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Refueling in the Classroom

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Every spring semester, I shake off the winter routine by taking a short, weekly “break” from my role as dean to teach a class. It’s one of my favorite things to do as a teacher, clinical psychologist, and college administrator.

This year, I am teaching the 300-level psychology course Approaches to Psychotherapy, which focuses on theories and practices of clinical and counseling psychology. Teaching this course takes me back to my roots as a clinical psychologist, when I developed as a clinician in a variety of settings as a graduate student at Duke University, and I did community mental health work in Washington, D.C., after earning my doctorate—my area of specialty focuses on trauma and dissociative disorders in multicultural populations. In class, we look at psychological theories and approaches through a broad cultural lens—at how they intersect with the experiences of people from various backgrounds and identities.

I have found teaching to be profoundly energizing, for several reasons:

  • A classroom full of bright Middlebury students is a stimulating environment in and of itself. The students always challenge me with their discerning observations, questions, and ideas.

  • Outside experts—practicing clinical psychologists—visit class to discuss their work, which allows me to connect with colleagues active in the field and community.

  • As a class, we think critically about the field of clinical psychology, and that is a good thing. Middlebury students planning to work in the field will ensure that the field evolves and is responsive to new realities.

  • The teaching process revs up my creative juices, and I take that renewed creativity back to Old Chapel. I realize some people don’t think of administrators as creative, but I have found that innovative approaches and inventive problem solving are needed each day.

  • Teaching has helped to make me a better dean. It is grounding (and humbling) to be able to carve out this special time with students. What I gain from the classroom experience stays with me and informs my work for the rest of the year.

I have also taught Racism and Mental Health and Psychological Disorders. I hope I will get to see some of you in my course in the future.

Teaching vitalizes me and pushes me in ways that are so important to being a better college administrator. I am interested in learning more about what students want to experience and learn in the classroom. I also want to know more about what others do at this time of year to recharge their lives. What do you do to rejuvenate and energize your academic or professional life?

What Time Off Did for Me

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere


Several weeks ago, I invited students interested in writing guest posts for this blog to contact me. Happily, one of them was Zane Anthony ’16.5, who writes today about his gap semester. —Shirley M. Collado

By 12th grade, I developed a senioritis so bleak and merciless that I felt like a crayon in a crayon box, trapped in darkness and ill fated to an existence of ambiguous pigeonholing and childhood neglect. Flustered and thundering inside, I felt exceedingly tired, wondering whether the few months of summer would be enough for me to recharge and “sort things out.” Too soon, I would find myself once again submersed in gray classroom grinds, committed to a near future in the progressive locale of Addison County, Vermont.

Last fall, I ultimately decided against signing myself off to another demanding, gazillionth-consecutive academic semester that would become roiled with work and worry. Instead, I kicked back for once, trading the immediacy of a hasty, blurry blastoff to an undergraduate career in exchange for a gap semester. And it was the best decision ever.

Today, the leap from high school to college is rumored to be so drastic, so inexorable, that we are losing sight of ourselves. Students consequently derail and belittle their high school endeavors; that is, building an arts center in Senegal becomes more important to their application to Stanford than to the Senegalese. Looking beyond “looking good” on an application and flashing showy undertakings, why not picture your post-secondary-school careers as the perfect opportunity to become the person you have always wanted to be—more active, more outgoing, or perhaps more generous? College is a breeding ground for out-of-comfort-zone experiences that lead you to new philosophies and understandings about yourself. But as I have come to discover, the time between high school and college is too.

Many young people think that life is encoded like alleles in DNA, or determined by set conditions like those of tall, bulky asymptotes. Attending a small, alternative school, I was lucky enough to be routinely discouraged from reverting to a life of normalcy and cookie-cutter approaches to solving problems, whether emotional, creative, or Socratic. I have finally realized that what has messed me up this whole time is that mental image I have of how things are supposed to be.

