By Kelsey Fisher
Not far from the Oak Meadow office, Marlboro College nestles in the hills of southern Vermont. it's a small school that nurtures students with big ideas. Marlboro has always been a homeschool-friendly school, allowing homeschoolers to take nonmatriculating courses for free—a perfect example of citizenship in action on an institutional level. in this article, Marlboro student Kelsey Fisher explains how community is enriched when learning turns to doing.
WHEN WE LOVE, WE LIVE. TRUST ME— it's true every time. When we love other people, we live in their hearts, and when we love what we do, we live in our work. our academic work, though, may sometimes live in a bubble—if left unapplied, it will eventually vanish with a muted pop.
Zoe Ogilvie, a Student Life coordinator at Marlboro college, says that college students come "as learners, taking classes…to make them 'well-rounded' people… They write papers, take tests, and research in order to pass and create a name for themselves." Well hey, that's me.
I'm college student—I take classes, have extra-curricular obligations, and like to veg out just like your average garden variety student. I'm a religion major interested in interfaith work, studying all kinds of traditions and manifestations of belief. But different religions I study would lose their meaning if I pursued them just to get an A.
Finding Ways to Connect Learning and Doing
There needs to be something more—a connection between knowing and doing, where our need for recognition is replaced, as Ogilvie says, by "a need to accomplish more and drive those around us to accomplish more." The real purpose of education is the connection you made with a principle that you've come to live by; it's about how you train your employees to carry out the mission of a company, how you treat your clients, how you raise your children, or how you vote on certain issues. Your learning is all about how you've let your knowledge and experience affect you and about how you affect others. That's when it all comes full-circle.
Being conscious of the relationship between our studies and how we use them to engage the world is typical, for instance, of students who participated in Marlboro's spring break Habitat for Humanity trip, which Ogilvie, who is also on Marlboro's community Service committee, helped organize. "Every student that I have worked with this year has grown so much and it has been because they were involved in something. together we are changing, and altering, and becoming better people."
Patrick Magee, a student on the trip, recalls his experience: "The lessons that any college can teach are worthless without real-world experiences to apply them to." too often, he says, we lose ourselves in the esoteric pursuit of education and we forget that we should be using it to give back. He notes, "When we reach beyond the borders of a college class we're rewarded as people, as citizens and community members, with a greater understanding of how inseparable our academic and 'real-world' lives are…we realize that every activity we undertake defines who we are as individuals. When we choose to share our time and knowledge in order to help the people around us, we create a world that truly is a habitat for humanity."
Marlboro students are making a difference every day, across the country, around the globe, or right in their own hometowns. Kelsa Summer, a junior who studies communities on a global scale and spent two months in South Africa helping to found a kindergarten, will be returning there to study poverty reduction in development organizations and social projects. She says, "professors encourage students to take their academics and experiment with how they hold up [in the real world]." David Amato, also a junior, is taking a class called Service Learning that focuses on how Wilmington, Vermont is recovering from Hurricane Irene by combining theoretical reading with on-the-ground experiences in Wilmington. "My project involves interning for the local newspaper, the Deerfield Valley news, and producing stories that have been printed in the paper and will eventually be compiled for the Historical Society."
Citizenship in Action
Civic engagement depends upon initiative. Marlboro's "Green for blue campaign," a community-wide fundraising event whose proceeds went to help flood victims of Hurricane Irene, began with a conversation between two students who had the idea of dying blue the hair of volunteers for every mark they reached toward their goal of $5,000. The dining hall was a sea of blue to crown their achievement – the college's president, faculty and staff members, and students alike sported blue bobs and goatees, smiling proudly over their lunch.
Personally, my religious studies major won't mean much to anyone if I don't know how to synthesize and communicate and connect ideas to engage people of all faiths and backgrounds. if I were only after a good grade, I'd be living in rigid theory-land instead of actively living and contributing in the here and now, where I feel I can make a difference and inspire those around me to do the same.
Regardless of what lies ahead of you, what you do will matter. History, politics, neurology, biology, psychology, the arts, engineering, environmental policy, literature—no matter what you study in college, there are programs and internships where you can have a positive impact on those around you and can contribute in ways that benefit all of us humans in this gargantuan world.
As a college student, living an active life means committing to the things you love to learn. That commitment is the leap you make into adulthood – it's the gun at the start of the race, but it resonates in your ears with all the adrenaline of the finish line. if you love what you do, what starts as a spark in your eye spreads like fire. So follow it, pursue it relentlessly, and figure out how to burn bright, fast, and loud. Reach everyone you can, connect your worlds, gather in ceremony, create, and join the dance. When you understand how your thoughts influence your actions, how your passion for something will affect the lives of people around you, your work becomes a living thing. it becomes an energy, a lifestyle, and a foundation all at once.
Kelsey Fisher is currently a freshman at Marlboro College studying religion, interfaith work and service learning. She actually does love long walks on sandy beaches, no matter how cliché it sounds.