11/29/2021 Staff

Lux et Hope in a Dreary World

This magazine article is part of Spring 2021 / Issue 96
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It’s the first warm, sunny day on Hartman Green after a frigid winter. A fresh breeze blows as Frisbees and footballs fly through the air. Students laugh with friends while sitting on blue Adirondack chairs, music blaring from nearby laptops. The campus is bustling with energy and the feeling of community.

The scene plays out every year at Franklin & Marshall College, but this year is different. The only sound on Hartman Green on this day is a squirrel climbing up the majestic trunk of an oak tree near Steinman College Center, acorn in tow. Many classes are meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many students are on campus, they are physically distancing from others and wearing masks. Hundreds remain at home.

Like thousands of other U.S. colleges and universities, F&M faced a challenging fall semester unlike any other in the College’s history. Prior to the academic year, the question was asked by many: Should we open campus this fall? The answer, after months of hard work by faculty, professional staff, administrators and students, was a resounding ‘yes.’ But it looks—and feels–like a different place than it was a year ago.

For many, the academic year has brought forth success stories that have been a beacon of light in a dreary world. Students have found new ways to gather and find community. Faculty members have developed methods of teaching that may continue long after the pandemic. Professional staff are meeting challenges in every corner of campus. And alumni are making contributions to the world in creative and profound ways. The following accounts represent a community that has come together for a successful academic year in the most demanding of times.

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Braden Muscarello ’21

I remember the mood of the first weeks on campus: Zoom meetings filled with mutterings of “we’ll be home in a week” and “don’t bother putting posters up.” I had doubts about the success of what would be my last fall semester at F&M, and as the president of Brooks House Congress, I heard these sentiments echoed in all the class years. But with every passing week, we embraced our new situation more and more. Cynicism turned to joy at events such as socially distanced pumpkin painting and downtown ghost tours. This was not the semester we expected, nor deserved. But in these times of testing, distancing and Zoom classes, we managed to pull together the most important parts of college and create a makeshift home-away-from-home. I take heart in that the first-year students I know were saddened to be leaving campus instead of relieved—the same way I felt leaving for winter break three years ago.


David McMahan

Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies

I am among what I would guess is a majority of F&M professors who, just months ago, would have considered the very concept of online courses at F&M to be anathema. So I reluctantly admit that my hybrid courses went surprisingly well. I had two sections of a CNX 1 course, having agreed at the last minute to take on extra one. I was on sabbatical last spring so had no experience of online teaching, and I approached the term with dread. There were ups and downs: moments of befuddlement in executing the 12 steps to get the tech working in the classroom; getting used to looking in the right direction to address my online students (don't look at the overhead screen, which shows them the back of your head!); and struggles with hearing each other outside on the grass, spread apart and masked. But the students were great. Maybe I just got lucky with these two groups, but they were genuinely enthused to be working through dense texts from Plato, Epictetus, Lao-tzu and the Buddha, as well as modern psychologists and philosophers. Most really seemed to have the sense that, in this moment of global crisis, we were here to think together about our lives, about the political situation, and about the human condition. Many also seemed truly grateful that their professors were overcoming their own challenges to bring them some semblance of a college experience. I have not had this many expressions of appreciation and gratitude at the end of any other term.


Sue Mennicke

Director of International Programs

Although the pandemic forced us to retool our education in a way none of us planned, it has been amazing to see how students and faculty alike have risen to the challenge and created something really special. We so look forward to having these incredible students with us on campus, but in the meantime, we are learning much that is valuable about engaging students as individuals within a cohort.


Hannah Connuck ’23

I am a ​sophomore​ excited to be back on campus after a grueling semester from home. Despite all the challenges, I had a chance to get involved in ways that I was too nervous or busy to participate in while on campus. I ran for and was elected treasurer for three wonderful student organizations, I reached out to professors about research, I was fortunate to be chosen as a Marshall Fellow, and I am making plans to study abroad in 2022! I was able to build on the connections and friendships that I made during my first year and feel the reach of the F&M community from across the state. This year has been difficult, and there will undoubtedly be more difficulty to come, but the people are what make F&M.


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Lisa Gasbarrone

Professor of French, Brooks College House Don

When students moved into Brooks College House in late August, no one was sure what to expect. They arrived in small numbers, everyone masked, coming directly from testing and into quarantine at Brooks, where the motto is Small Rooms, Big Hearts. What happened over the next several weeks was nothing short of remarkable. Brooks students adjusted to college life: demanding courses, a module system, hybrid learning, quarantines, socially distanced versions of bagel breakfasts and Sunday Night Sundaes, and endless hours on Zoom. Gradually, it became clear that we would make it through the first module and into the second, and students began to make friends. On campus. Even over Zoom. It wasn’t easy. Brooks House was far quieter than usual. There were rough patches. But a sense of community emerged in activities ranging from shared classes, to online lectures, panels, and workshops, and just sheer fun, like kickball (in the rain) or Frisbee golf. We held a House induction ceremony on Sponaugle-Williamson Field. We decorated the House for Halloween. Students rose to the challenge. Against the odds, Brooks House felt like home.