As leaves tumbled exhausted from branches last August, I fled from course work and towards my lifelong verve for environmentalism, following the winds to the familiar corridors of Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland. For four months, I taught Chesapeake Bay and swamp ecology classes, history lessons, and low- and high-ropes course initiatives with middle school and upper school students. Though busy, I had countless hours every day to be still and reflect.

Life moved slower. I synced with the natural rhythms of the Earth. I plunged into a world released from e-mails, voice mails, clocks, and schedules, nourishing that part of my being that is fed by swims in lakes, walks up mountains, and paddles through the water. Because of my experiences at Echo Hill, the things I want to do most, and the things that are most important to me, have slowly wedged away the rote, senile tasks I have been programmed to perform in secondary school. I can feel myself transitioning out of a dull, amorphous routine, growing blind to what was once familiar and youthful. But it’s funny because I do not feel as if  I am running away or leaving something behind. Instead, I feel that I am stepping towards something else.

My Febmester taught me that I am my own advocate, motivation, and resolve to succeed—this is conceivably the most critical life lesson I have ever learned. The distinctive life is a triumph, not something that will come if I behave decently, or because my father ordered it from the country club caterer. Beyond latching to the highly coveted, recursive web of hard work, thoughtful leadership, and responsible citizenship, I know I need to work fervently towards my goals, and thereby define my odds for success. It means fundamentally questioning where I am going and making sure I am not following the rut left behind by somebody else.

While driving to Middlebury for my Class of 2016.5 February Orientation, I watched vistas and peaks roll past as if torn straight from summery, warm New England tourist journals. I revered the snow-capped mountains, and barns, and wind farms, scampering towards high ground with my confidence shots, hella warm layers, and every book I own on the environment in search of the rest of my life. “Onward to college,” I thought to myself. “And my timing is perfect.” Was your timing perfect? What could time off do for you?

Self-Fulfilling Rhetoric

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Anyone who pays attention to the news gets a regular dose of misery, as media outlets, and the people they quote, seem to vie for more alarming ways to recount the gridlock, stonewalling, and infighting of our nation’s leaders.

I’ve wondered if these situations are as bad as described, or if the descriptions cause the various players to act the way they are depicted (rising or sinking to expectations). What if officials X and Y were called “thoughtful and cooperative” instead? Would they try to be? And if others believed X and Y had been thoughtful and cooperative about something, would that have an impact on how they might approach X and Y in the future, perhaps setting the stage for a more fruitful encounter?

I realize the dynamics are more complex than this, but there’s no doubt that certain rhetoric can help create the very situations we are trying to abate. The national discussions about gun control and immigration reform employ loaded language and assumptions on each side of the debate, which, I believe, are not helping us find solutions to these problems and sometimes make things worse. The same can be said for discussions about same-sex marriage, or decriminalizing drugs, or affirmative action in higher education, or gender identity, or underage drinking, or women serving in combat, or immigration reform. Almost any topic comes with sets of assumptions and related rhetoric that can stop understanding in its tracks. Once people embrace assumptions, true understanding hasn’t a chance. This pattern is woven into the fabric of our society.

This is where I believe Middlebury comes in. We have an important role to play in influencing how our society converses. I think we can lead by example.

We have been making a concerted effort on campus to advance the skill and the art of talking together. We’ve set up safe places, centered on respect, where people can talk directly with one another about whatever is important to them and strive for mutual understanding—from Justalks, which debuted in J-term, to campus Open Forums to public panel discussions and other venues. I have been heartened by how many students have participated, how seriously they have taken their part, and how eager they are to learn.

I see “Middlebury dialoguing” as a hopeful step—one that could change our society’s reckless conversational habits, because when Middlebury students learn to listen to others and to reach deep understanding, they will be able to plant the seeds of understanding wherever they go. These skills, learned and practiced here, can be taught to others and can make ripples that will sustain over time.

