Monday we had a day long session at Hampshire College. To put it mildly, we were blown away. And, after viewing it the night before, were not prepared to be so pleased. The evening before we had toured the five colleges in the area in the golden sun with the grass greening right in front of us. Kitty had been wowed by Amherst College's architecture and attractive students we saw walking on campus. We loved all the collegetowns. We loved UMass and the nice Studio Art building along with the offerings it had. Smith was quaint and beautiful...along with Northhampton filled with stores, restaurants and places to hang out. It was all pretty great. On the flip side, after entering the Hampshire Campus from the back side (or was it the side) from the perfect, small Eric Carle Museum, we were less sure about this place. It was shaggilly. It did not have perfect buildings. However, to see the students hopping around campus, it did reflect an eccentricity and diversity that was not evidenced at the former locations. So, we drove about...admired the woods, the grounds, the trees...and drew in our breaths for Monday. Looks arent everything!
Monday, we were greeted at their gymnasium by tables manned by smiling, attractive people with folders stuffed with information, tables adorned with tablecloths and flowers and coffee. And vegan coffee cake. There were banners in front of the impressive climbing wall that served as the background to a small stage and podium. The prospective students and ones who were making their decisions were all there...with parents and siblings in toe. And, they were our tribe! It was if the Tburg crowd from every state, and region had showed up with their eccentric child, their headsets all sync'd. So, we were in the right place. Then the adorable, and real admissions director stood up and gave us our schedules of tours, classes, and lunch--warmly suggesting we spend the day and come back at least five more times...
We were whisked off to a large-ish hall to have an orientation run by smart and very articulate students (and one new graduate). These people were funny, confident, engaged (!) and took us through the self-driven core of what it is that Hampshire does...essentially, using my phrasing "messing about" with focus. The Hampshire program mirrors what I have been doing during the last two educational stints in graduate work--classes that then form a small body of work that drives another body of work that forces re-education through reading etc. and then the cycle continues. Liberal doses of writing and talking and thinking. Math, only if you like it--or need it. The Hampshire diamond approach (explained to us by our first year tour guide) is that one takes a class...say in pond biology. You love it, and feel that you need more training in a topic...so you go do that either at Hampshire or any of the 5 other schools (a bus runs every half hour to all the other schools). Then, with the training, you study more either on that topic or something else. The path of learning takes you to where you either want to go, or find yourself going. And, this work is supported by panels of teachers--with the end product being a way to learn, a passion and a focus that is bespoke for each student.
They had me by the ears.
Then, the tour led by a very candid, funny first year. He was very honest about eveything from the bicycle repair run by students, to the Emergency Medical teams run by students, to the spring and Jan Term trips (run by students) in kayaks and canoes. No sports--except their competitive Ultimate Frisbee team. Man, having no sports changes the paradigm considerably. Rob reminds me that they do engage in dodge ball. We saw classrooms and most importantly, the shops. The biology labs, woodshops, art studios all were phenomenal messing about spaces. Room to work.Really work...and if you needed something you could get it, or build it yourself. The art barn had a nice small painting studio where a professor was critting a remarkable work done by a student. The cubbies/studios for the other students were great and the WORK. OMG. The work was phenomenal. This is a place (remember, this is self driven) where even the best artist gets better/stretched. We saw a student's work, Wilson Kemp, who had linoleum prints which were extrodinary, bold, and beautifully designed. He had come to Hampshire as a photography student (state of the art Mac lab with 3 enormous epson printers there for anyone's use)--and after his trip to Cuba (did I mention that their study abroad program really was about study...it is the real thing with Cuba, China and one other place that Hampshire focuses on)--he came back and was taken with printmaking. He does all of his work at Amherst (knowing the riches that are there) and takes full advantage of the 5 college relationships. There were paintings better than MFA work from Syracuse that I bumped up against. Once again...each person with confidence, excellence and a work ethic that was beyond their years. We saw students working passionately, as if on deadline with themselves...and when Rob and I sat on the commons...what did these students talk about? Sex and parties? NO. Work, and their learning. So, when Kitty and Alex sat in on a class on Neurobiology (which they both loved), we went back to the shop to see about the glassblowing that was mentioned. We were given a tour by one of the shop heads who explained it was flameworking...but the santas workshop aspect of how they (the teachers) were there to help make anything happen. There was a tiny blacksmith kiln that had been rigged to take vegetable oil and the student could get it to heat to 2800 degrees. Another student was going to make a tabletop glass operation (inspired by the medieval furnaces) which was impressive.
Never judge a book by its cover...and at Hampshire, this is certainly the case. It's the beat..the passion, the love of learning and the entrepeneurism that comes from each student having to get out there and get what they need to fuel more learning. It is a fearlessness that I admire in people who are possesses and on a path which is rare in any academic environment--however at Hampshire, seems almost commonplace. I could rattle on forever but time is of essence.
We saw Emerson College yesterday. Emerson is situated at the edge of Boston Commons--an urban campus which has amazing facilities from the high tech studios and classrooms to gorgeous dorm rooms and library. The students are very focused (a professional program) on journalism, film, theatre, theatre production but have the ability to work in any of these areas with student run clubs and productions. This school runs and manages two theatres (beautifully rennovated, old theatres with gold leafed plaster putti and balcomies) with more than fifty productions a year. Everyone gets their hands dirty. They run a recognized radio station that broadcasts, raises funds and even is available on itunes. They run a newsroom and a t.v. station. It is very real. The students we met and saw were nice, focused and also driven by the work in a more conventional way. Not a place to find yourself but if you know what you want...impressive place.
We did a bit of walking around. A trip to the cemetery next to Park Church for me. Wonderful. Being with so many of these carved gravestones was amazing due to the liveliness of the cutting, the repetition of the imagery and yet so many derivations. The lettering was great--with ligatures and corrections to amuse everyone. Kitty and I spied a triple head...one of a skull, a winged cherub and then another head on top of that. There were some other examples not shown in the Ludwig book...from flat stones cut like silhouettes of obelisks, to silhouettes used in the design of regular stones (an urn in particular which served as the base for the copy). Paul Revere was buried there with a column marking his grave where people left stones as tributes. John Adams was there with a rather monumental marker complete with an English style heraldic device with lions/griffins, swirlies, and hands. Will post the images later
We got a taste of Harvard in the morning...walking through the beautiful campus on a perfect cool spring morning. The buds are coming out...the students were on campus...so it really was quite a juxtapostion from Hampshire to Harvard. Cambridge was bustling. We had remarkable hamburgers for breakfast/lunch that made for some fun as it was very much a student landmark we ate at to the delight of the home team. We took the Hotwire lottery and spent one night at the Kimpton Hotel Marlowe and the second night at Kimpton Onyx Hotel in the Quincy Market area.
Both very nice, small boutique hotels that we have stayed in in San Diego and last Christmas in Westwood (LA) California.
Off to University of New Hampshire this morning. Should be interesting.