more. Besides, where doesn’t Middlebury have a footprint—Antarctica?

Yet in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, noticing the achievements of other Middlebury alums, faculty, students, or the school itself is a sporadic occurrence, rarely accompanied by some time to pause and contemplate that contribution.

Now is your chance. This issue’s catalog of ideas, inventions, discoveries, and creations brought into the world by Middlebury and its people is a reminder of the breadth of original thinking that radiates out from our favorite corner of the Champlain Valley.

Fair warning: This collection is by no means comprehensive. To be honest, it feels criminally incomplete. Where’s broomball? Where’s the M83 X-ray flare-up? (Look it up!) Yet in reading through this smorgasborg, you will see that the editors were not aiming to deliver a complete accounting. Their goal—and I think they’ve pulled it off—is to showcase and celebrate the variety of Middlebury influences on modern life.

A few prominent themes do stand out, though. Commitments to education and international affairs are two, and there are impressive showings from the fields of design, business, literature, and entertainment.

There is also a pervasive sense of atypical thinking that should strike you as familiar. That’s because when we said yes to a Middlebury education, we were actually saying yes to a bunch of things (winter, small class sizes, healthy food, J-term, to name a few) and no to a bunch of others (hurried specialization, coasting through course work, urban amenities).

Whether we knew it or not, we were also saying no to conventional wisdom. One of my sharpest memories about Middlebury isn’t of a specific event, but of an ethos—of learning the well-established way of thinking about a given topic so that we could then proceed to interrogate—and possibly overturn—it.

Maybe we could even come up with something better.

That isn’t to say Middlebury breeds citizens who automatically reject whatever idea they encounter. That would be just as toxic as unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom. But to the extent that generalizing about the minds of Midd grads is even feasible, I submit the not-so-outlandish theory that a core value shared by many of us is that the status quo generally constitutes the least compelling thing going. And it may be flat-out wrong.

This manner of thinking about the world, of instinctively striving for a fresh take, is on full display in this remarkable collection. The editors put a lot of thought into these 44 selections. I’m sure you could come up with at least 44 more.

David Wolman ’96.5 is a contributing editor at Wired and the author, most recently, of The End of Money. Follow him at @davidwolman.

44 Ideas, Inventions, Discoveries, & Creations that Middlebury (and Its people) Have Given the World

Categories: Midd Blogosphere


Have you ever tossed a Frisbee? Seen The Vagina Monologues? Used a handy GPS device to find your way? Then Middlebury has had an impact on you beyond the four years you or your offspring spent at the College. All three are examples of Middlebury ingenuity that find a place on our list of 44 ideas, inventions, discoveries, and creations that Midd and its people have given the world. Of course, this isn’t all about you. We purposefully included the grandiose designation of the world as the beneficiary of Middlebury’s determination and know-how. After all, you might not have personally benefited from the discovery of the headwaters of the Mississippi, but society sure did. ¶ So dive in—and let the debate and discussions begin.

Alexander_L_Twilight_Middlebury_College_Alumnus_Class_of_18231. The First African American College Graduate
If you don’t know this fact about Middlebury College, you certainly should: Alexander Twilight, Middlebury Class of 1823, is universally recognized as the first American black college graduate.

Born in 1795 in Corinth, Vermont, Twilight spent much of his childhood and adolescence as an indentured farm worker. (While slavery was prohibited in the Green Mountain State after 1777, children could be indentured as a form of apprenticeship, a practice exploited by businessmen and farmers to virtually enslave black youth until they reached adulthood.) Having gained his freedom at the age of 20, Twilight spent six years of accelerated study at a grammar and secondary school in Randolph, Vermont, before applying to and being accepted by Middlebury.

Now, here’s where things get a little confusing. Twilight was of mixed race and had a fair complexion—and it is believed that when he was admitted to Middlebury, no one knew he was black. “Throughout his lifetime, we cannot find evidence to suggest that he identified as black,” Bill Hart, an associate professor of history, recently told the Middlebury Campus. Yet why was he indentured until the age of 20? And why did an 1800 census for the Twilight family list “all other free persons except Indians not taxed by the government,” phrasing that Hart explained could mean “free blacks, unaffiliated Indians, or mixed race people.” Many believe that the phrase referred to Twilight’s father, also of mixed race. After he died (or disappeared, no one is quite sure) when Twilight was young, all subsequent censuses referred to the Twilight family as “white.”

“[Alexander Twilight] neither embraced nor rejected his racial identity,” Hart told the Campus.

Two decades later, in 1845, Middlebury accepted for admission Martin Henry Freeman, a black applicant from nearby Rutland. Unlike Twilight, Freeman identified as black, and his admission to Middlebury was well publicized.

