Wesley Haaf '18
The Office of Field Work Term and the Committee for Campus Development have joined forces in an effort to relieve anxieties over construction, and to integrate students into the day-to-day operations of campus labor, thus empowering students to understand real word, practical jobs.
Stephen Finch, Director and Co-Founder of the FWT—Development Initiative announced via mass email that students can do their Field Work at the construction projects here at Bennington. I sat down with him on a Thursday afternoon to better understand the initiative.
Having never seen his office before, I was struck by the black walls of the space. But there were also some large alumni paintings, and he was very friendly when I introduced myself and he told me to have a seat. While we got comfortable and sipped our teas, Stephen and I talked about appreciating art. He told me his favorite piece was the one, he pointed to one, with the yellow marks, and also, he said he was very fond of the ancient artifacts in CAPA, smiling.
I asked what this program was and why the administration is pushing for it.
“So, yes, that’s a great question. It started sometime last year when we began to question ourselves and the ways we provide opportunities for students, especially chances for them to get involved in working with us, Barn people, working with concerns that are more often associated with the administration. And seeing the campus from a broader, more national level, one begins to see how and why we market Bennington. Keeping the College lovely and pastoral is one of the core values. It’s what is expected of us: We are in Vermont, and families and prospective students really rely on the beauty of this place. They’re coming from cities, or wherever, suburbs, and going into Vermont. I mean, it’s different up here. It’s Vermont.
“But so for now, we’re asking students to take a survey on WorkLink. Click on the link and it will bring you to a Google Form, but we’re hoping to switch over to Survey Monkey by the end of the month. And submitted that request, you can remain on campus January through February, and you’ll work hard, with professionals, out in the cold. And you’ll have the opportunity to work a full schedule, so five days of eight-hour shifts. You will be immersed in the work space, in a version of Bennington that the student hasn’t seen before—working in a very different way on our campus, the houses, living in a colonial alone in biting cold—it’s all very different when you view the architecture and design of the campus as, or I should say, as if one were a construction worker.
“You’ll work just like they do. And you’ll be here, very secure, easy living, plus: we’re paying you. Yes, that is right. The Barn is offering a paying program. I’ll say it again: Paid internship. Make some money, live at home, you have the space to do your own work, reading or drawing or studying in library, whatever it is you do, and meanwhile you’re gaining authentic experience in a setting that’s more—I shouldn’t say blue collar—but physically demanding; it’s harder on your body.
“We also find it important—personally and as administrators—important to support certain students who have, through utilizing the Plan Process, created a very specific, more unorthodox Bennington education. Because if they’ve set a trajectory for themselves, if they approach their work with the dedication and passion we’re known for, then by all means, we should give them the best opportunities, and let them work on the steam-pipes outside Tishman. I’ve seen it a lot, what’s going on over there, I’m sure you have too. There are tubes being demolished, new ones being installed, and the dirt trenches are as hard to fill as they are to make. And then we need grass, and that takes a lot of effort and patience, which isn’t something that most other liberal arts schools would ask of their students, to plant grass and grow it. Then there are trees to take out, and replacement ones to plant back in. There are so many projects we could do and need to get done before we renovate Commons. If one part of the campus is out of commission that means everything else needs to be five times as good as it was before.”
Stephen took a sip of tea and kept swallowing for a few seconds. I was sure it was hot, but he seemed fine. He wiped his mouth and asked if I had any questions, and I told him no, I think he answered everything I thought of.
I shook his hand and he smiled at me, looked me right in the eyes, and when I went to leave, he asked, “Close the door please would you?”