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Welcome, Laurie Patton

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Laurie Patton; her husband, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion; and their two Great Pyrenees, Padma and Suka.

It was a few minutes after 8:30 on the morning of July 1 when Laurie Patton steered her silver Prius into a parking space on Old Chapel Road. Middlebury’s 17th president was about to begin her first day at work.

“I write to send warm greetings on my first day as Middlebury’s new president,” she had written in an email that was sent out to the community later that morning. “The glorious Vermont summer weather has matched the excitement I feel in coming to work with such an extraordinary community.”

Though that day’s weather was not cooperating with Patton’s sentiments—leaden skies prompted rain showers throughout the morning and afternoon—the excitement of which she spoke was evident the moment she walked into Old Chapel.

Greeting her new colleagues with the familiarity one gains from eight months of visits, phone calls, and correspondence, Patton drew smiles and hugs as she made her way to the building’s third floor.

“Hi, dear,” she said to Barbara McBride, embracing her assistant in a big hug. “It is so good to be here, and one of the best things is that after all we’ve done together already, this feels like just another day.”

“It does,” McBride replied, “but it’s not just another day for Middlebury.”

After a morning spent in meetings, Patton took advantage of a slight break in the weather to walk the campus with her husband, Shalom Goldman, who has been appointed Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion, and their two Great Pyrenees, Padma and Suka.

On their stroll, the couple encountered and chatted with a distinguished faculty member; an alumna; a prospective student and her father visiting from Oregon; and two sophomores, from India and the Philippines, respectively, who have stayed on campus for the summer—one to work in Armstrong Library and the other to help a professor revise a textbook. Patton conversed in Hindi with the young woman from India before finishing the loop back to Old Chapel.

More meetings followed, and then Patton ended her day in Mead Chapel, speaking at the opening Convocation for the second session of the Language Schools. It was the second time Patton had spoken in Mead, the first occurring a little more than eight months ago when she was introduced to the community as Middlebury’s next president.  

Laurie Patton will be inaugurated as Middlebury’s 17th president on the weekend of October 1011. Visit www.middlebury.edu/inauguration for info.

Laurie L. Patton Named Next President of Middlebury

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The Middlebury Board of Trustees today named Laurie L. Patton, dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, as Middlebury’s next president. Patton will take office on July 1, 2015, succeeding Ronald D. Liebowitz, who has served as president since July 2004.

Patton, a distinguished religion scholar and translator of classic Indian Sanskrit texts, joined Duke in her current position in 2011. Trinity College is the largest of Duke’s undergraduate schools, with 5,200 students, 36 academic departments and programs, and 640 faculty members. It awards nearly 80 percent of the university’s bachelor degrees. As dean, she is responsible for overseeing the educational mission of Duke’s core undergraduate liberal arts programs, including curriculum, faculty hiring and development, student research, assessment, and the College’s $370 million annual budget. Under her leadership, Trinity College raised more than $300 million for professorships, financial aid, educational initiatives, and other priorities.

Patton’s selection followed an extensive, six-month search conducted by a 20-member search committee chaired by Middlebury trustee Allan Dragone Jr. ’78. The committee engaged in a process of broad outreach to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. From an initial list of more than 250 individuals nominated or put under consideration, the committee gradually narrowed the pool to a dozen and then to a small list of finalists, before unanimously recommending Patton to the full board on Tuesday. Patton will be the first woman to lead Middlebury in its 214-year history.

“I can’t imagine a place that more fully exemplifies my interests and commitments to higher education than Middlebury,” said Patton. “These last five months have been a wonderful experience for me as I have had the opportunity to learn more about this great institution and the values it holds dear. I have so many people to thank, starting with the search committee and Al Dragone, and I am truly honored with the confidence the Board of Trustees has shown in me today. I look forward with anticipation to joining this community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends.”

Marna C. Whittington, chair of the Middlebury Board of Trustees, called Patton an “outstanding choice” to be the next president. “Laurie is an accomplished scholar with a deep commitment to the liberal arts and a global perspective on the value and role of education,” said Whittington. “She lives the values of Middlebury, and I am confident she will provide the leadership and innovative thinking required to maintain the positive momentum and success Middlebury has experienced during Ron Liebowitz’s tenure as president.”