A century and a half passed before Alexander Twilight was officially recognized as the country’s first African American college graduate. It’s believed that collegiate rivalry played a part in this revelation. Following the American Civil Rights movement, folks at Amherst College posited that Amherst grad Edward Jones, Class of 1826, was the nation’s first black graduate. Middlebury historians suspected differently. Alexander Twilight was a storied alumnus, well known as one of Vermont’s pioneering 19th-century educators, as well as a powerful state legislator. Over the decades, Twilight’s race was referred to anecdotally, specifically in his hometown of Corinth and his adopted town of Brownington; a letter to the editor of the Burlington Free Press in 1949 refuted the newspaper’s claim that the citizens of the state had elected the first black man to the Vermont legislature—“Not so, that would be Alexander Twilight from Brownington,” wrote a woman from Newport. But there was no proof to back up this claim, until the Middlebury historians discovered and produced the 1800 census.

We did some digging of our own and discovered that the Middlebury College Newsletter, the precursor to this magazine, had covered Twilight over the years, notating his accomplishments as an educator and politician. We found feature stories written about Twilight in 1936 and 1959; neither mentioned his race. This was not the case in the spring of 1974 when the only existing photograph of Twilight was featured on this magazine’s cover, with the cover lines “Alexander Lucius Twilight, Class of 1823: The First Black American College Graduate.”

2. The New York Times Style Section
Style aficionados can thank journalist Trip Gabriel ’77 for this section of the New York Times, once an occasional Sunday feature, now with stand-alone sections on Thursday and Sunday. Gabriel led “Style” for 12 years, overseeing its expansion and assembling its extremely talented writing collective.

3. The Frisbee
Yalies may shun us for saying this, but the world can thank a few Middlebury Delta Upsilon frat boys for the “invention” of the Frisbee. Legend claims these five Midd Kids were the first to have thrown the Frisbee, in the form of a discarded pie plate from the then-well-known Frisbie Pie Company. The boys made this epic toss while changing a flat tire in Nebraska, en route to a national fraternity conference.

Technically, the practice of throwing a disc in athletic competition dates back to the first Olympics in 776 BCE. Several colleges believe their students were the first to toss a non-stone Frisbee: Yale states undergraduate student Elihu Frisbie first flung the pie tin in 1820, while Princeton, Dartmouth, and Amherst also stake claims.

Despite counter stories of the game’s invention, Middlebury is the only college to host an honorary “Frisbee Dog” on campus. The bronze statue of a dog leaping to snatch a disc permanently resides outside Munroe Hall; it was created by Patrick Villiers Farrow of Castleton, Vermont, and gifted to Middlebury in 1989. Fact or fiction, we know Farrow drew inspiration from the long-lasting Frisbee tradition on Middlebury’s campus, continued today by the Middlebury Pranksters, 2013 Ultimate Frisbee National Champions.

breadloaf.cmyk4. Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
Few places evoke reflection so keenly as Green Mountain National Forest in Ripton, Vermont, home of America’s oldest writers’ conference. Sited among 30,000 acres of forest willed to Middlebury College by Morgan horse breeder Joseph Battell in 1915, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference has convened annually since 1926.

Robert Frost was first inspired to establish the “Conferences on Writing” upon visiting the idyllic Vermont setting. Writers Willa Cather, Katharine Lee Bates, and Louis Untermeyer all encouraged a late-August conference when the School of English at Bread Loaf was vacant; Middlebury College agreed. Since, Bread Loaf has welcomed innumerable reputable authors, the tradition continuing today with a two-week summer session for known and developing writers, students included.

5. The New Balance Running Shoe
Jim Davis ’66 didn’t found New Balance, but he has made the American footwear and apparel company into one of the world’s largest—and most respected. When he purchased the company in 1972, New Balance employed six people; it’s now a 4,000-employee global corporation with annual revenues topping $1 billion.

6. Polymer Cable Sheath
Until the 1940s, telephone cables were insulated with a lead-based coating that was expensive, extremely heavy—and toxic. So when Field Winslow ’38 and his Bell Labs colleagues Walter Lincoln Hawkins and Vincent Lanza found a way to stabilize polyethylene and create a plastic cable insulation that was both durable and cost-efficient, universal telephone service went from a dream to a reality.

7. A Carbon-Neutral Ski Area
Dreamed up by a group of students in an environmental economics class, the idea of making the Snow Bowl carbon neutral became a reality when Middlebury purchased carbon offsets from Charlotte-based NativeEnergy in 2006, converting the Snow Bowl into the first carbon-neutral ski area in the United States, as confirmed by the National Ski Areas Association. It has maintained carbon neutrality every year since. Following Middlebury’s lead, the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley ski resort offset its carbon footprint and became the first carbon-neutral professional skiing event in the U.S.

8. Global Positioning System
Can we actually claim that the world would be lost without Middlebury? Perhaps. That’s because Middlebury alum Roger Easton ’43 is the principal inventor and designer (along with Bradford Parkinson and Ivan A. Getting) of the Global Positioning System—the satellite navigation system known universally by its initials: GPS.

