The Road to Reinvention
The strength of the revitalized Antioch College will rest upon the success of a core team of scholars. These include a newly hired dean, the director of work, and professors in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities.
- Dr. Hassan Rahmanian & entering Horace Mann Fellow, Guy Matthews. (photo: Dennie Eagleson ’71)
- Dr. Susan Eklund-Leen, Director of Work. (photo: Gariot P. Louima)
- Dr. David Kammler delivered a presentation on water on April 17. (photo: Dennie Eagleson ’71)
- Dr. Lewis Trelawney-Cassity comes to Antioch from Binghamton University. (photo: Gariot P. Louima)
April 17 was the kind of sunlit and dappled day that makes Yellow Springs look like an idyllic hamlet and the Antioch College campus a verdant oasis. It was a perfect day for prospective students to visit Antioch College, and the campus was dressed to the nines to meet the class of 2015.
That Dr. Hassan Rahmanian and his wife, Azadeh, were on their way to meet two-dozen students who had already been accepted as Horace Mann Fellows was a profound moment for them both. She started to cry, saying she’d not believed in anything before. “It feels like Antioch again,” she said finally.
Rahmanian and his wife moved to Yellow Springs together twenty-five years ago so he could accept a job as a business professor at Antioch. When the College closed, Rahmanian remained in Yellow Springs as a leader in the Nonstop movement. After a year working as an administrator at a graduate university in California, he returned to Antioch, first as a consultant, and now as its dean for curriculum, assessment, planning, and interdisciplinary learning.
Rahmanian had been sharing the details of the rebuilding work with his wife since his appointment as dean. But seeing the prospective students touring classrooms and dormitories reminded her of the family’s arrival here twenty-five years ago.
“That was a time of great hope, when students came in great numbers to visit the campus, and it brought back a lot of good memories,” Hassan Rahmanian said.
The College’s new students will arrive for classes in October. They will shape the campus culture, work with faculty and administrators to create a structure for shared governance, and carry the hopes of generations of Antioch College alumni on their shoulders.
The curriculum they encounter will have similarities to Antioch curricula of yore, but will also have embedded within it a new approach to liberal arts.
“We have one eye watching the past and one eye watching the future,” Rahmanian said. “Antioch’s past is a part of me, but I don’t let it dominate me. What remains in our academic program makes it Antiochian.”
U.S. The award was granted only after a televised ceremony with the Shah of Iran.
“I was politically not in that direction,” Rahmanian said, but he accepted the opportunity to pursue his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. After the Iranian Revolution, the country’s new leadership cut off his funding and urged him to return. He continued his studies in Pittsburgh with a university-awarded scholarship that was even greater than the one given by Iran’s previous regime.
Rahmanian came to Antioch College in 1986. His more than two decades at the College were professionally rewarding, he shares, though they came with their own challenges. For example, there were five major revisions to the curriculum in that time, he said.
As was the case in the past, Antioch’s new curriculum puts equal emphasis on rigorous liberal arts learning, cooperative education, and community engagement. Students will complete individualized majors focused on one area of study or across multiple areas; gain intermediary oral proficiency in a second language; and complete six full-time, paid work experiences.
“My desire was to ... make work for all students central to the fabric of the community.”
Dr. Susan Eklund-Leen, the director of work, administers the cooperative education and on-campus work programs. Prior to this, she worked as a cooperative education faculty member at Antioch College from 1991 until the closure in 2008. At that time she assumed a leadership role for the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute. Eklund-Leen has worked in higher education since 1978. Her interest in experiential education developed from her work with student organizations, her own involvement in community service and professional associations, and her doctoral research at Kent State. (Photo: Gariot P. Louima)
The philosophy underpinning the curriculum is perhaps the most notable change. While Antioch College remains committed to a social justice ethos that goes back several decades, that mission is now filtered through a new focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship. Antioch commits itself to preparing students for lifelong learning and global citizenship, an understanding that improving the standard of living for individuals throughout the world requires new ways of using and managing resources (such as food and water) and navigating public policy to improve the health and welfare of people in the post-industrial and developing world.
The new Global Seminars – a cross-disciplinary approach to examining world issues surrounding food, health, energy, governance (or public policy), and water – will provide a mechanism for community-wide engagement on these issues.
At this writing, Antioch College has filled three of the six tenure-track faculty positions. Dr. David C. Kammler, a former Antioch College professor, returns as associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Kristen Adler has been hired as an assistant professor of cultural anthropology; and Dr. Lewis Trelawny-Cassity is an assistant professor of philosophy. They join Rahmanian and Dr. Susan Eklund-Leen, the director of work, as Antioch College’s academic core. In the coming months, the College will hire tenure-track professors of 3-D art, literature, and Spanish.
All faculty will begin their work on July 18. For a two-and-a-half month period, they will work together to fine tune the course offerings, prepare the Global Seminars, ready classroom space, and get to know each other before students arrive on campus. Rahmanian is planning an intensive faculty orientation.
