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Every Eph a Teacher

What is the cheapest way to expand the number of classes that Williams offers? Encourage the many non-faculty members to offer courses in their areas of expertise, first during Winter Study and then, perhaps later, during the regular semester.

As a concrete example, consider longtime friend of EphBlog justin adkins, Assistant Director, Gender, Sexuality and Activism at the Davis Center. justin, using a syllabus along these lines, could give a wonderful course on racial justice next January. It might not be the most popular class during Winter Study, but I have no doubt that a dozen or so students would sign up and have a great experience.

But justin is just one among many Eph administrators who could teach Winter Study classes in their areas of expertise. How about Meg Bossong ’05 on sexual assault or Chris Winters ’95 on data analysis and higher education? None of these folks should be forced to teach a class, of course. But I bet that the vast majority, and a dozen or more others, would jump at the chance if Adam Falk suggested it. Recommended slogan:

Every Eph a Teacher

The benefits of such a program are almost too numerous to mention. There might be some pushback from the more guild-protecting members of the faculty, but nothing that could not be overcome, at least for Winter Study classes. Would any readers be against this idea?


Star Wars Week: Episode 1

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on Friday and is rapidly consuming the cultural oxygen. EphBlog is not a Force-free zone, and so we’re featuring a series of Williams College/Star Wars crossover posts.

Let’s start with EphBlog contributor and Associate Professor of Mathematics Steven Miller. As part of the Winter Study course Mathematics of Legos, Prof. Miller has spearheaded the world-record construction of a Lego model of a Super Star Destroyer, bringing the record into Eph hands last January:

A team of 59 Williams College math students and about 10 Williamstown Elementary School students managed to assemble a 3,152-piece LEGO Star Wars model — the Super Star Destroyer — in 9 minutes and 31 seconds…

It was compressed pandemonium. In the center of each table there seemed to be a spinning tumbleweed of a dozen hands slapping small plastic bricks together again and again.

After 9 minutes, 31 seconds, the universe’s most dangerous Imperial battle cruiser was intact and ready for flight.

Williams College freshman Kent Blaeser, of Boxford, said he heard about last year’s attempt before he had even applied to Williams, and it helped attract him to the school.

“It’s a college where they do cool stuff and projects like this are a prime example,” he said. “I’m glad I go to be part of this, and that we got to break the record this year.”

“And who doesn’t want to break a world record,” added Williams freshman Jack Lee, of Larchmont, N.Y.

Assembly of the Super Star Destroyer.  Credit: Record Photo Editor Christian Ruhl.

Assembly of the Super Star Destroyer. Credit: Record Photo Editor Christian Ruhl.

Prof. Miller’s Mathematics of Legos page also features this X-Wing, that he describes as having been built “from the bucket of LEGO bricks I saved from my childhood.”

X Wing

Prof. Miller’s course highlights the wonderful nature of Winter Study. It’s true that a full semester mathematics course on combinatorics could incorporate a Star Wars themed speed-build project, but that would be an unlikely main goal. And a full semester course couldn’t use the lure of Lego construction as effectively to engage students from outside the Mathematics and Statistics department — something that can be done during Winter Study.

As Prof. Miller explained:

The Winter Study class “is a chance to reach a different audience and teach students something they might not have thought of earlier,” says Miller, who runs a popular math riddle website ( and works with the SMALL Undergraduate Research Project, a nine-week summer program at Williams that brings together undergraduates from around the globe to investigate open research problems in mathematics. “I want students to be exposed to some types of thinking that are not on their radar screens. Some things, in the real world, nobody would do the way they’re taught in books.”

But back to Star Wars. Just how big is that “real-world” Super Star Destroyer that they built the model of?
People obsessed with Star Wars put a lot of time into questions exactly like that. One good estimate is from a blogger at, which pegs it at about 13.5km in length. So if you set the nose down on the Williams Inn, facing west, and laid the Super Star Destroyer more or less along Route 2, the tail would be about 1000 meters past the Hairpin Turn, overlooking North Adams.

Anyone have some Photoshop skills to illustrate that?


SPEC 21 Experience in the Workplace

Most interesting change in the Williams curriculum over the last decade (other than the addition of the major in statistics)? Perhaps the rise of internships during Winter Study. See SPEC 21 Information Sessions: Experience in the Workplace: an Internship with Williams Alumni/Parents.

Over the years more and more Winter Study courses have been developed to help you understand and gain experience in the world of work. While these immersive experiences require intellectual reflection, research, and writing, they also have substantial field work components that offer wonderful opportunities to gain valuable insight into professional life.

See here for a listing of the available courses. There is a meeting today at 12:30 at OCC to discuss these offerings. Highly recommended! Comments:

1) I think that recently retired OCC Director John Noble was the leading force behind the increase in internships. Does anyone know the full story? Kudos to him! Internships during Winter Study are a great idea.

