Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Tolkien Professor's Podcasts Are a Smash Hit among the iTunes U Literary Set

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Professor Corey Olsen launched his Web site, The Tolkien Professor, and began offering free podcasts of his lectures to share his passion for the writer’s works and to bridge the gap between academia and the general public. “I wanted to connect with other people who are eager to be included in a thoughtful, literary conversation about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” he wrote in his Web site welcome page.

It seems to be working well. Very well.

The Tolkien Professor podcasts on iTunes U, Apple’s site for downloading free audio files of university and college lectures, have steadily risen in the ranks of the most downloaded podcasts, and on December 19 his intro talk, “How to Read Tolkien and Why,” hit number 3. He has been featured for weeks as a “Noteworthy” offering on the iTunes U homepage ( and keeps company with the likes of an Oxford University series on “The Nature of Argument” and a video on programming for the Mac OS X operating system from Stanford (ranked no. 1 and 2 as of December 22).

“It’s pretty remarkable that he has stayed in the top 20 for so long,” says Nancy Cross, an instructional technologist who helps administer the iTunes U content for Washington College. “I first noticed him at number 17 back at the end of October, and while other lecture series have come and gone, he’s not only survived, but risen in popularity. I think it shows his cross-over appeal.”

Olsen says he’s been amazed by the response from the beginning. “People of widely different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds have expressed their excitement at the chance to be involved in a serious intellectual discussion of Tolkien's works. A lot of people don't get the chance to study Tolkien in college, and even those who did are delighted to have the opportunity to return to it."

The Tolkien Professor site has attracted more than 4 million visits. He figures his podcasts have been downloaded some 850,000 times. He’s thrilled to be proving that good scholarship and popular literature are not mutually exclusive.

Reader comments on the iTunesU page for The Tolkien Professor are effusive: “A family member recently introduced me to this series and I just can’t stop listening. This is such an intelligent discussion of Tolkien’s works but it manages to be really fun at the same time,” writes one. And another confesses, “I can’t figure out how to describe how incredible this podcast is.”

Listeners as young as 12 have sent in questions, a state of affairs that especially pleases the Professor. “I want to be accessible, and if 12- and 13-year-olds are listening, then I’m doing something right.”

The Tolkien Professor Facebook page boasts 1,800 followers, nearly a third of them international. A 12-year-old girl in China wrote recently to share some Tolkien-inspired poems she had written.

Olsen likes the personal engagement with other Tolkien fans. In addition to posting his Washington College lectures, he hosts office hours on Skype to field questions from listeners, and sometimes records Q&A sessions with listeners or chats with students.

From his early forays into Middle-Earth as a grade-schooler entranced by knights and dragons, Olsen was destined to become a medievalist. He double majored in English and Astrophysics at Williams College, graduating with high honors and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, then earned his PhD at Columbia. He came to Washington College in 2004 and three years later won the Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Washington College Alumni Association.

Olsen has taught everything from the Bible and courtly love to Greco-Roman mythology. But Tolkien has a special hold on him. Earlier this month, he launched a new online seminar on Tolkien’s most challenging work, The Silmarillion. The Online Silmarillion Seminar (and support group) covers a chapter a week, and the Tolkien Professor promises that these stories “are even more profound and more moving than The Lord of the Rings,” and will lead readers to understand The Lord of the Rings “in a whole new way.” The seminar consists of a live chat among participants—one of whom is a U.S. Marine serving in Qatar, and the Professor plans to post recordings of those discussions on his Web page.

Tolkien's works really stand out among other 20th-century works of fiction, says Olsen. “He believed that myths are stories that reach beyond fiction and touch Truth itself. When he was young, Tolkien wanted to write a mythology for England; he felt it had never really had a native mythology of its own. What he ended up accomplishing was much more than that. In The Lord of the Rings, he wrote a new mythology for the whole modern world, a mythology for a world that had almost forgotten myth."

Tolkien's works are also fundamentally grounded in Christian theology, Olsen adds, where myths get at the truth of our existence. "This world is not our destiny. That's the reason we feel dissatisfied. Through the mythological world Tolkien creates, we can begin to think about things beyond the mundane world around us.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hodson Trust Gift Will Boost Faculty Research, Economics Professorship and Scholarships

CHESTERTOWN, MD—The Hodson Trust earlier this month awarded $1.7 million to Washington College to fund three strategic priorities. Washington College president Mitchell Reiss says the gift will fund scholarships and faculty research and help the College build the endowment for an existing professorship in economics.

“This generous gift, the latest in a long tradition of support from The Hodson Trust, will enable us to meet a number of important goals identified in the College’s strategic plan,” Reiss adds.

The majority of the gift will add $1.2 million to the $16.6 million Hodson Trust (Merit) Scholarship Endowment, which provides four-year awards to full-time students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, character and citizenship. At present, 49 students are receiving a combined $780,000 in annual scholarship support from the endowment; this year’s gift will ultimately generate an additional $60,000 in annual scholarship funds. “Increasing endowment for student scholarships remains one of the College’s most pressing needs, and The Hodson Trust has been a long and steadfast supporter in this regard,” said Reiss

This year’s gift also provides $250,000 to establish The Hodson Trust Faculty Development Fund, which will more than double the resources now available to faculty for ongoing research, scholarship and professional development. The fund will provide competitive grants for scholarly work on campus, around the nation and across the globe. The Faculty’s Service and Scholarship Committee will administer the fund and make awards based on a peer review of submitted applications. “The personal interactions and mentoring relationships between our professors and students remain a key aspect of our graduates’ success. By helping our professors stay current, vital and actively involved in their areas of expertise, The Hodson Trust funding will nurture the very heart of our mission as a top-tier liberal arts college,” observed Reiss.

