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October 31, 2006
Simon's Rock announces unusual program with Oxford University

Provost Mary B. Marcy has announced an agreement between Lincoln College of Oxford University and Simon's Rock College of Bard. The agreement will allow Simon's Rock students to study at Oxford as fully matriculated students for one year, and to return to Simon's Rock to complete their senior year and degree requirements.

"It is very unusual and important that our students will live in residence, be fully matriculated at Oxford, and be taught by full Oxford faculty. Most Oxford study programs do not include these features," said Marcy.

Lincoln College is one of the world's oldest academic institutions, founded in 1427. It is also one of the most prestigious colleges at Oxford, and it is noted particularly for excellence in political science and literature, two of the subjects that Simon's Rock students will pursue there. Lincoln has made such an arrangement with only one other U.S. college in its history (Middlebury), but agreed to the program with Simon's Rock because of the strength of the Simon's Rock's curriculum and its highly competitive students. 

Soon after arriving at Simon's Rock, Mary B. Marcy began to work on this arrangement as a way to expand the growing study abroad and study away program at the College. Having earned her Ph.D. at Oxford, she was aware of the unique educational experience that Oxford could give to Simon's Rock students. She is pleased about the caliber of the program that has been established with the two institutions.

Under the terms of the program, Simon's Rock may send as many as five undergraduates to Lincoln College, Oxford, each academic year. Simon's Rock students will be Lincoln College undergraduates, and will have access to all college facilities and resources. Eligible students must be capable of benefiting from the independent nature of study at the college, and they will be selected based on "independence of thought, flexibility and precision of thinking, and ability to discuss ideas critically."

The structure of study at Oxford differs from that of an American university, with more time spent on individual work and on tutorials. Students will prepare discussion papers for tutorials on a weekly basis, and have the opportunity to prepare for and sit internal Lincoln College examinations. They will also hear formal reports by their tutors at the end of their terms, reports that are formally given in the presence of other faculty.

Simon's Rock students have spent semesters and study away periods at many universities, including Waseda University in Japan, University of Legon in Ghana, University of the Bosphorus in Turkey, the University of Cordoba in Argentina, the Free University in Berlin, the University of Freiburg, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and the London School of Economics. They have also participated in related programs in Spain, France, Morocco, India, Thailand, Ecuador, and Chile.

Simon's Rock announces the Rodney Christopher Scholarship Fund
Gift of $1 million donated by Board of Overseers Chair Emily H. Fisher will expand study abroad for students with limited means

Simon's Rock just announced the creation of the Rodney Christopher Scholarship Fund.  The fund was established to encourage students, regardless of economic means, to take advantage of study abroad, study away, or other college sponsored programs off campus.

This fund, established by Chairman of the Board of Overseers Emily H. Fisher, with a gift of $1 million, will give scholarships for study abroad and study away opportunities.  The fund is named in honor of the alumnus who first discussed with Fisher his concern that students without economic means — students on scholarships and financial aide — might be excluded from the study abroad opportunities such as the new Lincoln College, Oxford University program.  To remedy that situation, Emily H. Fisher announced that she would endow a scholarship expressly for that purpose, and she named it to honor that alumnus who discussed it with her, Rodney Christopher ('86).

(At left, photo of Emily H. Fisher and Rodney Christopher by Bonnie Nordoff)

"In my family, education was absolutely the most important thing; that and a spiritual life,"  she said. Of this gift, Fisher added:  "It's a piece of philanthropy that I am more proud of than anything I've ever done, because I thought of it. It wasn't presented as part of someone's strategic plan.  This was my idea." 

How the Rodney Christopher Scholarship Fund was created
Emily Fisher recalls when alumnus Rodney Christopher, at a Board of Overseers strategic planning meeting to which alumni from the Alumni Leadership Council were invited, first mentioned his concern about excluding students of moderate means. He told the group that he was concerned that study away programs might "exclude a whole tier of students," those whose scholarships wouldn't follow them abroad.  "I was a minister's daughter," said Fisher.  "It really made an impression on me."

The next time she saw Christopher, this time at an Alumni Leadership Council meeting held at her home, she resumed the conversation.  After the meeting, having given considerable thought as to how she could make the best impact, she said that she wanted to endow a scholarship and that she wanted to endow it in Christopher's name.

Christopher, who was a W.E.B. DuBois Scholar at Simon's Rock in the late 1980's and was raised in part on welfare, said: "I came from modest means, but I came from a mom who always made me feel I could do anything."  He recalls how important a study abroad experience in Mexico was to him, and that he was only able to do it because of another act of generosity.  In that case, a fellow Simon's Rock student's 13-year old brother, upon learning that Christopher couldn't go on a Mexico semester because of lack of money, asked his parents to donate his own birthday present toward Christopher's trip. 

