MARLBORO — Kevin Quigley is starting his second year as president of Marlboro College at an exciting time, given recent additions to the campus.
"The first year has really been wild and wonderful. Although Marlboro College is tiny, it's as complex as any liberal arts college out there and it's a college that's a community of people," Quigley said. "A lot of my first year has been spent trying to get to know the community so that's students, faculty, staff, trustees and alums. I also got to know other community members here in Vermont."
Two goals for this year involve continuing the upward trends in recruitment of students and fundraising. The latest drive saw the college take in donations at a rate of more than 25 percent of its previous record of about $1.74 million. The hope had been to raise $1.85 million for the annual fund, which goes toward operations. Instead, the $2 million mark was surpassed.
Quigley said the Renaissance Scholars program — approved by trustees during his second month at the college — has increased the number of students attending the school, the student population has become more diverse and there's a new "vitality and energy" on campus.
"We really developed an important new chapter in this remarkable college's history," said Quigley.
Brigid Lawler, dean of admissions, said the college has seen a 42 percent increase in enrollment of first-year students over last year. That means 74 new students this year, whereas last year had 52.
"It was just a really good class coming in. It feels good. And I think next year, I'm very hopefully it will be even better," Lawler said, pointing out that the scholarship program had been rolled out late but this year will be different. "We're starting right off now with fall recruitment. We're seeing how it plays out next year as well. We have this philosophy that it's like finding needles in a haystack. There's Marlboro kids at every school."
Developing the Renaissance Scholars program, Lawler said, "really helped put us on the map literally and figuratively."
"We have students from Hawaii, four kids from Louisiana, one from Mississippi — just a lot of markets we had never been able to gain a strong foothold in, particularly the South. We are really starting to become hot in the South," Lawler said. "On so many levels, I think, for prospective students visiting the school to see more students on campus is good. It makes us look more attractive. So does more diversity."
The Renaissance Scholars program likely will be scaled back after this year. It may look more like the college's Beautiful Minds Challenge, which is a national competition held every fall since about 2012. Seniors in high school qualify for three scholarships: one is a full ride, another covers three-fourths the cost of tuition and the third is for half. Each year brings a new theme and different prompt for project submissions.
Renaissance scholarship recipients might be selected from fewer states. The current program looks for a student from every state. Out of about 70 applications, 28 students received a scholarship through the program and are at the school now. Lawler hopes to see 40 states represented next year.
Overall, the school has about 200 students with capacity for no more than about 320. Lawler said the faculty is happy and students are engaged. But now, the key is to keep them.
"So when you come back in December," Lawler told the Reformer, "How many of them are still here? That's the measure."
Common Ground: Living and Working in Community
Common Ground is a new course being offered at the college that came about after "ongoing conversations about new initiatives to introduce to help strengthen our sense of community," said Professor Seth Harter.
"Historically, Marlboro has always held community as an important value. I really see it as related in part to our size and scale. One thing that's distinct is our size," Professor Kate Ratcliff said. "Because we are intentionally small, that means that on one level we can welcome and work with every student as an individual."
Senior Solomon Botwick-Ries, who assisted in the design of Common Ground, summed the course up as "crafting space and allotting time to explore what we already do in developing skills, fostering conversation and addressing issues."
Community in this course, Ratcliff said, "isn't a thing out there we're tapping into."
"It's something we create and recreate with others," Ratcliff said. "It's really another way of envisioning and way of bringing into being a future we all want to inhabit."
Some of the class is left undefined, Harter said, so the second semester is given some room to take shape. Over the first month, students will be looking at themselves as individuals, as a group, and outside of the class. Renaissance scholarship recipients fulfill a community-service requirement by completing the course.
Small groups will break out and develop projects rooted in the broader community. They will still be on campus but outside of the classroom environment. Staying there has a certain logic. The class is "aimed at incoming students that need to find their feet where they are," said Ratcliff.
Another aspect of the course has to do with defining leadership.
"It's an important question for our planet, for our democracy, for Marlboro College," Ratcliff said. "I think as a world, we're not really all that skilled at working together, working through differences and resolving conflicts. We will be working with nonviolent communication as a way of fostering clear communication and resolving conflict."
Connecting the class to Town Meeting — where students, faculty and staff make decisions together as part of a shared governance model — and getting a clearer sense of the capacity to effect change is one of Ratcliff's goals. Every three weeks, the school's Select Board meets in the dining hall. Mostly students make up the board.
Luis Rosa, dean of students, joined the college in January. Rosa is taking over for Xenia Markowitt.
Previously, Rosa was at Antioch College in Ohio. Both Antioch and Marlboro operate by shared governance.