I welcome your comments and observations. Do you think college students can raise the level of discourse in this country? Do you have other suggestions that might change the tone of debate here and in the wider community?

—Shirley M. Collado

 

Stepping Outside Comfort Zones

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Kathryn Benson ’13, writing about a question that made her stop and think. I’ve enjoyed working with Kathryn in her leadership roles on campus. She is active on many fronts and always seems to have creative ideas about ways to address pressing issues.

—Shirley M. Collado

Two summers ago, I was part of a student panel during reunion weekend. A man in the audience posed a question that I will never forget: “What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?”

I was the last panelist to answer this question, and as I listened to the other students talk about how they had done everything from joining the Ultimate Frisbee team to learning Russian, my heart began to race because I could not think of anything I had done that was out of my ordinary routine. Sure, I had taken classes that challenged me in new ways. And I had been a leader in a number of clubs and as my Commons co-chair. Yet none of these things truly pushed me outside my comfort zone. And as I looked back at my time at Middlebury, I realized that none of the things I had done thus far set me apart from the student I was in high school.

A few weeks after that panel, I was asked to be a member of Weybridge House, also known as the environmental studies house. At that time, I did not consider myself an “environmental person,” and I wondered if living in Weybridge would actually be a good fit for me. I did, after all, keep my lights on more than they probably needed to be, I took unnecessarily long showers, and recycling was not my number-one priority in life. But I had always wanted to learn more about living a lifestyle aimed to serve the environment just as much as it served me. And so I signed up to live in Weybridge House for my junior year. I decided it was time I did something I had never planned to do, and it was time for me to live outside my comfort zone and routine.

Living in Middlebury’s environmental house was something I never imagined myself doing, yet it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Midd. I met some of my best friends in that house, and I learned how to caramelize enough onions to feed the 300 people who came to Weybridge Feast.

As the beginning of my last semester at Middlebury draws near, I once again ask myself those wise words from the man at the reunion panel: What have I recently done that I never expected? What opportunity have I taken that has surprised me? Middlebury truly is a safe space for us all to step outside our comfort zones in order to try something new.

It doesn’t matter if you are a senior crossing things off your bucket list or if you are a first-year deciding what extracurricular you want to be a part of—our campus and its surrounding Vermont backdrop offer so many unique opportunities, and I’ve found that it’s the ones you least expect to explore that offer you some of the greatest memories. So I invite you to ask yourself the questions that man asked me: What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?

The Big Picture

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

This week, my guest blogger is Rachel Sider ’14.  Rachel is a tireless advocate for many causes, and she encourages students to work together on behalf of issues that matter to them. She has worked with such groups as the national student organization J Street U, Community Council, Somali-Bantu ESL Tutoring Group, Juntos, and the Judicial Board Selection Committee.

I always enjoy hearing students’ viewpoints about issues they are concerned about, and would like to encourage any students who are interested in being considered as guest bloggers to contact Jennifer Herrera or me.

—Shirley M. Collado

Growing up reading the newspaper over breakfast each morning and hearing stories about far-off lands from my journalist grandfather cultivated in me a yearning to address global problems. That is ultimately why I chose to attend Middlebury. Despite its rural location, the curriculum, student body, and campus initiatives focus far beyond the surrounding sheep farms and rolling pastures—they aim to address the international community and its challenges.

As a leader on campus I have always admired how my peers maintain this outlook and are able to think globally. In my opinion, that’s the beauty of the liberal arts experience. But while many students come to campus to learn to engage the world, there seems to be a disconnect between this mission and overall leadership in community initiatives. I noticed this trend of disengagement just months into my freshman year as attendance at J Street U meetings dwindled and concern for group sustainability mounted. In talking with other student leaders, I realized that my own concerns were symptomatic of a greater, campus-wide issue; students arrive each fall eager to get involved, yet many lose interest or prioritize other activities as the semester progresses.