Emily Fisher, grew up in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, a minister's daughter, and she attended Quaker schools. She was a scholarship student at Vassar College, and she said she always felt very lucky: "I always had this sense that you can never really pay back the people, but you can pay back for the next generation."

Emily Fisher is Chairman of the Board of Overseers at Simon's Rock. Her financial support of and personal involvement in both the physical growth and the educational mission of Simon's Rock have been essential elements in its success.

Rodney Christopher, who graduated from Simon's Rock in 1990, holds a Masters Degree in Urban Policy from the New School in New York City.  Currently, he is the Vice President of the Nonprofit Finance Fund in New York City.

Provost Mary B. Marcy said: "Emily's leadership of our Board of Overseers and her commitment to what is good for Simon's Rock are invaluable. And that Rodney, a talented and engaged alumnus, inspired this gift makes it an even more exciting moment for Simon's Rock." —JM

Science and Mathematics at Simon's Rock
By Michael Bergman

This is the first of an ongoing series of short columns about science and mathematics at Simon's Rock. The columns will be about current students and theses; alumni involved in science, mathematics, and technology; faculty research; and initiatives at Simon's Rock that bear on science and mathematics. Please e-mail Mike Bergman at if you have an idea for a column. (At right, photo of Mike Bergman by Eric Kramer)

The first column concerns the development of a new A.A. general education seminar that centers on science and mathematics, the so-called Science Initiative. The course has several goals: college-wide competency in mathematics; a better understanding of the scientific method; a common science and mathematics experience for all students; and most important, a course that will expose students to the joy of doing science.

Of course, developing and implementing such a course is not without its challenges. Students come to Simon's Rock with widely different backgrounds and interests in mathematics and science. They have schedules filled with A.A. requirements, and faculty have disciplinary courses that must be taught. Ultimately, the biggest challenge will be to develop a curriculum that can achieve the goals of mathematics and science competency and be interesting to a wide range of students.

The Division of Science, Mathematics, and Computing - in particular David Myers, Bill Dunbar, and Don Roeder - has begun work on these difficult issues. We will be soliciting input from other faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as scientists and mathematicians at other institutions. There are few courses of this kind, however, and we hope that this course could eventually serve as a model.

The essential idea for the course is that a scientific problem that students find interesting will motivate them to learn the mathematics and science that they need as they study the problem. The trick will be to identify problems that are interesting, open-ended, and yet tractable. Perhaps a better name for developing this course would be the "Science Challenge"!

Michael Bergman will give a lecture at the next Faculty Forum: "Voyage au centre de la Terre." This event, free and open to the public, will take place on November 2, at 5 p.m. in the Oak Room at Blodgett House.

What are the innards of the Earth made of? How do we know? What is the origin of the Earth's magnetic field? Is it true that the field can flip? Bergman will address these and other questions. What, if anything, do experiments that go on in the Simon's Rock Fisher Science Center have to do with what happens 3,500 miles below your feet? No prior knowledge of physics or geology required.

Bomas, Ngudis, and Shai: A Homestay with the Maasai in Tanzania
By Katharina Kempf '03

Imagine you are in Tanzania, traveling down the one major paved highway in the north. You're an hour outside of Arusha city by bus when the vehicle suddenly turns off the main road and starts going down a dirt road barely visible in the dry landscape surrounding you. You pass the occasional living compound, surrounded by a fence of brush, before finally ending up at the compound of Alais Morindat, the man coordinating your homestay with the Maasai.

You are greeted by Maasai women in traditional beaded jewelry, singing and chanting. Eventually the warriors, a group of men who have been initiated into adulthood but who are not yet married, march in, starting a dance that involves jumping and shouting with the Maasai women. The party continues as darkness falls, and slowly, my friends and I join in the dance.

The first few nights we spent at Alais's boma, or fenced-in-compound. Then, one morning, our Maasai host mothers came to pick us up, and greeted us with ngudis—sticks that had been beautifully decorated with beads for us. I set off down a sandy path with my friends Katie and Nicole and our host mothers. They had gotten water at Alais's compound—part of their payment for hosting us—and were carrying 20-pound jugs on their backs with a strap that went around their forehead. Water is a big problem in Arkaria village, because the closest water source is a half-day's walk away, and then women need to carry the heavy jugs of water back to their bomas. The season I was there was a particularly bad dry season, and their livestock were very affected by it—the cattle could not be milked or bled because they were too weak.