Finally, The Hodson Trust has provided a $200,000 addition to the endowment that supports the Hodson Trust Professor of Economics, established in 1977 and recently valued at close to $367,500.

These gifts from The Hodson Trust add a new chapter to the story of a generous partnership that spans more than nine decades.

The Trust, established in 1920 by the family of Colonel Clarence Hodson, benefits four Maryland educational institutions: Washington College, Hood College, St. John’s College and The Johns Hopkins University. Colonel Hodson grew up in Somerset County, Maryland, and went on to found the Beneficial Loan Society, a groundbreaking home mortgage business that grew into a major financial services corporation. An initial investment of $100 grew over the ensuing decades into a trust that has awarded almost $225 million to the four beneficiary institutions. For more information, visit

Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, it was the first college chartered in the new nation. To learn more, please visit

College Gets into the Giving Spirit With Toys, Toys, and More Toys for Local Children

CHESTERTOWN—The Washington College community showed its holiday spirit and generosity by collecting bags of toys for 250 local children from economically disadvantaged families as part of the Adopt-a-Bear program. A Christmas tree in Hodson Hall Commons was the collection point where students and staff piled festively wrapped toys—and some shiny new bicycles—to brighten the holidays for some local families.

At the start of the outreach project, that same tree held 250 paper tags shaped like teddy bears and containing information on a particular child’s age and interests or needs. Students and others on campus chose a bear tag and then shopped, sometimes jointly with teammates, club members or friends. The Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, for example, adopted three “bears” from the tree.

Founded 20 years ago by Easton residents Klaus and Anne Liebig, the Adopt-A-Bear program offers individuals, groups and businesses a way to reach out to the less fortunate in Kent, Talbot, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties during the holidays. Washington College alumnus Heather Tinelli ’94 is treasurer of the toy drive and coordinates the distribution of tags to participating groups.

Beth Anne Langrell, the College’s director of student development, brought Adopt-a-Bear to Washington College five years ago and has been thrilled by the response from the campus community. Washington College is now the largest contributor to the project. The gifts left under the tree are picked up by volunteers each day of the drive, stored briefly in a local warehouse, and then distributed to the families the week before Christmas.

This year’s gift drive was sponsored by the Washington College Office of Student Development, the Service Council, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the sisters of AOII, and the Student Government Association’s Community Service committee.

"I am so proud of the students, faculty and staff for the generosity that is shown each year with the project,” says Langrell. “ I can still remember the first year, when I agreed that we would adopt 50 bears, and I worried about whether we would reach our goal. Now we are up to 250 bears, and the bears were all taken off the tree in the first three days! That is a true testament to the spirit of our students, faculty and staff. My sincerest thanks to everyone who participated!"

In a separate effort organized by Kent & Queen Anne's Alumni Chapter co-chairs Chuck Waesche '53 and Deeann Jones '92, area alumni, along with members of the College’s 1782 Society, brought unwrapped toys to the chapter’s annual holiday party. This year the party was a “Meet the President” event held December 11 in the president’s residence, the Hynson Ringgold House, and included members of the 1782 Society. Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations, Lorraine Polvinale ’69 said more than 120 people brought at least one gift to be distributed through the Toys for Kent County Kids program. “This is an annual community service project for our local alumni, and every year they have given generously,” she commented. “It was wonderful to see the enormous pile of toys under the Christmas tree at Hynson-Ringgold House.”

Pictured, top, the tree at Hynson Ringgold House is surrounded by gifts donated by Kent and Queen Anne's County alumni and members of the College's 1782 Society. Bottom, some 250 children received gifts from the campus community as part of the Adopt-a-Bear program.

Friday, December 17, 2010

100-Voice Choir Returns to Washington College January 29 for Sixth Annual Gospel Concert

CHESTERTOWN–The 100-Voice Choir will return to the Gibson Center for the Arts on the Washington College campus on Saturday, January 29, 2011 to raise spirits and celebrate the life and example of the late Rev. Vincent Hynson, a 1987 alumnus of Washington College and a dedicated community leader in Kent County. The gospel concert will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. in Decker Theatre.

Proceeds will benefit the Vincent Hynson Scholarship at Washington College. Hynson, who died of cancer in 2004, was a beloved Kent County teacher, coach, pastor, and community leader. The scholarship in his name is presented to an entering freshman who is a graduate of a secondary school in Kent County, who demonstrates financial need, and whose achievements and aspirations most closely emulate the values of community service exemplified by the life of Rev. Hynson.

