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

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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.

Remembering Matthew Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

Amid the Chaos

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

42-50841050When a string of deadly attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt made international news late last summer and into the early fall, there seemed to be as much confusion over who Coptic Christians were as there was over what was happening on the Egyptian streets. Bob Simon, a correspondent for the CBS News program 60 Minutes articulated as much when he opened a December segment titled “The Copts” with this sentence: “Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity.”

Yet as Simon would explain, Coptic Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities—and the largest Christian group and largest religious minority in the Middle East, with eight-and-a-half million members representing about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

Febe Armanios, an associate professor of history at Middlebury, was born in Cairo, and though she emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old, she has made regular visits to her native country and was raised in the Coptic Church. Armanios, the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, accompanied Simon and a 60 Minutes production crew to the Middle East when they began initial reporting in early 2013.

About a year after this trip, I visited Armanios in her book-lined office in Middlebury’s Axinn Center. The original purpose of the 60 Minutes segment, she said, was to shed light on the Copts. Two years had passed since the Egyptian revolution, and the minority group was engaged in an increasingly tense relationship with the government of Muhamed Morsi. Yet very little was known about them around the world. As she told Simon in the broadcast, there isn’t a lot of awareness of Egypt’s role in the Christian story. “It’s a forgotten community, as many people have called it.”

For the next 45 minutes, Armanios gave me a brief primer on Coptic Christians. Native Christians of Egypt, the Copts split from Chalcedonian Christianity with other Orthodox churches (Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians) in 451 AD. Copts have always taken great pride in how deep-rooted Christianity is in Egypt—the first Christian monastery was established there, and one of the sites the 60 Minutes crew visited was an underground chapel where it is believed the Holy Family sought refuge after fleeing King Herod.

Christianity was the religion of the majority in Egypt until about the mid-10th century, but since that time the Copts have experienced a complicated coexistence with the Muslim majority and even with other Christians. Fiercely protective of their identity and loyal to their land and to their ancient form of Christianity, the Copts became largely isolationist, from the 15th century onward. They were suspicious of outsiders, specifically Catholic missionaries in the late 1600s and American missionaries two hundred years later. Internally, they were able to practice their religion, but their position in society ebbed and flowed over the centuries. Until the early 1880s, Copts (like all other non-Muslims) were forced to pay a special “protection” tax and were mostly precluded from holding positions of power. Subsequent reforms would eliminate the tax and would allow Copts to become more integrated into Egyptian society, a movement that coalesced when all Egyptians—Muslims and Christians—opposed British rule early in the 20th century.

When the modern Republic of Egypt was established after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Copts in Egypt returned to a tenuous coexistence with the Muslim majority. Armanios said that during the last 50 years, one can identify waves of Coptic emigration—in the early 1960s, in the late ’70s, and then a steady stream during the past 30 years under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak’s regime professed secularism, an easy way to direct attention away from other issues— like, say, a struggling economy—was to blame Copts.

Watch: “The Coptic Christians of Egypt” on 60 Minutes

“But the last three years have been a game changer,” Armanios said.

As in the other Egyptian revolutionary movements of 1919 and 1952, Copts joined with the Muslim majority to form a united nationalist front in the revolution of 2011, though the Coptic Pope initially urged his followers to refrain from actively protesting for fear of being made scapegoats. Yet after the Morsi government was established, violence against Copts grew. Tensions were rising. Shortly after the 60 Minutes crew first filmed in Egypt, unidentified extremists attacked the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, an event the Morsi government failed to condemn. And then on July 3, the Egyptian military announced it had removed Morsi from power. Standing beside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as he announced the change in leadership were other Muslim leaders—and the Coptic Pope.

“It was the first time a Coptic Pope had addressed Egyptians at an explicitly political forum,” said Armanios. “And it was on live television.”

A visible fury ensued across Egypt. “Some people think of Christians as having a secondary status, so they became an easy target,” Armanios said. Angry mobs burned homes, shops, and churches. The Copts were being blamed for conspiring to overthrow Morsi. Then, in August, after Egyptian police and military cleared two Muslim Brotherhood camps, killing close to 1,000 people, the retaliation against Copts was fierce. More than 40 churches were destroyed in just a couple of days. 60 Minutes returned to Egypt for more reporting—this time without Armanios—as the story they had started eight months earlier had taken a dramatic turn.