Immediately following his graduation from Middlebury, Easton began working at the Naval Research Laboratory, where he developed TIMATION (a blend-word for “time” and “navigation”) for the Naval Air Systems Command. Timation provided both accurate positions and precise time to observers. Every GPS satellite now in orbit uses the fundamental principals of the Timation system, which has an unlimited user size. The system was used in four experimentally launched satellites over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the last of which was the first satellite to transmit GPS signals.

Easton also headed the design team that built the Vanguard I satellite, the country’s second, and now oldest, satellite in space, launched in the spring of 1958. Easton also conceived of the Naval Space Surveillance System, an electronic fence—still in operation—that detects all satellites crossing the southern United States. Easton was justly inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1996, the Naval Research Laboratory announced the establishment of a new award,the highest civilian distinction for engineering achievement, named for Easton.

banjosignal.cmyk9. Banjo Signal
The railroad switch invented by Middlebury graduate Thomas Seavey Hall in 1869 saved innumerable lives, warranting his induction to the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. The 1860s and 1870s were decades of frequent train casualties due to conductors’ inability to effectively communicate. After witnessing such accidents, Hall grew determined to invent improved signals to better alert train engineers of the presence of oncoming trains and alert travelers crossing railroad intersections. In 1869, Hall was issued a patent for a switch designed to alert train engineers of the presence of another train on a stretch of track by using electromagnetism to display a sign shaped like a banjo, Hall’s favorite instrument. Later, Hall weatherproofed the banjo switch by encasing it in a watertight enclosure to ensure proper functioning in ice and snow.

10. The Believer
First published in April 2003, The Believer is a literary magazine edited by Vendela Vida ’93, Heidi Julavits, and Andrew Leland. Published by McSweeney’s, The Believer has been described as a “utopian literary magazine” and “highbrow but delightfully bizarre,” which is probably why we love it so much. Charles Burns illustrates all of the covers and Nick Hornby, Greil Marcus, and Amy Sedaris are regular contributors.

11. Headwaters of the Mississippi River
After studying geology and mineralogy at Middlebury College, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft became one of America’s most dedicated explorers in the early 1800s. Schoolcraft led various expeditions in his native Missouri between 1818 and 1822 before being appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Michigan Upper Great Lakes region by the federal government.

Schoolcraft’s most notable achievement came a decade later, in 1832, when he discovered and named the “primary source” of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, in what is now Minnesota. While it is acknowledged that later explorer Jacob Brower was able to push a little higher up to Elk Lake, thanks to a better flow level, history’s decision is indulgent of our alumnus, allowing him and Brower to keep their own crowns.

MORPHO_2P_ELITE_1door_open12. The Self-Inflating Tent
Shunning the cubicle life after graduation, Cam Brensinger ’98 started his own outdoor equipment product design firm: NEMO Equipment (originally, New England Mountain Equipment). After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2002, Brensinger began his company’s first line of products: self-inflating tents, the first of their kind.

After two years, Brensinger perfected NEMO’s AirSupported Technology. Tents using this technology have no poles, no fly, and no moving parts. Users employ small hand or foot pumps or a breathing tube to quickly and easily “inflate” the tent into a stable form; pressurized air inside high-tech fabric creates the tent’s sustainably stiff infrastructure. NEMO and the self-inflating tent met immediate and continuous success, including placement in Time magazine’s “most amazing inventions” issue in  2005.

13. 350.org
This international environmental organization was founded by Middlebury Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben and recent grads Phil Aroneanu ’06, Will Bates ’06, Kelly Blynn ’07, May Boeve ’06, Jamie Henn ’07, Jeremy Osborn ’06, and Jon Warnow ’06 in 2008. Since then, 350.org (the number corresponds with the atmospheric CO2 parts-per-million threshold that scientists believe a livable planet cannot exceed) has grown into one of the world’s most influential environmental groups, with a global network active in nearly 200 countries and the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history to its name.

14. New Dawn High School and Library
Kennedy Mutothori Mugo ’12.5 has always perceived education as a gift to be re-gifted, rather than a means of personal advancement. In 2006, before attending college, Mugo, a native of Kenya, cofounded the New Dawn Educational Center, a high school in the Huruma slums of Nairobi that was designed to educate children otherwise unable to attend merit-based or private schools. Rather than giving up on this highly impoverished, HIV- and crime-ravaged community, Mugo saw potential in its youngest members, motivated by Ropo Oguntimehin’s famous statement, “Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate it and no nepotism can enslave.” The school thrives today, providing residential education to approximately 160 impoverished or orphaned youth, and receives community support as a beacon of change. Mugo taught math and chemistry at the school until matriculating at Middlebury in 2009.

Mugo returned to Nairobi during the summer of 2012 with 12 Middlebury students to build a new library for the school, in collaboration with the Huruma community. The Middlebury group received a prestigious Davis Projects for Peace grant, and after raising $25,000, they were able to successfully construct the library; provide books and school materials; and conduct various musical, mural painting, and athletic workshops for local students.

