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Get to know: Kevin Rask

Kevin Rask was probably destined to be an economist: His father, two sisters, and his wife, CC President Jill Tiefenthaler, all are economists. If that’s not enough, he was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a country of vast economic opportunity, where his father was working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) while completing his dissertation in economics.

The Rask family later moved to Columbus, Ohio, where his father taught agricultural economics at Ohio State University and his mother was a special education teacher in the Columbus public schools.

Rask received a B.A. in economics from Haverford College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Duke University. After considering and then discarding two or three dissertation topics, he wrote his dissertation on “The Social Costs of Production and the Structure of Technology in the Brazilian Ethanol Industry: A Cost-Benefit Analysis and an Infant Industry Evaluation, 1978-1987.” Rask has taught at Colgate University and Wake Forest University.

The first decade of Rask’s research centered on renewal fuels; primarily ethanol development, production, markets, and policy in the United States and Brazil. He also looked at the impact of ethanol on the U.S. highway trust funds and emission characteristics of ethanol. Over time, with the system so entrenched with political and agricultural interests, Rask moved on to an area that had always been a student-research focus of his: higher education.

“Since the late 90s, my primary area has been higher ed,” he said. “I’ve always found it the best way to teach econometrics and statistics.” He teaches econometrics, defined as “the application of mathematics and statistical methods to economic data,” by using higher ed models as examples. “College students understand the econometric concepts and methodology more clearly when you use examples such as college choice and major choice,” he said. “Difficult analytical concepts are easier to grasp when the context is something the student has experienced first-hand.” In fact, a major focus of his research is the modeling of choice. It’s an area that fascinates him: why people do what they do in different environments or facing different constraints.

Some of Rask’s more recent research in the field of higher education has focused on issues such as the role of grade sensitivity in explaining the gender imbalance in undergraduate economics, the SAT as a predictor of success at a liberal arts college, and the influence of various components of U.S. News & World Report’s ranking categories on a school’s final score.  The last issue is gaining increased attention, as many schools, Colorado College included, no longer tout U.S. News & World Report rankings in publications or on their websites. Rask said the formula and weight given to various components of the USNWR rankings are not independent, but rather, are linked.  As an example, he cites the component identifying how many students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Although that component has a predetermined weight, if a school changes its top 10 percent profile it will also change other components, such as average SAT scores and projected graduation rates.  Therefore, Rask says, the effective influence of some components is greater than their published weights.

Rask also is interested in the long-term returns to a selective liberal arts education, not only as a way of justifying the sticker shock of the cost, but also its lasting benefits. “Most economists tend to focus on earnings,” he said. “But research also shows that college graduates tend to vote at a higher rate, divorce at a lower rate, are healthier, and are more civically engaged. Graduates also are more flexible in their careers and have a greater ability to be productive in the workforce.  New research is beginning to find differences between types of institutions and certain outcomes, and the contributions of liberal arts colleges are a primary interest of mine,” he said.

Rask taught Econometrics in Block 2 and will co-teach, with Tiefenthaler, Economics of Higher Education in Block 5. As part of that course the class will look at various educational models and institutions, including planned visits to Pikes Peak Community College, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Regis University, and the Air Force Academy.

In addition to teaching, Rask oversees five senior thesis projects and has a part-time appointment conducting institutional research at CC. That position is still evolving, but in the past Rask developed models of alumni giving and participation for Colgate University, and models of admission yields and financial aid for Colgate, Wake Forest University, many undergraduate institutions, and several law schools.

Rask is impressed by the CC students’ level of engagement in their classes, noting that, “As a group, they are far more engaged than other students I have taught.” He also finds there are fewer barriers between students and professors at Colorado College than at other institutions and wonders whether that is attributable to the type of students attracted to CC, the type of faculty the college attracts, or if it’s part of the culture of the Block Plan.

As much as he enjoys research, Rask really enjoys teaching. “My research isn’t going to change the world in a huge way,” he said. “But with teaching, you can have a lasting influence.” His goal? “To turn out majors who are capable of good, independent reasoning. They should have the intellectual confidence and skills to come up with their own answers to inquiries and projects.”

 Part of his dedication to teaching is evident in his left knee, which remains swollen despite surgery in the middle of Block 2. Rask, an avid basketball fan, tore his ACL playing a pick-up basketball game in late September. Feeling better after the surgery, he spent too much time on his feet in class and his knee subsequently swelled up.  An infection followed, and after a second surgery he is back on his feet without crutches (or an ACL) and looking forward to getting the knee done again after teaching Block 5. Despite his love for sports, Rask says it will be a while before he plays as hard as he used to.

Get to Know: Inger Bull

Inger Bull was in her senior year of college before she figured out what she wanted to do, and, unfortunately, it had nothing to do with her major. She had nearly completed her major in math and actuarial science at Kearney State College in Nebraska before discovering her passions lay in literature and foreign travel.