Sitting in Armanios’s office in early 2014, with violence against Copts still a weekly occurrence, I asked her if this was the greatest persecution Coptic Christians had faced in their 1,600 years of existence.

“That question might be moot,” she replied. “The violence is real.” Whether it’s worse or not as bad as at other times in history may not be the point, she said. She talked about the burgeoning alliance between Copts and other Egyptians and wondered if this could lead to a more pluralistic and democratic country in the years ahead. “Maybe,” she said. “But it is to be determined.”

Amid the Chaos

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

42-50841050When a string of deadly attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt made international news late last summer and into the early fall, there seemed to be as much confusion over who Coptic Christians were as there was over what was happening on the Egyptian streets. Bob Simon, a correspondent for the CBS News program 60 Minutes articulated as much when he opened a December segment titled “The Copts” with this sentence: “Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity.”

Yet as Simon would explain, Coptic Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities—and the largest Christian group and largest religious minority in the Middle East, with eight-and-a-half million members representing about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

Febe Armanios, an associate professor of history at Middlebury, was born in Cairo, and though she emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old, she has made regular visits to her native country and was raised in the Coptic Church. Armanios, the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, accompanied Simon and a 60 Minutes production crew to the Middle East when they began initial reporting in early 2013.

About a year after this trip, I visited Armanios in her book-lined office in Middlebury’s Axinn Center. The original purpose of the 60 Minutes segment, she said, was to shed light on the Copts. Two years had passed since the Egyptian revolution, and the minority group was engaged in an increasingly tense relationship with the government of Muhamed Morsi. Yet very little was known about them around the world. As she told Simon in the broadcast, there isn’t a lot of awareness of Egypt’s role in the Christian story. “It’s a forgotten community, as many people have called it.”

For the next 45 minutes, Armanios gave me a brief primer on Coptic Christians. Native Christians of Egypt, the Copts split from Chalcedonian Christianity with other Orthodox churches (Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians) in 451 AD. Copts have always taken great pride in how deep-rooted Christianity is in Egypt—the first Christian monastery was established there, and one of the sites the 60 Minutes crew visited was an underground chapel where it is believed the Holy Family sought refuge after fleeing King Herod.

Christianity was the religion of the majority in Egypt until about the mid-10th century, but since that time the Copts have experienced a complicated coexistence with the Muslim majority and even with other Christians. Fiercely protective of their identity and loyal to their land and to their ancient form of Christianity, the Copts became largely isolationist, from the 15th century onward. They were suspicious of outsiders, specifically Catholic missionaries in the late 1600s and American missionaries two hundred years later. Internally, they were able to practice their religion, but their position in society ebbed and flowed over the centuries. Until the early 1880s, Copts (like all other non-Muslims) were forced to pay a special “protection” tax and were mostly precluded from holding positions of power. Subsequent reforms would eliminate the tax and would allow Copts to become more integrated into Egyptian society, a movement that coalesced when all Egyptians—Muslims and Christians—opposed British rule early in the 20th century.

When the modern Republic of Egypt was established after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Copts in Egypt returned to a tenuous coexistence with the Muslim majority. Armanios said that during the last 50 years, one can identify waves of Coptic emigration—in the early 1960s, in the late ’70s, and then a steady stream during the past 30 years under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak’s regime professed secularism, an easy way to direct attention away from other issues— like, say, a struggling economy—was to blame Copts.

Watch: “The Coptic Christians of Egypt” on 60 Minutes

“But the last three years have been a game changer,” Armanios said.

As in the other Egyptian revolutionary movements of 1919 and 1952, Copts joined with the Muslim majority to form a united nationalist front in the revolution of 2011, though the Coptic Pope initially urged his followers to refrain from actively protesting for fear of being made scapegoats. Yet after the Morsi government was established, violence against Copts grew. Tensions were rising. Shortly after the 60 Minutes crew first filmed in Egypt, unidentified extremists attacked the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, an event the Morsi government failed to condemn. And then on July 3, the Egyptian military announced it had removed Morsi from power. Standing beside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as he announced the change in leadership were other Muslim leaders—and the Coptic Pope.

