College Celebrates Fifth Annual Hawktoberfest

On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, St. Mary’s College celebrated its fifth annual Hawktoberfest and Parent’s Weekend. In its latest iteration, Hawktoberfest was concurrent with Parent’s Weekend, which ran Oct. 1-2, and included The Great Bamboo Boat Race, athletic events, live music, lectures, tours, and a variety of other events.

Hawktoberfest kicked off with St. Mary’s third Annual Hawktoberfest Golf Tournament at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station’s Cedar Point Golf Course. Other Hawktoberfest and Parent’s Weekend events included cruises along the St. Mary’s River, tours of Historic St. Mary’s City, tours of the Saint John’s Site, a guided tree and plant walk, and two showings of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” at Cole Cinema. At a hospitality tent by the athletic field, beer was available to parents, alumni, and students of age while the Three-Man River Band performed on Saturday.

Dave Sushinsky, Director of Alumni Relations, said, “My goal is to find ways to keep alumni connected . . . the overreaching goal [of Hawktoberfest is] to help alumni who graduated last year and alumni who graduated 50 years ago to stay connected to St. Mary’s.” According to Sushinsky, the College “never had a Homecoming because [the College doesn’t] have a football team.” The newer Hawktoberfest format is an effort to create a Homecoming style event centered on athletics “that would appeal to younger alumni.”

Sushinsky said that on Saturday Oct. 1,“more Varsity sports [events were] going on than any day in College history.” Said events included Field Hockey vs. Stevenson University, Volleyball vs. Hood College, Women’s Soccer vs. Frostburg State University, Men’s Soccer vs. Stevenson, Volleyball vs. Gettysburg University, and Alumni Baseball and Lacrosse games on Saturday. Sunday’s concluding athletic events were Field Hockey vs. Bridgewater State University and Men’s and Women’s Alumni Tennis.

The 13th annual John R. Petruccelli Memorial Run/Walk/Bike Race was also held on Saturday morning. According to Sushinsky: “proceeds benefit SafeRide; we had 150 people participate, a record number.”

One of the main events was the second annual Great Bamboo Boat Race; competitors were required to build a boat out of bamboo, plastic sheeting, duct tape, and twine using a ruler, pencil, scissors, and permanent markers. After two initial heats, seven teams were eliminated and the final six faced off. Ultimately, Lost Johnson led by Kenneth Doutt out-rowed six teams to win the first place prize.

A successful Hawktoberfest requires the involvement of many departments. Athletics, Student Activities, Alumni Relations, Events and Conferences, and Public Safety all played an integral role in making this year’s Hawktoberfest and Parent’s Weekend a success. According to Sushinsky, “This is the third time we have done [Hawktoberfest] like this. It [has] picked up a lot of steam.”

Kelly Schroeder, Assistant Dean of Students, said, “The Hawktoberfest event brings a significant number of St. Mary’s alumni to campus and gives the current senior class another opportunity to connect with our alumni during the afternoon events under the Hawktoberfest tent.  I would love to see even more members of the senior class attend this event next year.” Sushinsky echoed Schroeder’s sentiment, remarking, “One thing I’d like to see more of is seniors working in the hospitality tent mingling with each other and younger alumni; that way, they might see, ‘Hey, life doesn’t end after College, I can still be a part of St. Mary’s after I graduate.’ … I think they’d also find it reassuring to see these young Alumni doing well because life after College can seem scary.”

Other events during the weekend included, on Saturday, a tour of St. John’s Site, a guided tour of Historic St. Mary’s and its many plants and trees, an art exhibition in the Boyden Gallery in Montgomery Hall, and a Student Government Association (SGA) movie night. On Sunday, Family Weekend concluded with “Toy Story 3,” also hosted by the SGA, following the final Hawktoberfest sporting event of the day against Bridgewater Field Hockey.

While not all campus visitors during the weekend were aware of the planned events beforehand, many seemed to still enjoy themselves. “[My sister] and I both had no idea that it was family weekend when we planned my visit,” said Rosie Hammack, younger sister to senior Ellie Hammack. “Being around and living with students here is definitely a blast. There’s just a very relaxed, friendly vibe at this school.”

Engineering Psychologist Schipani Presents Lecture on Military Robots

On Wednesday, Sept. 28 Salvatore P. Schipani, Engineering Psychologist for the Naval Air Systems Command, presented a lecture on Military Robots at Goodpaster Hall. Schipani, while working for the United States Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, conducted “a series of three field experiments” of the army’s Experimental Unmanned Vehicle (XUV) in order to make “an assessment of operator mental workload.”

