Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CEAH Events at Open House

At the November 12th Open House, Professor Chris Marshall and I facilitated what turned out to be complementary activities across the hallway from each other in Koons Hall.  I set up a group of poetry activities, and Chris set up a Sunprint activity, using materials he collected from outdoors, including the golden Ginkgo leaves from the trees outside the Quimby Library.

Environmental Writing major Hannah Kreitzer was one of several people who stopped by to make their own Sunprints, a process that combines collage with photo-sensitive paper. Participants set up their collages, brought them outside to sit in the sun, and then brought them back inside for a rinse in the sink and some time to dry.

Meanwhile, across the hall, I slapped Magnetic Poetry words onto the white board, along with a few gingko leaves that Chris shared with me. Then, I set up the "Cut-Ups and Collage" activity. This one invites people to use cut-up lines of poems to make their own poems, either by collaging the cut-ups together or by combining the cut-ups with their own words.

Assistant Professor Stephanie (a/k/a Stevie) Wade and Unity student Sharlene Hazen, working separately, both chose to incorporate images into their work, too.

All afternoon, I encouraged people to take free poems from a collection of pages I'd torn out of the most recent issue of Poetry magazine.  Okay, I actually sort of forced people to take them.  I was that crazy lady standing in the hallway yelling "Free poems to good homes!"

Two Open House visitors, Liz and Cathy, stopped by for both art and poetry activities. They had lots of enthusiasm for the
sunprint process. They'd seen Magnetic Poetry before
and created these lines:

I loved seeing the many ways that art and poetry intertwined that afternoon.  Coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally at all, Chris and I had chatted earlier that day about synchronicity being the natural state of affairs in the universe -- not the exception we sometimes make it out to be.
Words and images that make our hearts sing are also the natural state of affairs -- like this moment when a milkweed seed and its silky filaments parachuted from a sunprint pile and floated across the blackboard.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Woman Behind the Unity Nova Experience -- and much more!

My guest for lunch today was Jessica Steele, director of the Unity College Outdoor Adventure Center. What started as a casual lunch turned into an energetic brainstorming session. Jes is responsible for (among other things) developing sites and programs, and training student leaders for the Nova Wilderness Experience. This flagship program sets Unity apart from other colleges as a place that promotes hands-on learning and sustainable human connections, as the students in this video discuss:

The Nova program is also Jes's favorite part of her job. I was struck by how many students in the video mentioned the value of the Nova experience in terms of meeting fellow students and forming connections before the start of classes. In previous blog entries, I've talked a bit about that last idea: creating sustainable human connections.  Today, I realized this blog is helping me get to the goal I set in the first blog entry: acclimating to this place by listening to stories from people with diverse connections to Unity.

But enough about me. What about the apple-pear-spice cake I made today, the one with a maple glaze?  What about the fact that I forgot to put the coconut in it? Jess and I ate it anyway. Seriously, though -- what about that brainstorming?

Jes shared so many fresh ideas today -- too many to discuss in depth in a single blog entry -- so I'll focus on her thoughts about employing existing Nova staff and equipment to run a summer camp for teens age 14 - 18. The idea of a summer camp has been tossed around for a while, but it hasn't been developed. Jes identified these potential benefits to Unity College:
  • Connecting with college-curious teens by giving them a sample of the Unity experience;
  • Providing more long-term summer employment for student leaders;
  • Providing course credit for student leaders;
  • Providing internships for student leaders;
  • Promoting Unity's identity as America's Environmental College. 
And, of course, more young people on campus in the summer would mean more people to pet Heather and Keeper. They are both in favor of the idea, and they both loved Jes!

Then we started thinking about funding -- what about camp scholarships?  Would any outside funding be available? What if the college developed a summer camp program for a specific, underserved population, like at-risk youth, or teens with Asperger's syndrome or other neurological challenges, or teens with particular wellness issues, or teen girls who aspire to leadership? Programs serving any of these teen groups might qualify for foundation grant funding.

