An interview with the Shers: What to expect in your first year at Evergreen

Editor’s note: We asked Adam Sher ’02, and his father, Gerson Sher, to share the story of Adam’s first quarter at Evergreen. Add your experience in the comments and help new students and parents learn about transitioning to Evergreen’s educational approach. 

Gerson: As a former Greener parent, I think there are a lot of parents out there of incoming Greeners who might want to hear about not only the high points of their children’s experiences, but also the lows, and especially some of the lows that are more typical of Evergreen. Adam, you have said that in your first quarter, especially, you had some tough challenges in adjusting. But before we go into that, let’s go back and set the stage with your reaction to your high school experience.

Adam: OK. I went to McLean High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, in one of the supposedly finest public school systems in the country. It was terrible. I hated high school. I hated the whole approach to education – the rigidity, the mass-production style, the teaching to the test, the useless information, the senseless rules and discipline. I was turned off to education and to all the super-achievers and over-achievers who were college-bound. I was not at all sure that I wanted to go to college at all.

Gerson: Yes. As I recall, you had something like a 2.4 GPA and we got periodic recorded calls from the school system informing us that you had once again not showed up for class.

Adam: That’s right.

Gerson: But you performed spectacularly on the SATs, even though you made a show of not even trying. Did that surprise you?

Adam: No. I love learning. I love reading. I have always done it on my own terms. And high school prevented me from doing that.

Gerson: So, what changed your mind?

Adam: Well, I read the 1998 edition of Forty Colleges that Change Lives, and Evergreen was the only one that looked remotely interesting.

Gerson: I remember that distinctly. Why?

Adam: Because it looked like Evergreen was the absence of everything I couldn’t stand about high school: Rules, grades, subjects broken down into meaningless shards of knowledge, discipline. It looked great.

Adam in 2000 with puppy, Opus

2000 – Adam with family dog  Opus

Gerson: We thought so, too, especially for a student like you. And we were relieved that you even decided to go to college. So, what did you find when you got to Evergreen?

Adam: I found out that my initial impression and expectations were completely out of line with what was going on at Evergreen.

Gerson: In what way?

Adam: Well, first of all, the notion that just because of the lack of conventional structure, you could just sail through the place on your own terms was dead wrong. What looked like an absence of requirements or rules turned out to be almost the opposite. You really had to plan your courses carefully, register for them on time so they don’t close out, and think about how you’re going to regulate your own study and life. It wasn’t the free and easy environment that I had envisioned. It was tough and demanding, but the demands were internal, not external. I was fine with rejecting external demands, but not at all ready for making internal ones of myself. This was quite a shock, and I wasn’t ready for it.

Gerson: So what happened?

Adam: I went into a funk. I didn’t do much work. I goofed off. My first quarter course was a disaster. I finished the course but I would add that the faculty’s experience with kids like me was a big help. That would not have happened just anywhere.

Gerson: So what did you do to change your course?

Adam: I realized that I needed to substitute my own self-discipline for the external discipline that I hated so much in high school. I realized that I needed to be responsible to myself. The next quarter and the next year, I had a much different experience and was motivated to mold Evergreen’s learning environment to my own evolving interests. I also met a lot of other students who had similar experiences to mine.

Gerson: Yes, you seemed like you had grown a lot over a short period of time.

Adam: Well, that might be pushing it…

Gerson: And you were able to devote a whole year of your study to your favorite novel, Moby-Dick, under a fabulous professor.

Adam: That was the highlight of my education. It’s a very deep book, and my professor, David Powell, was an extraordinary teacher.

Gerson: Yes, I remember him well. So Adam, aside from your initial struggles with your preconception of Evergreen and the reality, and in addition to Moby-Dick, what do you think was the most important lesson you drew from your Evergreen education?