Patton, 53, is married to Shalom Goldman, professor of religious studies and Middle Eastern studies at Duke. The two met at Emory University. Goldman will become a tenured professor in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College.

Dragone, who led the search process and spent many hours with Patton in recent months, said the search committee was deeply impressed. “Laurie combines qualities of scholarship and leadership to an extraordinary degree,” said Dragone. “She is enthusiastic and passionate about students and the totality of their experiences, from the classroom to the lab, from the performance space to the playing field, from the time they spend abroad to the way they can participate in the life of the Middlebury community in Vermont. We have found an exceptional leader in Laurie Patton and I know she is committed to building upon the institution’s strong foundation.”

Patton earned her undergraduate degree in comparative religion and Celtic languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1983. She received an MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1986 and her PhD in history of religions from the University of Chicago in 1991. Patton’s first teaching position was at Bard College from 1991 to 1996.

Before she joined Duke, Patton taught from 1996 to 2011 at Emory University in Atlanta, where she was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Religions. While at Emory, Patton served as chair of the religion department from 2000 to 2007; founded and co-convened the Religions and the Human Spirit Strategic Plan; was the inaugural director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence; and from 2000 to 2010 was founder and co-convener of Emory’s Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Initiative. In 2005 she received the Emory Williams Award, the university’s most prestigious teaching honor.

Patton is the editor or author of nine scholarly books on South Asian history, culture, and religion, includingMyth as Argument: The Brhaddevata as Canonical Commentary; Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice;and Jewels of Authority: Women and Text in the Hindu Tradition. From 2008 to 2011, she served as president of the American Society for the Study of Religion.

In addition to writing two volumes of original poetry, Patton has translated the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, for the Penguin Classics Series.

“Laurie Patton’s commitment to the success of students and faculty has made her an extraordinary leader at Duke,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth, the James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology. “She is energetic, creative, and passionate about scholarship and learning. We could not be more proud of her appointment at Middlebury.”

Liebowitz announced in December 2013 that he wished to step down following the 2014–15 academic year. By that time he will have served as president for 11 years and as a member of the Middlebury faculty for 31 years.

“Ron Liebowitz has been a transformative leader and his impact upon this institution will be felt for generations,” said Whittington. “Middlebury students have a richer experience than ever before because of the innovations he championed, and the institution is stronger than it has ever been.”

Liebowitz called Patton a “remarkable scholar whose deep commitment to her field would be an example and inspiration” to students and faculty alike. “I look forward to working with Laurie in the months ahead to create a smooth transition to what I am sure will be an outstanding presidency,” he said. “Jessica and I look forward to welcoming both Laurie and Shalom to Middlebury.”

“Ok, Let’s Try This Again…”

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SC-2The second story in a three-part series chronicling student-led Middlebury Alternative Trips (MAlt) before the start of spring semester. In this Dispatch, twelve students spend a week at a struggling elementary and middle school in rural South Carolina.

 

Pencils and pens hit the floor.

A teacher yelled at her students.

A classroom door slammed shut.

Before the meltdown began at this small school in rural South Carolina, a sixth grader had raised her hand and asked a question.

“Miss,” she said to her teacher, “I don’t feel like I am learning anything by you just clicking through these slides. I am not understanding or learning anything from it.”

The science teacher responded by throwing down a handful of pencils and pens.

“If you want to learn science, teach it to yourself!” she yelled and stormed out of the classroom.

That was the welcome that twelve Middlebury  students received on their first day on site at the school. The shocked and fearful expressions that spread across the faces of the Middlebury students in no way compared to the reactions of the sixth graders, most of whom shrugged their shoulders, as if saying,

“This is normal…nothing really changes with her.”

What scared us was that it was abundantly clear that this was not the first time the children had been yelled at or walked out on. We had heard that teacher retention was a challenge at the school, something the administration struggled with. And the students? They didn’t have a voice.

This school has a history of threatened closure; it has long been seen as one of the worst elementary and middle schools in this rural county in northeastern South Carolina, an area best-known for tobacco farming. With only about 46 students being taught in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, school administrators have tried valiantly to meet the needs of their students, most of whom come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. After administrative changes and the addition of Teach for America instructors during the past few years, there has been a subtle shifts for the better in the school’s academic standing. A big issue that remains, though, is keeping those teachers who are having a positive influence—and working around those who aren’t.