Schipani presented pictures of the XUV, a vehicle that resembles a moon rover with a turret and periscope apparatus evocative of Hunter Killer Tanks from James Cameron’s Terminator films. According to Schipani, “The United States Army intends to field a Future Weapons System equipped unit of action by the end of the decade.” The XUV is built by General Dynamics Robotic Systems and is designed to carry soldiers into battle. At this point, one XUV is capable of guiding four other unmanned vehicles, autonomously, over moderate terrain.

Schipani characterizes workload as “the feeling of psychological effort, or the perceived use of a human’s limited resources. . . Natural environments impose significant obstacles to successful navigation by remote systems. Part of the difficulty in storing complete autonomy lies in the inability of available techniques . . . to classify contextual information and store knowledge for later recognition of objects and environmental features.” This means technology allowing completely autonomous (independent) movement of robots does not yet exist. Natural environments are extremely complex, meaning that huge loads of information are needed by robots to analyze everything about a surrounding environment.

In closing, Schipani said, “Without human intervention, any period of vehicle incapacitation most likely equates to mission failure.” Clearly, anything reminiscent of James Cameron’s films is decades away, although the current capabilities of Military Robots are still impressive.

Schipani also authored a paper titled “Maze Hypothesis Development in Assessing Robot Performance During Teleoporation.” In this study, Schipani was tasked with designing a maze to evaluate the functionality of different Urban Search and Rescue robots. The robots were tested in a maze Schipani created as a navigation exercise. Engineers remotely controlled the robots as they traversed the maze. Data was collected on how long it took robots to gain situation awareness and how often they ran into walls or dead ends. The results have yet to be tested for reliability or validity and submitted for evaluation by the American Society for Testing and Materials. However, from the significant results, Schipani concluded that using a maze to evaluate robot teleoperation is most likely a reasonable strategy.

The high points of Schipani’s presentation were his anecdotes about working for the United States Department of Defense. Schipani related a particularly entertaining story about one of the first operational “Bomb Bots.” According to Schipani, the first Bomb Bot was purchased by Army Special Forces from a company managed by retired Army Special Forces Personnel. A team of Green Berets deployed to Afghanistan released the Bomb Bot into a bunker held by insurgents. The Bomb Bot malfunctioned and upended just beyond the entrance to the bunker. After a second malfunction, the Green Berets set it down range and “blew the hell out of it.” Clearly, the capabilities of the United States Department of Defense’s first Bomb Bots are not proportionate to the capabilities of its XUV prototypes, yet.

Hammond Defends Creative Writing in the Curriculum

On Friday, Oct. 1, Jeffrey Hammond, Professor of English and the George B. and Willma Reeves Distinguished Professor in the Liberal Arts, asked an audience of students, parents, and academicians, “What do students really learn by reading Shakespeare, dissecting frogs, or studying European history?” in the annual Reeves Lecture.

In a lecture titled, “Look in thy Heart and Learn: Creative Writing as a Liberal Art,” Hammond spoke of the value of “the study and practice of creative nonfiction” in an era characterized by increasing accountability and a focus on learning outcomes. Due to the increasing pressures from budgetary contraints, colleges and universities everywhere are being forced to justify every part of their curriculum.

Hammond characterized Creative Nonfiction as “literary nonfiction, the literature of fact, the literary essay, the lyric essay, and the creative essay.” Illustrative authors include Truman Capote, Augustine of Hippo, Frank McCourt, and Joan Didion.  Hammond enumerated ten learning outcomes, or “sermonettes,” for the study of creative nonfiction:

  1. Helps students understand the nature of knowing.
  2. Stimulates a student’s curiosity about the world and how it works.
  3. Helps students understand the difference between confronting reality and evading it.
  4. Seeing the value of telling the truth
  5. Recognizing that language is common property and accepting the social responsibilities that come with using it.
  6. Increasing a student’s sensitivity to the power and beauty of language.
  7. Learning to avoid idealized views of self.
  8. Helps students discover who they really are.
  9. An increased empathy for other people.
  10. Helps students to become more willing to take risks and embrace change.

Hammond examined the value of creative nonfiction as a vehicle for writers to examine their quirks, limitations, wants, timidity, interests and other distinguishing attributes. It also allows writers to invite their audiences “to look at something important through [them],” he said.