As part of the fundraising event, artist Emmy Savage, who sings with the 100-Voice Choir, is raffling a large pastel titled “Autumn Redbud.” The painting, which measures about 35 by 32 inches in its framing, will be on display in the window of the Compleat Bookseller, corner of High and Cross streets, after Christmas. The raffle tickets are priced at $1 per ticket, or 10 for $5, and are available at Scottie’s Shoe Store, 307 High Street, Chestertown. You can also order them by calling the artist at 410-708-1859 or Susan LaFerla at 410-810-2666. The winner’s name will be drawn during a 100-Voice Choir rehearsal.

To be considered for the Vincent Hynson Scholarship, interested students should submit a scholarship essay and complete all admissions and financial aid application requirements no later than February 15, 2011. Essay instructions and admissions and financial aid information are available from the Washington College Office of Admissions by calling 410-778-7700.

Founded in 2005, the 100-Voice Choir is the vision of Sylvia Frazier, a gospel music producer and promoter who runs S&B Productions with her husband, Bill Frazier. Anyone who loves to sing gospel is welcome to audition for the choir. The annual fundraising concert in honor of Vincent Hynson is co-sponsored by Washington College and the Kent County Arts Council and is organized by S & B Productions. Tickets, at $7 a person, will be available at the door and in advance after January 10th at The Compleat Bookseller, Twigs and Teacups, and Scottie’s Shoe Store, all in downtown Chestertown.

For more information, contact S & B Productions at 410-778-6006, the Washington College Office of College Relations at 410-810-7408, or the Kent County Arts Council at 410-778-1149.

Photographs: The Choir in action during the 2009 performance at Washington College. Emmy Savage's pastel Autumn Redbud, which is being raffled to raise funds for the Vincent Hynson scholarship at the College.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holbrooke Was Honorary Alumnus

The Washington College community mourns the passing of Richard Holbrooke, the veteran American diplomat who received the College’s honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, in February 2002.

Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and to Germany, and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, was the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the war in Bosnia. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. He later served as President Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans during the crisis in Kosovo.

In presenting the degree at George Washington’s Birthday Convocation, College President John S. Toll applauded Holbrooke’s skills as a problem-solver and recognized his “no-nonsense style in dealing with some of the toughest issues and the most volatile situations in the world.”

Degree Citation

One of our most brilliant and experienced diplomats, Richard C. Holbrooke brought peace to the Balkans and played a pivotal role in the war for Kosovo. As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he brokered the deal that resolved the delicate issue of America’s back dues and restored our good standing. In his no-nonsense style, he has dealt with some of the toughest issues and the most volatile situations in the world. Now, as the joint leader of the Council on Foreign Relations’ high-powered task force on terrorism and as president of the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, the former ambassador is bringing his expertise to bear on two of the gravest threats humanity faces today.

The American people have great faith that Richard Holbrooke will prevail: he has been hailed by The New York Times as “a master of impossible missions.” The secret of his success as a problem-solver lies in his vast experience in government and in his keen knowledge of the business world. He understands the importance of corporate partners in effecting real social and political change.

In recognition of his immense contributions in the field of diplomacy, his accomplishments as a peacemaker, and his advocacy for the victims of war and disease, Washington College is pleased to present to Richard C. Holbrooke the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sophomore Gabrielle Tarbert Wins First "Leading Women Maryland's Future" Scholarship

CHESTERTOWN—Washington College sophomore Gabrielle Tarbert is the winner of the Daily Record's first-ever Leading Women "Maryland's Future" scholarship, awarded to one Maryland college student who excels in academics, is involved in the community and demonstrates a commitment to inspiring change.

Tarbert was recognized December 2 in Baltimore at a dinner that also honored the 50 winners of the newspaper’s new Leading Women: Maryland’s Future awards. The scholarship includes a cash award of $1,500 provided by Wachovia. Tarbert’s profile appeared in the Leading Women supplement of the December 3 issue of the The Daily Record, a Baltimore-based publication that covers Maryland’s legal and business news.

This was the first year for the Daily Record’s Leading Women program, which honors businesswomen under age 40 for their “professional experience, community involvement and commitment to inspiring change.” The scholarship acknowledges a college student who shares the same characteristics.

Writing in support of Tarbert’s nomination for the scholarship, Washington College president Mitchell B. Reiss described her as someone who leads by example. “She is an accomplished student-scholar, a leader in our athletic and co-curricular programs, and someone who tirelessly works to promote positive change in the conditions of others,” he wrote. “In sum, Gabby’s example offers us all much optimism and enthusiasm about the future for Maryland and our nation.”

Tarbert’s field hockey coach, Rachel Boyle, was not surprised to see her win. “Gabby takes on responsibilities and excels in what she does, always striving to be better, and always looking to inspire others and give back,” said Boyle.

A varsity field hockey team member and Student Athlete Recruiting Host, Tarbert has combined her athletic interests with her philanthropic ones, joining teammates in their “Saves 4 the Cure” event, which last season raised $3,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She also revamped the college’s commitment to Relay for Life and is currently organizing a full-scale Relay for Life event on campus. She spent her spring break working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Columbus, GA.

Tarbert is a high achiever in the classroom, too; a consistent member of the Dean’s List, she is a member of the prestigious Presidential Fellows, a group of Washington College freshmen and sophomores recognized for their academic talents and promise.