When that science teacher walked out on our first day at the school, Stuart Green ’16 went to the front of the classroom and began to draw on a white board, sketching  diagrams. He asked students to come to the board to point out the answers to his questions; some  were encouraged to recreate the diagrams that he had drawn and erased.  Slowly, the energy level rose. Hands were raised. Answers were shouted out. Collectively, the class was signalling what that one brave young woman had voiced earlier: they wanted to learn.

On our final day in South Carolina, the students held a talent show, an impressive display of wit and candor and enthusiasm. At the end of the show, our MAlt was called to the stage. The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had prepared something for us, something we did not expect. Every Middlebury Mentor was presented with a white mailbox, each containing  individual notes from every one of the students we had interacted with during the week. The messages varied though shared a common theme of appreciation:

“Thank you for coming.”

“You helped me a lot through the week.”

“I calmed down because of you.”

“Thank you for making everyone laugh and for having a fun time with us.”

At that moment, it was hard to tell if we had made a greater impression on them, or them on us.

In Another County: One Week in America’s Natural Gas Mecca

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On January 31, eleven Middlebury students—outfitted with cameras and field recorders—piled into a 15-passenger van and motored seven hours south to Bradford County, Pennsylvania, home to one of the most densely hydraulically fractured regions in the United States. Their week-long Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) Trip in Eastern Pennsylvania was structured as an opportunity to explore energy issues. It was a leap into the unfamiliar, an attempt to humanize the social, political, and environmental dimensions of natural gas extraction.

Two of the participants chronicled their experience.

The first thing we did when we rolled into Bradford County was scan the scenery for signs of hydraulic fracturing: the “frack” pads, the clear cuts of forest, the cesspools, the bulky rigs and power stations. Instead, we saw a community enduring what seemed to be the consequences of the natural gas industry’s “boom-bust” economy. We observed only vestiges of the gas companies: the occasional water truck, a frack pad, or pickup stained packed with pipeline, stained ink black. Landmen had already collected signatures from landowners’ to drill. Wells had been drilled, fracked, and re-fracked. For the lucky few, royalty checks, big or small, were streaming in. The traffic that accompanied the initial fracking boom had thinned. Local shops, hotels, and restaurants, once teeming with contractors, landscapers, and engineers, were emptied.

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One of the authors, Zane Anthony, standing at an abandoned fracking site in Pennsylvania

We wondered where everyone had gone. (To the next fracturing sites outside the Marcellus Shale border, we would learn—to North Dakota or Oklahoma where communities were being zoned and primed for drilling, fracking, and extraction.)

It seemed that everyone we encountered had a story. One resident we met was Carol French, a lifelong dairy farmer and Bradford County resident, who along with fellow dairy farmer Carolyn Knapp, founded Pennsylvania Landowner Group for Awareness and Solutions (PLGAS) in 2008. PLGAS provides a forum for community resistance to unjust business practices by the gas industries in the region.

Carol told us that she had never considered herself an activist type. Then, she leased her land to Chesapeake Oil Corporation. Drilling began on her property, and her water turned to gelatin. She and her livestock developed rashes all over their bodies. Her adult daughter became sick multiple times and ultimately moved out of town. Carol sells her milk to many corporations, but she no longer drinks it herself. She said her community was now fraught with environmental health risks as a result of the industry’s unregulated, unrestrained efforts to extract.

Later in the week, we visited the office of the Bradford County Planning Commission. They told us the fracking industry has funneled wealth into the area and enabled farmers to sustain the economic viability of their livelihoods. We asked them about Carol’s and Carolyn’s claims. They said water contamination as a result of hydrofracking was not a prevalent issue, insisting the industry is safe. PLGAS and the Planning Commission’s stances on natural gas issues were fundamentally divided. We were in a dual reality.