2) My understanding is that the faculty has been mostly negative to this change, fighting Noble (and others) over every increase, not considering the program to be “academic” enough for course credit. Any faculty member who would prevent students from doing meaningful internships during Winter Study does not really have the best interests of those students at heart.

3) Several EphBlog friends appear in that course listing, including Shamus Brady ’04, Reed M. Wiedower ’00 and David Kane ’88. All are highly recommended! Note, especially:

WHO: David Kane ’88
David Kane is a quantitative portfolio manager in Boston. Over the last decade, he has hired more than 20 Williams summer interns and published several academic papers and R packages with Williams students and alumni. He has taught a Winter Study course in quantitative methods three times. He is a regular contributor to the Record op-ed page.
WHERE: Boston, MA
WHAT: Programming finance-related projects using R. Or working on some technology project related to Williams. Examples include major additions to the Williams Wikipedia page or significant enhancements to WSO.
APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS: Resume and cover letter. Please give examples of your work using R. If you do not already know R, this is not a good internship. Or a description of the Technology/Williams project you would like to pursue.


“Experience contemporary Egypt”: Julia Morgan-Leamon and Winter Study Art 25 …

So you’ve got the Winter Study coming up. What to take, who to take it with?

Hey, ART 25 looks good:
Julia Morgan-Leamon

ARTS 25 Drawing and Painting in Egypt  Julia Morgan-Leamon
Students will explore ancient Egypt through guided tours of the East and West Bank temples and tomb paintings; they will experience contemporary Egypt through cross-cultural dialogue with the Egyptian students and other local artists. Along with completing art assignments and participating on tours, students will document their experiences visually and in writing in sketchbook form.

And, indeed, they did!

See Morgan-Leamon’ sketch book. and view a video

(Thanks to Parent ’12 for suggesting this from materials on the Williams site.)

Julia Morgan-Leamon is a painter, installation artist, and media producer. She received her MFA in Visual Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her BA in Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. In 2009, she was one of 25 international artists invited to participate in the Luxor International Painting Symposium and residency.(from college bio)


“No small advantage…” Winter Study edition

Writing in the Albany Times-Union’s Outdoors blog, Herb Terns provides some great pictures and a nice account of his recent cross-country ski outing to the top of Mt. Greylock:

My trip started out at the visitor’s center on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough. The center is a comfortable place with a fireplace, nice view of the Taconic Range and a big relief map of Mt. Greylock itself.

Read more


Dead Week Discussion

Winter Study ended last Thursday.

1) Note that Winter Study this year went through Thursday whereas last year (and in previous year’s?), it ended on Wednesday. Why the change? I think that this was a result of the faculty meeting last spring which extended Claiming Williams for another year. The part of the faculty that was suspicious of Claiming Williams decided that it did not like giving up a day of instruction for the exercise. There was no easy way to add that day “back in” to the second semester, so they extended Winter Study by one day.

2) Did any students notice/care that Dead Week was one day shorter? Did many (any?) Winter Study classes actually meet on that last Thursday?

3) Claiming Williams is this Thursday. My predictions last year were wrong. Hundreds (over 1,000?) students participated in the events, including ludicrous Tim Wise. Shows what I know about student preferences! But what will happen this year? Here is the schedule. Which events do you recommend? Which do you think will be most popular?

4) Although I have not seen it, I recommend In Our Own Words.

This 2009 documentary film explores Williams student experiences with socioeconomic class, race and ethnicity, the treatment of women on weekends, and the first-year/Junior Advisor (JA) system.

This 80-minute film offers an insider’s glimpse into the perspectives and experiences of Williams students. Produced by the Williams Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity in 2009, the film uses clips from focus groups and interviews to reveal four areas of concern: socioeconomic class, race/ethnicity, the treatment of women on weekends, and the first-year entry/Junior Advisor system. A 20-minute discussion led by producer Dr. Christina Cruz follows the film.

Here is the e-mail that I sent to the Claiming Williams organizers.


I, and other alums, would like to view In Our Own Words. Unfortunately, we are not going to be on campus during Claiming Williams. Would it be possible to view it some other time? Or remotely?


Dave Kane ’88

They haven’t responded yet. Do you think they will?


Group photo – Thaler ’74 winter study

Families' Potluck with Students

Here are members of all of the host families and Williams students, and their instructor, at a recent pot luck held at a YMCA. People in the photo are from such diverse places as Cambodia, Somalia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Thailand, the Congo, El Salvador, Ecuador, Montana, Iowa, Virginia, the Bronx, and rural NY and Connecticut (oh yes, and Maine).