Her many accomplishments are made all the more impressive considering the hardships Gabby has faced since losing her father at a young age. “Life can take a lot of things away from you,” she wrote in her application for admission to Washington College, “but there is nothing that can take away your will to succeed. Our family was broken, but we turned to each and looked within ourselves to make the best of what we had.”

Referring to the 50 businesswomen honored at the dinner, Tarbert said she was “honored and excited to be included in such a great group of women,” and called winning the scholarship a “humbling experience.”

Daily Record publisher and Washington College alumnus Suzanne Fischer-Huettner ’95, who withdrew from the judging panel when she saw that her alma mater had a nominee, was thrilled to see a Shorewoman win this first-ever leadership scholarship. Fischer-Huettner, herself, made Washington College proud when she became the first female publisher of the 122-year-old Daily Record. Her appointment to the post was announced at the Dec. 2 leadership dinner. Fischer-Huettner has risen through the ranks of the newspaper since starting in classified sales in 1996.

In addition to the daily newspaper published five days a week, The Daily Record publishes its website,, plus four blogs, three e-newsletters and a variety of special publications.

Photo: Sophomore Gabby Tarbert is recognized on stage at the awards dinner with Wachovia representative Michele Judman and Daily Record publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, a 1995 alumnus of Washington College.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Students and Staff from GIS Program Join Defense Personnel at Conference in New Orleans

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Students and staff from Washington College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program joined top national-security partners from government and industry at the GEOINT 2010 Symposium in New Orleans, November 1-4. GEOINT is government-speak for geospatial intelligence, which is playing an ever more prevalent role in the nation’s defense.

GIS program coordinator Stewart Bruce, GIS Educator Samantha Bulkilvish and student interns Tyler Brice ’13 and Corey Stokes ’13 were invited to make a presentation and staff an exhibit booth at the conference, which each year draws more than 3,000 attendees in the fields of homeland security, military intelligence, and defense contracting.

The team was part of a conference breakout session entitled, “Filling the K-16 Pipeline with Geospatial Students: Education Challenges and Opportunities.” Bruce focused on the benefits of a liberal arts education for developing the critical thinking skills needed for geospatial analysis. Combining a liberal arts education with geospatial technology expertise prepares students for important jobs in the national intelligence community, stressed Bruce, who emphasizes to his students that GIS knowledge can apply to a diversity of disciplines.
During the team presentation, students Brice and Stokes presented research projects on 3D visualization and feature extraction using GeoWeb3D (from GeoWeb3D, Inc.) and ENVI EX (ITT Visual Information Solutions), both examples of the professional-grade geospatial software being used in the Washington College lab.

The presentation also highlighted specific enterprises of Washington College’s GIS program, such as its “Maryland Offender Management Systems” geospatial data sharing application. By mapping current locations and criminal offenses of convicted adult and juvenile offenders, the program helps Maryland’s law enforcement officials more effectively allocate resources and work together across jurisdictions to improve public safety.

Brice’s 3D model of the Washington College campus, designed with the use of Google Sketch-Up and Geoweb3D, is a project he has worked on since this past summer. At the conference, NVIDIA Corporation donated to Washington College a $4,000 Quadro FX5800 video graphics card that will enable students in the GIS lab to process the 3D imagery more efficiently. Although he is a biology major, Brice believes GIS is likely to play a role in his career plans. “It seems the rule of thumb is, if you can map it, GIS relates to it,” he said, noting that mapping disease progression or toxin levels in different regions could combine his academic major with what he has learned as a GIS intern.

Brice appreciated the opportunity to be at the prestigious GEOINT Symposium, with high-ranking government officials and officers from all branches of the military in attendance. Stewart Bruce says one of the highest ranking of those officials, the Honorable James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, visited the Washington College booth. “We had a unique opportunity to meet key decision makers in intelligence,” he added.

Accompanying the Washington College group were Chuck Benton, a teacher at Dover Area High School, and two of his GIS students there – Alex Miller and Michael Miller. The head of the Technology Department at the high school, Benton also works as a secondary education associate in the GIS lab at Washington College, where he helps design curriculum for the K-12 school environment. Curriculum developed by the GIS team at Washington College is used to teach high school courses at Dover as well as other schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Other colleges and universities that sent representatives to the symposium included George Mason University, Penn State, University of Missouri, Virginia Tech, University of Redlands, University of Mary Washington, University of Denver, and James Madison University.

The GEOINT 2010 Symposium was hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). Both USGIF and defense contractor SAIC provided sponsorship support for the Washington College students, covering the costs of hotels, airfare and meals. Stewart Bruce acknowledged the value of these relationships, affirming that “the support of USGIF and SAIC has been very much appreciated, and we continue to support both of these organizations by working with K-12 schools to educate the next generation of geospatial analysts that are so critical to aiding in our nation’s defense.”