800px-LincolnInauguration1861a15. An Intact Capitol Building—When the Nation Needed It Most
With the fires of a Civil War being ignited in the United States in 1861, a new building to house the U.S. Congress stood half built in the capital city of Washington, D.C. By February 1862, construction, which had started 12 years earlier, had been halted for nine and a half months. Yet a quiet move was made to restart construction on a half-built building that was serving as a symbol for a struggling nation. It was Vermont Senator Solomon Foot, Middlebury Class of 1826, as president pro tempore, who introduced a Senate resolution calling for Capitol construction to be transferred from the Corps of Engineers to the Department of the Interior.

The resolution passed in both houses with fewer than 10 votes in opposition. Construction was resumed that April.

16. Broad Street Maps
Conceived as a 2012 MiddStart project, Anna Clements’s and Hannah Judge’s organization Broad Street Maps is now internationally recognized for its work equipping grassroots health organizations with open-source mapping techniques to visualize and improve their services. Through individualized mapping projects in which they collect spatial data and combine it with existing health information to produce maps, Hannah and Anna (both ’12.5) enable small health organizations to observe the geographic distribution of their problems, and hence enact more effective, targeted services. In 2013, they completed a project in Peru, won the Schiller Cup for Entrepreneurship, and were chosen as finalists for the ITU Young Innovator Competition in Bangkok, winning $10,000.

17. The Language Schools
In 1915, Middlebury opened a German language school, becoming the first institution to employ a full-immersion-based approach to language instruction and acquisition at on-campus summer schools. Middlebury now offers intensive instruction in 10 languages (with an 11th school, Korean, set to open in 2015) during six-to-nine-week sessions. Middlebury is also the only institution to offer a Doctorate of Modern Languages, preparing teacher-scholars in two modern foreign languages.

The lifeblood and registered trademark of Middlebury’s Language Schools is the Language Pledge. The Pledge, upheld since the 1920s, binds students to use their target language exclusively through the summer; you speak English, you leave. Incomparably intense and effective, Middlebury’s immersion-based language instruction has transformed thousands into true global citizens.

18. In The Time of the Butterflies
Picking any one title from the Julia Alvarez ’71 canon to serve as her seminal work seems an impossible task; still, we believe In The Time of the Butterflies is the Dominican American author’s most influential work. The novel documents the lives of the Mirabal (code name “The Butterflies”), martyrs who founded the underground resistance cell movement in the Dominican Republic during Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. Captivating prose stems from intimate ties, as the secret police cracked Alvarez’s father’s resistance cell, forcing her family’s escape in 1960. The novel also inspired a 2001 feature film starring Salma Hayek and Edward James Olmos.

19. Vic Mackey
Badass LAPD detective Vic Mackey (portrayed by actor Michael Chiklis) was undeniably corrupt, but relentlessly entertaining as the protagonist of the hit television drama The Shield, which ran on FX from 2002–08. Television show producer Shawn Ryan ’88 dreamed up Mackey and the world he inhabited, giving television viewers seven seasons with an anti-hero who ranks right up there with Walter White, Tony Soprano, and Dexter Morgan as fictional creations we hate to love.

Skida_3a20. Skida
Corrine Prevot ’13 began making hats out of fun fabrics while a student at Burke Mountain Academy in 2007. During her time at Middlebury, demand for her colorful chapeaus bloomed, inspiring her to devote herself fulltime to the hat-making business after graduating in 2013. With its headquarters in Burlington, Skida is devoted to local production in northern Vermont and also supports chemotherapy patients by donating one hat to their respective cancer centers for every order submitted.

21. Dexter Morgan
Speaking of Dexter Morgan, this forensic analyst by day, serial killer of bad guys by night is also a Middlebury creation, sprung from the mind of novelist Jeff Lindsay ’75. In a 2011 profile in Middlebury Magazine, Lindsay told us that the idea for Dexter came to him while attending a mind-numbing Kiwanis luncheon in South Florida. The room was filled with real estate brokers, car salesmen, bail bondsmen, and “they’re talking and shaking hands—totally phony, annoying behavior—talking with food in their mouths, la la la la, handing out their business cards, and the idea popped into my head that serial murder was not always a bad idea.”

Lindsay has written seven novels with Dexter Morgan as the protagonist. A television series based on Lindsay’s first Dexter novel aired on Showtime for eight seasons.

22. Personal Finance
Jane Bryant Quinn ’60, a financial journalist, has been doling out personal finance advice for more than 40 years, empowering millions of Americans to take control of and better understand their financial lives. One of the codevelopers of the financial planning software Quicken, Quinn wrote columns for Newsweek, Bloomberg.com, Good Housekeeping, and the Washington Post Writers Group, while also commenting for CBS, PBS, and ABC.