Adam: It’s really impossible to separate all those strands. They all run together. What Evergreen excels at teaching, at instilling in students, is critical thinking. Critical thinking starts with thinking critically about yourself, and learning critical thinking often demands corrective action when things don’t work out. That’s one of the great lessons of Moby-Dick, too. And the way Evergreen teaches critical thinking is crucial: the interdisciplinary orientation to learning pushes us beyond formal categories of subjects like math, science, and history – uncovering the the endless source of wonder and self-reflection inherent in any phenomenon. Another important thing about Evergreen was also the presence of things i was interested in… intellectualism, creativity, opportunities for self-direction, and a [not so] subtle countercultural aesthetic. It was a great education.

Gerson: So, if you’re a parent of a new Greener – a green Greener, if you will – who is having trouble adapting to Evergreen, who may be thinking of transferring to another school, or something else, what would your advice be to that parent?

Adam: Let your child figure it out for herself. Odds are that if your child is the sort of student who would choose Evergreen for the reasons I did, she will work it out, though it will not be easy. If you’re just looking for an easy B.A., don’t bother. It’s not easy. If you’re not willing to look hard at yourself before you look hard at others, it’s also probably not the right place for you.

Gerson: That all sounds pretty harsh, Adam. Don’t you have some words to reassure all those anxious parents out there?

Adam: Sure. Let me put it this way. Trust your Greener. Trust her instinct to come here in the first place. She will sort it out, one way or another, and be the better for it.

2014 Georgetown, DC - From left; Adam, Gerson, Margery Sher, and Adam's wife Megan Sher.

2014 Georgetown, DC – From left; Adam, Gerson, Margery Sher, and Adam’s wife Megan Sher.

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    Nate Gibbs-Bowling, Mit ’06, a self-described “Nerd Farmer”

    Bill Gates recently sat down with Washington State Teacher of the Year Nate Gibbs-Bowling, MiT ’06 to discuss the New Majority in American public schools and how to support exceptional teachers. Nate will join outstanding MiT alumni for the “Teachers are Agents of Change” panel at Return to Evergreen 2016.

    Read the full story here.

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      Draw your own roadmap for success

      Do you love to plan? Can you scheme cross-country road trips just by staring at a map? Join us at Return to Evergreen 2016 for a dynamic workshop with Patti Dobrowolski ’80. Patti’s celebrated session encourages you to break out the markers and visualize your future. You’ll leave with a roadmap to accomplish your goals without getting lost along the way!

      Learn more about visual goal setting and register for Return to Evergreen today.

      Take a look at the updated sessions page with even more exciting offerings!

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        Color outside the lines with Bezango, WA at Return to Evergreen 2016

        I could tell you about Bezango, WA, which will be screening at Return to Evergreen on October 15, but I think this comic by Chelsea Baker explains the film perfectly:

        Cartoon by Chelsea Baker

        Check out the trailer!

        After the screening, hear from the filmmakers Ron Austin ’91 and Louise Amandes with alumni artists Megan Kelso ’91 and Dana Simpson ’99 for an engaging panel as they explore connections between the comics, cartoons, and Evergreen.

        Have you registered for Return to Evergreen yet? Do it today and stay tuned as we add more sessions and speakers!

        Movie Poster

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          Interim President Dick Schwartz dies at 83

          Richard “Dick” Schwartz passed away last week. He is perhaps best remembered at Evergreen for his service as Interim President. Dick was hired as Vice President for Finance at the college in 1980, but was appointed by the Board of Trustees to fill the role of Interim President when Dan Evans left the presidency abruptly in 1983 to fill the vacancy in the US Senate left by Henry (Scoop) Jackson’s sudden passing. He served in that role for almost two years, from 1983 to 1985. Before his time at Evergreen, Schwartz served as Director of Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer at University of Michigan, Dearborn; Campus Planner at Stockton State College; and as Executive Vice President of Monmouth College. Although he was at Evergreen for just five years, he remained connected to the college, including participating in the Presidents Seminar at the college’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012.

          An obituary was published in The Olympian.

          Dick Schwartz

          Dick Schwartz at the 9th annual President’s Recognition Dinner on May 17, 2012.