“But in those days, no one asked you what your passion was,” said Bull, CC’s new director of international programs. “I was good in math and statistics, and they were pushing females to go into those fields. That was where the demand, job security, and salary were. People were trying to help, but really, it was a disservice.”

After graduation, she took off for the University of Plymouth in England, where she studied – and traveled, and met people, and experienced new food and new languages and new cultures. “It was my year of self-discovery,” she said, especially for someone born and raised in Gretna, Neb. “It was the best liberal arts education I could have received – very interdisciplinary.”

While traveling, she visited Heidelberg, Germany, and wandered through the famous university. “I loved the atmosphere there. I would walk by classrooms and students talking with professors, and I felt completely at home, even though I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I felt so comfortable there. That’s when I knew I wanted to work at a college or university.”

She returned to Nebraska and earned an MBA at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then went on to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln get a Ph.D. in higher education administration with a specialty in international education. Along the way, she spent a year at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. The time in Australia helped shape her thesis, titled “Faculty Exchanges and the Internationalization of the Undergraduate Curriculum in Australia and the United States.”

Bull wanted other students to have the same transformative experiences abroad as she had, so she went into international higher education administration. She worked about 18 months at the University of Nebraska’s international affairs office before becoming the director of international education at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.

“I can’t imagine being liberally educated without traveling, even if it is within the United States. It is vital to the understanding of differences, and not being threatened by those differences,” she said. “Experiential learning is a key player in critical thinking.

“I love to watch students and see the gradual transformation in them. And it is gradual; it doesn’t happen all in one year. Sometimes the process is ongoing for years and years afterward.”

At Nebraska Wesleyan, Bull developed and co-taught two adjunct courses, one titled “Preparing for Education Abroad” and the other, “Processing the Experience Abroad.” The first one dealt with pre-departure preparations and cross-cultural communication; the second was Bull’s favorite, a writing-intensive class in which students dissected their experience abroad. “The course went way beyond asking the students to evaluate the program,” Bull said. “We asked students what their experiences meant given their host culture in comparison to their home culture. A lot of them had to relearn how to be back on campus and in our own culture. Over and over again, we saw convictions that the students had held since childhood dissolve when faced with other cultures.”

Traveling, she says, gives one a better understanding of reality. She would use one of her favorite quotes from Aldous Huxley’s “Jesting Pilate” to begin the Processing class:

So the journey is over and I am back again where I started, richer by much experience and poorer by many exploded convictions, many perished certainties. For convictions and certainties are too often the concomitants of ignorance…When one is traveling, convictions are mislaid as easily as spectacles; but unlike spectacles, they are not easily replaced.

Bull sees a major difference between the students at Nebraska Wesleyan and CC. At the former, 92 percent of the students were from Nebraska, few had been abroad before, and parents often needed to be convinced that study abroad was safe and beneficial.  “At Nebraska Wesleyan, we were working on building that ethos in, cultivating an expectation that students go abroad. At CC, that’s a given expectation,” she said. “Most of the students here have been abroad before, and fully expect study abroad to be part of their college experience.”

Bull started at CC in May, but spent June in Scandinavia with her husband, Anthony, an exercise physiologist at Creighton University, who leads a class there every other year. This year they went to Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, with Sweden being one of Bull’s favorite places: her mother was born and raised there before moving as an adult to Nebraska. In 2009 they spent the fall semester in Stockholm, where her husband was on sabbatical.

Bull’s husband is still at Creighton, and so far it’s been mostly a one-way commute: He comes to Colorado. “I love the climate here,” she said. Colorado is conducive to so much that Bull enjoys doing. A certified Pilates instructor, former college volleyball player, and lifelong fitness advocate, she especially enjoys jogging and biking (in fact, she and her husband own a tandem). Her other passion is reading; Bull just finished “Ludlow” because she felt she was part of the incoming class also. “I can’t finish a book without having the next one lined up,” she said. One of her favorite genres is historical fiction – especially when set in foreign countries.

In a moment of serendipity, Bull read Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” while living in Stockholm on the island of Södermalm, where the main characters live and much of the action takes place.  At the end of the semester she took the Stockholm City Museum’s “Millennium Tour” and traced the geographic locations of the books’ setting.  “I was in book geek heaven.”

Get to know: Jermyn Davis

There is no “normal day” for Jermyn Davis, chief of staff for new Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler.

Davis, who started when Tiefenthaler took the helm on July 1, previously worked in the president’s office at Wake Forest University, so he knows how hectic the job can be. “I lived three minutes from campus, and in those three minutes, my life could drastically change,” he said.

It’s a good thing he’s used to having his day turn on a dime. Davis oversees the daily functions of the office of the president, a job that entails a wide variety of responsibilities. Among them: helping the president develop and implement strategic initiatives, coordinating senior staff meetings, serving as a liaison between senior administrators and other campus and external constituents, overseeing the presidential staff and budget, working with the board of trustees, coordinating special projects, and representing the president on various college committees. In between, he commutes back and forth from Denver. (The commuting will end in early September, when the apartment he has rented in Colorado Springs becomes available.)

