Old Dog, New Tricks: The Remixed SL/FWT Office

by Killian Walsh ‘14

    The offices of Field Work Term and Student Life have implemented a number of changes this term. Most visible of these is the union of the two offices into what used to exclusively be the Student Life Office.
    “The CAPA Office felt too remote,”   Holly McCormack, the Dean of FWT, told the BFP in an interview. “We made [our] location a big priority coming into the Fall.” Along with moving back into the Barn, the FWT Office is finding new and better ways to work with students and enhance Field Work Term for them overall.
    A greater conversation is taking place this term  with the Academic Policies Committee, the school’s administration, and the student body over what Field Work Term means in the broader context of a Bennington education. For one, the FWT Office wants to better integrate a student’s Field Work Term into their academic career. This way, the work a student does in the Fall translates to their job in the Winter, which will then translate back into work they do in the Spring.
    The changes to Field Work Term aren’t only conceptual, either.
    “As you know, the reflective essay has been the only systematic way students have [been able to reflect] on their Field Work Term experience,” McCormack said.
The thinking now is that an alternative, more nuanced approach to the FWT debrief would be in order, and might provide students with a more substantive review of their Field Work Term experience than a typewritten response would.
    “I think there’s a lot of value in having an essay to reflect,” added McCormack, “I just think that it isn’t the only way to reflect.”
    In addition to this, the FWT Office is trying to establish better and more long-term relationships with employers, both to facilitate current students’ search for a FWT, and to assist graduates in finding employment after leaving the college. This is all in an effort by the office to enhance the overall support they provide to students, and to increase the one-on-one focus the office feels it should have.
    Whatever changes are decided on won’t go into effect at least for a few terms, and McCormack stressed that they would be discussed with the community at-large before implementation. “It’s a pilot,” McCormack said. “Whenever you’re going to try something new, you have to make sure  it works first.”
    The Office also hopes that you’ll pay them a visit sometime soon. This term they’ve seen a 100% increase in appointments (real figure, last year was rough), and so far 65% of the Freshman Class has come in  at some point to discuss their Field Work Terms, and 55% have scheduled return appointments. 
    More than ever, Field Work Term is a hands-on process. Even if you  have already found a job, secured your housing, booked your plane ticket,  bought a Moleskein notebook to document your travels, you should still come in to SL/FWT. They offer career advising, could help you plan a future Field Work Term, or answer any career-related questions you have, and they always have time.
    And no discussion of FWT would be complete without addressing the school’s WorkLink page. Rest assured, the individual frustrations of students  with the WorkLink system are not falling on deaf ears.  Currently, it is the best system for organizing jobs based on  the criteria required for Field Work Term, but  alternatives are being looked into. The biggest consideration is finding a service that will allow  jobs to be organized and catergorized by descriptors relevant to our needs, and making sure this new system is implemented at a time when it would not inconvenience students for the job service to be temporarily inaccessible.
    The Office of Student Life has changed less dramatically than Field Work Term, but it’s different regardless.  There are the staffing changes, with Sam Tymchyn and Sage Ober now in charge of housing, Michiel Considine overseeing wellness and recreation, and Matt Scott handling campus bodies like PAC, the B&E  Committee, as well as all clubs and students organizations. In addition, Amy Kuzmicki is now the Acting Director of Residential Life, and Michael Cohen our Acting Director of Community Standards––a role that will be much elaborated upon in the coming weeks as the Bennington Ethos Project gets further underway.  The BFP will have a more in-depth look at the Ethos Project in a later edition as the story develops.
    Student Life has also  overhauled housing and procedures for room damages.
    “We try our best to provide everyone with comfortable living accomodations,” Tymchyn told the BFP.  She also mentioned that damage billing will be assessed on a more regular basis to encourage discussion within the houses and promote accountability.
    Student Life  has seen to the renovation of the UpCafé, too, with walls that can be drawn on with chalk, new lighting fixtures, and other cosmetic upgrades that will improve the quality of the space. This is in the hopes that UpCafé will become a 24-hour workspace for students . Nearly all the furnishings in the room can be moved to accommodate larger or smaller groups  and custom-made floor pillows are incoming.
    As for how the two offices will work together, sharing the same space and both working as closely with the Bennington student body as they do, McCormack says the relationship is still developing. She mentions that, considering how many new faces are in the office, and considering how many of the old faces are in new positions,  the hybrid office isn’t quite its own beast yet. There is still much of the same Student Life and Field Work Term DNA in the place, and it will take some  time for a new identity to develop. But the offices are filled with capable, friendly people, and if current atitudes are any indication, Bennington  students will have a much better SL/FWT experience overall.