Photos: Top, Max Baber, Director of Academic Programs at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) poses with Washington College students Corey Stokes '13 and Tyler Brice '13. Middle, Stokes staffs the College's information table at the Symposium.
Bottom, Brice's 3D map of the College campus.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Psychologist Lectures on Healthy Relationships

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Dr. Ralph Surette, an adjunct professor of psychology at Washington College, will lecture on finding joy in relationships tonight, November 29 at 7 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, Toll Science Center, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

Surette, a psychologist who has worked in private practice and at the Georgetown University Counseling Center, will offer strategies to improve and sustain healthy relationships throughout life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advertising Veteran Presents "Mad Men in the Digital Age" for Alumni Breakfast

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Ad agency veteran Jack Gilden ’87 will bring Don Draper and his crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce into the modern age at an alumni networking breakfast Thursday, December 9 in Annapolis. Gilden, a Baltimore-based marketing consultant and former advertising agency president will present “Mad Men in the Digital Age: A veteran ad guy's rags-to-riches-to-rags story about the rapid rate of change in business today and how to cope with it.”

The gathering will take place at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, a waterfront restaurant in the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel from 7:30 to 9 a.m. It is sponsored by the Annapolis Alumni Chapter, the Recent Alumni and Student Involvement Committee of the Alumni Board, and the Center for Career Development.

Jack Gilden has more than 20 years of experience in the advertising industry as both an agency president and a creative director. He has represented clients such as Legg Mason, Sprint, Nextel, Severn Bank, The Strata Group, and Aether Systems. Jack is also a noted newspaper and magazine writer and columnist.

Please R.S.V.P. to the alumni office by Friday, Dec. 3 by calling 410-778-7215 and leaving a message, or Reply via email. Tickets, at $8 a person, may be purchased at the door with cash or check. For more information, email Carolyn Fuss Thompson at For directions to the hotel, click here.

Photos: Jon Hamm as Don Draper; and Jack Gilden as Jack Gilden.

Washington College Hosts Battle of the Brains As Computer Programmers Race the Clock

CHESTERTOWN—If you looked into Goldstein Hall on the Washington College campus Saturday, November 6, you witnessed 30 students clustered in threes around computers, typing furiously—when not shooting glances at the clock—with soda cans covering any spare desk space. These students, drawn from six colleges, were competitors in the 35th annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, also known as the Battle of the Brains.

Gary Fenstamaker '13, international student Mariam Riyad, and Kenny Higgins '11 finished fourth locally and 42nd overall in the region.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Michael McLendon presents a balloon to the team for answering a problem correctly.

The contest, which Washington College has hosted for the schools in the Mid-Atlantic region for the past nine years, is a five-hour competition during which computer science students are given eight difficult programming problems to tackle. The problems vary from year to year and deal with topics ranging from celestial navigation to geometry. At any given time, two team members design solutions while the other writes the programming. Once they complete a solution, students submit their solutions to a central site. A correct answer earns a balloon, while an incorrect answer earns 20 penalty points. At the end of the competition, the team which has solved the most problems and accumulated the fewest points wins.

Austin Lobo, chair of the Washington College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, notes that, given the difficulty of the problems, solving at least one guarantees a place in the top 100 schools in the region; solving three or more advances teams to the top 50. It’s an intense and tiring five hours without any breaks, he adds. “We stock up on Mountain Dew and coffee!”
John Massey and William Fielder, members of the Washington College Office of Information Technology, volunteered their time to monitor the network throughout the day to prevent crashes or cheating.

Washington College had two teams coached by Dr. Shaun Ramsey in this year’s Battle of the Brains. Competition to join the teams is not that steep, says associate professor of mathematics, Michael McLendon. “Our students are really doing it for fun and the experience.”

Junior Gary Fenstamaker, senior Kenny Higgins of Easton, and international student Mariam Riyad, a freshman from Egypt, made up one team; they finished fourth locally and 42nd overall in the region. Sophomores Otto Borden and Corey Stokes and senior Dan Jansen made up the second team, which landed 112th overall for the region.

“I personally wasn’t very stressed,” says Borden. “There still are many classes that I haven’t taken which would have been helpful in the contest, so for me this year’s competition was more about getting my feet wet. I still had a lot of fun, and I learned some things that will be helpful for next year.”

For Gary Fenstamaker, the contest was a bit more nerve-racking.

“Most of the time was spent trying to fix our programs and make them right, the other half was spent being hyped up on Mountain Dew, typing faster than we could think,” he says.

Overall, adds Dan Jansen, the experience was rewarding. “It was nice to meet with computer science lovers from different schools and challenge ourselves with these extremely difficult problems,” he says.

Competing with
Washington College students were teams from Drexel University, Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Rowan University in New Jersey, Temple University, and the University of Delaware. At the end of the day, a team from Rowan placed first, followed by a team from Delaware, with Drexel rounding out the top three.

This year’s world finals competition will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

-- Grace Arenas '14

Monday, November 22, 2010

SIFE Students help Food Pantry Clients Budget

CHESTERTOWN, MD—The Washington College chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) worked with the Kent County Community Food Pantry to help pantry clients make better choices about shopping and cooking during workshops held in October and early November. More than 120 clients signed up for workshops, which were funded with a $16,000 grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc,

The workshops included nutrition lessons and recipes from dietician Marcia Yeager. The SIFE students, led by advisors Susan Vowels and Aundra Weissert, helped clients learn to budget and get more from their food dollars. SuperFresh donated measuring cups, and Chesapeake Bank and Trust provided calculators for the local workshops.

