Bringing Families Together, One Conversation—and Super Bowl Commercial—at a Time

JSarrouf_2012_07_18_03_21_51Sunday’s Super Bowl commercials won’t just be featuring the usual chips and beer promotions. This year’s will include a new Cheerios commercial with a family at the breakfast table, part of a national campaign to promote family mealtime conversations that John Sarrouf, adjunct professor of communication arts and sociology, is behind. Sarrouf, director of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit organization and grass roots movement that promotes “food, fun and conversation about things that matter,” said that the General Mills Company recognized their work and initiated the partnership.

“At The Family Dinner Project, we’ve traveled the country talking with parents about the importance of mealtime in helping families stay connected—and about its many physical, academic and emotional benefits for children,” he said. “When Cheerios reached out in support of our mission to connect families through food, fun and conversation about things that matter, we were thrilled.”

Sarrouf, who teaches screenwriting as well as peace and conflict studies, wrote the script— is featured in—a COMMERCIAL for the Family Dinner Project that is being aired on regional television. National Public Radio also featured Sarrouf and the Family Dinner Project in a story on today’s Morning Edition, which can be heard HERE.

Exploring the Dynamics between Rural Poverty and Education

Phillips explored the area in many ways!

 It’s cold in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And its economy, once built on forest and maple products, has faltered into today’s sparsely populated, economically disadvantaged region of the state. But neither stopped Suzanne Phillips, professor of psychology, from spending a year long sabbatical in 2012-2013 there. In fact, she felt right at home.

That’s because she was born there. As a first generation college student herself, Phillips wanted to merge scholarship interests as a community psychologist into a specific research project: rural populations, post-secondary education and first generation college students. So she settled into a borrowed office at White Mountains Community College, in the heart of Coos County just south of the Canadian border, and went to work.

“New Hampshire is a wealthy state but the wealth is not distributed evenly,” she said. “I wanted to understand the impact poverty had on education, why people born in Coos County seemed to have less access to education and what the implications of both were for the local quality of life. 

She started by noticing how six of the seven campuses that comprise the Community College System of NH are clustered in the southern part of the state.  White Mountains Community College, located three miles from downtown Berlin, is the only higher education institution in Coos County where 300-350 high school students graduate in a typical year.

Phillips gained access to government and college databases to determine how many go on to higher education. What she discovered was startling, even for local educators she talked with: between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of new high school graduates in Coos County starting college jumped from 58 percent to 69 percent.  By contrast, the state as a whole did not see a change in college matriculation rates and during this same period, other counties declined.  Continue reading

Models of Excellence, Scholars in Dialogue

Gordon professors from very different fields are often invited to offer their insights and expertise on teaching and dialogue at national gatherings. Here are three recent examples:

Crisman-_Karl-Dieter_2007_11_01_10_12_39In January as the Joint Mathematics Meeting gathered in Baltimore—”the world’s largest mathematics meeting in the world”—Karl-Dieter Crisman, associate professor of mathematics, was there as well. In a poster presentation, Crisman discussed Gordon’s long-running relationship with a local community partner, Girls Inc of Lynn, Mass: “We used a Tensor grant to begin a Math Circles program with an explicit mentoring component for urban middle school girls, mostly from underrepresented minorities.  After one semester, the program has been a success in getting the girls excited about math; it has also provided extremely good experience in flexibility and thinking on one’s feet for our mentors, who are mostly pre-service mathematics educators.” Crisman also gave a talk entitled, “Thou Shalt Compute, in One Click: Using (Embedded) Sage Cells Online” where he demonstrated several ways to use free, open-source Sage cell technology as part of his pedagogy.

Brink-_Paul_2007_11_02_08_59_52Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, will also participate in a unique dialogue related to his scholarship. At an event sponsored by The Constitution Project (TCP) in Washington, D.C., in March, Brink will travel there to discuss a recently commissioned TCP report called, “Preventing Irreversible Error: Recommended Reforms in the Administration of Capital Punishment,” which offers current analysis of the country’s death penalty system to help Americans get beyond fruitless debate over abstractions. Brink was one of only 20 evangelical leaders invited to participate and said that the “goal of the report was not to resolve the theoretical issue of whether the death penalty is right or wrong in the abstract. Instead, it’s to examine how the death penalty is actually practiced and how that practice might better conform to constitutional principles and American values, regardless of theoretical positions.”