23. Muggle Quidditch
Inspired by the fictional sport created by J. K. Rowling in her Harry Potter book series, Muggle Quidditch was born at an Atwater lunch table in the fall of 2005. A group of Middlebury students, led by Xander Manshel ’09, were bored and looking for something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon. That October, the first Quidditch match was played on Battell Beach, and a month later a seven-team tournament was held. Two years later, a group of Vassar students wanted in on the action and showed up on campus for what would be dubbed the first Quidditch World Cup. Since then, the sport has been featured on television (MTV), in international newspapers (Wall Street Journal), and on the silver screen (The Internship), while expanding well beyond Middlebury. The 2011 World Cup was held in New York City’s Randall’s Island, with 96 teams participating. In 2012, teams from Australia, Canada, France, the U.K., and the U.S., traveled to Oxford, England, for the first truly international Cup. Teams must now qualify, in regional tournaments, for the World Cup, and last year’s winner was the first team not to come from Middlebury.

The University of Texas captured the 2013 crown; to commemorate the title, the university illuminated its iconic Main Building, an honor traditionally given to recognize NCAA conference championships.

24. Self-Reliance
In 2011, Middlebury College became the first undergraduate liberal arts college ever selected to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon is a prestigious biennial international competition challenging 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and aesthetically pleasing.

Team Middlebury consisted of 100 students from more than 25 academic disciplines—think psychology, environmental studies, economics, as Middlebury, unlike most of its competitors, offers no graduate architecture or engineering programs. In true Vermont fashion, the team designed and constructed Self-Reliance, a solar-powered 21st-century farmhouse for the 2011 competition. Self-Reliance placed fourth overall, won the communications contest, and now serves as on-campus student housing. Team Middlebury competed again in 2013. Their house, InSite, impressively placed eighth overall.

25. True Love!
Mathematician Chris McKinlay ’01 was a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley when he hacked the online dating site OKCupid and reverse engineered its matching algorithms to find the girl of his dreams. He’s written a book about the effort and was profiled in Wired magazine. And yes, he’s engaged to the woman he met through his hacking efforts.

26. Dispatch
UVM may claim Phish, but we’ve got our own acoustic-funk music phenomenon. Brad Corrigan ’96, Pete Francis ’99, and Chad Urmston ’98 formed the band Dispatch when they were students in the late-90s, redefining reggae-infused rock with albums such as Bang Bang  and Four-Day Trials.

Though they officially disbanded in 2002, the group has staged frequent reunion shows, including three in 2007 that sold out Madison Square Garden. Reunion tours have subsequently reoccurred over the past three years, leading one to surmise that Dispatch is as busy or busier “in retirement” than it was during its first go around.

27. Superconducting Tape
Among other things, Mark Benz ’56, a chemistry major while at Middlebury, is the inventor of a strong and highly flexible superconducting tape, which is the basis for commercial superconducting magnet systems. Mark is also the coinventor of General Electric’s  process for making the world’s strongest permanent magnets. He holds 31 U.S. patents in the development of superconducting materials, spray-forming methods for super alloys, refractory metals, and high-temperature composites.

Vagina_Monologues_Poster28. The Vagina Monologues
Many Middlebury grads take creative risks, but few are quite as provocative as Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. Breaking taboos to advocate feminism and voice the realities of female sexuality and abuse, Ensler ’75 interviewed 200 woman in the mid-1990s, asking, “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” The interviews touched on themes such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, and orgasm: femininity, as experienced through the vagina.

Ensler wrote the first draft of the play in 1996, the same year it won an Obie Award for Best Play after opening in New York City. The episodic play consists of a series of monologues read by various women (originally Ensler performed all monologues), inspired by the 200 interviews she conducted. All monologues expose normally clandestine aspects of the female experience, recurrent themes including the vagina as a means of female empowerment and an embodiment of individuality. Since its debut, the play has been translated into 35 languages and has been performed worldwide.

29. Seven Days
For those who see no future in print journalism or who have signaled the death knell for alternative newsweeklies, we point you toward Seven Days, the Burlington, Vermont-based alt-weekly that is the talk of the industry.

Founded by Paula Routly ’82 and Pamela Polston in 1995, Seven Days was recently talked up by James Fallows of The Atlantic (“Strange Days in the North Country: A Profitable Print Newspaper”) and is thriving as part of a media company (Da Capo Publishing) that also includes a parenting magazine, an airport magazine, a restaurant and entertainment guide, a city guide, and a technology career fair. And having a bunch of Midd alums, in addition to Routly, on the newspaper’s masthead (Don Eggert ’98, associate publisher and creative director; Xian Chiang-Waren ’11, staff writer; Kathryn Flagg ’08, staff writer; Megan James ’06, staff writer; Andrea Suozzo ’09, digital editor; and Sarah Tuff ’95, contributing writer) only increases our level of admiration for the lively pub.

30. Seeds of Peace
Seeds of Peace is a youth organization that brings young leaders from areas of conflict— across the Middle East, South Asia, Cyprus, and the Balkans—to its international camp in Maine, where they confront their prejudice and tackle the issues at home with each other and professional facilitators. Founded by the late John Wallach ’64, Seeds of Peace also provides regional programs to support its graduates, known as Seeds, once they return to their home countries.