“Some people may see the chief of staff as the person behind the throne, but that is not the case,” Davis said. “I love working with Jill because that is what you do – work with her. She’s that way with everyone, very collaborative. Of course, I know she is in charge, but it is great to be able to see her as more of a partner, colleague, and mentor.”

One of the things he most likes about his job is that it allows him to help people solve problems. “If there’s a problem, my reaction is ‘let’s deal with it; let’s fix it.’ I know I can’t solve everything on my own, but we can get a lot done through collaboration and teamwork,” he said.

Davis worked with Tiefenthaler on a variety of projects at Wake Forest, including an effort to start a childcare center on campus, initiatives to increase faculty-student engagement, an assessment of student life policies, and the creation of new spaces on campus.

He’s looking forward to having students back on campus and having the academic year begin. “What we do is for the students. If you lose that part of the vision, you’re not doing your job,” he said.  “Right now I have the opportunity to be in a place to help Jill and CC succeed.

“I want people to see me as someone they can go to for answers, and not get the runaround,” he said. “I want people to know they can say anything; they don’t have to filter it when talking with me. I will be accessible, and I believe in an open-door policy.”

Born and raised in Atlanta, Davis graduated from Wake Forest with a double major in Chinese and political science. He didn’t intend to major in Chinese, but since he had studied the language at the International Baccalaureate high school he attended, he decided to take Chinese to fulfill his language requirement. “I fell in love with it,” he said. “I had amazing professors, and I also had the opportunity to spend a summer in Beijing.”

As for political science, Davis said he always loved politics. “I like the data collection and the numerical aspect of it. I like studying what makes people do what they do; what gives them power and how they manipulate that power. It’s interesting to look at different events, such as the recent uprisings in Libya and Egypt and ask ‘Why there, and not somewhere else?’ ” Another area of interest is public policy and its influence on various aspects of life. He recently traveled to Liberia, a country with minimal infrastructure and devastated by decades of civil war, as part of a five-person team from Wake Forest.  The group was there to assess the possibility of a partnership between Wake Forest and the University of Liberia. “I know it is cliché, but it is interesting to see how much we take for granted: the ability to have constant electricity, running water, opening and closing windows, “ he said. “We saw that we have the capacity to do a lot for their institution by doing, relatively, so little.

Although Davis is enthusiastic about Chinese and political science, he almost didn’t major in either subject. He spent his first year of college at the Juilliard School, where he planned to study the bass. He left after a year, realizing it wasn’t for him. “I wanted a more well-rounded education; I didn’t want to be tied to one discipline. I wanted to study something that could relate to other areas, and not be one dimensional. I wanted to lead a life in which I could think critically; I wanted to get to know my professors.” He paused, then added, “I sound so CC. But it’s just what CC does so well.”

He recently attended the Aspen Music Festival and heard Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection.” After the concert, he thought to himself, “Why did I give this up? That could be me.” But on the drive back, he realized he would not have the same appreciation for the concert if he were a professional bass player. “I realized I love my life now,” he said.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to move to Colorado, said Davis, a movie buff who also enjoys the arts and theater. He said there is a young feeling to Colorado Springs, and a warm and friendly feeling at the college. “The college has so many strengths,” he said. “The faculty members are so engaged. You can tell they love teaching and care for the students. The CC staff is extremely supportive, and the students are amazingly creative and talented. And then, of course, there’s Pikes Peak.”

 On his initial trip to the campus, he visited Garden of the Gods. “It was beautiful. I took a photo and texted it to Jill, saying ‘Now I know why you and Kevin decided to come here.’ “

One thing Davis is very much looking forward to is skiing. “I am dying to ski,” he said. “I can’t wait to learn how.”

Get to Know: Neena Grover

For Neena Grover, science goes way beyond the classroom.

It goes throughout the region via the Southern Colorado Aids Project. It goes to towns in Tanzania and Kenya. It goes to K-12 schools in Colorado. Any student interested in science outreach can participate in the biosciences club, which goes to a local elementary school and teaches scientific methodology.  High school students and teachers learn about RNA research in her laboratory.

Grover, chair of the chemistry and biochemistry department, wants to make science fun and accessible.  She uses real-life problems in teaching biochemistry, an approach called problem-based service learning.  Students learn nucleic acid biochemistry by reading current literature on AIDS-causing HIV virus and present the science of virus multiplication and drug action to the local community.  “These students have enough knowledge to make a difference,” Grover says. “They may not be experts, but they have learned enough to be useful to society.  One does not need a Ph.D. to make a difference in the world.” 

She also wants her students to know that science is a puzzle and never a finished project; that there are always new directions to pursue. And she practices what she preaches:  Eight to 10 students each year conduct RNA-related research in her lab. The students get a lot of one-on-one mentoring in her lab, but they also learn independently, with every student getting his or her own research project. “That way, each student gets ownership of the work,” Grover says.