We also encountered middle ground. We met with a man at the county’s conservation agency who considered fracking one of the most effective farmland conservation efforts he had ever witnessed. In the county, many of the farmers are elderly, and a farmer’s retirement is his land. We were told that royalties from the industry have allowed many farmers to remain on their land into retirement. Without this option, the conservation agency’s representative told us, developers would have purchased the land, subdivided it, and built “McMansions.”He also noted that the industry has encouraged people to break their conservation easements with the agency to allow for more fracking and paid for the resulting fines. It is not yet understood how fracking has impacted the land and its resources, he said.

We also interviewed a couple who leased their 200 acres at the height of the boom and today earn substantial income from royalties. With this money, they installed a geothermal heating system on their property. Other families, they noted, leased early on for a fraction of the price of those who waited long enough for higher royalties, which has resulted in a substantial wealth gap previously unseen in the area.

On the last night of our trip, we worried that once we returned to  Middlebury our memories of this place would fade, that we would forget that our lives are so deeply rooted in energy consumption, consumption that affects communities like this one in complex and permanent ways. But this concern didn’t last long. We had traveled to a seemingly foreign  jurisdiction to see first-hand the environmental and societal impact of natural gas extraction; when we left, we were determined that our experience wouldn’t be left behind.

Zane Anthony ’16.5 is a biology major from Annapolis, Maryland. Sophie Vaughan ’17 is an environmental studies major from Oakland, California.

This is the first Dispatch in a three-part series chronically student-led Middlebury Alternative Break Trips.

A People’s History, Documented and Taught

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Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Around 10 p.m. on January 22, the third Wednesday of winter term, Hanna Mahon ’13.5 and Kristina Johansson ’14 finally drew an end to their long day and waved good-bye to each other. In fewer than 12 hours, they’d be seeing each other again.

 But unlike other students around campus, who were following similar winter term routines, Mahon and Johansson’s relationship was different—they were co-teachers for a student-led course called A People’s History of Middlebury College.

Different from the other course offerings during winter term, A People’s History was conceived, created, and instructed entirely by the two students. And while student-led winter term courses date back to 1970— a year when Alan Agle ’70 and Barry Sullivan ’70 offered courses on computer systems and on Rousseau, respectively—they are not annual occurrences because they require a skill set and level of organization that not every student has or wants to employ.

Take that busy Wednesday, for instance. That day, the two instructors had arranged for a pair of guest speakers, Steve Early ’71 and Torie Osborn ’72, to offer an oral history of student protests at Middlebury in the ’60s and ’70s. Right after class, the eight students, their peer instructors, and the guest speakers headed to the Grille for a continued lunch discussion on activism. After a two-hour break, they reconvened at Wonnacott House for dinner with the course’s faculty adviser, Jonathan Miller-Lane, other alumni, and professors. A heated discussion at the dinner table was followed by a panel discussion, titled Middlebury in the 1960s: Student Resistance and Social Change, held in Dana Auditorium.

“This is a complicated, moving-parts course they’ve organized—guest speakers, the archives, this panel,” said Miller-Lane. “They are taking it very seriously and are deeply committed to it. I’ve been really grateful to see that happening, to see the quality of their thinking and the quality of their work.”

And while the schedule that Wednesday wasn’t exactly typical for the class—most days did not require five-plus-hours of attendance—the content of the day was representative of a class that “centered on marginalized voices and on periods of struggle” at Middlebury. It was, in the words of its creators, about the stories of buried or forgotten resistance and struggles of the students, faculty, and staff of the College during the past two centuries of its existence, episodes that contributed to Middlebury as it is today.

Mahon and Johansson started researching protest movements at Middlebury after returning from Occupy Wall Street in New York City in 2012. Mahon says that it was the first time she had thought about her place within a legacy of people who had tried to make changes at Middlebury. In the summer of 2013, she and Johansson applied for funding from the Center for Careers & Internships (CCI), stayed on campus to research and construct a history of struggles and resistance at Middlebury, and created an interactive Web museum with the findings. Soon after their project started, they believed that their endeavor was worthy of further investigation with a larger group of peers.

As an independent scholar with a focus on peace and justice studies and an educational studies minor, Mahon had heard about student-led classes and suggested to Johansson that they design a course. With the guidance of Miller-Lane they did just that, submitting an application in September 2013; two months later, the faculty curriculum committee approved their proposal and A People’s History of Middlebury College, STLD1006, was scheduled for winter term 2014.