Founded in 1975 and active on college campuses in 37 countries, the non profit SIFE network encourages students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations. Students use their knowledge of business, economics and free enterprise to complete projects that improve their communities and/or the world. The Community Food Pantry provides non-perishable food to more than 500 Kent County adults and children a month. It is supported by Kent County churches, service organizations, businesses, individuals and the United Way of Kent County.

For more information, visit

Photos: Washington College SIFE students Ben Jardot, Ben Keaton and Matt Hager and dietician Marcia Yeager helped the Community Food Pantry with its workshops about smart food shopping. Washington College professor Susan Vowels advises the SIFE chapter and helped with the workshops.
Images courtesy of

Center for Environment & Society Helps with Dec. 4 Open House at Wildlife Refuge

ROCK HALL, MD–Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is hosting a special Open House on Saturday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers from the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College will be among the participants offering guided walks during the day. The community is invited to explore Eastern Neck Island and areas of the Refuge that are normally closed to the public. “This is a great time of year to bring your binoculars and learn about local wildlife and island habitat,” says Gren Whitman, president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, whose members will help with the open house.

Related Video: Shoreline Cleanup at Eastern Neck Island

Refuge facilities include miles of hiking paths through woods and meadows, a small natural history/visitor center, ponds, beach access, wildlife and waterfowl observation decks, a watertrail with public access, a butterfly garden (pretty even in winter), a caretaker's house, relaxing picnic areas, bike racks, a small gift shop, clean restrooms and an ample visitor parking lot.

Other groups helping with the guided walks and talks include the Kent County Bird Club, a local chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service . All the tours, talks and nature walks start at the Refuge Office. The bird walk begins at the trail head. It’s a family-friendly schedule,” says Refuge Manager Cindy Beemiller: 10 a.m., Tubby Cove & Boxes Point bird walk; 10:30 a.m., Cedar Point nature walk; 11 a.m., Green Tree Reservoir tour; 12:15 p.m., Tundra Swan talk; 1:30 p.m., Shipyard Creek nature walk; 1:45 p.m., Maintenance “Nuts & Bolts” talk; 2:30 p.m., Duck Impoundment & pond tour. Bookstore manager Jackie Cicconi says she’s offering a 10 percent discount all day, and the visitor center will feature live music and lunch concessions at noon.

This rain or shine event is free and open to the public. ENNWR is located at 1730 Eastern Neck Road in Rock Hall. For more information, contact or To learn more about volunteer opportunities through the Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc. or call (410) 639-7056.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ethical Treatment of Elephants Topic of Talk

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Two experts from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute will lecture on society’s treatment of elephants in a talk Tuesday, November 30 at Washington College. Catherine A. Christen and Peter Leimgruber will present “Elephants and Ethics: Toward a Morality of Coexistence” at 7:30 p.m. in the Litrenta Lecture Hall on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

Based on Christen’s 2008 book of the same title, the talk will explore the history of human perspectives on elephants—as war machines, sources of ivory, and objects of entertainment—and the responsibility of humans to protect the species.

An environmental historian at the Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability, Christen focuses her research on the practice and history of conservation science and wildlife management. Leimgruber, a research scientist and conservation biologist at the Conservation Ecology Center, studies the application of geographic information systems and satellite tracking techniques to the conservation and management of endangered species.

The talk is free and open to the public.

Pulitzer-Winning Columnist Joins Political Expert and Scholar to Discuss Politics in America

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Colbert I. King, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and a panelist on television’s “Inside Washington,” will join scholar Joseph Prud'homme and government-relations executive Fletcher R. Hall for a roundtable discussion of America’s political scene Tuesday evening, November 30. Titled “The New Political Landscape: Looking at the Parties Brewing Political Tea,” the event will take place at 7 p.m. in Room 100 of Goldstein Hall on the Washington College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

The event is sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture (IRPC) at Washington College, which serves as a forum for the objective study of religion’s influence on public life. Panelists will focus on the recent mid-term elections and the impact the Tea Party movement will have on the nation’s political life leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Colby King has extensive experience in journalism, banking and government. Prior to joining the Washington Post’s editorial board in 1990, he worked for the State Department at the U.S. embassy in Bonn. He also has worked as Minority Staff Director of the United States Senate, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Director of the World Bank, and Executive Vice President for Middle and East Africa at Riggs Bank.

King was deputy editorial page editor at the Post from 2000 to 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2003 for his “against-the-grain columns that speak to people in power with ferocity and wisdom.” Today he continues as a weekly columnist for the Post, sharing his thoughts on urban and national life every Saturday. A graduate of Howard University, King is a regular panelist on the ABC-TV public-affairs program "Inside Washington" and a commentator on WTOP Radio.

A native of the Eastern Shore, Fletcher Hall has spent more than 30 years in government affairs and communications in Washington and Baltimore and is now chairman and CEO of F.R. Hall & Associates, LLC. The Washington-area firm specializes in government relations and communications, with a focus on agriculture, agricultural transportation, renewable fuels, and food security for companies and organizations worldwide. Hall was a consultant for State Senator Michael Oliverio in the recent Congressional campaign in the First District of West Virginia. A 1963 graduate of Washington College, where he was editor of the student newspaper, The Elm, he today publishes several electronic newsletters. He also is an advisor to the Economic Section of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington D.C.