Although each student has a project, they all deal in some way with how local structures form in RNA. They examine the affect of ions on RNA stability. “We want to determine the rules for forming RNA structures.  We study small regions of RNA that are functionally important.  We want to improve the accuracy with which we get RNA-based information from genomic databases,” Grover says. The research results are impressive, and every year Grover takes four or five students to national conferences where they present their work.  Students also get a chance to publish their work in nationally renowned journals.

When she was in her early 20s, Grover, the daughter of an Indian Air Force officer and a teacher, came to the United States, where she earned a master’s degree in biophysical chemistry from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in bioinorganic/biochemistry from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  While there she worked with Dr. Holden Thorp to study drugs that cut DNA for such uses as in chemotherapy.

During her postdoctoral work in the laboratory of renowned RNA researcher Dr. Olke Uhlenbeck at the University of Colorado, Boulder, she began delving into catalytic RNA, one of the hottest fields in biochemistry. “RNA controls everything in the cell. You have ribosomes acting as enzymes, and RNA cutting itself out of a larger RNA, perhaps telling us that RNA is the original molecule of life,” Grover says.  Boulder was the center of the “RNA world” during the 1990s.  While at Boulder, Grover taught an organic chemistry and biochemistry course to CU nursing students. She found she enjoyed it, and that students responded well to her teaching. She realized then that she wanted to improve science education for all students.

Grover joined the Colorado College faculty in 1999. She teaches organic chemistry and biochemistry, as well as gender and science, and ecofeminism.  “I’m not here to open their brains and dump information in,” she says. When she tells her students that what they are learning now may be obsolete in 10 years, they groan and ask, “So why are we learning this?”

“Ah,” she replies, “you should be thinking of the principles, and not memorizing.” 

 “The liberal arts philosophy fits me,” she says. “I want students to see science from multiple angles; to see science broadly. I want them to think for themselves, think logically and build a foundation.”

Grover is married to Gerald Miller, a professional cellist who plays with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and with symphonies in Calfornia.  They travel to India every few years to visit her two siblings, mother and their nephews and nieces.

Get to Know: Peter Wright

When Peter Wright’s graduate advisor received his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Harvard in the early 1980s, there were two or three tenure-track positions available in the field. When Wright graduated in 2008, there were more than 40 such positions.

There was no way Wright could have predicted the sea change that crashed over the discipline. He entered graduate school in Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in August 2001; the events of 9/11 occurred when he had been on campus less than a month.

 Wright took the long road in becoming an Islamicist – he detoured through law school. A philosophy and classical languages double major at the University of Pittsburgh, he hoped someday to become a literary critic. But a pragmatic father persuaded him to go to law school, and Wright complied, earning his J.D. from the Duquesne University School of Law, getting married, and accumulating the accompanying law school debt. He then hung out a shingle to pay for it all.

As a practicing attorney, he spent about a third of his time on criminal defense work, and in that capacity visited clients in prison, where he encountered African-American inmates who had converted to Islam. He began researching, studying, writing, and eventually presenting papers at conferences on the topic of Islam in the American prison system. Academics at the conferences were impressed, and told Wright he should pursue the topic. “That was important to me; I needed someone to say I should do this.”

Wright contacted leading scholars in the field, and received positive feedback. “I knew I had to make the move,” he said. “I was 40 years old, and had been practicing law for 10 years. It was getting comfortable. I thought, ‘If I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it.’ I didn’t want to be one of those people who gets to the end of his career and says, ‘I wish I had done what I really wanted to do.‘ ”

Wright, who by now had a toddler, told his wife that he wanted to leave the law practice to pursue graduate studies in Islam. His wife, pregnant with their second child, encouraged him to do so. The more difficult conversations, Wright says, were with his father, who said, “I thought we had you straightened out,” and with his law partner. “The first words out of his mouth were ‘You can’t do this.’ “ (The law partner has since come around and enjoys visiting Colorado on rock climbing trips. His father, who has passed away, visited Wright in North Carolina and saw how contented he was in his chosen field of study.)

Wright‘s M.A. thesis continued his work on Islam in American prisons through its focus on the rise of the Black Nationalist movement known as the “Nation of Islam.” His interest in literary criticism blossomed when he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation. A study of the Qur’an, Wright’s dissertation applies recent allusion theory to the text of the holy book in order to gain insight into the likely composition of its original audience. He is a historian of literature, and his mentor was the late Nasr Abu Zayd, a world-renowned Qur’anic scholar who held positions at Cairo University and the Universities of Utrecht and Leiden in Holland.