All of these ideas are rich in possibility. And Jess has more: creating a staff version of Nova including weekend trips and day trips, generating alumni help with student recruitment at college fairs and in their local communities through a mentoring program, creating an alumni Nova trip to run each year. My enthusiasm for the potential in all of these ideas was eclipsed only by Keeper's enthusiasm for the potential of table scraps after lunch.  We're all fortunate to be living in a generous community, among the social, intellectual, and creative richness in Unity.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

SGA -- thinking ahead

Members of the Student Government Association visited Unity House on October 17th. Stephen and I had both met many of the SGA members, but we wanted a chance to get together with the whole group. Most of the SGA representatives were able to attend -- many thanks to Amy Kennedy for organizing the troops!
Our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, from discussion of a Green Fund pilot program, to development of a strategy that would allow year-round access to the bridge to downtown Unity, to my not-so-secret recipe for the maple nut scones we gobbled down.

The issue of winter access to the path and bridge concerns me personally, as I use both frequently. When we moved here in July, I was surprised to learn that the bridge would be closed in the wintertime due to safety and budgeting concerns.  SGA members hope to seek community support to install solar lighting on the bridge and call boxes on the path in the event of emergencies.
But keeping the path and bridge plowed could be the biggest ticket item, especially during winters with heavy snowfall.  SGA vice president Matt Dyer (who has already launched his campaign for the 2028 USA presidency) reported that he'd had some discussions with the Maintenance Department, and that he, personally, would be happy to run a snowblower down the path and over the bridge.

That seemed like a big job for one person -- even Matt. Stephen suggested that we raise the issue with our new director of facilities and public safety, Dan LaForge, and possibly divide the work of snowblowing the path and bridge among work study students. In spite of encouragement from Sarah McCoy, Heather declined an invitation to help out, preferring to continue to do what she does best -- lay down and relax.
Once Rob Eckelbecker was on the scene, we plowed into a discussion of concerns about course access and academic rigor. These included

  • Expanding Unity's reciprocity with other institutions to provide wider access to courses students need to meet their degree requirements;
  • Hiring more full-time faculty to reduce the faculty-to-adjunct ratio and to insure that their courses are taught by discipline-specific experts;
  • Raising salaries for faculty and/or decreasing their current 4/3 course load;
  • Continued flexibility in programming to meet the needs of future students.
All of these points address the sustainability of our campus, whether we're talking about safety issues connected to use of the bridge or academic issues connected to meeting the needs of future students. I'm impressed by the SGA's focus on the future; Stephen and I encourage students to bring their concerns to the president's office and to the Board of Trustees during their quarterly meetings. Students have a direct link to the board through SGA president, Amy Kennedy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Unity Experience: Round Two!

Today, John Zavodny's Unity Experience class visited Unity House.  First, we had cherry chocolate chip cookies (unburned) and lemonade and chatted about the house.  Students asked questions about whether the house was warm and about the movable walls. When I mentioned that the television we brought from Idaho had magically fit into the existing wall recess, they insisted, almost as a single voice, that we needed a Wii set up here -- and they promised to coach me so that I could kick Stephen's butt in Wii tennis.

Then they moved on to more personal questions like "What's the best thing about living here?" and "What's the worst thing about living here?" and "What would you change about the house?" They were skilled questioners! After the questions, I sent them on a self-guided tour of the house. They separated into two groups -- men and women, or as one student said, "Con Law and not Con Law" -- and swarmed around.

The object that got the most attention, as in previous student visits to the house, was The Chair of Stephen.  Second up was the double monitors.

Also of interest was my yoga sling.  I heard students asking each other "What IS that thing?" No one voiced that question to me, so I brought it up myself and promised to demonstrate how the yoga sling worked if the students obeyed me when we got to the writing exercise. That's one of my teaching slogans: Obey me in all things and all will be well.