He encouraged writers to avoid plot tropes in their writing. Similarly, he cautioned against embellishment within the genre. “When it was revealed that large parts of his memoir of addiction were fabricated, James Frey leaned on a writer’s cliché: he was aiming for a truth ‘higher’ than the facts. But when facts are ignored or distorted, is the result really the truth, higher or otherwise? Oprah, who had selected Frey’s book for her club, had every right to nail him after all. The book presented itself as nonfiction.”

In concluding his lecture, Hammond returns to the question of how well his courses help his students achieve these goals, saying, “For now, I can only give a mule’s answer: the only sure-fire way to assess these outcomes would be to see how my students go on to live their lives.”

Professor Saah Presents Artist Talk

October 4th 2011–Chris Saah, visiting Professor of Photography, gives artist talk at Library, 321.

Chris Saah is a Saint Mary’s College Alumnus. While attending Saint Mary’s he majored in philosophy and minored language and literature. Saah said teaching Photography is “a perfect fit for me, I can’t say how much my students have influenced me in discussions their work and my work.” Of his time at Saint Mary’s Professor Saah said, “[I] knew I wanted to do it after his second or third photography class.”

In the past, Professor Saah has endeavored to imbue his photos with “a cinematic quality and place.” Professor Saah presented students with slides of his first major series, titled Nightscenes, and a second untitled series that will be shown at Grimaldis Gallery and discussed his influences and technique, in depth. Saah writes “Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Anontioni,  alone, have had a tremendous influence. Films like Stalker and The Sacrifice, in the case of Tarkovsky, and films like Red Desert and the Passenger in the case of Antonioni.”

Professor Saah was also influenced by the works of David Lync, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. According to Saah, “each [film] preoccupied with a shifting between the conscious and sub- or unconscious mind, and between sleeping and waking states; each poses the questions with a unique and stylistic brilliance, using the frame as a device to project the internal states of their characters out into the world which they inhabit.”

In first major show, titled Nightscenes, Professor Saah shot series of images, evocative of still life images with singular hues; Saah remarked, “all the colors were a matter of washing out and mining the picture” mounted matte image of his work on“3/4 inch Plexiglas with gorilla glue” in a dark gallery and illuminated the space immediately in front of the images using tinted bulbs.

Professor Saah’s Grimaldi exhibition will contain “5 “Untitled” images on my site, and an additional 5 which I am in the process of editing. Each … [image] is a sort of tribute to an influence, and borrows something from that influence . . . sometimes an idea, though generally an atmosphere or mood.” Many of these tribute pieces represent Professor Saah’s efforts at “creating spaces” or cobbling together disparate images to create a greater image. In one of the pieces he showed students Professor Saah said, “The building is from a different state” than the remainder of the composition. Although the disparate images of Professor Saah’s work fit together, seamlessly, to create new spaces.

Before teaching at St. Mary’s Professor Saah taught photography at MICA, George Washington University, Corcoran College of Art and Design and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

When students asked about his technique Professor Saah said, “I Purposely [don’t] shoot or look through the camera.” In a reverb quite like Caleen Jennings and Natalie Goldberg’s  advice to aspiring writers, Professor Saah advised aspiring photographers to “shoot . . . and see how your work comes together.”

Interview with Playwright Caleen Jennings

On Sept. 27, Dr. Caleen Jennings spoke to a gathering of St. Mary’s students about life on campus in preparation for St. Mary’s Hear and Now, her original collaborative play about “ the Black experience” at St. Mary’s.

Jennings stated the Hear and Now will explore this theme by “Creating monologues and getting [students] to perform.” Jennings’s husband Carl said the goal of Hear and Now is “to move towards creating an optimal atmosphere of hope and possibility.”

“Our goal is to engage the campus in a dialogue about what perceptions are [and] what experiences are, from multiple points of view, because I have always believed that when people have an opportunity to talk and to share stories, well I think that’s what we’re on the planet to do” Jennings said.

“I think the University is one of the last places where people can create safe environments to meaningfully experience one another’s lives  and I believe that when people experience each other meaningfully there’s much less [likelihood] to be conflict and strife.”

Jennings is an anthologized plawright and Professor of Theater at American University, on a one-year sabbatical. Carl Jennings is an organization development consultant, applied behavioral scientist, and documentary maker. The Jennings’s connection to film and the performing art extends beyond the nineteen eighties.