Wright applies literary and rhetorical theory to religious texts and is well aware of the objections raised to this approach by some who hold such texts sacred. “My position on this issue is the same as Nasr Abu Zayd’s,” he explains. “Every Holy Scripture is revealed in language that its original audience is capable of understanding; therefore, every Holy Scripture is subject to the laws by which language communicates meaning. The application of literary and rhetorical theory to sacred texts is simply one means of ascertaining how a given text has complied with (or transgressed) those laws.” He adds: “The earliest commentators on the Qur’an in the Islamic tradition were not only masters of Arabic grammar, they were steeped in the imagery and vocabulary of pre-Islamic Arab poetry. They made no apology for resorting to non-Muslim poets to explain obscure words or even passages of the Qur’an. In fact, the foundation of the Muslim exegetical tradition lies in such scholarly activities. The notion that what Nasr did or what I do somehow ‘reduces’ the Qur’an to ‘mere literature’ is a very recent one. Individuals who hold such views would do well to acquaint themselves with the history of Qur’anic interpretation.”         

Wright says that he strives to teach his students to examine the ways in which human beings imagine the divine and their relationship to it. In doing this, he likes to invoke the “metaphysics of imagination” developed by the 13th-century Muslim polymath Ibn ‘Arabi. “Ibn ‘Arabi argued that every human being worships an idol – the image of the divine that makes sense to them. Everyone gets a glimpse of the truth; the truth that is available to them.” So much of that interpretation, he says, depends on context: where a person was born, how they were raised, what language they speak, his or her life experiences, etc.

Wright joined the CC faculty in the fall of 2008, after weighing offers from several other schools. “Timing never was my strong suit,” he says, “except in the matter of Islamic Studies.” Islam, he says, “was not on the radar of most Americans before 9/11, despite 20 percent of the world’s population being Muslim.”  He chose CC over a prestigious public research university for a variety of reasons. “I believe in the importance of undergraduate education and was excited about meeting students at a critical time in their lives, where you can have a significant impact,” he said. He also liked the collegiality of CC’s religion department. “Overall, I felt that this was a better place for me,” he said.

Wright’s fields of expertise are Islamic sacred literature and its interpretation, Islam in the Americas, the history of religions, theory and method in religious studies, and religion and violence. He says that, in order to better understand the sacred texts of Islam, he spends a significant portion of his time studying the history and literature of both Judaism and Christianity.

There is no scale of justice in Wright’s office. Instead, one of the first things a visitor notices is a large, silver samovar surrounded by small Moroccan tea glasses.  Islamic Studies are not just about texts, Wright says. There is an entire civilization built around the values of Muslim culture, and one of the preeminent values of that culture is hospitality.

Wright’s two sons, a toddler and newborn when he started out on his path toward Islamic Studies, are now 10 and 12 years old. His wife, an active member of the Pittsburgh theater community who wrote and directed plays, is currently a certified Pilates instructor and teaches Pilates and yoga as physical therapy.

Get to Know: Pam Shipp

Pam Shipp ’69 has come home. Although in some ways, she never really left.

Shipp joined the Boettcher Counseling Center in January, where she works in the same office she had in 1985, when she had just completed her Ph.D. in counseling psychology.  She currently is a part-time counselor at the center, as well as the founder of a leadership consulting business, PL Shipp & Associates. The tagline on her website, “Leadership and Service,” is indicative of the direction Shipp’s life has taken.

“You can’t separate the two. Part of my job is to serve,” she says.

Shipp has a legacy of leadership and service. After graduating from CC with a degree in political science, Shipp earned a master’s degree in counseling from George Washington University, then served as a counselor and administrator in Colorado Springs School District 11 for 15 years. “I found I wanted to spend more time with the kids, and I couldn’t do that. I was restricted by time and the calendar.” So she returned to school to earn her Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Upon completing her doctorate, she served as a counselor at CC, opened a private practice, and started working at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). “Juggling three jobs became too wild, so I left CC to concentrate on my practice and CCL,” she said.

Her private practice focused on adolescents and their families, while at the Center for Creative Leadership she led executive training and development courses and managed their nonprofit programs. The two positions were not as disparate as they might seem. “I’m a cognitive behaviorist; I believe thoughts drive behavior,” Shipp said. “In both cases, I worked at getting at the root cause of who you are, in order to help that person on their journey, to be the best they could be.”

Shipp ran her private practice for 15 years, in some cases seeing former District 11 students who came to her with their own children.

In 2007 she started PL Shipp & Associates, an executive coaching and leadership consulting business, based in Colorado Springs.

Working with students was a primary reason she was eager to return to CC, and in many ways, her life has come full circle. She was a student at CC in the ‘60s, dealing with questions of identity, relationships, and adjustment issues. Today, she counsels CC students with the same concerns. “It is rewarding to connect with them. I just want them to recognize who they are and maximize their potential. These students have so much to offer.

Get to Know: Chris Coulter

One might almost think that Chris Coulter, the new director of facilities services, was destined to work at Colorado College.

Coulter comes to CC from Academy School District 20, where he served as the former executive director for construction management and sustainability. On Coulter’s first day at the D-20 job, architect Antoine Predock was selected to design one of the district’s premiere schools, the Discovery Canyon Campus. Predock is the same architect who designed CC’s Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center. “It’s ironic that I should work at the two places in town that have Predock buildings,” Coulter says.