Joseph Prud’homme, an assistant professor of political science, founded the Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture shortly after joining the Washington College faculty in the fall of 2009. He and his Institute colleagues have already launched several major initiatives, including an academic partnership with Oxford University, a summer study program at Charles University in Prague, several lecture series on the interplay of religion and politics, and a peer-reviewed book series entitled Washington College Studies in Religion, Politics and Culture. A double-major graduate of Texas A & M with a Ph.D from Princeton, Prud’homme is author of the forthcoming book, Religion and Politics in America from the Colonial Period to the Civil War.

Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the United States. George Washington agreed to have the college bear his name, donated a substantial sum to its founding and served on its Board of Visitors and Governors before becoming president of the United States.

For more information on this event and the Institute, visit

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Brief and Wondrous Visit of Junot Diaz

By Emily Blackner

CHESTERTOWN--With its strongly personal voice and memorable characters, the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, selected as the first-year read at Washington College for the fall, generated talk all across campus, whether students loved or hated it. The same intense style and personality was evident in the author, Junot Díaz, when he came to Washington College on November 8. The author spent time visiting with creative writing students at the Rose O’Neill Literary House on campus, then gave a public reading and talk that evening.

Díaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, before moving to New Jersey with his family. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took many years of hard work to write. “The project was incredibly difficult; there wasn’t really an aspect of the pleasure principle, unfortunately,” Díaz said. “For the most part that doesn’t happen. This book, I just grinded it out,” he said.

“The book has an extremely complex structure so it seems conversational. If you’re interested, you can read it as being told through a fixed set of devices. But there’s also a formal complexity, which withstands multiple readings. That was a challenge to keep up,” he said.

The hard work that went into the book paid off for Díaz. His book won numerous accolades in addition to the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and a spot on the “Best Books” lists of major newspapers such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

He says those prizes aren’t as meaningful to him as they are to others. “I come from a military family; we were not taught to think like that, not raised to learn that one does things for applause. You do it because of duty.

“I won a Pulitzer, which is a big deal, supposedly,” said Díaz. “But I didn’t take a break to celebrate. I’m very much my family’s son, so it’s hard to think of these things as meaning anything.”

Additionally, Díaz remarked that “winning doesn’t mean your book’s any good, and not winning does not mean it’s bad.” There was one award of which he was especially proud, however: the Dayton Peace Prize. “I feel strongly about that because when I was given it, it acknowledged the power literature and art have in humanizing us,” he said.

“That’s how you stop wars, by humanizing. It recognized art as a peacemaker.”

Díaz’s book blends the cultures of America and the Dominican Republic. However, he said that his background didn’t particularly influence his work. “One should remember that there’s this divide. I’m asked to make what is not a legitimate leap. My background didn’t generate this art, my training and my diligence did. It’s what separates who you are and what you do from creating.

“This is not to say the preoccupations in place and time don’t have bearing on our interests as artists, but interest doesn’t get a book done. It requires absolute commitment and training.”

The author was somewhat hesitant about giving other advice to students. “Young people spend a lot of time hearing old people giving them advice. My experience was that I always wanted less advice and more support.”

He did share some thoughts with aspiring writers, however. “Some seem to have a career tack that’s the same as my friends who want to be dentists. They want to go right from undergrad to grad school, in as little time as possible. It’s somehow a problem to take years off.

“Writing is about being in the world, not sheltering yourself from one institution to another. Experiencing the world and connecting to it gives you something to say about it. Real experience comes from being an adult, in a real narrative. The real world is an enormously powerful place to be; it takes strength to be there. And people are dying for news from the world.”

For students who do not want to pursue writing as a career, Díaz offered this advice: “Life is so short that the only thing that makes it worth living is living your own dream. I spent a good part of my life living other people’s dreams— I’m not angry at myself about it. We live in world where a formula is set up for us.”

It isn’t necessary to follow the formula, however. “Ask yourself every semester, what is my dream? Find your dream,” Díaz said.

He also advocated studying abroad. “That’s what college is good for, study abroad. Go to three continents and try to fall in love on each one. There’s no rush,” Díaz said.

In the evening, Díaz read for a full house at Decker Theatre, which included visitors from the community and from high schools in the region. “If you wrote a transcript of me talking, you’d see the book isn’t really how I talk,” he shared with students. “Try saying one of those sentences to someone. It’s a book trying to convince you that it’s someone talking.”

He also told them that he turned to books as a way to understand the world. “As an immigrant kid with a thick accent, I couldn’t go up to an American kid and ask them questions. Since I couldn’t look to my peers, I tried books.” Because of this, Díaz understands the enduring legacy a book can have. “I wanted to be an artist. Will I create something that matters tomorrow? Relevance past tomorrow—that’s what I’m obsessed with.”

Washington College creative writing students were especially impressed by the novelist and his thoughts on writing. Kimberly Uslin ’14 of New Oxford, PA, said Díaz was “the most brilliant, inspirational speaker I have ever heard.” And her classmate Megan McCurdy, a first-year student from Philadelphia, commented that “hearing him read from and talk about his book made me appreciate it so much more. I want to go back and re-read it a few times. … And he inspired me to want to write a book. He’s just awesome in general.”