My host mother's name was Natasekwo. She lived in an untraditional rectangular-shaped house with a separate kitchen in the more common round hut. Both are made out of a frame of wood covered in a mixture of cow dung that has been burned to ash and water.

Traditionally, the Maasai boma is a fenced-in, circular compound. Within the outer fence are the round huts in which the Maasai live, and at the center of the compound are pens for cattle and goats. Natasekwo's house was more fancy because her husband worked outside of raising livestock, buying and selling Tanzanite, a precious stone found exclusively in Tanzania. I didn't meet her husband until the day I left Maasailand. Most husbands are more present in their homes, taking care of the livestock with the warriors. Husbands can also have more than one wife; Natasekwo was her husband's first wife, so she lived in the fanciest house, while his second wife lived in a more common round hut.

Natasekwo spoke only Maa, the Maasai language; she didn't speak any Swahili, the language spoken by most people in Tanzania, and of which I had picked up a few words. Luckily, Alais had arranged translators, Maasai students who spoke English, to come around to each boma and help facilitate communication. My translators were two warriors, Mdoika and Rikoyan, who were in their early twenties and who would sit around in my boma with me and we'd make fun of each other or shoot questions back and forth about our different lifestyles.

When Mdoika and Rikoyan were at my friends' bomas, translating for them, Natasekwo and I would have to be more experimental in our communication. I gravitated towards her three children, Upendo, a little girl of two, Endida, a twelve-year-old girl, and especially Retenti, Natasekwo's eight-year-old son. I played a lot of hand-clapping games or tag with them, because it was a lot easier to play with kids without relying on direct communication than to try to talk to Natasekwo. Since I spent so much time with her kids, Natasekwo gave me the Maasai name "Naiho," which means one who is ready to deliver children.

I quickly picked up some words of Maa; these were the words that had to do with the daily chores I helped Natasekwo with. For example, irkeek means firewood, and Natasekwo, her kids, and I would go out to gather firewood from brush and trees in the area. When she was cooking in the kitchen, she'd also ask me to get firewood from the pile outside the door for her.

(Photo above: Katharina and her host family. Her host mother, Natasekwo, is furthest left. Her children are Upendo, the smallest child holding the necklace, Endida, the tallest child, looking in my direction, and Retenti, the little boy in the green hoodie. Natasekwo is holding the ngudi she beaded for Katharina.)

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with Natasekwo and her kids. She would start a fire in the pit at the center of the kitchen hut and we'd sit on stools in the hallway that led to the fire pit. I'd watch her make shai, the traditional Maasai drink, mixing together spices, water, and a little milk, if available, in a pan over the fire. Then she would pour the shai back and forth between two cups to cool it down before offering me and her kids some. While she worked, she'd teach me songs or words or she'd make fun of me by having me repeat the names of her fellow villagers because of my inability to pick up much Maa, and I'd do it until I recognized the names of my friends' host mothers. Smoke would pour out of the door of the boma and I experienced the same problem many of my friends did—we'd have to turn our heads towards the door or go outside in order to keep from flat-out crying from the acridity.

Most of the day was spent with Natasekwo and her kids, getting to know the patterns of their daily lives. For a few hours in the afternoon, Mdoika and Rikoyan would walk my friends Lizzy, Daphne, and I back to Alais's compound for classes. We had guest lecturers who spoke about Maasai culture and traditions, and the challenges that faced them, especially through marginalization by the Tanzanian government. One afternoon, we visited a project that the Maasai were working on—a lake created at the foot of a few hills that would gather enough water during the rainy season to last the village and their livestock through the dry season. This would eliminate the long arduous walk to their current water source and their dependence on the government to help them find an alternative.

I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to living with my Maasai host family, and was sad to leave a week later. When I said good-bye to Natasekwo and her kids, and walked out of the boma with Mdoika and Rikoyan, Retenti stood in the middle of the compound and watched me leave.

Following the week I spent in a Maasai homestay, my group visited national parks, including the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Lake Manyara National Park. These are areas where the Maasai used to graze their livestock. They are pastoralists, meaning they live off of the livestock they lead out to graze every day, and cattle are especially important as a symbol of social status as well as a source of food and income. The Maasai used to lead a much more nomadic lifestyle, roaming through the areas that are now national parks seeking out new grazing lands for their animals.