“It was the first time a Coptic Pope had addressed Egyptians at an explicitly political forum,” said Armanios. “And it was on live television.”

A visible fury ensued across Egypt. “Some people think of Christians as having a secondary status, so they became an easy target,” Armanios said. Angry mobs burned homes, shops, and churches. The Copts were being blamed for conspiring to overthrow Morsi. Then, in August, after Egyptian police and military cleared two Muslim Brotherhood camps, killing close to 1,000 people, the retaliation against Copts was fierce. More than 40 churches were destroyed in just a couple of days. 60 Minutes returned to Egypt for more reporting—this time without Armanios—as the story they had started eight months earlier had taken a dramatic turn.

Sitting in Armanios’s office in early 2014, with violence against Copts still a weekly occurrence, I asked her if this was the greatest persecution Coptic Christians had faced in their 1,600 years of existence.

“That question might be moot,” she replied. “The violence is real.” Whether it’s worse or not as bad as at other times in history may not be the point, she said. She talked about the burgeoning alliance between Copts and other Egyptians and wondered if this could lead to a more pluralistic and democratic country in the years ahead. “Maybe,” she said. “But it is to be determined.”

The Wolf Hound

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

coen-1

Sixteen years ago, Joel Cohen ’84 took down a now-infamous con man. And he doesn’t want you to forget what a heinous guy Jordan Belfort truly is.

 

In 1997, when Joel Cohen ’84 was an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, he took over his office’s investigation of Jordan Belfort, the memoir-writing fraudster who made tens of millions of dollars peddling penny stocks. An FBI special agent named Gregory Coleman had been pursuing Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, since 1992 with a series of prosecutors, but he still lacked the evidence necessary for an indictment. One day, Coleman arrived in Cohen’s office and unrolled a 14-foot-long scroll on a table. Coleman had scribbled names, places, dates, and numbers across the paper in colored markers, tracing the outlines of Belfort’s criminal enterprise.

“I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘What can I do with this?’” Cohen said recently. Then he noticed a few scrawls suggesting that Belfort and his partner, Danny Porush, were laundering their money in Switzerland. Cohen decided that was the lead to follow. “We should try to lop off the head of this organization instead of the feet,” he recalled thinking.

The linchpin for the Swiss strategy turned out to be a tattoo-covered drug dealer named Todd Garrett. Coleman had already started investigating Garrett and his wife, Carolyn—a housewife who  was investing hundreds of thousands of dollars through an account with Stratton Oakmont. She was making a lot of money. She happened to be a Swiss citizen. Coleman had also heard that Todd Garrett was dealing drugs, specifically Quaaludes, to Belfort and other Strattonites. Coleman then received another useful clue. In 1995, a security guard at a mall in Queens had called the NYPD to report a suspicious meeting. A Bentley had pulled up to a black limousine. Two men got out and started arguing, then one passed the other a black suitcase. When the police arrived, they found Garrett in the limo with the suitcase, full of cash, and a gun. They arrested him for illegal firearm possession and seized the cash, figuring they had busted a drug deal. But maybe it had been something else.

Coleman and Cohen subpoenaed security-camera footage from the mall and got a grainy rendering of the meet-up. “We knew Danny Porush was driving a Bentley, and we figured it was a cash drop,” Cohen said. They continued to investigate Garrett’s wife and obtained travel manifests showing that she was making frequent trips to Switzerland. The facts suggested that she and Garrett were Belfort’s cash mules. The trick would be getting Garrett to talk.

“He wouldn’t flip,” Cohen said. “We knew his wife was involved; we threatened to indict his wife, and he didn’t care. He was a Hells Angel, a black belt in karate. Even with a lawyer and an FBI agent sitting next to you, you think, ‘This guy is going to rip my head off!’”