One of the first things Coulter plans to do at CC is both very easy and very difficult. He plans to do a lot of listening. “I want to hear what is being said. And I want to be sure that what I’m hearing is being integrated into what we are doing.

“I want to get to know people, the facilities staff, and the culture of the campus,” he said.

Working together is a theme that comes up often when talking with Coulter. He’s eager to work with the various departments on campus involved in CC’s sustainability initiatives. He also is eager to get started on the new Worner Center renovation, which begins the day students leave campus in May, and must be completed before their return in August.

During Coulter’s seven and a half year tenure at D-20, he oversaw construction management and sustainability at the district’s 19 elementary schools, six middle schools, and six high schools. While there, he supervised the completion of a $163 million bond issue and a construction program that finished early and $10 million under budget.  In addition, Coulter led the on-time and under-budget completion of The Classical Academy’s (TCA) new 80,000-square-foot-campus.  The project, which was completed a year and a half ago at a cost of $120 per square foot,  features a full-size soccer and football competitive synthetic turf playing field, parking lot, elementary school for nearly 650 children, space for a home-school program, and 10 classrooms for their on-site partner Pikes Peak Community College.  The campus is the first of its kind in the state and currently is viewed as a model for how partnerships can benefit all participants.

While Coulter may be new to CC, he is not new to Colorado Springs. His father currently is a District 20 Board of Education member and spent the majority of his Air Force career as a biology instructor at the Air Force Academy. Coulter is a graduate of Rampart High School and played on the school’s 1987 undefeated basketball state champion team.  While in college, Coulter was an ROTC cadet and commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force in May 1993. He earned a B.A. in pre-engineering from DePauw University and a B.S. in engineering from Purdue University, and went on to earn a master’s in civil engineering from the University of Colorado—Boulder while in the Air Force.

He spent eight years in the Air Force as a civil engineering officer in places such as Florida, Nevada, Korea, and Central America.  The Air Force was great training, as “you had to be the engineer, tradesman, equipment agent, everything. We were self-sustained, and you had to figure it out.” That training, he says, serves him well in his current position.

He admits, however, that he is poor at home construction projects. “I have to make 12-14 trips to Home Depot,” he says. “But I’ll do it as many times as I have to in order to get it right.” He admires his staff; in fact, he says he “is humbled” by their skills. “They get it right, quickly, and on budget.”

Coulter is the father of an 11-year-old son, J.C., and an 8-year-old daughter, Peyton. His wife, Sandi, is a second-grade teacher at Antelope Trails Elementary School in District 20. Coulter enjoys coaching youth sports, especially football and basketball, and has been coaching the same group of fifth-graders since they were in preschool.

He also is very active in the Knights of Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to sons who have lost their fathers in combat. The organization runs a summer camp just outside of Ward, Colo.  Coulter, who recently was named chief operating officer of the foundation, plans all the camp activities and, for the last five years, has served as a mentor to two boys.

Additionally, for the past two years, Coulter has run (and finished) the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., a fundraiser for the camp. Both times, the boys he mentors and their mothers were at the finish line, cheering him on.

Get to Know: Dylan Nelson

Growing up in Charleston, S.C., where her mother’s side of the family had lived for generations, Dylan Nelson never heard race relations discussed. “There was inequity of the races, but it was an unspoken reality,” says Nelson, who, with her husband, Clay Haskell, are CC artists-in-residence for film studies.

Years later, she would explore that reality through her documentary filmmaking, as she interviewed the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement for her award-winning film, “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” Working on the film “was an amazing privilege,” she said. “For me, it was really wonderful to have an opportunity to meet these heroes. I felt like I was in the service of an incredible story.”

The story is that of the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, told through the freedom songs protesters sang on picket lines, in meetings, and in jails.

“For many, the American Civil Rights movement has been distilled to Black History Month, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. But it is so much more than that,” Nelson said. “The film takes the Civil Rights movement out of the textbooks and makes it immediate and energetic.”

There are no experts in the film; instead, the filmmakers rely on direct participants and the music of the Civil Rights movement to tell the story. “Music has an incredible ability to speak to people emotionally,” Nelson said. “We wanted to make a film that would appeal to people of all ages.”

As a film producer, Nelson is involved in all aspects of the project, from conception to research, scouting, shooting, editing, final post-production, and distribution. “When you’re a producer, a film is your baby,” she said. “You live with it through its ups and downs, and you nurture and defend it as it goes out into the world.”

Nelson’s film appears to have been well nurtured, and it is holding its own in the world. “Soundtrack for a Revolution” premiered at the Tribeca and Cannes film festivals, had its theatrical release last year, recently came out on DVD, and will air on PBS’s “American Experience” on May 9, 2011. Among other honors, it was short-listed for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and nominated for a Producers Guild of America Award, a Writer’s Guild Award, and three International Documentary Association Awards.

The film also was selected for the U.S. State Department’s American Documentary Showcase program, which presents award-winning contemporary American documentaries to audiences around the world. As a delegate for the program, Nelson was in the Ukraine in late October, where she discussed the film and conducted master classes and outreach programs on documentary filmmaking.