According to Miller-Lane, teaching the class as an instructor constituted the praxis part of Mahon’s senior project, where theory and practice come together. “The course enables her to extend herself,” Miller-Lane said. “To take the study she’s done and organize the course around this idea is different from producing a product like a thesis. It requires effort to bring those pieces together.”

“Very often the professors’ courses will be on big-lens, broad-view social movements,” Miller-Lane added. “The course is unique in that it’s very specific to this institution. There are occasionally courses like that, but I don’t think this is filling a gap that is only fillable by student-led courses.”

Although alumni and professors with more experience teaching may instruct the same content as well as, if not better than, Mahon and Johansson, the democratic and dispersed power dynamic in the classroom has been appreciated by enrolled students.

“There is a more relaxed atmosphere in class,” said Kate McCreary ’15. “It seems that people are more likely to speak up about what they’re thinking without a professor in the room, particularly in a class that can be rather critical of Middlebury.”

Rebekah Moon ’15 agreed. “I think people have a tendency to be more candid about personal experiences that relate to the material or their honest opinion about a particular ideology or event if there isn’t an official authoritative figure around, which is really nice.”

Admittedly, Mahon and Johansson feared that their identity as students would compromise their student-teacher relationships, giving their peers an excuse not to take them seriously, but they found the opposite to be true. Because students and instructors were naturally around each other outside the classroom, they found that conversations from class spilled over to lunch tables and everyday life. Further, they discovered that their identity as peers made members of the course feel more, rather than less, accountable.

“Since this is my last semester here, I have a lot of social things going on in my life,” said Gregg Butler ’13.5. “If I had taken another class, I think I would have done a lot less work. Because they’ve created this communal feel to the class, I want to throw myself into these things and I don’t want to disappoint them.”

On January 29, the last Wednesday of the term, the class presented their work to the public in conjunction with an exhibit in the Davis Family Library. (The exhibit opened a week before the presentation.) Among the topics discussed: the treatment of racial and religious minority students by fraternities in the ’40s and ’50s; a LGBTQ group organizing on campus during the ’90s and the first decade of this century; the ways in which Middlebury students have “passed” as members of different identity groups throughout the ages; and the campus political climate during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If a protest, by definition, is an expression of objection or disapproval, I think some of the students’ projects represented their ‘objections’ or ‘protest’ to the official history of Middlebury,” Rebekah Irwin, director of Collections, Archives & Digital Scholarship, commented after the presentation. “The College’s written history is incomplete, and the students very actively (and exhaustively) worked to make additions and corrections to the College’s historical record.”

Sara Bachman ’13.5 agreed with Irwin and added, “I think the student-led class is a little bit of an active protest saying that we’re going take charge, we can do this too.”

________________________________

Besides the panel on student protests in the ’60s and ’70s mentioned at the beginning, and the Web museum on the resistance and struggles in our community that students are continuously adding to, Special Collections also mounted an exhibit drawn from the College Archives—A People’s History of Middlebury College: Student Resistance and Social Change, based on the course.

The Case for Oratory

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Oratory is a group experience, a give and take between speaker and audience. In contrast with other subjects like physics or philosophy or the political history of France, the best indication of how much you are learning comes from how your fellow students (i.e., your audience) respond to your work.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise using tai chi.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise at the start of class.

That’s why Dana Yeaton ’79 teaches oratory in a workshop format. One of the 125 courses offered on campus during the 2014 Winter Term, Oratory: A Speechmaking Studio was a class on a mission.

“This course wants you knowledgeable about the history of rhetoric. It wants you passionate to explore the world of ideas and put what you find into words. It wants you confident that when you stand up and speak those words, people will listen and maybe even be changed,” Yeaton said in the first class.

“And to do all that you need each other. As an audience, yes, and as fellow travelers who will question and challenge and console each other along the way. Your best work will very likely come from the desire to engage your classmates.”

The 22 students were required to give a speech on the first day of J-term and a speech the next day and a dinner toast and a critical response to Pericles’ Funeral Oration. There was a mini-moth, a rant, a “great speech speech,” and a three-minute speech adapted from a term paper that had been written for any other class. There was also a TEDx pitch, a scripted and memorized TEDx talk, and probably one or two more speeches. And every speech was videotaped and critiqued by fellow students.