Cohen discovered that they had a trump card. As tough as Garrett looked and acted, he had a weak heart. Some years before, he had contracted a rare virus in Brazil. Now he needed a heart transplant. He was on the transplant waiting list. Cohen did some research and learned that federal prison inmates are not given new hearts. He knew he could indict Garrett for drug dealing—he already had a former Stratton broker who said he had bought Quaaludes from Garrett.

“We told him, ‘If you don’t cooperate and we indict you and you end up going to jail, you won’t get a new heart, and you’ll die,’” Cohen told me. “‘I’m just telling you the way it is. You want a new heart? Do the right thing, talk to us, and you get a new heart.’”

Garrett cooperated.

One of Belfort’s Swiss bankers also cooperated, and the Swiss authorities then came through with some crucial documents. On the Tuesday before the Labor Day weekend of 1998, less than two years after Cohen joined the investigation, FBI agents arrested Jordan Belfort in his mansion on Long Island.

Homecoming

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Leah

For some students who study abroad, the greatest culture shock they encounter is when they return home.

When Sayre Weir ’15 left the U.S. to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last fall she says that she was prepped and packed for the anticipated transition to a foreign culture. Her new vocabulary included terms like “culture shock,” and her suitcase contained an adjustment guide, courtesy of the Middlebury Study Abroad Office, which fit snugly alongside her Patagonia jacket and spring sandals. Yet while Sayre’s transition to this foreign city was jarring and difficult, she expected it. What surprised her was how difficult it was to return to Middlebury.

When asked about her re-entry experience, she took a deep breath and said, “I was overwhelmed. Walking into Proctor dining hall was probably the most over-stimulating experience during my the past three years here.”

Sayre’s remark reflects the surface of a deep-rooted struggle for many Middlebury students: reverse culture shock, an equally if not more powerful experience than foreign culture shock—the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Every year, roughly half of the Middlebury junior class studies abroad, traveling to more than 40 countries and enrolling at more than 90 different programs and universities. Just over half of these students study at Middlebury Schools Abroad—in 37 cities in 17 countries, where Middlebury students will live and learn among native speakers. Prior to leaving, students are debriefed on their program’s requirements and realities at country-specific pre-departure sessions featuring both study abroad advisors and previous students. Most programs students attend, including both Middlebury Schools Abroad and externally-sponsored programs, also include on-site orientation in the destination country. Often one of the most emphasized concepts in these orientations is “culture shock.” Repeated forewarnings of the overwhelming adjustment to foreign cultures, social codes, food, climate, and politics are logical and internalized. However, the reality of students’ post-abroad re-entry contains its own set of hurdles.

Jeremy Kallan ’14, who studied in Alexandria, Egypt, agrees with Sayre in articulating his own frustrations in returning to Middlebury. “Being abroad is an emotional roller coaster,” he said. But coming back can be just as hard. When you return, “everything’s the same and normal and it seems boring. And I kind of felt depressed, purposeless, like home and Middlebury are not everything I thought they were [when I was away].”

Students and institutions alike are working to devise helpful solutions to this taxing, yet inevitable experience. Like other colleges and universities, Middlebury has employed a number of re-entry events—writing workshops, speakers, lunchtime discussion series—throughout the year. And at the start of the fall semester, International Programs holds a “welcome back” reception for students who have studied abroad the previous academic year.

“The challenge,” says Stacey Thebodo, the assistant director of International Programs, “is at events other than the fall welcome back reception, we have seen very poor attendance.” She said that only a small fraction of the 350 students who go abroad each year have attended the organized events, which has left her office puzzling over how to support students returning to Middlebury.

“Though we know that the students who come to these events need the support, we also believe there are others out there who could use advice. Every year I have a few students come into my office individually saying that they are struggling with the transition. Research shows that reverse culture shock can be much more difficult than the culture shock experienced abroad, because after studying abroad you are a changed person – you probably have a new world view – and it can be difficult to figure out how to fit into your old environment. You start to question your cultural identity and what “home” is. At the same time, everyone is asking you, “So how was X country?” and they really only want a quick response (“It was great!”). When students return to Middlebury, they also tend to experience challenges with academic adjustment. Students get used to a lot of independence abroad, and in other countries there is much less continuous assessment throughout the semester, so readjustment back to the Middlebury/US system and the workload can be overwhelming. We encourage students to try to find ways to incorporate their study abroad into their academics back at Middlebury—for example, into their senior theses, or participating in the research symposium, or continuing to take language and/or area studies courses.”

