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Archive for February, 2013

TWO FOR THE ROAD

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Julian Levy is keenly aware he isn’t the first recent college grad to check the brakes and fluids on the nine-year-old family Toyota, then set off in search of America. Like so many before him, the idea of an extended road trip in that glimmering between school and “life as a contributing member of society” (his words) has long had a hold on Levy’s imagination.

But as he and road companion Nils Anderson, a recent grad of Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College, set off this week in the red Matrix, nicknamed “The Raspberry,” their trip isn’t solely a footloose interlude. To push a road analogy, let’s call it a bridge with one stanchion in his UVM years and another grounded in the life he hopes to create in those contributing member of society decades on the other side.

True for many aspects of Levy’s life, the backstory of this journey is rooted in his love of being active and outdoors. The Essex, Vermont native spent his first three semesters of college at Temple University before coming to terms with just how far North Philadelphia was from the places he really wanted to be. Back in Vermont at his state university, enrolled in the parks, recreation, and tourism major in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, Levy quickly found his way to the UVM Outing Club and its Wilderness Instructor Leadership Development program.

His academic experience and co-curricular pursuits have both shaped Levy, he says. David Kaufman’s class on entrepreneurship has fit well with his independent nature, and the OC experience has continued to build the sense of confidence and self-reliance he’s found in National Outdoor Leadership experiences and a semester of study abroad based in Belem, Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon River. (Levy met his like-minded travel partner Anderson during that semester.)

“I’ve never been one who likes to follow a path,” Levy says. “Not only in a metaphorical sense, but also literally. If I’m walking through the woods, I just like to go off the trail. You see a lot more; you learn a lot more.”

A call to the Outing Club offices one day from Rail Riders, an outdoor clothing company, provided the initial spark that started to turn Levy and Anderson’s post-graduation ramble into something more purposeful. Rail Riders, which primarily makes clothing for sailing, was looking to reach a younger demographic for a new production line and sought to connect with UVM OC students to wear their clothes and spread the word via photos and video.

The idea percolated for a time until Levy landed on connecting it with his travels. Things moved rapidly from there. Rail Riders was on board with clothing and some financial support. Levy and Anderson branded their trip as “Coastal Connections” and got busy creating an itinerary, a Facebook page, a video promoting the project, a blog, essentially gearing up for an on-the-road internship in guerilla marketing and the brave newish world of social media promotion.

The loop they’ve mapped is an ambitious one—13,685 miles—essentially running the bases around the entire nation from Mt. Desert Island, Maine, to Key West to Los Angeles to Seattle and then some. Their plans include both bright lights and backpacking, but Levy stresses the trip is as much about the people they’ll meet as the things they’ll see.

Thinking broadly, he and Anderson are eager to earn a firsthand sense of the mindset and tenor of the nation, particularly among young people. Thinking professionally, Levy hopes to scope out places he might want to live, start to build a career network, and further define his goals. Thinking like a social media marketer, if some Facebook followers notice that he and Nils look styling in their Rail Riders gear… well, all good.

Though Julian Levy formally graduated in December, he plans to be back in Burlington by May 19 to robe up and walk at UVM commencement on the Green, several months and many miles away.

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TALKING TEACHING

“If you’re looking at your lap and smiling, I know that you’re texting,” is a bit of advice that Jeremy Sibold shares with the students in his classes at the start of each semester. That pearl of wisdom got a good laugh from twenty-or-so gathered in UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning yesterday to hear a panel discussion with Sibold and his fellow recipients of the 2012 Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching. Sibold, assistant professor in Rehab & Movement Science, was joined by faculty colleagues Dryver Huston, School of Engineering; Lisa Holmes, Political Science; and Angela Patten, English.

While teaching is about inspiration, sharing knowledge and a passion for learning, in reality it’s also about students who can’t understand why 85 out of 100 would be a B and not an A+ and those folks in the back row looking at their laps and smiling. As this circle of some of UVM’s top teachers got together yesterday to talk shop, the focus ranged from the lofty to the mundane.