Nice photos (and recipes) from Prof. Allison Pacelli’s Winter Study baking class. More if you scroll down her blog.

(via @WilliamsCollege)


Please Tweet Winter Study Course Advice to #ephblog

This is our second Twitter experiment. (First here.) Course registration for Winter Study is going on from October 21 to 25. Twitter uses should tweet advice for current students with the hashtag #ephblog. Non-twitter readers should provide advice in the comments. What Winter Study class did you take? How did you like it? What advice do you have?

My advice: Take my Winter Study class, SPEC 29: Applied Data Analysis.

By the way, any advice and suggestions on these Twitter experiments (what to put in the title of the post, how to use the hashtag, and so on) would be appreciated. I know nothing of Twitter.


Snow Sculptures on Baxter Lawn

Professor Frank Morgan took this video of the Snow Sculpting competition, which Willipedia says was brought back this year by College Council:

If the video doesn’t work for you, try clicking on the following link: Original Video

Our President, Dick Swart, is not impressed, because here’s how he remembers the snow sculptures they built back when he attended college, during the last Ice Age.



Everyone Goes to White Castle

Change is coming to Williams in 2009!  Or, rather, wafting in.  Come January 20, marijuana will be effectively legalized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Berkshire County DA David Capeless admits as much to the NYT today, in the process of bitching about the insuperable enforcement challenges presented by the recently-passed decriminalization measure.

To recap: anyone caught with an ounce or less of weed will owe nothing more than a $100 civil fine.  No arrest.  No criminal record.  No criminal anything.  But it gets better!

A complicating factor, said Mr. Capeless, the district attorney in Berkshire County, is that state law bans the police from demanding identification for civil infractions.

“Not only do you not have to identify yourself,” he said, “but it would appear from a strict reading that people can get a citation, walk away, never pay a fine and have no repercussion.”

That’s one way to hit Johnny Lawman where it hurts.  A further complication affects Williams less than, say, MCLA in nearby North Adams.

Mr. Capeless said that in particular the department needed to address a clause in the new law that said neither the state nor its “political subdivisions or their respective agencies” could impose “any form of penalty, sanction or disqualification” on anyone found with an ounce or less of marijuana.

“It appears to say that you get a $100 fine and they can’t do anything else to you,” he said. “Can a police officer caught with marijuana several times get to keep his job and not be disciplined in any fashion? Can public high schools punish kids for smoking cigarettes but not for having pot?”

Either way, pot-smoking Ephs are likely to feel a lot more comfortable by the end of Winter Study.

The decriminalization measure passed about 65-35 back on Election Day.


Winter Study-The Cold Hard Facts, Please

One of the comments posted on “Speak Up!” raises some interesting points about Winter Study. Parent ’12 says:

I have one idea for a topic, which relates to David’s posts and examples for cost cutting. Up front I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating for this.

How much would be saved if the Winter Study Program didn’t exist? I thought of this because I believe the college is attempting to save on utility bills over part of the December break by turning off heat in buildings. Obviously, there’s more to save than utilities, but what would it be?

All good questions, and ones that will surely inspire commentary. But they are also questions that made me realize how little I know about Winter Study.

My son has led me to understand that the primary objective of WSP is to have the opportunity to approach new and exciting subject matter, under the less stressful conditions imposed by a pass/fail grading system. I know he did exactly that his Freshman year and enjoyed it, and that he looks forward to the upcoming WSP. But that isn’t a lot of information.

A preliminary search then led me to Willipedia, which provided (in what I have come to know as the Willi style) a plethora of humorous (and opinionated) particulars. Some highlights:

*”The courses […] may seem silly and frivolous…”
*”You have a lot more free time…”
*”Get outside and play in the snow. If you don’t, you’re pathetic.”
*”…the main purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.”

All…ahem…interesting comments, but I still didn’t have a clear idea of WSP.

So next, I paid a visit to the Williams website and the 09 WSP course catalog. There I saw classes ranging from “Knitting” to “Opera Workshop”, from “Boxing” to “Work of the Supreme Court”. While all enticing choices, they present such a wild variety as to leave me with even more questions. What exactly is Winter Study? How did it come about? What are it’s main objectives? How do we consider cutting something, unless we have a clear idea of it’s value to the students?

The fact that it’s in the dead of winter, indicates that doing away with it could save a lot of energy costs (as P’12 implies) while providing an extended break to students (and professors) at a time when the cold, gray days of a Berkshires winter might well be weighing on their psyches. Unless of course, there is very real value in taking a class where the emphasis is on the pleasure of learning, rather than achieving a perfect grade.

So, with all this in mind, I’d like to hear from you. What were your most memorable Winter Study experiences? And, is it a program the college should consider cutting? Or is it, in fact, an indispensable part of a Williams education?


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