Sheila Bair shares news of the College’s progress in meeting its strategic priorities, and provides glimpses of her life as a busy college president.
In the inaugural issue of Bair Mail, I outlined eight strategic priorities that are propelling the work of the senior administration, with the promise to expand upon each of those priorities in future issues. I offer here some details about our work to build and capitalize upon our distinctive academic programs, with the intent to more strongly compete with the nation’s Top 50 liberal arts colleges.
Watch Out, Top 50!
Last fall, VP for Planning and Policy Victor Sensenig conducted a Top 50 Program Gap Analysis intended to identify strategic opportunities for program growth that would elevate the College’s profile and support enrollment growth. Washington College already offers every major degree program that drives enrollment and prestige at Top 50 institutions. Among those major degree programs that we do not currently offer, Vic identified several that would help boost enrollment and make us stronger competitors against Top 50 schools: film studies, biochemistry, biotechnology, neuroscience, Asian studies, and religious studies. We already offer most of these disciplines as concentrations or areas of emphasis, so we are forging ahead.
In December, the faculty approved the Asian Studies minor, expected to launch this fall. In January, Interim Provost Patrice DiQuinzio and Assistant Professor of Chinese David Hull visited Beijing to look at possible study abroad programs, with the China Studies Institute showing the most promise. If all goes well, we expect to have an agreement in place this spring and to offer students the opportunity to study in Beijing beginning in Spring 2018.
Given the strong foundation we have with the behavioral neuroscience concentration, and the support of Professor Michael Kerchner, who was recently elected executive director of Nu Rho Psi, the national honor society in neuroscience, we are also discussing a neuroscience major, and hope to have a plan in place by May 1.
Eastern Shore Food Lab
Bill Schindler, associate professor of archaeology, has spent the last few years teaching students how to forage for food, how to build an earthen oven, and how to cook with wild ingredients. Under his guidance, they have embarked on journeys that completely change how they think about their history as human beings, particularly as it relates to the fundamental necessity of finding and preparing food and making the tools needed to hunt and process foods. By drawing students closer to the sources of food—for instance, showing them how to form and fire clay cooking vessels, how to butcher a deer with a piece of obsidian, how to create a tool through flint-knapping techniques—Schindler imparts his concept of “sole authorship” that guides all of his work.
The basis of this philosophy is simple: Being part of a process from start to finish is the only way to truly understand the amount of energy and effort—whether human or environmental—that is required to feed, clothe, and sustain a population. The Eastern Shore Food Lab, a new initiative under his direction, brings together an array of local resources to expand upon this philosophy.
The ESFL will be an interdisciplinary research, teaching, and innovation laboratory dedicated to studying and experimenting with sustainable food systems, using the Eastern Shore food-shed as its primary context. By studying the resources unique to the region, based on weather, climate, soil chemistry, and microbial biology—and fusing historical foodways with modern technologies—faculty, students, and collaborative researchers will re-envision our food system, from how we define food to how we grow and prepare it. The lab will address issues of food, diet, health, access, sustainability, and human and environmental relationships through innovative teaching and learning, cutting edge research, and meaningful food production. Ultimately, although the lab’s work will spring from the local, the solutions it envisions will be scalable to other food-sheds around the country and the world.
Professor Schindler and Interim Provost Patrice DiQuinzio are finalizing a four-year timeline for creating and developing the ESFL and plan to work together remotely to continue to generate interest in the ESFL next year, when Professor Schindler is on sabbatical. We expect to hear from Bill regularly via blog and video reports.
Forge strategic partnerships with other institutions, such as dual-degree programs and articulation agreements with graduate programs, to facilitate pathways for students in the environment, public health, and other disciplines.
Charlie Kehm, the McLain Associate Professor of Physics and Environmental Science and Studies, has been working with Deborah Gallagher at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University on a program to fast-track Washington College environmental studies and environmental science students into a master’s in forestry or environmental management at Duke. We are submitting a proposal to the Nicholas School this spring.
Develop measures of the overall excellence of our teaching, curriculum (including study abroad, collaborative research, and internships), and use of technology, and benchmark these against the nation’s Top 50 liberal arts colleges.
With the intent to capitalize upon the IDEAWORKS makerspace recently installed in Miller Library, Ruth Shoge, Director, Library and Academic Technology and Sharon Sledge, Chief Academic Technology Officer, have collected data from the top 50 liberal arts schools on their makerspaces. Among their key findings: Twenty-three colleges have makerspaces; another eight are in the planning/research phase. About 40% have a component of the curriculum that uses the makerspace. Some colleges have very deeply integrated curriculum and makerspace, while others use these spaces specifically for disciplines including visual and performing arts, astronomy, engineering, anthropology, environmental studies, computer science, physics, chemistry and biology. Our next step is to determine how we can move forward on similar integration given space and funding constraints.
The Power of Work
In a gathering with community and College organizers of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street, Lonnie Bunch praised participants for recognizing the power of work to bring people together and define our common past and present.
Bunch visited Chestertown on February 24 as the keynote speaker at the College’s Washington’s Birthday Convocation, where he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Letters. He took time before the event to meet with community members who are organizing the town’s participation in the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibition “The Way We Worked.”