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            “Put a bird on it” at Return to Evergreen 2016 with famed ornithologist Steve Herman

            Mark your calendars now for Return to Evergreen 2016 on October 15! Back by popular demand, Faculty Emeritus Steve Herman, PhD will lead a nature walk through the lush woods surrounding campus.

            This session will put you right in the ecological core of Evergreen. Steve will name and describe for you the native specimens and how they interact while answering any questions you have about how the college is part of an ecosystem. From the upper forests, the session treks down to the rocky shoreline past the marshes and creeks stretching over the Evergreen property. On the waterfront, you’ll be treated to views of Eld Inlet and rolling foothills leading north to the Olympics.

            Students walk through Evergreen forest trails on August 1st, 2012.

            Steve still teaches summer ornithology programs, as he has been doing for more than forty years. He’s taken student across the west, from Washington to Oregon, California and beyond, but he knows few places like he knows Evergreen.

            His work in naturalism has not only helped him succeed in academia, but also in activism against abusive grazing by ranch cattle. He’s focused on protecting wild lands for as long as he’s been teaching, and has even been able to combine the two in his programs. More recently, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where Steve engaged with federal and private landowners to modify land practices in favor of native flora and fauna, was part of a nationally covered struggle this past January.

            Nature-lovers should come with warm fabrics and shoes that can handle the elements and live to tell the tale. The Evergreen Conservation Corps’ work this past spring has significantly improved the primary beach trail, but the chance for mud is still high.

            Register for Return to Evergreen 2016 today!

            40th+steve+herman+walk-37

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              Dr. Donna Haraway’s Work Interpreted Through Food by Emily Dunn-Wilder

              I’m pleased to share this article from past Student Trustee Emily Dunn-Wilder about a truly unique program and dining experience honoring Evans Scholar Dr. Donna Haraway.

              Only at Evergreen do you get a student-designed, seven course farm-to-table dinner that interprets a famous scholar’s academic work through food sourced locally and from alumni-owned businesses.

              Annie Sloan, a junior at Evergreen, led students from the academic program Terroir: Chocolate, Oysters, and Other Place-Flavored Foods in planning and executing a seven-course dinner for Dr. Donna Haraway. Distinguished Professor Emerita at University of California, Haraway was this year’s Daniel J. Evans Chair Lecturer in Liberal Arts and was invited to Evergreen to speak as part of the Anthropocene Lecture Series.

              Instead of treating the Evans Chair to dinner at a fancy restaurant in downtown Olympia as is tradition, former student of Dr. Haraway and Evergreen faculty member Sarah Williams proposed a student-led dinner of locally sourced food hosted at Evergreen’s Organic Farm.

              President George Bridges was in attendance to help student Armando DeLao and graduate Maxwell Cohen shuck the Totten Inlet and Samish Bay oysters purchased from Son of A Beach Shellfish Farm and Taylor Shellfish Farms. The oysters were served with a tapioca pearl mignonette.

              George shucking oysters

              Each course was  based on a quote or concept from Dr. Haraway’s extensive work. Student Annie Sloan said, “I read A Cyborg Manifesto in 2009 and it blew me away. I link almost everything I read to feminism and food, but Haraway changed the way I viewed both. When Sarah asked me to do the dinner, I didn’t start thinking about local farms or composed dishes, I thought about Donna Haraway’s figuration’s. Her work became dishes in my mind. It made sense to ingest her theoretical concepts in the spring, and to eat them communally.”

              Salad

              The third course, entitled Coral Reef: Spring in Olympia, was artfully created with green garlic, purple sprouting broccoli from Urban Futures Farm owned by alum and adjunct faculty TJ Johnson, pine tips, radishes, and purple daikon on top of nettles, inspired by Dr. Haraway’s work concerning reefs created by toxic fibers.

              The fourth course, Pork and Beans based on Jane Goodall’s dinners, “There is only one jarring note in the scene of the female representative of man alone in the Garden-she eats a spare dinner of pork and beans from a tinned can.” (Primate Visions by Dr. Haraway) The beans were slow-cooked with lavender, rosemary, and pork from Evergreen graduate Evan Mulvaney’s Hidden River Farms in Montesano.