The exercise I'd prepared would (hopefully) help students with their Electronic Portfolio Assignment. My goal was to keep things lively enough so that no one fell asleep. I wasn't entirely successful, as you can see from this photo of Heather.  The exercise began with a visualization: Close your eyes. Imagine you haven’t gotten out of bed yet. You just woke up. It’s your first day at your first job out of college.                       
Some people think that closing your eyes and imagining something in class is pretty cheesy, but I like doing it because it changes students' perspectives. Still, I was glad John had prepared me by sharing one of his teaching slogans: "Embrace the cheese!"

The questions following the visualization were mostly about imagining the sensory details of that first day: food, music, clothing, people's voices. My intent was to help students develop some fodder to "Articulate and plan for academic, social and professional goals," one of the subheadings in the first of the three major course outcomes.

After we completed the writing exercise, I asked everyone to contribute to my collection of answers to the question "How do you create or define sustainability in human relationships?" Here are some of my favorite answers:
  • "Families staying in touch during hard times."
  • "Give and take relationships work the best. You give and take and that keeps it stable."
  • "Compassion helps create sustainability in relationships -- understanding other people's needs and also having others be compassionate to you.

Then, as promised, I went to hang upside down like a bat in the yoga sling, much to everyone's horror.  I think Samantha took photos, but I can't be sure because I was upside down. Uncertainty -- just one of the benefits of changing your perspective.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Unity Experience Class Visits Unity House

In mid-September, we had a visit from Assistant Professor Beth Arnold's Unity Experience class.  This class is part of the Core Curriculum, and it is designed to orient incoming students to campus and community resources, and to build collaborative and critical thinking skills.

Beth first asked her students to snoop around Unity House, looking for elements of sustainability design and technology that might differ from a traditional home.  They spotted many such elements, like the hinged wall separating the living space from the guest room, which allows the two spaces to be merged to meet the needs of large groups.  Sustainability, in this case, means flexibility. 

Then we went outdoors for a little play time, and the first game was literally about orientation.  First, we all formed a square
around Beth; then we had to reorient ourselves in the same pattern when Beth scooted over to another location.  Soon we were all laughing as we chased Beth around the front yard.  Her instructions were clear, but her movements were unpredictable!
Beth's next exercise asked students to pair up and take turns being the camera and the photographer.  The person playing photographer walked the person playing camera around, looking first for an image of how the photographer felt about him or herself at that moment, and second for an image reflecting the photographer's connection to nature.

I didn't have a partner, so I just observed and took pictures (with an acutal camera).  The people playing the camera were supposed to keep their eyes shut as the photographers guided them to the images.  This involved a certain amount of trust on the part of the people in the camera role. of course, once the cameras opened their eyes, they would be looking at the world from the photographers' perspectives.

After this outing at Unity House, students would be writing up a reflection about their experiences today. I had a short writing exercise in mind for them, too -- a brief description or definition of sustainability in human relationships. Here are some of the responses:

"Sustainability in human relationships has to be done with hope and trust in complete strangers. You must have hope in the things you do not understand."

"People in relationships should work together and communicate often to have a successful, sustainable relationship."

"Being able to change and adapt as people and relationships change."

"People moving past differences to accomplish things."

"We're all sharing, whether we like it or not."

Cookies? Why not.  And why not take a turn seeing the world from someone else's perspective? IMHO, that's the most important skill to practice to advance our critical thinking abilities.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Alumni Weekend -- For Longtimers and Newtimers

Is "newtimer" a word? It should be!

Alumni Weekend, September 23 -25, coincides with the Common Grounds Fair. It's going to be a busy weekend for Unity House, with a Parent Reception here on Saturday afternoon, and a Reunion Class Reception on Sunday morning.