Nelson describes herself as a fourth-generation “CC person,” though not an alumna. Her great-grandmother, Anne von Bibra Sutton, taught German at Colorado College in the 1930s; her grandmother, Jane Sutton Nelson, was a member of the Class of ’33; and her father, fiction writer Kent Nelson, teaches as a visitor in CC’s English department. 

Nelson, who with Haskell teaches several film courses at CC, got into filmmaking in a roundabout way. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University in 1996 and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon in 2001. During the summer before her final year in the MFA program, Nelson lived in Los Angeles, turning a novella she had written into a screenplay. Upon returning to school, she took a documentary film course to expand on her interest in film storytelling.

“I took that film course and it felt as though I had struck gold. Not in a financial sense, but it was as if a lightning bolt struck me,” Nelson said. “The first time I was in the field on a shoot, I was completely engaged. You are listening as hard as you’ve ever listened while thinking about the film you need to make; thinking about so much at once – the narrative, visual, technical, and interpersonal aspects.  Filmmaking is demanding on all levels.  From then on, I wanted to learn more. You could spend a whole life learning about film.

“While I still love fiction, I never looked back. I’ve been writing, researching, producing, and directing for film ever since,” she said.

Because filmmaking is so all-encompassing, the Block Plan is well-tailored to film courses, said Nelson. “It allows students to focus intensively on one final project. The students at CC are passionate, and because of the Block Plan, they are able to – and do – throw themselves entirely into their films.  As a result, they come away with an indelible learning experience and a final product of which they’re truly proud. The intensity of the Block also mirrors the real-world intensity of film production and post-production.”

In addition to teaching basic and advanced filmmaking, documentary and screenwriting classes, and thesis advising, Nelson and Haskell also co-teach the popular off-campus Block VII class “On Location: Hollywood.” While in Hollywood, students study the history of Los Angeles filmmaking while pursuing an area of film interest: a genre, profession, or area of critical study.  The class meets with prominent film industry professionals – from directors and producers to sound mixers and editors to agents and executives – in order to understand the state of Los Angeles filmmaking today.

“I think that one reason CC students respond so positively to filmmaking courses is that filmmaking represents the best of a liberal arts education,” Nelson says. “Among the most integrative of all arts, filmmaking draws from numerous disciplines and requires students to synthesize concepts, abilities, and artistic techniques they learn elsewhere in their academic journey. Most of all, making film is about making connections – connections among ideas and connections with one’s community – and to me, that’s what an education in the liberal arts is all about.”

CC students also benefit in another, hands-on way: A number have assisted Nelson and Haskell with production on their forthcoming documentaries, one about child actors in Los Angeles, tentatively titled “The Hollywood Complex,” and another on civil rights icon James Meredith, titled “Mississippi Messiah.” For the latter, Nelson, then seven months pregnant, traveled through sweltering Mississippi during the summer, staying in ramshackle hotels as she and Haskell followed Meredith on a quixotic journey.

Nelson was also a producer for the 2007 documentary “Nanking,” about the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. The film, like “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” was short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. For more information on the class in Hollywood, go to

Get to Know: Mona El-Sherif

Mona El-Sherif can’t wait to teach CC students Arabic.

She admits that learning Arabic may appear to be daunting, but says that by the end of two blocks, most students will be able to conduct a 10-minute presentation in Arabic.

El-Sherif, the newest member of CC’s Francophone and Mediterranean Studies department, says teaching Arabic, her native language, is challenging, but rewarding. “You can see the rewards – they are immediately visible. In class, you can see the difference between yesterday and today. It gives me happiness to know I am sharing my knowledge,” she says.

Born in Cairo but raised in Alexandria, Egypt, she grew up speaking an Egyptian dialect of Arabic. Here she will teach modern, standard Arabic, the form of Arabic that is used by media throughout the Near East and for all intellectual debate. Various countries throughout the region, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, have their own Arabic dialects, which have varying degrees of dissimilarity among them.

El-Sherif knows what it is like to learn a new language. A native Arabic speaker, she learned English starting at age 4 when she entered a British school. She began learning French when she was 9, and later added Farsi. In California, where she earned her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, she realized she would need to add Spanish as well.

CC’s nascent Francophone and Mediterranean Studies program drew El-Sherif, the daughter of a lawyer and an accountant, to the college. “I’m very excited about the Mediterranean component, and how it looks at geography and its influence on culture. It’s a good fit with my research,” she says. Other programs she looked at were focused exclusively on Near Eastern studies or on the language component. “What CC is trying to establish is very unique. I feel I can contribute ideas here.”

El-Sherif took the long route to Colorado College. After graduating with a B.A. in English and American literatures from Alexandria University, she went on to earn an M.A. in Islamic, Jewish, and Near Eastern Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley.