Carol de Wet

Dr. E. Paul & Frances H. Reiff Professor of Geosciences

I did a field-based exercise via walking to the Spalding Conservancy near F&M’s Baker Campus. Remote students walked to a park near their home. I also ran a coral experiment where I mailed the remote students the materials they needed, they mailed their sample back to me and then used our department’s Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) via Zoom to analyze the result of their experiments. The in-person students did the experiment in their rooms and met with our research specialist at the SEM (one or two at a time so all safety protocols were maintained). Both of these experiences took considerable work and planning, but ultimately were very important to the students and to the quality of my course.


David Merli

Associate Professor of Philosophy

I'm using our time blocks to meet in smaller groups, with a lot of focus on discussion and room for conversations to range more widely. With fewer people in the (virtual) room, they've really come through with smart, funny, thoughtful and touching perspectives. Everyone contributes, and the students who would usually stay quiet have been so great. I know students are stressed, but they're also responding like champs, and I've seen so much good from them that I wouldn't see in a 25-person classroom. It’s funny that being at a physical distance has created a more intimate learning space.


Mary Ann Levine

Professor of Anthropology, Bonchek College House Don

I began the fall semester with something of a heavy heart not knowing what the collective impact racial justice protests, a global pandemic, and challenge to our democracy would have on our community in Bonchek College House. House-based programs designed to nurture talent, instill a sense of belonging, build community, and spark dialogue would all need to be reimagined. Bonchek’s Cultural Heritage Festival, an evening dedicated to celebrating, honoring, and expressing our diverse cultural heritage through food, music, and cultural practice would need to be creatively re-envisioned. On a beautiful night, students dined outside savoring individually wrapped grab-and-go Ethiopian Sambusas, Greek Spanakopitas, and Nepalese Momo Dumplings. This was followed by a virtual program that could be viewed from anywhere in the world as well as in our newly configured great room with socially distanced seating. Bonchekers watched videos from students on our Shanghai and Bath programs and enjoyed a Ukranian poetry reading, West African and Caribbean storytelling, Senegalese music, and a Kahoot on global cuisine. With one successful hybrid program under our belt, we forged a new path forward. I ended the semester inspired by the creativity, resilience, and grit of students determined to make the most of an unenviable situation.


Fronefield Crawford

Professor of Astronomy

For my senior advanced lab astronomy course, I was fortunate to have only six students, all of whom were on campus, making an in-person attempt feasible. The course went quite well, with very good performances by all students and with regular meetings in the lab to work on projects. It has gone about as well in terms of student engagement and performance as any version of this course in the last decade. That was unexpected.

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Kate McBride ’24

I was unsure about the feasibility of living on a college campus during a pandemic; fears of isolation, contracting the virus, and loss of motivation were intense, to say the least. As I made myself at home in Bonchek, my uneasiness dissipated almost immediately. Although we were unable to mingle under normal circumstances, I still found a crew of like-minded, amazing friends. Bonchek provided fresh, creative ways in which we were able to bond with one another, while still remaining completely safe; the weekly Common Hours and bagel breakfasts, the Cultural Heritage Festival, the election night coverage, and the ice cream socials on the patio allowed members of Bonchek to form meaningful relationships with one another. Academically speaking, I found it surprisingly natural to remain engaged and motivated throughout my courses. The professors proved themselves to be nothing short of remarkable. We all were treading in uncharted waters this fall, and my professors still managed to foster an engaging, useful educational environment.


Beatriz Caamaño Alegre

Associate Professor of Spanish

Even though a Zoom class has many limitations compared to an in-person class, I'm happy I learned to manage it—and I’m more resourceful now. I also became interested in doing educational videos. I asked my students to do Booktube videos instead of average presentations and I had to make one myself as a model. I really enjoyed it (and I hope my students did, too!). I would like to give a huge thank you to the Information Technology Services (ITS) team. I can't imagine what it must have been like for them to have to help faculty move all courses online in just two weeks last year, try to fix everyone's internet connection issues, and then work the whole summer preparing classrooms for blended learning and providing support once classes started. They did all that while answering all our usual technology questions. I really appreciate the hard work of ITS.


Gyana Guity ’24

I know it was difficult for F&M to figure out how first-year students could have a fun and exciting first semester, but I’m so proud of what the school was able to do. They had already shocked me by keeping the school open while others in Pennsylvania and across the country were shutting down. But the most important thing was how well F&M treated first-year students. I was exposed to various opportunities, programs, and built connections while balancing school life with online and in-person classes. COVID-19 might have been a scary barrier, but the College was able to face it and make sure students were able to safely stay on campus.

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