It's been an alumni sort of September here, partly because three awesome alums visited Unity House this month.  Our first alum, Monica Murphy (class of 1987), catered a casual supper for the Unity Selectmen at Unity House, which was a great opportunity for Stephen and I to learn about the town's history and current concerns. Monica owns Unity's cool deli and community meeting place, Crosstrax, where she also sells locally grown food, including produce, milk, cream, and eggs, as well as specialty items like soaps and books.  To me, she seems the epitome of someone who walks the walk, having invested her time, resources and considerable energy in creating a thriving business that supports local farmers and craftspeople while providing tasty food choices for the community.

Alum Rosie Ayala (class of 2011), hired this summer by the Admissions Office, came to Unity House later in the month for lunch. Rosie was about to leave on her whirlwind tour of over one hundred high schools and college fairs. It's what she calls her Dream Job -- an opportunity to travel and communicate about Unity College, "one of those rare places where you can be yourself."

Aside from her recent graduation, one of Rosie's most vivid Unity memories is her freshman Nova experience of backpacking the Appalachian Trail. A Long Island native, she'd had little experience with the wilderness, and her Nova trip started out as "a slap in the face." But after several days of strenuous hiking,  she was roused from a feeling of defeat and exhaustion by the sight of a moose crossing the river just upstream from where she sat. She shouted to her Nova group, and became The Girl Who Spotted the Moose.  Everyone gathered around, full of spirit and excitement. When the moose wandered off, Rosie became enchanted by a pulsing in the water near to her, and she exclaimed "The river has a heart!" The long hike has been worth it.

Rosie was joined at lunch by Jen Whelan (class of 2003), who came back to Unity this summer as the Faculty Assistant. Jen sees her position as a way to give back to the college: "If I am making the lives of faculty easier," she says, "they can do a better job for their students." She's taken the long way back to Unity, through the Southeast and the Southwest, and through a variety of different career paths. With all of the places she's been, it's no wonder she feels drawn to the fairy tale about a girl who wanders the earth in iron shoes, which she must wear out in order to reach her goal.

Although they graduated years apart, Jen and Rosie had a surprising number of things in common besides their love for the town and the college. Both women tried several majors during their college days, and both were strongly influenced by professors in the Humanities. Jen spent several years living in Arizona after her graduation; Rosie, who has family in Arizona, was ready to transfer to Arizona State after her first year at Unity -- but at the last minute, in the week before classes began, she chose to return to Unity. "I want to go back home," she told her mother. And that was a feeling that the three of us shared over lunch: our gratitude for feeling at home here.
The 21st century job search for both alums involved "stomach-squishing moments of anxiety" as well as "surreal moments of grace," when everything -- thankfully -- fell into place for them.  They've both found their way home, both personally and professionally. But as Jen says, "There is no typical Unity graduate. We're all different, and that's why we found this place."

When I stopped by Crosstrax earlier this week, I found a group of folks hanging out who had begun their personal and professional journeys to Unity in the 20th century --  Professor Jim Reed (1988 -2010), Librarian Dot Quimby (1966 - 2001), professor Barry Woods (1976 to present), and Alumna Monica Murphy.

 Monica, in her pithy way, left me with a phrase that sums it all up -- "We're all on the same team" --a critical element of sustainable human relations: respecting our differences, acknowledging our common dreams, and acting for the good of the community.

Friday, August 26, 2011

RA's Invade Unity House

Today the 2011-2012 RA's (Resident Life staff members) visited Unity House for cookies and chat.  We got off to a literal bang when Heather noticed the RA's assembling in front of the screen door. Unfortunately, she didn't notice the screen in the door, and as she ran full tilt to greet folks, she bounced into and off of the screen, bending the frame.  I was so flustered I didn't take a photo. But it all worked out. Eli Walker, a returning RA, pushed the door back into shape with his mighty muscles and used a pair of pliers to even out the bent frame. 

But that wasn't the first faux pas of the day. Earlier, I had somehow burnt the bottoms of the first batch of cookies to go in the oven. A dozen emergency S'mores (recipe below) helped to make up for the sadness of burnt cookies.