Between 1982 and 1983, the Jennings’s worked in Nigeria for an independent television consulting firm “upgrading all aspects of Nigerian television capability management, news reading engineering, graphic arts, [and] production.”

Subsequent to their Nigerian experience, Jennings produced two short dramatic productions akin to her project at St. Mary’s.

According to Jennings, “one was a piece for imagination stage, a performing troupe for people with down syndrome and other kinds of mental challenges.

“I did it just the way I am creating this piece for St. Mary’s”Jennings said. “I interviewed them, I asked them questions like: what’s the most fun thing about your life? What’s the most difficult thing about your life? What would people not know by looking at you? What are the things that present you with frustration? What are your dreams and hopes? And it was just fabulous. From what they told me I created a script called Ascension.”

Jennings also created a piece called Working Wings about “what happens when a person with Down syndrome is hired or looking for a job and the whole thrust was ‘we can do the job, give us a shot.’” Carl Jennings filmed Working Wings and made a documentary detailing the script’s creation.

Jennings characterizers herself as a writer who writes “between the cracks of time . . . I don’t think I’ll ever be a person who’s so disciplined they say, ‘every day I am going to write something.’” Although Jennings “comes at it every single day” when she’s writing a play, she advises aspiring writers to “go into a story saying I don’t know what this is, I don’t know where it’s taking me, I am just going to let just talk to me and I am going to go where it is just for the first draft and get it out and see what I have.” Disparate pages and chapters “don’t have to connect, you don’t know where you are yet. It’s like asking people to make a map of the woods when they haven’t been in the woods yet.”

When asked for a hint about the direction their dramatic production might take, Jennings characterized the students of St. Mary’s as nascent poets. “The wonderful thing about working where we’re working now is people are so eloquent, people speak in poetry and they don’t even know it. On the way back home last night . . . we were talking about the little gems.” Jennings recalled a response to a question she proffered to the students who attended the first Hear and Now discussion when she asked “Give me a characteristic of St. Mary’s College.”

One student answered “a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of white people.”

Jennings said “It’s a wonderful phrase.  There were so many little gems like how one girl said ‘They love black people in Argentina.’”

Dr. Jennings believes the “the best theatre has a little bit of sadness and a lot of joy.” It provokes questions and reflection. Laughter is powerful: “When [the audience is] laughing, literally, people open their mouths they inhale and their bodies are receptive and I think to have those moments where people can just relax then when I pose something maybe a little bit controversial or a little bit painful people are still relaxed and open and it drops right in.”

Carl Jennings was also “stuck by the sense of willingness that exists almost on behalf of all the students, irrespective of the difficulties that they acknowledge exist.

“[The students] experience themselves, predominately, as accepted and want to understand” Carl said. “As a person who just turned 65, it’s troubling to me that our young people are left to have these insights and this awareness when people my age, [and] some who are younger, have fallen asleep at the switches,  so to speak. They are not as engaged or willing to be moved as this group.”

When asked about her December production, Jennings said “We’re staging this in the round with the audience on all sides. This will be St. Mary’s first production, in the round. I think the audience-actor interaction is going to be very exciting and the audience will actually have a chance to make their voices heard. I want to know: what did you hear that was surprising? What did you hear that was interesting? The talk backs are really going to be an important part of [Hear and Now].”

Jennings concluded: “I hope everybody will come, and I hope it will be an experience that will engage them even more deeply in the community because I want everyone to walk away feeling good at the end.”

Dress Rehearsals and Performances of St. Mary’s Hear and Now with talk backs are, tentatively, scheduled for the 2nd-11th of December.

Students Celebrate River at Annual Get Your Float On

SMCM Sailing Club’s Fall Get Your Float On (GYFO) was a resounding success. Students went sailing and learned the basics of  kayaking and windsurfing.

Sailing Club Vice President Andrew Surgent took several groups of students out sailing on the College’s new Condor 300 Trimaran. Music from The Hawk Radio rolled over the waterfront while young scholars relaxed pier-side with friends. Club officers manned the grills and other students learned the rudiments of windsurfing, kayaking, and sailing on what may prove to be one of the nicest days of September 2011.

Every semester, St. Mary’s College’s Sailing Club coordinates with the Windsurfing Club, Offshore Team, and Grill Club to hold a sailing event and barbecue. “Get Your Float On is all about getting people excited about the waterfront,” said Surgent.

