More than 650 students participated in the annual Colby Liberal Arts Symposium (CLAS). Perhaps more than the impressive numbers, the energy around the symposium tells the story.
- Christopher Abbott ’15 listing the disciplines applied to his investigation of small-scale grain growing and processing: anthropology as the framework; environmental science; botany and the biochemistry of malting; physics, math, and computer science for equipment design.
- Jonathan Eichholz ’15 straining to be heard above the hubbub of 99 other poster presentations, explaining scientifically how location makes Camembert cheese Camembert.
- Fist bumps from classmates following a strong talk in front of a receptive audience.
- Professor Hong Zhang complimenting Pralaksha Gurung ’16 for her courage researching the Institutionalization of Religion in China—a topic above and beyond the scope of the course.
For Artur Fass ’16, a CLAS history presentation drew on scholarly research, military service, and family genealogy. Katz Professor of History Raffael Scheck said he asks students in his course Europe and the Second World War to find a topic of interest and then examine the debates that continue to rage in historical accounts. “There’s often a naive notion that there is a truth out there and we can find it on Wikipedia,” Scheck said. In fact, “the historiography is still in flux. It’s often very nationalistic.”
Fass’s topic was “Estonia Under Nazi Occupation: Collaboration for the Sake of National Preservation?” He embarked on the project a year after he took a leave from Colby to fulfill a military service obligation in his native Estonia—a year when he learned marching songs traced to Estonian Waffen SS troops while he served within a kilometer of a former concentration camp.
With Estonian, German, and Russian grandparents and as an Estonian studying in the United States, Fass can see multiple facets of his country’s history. One view in Estonia, he said, is that the German and the Russian occupations were equally bad. Though some believe the Russians were worse, there is also a Russian minority in the country. “It’s generally agreed that it’s not good dinnertime conversation,” Fass said, “yet it often comes up.”
He called studying at Colby a privilege. “You get to work with the best professors in the field who genuinely care about your research, you have access to the immense collection of books and documents through the interlibrary loan system, and, most importantly, you have the academic freedom to explore any topic of your interest,” he wrote later in an email. The war will remain a contested part of Estonia’s legacy, he said, adding, “Being in a small liberal arts college, in Maine, on a different continent, allows you to take a step back and see the whole picture without any outside influences or interferences.”
Like Fass, Samantha Lovell ’16 did multiple presentations Friday at CLAS, including one on her independent GIS work with environmental studies professors Phillip Nyhus and Gail Carlson creating data-rich maps related to naturally occurring arsenic in private wells. She described the use of her maps by students in Carlson’s Environment and Public Health course, at a public informational meeting in Belgrade Lakes, and at legislative hearings at the state capitol as lawmakers considered bills to mandate arsenic testing.
“It’s been great to make maps used outside of Colby,” Lovell said. “It’s been a learning process. I found out how different it is creating maps in GIS class versus maps the public can actually get something out of.”
Carlson said the maps were invaluable as students in her class undertook public education and engaged in policy debates. And the medium was effective—after the session in Belgrade, every person in attendance said in a poll that they planned to get their wells tested for arsenic.
“It was very gratifying to work with Sam and to help her make connections between what she’s learning in the classroom and what’s going on in the world,” Carlson said. “Classroom learning is always going to be enhanced by real-world engagement, and in the case of arsenic in drinking water, it provides an important service to the public.”
Lovell, a presidential scholar, started working with Nyhus early in her Colby career and continued as his research assistant this year. “There was a public policy and environmental health need,” Nyhus said, “where we collaborated using these different tools, including GIS, to combine science and civic engagement. It’s been inspiring to watch her grow and evolve as a student and an independent scholar.”
CLAS by the Numbers
Events April 29 and 30 included …
- More than 650 students participating in CLAS presentations, including …
- 215 posters spread over three sessions
- 380 oral presentations in six hours on Thursday
- Two jam-packed evenings with music, theater, art, film, poetry, prose, and global events, including 200 student performers at the First CLAS Celebration of the Arts Wednesday and more than 50 students continuing into the evening Thursday