Everyone was very gracious about my cookie problem, and everyone seemed to find something interesting about Unity House.  For some folks it was the re-arrangable Flor carpeting, or the folding wall between the living area and the guest room; for others it was Stephen's Mac and double monitor set up. Eve and Becca both liked my little espresso machine.

The RAs have been in training this week, and from what I heard today, we might call it "social sustainability training": they learn how to establish and nurture sustainable social environments in the residence halls.  Sustainable social environments are built to last because they are built on shared community standards -- including respect for differences.

Our Director of Residence Life, Steve Nason, provides RAs with strategies for creating those shared community standards on each residence hall floor, like the "Pick Five" exercise, when residents choose the top five of a list of fifteen possible community standards.  Under his guidance, the RA's also run a program on roommate expectations.  Open communication about expectations is another key to sustainable group living. Check out Steve's work on a definition of sustainability for his professional organization for more thoughts on this topic.

Sustainable relationships can be intentionally created. Making conscious choices about one's attitude is a part of this.  As RA Ryan Morrison says, "Optimism rubs off." Here, Heather, the screen door buster, seems optimistic that she might get some of Shyra's cookie.

Meeting bright, enthusiastic, caring young people -- like this year's group of RA's -- always raises my level of optimism about the future.  Maybe this generation's values about conservation, environment and community will be built for the long run, be more sustainable than my generations' values. And maybe next time I won't burn the cookies.

Emergency S'mores

 10 Graham Crackers

2 Chocolate Bars

5 Marshmallows

1. Break the Graham Crackers in half. Place ten on a cookie sheet; reserve the other ten.

2. Break the chocolate bars into ten pieces. Place the chocolate pieces

on top of the graham crackers.

3. Cut the marshmallows in half with a scissors. Place one marshmallow half on top of each cracker, over the chocolate pieces.

4. Bake for about 4 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the marshmallows soften and begin to melt.

5. Remove from oven and top each marshmallow with a reserved graham cracker half to make a sandwich. Squish the crackers together to spread the marshmallow.

6. Eat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back in the Day with Arlene Constable Schaefer

Unity College Trustee Arlene Constable Schaefer stopped by today for lunch.  The weather was dreary, but we were cheered by cardinals and goldfinches out on the birdfeeder, a sweet peach-blueberry cobbler (blueberries courtesy of Monica Murphy at CrossTrax) and some warm conversation.

Arlene is the daughter of Eddie and Florine Constable, the generous people who donated the land our campus sits on today. The Constable family were leaders in the poultry industry, and our campus was once a farm where -- literally -- millions of chicks were hatched.

Arlene grew up in what is now Constable Hall (the front portion of the house on the right side of the above photo).  Her childhood was full of fun, she says, but she had few playmates because Unity was a very small town back then  -- although she did have a few favorite chickens she raised by hand.

We chuckled over the irony that her family's farm is now overrun with young people during the school year.  While Unity College has not yet graduated -- literally -- millions of students, we have educated tens of thousands of environmental stewards and leaders who have touched the lives of millions of people.

Arlene's parents continued to reside in Unity after they donated their land to the college.  In the 1970's, when Florine Constable became ill, the couple began to take their evening meal in the college cafeteria.  In 1979, some students inquired about the identity of the older couple, and learning of Eddie and Florine's contribution to the college, they got up a petition to insure that the Constables could dine for free whenever they wished at the Unity College Cafeteria. Arlene still has that petition; it is on view in the scrapbook she donated to our library.

Curiosity, committment and compassion are still hallmarks of Unity students.  Maybe they inherited it from Arlene, who carries on her family's dedication and generosity as a member of the college's board of trustees, and as an active member of the Rotary Club, the Unity Barn Raisers, and other local organizations.  It was an honor and a pleasure to spend time with her over lunch today.