              Beans Course

               

              Geoduck course

              As always, the geoduck mascot was featured, both in a course entitled Companion Species, and in a mask gifted to Dr. Haraway. The mask was made from geoduck skins donated by Taylor Shellfish’s Xihn’s Oyster House in Shelton, which were crafted and molded using leather-tanning techniques by students Owen Day and Aurora Sonenshin. The geoduck mask inspired the graphic on the dinner menus, drawn in ink and lung tincture by Annie Sloan.

              Geoduck Mask

              A dessert course, accompanied by Ray Charles on the record player, closed the evening with coffee from Olympia Coffee Roasters (owned by alumni Sam and Oliver), raw cow’s cream from Sigmon’s Raw Dairy in Rochester, coconut sugar from graduate Ben Ripple’s Big Tree Farms, and fennel and rose liqueurs from Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs (owned by alumni Sam Desner and former Board of Governors Sandy Desner). Tastebuds were further treated to a rhubarb and parsnip layered crepe cake, peas dipped in woodruff-scented whipped cream, and salted-butter caramel on pie crust.

              Annie Sloan, Daniel Saunders, Bonnie Zion, and Lydia Hammond served and prepared the meal.

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                Throwback Thursday!

                Is it too early to “throwback” to an event that happened so recently? One month ago Evergreen inaugurated our 6th college president, George Bridges. The day of ceremonies welcomed more than 1,000 attendees including staff, students, alumni, and community members.

                We were honored to be joined by five unique alumni who shared stories about their Evergreen experiences and how the college has shaped their lives.

                Are you interested in speaking to a class about your career after Evergreen? Would you like to mentor a current student? Email me at heckk@evergreen.edu today to get involved!

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                  Coffee + Cookies + Sauerkraut ? Oh my !

                  Only at Evergreen would this unforgettable combination of alumni-produced treats find their way into one gift bag. Thanks to Whimsy & Spice, Olykraut, and Batdorf & Bronson for donating their products to the thank-you gifts for our inauguration speakers.

                  Did you miss the inauguration festivities? Catch the highlights from the day!

                  Handmade shortbread cookies and marshmallows from Whimsy & Spice

                  Delectible cookies were provided by Mark Sopchak ’94 and Jenna Park ’94, the husband and wife team behind Whimsy & Spice. Read more about their tempting spicy and sweet treats in The Evergreen Magazine.

                  Handcrafted, fermented sauerkraut from OlyKraut

                  Sash Sunday ’09, grew up in Olympia, WA and, in 2008, co-founded a sauerkraut company called OlyKraut to put her fermentation fanaticism to work building a food system that supports vibrant health and sustainable farms. Learn more about this fermentation revolution in the Cooper Point Journal.

                  Batdorf & Bronson specially crafted the “Greener Blend,” which is only sold on the Evergreen campus

                  Always close to the Evergreen heart is Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, located in downtown Olympia since 1986. Batdorf and Bronson has flourished in part because of the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of many Greeners who have worked at all levels of the organization over the years. View a brewing tutorial on their blog today!

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                    The first Evergreen Inauguration

                    On this day in 1972, Evergreen inaugurated the first college president, Charles J. McCann, Ph.D. The featured speaker at the ceremony was then Washington Governor and future Evergreen President, Daniel J. Evans.

                    Tomorrow, on April 22, 2016, Evergreen will celebrate the Inauguration of George S. Bridges, Ph.D. as the sixth president of the college. We are honored to again be joined by Daniel J. Evans, who will deliver remarks during the Installation Ceremony.

                    McCann Graduation

                    President McCann speaking at the first Evergreen Graduation in 1972

                    We hope you will join us tomorrow, April 22! You can learn more about the events and RSVP here.

                    If you would like to read the complete newsletter from April 15, 1972 announcing the inauguration and other activities, click here. As always, we love to hear from our alumni community. Please share your memories or pictures of Evergreen in the comments below.

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