How did she get from Alexandria, Egypt, to St. Louis, Missouri? “A lot of people ask me that,” she says. She was friends with several British students at Alexandria University, and with their mentor, who had done his Ph.D. at Washington University. He recommended Washington University’s program, and she applied, only to find herself presented with an acceptance letter. She took the opportunity, which culminated with her getting her Ph.D. from Berkeley.

In addition to beginning and intermediate Arabic, El-Sherif also will teach Arabic literature, and culture. “Artistic Expressions of the Experience of Modernity in Various Arabic Cities,” which she will teach in Block 8, focuses on representations of urban modernity in different Arab cities.

El-Sherif believes it is important for everyone to learn more about the Arab world. “It takes a bit of effort on the part of students and educated people,” she says, noting that it especially takes effort for Americans, who are so far removed geographically from Arabic-speaking countries. “Here you are across the Atlantic – it’s not like in Europe,” she says. “You don’t get a rounded picture of what the Arab world is like. But it is huge, and very diverse and economically developing. There are so many reasons why people might want to learn about it.”

When El-Sherif is not teaching Arab language, culture, and literature look for her out running – jogging and athletic conditioning are some of her favorite pastimes.

Get to Know: Jason Newton

In November 2007 Jason Newton pulled three college girls from a burning car in Sherwood, Ore., after a drunk driver, going 65 mph down the wrong side of the street, crashed head-on into their vehicle. Arriving at the scene as the students were trapped in the car by flames, Newton yelled to them to get down, then struck the left rear window until it shattered. He broke out the glass pieces, told the closest woman to wrap her arms around him, and dragged her out.

The flames grew so hot Newton and another officer could approach the car for only a few seconds at a time. The tires popped from the heat and the seams on Newton’s trousers melted. Three of the George Fox University students were saved. It was later learned that the fourth student, whom the officers were unable to rescue, had been killed on impact.

Newton, CC’s new campus resource officer, sat through an hour-long interview for an Around the Block profile and never mentioned the incident – or the fact that he and another officer were named as national Hero Cops in 2008 for their actions.

“I’m not big into awards, but I have passion for what I do,” he said later.

Newton is a Colorado Springs police officer who is serving as a liaison between the college and the police department. He’s been with the CSPD for three years, where he has focused on narcotic investigations; prior to that he served as a cop for four years in Oregon. A native of Wisconsin, he is a 2003 graduate of Western Oregon University, where he studied criminal justice, minored in psychology, and ran track.

Newton will be patrolling CC and the neighborhood by foot, bike, and car. His goal is to build trust and relationships on the college campus and nearby neighborhoods.

“This is an experimental position for the fall semester,” says Ron Smith, director of campus safety, noting there is no cost to the college for the pilot program. Newton is the CSPD’s officer dedicated to CC, and serves as a liaison between the college, the surrounding neighborhood, and the police department. “This provides supplemental campus patrol and more coverage in the neighborhoods. It’s helping the city by reducing calls for service from this area,” Smith says.

Newton and John Lauer, director of residential life and housing, currently are visiting with representatives from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where a similar program is in place. UW-Madison has a community police officer assigned to the campus, as well as a campus security staff. Newton and Lauer are learning how the relationships work between residential life, campus security, and the community police officer.  UW-Madison has been fine-tuning their program for 12 years, and their experience should prove instructive for CC, Lauer says. 

“This goes back to the community policing model,” Newton says. “I hope to serve as a resource for students, faculty, and staff, as well as the CC neighbors. I want to build trust and communication, and have people feel free to come to me.

“I want them to be able to ask me about anything – if they have a problem at home, or questions about the community. I want to be a mentor and a friend,” he says.

Newton is no stranger to the CC: His fiancée, Andrea Weatherford, is a 2002 Colorado College graduate who introduced him to CC hockey, and he’s been a dedicated fan ever since. (They plan to get married in mid-September.)  He’s also familiar with the college – and its neighbors. During the last several years Student Life and Residential Life have asked the CSPD to send an officer meet with students and discuss such things as the importance of being good neighbors on- and off-campus, how to host safe parties, and personal safety.

“Whenever they needed a volunteer to talk at CC, I would jump on it. I’d go whenever there was an opportunity to talk with the students,” Newton says. The collaborative effort between CC and the local police department paid off: Last year a student who felt comfortable with Newton called him saying “We need help with this party – it’s gotten out of control.” Later, when an irate neighbor also called Newton, he was able to say, “Yes, we know about the party – the students have already called and asked for our assistance.” The neighbor, says Newton, was very surprised.

“When this job came up, I saw it as a tremendous opportunity. I’m really excited about it and I want to put myself in the community. I want to be a part of as many things as I can,” Newton says.

Apparently that won’t be a problem. Newton went to each of the first-year residence halls during orientation, introducing himself and getting to know the students. He happened to visit Slocum Hall when some students were baking banana bread, and was promptly invited to have some. He ended up spending about 30 minutes in the kitchenette there, surrounded by students. “It was great,” he says. “And the banana bread was great, too.”