"I was always interested in the shared governance model," said Rosa, who oversees academics and support services for students. "I would say the college has met my expectations and truly exceeded my expectations as far as being a unique community, a community that is tight knit, a community that truly takes seriously this notion of governance. It has an egalitarian feel to it. It really strives not to be hierarchical in the way that it approaches decision making."
Students accepted for the Renaissance Scholars program "need to perform in a certain matter," said Rosa.
"They need to be engaged in this community. They need to show some leadership in this community. It's part of my responsibility to maintain that piece, to oversee that aspect," said Rosa. "We're building this to a certain extent but they will be asked to participate in our Town Meeting process. They will be asked to participate in our community service."
The program, Rosa said, "for me, lacks precedence" and it has brought excitement to the college. Recipients of the scholarship were chosen in a "high selective" process.
Students on the scholarship are "motivated, energized, goal-oriented folks," said Rosa.
"I think it has been truly a piece for the institution," Rosa added. "We have a more diverse student body, both in race and ethnicity, and we've been able to utilize one of our smaller residential halls in a way. We recommissioned it to be a multicultural center. We're in the process of fundraising for that and redeveloping that space to have space specific for underrepresented students on campus."
The hope is to establish the Marlboro Center for Equity, Diversity and Empowerment this semester or this year. The Queer Resource Center, Women's Resource Center and Living in Color are three organizations that plan on calling the building home.
New faces on campus
Freshman Menefese Kudumu-Clavell applied for a Renaissance scholarship but did not get one. Coming from North Carolina after hearing about the college through his mother's friend from Tanzania, he said the school looked interesting.
"I wanted to get out of North Carolina because I like changing cultures and things like that. The thing about this school that really hooked me was not having to take classes you felt weren't necessary, like prerequisite math," Kudumu-Clavell said. "You're just taking classes that you're interested in."
Class sizes are similar to the ones from his high school. Particularly enjoyable to Kudumu-Clavell is the instruction.
"All the professors are very intellectual and know a lot. It's fun hearing them talk and explain," Kudumu-Clavell said. "They're very passionate."
Brattleboro reminded him of a "small-scale" Savannah, Ga. He also visited New Hampshire and Massachusetts since arriving at Marlboro this semester.
Freshman Hailey Mount attended a nontraditional high school in Colorado. When shown Marlboro at college fair, "it was everything" she wanted in a school.
"A lot of things translated over," Mount said. "I wanted to do another focus-based build-your-own class style."
Having never lived anywhere but Colorado, Mount will no doubt miss the state. But of all the places, she said, Vermont's "not that different."
The transmission on Mount's car failed while making the trek to Marlboro. Luckily, her family was along for the ride. Mount's brother was on his way to New York University. The next challenge lies ahead: Mount's running for Select Board at the school.
Mount also applied but did not receive the Renaissance scholarship.
"But they give very great financial aid," Mount said. "Everyone's been friendly. Everyone's nice."
Snyder Center for the Visual Arts
Tim Segar, visual arts professor, said construction on the center had taken about a year and a half to complete. Discussions around design began three years ago. The building was dedicated last May.
"Then we spent the summertime moving into it, equipping it, making sure it worked before students arrive," said Segar. "Obviously, it's going to evolve the longer we're in the building. Right away, it's given a focal point to the importance of visual arts in the curriculum at Marlboro. We have a large number of students who come to Marlboro, who have artistic intentions when they go to college. It's the type of student we attract."
Charlie and Sue Snyder were the main donors of the approximately $5 million, 12,594-square-foot facility, which Quigley called "a fabulous space." He sees it bringing "great breadth" to the college as it will connect the rest of the campus to the arts. Meetings and classes can be held in the building. A special room was designed just for that purpose.
The facility is a lot healthier to work in than the old one, said Segar. Ventilation and safety systems were improved.
"It's easy to clean," Segar said. "It's organized and I think it's going to encourage students to feel capable of making more ambitious work while they're here."
Segar considers the new facility "a quantum leap bigger and better" than the former one, which was built as a summer project by students and staff members in the 1960s. He said the new building at least doubles the previous space and it is now handicap accessible, where in the past it had not been.
The incoming freshmen will be the first to spend all four years using the center for sculpture and ceramics, digital arts, film and photography editing, and two-dimensional arts. Segar has seen a jump in enrollment in the arts classes but also acknowledges the uptick all around.
"It's great to be attracting bigger classes of students," Segar said. "I have a couple more years until I retire. It's certainly going to be a pleasure working those years in this great environment. It has definitely reinvigorated my teaching life. There's no question about it. And it will certainly help attract new faculty members."
Gensler Architects, of Boston, Mass. designed the building. They "were good collaborators," said Segar. And the Snyders donated some extra money to help restore two other buildings that sit in front of the visual arts center.
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.