Chestertown is one of only five communities in the state that Maryland Humanities chose to participate in the traveling Museum on Main Street. From March 31 to May 20, a series of exhibits, speakers, and events will define, explore, and celebrate Kent County’s history through “The Way We Worked.” For more information on the exhibition, visit http://garpost25.org/the-way-we-worked/
Pages from my Calendar
2 - Taped Interview with Diane Sawyer. Talked about higher ed and Washington College for two hours.
Career event hosted by Rob ’88 and Melchora Alexander encouraging alumni to provide internships and job shadowing opportunities. Students sold the concept to everyone present. Promising follow-up opportunities.
3 - Faculty Council Meeting
Harwood Lecture Series with former Senator Barbara Mikulski and journalist Cokie Roberts. Decker Theatre was filled to the rafters.
6 - Faculty meeting
7 - Staff breakfast. Talked about the exciting Chino Farms legacy gift from Dr. Harry Sears.
Meeting with Professor Deanda regarding Diversity/Community Day
Meeting with Global Education Office
Dinner with Michael DeMaio ’18, the winning bidder for “Dinner with Madam President Bair,” a charity event that raised Habitat for Humanity funds. This was my first time being a “prize.” Enjoyable evening.
8 - Lunch with Spy editor Dave Wheelan ’80 and former FCC Chair Al Sikes.
Coffee with Tom and Barbara Gale
Went to theatre department’s production of Silent Sky. Kudos to the cast for fine acting. Loved the set. Bravo to all who made it a success, including director Brendon Fox.
9 - Meeting with possible donor to George’s Brigade. Fingers crossed.
Lunch with Professor Schindler and a delegation from the Nordic Food Lab
High tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and dainty pastries with a lovely group of grand dame alums who found our butler-for-the-day an amusing, authentic addition. Hats and gloves next time?
11 - Scott and I attended “War on the Shore” against men’s lacrosse archrivals Salisbury University. Hope our attendance didn’t have anything to do with the outcome. It’s a young team. We’ll be back.
14 - Snow day on campus. Icy mess, but the predicted 10 inches missed Chestertown. Glad everyone was safe.
Good news — my flights necessary (emphasis on plural flights) to get to Charleston, South Carolina, were mostly on time after airline cancelled my direct flight.
15 - Keynote at the College Savings Foundation annual conference. Big applause and audible audience “wow” when I described our Saver’s Scholarship! This was a great opportunity to promote Washington College to state 529 plan administrators and those working directly with parents saving for college.
CNBC Closing Bell interview with Kelly Evans
17 - Meeting with BVG Chair Larry Culp ’85, our new VP for Finance, Rahel Rosner, and our VP for Planning and Policy, Vic Sensenig. Thanks, Rahel and Vic, for coming in. Good strategy meeting.
20 - Pizza with the Prez went south of the border for a menu of fajitas. Had 14 students over to HRH. Played bingo. Ludwig’s and Lydia’s tails wagged wildly from all the attention.
21 - Meeting to get an update on career services and senior job hunting. Huddled with Sarah Feyerherm, VP and Dean of Students, over lunch.
22 - The Atlantic Next America Project, “Higher Education at a Crossroads” panel discussion. Sorry Margaret Spellings, president of UNC, had the flu and didn’t make it.
23 - Meeting with consultants regarding enrollment
Meeting with Physics Department faculty
Call to possible donor regarding Income Share Agreements
24 - Participated in Professor Michael Harvey’s Organizational Behavior Class
Admissions cocktail hour with parents of potential Presidential Scholars. Love seeing parents’ reaction to our Fixed4Four. Another audible audience “wow.”
Rest of the month in California looking at colleges for Colleen. Picking up recruitment tips at other schools.
In the Wings
April is SCE Celebration Month, when our graduating seniors will be presenting their work and defending their theses. I encourage you to attend as many of these sessions as you can, and see for yourself the high-caliber work our students are producing. I hope to see you at these, and other events ahead.
The George Washington Leadership Series and the Richard Holstein Program in Ethics host Mary J. Miller, former undersecretary for domestic finance at the U.S. Treasury. Hynson Lounge, 4 p.m.
A discussion with Mayor Chris Cerino and President Sheila C. Bair, sponsored by the Chestertown Spy - “The Future of Chestertown” - 5:00 p.m. Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts
The JC Jones Seminar in American Business hosts Paul Reed Smith, the genius behind PRS Guitars and Digital Harmonics. “Paul Reed Smith: It’s Not Just Me.” Decker Theatre, 4 p.m.
International Student Farewell Reception. Hynson-Ringgold House, 4:30 p.m.
Comprehensive Campaign Launch Event. Wilmer Park, 6:00 p.m.
Faculty Retirement Party for Kathy Wagner, assistant professor of English, and Rosemary Ford, associate professor of biology. Hynson-Ringgold House, 3:30 p.m.
Sophie Kerr Prize Announcement, 50th Anniversary Year. Hotchkiss Recital Hall, 7 p.m.
234th Commencement Exercises. Campus Lawn (weather permitting), 10:30 a.m.