However, they have had to become more sedentary as they were forced off the land when the national parks were formed. The Maasai have been barred completely from the Serengeti, but certain Maasai are allowed to graze their cattle in certain areas of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The reason they were banned is because they are somehow a threat to the ecology of the parks. The visit to the parks was colored by my experience with my Maasai homestay; land rights and the question of who the parks were for weighed heavily on the minds of those in my group.

This is the kind of thought-provoking experience study abroad can offer; it's an experience I had while participating in the International Honors Program: Rethinking Globalization. This was a year-long study abroad program where a group of students travel to England, Tanzania, India, New Zealand, and Mexico, to take classes in economics, social movements, anthropology, ecology, and environmental policy. I learned from in-country coordinators, like Alais, field visits, guest lecturers, and homestays. My homestay with the Maasai was one of the most powerful and one that stays with me every day.

Life after Simon's Rock, an Alumni Panel

Life after Simon's Rock was the subject of an alumni panel held during Family Weekend, on October 28. Simon's Rock is grateful to the alumni who came to campus to talk with current students and their families about the world after Simon's Rock. This connection to the world of work, graduate study and the challenges of decision making post BA is extremely valuable for current students.

Kirby Randolph '85:
Kirby is Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at University of Kansas Medical Center. Prior to this position, she was in Philadelphia, where she earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation research was on race and psychiatry in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. Before going to KUMC, she held a National Institute of Mental Health Postdoctoral Fellowship in Mental Health Services at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers, New Brunswick, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she also holds the position of Director of the Office of Cultural Enhancement and Diversity for the Medical School.

Rodney Christopher '86:
Rodney is Vice President, Northeast Region, the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). Headquartered in New York City, NFF provides loans, some grants, and advice about the peculiarities of nonprofit finance to thousands of nonprofits nationally each year. As VP, he leads strategy development and implementation, partnering with local and national funders, government entities, and financial institutions throughout New England and New York State. Rodney is a published author, and spent five years in television production at All My Children and Saturday Night Live. He received a BA summa cum laude in Social Sciences from Simon's Rock, and an MS in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from New School University.

Alexandra Shandell '00:
Alexandra graduated from Simon's Rock in 2004, with her BA, concentrating in Politics, Law, Society; Gender Studies; and Arts, Media, and Culture.  After graduation, she moved to Boston and spent a summer working on a grassroots fundraising campaign for the Democratic National Committee in preparation for the 2004 presidential elections.  In the fall, she started law school at Boston University, where she is currently pursuing her JD degree.  While in law school, she has interned with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Civil Rights Division; a private law firm; and the EdLaw Project, an education advocacy nonprofit.  She looks forward to passing the bar exam and starting work after graduation in May.

Omotayo Jolaosho '00:
Omotayo is a playwright and performance activist whose journey since graduating from Simon's Rock with a BA has taken a few adventurous turns. Last year, she traveled to South Africa, where she helped coordinate an international exchange program on human rights and social transformation. Prior to that work, she spent some time in Michigan, doing the work of Alice Walker's "revolutionary black artist": teaching 7 and 8 year-olds how to read in inner-city Detroit. This fall, Omotayo began graduate work with Rutgers University Department of Anthropology. Her ongoing research is focused on arts resistance and the attainment of human rights, particularly in South Africa and her native Nigeria. She is grateful for the opportunity bridge her passion for the arts with her scholarly interests.

Ian Bickford '95:
After leaving Simon's Rock, Ian completed his BA at UC Berkeley and his MA at Stanford University. His poetry and other writing has appeared in Agni, Asheville Poetry Review, Beloit, Colorado Review, CutBank, LIT, Post Road, Sleeping Fish, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. He is currently serving as Chair of Humanities at the Interboro Institute, a two-year college in New York City, while pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the CUNY Graduate Center. Ian and his wife, Lacy Schutz, divide their time between Brooklyn and Pownal, Vermont.

Jenny Fleury '01:
After leaving Simon's Rock with a BA in Politics, Law, and Society in May of 2005, Jenny moved to Manhattan to begin the New York Teaching Fellows Program. She is currently in her second year teaching at Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy in Harlem, and will be receiving a Masters in Education in 2007. After taking the LSAT last June, she is applying to law school this fall, but is planning to defer admission for one year to teach English in Ecuador.

Eli Rood '01:
Eli came to Simon's Rock on an Acceleration to Excellence Program (AEP) scholarship in 2001, after his sophomore year of high school in Portland, OR. He received his BA with a concentration in linguistics in May '05, and subsequently moved to New York City. He's currently working in the Social Work Library at Columbia University and taking classes in anticipation of applying to grad school within the next two years.

See photo of Alumni Panel.