 Among the main frustrations that students report are extremes of experience (“I go from living in Botswana in the spring to interning at a New York City publishing house in the summer to returning to Middlebury in the fall, where I fall into all of the same routines that existed before I left”) and lack of understanding among peers how difficult studying abroad can be.

“I struggle when anyone asks me what it was like abroad,” says Milou Lammers ’15. “For many people, I find myself limiting my response to ‘I loved Paris.’” For those she knows better, though, she allows that while she loved the city, she found the program to be arduous, and not the glamorous American in Paris story that people who haven’t been abroad seem to expect. “I find it difficult to be one of the few people I know who didn’t necessarily enjoy their study abroad experience. I have to make the distinction that I loved France and my language skills really improved,” but loving the program, she says? No.

Thebodo says, “When talking about study abroad, students often do not talk about it being difficult, and it is difficult. It is supposed to be challenging! If you are not experiencing some discomfort, then you are probably having a very surface level experience and are not immersing yourself and challenging yourself to meet people and engage with the culture. This is also true when you come back home – adjustment is a process and is not easy, and it takes time. This is where a lot of growth and learning comes from; often it takes awhile after being back home to realize how much you learned abroad.”

And then there is the race to catch up with those who have been here all along, the unrealistic expectation of picking up right where one had left off several months prior.

So, what is the solution? More structured programs upon returning to campus? Mandatory on-site reverse orientation? Perhaps the first step is just talking more about how difficult returning from abroad can be. As Thebodo says, her office is there to listen and to help. And it appears that there are more than enough people experienced with this issue to start a dialogue. The learning curve may be steep, but the opportunity is there to be seized.

 Leah Fessler ’15 studied in Buenos Aires last fall. She is a contributing editor to Middlebury Magazine.

Some Kind of Place: Auschwitz, Poland

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Auschwitz-photo
There are few place names on the planet that are associated with the heightened level of grotesque depravity as Auschwitz.

Carved out of the quiet Polish village of Oświęcim by Nazi invaders in 1939, Auschwitz was conceived as being a major implement of Heinrich Himmler’s system of forced labor through oppression, a concentration camp that would support the Nazi war effort and, with victory achieved, would serve as one of the greater cities in the Reich. Or so the Nazis believed.

History has recorded a different story, a deranged nightmare of starvation and mass execution. A history populated with gas chambers and crematoriums. A forced labor camp that became a center for extermination.

For the past six years, geographer Anne Knowles has lived with Auschwitz—not in the physical place, but with it, with its conception and its construction and the chaos and instability that belie the common perception of Nazi calculation and precision.

Knowles came to Auschwitz during a two-week workshop that she helped organize at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., a fortnight that brought together nine scholars from diverse disciplines—historical geography, geographic information science (GIS), cartography, history, and architectural history—“to consider how spatial analysis and geographical visualization of the built environment and forced movement of people during the Holocaust might inspire new research questions and pedagogical applications.”

From that workshop in 2007 came a grant from the National Science Foundation that funded six projects (pairing at least one historian with one geographer) that would examine the operational scale of the Holocaust; those six projects became six book chapters in the forthcoming Geographies of the Holocaust.

Though the Holocaust exists as one of the most profoundly devastating geographical events in human history, before these projects, few scholars had ever identified and investigated the spaces and geographical patterns of the genocide. No one had used GIS to do spatial analysis of these events, and, says Knowles, likely never would have if such a disparate group of academics hadn’t come together and forged a multi-faceted collaboration. “It was this frisson,” claims Knowles, “people coming together from different perspectives and different fields and then rubbing up against one another, that set off the sparks of discovery.”

This story presents some of the findings contained in a chapter titled “Visualizing the Archive: Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem,” co-authored by Knowles; Paul Jaskot, an architectural historian at DePaul University; and Chester Harvey ’09 and Benjamin Perry Blackshear ’12.

