Aria Killough-Miller '17
Once you leave Bennington, how do you continue your work? LAB, short for Life After Bennington, sought to give some answers.
The combined work of the Field Work Term Office, Alumni Relations, and Student Life, LAB is the result of evolving senior-targeted programming. The BFP interviewed Holly McCormack of the Field Work Term office the Thursday before All-Class Reunion, Family Weekend, and LAB Weekend. Throughout the past four or five years, McCormack said, this programming has changed name and form in response to student feedback. According to her, this year addresses student feedback for conceptual rather than practical workshops, earlier timing in the school year, content both within and beyond disciplines, and increased alumni participation.
Discipline-specific LAB conversations included dance, music, science, drama and theatre, publishing and writing, language, architecture, and the arts, while other events included mock interviews and workshops on social media, networking, and entrepreneurship. McCormack noted two other conversations this weekend, one on STEAM (science, technology, arts and math), and one on storytelling through virtual or augmented reality to enact social change, as interdisciplinary.
While LAB targeted seniors, “there wasn’t a reason not to open it up to the whole campus”, McCormack said. Christina Polanen, a freshman, claimed that she attended the LAB conversation on music because she is “pretty interested in music” and would like to know how those with music concentrations applied their studies to life after college. The parent of a junior, Christine Rutgliano, went with her child to the LAB conversation on language due to her stated value of the “practical application of theoretical education”.
“Alumni weekend is sort of the perfect moment to have this conversation about work,” McCormack said. While the events center on panelists, she explained, “it’s intended to be a conversation with the audience” that “call[s] the collective wisdom in the room” of students, faculty, parents, and alumni. Like McCormack, Rutgliano claimed to appreciate the multiple perspectives of combining, LAB, All-Class Reunion, and Family Weekend. “I think it’s wonderful”, she said, sharing that a fifty year old alum I’M ASSUMING SHE MEANT AN ALUM FROM 50 YRS AGO, THOUGH IT’S NOT CLEAR IN MY NOTES joined the walk she participated in.
McCormack described alumni as an excellent resource for students. Bennington alumni, she said, are articulate about how they have used their college experience and “so interested” in what students are doing. Adnan Iftekhar ’97 not only led a social media session and spoke on an entrepreneurship panel, but also attended film, music, and poetry events. He stated that connecting with current students is “something that [he] really cherish[es]”.
Such eagerness on the part of alumni, McCormack opined, makes them helpful for practicing networking. She described the weekend as an opportunity for students who feel anxious to practice approaching people about their experience in a low stakes environment. “The word networking can sometimes have a negative connotation”, she explained, but with alumni, the conversation steers toward building relationships and collaborative practice rather than advancing one’s own agenda.
Based on registrations from Wednesday, McCormack reported, she estimated a crowd of about 250 alumni with guests, around 200 family members, and an unpredictable number of students. She expressed hope that they would take advantage of the workshops.
Seniors, faculty, and alumni that the BFP interviewed gave overall relatively positive reviews of the weekend and shared takeaways from the events they attended. George MacLeod ’17 called the entrepreneurship panel “pretty enlightening”, sharing the takeaway “You have to do work to do your work”, while Georgie Richer ’17 deemed the network, visual arts, and entrepreneurship workshops “pretty successful”, highlighting her appreciation of the structure Q-and-A structure that made her feel “not like you’re attacking them [alumni]”. Barbara Alfano, a faculty member on the panel for language, felt her event went “pretty well”, although she claimed that as a senior, she would have asked more questions, such as how to obtain a visa. “I thought it was fantastic,” Madeline Cole ’16 said of the networking workshop, sharing that she also planned to attend a LAB panel on publishing and writing as well as a conversation on diversity and inclusion. When asked if she would have attended these events as a senior, Bruna Dantas Lobato ’15, who spoke on the LAB panel as well a different language event earlier that day and who attended an alumni panel and a diversity workshop, said “Oh absolutely”. Meanwhile, Emma Plotkin ’17, who planned on attending a LAB theatre conversation, deemed LAB “terrible” due to the difficulty of finding events online, difficulty of visiting parents and attending events during the same weekend, and lack of usefulness of many of the events, suggesting that skyping could expose students to more alumni.
“It’s always a work in progress, like anything at Bennington,” McCormack said of LAB. She encouraged students to email firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback.