Oberlin Blogs

8 questions for 8 Oberlin alums - part 2

February 25, 2009

Joe Dawson ’12

So, who noticed that no less than three Oberlin professors cited 'girls' as their reason for coming to Oberlin? I suppose we were all young once. Here comes Part 2 of 3 in my interviews with Oberlin alumni/faculty. If you missed it, Part 1 is here. You can read them out of order if you want, it's not like Porky's and Porky's 2 where you'll be lost if you haven't seen the first one.

We start today's line of questioning with a real hardball:

4. How did you LIVE without email? Geez that must have been HARSH!

  • "It was absolutely wonderful!  The mail room was a much more central hub.  We would leave messages taped to the outside of each other's boxes.  Going to the mailroom after morning classes was one of the major social events of the day." (John Petersen '88)
  • "E-mail is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, and if one doesn't know about it yet one doesn't consider the lack particularly harsh. When I was a student there weren't any digital computers anywhere on campus, for that matter. No cell phones. I guess in those days we actually visited other people to talk face-to-face. Or used ordinary telephones, or wrote letters and put them in the mail at the post office. In some ways, life was easier back then. When I wonder why I have been so busy in recent years, I think one factor is the hours I have to spend answering e-mail. That didn't use to be necessary." (Bruce Richards '61)
  • "We talked to one another. IN PERSON! And on the telephone." (Bill Friedman '72)
  • "As a matter of fact, we did have email of a sort. During my freshman year four little green-screened terminals could be found on Mudd A-Level. My ridiculously cumbersome email address was something like: SAM7044@oc.vaxa.cc.oberlin.edu. I spent my whole savings on a used MacPlus desktop computer whose word processing program documents were illegible to all printers, and whose finest feature was a built-in handle. Come to think of it, I guess technology has changed for the better since 1992." (Amy Margaris '96)
  • "Well, there was First-Class Mail, mail that went by air rather than by train or truck, ever in the cost was more to send a letter. Because no one had email, we were all equal--equally slow." (Booker Peek '66)
  • "I remember the first time someone showed me email - I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to use email when it seemed easier to just pick up the phone and call someone." (Wendy Kozol '80)
  • "We wrote in cuneiform on clay tablets." (William Patrick Day '71)
  • "Since it didn't exist, e-mail wasn't exactly on our radar screens. We wrote letters, sometimes, and talked on the telephone (land lines, because cell phones didn't exist either)." (Leonard Smith '80)

5. Did Oberlin prepare you for life at...?

... the University of Florida?
"Indeed. Before coming to Oberlin, I had never studied with white students nor been taught by white professors. Because my professors had been at once exacting and exciting, I was academically prepared to study at the University of Florida, and I enjoyed my studies there in graduate school before coming to Oberlin as a professor." (Booker Peek '66)

...UCLA and the University of Minnesota?
"Absolutely. I felt that I was really well prepared academically for graduate school, especially in terms of critical reading and writing skills." (Wendy Kozol '80)

...the University of Arizona?
"I was an Anthropology and Archaeological Studies double-major at Oberlin, with a minor in Geology. The Anthropology department was small and remains so today, but I received an incredible amount of one-on-one guidance and instruction from my professors as a result.  Linda Grimm (whom I replaced following her retirement) and Lynn Fisher in particular took me under their wing. They introduced me to a range of analytical techniques in the lab, and helped get me on three summer archaeological fieldwork projects. Jack Glazier worked with me closely on a senior Anthropology honors thesis on hunter-gatherer societies, food, and ecology. I arrived at the University of Arizona for graduate school in Anthropology with some serious professional skills under my belt, and the themes of hunter-gatherers and ecology figure prominently in my research and teaching today." (Amy Margaris '96) 

...the University of Chicago?
"Absolutely--I was way ahead of a lot of the other people I started with there, both in what I'd read and what I'd been asked to do in classes. Grad school was not a shock at all based on what I'd done at Oberlin." (William Patrick Day '71)

"I learned how to work at Oberlin. I also learned that I needed to go on to somewhere else, to complete my education in a very different environment. But Oberlin gave me a confidence that helped me get through Columbia. I don't think I would have prospered at Columbia had I gone to college there instead of graduate school." (Leonard Smith '80)

...UC- Berkeley?
"I think so. One difference that took some getting used to was the exam philosophy, at least in the graduate physics department. At Oberlin, a student who had studied and understood material in a course fairly well could expect to score well on exams - perhaps in the 90s out of 100. At Berkeley, a good student might score only 35% - the exams were deliberately very tough." (Bruce Richards '61)

...Yale and the University of Maryland?
"Oberlin certainly prepared me well for the community I met at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Although there was only one other Oberlin grad in my class, the atmosphere, the intensity of intellectual engagement, the desire to change the world and the quirkiness and creativity were the same. Now if I had been at a different grad program at Yale, I don't think any of this would have been true. I received a good education at University of Maryland, but felt very stifled by the much narrower focus and interest among students and faculty. I think what I experienced there was characteristic of most educational experiences in the U.S. There is a tendency to separate what takes place in the classroom and scientific laboratory from its larger social and political meaning. For me, context has always been central to my motivation as a scientist." (John Petersen '88)

... the University of Rochester?
"Like my own former students, I felt exceptionally well prepared for graduate school.  I had a very strong background in my subject matter and was already an independent thinker (thanks to faculty encouragement in my courses and in my honors research)." (Bill Friedman '72)

6. How did you find your way back to Oberlin?

  • "Couldn't stand University of Pennsylvania or the idea of university work in general. Then I got lucky." (William Patrick Day '71)
  • "After graduation, I stayed in Oberlin for a couple of years working at a now-defunct print shop, the Press of the Times. During that time, I met someone who teaches here and we maintained a long-distance relationship for about 10 years, while I went to graduate school and got my first teaching job. When a position opened up in the  Women's Studies Program, I applied and was fortunate to be hired." (Wendy Kozol '80)
  • "When I was in graduate school, I aspired to teach in a top liberal arts college. The Oberlin job opening came as a happy surprise. I got my dream job!" (Bill Friedman '72)
  • "I skipped my University of Maryland doctoral graduation ceremony so that I could attend my 10th year Oberlin reunion and did lots of networking with folks in Environmental Studies and Biology while I was here. A year or so later, when I was applying for what looked to be a perfect position at Carleton College, Oberlin Biologist Roger Laushman was kind enough to agree to look over my Carleton application for me. He then suggested that I apply for an open position in Environmental Studies at Oberlin. Although I did not think my background was a very close match for the position Oberlin was advertising, I applied and I guess my colleagues at Oberlin must have decided I was a better fit than I had thought." (John Petersen '88)
  • "With a PhD in physics, the main types of job were teaching at a College, doing research and teaching at a University, or working in a corporate or government laboratory. Teaching appealed to me and to my wife who was the daughter of a professor at the University of Chicago. Having enjoyed the Oberlin scene while a student, I thought that a vibrant college community would be a desirable choice. I dropped in to visit Professor Anderson at Oberlin to discuss what might be some good colleges to which to apply for jobs when my post-doctoral appointment came to an end. He said that there was actually an opening at Oberlin at that time. So I interviewed for the job and got it." (Bruce Richards '61)
  • "Even in relatively good times (1989, when I finished my Ph.D.), European history is not a seller's market.  I came back to Oberlin because they offered me an excellent, tenure-track job. My history teachers had departed, which means they were not the people who hired me.  This made it easier to return as a full-fledged adult and as a professional." (Leonard Smith '80)

Part 3 includes these professors' thoughts on creativity and collaboration with students.

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