A few nuggets from the notebook:

Angela Patten spoke to the challenge of making poetry relevant in a world of dwindling poetry readers—particularly in an introductory class with students from diverse majors. “How do I keep it relevant and interesting with out resorting to just playing the latest slam poetry?” One tactic: Grab students with the authentic, literal voice of great poetry. Patten packs her iPod, playlists including Dylan Thomas and other poets reading their work, to class.

Dryver Huston was the senior member of the bunch. Though not as old school as some of his retired engineering colleagues, whom he recalls would lock the door during class or toss students out for wearing hats, he did speak to more general issues of helping students with self-improvement beyond the subject matter at hand. Huston recalled lessons he once learned on study habits, “how to organize a three-ring notebook” and such. Huston regularly requires term papers and lets his students know that grammar matters, even in an engineering class. He wants his students to embrace the idea that “all the work you hand in is a reflection of yourself.”

Lisa Holmes spoke to setting clear expectations and a hard line early in the semester. She admitted that it took her a long time to realize that “it’s OK if not every student likes you. That is incredibly important. It’s hard to internalize, but really powerful.” Holmes’ sense of expectation carries over to individual students. If she notices that a student performs well on assignments and tests, but is timid about participating in class, she’ll shoot them an encouraging email to make their voice heard. Holmes favors that gentler approach to calling on them in class.

Sibold also talked to creating an environment in his classroom where it’s “safe to fail, safe to have a voice. I’m working to making them feel that we’re equal partners in the conversation.” He spoke about the importance of those moments when students fail, those moments when the important part of his response isn’t “you’re wrong” but what follows—”it’s because…” In teaching future physical therapists and athletic trainers, Sibold says he’d much prefer that students struggle in the lab than with their first real-world patient.

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I’m at work on a future VQ story about the current state of residential learning at UVM, which drew me across campus to the campus of John Sama, director of Living/Learning. While the main focus of my story will be the here and now of how students live on-campus in halls where their residential and academic experiences are increasingly blended, I’ll also look into the historical roots of residential learning at the university.

With the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Living/Learning Center next August, it’s an apt time to look at what’s become of this model—how things have changed at L/L and how the basic concept has found variation in other halls across campus. John shared with me a couple of tattered, faded planning documents—”University of Vermont: Project 73, Living/Learning Center.”

IMG_7242Basically, the booklet is a request for proposals from potential developers of the project and spells out the necessary details on square footage and access and so on. But it’s also peppered with telling details that suggest in small ways how much things have changed in 40 years.

Like this: “The primary function of the outdoor recreation facilities are: Softball, touch football, road hockey.”

Clearly, Living/Learning’s planners were blind-sided by the rise of the Frisbee, skateboard, and hacky sack.

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Alumni readers often say that their first stop in every issue is the classnotes column for their graduating year. If I’m honest, I’d rather hear that first stop is the cover story, campus news, sports, or anything with Tom Weaver’s name on it. (Trying to be honest here.)

But it’s not hard to understand why a grad would flip to the Class of FILL IN THE BLANK. These self-reported updates on the lives of our alumni are the most personal part of the magazine, the place where people connect not so much with the broad institution, but with their own personal friends and memories. And I’m pleased that print classnotes seem to be still holding strong as a relevant medium for such a purpose in our social media age.

But while our readers focus on their own class years and a few around them to catch up with the folks they knew in college, an editor’s experience of classnotes is another thing entirely. This is not mere reading—oh, no—it’s editing, proofing. Very serious business, but not without its rewards. To spend a couple of hours paging from the Class of 1933 to the Class of 2012, as I did not too long ago for the issue that goes to press next week, is to get a sort of hyper-speed time lapse snapshot of life. I think of science films in elementary school—from seed to sprout to shoot to plant in seconds.

It’s a progression from active elders (and, of course, farewells to old friends) to retirement revelry, bragging about grandchildren; work and promotions and reunions; kids and their colleges; kids and their soccer teams; kids and their being born; marriages and weddings chock-full of UVM friends; first jobs; post-graduation journeys to Jackson Hole.

I simplify, but you get the picture. It’s a round of editing that always leaves me a little bleary eyed, but also impressed by this rapid rewind, the collective scope of so many UVM alumni lives that are being well-lived.

 

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