Potash Hill

Finding Common Ground in the Wilds

Common Ground participants pause in front of a prodigious tree on their hike into Merck Forest.One of Kevin Quigley’s guiding goals as president of Marlboro College has been to bridge the graduate and undergraduate worlds, to find synergies and allow the two programs to build on each other’s strengths. In a pioneering course taught over last spring break, undergraduate professor Jean O’Hara and her graduate colleague Jodi Clark ’95 MSM ’14 found these strengths in abundance. Called Common Ground: Building Community in the Wilds, the class brought undergraduate and graduate students together to explore their relationship with community and the natural world.

“There was a call to make the two campuses more integrated, and we wanted to be part of that solution,” says Jean, who teaches theater and environmental studies. “Jodi and I were already making that bridge as two colleagues, as two people with similar interests, and we knew we worked well together. Through this course, each group of students learned more about the two programs and how they are interwoven in the core values of Marlboro College.”

After reflecting on readings that explored their relationship to themselves, to community, and to the natural world, the group embarked on a series of outdoor adventures that brought them closer together and closer to nature. The group hiked into a rustic cabin at Merck Forest and Farmland Center, a nonprofit educational organization in Rupert, Vermont, some of them hiking with a heavy pack for the first time. There they had the chance to talk firsthand with people who live and work sustainably with the land, farming, practicing forestry, raising animals, and— as they happily discovered during their hike in—maple sugaring. This was followed by a stay at Sargent Center, an environmental education program in Hancock, New Hampshire, where students connected with people who bring environmental science to life for school-aged children.

Marty Piper ’19 and John Marinelli '17 ham it up on Mount Monadnock with Dhruv Jagasia, a student in Marlboro’s MBA program and CEO of the social enterprise Dharma Eyewear. Photos by Jodi ClarkWorking together in community with the land was an important component of this course,” says Jodi, who teaches in the graduate management programs and is a core consultant for the Center for New Leadership. “So frequently in our current culture and society, we don’t think of ourselves as part of the ecosystem of a place. All of our actions, whether it was picking up trimmed blueberry bush branches or mindfully walking along the forested paths, had some level of impact on both us and the place. How we were together with the place mattered.”

“I feel like I’ve left and come back a different person,” says Dhruv Jagasia, an MBA student focusing on conscious business. “It gave me a kind of refresher on what it felt like to be disconnected from the internet, from social networks, from society as we know it.”

One of the culminating experiences of the trip was a hike up Mount Monadnock, when the group was joined by President Kevin and two friends who are former Peace Corps Volunteers. It was the only sunny day of the whole trip, and the mountaintop was teeming with appreciative hikers, taking pictures, eating, and sharing.

“It was delightful being by ourselves first, and later climbing the mountain with Kevin and his friends, and then at the very top we were part of this very diverse mountain community,” says Jean. “Our community just kept expanding as we climbed higher. It made an impression on the students that all different types of people worked their way up this difficult climb and that the president took the time to be with them for a full day’s hike.”