Yeaton, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, believes that great oratorical skills come from understanding the basics of rhetoric, gaining an appreciation for what makes a great speech, mastering the physical aspects of public speaking (use of voice, posture, eye contact, etc.), and practice, practice, practice.

Cole Bortz, from Littleton, Colorado, delivers his mini-moth speech.

Cole Bortz, a first-year student from Colorado, delivers a speech.

During the second week of class, the oratory students delivered their mini-moth speeches, which were five-minute-long personal stories told live without notes. By this time members of the class were well versed in their public-speaking basics: approaching the podium (or stage) with confidence, finding a solid neutrality in their stance, establishing a moment of solidarity with the audience, and enunciating clearly.

The class split up for a mini-moth practice session, and James Clifford, a junior from Tiburon, Calif., picked a partner and headed into the hallway of the Mahaney Center for the Arts looking for a place to work on his speech. He chose a quiet spot under the stairs and launched into his mini-moth about why his friends on the ski team call him “The Fireman.” (Moth talks are based on The Moth Radio Hour, an NPR show, and moth performances have been popular at Middlebury for the past four or five years.)

Clifford’s true story was about how he bonded with other members of the team on an Alpine ski-training trip out West. It involved a pan of flaming nachos, the local fire department, billows of smoke, and, well, that’s how he earned the moniker of “The Fireman.” After practicing his speech and reviewing the feedback, Clifford returned to the classroom where he would present it to the class.

“Oratory has been one of the most valuable pieces of my Middlebury education,” Clifford later said. “Through this class I found my voice on the page and I found my voice at the podium.”

The case for oratory is on the rise at Middlebury. Yeaton is working with a group of administrators who are discussing how to make proficiency in public speaking an expectation within the curriculum. Their effort comes on the heels of President Ron Liebowitz’s observation in Middlebury Magazine that alumni are saying the College could do a better job preparing its graduates for the rigors of public speaking.

All eyes are focused on the speaker.

In oratory, all eyes are focused on the speaker.

Sophomore Premlata Persaud from New Jersey is confident that the oratorical skills she gained during Winter Term will transfer to other classes. “I find it difficult sometimes in seminars to express my ideas in a way that really convinces my professors and other students, but now I have a checklist of sorts to go through before I make an important statement in class.”

Heading into the 2014 J-term, Dana Yeaton had high hopes that his class’s enthusiasm for oratory would spread across campus. “This course is designed as a laboratory in which we will be teaching each other the art of oratory,” he told his students. “You will be reading, analyzing, writing, and delivering speeches; you’ll do physical and vocal training, and focus exercises.” And he also said the class would be “exporting” this model through a workshop series and at the Martin Luther King Oratorio in Mead Chapel, which Yeaton directed.

The professor’s hope took root when the oratory students offered a series of public-speaking workshops open to anyone wishing to improve their oral communication skills. During the final week of Winter Term about a dozen students from the Middlebury Entrepreneurs class showed up at the workshop, anxious to hone their oratorical skills for the final projects they would present in their class the next day.

For two hours the oratory students became the teachers: they formed small groups, discussed principles of oratory, analyzed the visitors’ speeches, and led training exercises designed to build their guests’ public-speaking skills.

In a spontaneous moment during class one January afternoon, the students decided to form the Oratory Society of Middlebury. The group made a circle in the middle of Room 232 and composed the oath Ethos, Logos, Pathos for membership in the Oratory Society, which is open to the Middlebury College community. The College would now have a student organization committed to conducting workshops, sponsoring public-speaking events, and advocating for oratory’s place on campus.

If anyone were looking for a sign that students had bought in to the importance of oratory as a group learning experience, this was it.

Midd Goes to the Super Bowl

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Damon Hatheway '13.5, on assignment for Middlebury Magazine, interviews Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka '07 at Super Bowl Media Day

Damon Hatheway ’13.5, on assignment for Middlebury Magazine, interviews Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka ’07 at Super Bowl Media Day

Super Bowl Media Day is an event that needs to be experienced to be believed. Hundreds of sports journalists, television personalities, and camera crews swarm, first to the tables topped with pastries, then to the players entering the arena. Out comes Richard Sherman, sardonically taking pictures of the media members flashing him with strobes; out comes quarterback Russell Wilson, all 5’10 and ¾’’ of him calm, cool, and collected; out comes head coach Pete Carroll, a jovial smile permanently fixed on his face. Behind them—and out of the glare from the jostling horde—is Seahawks’ kicker Steven Hauschka ’07.