31. Ice
Alexander Catlin Twinning, professor of mathematics, civil engineering, and astronomy at Middlebury from 1839 to 1849, went on to invent a machine that could manufacture ice in commercial quantities.

32. Danforth Pewter
Fred Danforth ’72, a direct descendant of an influential metalsmithing family of the 18th and 19th centuries, revived the family tradition with his wife, Judi Danforth, when he established Danforth Pewter in Middlebury in 1975.

Although drawn to the abstract concepts found in philosophy as a student, Danforth learned that physical activity freed his mind. Over the next 39 years, the business has grown from a two-person shop to a company with national distribution.

Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASH33. Hawkeye Pierce
Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MD, the M*A*S*H protagonist made famous first by Donald Sutherland in the Robert Altman feature film and later by Alan Alda (above left) in the long-running television series, owes his existence to W. C. Heinz ’37 and H. Richard Hornberger.

Heinz and Hornberger, writing under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, coauthored MASH: A Novel about Three Army Doctors in 1968. Using outrageous humor to capture the absurdity of war, the book introduced characters such as Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Radar O’Reilly, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, Father Mulcahy, and others who would all appear on the silver screen and television sets for the next two decades.

34. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
This holiday classic, made famous by Bing Crosby, was written by James Kimball Gannon, Class of 1924. Gannon actually left Middlebury after his freshman year, but he thought so fondly of his time at the College that his will stipulated that 21 percent of annual royalties generated by this song be donated to Middlebury.

35. 826 Valencia
At 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, California, tucked between a cooperative art gallery and a zakka shop, stands a pirate supply store. And like any good pirate shop, treasures can be found if you know where to look. The crown jewel of 826 Valencia is a writing lab—one that just may be the most innovative and influential writing lab ever created.

Drawn from the creative minds of educator Nínive Calegari ’93 and writer Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia has evolved from a small writing center for underserved kids into a nonprofit organization with seven other chapters found around the United States.

With different storefronts, such as Space Travel Supply Co., Robot Supply and Repair Store, and the Boring Store, each branch of 826 similarly serves as the writing and tutoring center for local students, helping them explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. By 2011–12, the centers had served more than 30,000 students and 900 teachers.

36. School of Leadership, Afghanistan
Cofounded by Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11, SOLA is a nonprofit educational institution serving a new generation of Afghan women in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Today, women constitute more than 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population, yet the existing education system has not met their needs for a generation. In 2007, only 6 percent of Afghan women aged 25 or older had ever received a formal education; and only 12 percent of women aged 15 or older were literate.

Students at SOLA receive academic, financial, and personal support to study at competitive schools abroad. SOLA also helps returning graduates to secure public and private sector opportunities in Afghanistan.

37. The Best Tradition in College Sports
As Rick Reilly, then a columnist for Sports Illustrated, so aptly wrote in 2003: “The best college tradition is not dotting the i at Ohio State. It’s not stealing the goat from Navy. Or waving the wheat at Kansas. It’s Picking Up Butch at Middlebury College.”

“Butch” is Butch Varno, the Middlebury man with cerebral palsy who has been a fixture at Panther football and basketball games for more than 50 years. The tradition of “picking up Butch”—a description with both literal and figurative meanings—began on one snowy late-fall day in 1960, when Middlebury student Roger Ralph ’63 encountered Varno’s grandmother struggling to push her grandson’s wheelchair down a slushy sidewalk following a football game.  Ralph stopped his car, offered his assistance, and drove the two home. Before the next game, he returned to the Varno household to pick Butch up. And students—basketball players for football games and football players for hoops contests—have been doing so ever since.

Following Reilly’s column, the world was given entrée to a story that has been part of the Middlebury narrative for quite some time. Picking up Butch has now been the subject of an Emmy Award-winning ESPN documentary, a Boston Globe Magazine story, and a CBS Sunday Morning feature.

38. InStyle  
In 1993, while overseeing day-to-day operations at People magazine, publishing executive Ann Williams Jackson ’74 began working on InStyle, a new spin-off celebrity-lifestyle publication

An English major at Middlebury, Jackson joined Time Inc. in 1977 as a financial analyst. She climbed the corporate ladder, working at Money magazine, Sports Illustrated, and then People. As the founding publisher of InStyle, Jackson helped launch one of the most successful fashion magazines found on newsstands today.

39. The Ability to Track that Asteroid Hurtling Toward Earth
A planetary scientist and manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Don Yeomans ’64 was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013—for a very good reason. Dubbed the “Asteroid Hunter” by Time, Yeomans is the guy who will raise the alarm if the shattered remnant of a planet is getting a little too close for Earth’s comfort.

40. The Legislative Teller
Enos Stevens, Middlebury Class of 1838, was a tinkerer and American inventor with several inventions to his name. He devised a system of musical notation and created an apparatus for automatically recording atmospheric changes. Yet the Stevens invention we choose to highlight here is the legislative teller, a mechanical vote counter, which was used in the United States Congress in 1856.