“It really feels good that the campus is coming back, but the challenges are there,” he said. “Antioch without challenges isn’t Antioch.”
CO-OP AND RETENTION
Cooperative education remains at the center of the Antioch College curriculum, as it has since Arthur Morgan introduced it in the 1920s. The College is the only liberal arts institution in the nation to require that all students participate in a comprehensive, off-campus work program. Augmenting the cooperative education program is the work portfolio for which students also receive grades and credit, and all students must work part-time for ten hours a week during study terms.
As it’s designed, the work program at Antioch College addresses the issue of student engagement and retention.
A report on student retention published by a four-member planning team of ACT – a national not-for-profit organization that provides a broad array of assessment, research, information, and program management solutions in the areas of education and workforce development – suggests that the inadequacy of personal finances and the lack of available financial aid are among the highest factors leading to attrition.
Another report, “An Examination of Persistence Research Through the Lens of a Comprehensive Conceptual Framework” from the Journal of College Student Development, suggests a multidimensional approach addressing student persistence.
Dr. David C. Kammler was an assistant professor of chemistry at Antioch College from 2003–2008. When the College closed, he accepted a professorship at Wilberforce University, where he taught chemistry and biochemistry. His recent publications and presentations include an article in Ceramics Technical and a presentation at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education. He has received several teaching awards, including the Award for Faculty Excellence in Teaching from the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE). Kammler also consults regularly for private individuals and firms in the medical and biotechnology fields. (Photo: Dennie Eagleson ’71)
Programs such as internships and co-ops, college-sponsored social activities, pre-enrollment financial advising, student leadership development, and individual career counseling contribute positively to student retention.
Antioch’s cooperative education program will engage students with local, national, and international employers. The model was designed with student maturation, development, and competencies in mind to maximize the potential for success.
Co-op provides opportunities for on-the-job learning and career exploration, and it places high value on the learning students do off the job in the communities which they live while on co-op.
These kinds of high-impact activities work to “diminish considerably” the impact of precollege characteristics on student perception of the college experience, which, in turn, increases the likelihood that “any student – educational and social background notwithstanding – will attain his or her educational and personal objectives, acquire the skills and competencies demanded by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and enjoy the intellectual and monetary advantages associated with the completion of a baccalaureate degree,” according to the Journal of College Student Development.
Furthermore, for full-time students, working either on or off campus was positively related to several dimensions of student engagement,” the Journal reports. Students who worked up to ten hours per week reported “slightly higher grades” and reported “higher levels of active and collaborative learning.”
“For some students, particularly those who have not had extensive work experience, this program is designed to help them be more successful as they go off to their first co-op jobs and as they get more advanced co-ops,” Eklund-Leen said.
Philosophy professor Trelawny-Cassity experienced some of this first hand as a student at Warren Wilson College, which has an extensive on-campus work and volunteer program. “It’s great for building community,” he said. “You get really close; students bond fast. I did two years in plumbing, as my goal as a little kid was either to be a plumber or a philosopher.”
In rebuilding the co-op program at Antioch College, Eklund-Leen, the first permanent academic administrator at the College since independence, said she wanted to intentionally connect co-op more directly with students’ on-campus work experiences.
“It’s great for building community. You get really close; students bond fast.”
Dr. Lewis Trelawny-Cassity comes to Antioch from Binghamton University. His areas of philosophic interest are the history of philosophy, political philosophy, and environmental ethics. He was appointed a Bradley Fellow at Boston College and received university-wide awards for excellence in both teaching and research at Binghamton. Trelawny-Cassity’s dissertation research focused on Plato’s last work, the Laws, and he has published peer-reviewed essays in Polis and The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter and has written book reviews for The Bryn Mawr Classical Review and The Classical Bulletin. (Photo: Gariot P. Louima)
“When I started at the College in 1991, the campus work coordinator was located in the co-op office, and there was a closer tie between the work-study program and the co-op program,” she said. “My desire was to link these even more closely, and to make work for all students central to the fabric of the community.”
First-year co-ops will be in the greater Yellow Springs area. There will be on-campus co-ops, and jobs throughout the region. A bequest by Nolan and Richard Miller to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation provides funds for ten co-op jobs at nonprofit organizations in Yellow Springs. Eklund-Leen doesn’t know if local co-ops will always be de rigeur for first-year students.
“It’s where we’re at right now,” she said. “As we grow, I’m uncertain whether the community can support as many students as we will have. But we definitely think it’s extremely important for our students to develop strong relationships with citizens of the village, nonprofits within the village, and the community at large.”
Eklund-Leen is arranging for national co-ops to be clustered in specific regions, such as New York, Washington, D.C., and perhaps Chicago in the first years. Arranging for students to work off-campus near one another allows for the continuity of campus connections, Eklund-Leen said. It also ensures that Eklund-Leen can more easily monitor student progress and schedule visits with multiple students while they are away on work terms.
Students earn college credits for co-ops by completing work portfolios. These portfolios will be graded and subjected to a narrative evaluation, exactly as classes will be.