“The goal of the event is to get as many people out on the water or floating as you can, and the really sad thing for us is that people go four years here and graduate without going on a boat,” stated Surgent. “Maybe they’ll go kayaking once in four years but they’ll…never go out on a boat or…sail or anything like that.”

Club Treasurer Roger Ding said, “We offer sailing lessons for free. There’s a lot of people who are seniors who say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been going to St. Mary’s for four years and I’ve never learned to sail.’”
Sign-ups for sailing lessons occur at the fall and spring Club Fairs. By signing up at Club Fair, a student will have have a guaranteed spot in the lessons.

Sailing Club President Kenneth Doutt said, “We had a lot of people come down. One of the great things was that we were able to offer people rides on the waterfront’s new Trimaran, the Condor 40, and a lot of people loved the opportunity.” DelMarva Boat Sports also loaned the sailing club several of their paddle boards. Doutt observed that students really enjoyed taking the paddle boards out, “especially after the wind died down.”

The Sailing Club also holds a novice regatta after the end of sailing lessons each semester; past winners of the Novice (FJ) Regattas were awarded gift certificates to the Campus Bookstore. Surgent said a small FJ regatta may be a “coming attraction” at the spring GYFO.

Doutt also said that the spring GYFO “is generally the last day of class and it’s a great way for people to let loose and blow off some steam they have to hunker down and start studying.”

The Cognard-Blacks to Teach in Slovenia Under Fulbright

Associate Professor of English Jennifer Cognard-Black, Liberal Arts Associate and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology Andrew Cognard-Black, and their daughter, Kate, will spend the Spring of 2012 teaching in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as Fulbright Scholars after their first application to the program.

Andrew Cognard-Black will teach within the Social Sciences Department and Jennifer Cognard-Black will be teaching late 20th century American literature and creative writing within the English Department at Ljubljana University.

According to Andrew Cognard-Black, “the idea [of the Fulbright] program is to get academics and intellectuals from the United States to go out across the globe to both represent the United States and enrich the diplomatic ties with countries across the globe, and so part of their interest and part of what they’re really promoting is meeting people [and] making connections.”

Jennifer Cognard-Black said, “the Fulbright program brings American modes of teaching abroad. The way I teach American literature is as important as the American literature itself.” According to her, Slovenian classes are lecture based, as opposed to the American hybrid lecture-discussion.

One of the main goals of the Fulbright scholarship will be the exchange of pedagogical methodologies among their Slovenian colleagues. Jennifer Cognard-Black and Andrew Cognard-Black will integrate American seminar methodology with the lecture methodology that characterizes many Slovenian courses.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland has a long history of academic cooperation with Slovenia; Professor Julia Bates and Professor Robin Bates taught courses in composition and creative writing in Slovenia for two years in the late 1980s. Since then, 12 Slovenian students have visited St. Mary’s as a part of an exchange program with Ljubljana University.

According to Julia Bates, “poets are the national heroes of Slovenia rather than military generals, and everyone likes to think of themselves as potential poets . . . [Dr. Bates] and I did a summer workshop and they were all hungry poets.” Jennifer Cognard-Black said, “Julia and Robin host a Slovenian student virtually every semester and this semester they are hosting two.”

The connection between Ljubljana University and St. Mary’s was crucial in the professors’ applications to teach in Slovenia. According to Jennifer Cognard-Black, “I have to credit Robin Bates. He requested letters of invites from colleagues.” The Fulbright heavily weighs the desires of the host community.

The Cognard-Black’s also valued the connection in their choice to apply. “[The Bate’s] youngest son often spoke of his powerful experiences [in Slovenia] and I wanted to give Kathrine the same experiences,” said Jennifer Cognard-Black.

Jennifer Cognard-Black also hopes to learn about Slovenian women-poets and Slovenian cuisine-literature and incorporate that knowledge in her courses back at St. Mary’s. Their daughter Kate is looking forward to Slovenia’s Bicycle Exchanges, Miliko “Milk Mats”, and excellent hiking trails.

Dr. Ben Click, chair of St. Mary’s English Department said of the awards, “For someone like Jennifer Cognard-Black to receive the Fulbright represents the best intentions of the Fulbright. We at St. Mary’s College recognize how valuable she is; the students here get the benefit of her breath of disciplinary knowledge and amazing teaching skills. But now the people of Slovenia are going to benefit from the same qualities she brings to our campus.”