41. Documenting the Downfall of a Dictator
In 1970, Sandra Burton ’63 became the first woman to be named a correspondent for Time magazine. Thirteen years later, she was the first reporter to tell the world of the assassination of Benigno Aquino, who was mounting a political challenge to Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Far from ending the nascent democratic threat, Marcos’s death order hastened his demise. Aquino’s widow, Corazon, picked up the mantle and subsequently defeated Marcos to become the democratically elected president of the Philippines.

42. Sustainable Jungle Bliss
Tamara Jacobi ’06.5 wrote the business plan for the Tailwind Jungle Lodge in a J-term course and then promptly moved to Mexico after graduation to put her plans into action.

A year later, she was hosting her first guests at Tailwind, a collection of sustainably designed bungalows, palapas, and casitas perched on five acres of dense jungle ridges, which drop to secluded white-sand beaches. In 2009, Tailwind became the first certified sustainable eco-lodge in Mexico.

43. Winter Carnival
With its founding in 1923, Middlebury’s winter carnival holds claim to the oldest student-run carnival in the nation. Ski races, snow-sculpture contests, fireworks, concerts, bonfires, and the annual winter ball are all indispensable parts of this 91-year-old tradition.

44. The Ben and Jerry’s Cow
You know that iconic image, right? That painting of the black-and-white Holstein cows scattered about a green pasture, a blue sky, dotted with white marshmallow-shaped clouds? The image found on every Ben and Jerry’s pint or truck or retail store? That’s the work of Woody Jackson ’70.

This now-trademarked image, the black-and-white Holstein, made its debut in a 1974 show at the College’s art gallery, a show called simply “Cows.” In 1983, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield commissioned Jackson to create the design for their young ice cream company.

In the Queue

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

inthequeueMother’s Sins
Review of The Kept by James Scott ’99

“Elspeth Howell was a sinner.” That is the first sentence of the widely praised inaugural novel, The Kept, by James Scott ’99. And that sentence is at the heart of Scott’s story about a wife and mother of five, who has a deep, personal flaw that has not only shaped her life but also caused havoc from which she and one of her children may never recover. Her flaw and the sins it led to are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. At once a mystery and a revenge tale set in 1897 in upstate New York during a grueling, seemingly endless winter, The Kept ensnares the reader and does not let go.

The novel begins as Elspeth, a midwife who has been away working, returns to her remote, isolated homestead. Nearing the house, she notices there is no smoke coming from the chimney, which tells her instantly that something is wrong. On the porch, she finds the slaughtered body of her youngest daughter, and inside, three other children shot dead, and her husband lifeless in bed.

All have been murdered—except 12-year-old Caleb, who hid during the massacre. He and his mother must survive several severe hurdles before they can leave their home and head out across fields of deep snow to seek help—and the killers. Caleb wants revenge. Elspeth fears that her sins are being repaid.

Mother and son trek to a lakefront town, where Elspeth’s past begins to resurface. She rents a room and seeks a job. Caleb, with his sights on finding his family’s murderers, places himself in the one place he thinks murderers would most likely be found, a brothel. Thrust quickly into manhood in these grim surroundings, Caleb begins to unravel the truth about his family and his mother. The town is populated by rough, brutal people, living hard lives—everyone existing on survival’s razor edge. And the long, brooding winter, with snow and cold that never let up, accentuates the difficulties.

Scott raises complex questions about what constitutes a familty, or heroism, or higher purpose, or self-determination. Elspeth’s sins drive her. Her family was built around them. Could she have lived any other way? Did she have control over how her life turned out? With masterful use of flashbacks, Scott paints an intricate portrait of a complex family with secrets layered within secrets.

The Kept is a wonderfully written, mysteriously revealed narrative, and while the lives it describes are difficult and painful, they are also admirable for their gritty determination.

A Boy’s Life
Review of The Other World by Richard Hawley ’67

IOtherWorldt’s not an easy task for an adult to tell a story through the eyes of a child. Capturing a boy’s thoughts and feelings as he experiences his interactions with his parents, other children, animals and nature, or life situations can be a challenge for the older writer, who often has lost the sense of wonder, curiosity, hope, and vision of “the other world” that a child possesses.

Yet Richard Hawley ’67 successfully unfolds the story of Jonathan Force in The Other World, convincingly developing Jonathan’s voice from his first memory of Christmas at age one to the day he leaves for college. The time frame moves from the end of World War II through the 1950s, when the experiences and adventures a boy can have give him a chance to explore the secret worlds of childhood, attics and basements and tunnels under the school, always empowered by imagination and a lively spirit. Yet at the same time, he faces the realities of a father who cracks him in the head for childhood mistakes, the limitations of realizing dreams as he tries to climb up the outside of a house, the anguish of junior high when the main thing he does is try not to feel bad. As Jonathan says, “There are times when your life gets small and you can hardly remember the other world.”