Trust me, I understand—I have done the same. I have found myself overwhelmed with class projects and readings and lost sight of the bigger picture. I have groaned at the thought of organizing another J Street U discussion when I still have a Juntos board meeting to attend and Arabic poetry to analyze. Too often I have seen campus clubs and service organizations lack sufficient membership to effectively fulfill their missions, tackle community needs, and cultivate new leaders. Don’t get me wrong—there are thriving groups doing excellent work on campus—but I know there is the potential for even greater success and impact.

As we kick-off the spring semester, I think back to the passion I felt as I perused headlines over pancakes years ago—my belief that justice and coexistence require better knowledge of global social and political realities. I urge students to reconnect with their own interests, wherever they lie in the world, and to find new ways to translate their passions into civic engagement. For me, the liberal arts experience is about utilizing our global mindset and academic insight to facilitate some sort of action. If we are developing the tools to engage the world—creativity, analytical thinking, initiative, excellent communication—why not put them to work now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree that this is an issue facing our campus? Do you feel that we are becoming more disconnected from our willingness to take action and promote change? How can we hold one another accountable for exercising our liberal arts talents in ways that truly engage our community on campus, throughout the state, and around the globe?

 

It’s That Time of Year

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Welcome back!  I hope you had a rejuvenating holiday break and that you are looking forward to an exciting J-term.n One of the things I love about this time of year is the snow. Many of us longed for it last winter because it was in short supply. This is why I was delighted to return from being away for the holidays to so much of it. In the past two weeks alone we received more snow than we did all last year. I find that the snow-covered ground offers a sparkling brightness to the darkness of winter.

Nevertheless, the winter season and the New Year also bring the prospect of fresh beginnings, opportunities, and time for reflection that typically prompt us to make new resolutions for things to improve or change.

I’d like to share with you some of my resolutions for 2013.

  • Look up at the sky more and take in all that Vermont has to offer.
  • Get better at cross-country skiing.
  • Spend even more time with students.
  • Get regular quality time in with my family, even though they live far away.
  • Teach a strong spring psychology course (Approaches to Psychotherapy).
  • Don’t take myself so seriously and remember to have fun at work.
  • Empower my team and students to create the best student life experience at Middlebury.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise.
  • Travel to a completely new and exciting place.
  • Get more sleep!

What are your New Year’s resolutions or commitments for 2013? What are you willing to do to follow through on them? What are you willing to do to help someone else follow through on theirs?

Let me know how we can work together to motivate and support each other on sticking to our New Year’s resolutions and commitments for improvement or change.

—Shirley M. Collado

Thank You for the Dark

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

When December rolls around, those of us who haven’t lived here long enough to completely acclimate are often surprised, sometimes depressed, by how DARK it can get. By four in the afternoon, it can feel as if the whole world is going down for a long sleep. Rip Van Winkle may have lived in a place like this.

Middlebury is nearly 4 degrees closer to the North Pole than my hometown of Brooklyn, which means that Middlebury’s winter nights are longer than Brooklyn’s. On December 21, the winter solstice and longest night of the year, the sun will set here at 4:18 p.m., and it will set in Brooklyn at 4:32.

But I don’t think those 14 fewer minutes of daylight account for the gloominess that seems to descend over Middlebury in the dim afternoons. Another force of nature adds to the phenomenon: the Champlain Valley is one of the cloudiest places in the U.S., with Burlington receiving only 159 days of sun a year. These two things—murky, overcast skies and quickly descending nights—combine to create a very challenging experience.

That’s where the lights come in. If the nights feel deep and lonely, the glorious lights that blanket trees, glitter in windows, and turn sidewalks into magic do the opposite. They offer a playful tonic against the doldrums and signify hope and human ingenuity. Without the darkness, we would not be able to enjoy the lights. So, this year, I’m giving thanks to the dark.

I’d like to wish you all a very happy winter break, safe travels, and a multitude of lights.

See you next semester.

—Shirley M. Collado