“A true co-op program has predictable, reliable employment for which there is compensation,” Eklund-Leen said. “I want these jobs to be amazing, great jobs that really are a part of the organizations and central to their missions.”
CHALLENGES AND CHANGES
One of the most stimulating presentations at the April 17 prospective students’ visit was a lecture by Kammler, the associate professor of chemistry.
Kammler presented on water, which is one of the themes of the Global Seminars. Kammler said this new component of the Antioch College curriculum is intriguing because it allows for a broad discussion of issues as well as ongoing cross-disciplinary discussions on topics that are generally held within specific disciplines. “We get access to resources that we wouldn’t have before,” he said of the seminars, which also connect the classroom experience with the world beyond campus through visiting speakers.
The Foundation courses form the base of the Antioch College curriculum. Students will be required to take three courses from each of the academic divisions of Arts, Humanities, Sciences, and Social Sciences – regardless of major.
Adler, the assistant professor of cultural anthropology, said she is thrilled by this interdisciplinary, communal learning. “It seems that not only are the topics of the Global Seminars especially pertinent, but also, as communities around the world become increasingly interconnected, I feel it is so important that we think globally while being engaged locally.”
In the weeks leading to the arrival of the first class, Rahmanian, Eklund-Leen, and the faculty who join the College community will have much to consider as they map the delivery of courses. Each member of the faculty will effectively be building his or her department from the ground up. While Eklund-Leen and Rahmanian already have a schedule of course offerings for the first academic year mapped, the faculty must now do the work of building each course they will deliver in the fall.
“It is so important that we think globally while being engaged locally.”
Dr. Kristen Adler completed her doctoral coursework at the University of New Mexico, where she has defended a dissertation titled “Making Modernity: Ideological Pluralism and Political Process in Zinacantán.” She has worked in indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico, since 1998 and focuses on issues of globalization, neoliberalism, and the politics of ethnicity. She has presented on her research and field work at the national conferences of the American Anthropological Association and the American Society of Ethnohistory. Adler is currently a teaching associate at the University of New Mexico and previously served as an assistant editor at the University of New Mexico Press. Since 2004, she’s taught anthropology at John Wood Community College and the University of New Mexico.
Almost all of the scholars interviewed for this article expressed delight in the small classes – a feature that won’t go away even as Antioch increases the size of the freshman class each year. “When you’re interacting at such an intimate level, you just connect much more deeply to the material,” Adler said.
Trelawny-Cassity agrees. “Small classes let you do a lot that is simply impossible in larger groups, and it gives you the chance to reach and challenge students in a very deep way,” he said. “For my philosophy seminars, I plan to have student-led discussions that focus intensely on very difficult texts, and I think that the sort of philosophical experience I’m planning on fits really well with the small classes.”
A challenge and an opportunity lie in the structure of study terms – Antioch College will have a quarter system, with terms broken into five-and-a-half week blocks. The block system makes for an “intensive” term, Rahmanian explains.
“You have to rethink the way you would teach in a sixteen-week semester,” Trelawny-Cassity said. “I want to teach Western classics, but how do you do it in this five-week block scheduling?”
Trelawny-Cassity will, however, teach Aristotle to the first-year students. “Artistotle’s kind of hard for a 100-level course,” he said, “but because we’re such a small class, we’ll get through.”
Rahmanian admits that learning how to design courses for the block system will take some adjusting. When they arrive this summer, the faculty will brainstorm ideas and share best practices. Rahmanian intends for all faculty, as well as the director of work, to participate in an intensive orientation that lasts two and a half months.
The curriculum calls for a high level of engagement from the faculty. They are expected to teach and assess, advise students, help craft individualized degree plans, be active members in the community, and stay connected with students on co-ops. To some extent, faculty at Antioch College have long worn multiple hats and carried heavy workloads. What’s different is the level to which they’ll now be expected to engage. With a first-year community of dozens of students and half a dozen tenure-track professors, each individual’s contribution is that much more important.
Those on the ground already know of this pressure.
“I have my own moments of sanity and insanity,” Rahmanian said. “I’m hoping that as the number of students increase, our faculty resources will increase accordingly.” That will help lessen the burden on each professor, he said.
“We are in the formative stage. Once you take a step, it makes solid ground under your feet and makes it tangible – and tangible steps give us more energy, more confidence,” he said.
Everyone on the campus in Yellow Springs – particularly those in academic support and cooperative education – are champing at the bit for the students to arrive in the fall.
Eklund-Leen was the first former Antioch faculty hired into an ongoing position at the College after the keys were handed over in 2009. “Working at a college with no students has been a very odd phenomenon,” she said. “Greeting this first class of students when they come for orientation will just make me giddy.”
Rahmanian reflects on the April 17 visit of prospective students. “The students … seem all Antiochian. The kinds of questions they ask, their engagement. It brings back a lot of familiar feelings.”
Christian Feuerstein ’94 is a writer, editor, and production manager living in the Washington, D.C., metro area.