Throughout each of the stories that unfold in the novel, Jonathan captivates the reader with his very genuine reflections on growing up and his detailed observations of society and his part in it. Hawley lets us accompany this engaging boy on his journey from innocence to the threshold of manhood and it’s well worth the read.

Remembering Matthew Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere


When my e-mail inbox pinged at around ten o’clock on the morning of March 11, alerting me to a message from David Bain with the subject line “FW: Matt Power,” I smiled and wondered what adventure the intrepid journalist had embarked on now. David’s opening words—“devastating news”—stopped me cold.

Matthew Power had died at the age of 39.

I did not know Matt well. We had met at Bread Loaf about 10 years ago and had subsequently bumped into each other a couple of times. No matter where his reporting travels had taken him—Iceland, Cambodia, South Sudan, Tasmania—he always seemed to find his way back to the mountain and the Writers’ Conference each summer, where he was a tuition scholar in 2004 and a guest lecturer ever since. While Matt was at home in the world—more at ease in the most uncomfortable situations than anyone I know—Middlebury was his home. He was raised in Cornwall and educated at Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury College, Class of 1996; Addison County seemed to be the perfect place to incubate what Matt described as “childhood fantasies of having an adventurous life.” Fantasy became reality, but unlike those who get the wanderlust bug and never look back, Matt’s perpetual motion allowed, always, for moments in Vermont, moments cherished by family and friends and those who just wanted to be in his orbit.

People like me.

In the weeks following Matt’s passing, I had conversations with alumni journalists who were close friends of his. Some were contemporaries, folks from his class or classes adjacent, but far more were 10 or even 15 years younger. And they all shared common stories. They didn’t come to Middlebury because of Matt, but they all left wanting to do what he did. Not only were they inspired by his example, but they were beneficiaries of what friend Abe Streep ’04 has described as his “relentless generosity,” his ability to connect, to empathize, to encourage.

Matt is gone, leaving this Earth far too soon, yet he lives on through so many others—people we know and people we will never meet. For those feeling his loss most acutely, I hope there’s some solace in knowing this.

Pursuits: Sing Along

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

trienBlunt little sneakers that light up when you dance are de rigueur at a Vanessa Trien ’91 show. So are pink tutus, OshKosh overalls, and diminutive Red Sox caps. The Saturday morning crowd at the Sheehan School in Westwood, Massachusetts, leaps and twirls and sings along as Trien and her band, the Jumping Monkeys, lead them through kindergarten favorites like her songs “Tickle Monster” and “Bubble Ride.”

Trien, who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband and her children, aged five and nine, didn’t set out to be a “kindie” celebrity, but she’s getting there. (Kindie is independent music for kids.) The singer-songwriter and music educator was a regular on the robust Boston folk scene, performing at iconic small venues like Cambridge’s Club Passim. But the crowds of big people were small—until she released her first CD of songs for small people in 2006.

“I had my first CD release at Magic Beans, a children’s store in Brookline, and people were lining up outside. It was a much bigger crowd than I ever would get for a folk show,” Trien says. “People are looking for kids’ music, and over the past few years a kindie music scene has developed—it’s a national scene, with a lot of people doing this music. Brooklyn’s the hot place, but New England is great too.”

Trien began dedicating her work to children’s music after her son, Ellis, was born. Since then, she has recorded and released three CDs of kindie music—Hot Air Balloon, Carnival Day, and Bubble Ride. Her work has won three Parents’ Choice Awards and five songwriting awards from the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. She laughingly says her reputation is “semi-national,” with write-ups in Parenting magazine and School Library Journal, and a national distributor for her CDs.

Trien says she loved performing for adult audiences as a folksinger, but her life as an artist really came alive when she started performing for children. “There are some people who feel connected with kids and can communicate with them well and be on their wave length—and it turns out I am one of those people,” she says. “There is such an immediate, visceral response from an audience of small children. They’re not just in their heads—they’re up and dancing and singing along. And the parents are interacting with the kids, and they’re learning together and sharing music as a family—it’s so vital!”

Two years ago, Trien began teaching as a music specialist for the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP). With BEEP, she’s working with Brookline Access TV to develop programming and songs for an early childhood literacy TV program, Bee Bear Book Club. She also recently cowrote and arranged two songs that will be used in two short music videos on the national website www.education.com as part of their kindergarten math curriculum.

Trien now has a booking manager—something she never had as a folk singer. “She’s been getting me out more,” says Trien, who has played in New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia, as well as all over Massachusetts (and at her Middlebury reunion).

“I want to make another CD,” she says. “Within the next five years my goals are to record more and have more national recognition. I have a few themes that I want to hit on. As my kids get older and have more complicated feelings, it’s not just about jumping and spinning anymore, but also about the complicated feelings kids have as they get older. I want to write about that.”

Meanwhile, back in Westwood, the audience is getting restless. Time for the celebration parade song! One of the Jumping Monkeys climbs off the stage to lead a crocodile of kids around the auditorium, and Trien turns to her drummer. “Take it away, Rico!”