Hauschka doesn’t have a booth to sit in or microphone to talk through or even a Gatorade to help promote the Super Bowl’s corporate sponsors. In fact, if he wasn’t dressed in Seattle’s team-issued sweats he would pass for any of the media members—well, maybe not the team from Entertainment Tonight—or fans in attendance.

Standing off in a back corner, the 6’4’’ Needham, Massachusetts, native answers questions from the Wall Street Journal (about where he has spent his time in Manhattan) and the New York Times  (“would you rather play one Bronco-sized duck or fifty duck-sized Broncos?”), generously engaging in these reporters’ shticks.

And it turns out that Hauschka spent the previous night at dinner with friends from Middlebury—a point for the Wall Street Journal.

“We went to dinner in Union Square, it was a great time,” he said. “It almost feels like you’re getting married—everyone wants to be there and share this special time with you.”

For the 28-year old, kicking in the Super Bowl would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Haushcka’s kicking career began unceremoniously; the former junior varsity soccer player missed three of his first four career attempts as a Middlebury Panther.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said before adding, “I don’t remember that! I thought I made every kick I had at Middlebury.”

By the time his Panther career had ended, Hauschka seemingly had made every kick, rewriting the team’s record books and awing fans and his coaches alike with his accuracy and leg, booming kickoffs that often sailed through the uprights—75 yards away.

Division I teams began to take notice. With a year of football eligibility remaining, Hauschka played his final season at North Carolina State, where he was teammates with current Seahawks J.R. Sweezy and Wilson.

“He came in and could kick the ball for days, which was something that I had never seen before,” said Sweezy, who was a redshirt freshman at NC State when Hauschka arrived in the fall of 2007. “It was kind of cool knowing we had a good field goal kicker—he won a couple of big games for us.”

Hauschka had a game-winning kick on the road against Miami and was a finalist for the Lou Groza award, which recognizes the best placekicker in college football. But a career in the NFL was far from guaranteed. Hauschka was cut by five different teams, including John Fox’s Denver Broncos, and played for a stint in the United Football League, before catching on in Seattle. This year, in his third season with the Seahawks, Hauschka made 33 of 35 attempts as the second-most-accurate kicker in the NFL.

Jon Ryan, who holds for Hauschka in addition to his duties as a punter, said that Hauschka’s consistency is what distinguishes him from other kickers.

“He’s a real thinking-type guy, watches a lot of film and has become very consistent in all of his routines,” Ryan said. “That’s the most important part of punting and kicking, finding that consistency. He’s had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen a kicker have, to be honest with you.”

Special teams coach Brian Schneider believes Hauschka’s off-the-field preparation creates that consistency.

 “Throughout the week what he does to get ready for a game is really something,” he said. “He’s too smart for me, that’s for sure.”

Nor does it hurt that Hauschka studied neuroscience at Middlebury, which he said has “helped him with the mental side of the game.”

But what of the pressure involved in kicking in front of 68,000 people, as he did in the Seahawks’ NFC Championship victory?

“The kicking is different,” he admitted. “[At Middlebury I] only kicked in front of 2,000 people at any one time.”

On the other hand, if Sunday’s Super Bowl forecast calls for snow, Hauschka’s experience kicking in Vermont, and around the NESCAC, may give him the upper hand.

“We kicked on some of the worst fields in the country—especially some of those grass fields when they got a lot of rain,” he said. “So that prepared me for some of the bad conditions that I would see in the NFL.”

A few minutes later, Deion Sanders walks over to interview Hauschka for the NFL Network. As Sanders walks away, Middlebury Magazine editor Matt Jennings asks him whether Hauschka will make a game-winning field goal if that’s what the game boils down to. Without hesitating, Sanders nods and says, “Oh, yes. He’ll make it. That’s for sure.”