Vanborre_Emmanuelle_0729_sm_2011_11_22_10_58_43Dialogue and technology are crucial elements for professors of foreign languages. Emmanuelle Vanborre, associate professor of French, will also present in March at a training workshop called, “Technology as a Tool for Linguistic and Cultural Development” for the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language in Boston. Vanborre will  explore “numerous ways to help make students proficient readers and writers, and to integrate art, culture and literature in the curriculum through technology. I’ll  present strategies  (in French) that can help facilitate comprehension and expression by focusing on developing reading and writing skills while enhancing background knowledge of culture, history, geography, and politics.”

A “Privileged” Life

As the nation pauses on Monday to honor the vision and efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some professors at Gordon are also considering his impact on their work. Katie Knudsen, adjunct professor of Christian Theology, and The Great Conversations, and Coordinator of Academically-Based Service-Learning in the Office of Community Engagement, offers the following personal essay in recognition of the issues Dr. King raised as he pursued racial reconciliation.

A “Privileged” Life

photo.cfmBy Katie Knudsen

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a conservative Jewish home. My town was largely white, but more diverse by far than the area I currently call home, the North Shore of Massachusetts. My best friends were some fellow Jews, a Korean and an African American from my neighborhood. Even so, I never thought much about race and was never really confronted with it. When we celebrated MLK Day, I was content knowing my ancestors were busy being harassed in Eastern Europe during the time of slavery and Jim Crow.

Clearly, it was a naive response.

College, however, was an awakening. At Duke University in North Carolina, far from home and the culture to which I was accustomed, I became the first Jew a few of my classmates had ever met. There was an enormous population of African Americans, which was exciting for me. I loved getting to know black students, listening to their music in our freshmen dorm, learning from them how to straighten my very-curly hair.

Some things were more unsettling. Every single cook, janitor, and landscaper I met at Duke was African American. It was uncomfortable always being served by black people, but they were the people in the area who needed the jobs, so some sort of “affirmative action” for white service people would have been inappropriate. I began to wonder, though, why so many African Americans were seeking such low-paying work.

Which brings me to the most emotionally-draining, yet life-changing class of my educational career. The year before graduation, I registered for “Race and Education in America,” a class my now-husband and I quickly renamed “Why White People Suck.” The first few weeks in the class were difficult. My Black and Latino peers behaved differently in this class than I was used to them behaving. Many were angry and combative, and they frequently focused on this thing called “white privilege.” Continue reading

Psychology Beyond the Classroom

Gerber_JP_0666_sm_2011_11_22_11_02_26Though the new semester has officially begun, like most Gordon scholars, Jonathan Gerber, associate professor of psychology, is preparing for more than his classes. This spring, he will be chairing two symposia to celebrate the 60th anniversary of social comparison theory. The first is an invited symposium at Eastern Psychological Association in Boston this March, and involves several regional researchers. The second is at theAssociation for Psychological Science, a large psychology conference, in San Francisco this May.

Chairing both reflects on the work Gerber has been doing with Ladd Wheeler on a social comparison meta-analysis. Wheeler is one of the foremost experts on the theory, having followed it for 50 years, and suggested Gerber do a second meta-analysis after seeing his work on rejection. Social comparison is a large research area, and most prominent social psychologists have addressed it in their scholarship. Gerber also plans to follow up this work  with a grant application to put a social comparison research database online, which would involve a number of social comparison researchers.

Earlier this month, Gerber also published an article on how preparing for rejection can lessen its effects. In it, he takes apart the accepted academic view of rejection—which suggests rejection hurts because it devalues existing relationships—and shows that rejection does hurt even when you don’t have a relationship. Gerber then shows that expectations might be a better model of why rejection hurts. Expecting rejection makes it much less harmful to us, even if it doesn’t quite totally remove the harm.

When Art Meets Sociological History

In the 1970s, residential institutions for intellectually disabled children and adults throughout the country were common place. They were also often overcrowded and understaffed. In fact, one contemporary artist, Randall Deihl, captured in his paintings one such institution known as the Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded in Belchertown, MA, a institution that became known for its inhumane treatment of its patients.

Based on that history and because of his scholarship on such institutions, James Trent, professor of sociology, has been invited to speak at The Smith College Museum of Art during a two-day symposium, “Excavating the Image: The Belchertown State School by Randall Deihl.” Trent’s talk entitled, “A Season in Hell’s Palace,” explores his own experiences of working at a residential institution for intellectually disabled children and adults, along with an examination of Randall Deihl’s painting.  The lecture takes place on January 9, 2014, at the Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Trent said the talk includes stories he has not discussed before in public, some based on his own experiences several years ago while studying at Duke University when he was asked to teach Sunday School at  the Murdoch Center. The Center, he later learned, was a public residential facility that housed 2,500 children and adults who in those days would have been called “mentally retarded.”  The experience shaped the course of his work and interests.