Christopher Stokes, a first year creative writing student from Sussex, N.J., agreed the author’s visit was “awesome.” “Junot Díaz was the most bad ass, smart, down to earth nerdy author I have ever heard,” Stokes added. “His talk was very insightful and made me look at how I should approach my own writing and novels in general.”

The winner of the 2010 Sophie Kerr Prize, Hailey Reissman ’10, came down from Wilmington for the event. “I kind of wish I could have Junot Diaz there every day to slam life back into perspective for me, to remind me why we read, why we write, why we’re not alone, and why we go back, again and again, to art, to people, to words, even when they can be so dark, scary, devastating, and hard to handle,” she commented. “It was a great reminder, something I definitely needed to hear in college and definitely still need to hear now.”

After the event, Junot signed books for over an hour and spent some time answering questions both from Washington College students and from high school students who had journeyed from northern Virginia, Delaware, and southern Maryland for the event.

This article is reprinted courtesy of The Elm, the student newspaper at Washington College, with additional reporting on student reactions from Lit House director Mark Nowak. For the full online edition of The Elm, please click here.

Photo: Author Junot Díaz visiting with students in the Literary House. Photo by Ashley Carol-Fingerhut

WC Joins Alliance for Advances in Teaching

CHESTERTOWN—Washington College president Mitchell Reiss has joined 70 other college presidents in a voluntary campaign to assess student learning more effectively and to use the data to improve the quality of teaching over the next two years. As part of the Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence in Student Learning and Accountability, Reiss also has pledged to work cooperatively to share information and strategies not only with other Alliance members but also with the public.

Officially announced November 5, the Presidents’ Alliance is a project of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, which was created in 2009 by a consortium of higher-ed groups (the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation). Funding is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Teagle Foundation.

The executive director of the New Leadership group, former Hamilton College dean David C. Paris, says he hopes the Presidents’ Alliance will be a resource for innovative teaching methods that really work. “The real purpose of the pledges is to deepen an ethic of professional stewardship and self-regulation among college leaders,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Teaching is an art, not a science. But there is still probably a lot that we can learn from each other.”

“The project calls attention to the myriad ways in which institutions of higher learning already work systematically to measure results, improve teaching, and ultimately benefit student learning,” says President Reiss. “For Washington College, this initiative allows us to promote the good practices we currently engage in and to celebrate the ways in which our faculty are always enriching the work they do for students.”

For more information on the initiative, visit:

Talk to Probe Causes, Treatment of Dementia

CHESTERTOWN—Jennifer Fitzpatrick, founder of Jenerations Health, Inc., will give a lecture, “Understanding Different Types of Dementia,” at Washington College on Thursday, November 18. The talk will begin at 7 p.m. in the Casey Academic Center Forum on campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

Fitzpatrick will address the many types, treatments, and causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Among the topics she will explore are how dementia can be prevented and how one can cope with a family member’s diagnosis.

Fitzpatrick founded Jenerations Health, Inc., to educate health-care professionals on patient care and to help patient families deal with the many challenges they face. Through the company, she works as an educational consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Maryland. She is an Adjunct Instructor in the gerontology program at Towson University and in the health sciences and business divisions of Howard Community College.

The talk is sponsored by the Sociology Club and is free and open to the public. It will be followed at 8 p.m. by a candle lighting service in honor of loved ones struck with all kinds of dementia, including Alzheimers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tinsel and Lights: Washington Post Writer to Explore Christmas in Modern America

CHESTERTOWN—Award-winning journalist, essayist, and pop culture writer Hank Stuever will read from his latest book, Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present (Harcourt) on Tuesday, November 30, at Washington College. The reading will begin at 5 p.m. at Center Stage (also known as The Egg), a performance space in Hodson Hall Commons, 300 Washington Avenue.

View photos from the event.

Tinsel is a fascinating and hilarious account of the role that the Christmas holiday plays in modern American life. Stuever chronicles the experiences of three Texas families over the course of three holiday seasons, from 2006 through 2008. Following these families from crowded malls and megawatt Christmas light displays to church services and craft bazaars, Stuever explores the impact of the year’s biggest holiday on modern American culture, family dynamics and the consumer economy. USA Today called Stuever’s observations “laugh-out-loud funny,” and the New Yorker heralded the book as “cultural anthropology at its most exuberant.”

Stuever describes the setting for Tinsel this way: “It’s a story about people living in the newest kind of America—a land of new malls, new houses, big churches, easy credit, and freshly built highways.” As he takes the reader through the typical holiday practices of the Parnell, Trykoski, and Cavazos families, he identifies the spiritual, emotional, and material meanings that have come to be synonymous with Christmas.

Stuever has been a writer for the Washington Post’s Style section for ten years and is currently the newspaper’s television critic. In addition to Tinsel, he is the author of Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere (Henry Holt, 2004), a collection of essays about the intersection of popular culture and real life. He is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing, and has appeared on Today, The View, MSNBC and National Public Radio.

The reading is free and open to the public. A book signing and holiday treats will follow.

About the C.V. Starr Center

Based in the Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College fosters the art of written history and explores our nation’s past—particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways, through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visit