Auschwitz, says Knowles, was supposed to become one of the greater cities in the Reich. A city was planned that would feature an entrance pavilion and a garden city. A grand headquarters for the commandant was drawn, as were estates for officers. In the idealized designs of architect Lothar Hartjenstein, Auschwitz was to become a “complex urban world supporting the control over a vast, greater Germany.”

But, Knowles says, these 1942 plans were displaced by more pragmatic demands in 1943. “What were built instead were more barracks to house many more guards, who were needed to control hundreds of thousands of prisoners scheduled to arrive from the Jewish ghetto in Budapest.”

Auschwitz-PlansHarvey and Blackshear used architectural drawings and plans and construction records to create the map at right. In green, you see structures that were included in the original plans for Auschwitz and subsequently built. In purple are the buildings that were not included in the original plan, but built out of necessity, including new guard barracks in the lower center of the map. And in orange are the areas planned by architect Lothar Hartjenstein, but never realized. In the upper left corner of the map are the plans for the commandant’s headquarters. Foundations were dug, but that is all. As the researchers note in their chapter, “the rationally planned total environment evident in the clarity of the SS’s ideal conceptualization of the complex in 1943 clashes with the messy reality of plans and buildings that were actualized in fits and starts over time.”

Or, as Knowles says, “The exigencies of war and genocide took over.”

With the erection of crematoria and the implementation of genocide, the SS entered a fevered stretch of drawing and redrawing plans that led to the construction of buildings that would “facilitate the day to day operation of the camp.” Perversely, this would include amenities intended to “entertain and distract” the guards charged with increasingly brutal and inhumane work.

The map below, reconstructed by Blackshear to indicate the dense variety of functions in one small part of the camp, shows the placement of two saunas on the east side of Auschwitz I, circa November 1943. Write the authors, “This cluster of different functions has remained invisible in the scholarship even though our color overlays make it clear that they were in fact extremely visible to the SS and inmates at the site.”

Auschwitz-BlackshearChillingly, the saunas’ design echoed the decorative carpentry of central European tradition. That is, they were not only functional, but had an aesthetic, recreational purpose as well—all within sight of the death chambers.

A primary goal of the Auschwitz research was to use GIS to help understand the role sight played in the exercise of control at the camps. “We wanted to know what the guards could see and what impact that had on the prisoners,” Knowles says. “Were there places that were more dangerous than others? Were there places where people could escape notice?”

Knowles worked with Chester Harvey to use architectural plans, archival images, and aerial photographs to recreate the site and then render three-dimensional images of the camp. “We could place a hypothetical guard in any place in the camp and show what he could see most and least clearly,” Knowles says. Harvey generated the image bellow. The dash of white near the middle of the map indicates the approximate field of view for a person of average height standing in the center of that location.

“But that did not turn out to be the most interesting question—what could a guard see?” Knowles says. “See those buildings shaded red? Those are buildings that were under construction from May 1943 to May 1944. Paul Jaskot looked at this image and asked, rather casually, ‘Could we animate this?’”

Because Harvey had compiled a database of information that included when individual buildings were constructed and what they were used for, he was able to animate just how fluid this site was. “It’s a simple thing,” Knowles says, “but in the mind of an architecture historian, it created what we call in GIS circles ‘the eureka moment.’

RedBarracks“Paul said, ‘Oh my God, look at how chaotic this was—for eight months this was a construction site,’” Knowles recalls. “What the guards saw, changed constantly. The landscape was altered over and over and over. Think about the commotion of a construction site, and then add a swelling population of guards—and prisoners.”

Write the authors, “The scale of construction and its duration probably meant that much of the camp was visually confusing, quite a different environment than the regimented, rational, static image of the camp that has become so familiar to us.”

The Holocaust has always been an event rooted in time and place, Knowles says. “We’re trying to see what that looks like and then analyze the relationship between the two, place and time.”

Mapping, she says, “shows us what [the Nazis] built and did; it shows what their priorities were, rather than what they talked about. It sends a chill down the spine.”

Also, she adds, “In my mind, it highlights the absurdity of Nazi dreams.”