Kathleen Ellsbury ’73

Kathleen Ellsbury ’73

I was one of the one-third or so students at CC who came from Colorado when I arrived there in 1969, during the last year of the semester plan. I had lived in many locations in the US, including small towns in southern Colorado, and at one point considered a career in the Foreign Service or as an anthropologist, but decided on medicine when I was in high school.

I swear I didn’t know about the block plan until after I had decided to enroll. No matter. It was all a wonderful adventure. As a pre-med, I had to take chemistry, which I decided to major in, and thus had to take Russian or German. I chose the latter.

Under the traditional semester plan I would have focused my efforts on science classes, at the cost of my other courses. Under the block plan, I could immerse myself in my non-science courses like German. It ended up adding an important dimension to my life that endures to this day. I took a two-block intermediate German course in Munich with Professor Fred Oppenheimer. and 17 other students. I am still in touch with several of those students.

After our daily morning German classes at Munich’s YMCA, it was a feast of art, music, plays, parks, museums, and beer halls. A recent CC graduate named Sonni Schwoerer ’70, then living in Munich, helped Dr. Oppenheimer with some logistics for our class. After our course Sonni offered me a summer position in the kitchen of a kinderkurheim (a small rehabilitation facility for children with respiratory diseases) that her family ran in Germany’s Black Forest.

I kept in touch with Sonni over the next 50 years. Over the years, my house in Seattle has become a sort of way station for German visitors: Sonni, her siblings, children, friends, and work associates have all stayed with me, for as much as five months at a time. I attracted some German-speaking patients in my practice at the University of Washington, where I served on the Family Medicine faculty for 25 years. Some of my main diversions now are German: classes at the University of Washington, informal discussion groups, podcasts, poetry, media, and films.

Since retiring I’ve traveled every couple years to German-speaking countries, including visits to Sonni and family. I don’t think my interest in German would have been as deep, had I not been part of the two-block experience overseas. It was all possible because the block plan allowed me to dive deeply into a subject not part of my pre-med program, but of equal interest to me personally. It took me overseas for an intense experience in a small group.

For that door-opening experience, I am deeply grateful to CC and the block plan. 

Patricia James ’73

On May 5, 1970, I sat in Jack Carter’s office wondering what to do with my future. He was my freshman advisor, and I loved studying botany with him. But on that day we were not talking plants. We were talking about my dismal first year (grade-wise) at CC, and the wrenching events of the day before – the murder of four students at Kent State University by the National Guard. I was angry, scared, heartbroken for our country, and a bit worried about my grades. Jack said, “Pat, I think you should do something else next year.” And so I did. I joined VISTA (now Americorps) and spent 13 months working in Philadelphia PA as housing organizer. I loved the city, and learned some of the deepest, most humbling lessons one could learn about privilege and white supremacy.

I returned to CC determined to deepen that experience with a major in Political Science. All my peers had enjoyed the first year of the Block Plan, and could tell me what to expect. What I didn’t expect was the discovery of a love of learning. School had been obligatory and dreadful in the past. I navigated high school without developing good study and learning skills.

Back at CC I understood that I’d need to learn how to study, and with the absence of the distraction of three or four other courses, I became a reasonably good student.

I had great teachers. Tim Fuller taught me how to explore and value different perspectives. Fred Sondermann taught me to question American political dogma. Robert Lee taught me to go behind the headlines and consider terrorism from the perspective of those marginalized and excluded from power. Ruth Carter persuaded (or conned) me into editing the Catalyst for a year, and I learned the value of clear, concise writing from the skilled student staff who joined me. Each of their gifts helped me commit to a life of activism and social change that continues to this day.

I also learned about what I didn’t want to learn. At first, a film course sounded like great fun! The first day of class we watched three full length films, ending with Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend, a comedy full of violent car accidents. I didn’t have the stamina for it, and to the horror of my movie-loving friends, I transferred that day into Spanish 101.

And what about Botany? What about Jack Carter? The love of plant science has stayed with me. During a block course in Environmental Chemistry, I collected and tested plants from a mountain moonscape left after a few years of oil shale mining. They’d absorbed a lot of cadmium. I’ve been a lifelong gardener, and directed the education department at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. I am now a Master Gardener, and manage a 400-person community garden in Western Massachusetts, and continue my activism in racial justice and ending food and land apartheid.

How did the block plan figure into all those next steps? It was where I learned how to learn. A few years ago I started piano lessons. I’m still learning how to learn.

Leslie Graver Trevathan ’77

I loved the Block Plan. It really gave me the freedom to explore different opportunities.

I was a humanities major with an elementary education emphasis when I did an independent study of a free school in Hawaii. My father was a pilot for TWA and my brother was going to school out there so it was easy for me to make it happen. As it was, the school was a disaster, nothing like the famous free school, Summerhill, in the UK. It really made quite the impression on me as a teacher.

Another adventure that could only have occurred due to being on the block plan was a trip we took with an Art History class down to Santa Fe, NM. We camped out, checked out art studios, and learned a bit about the history of Santa Fe. It was a fantastic way to learn and be fully immersed in the experience. I have no regrets having been at a school with a non-traditional academic program.

Cherie Anne Karo Schwartz ’73

Cherie Anne Karo Schwartz ’73

I loved CC from my first breath there, and then having had one glorious year of standard classes.

Toward the end of that year, we began hearing about a new way of learning, culminating in our voices being heard (even though we could not vote on the outcome) when it was time for the faculty to approve the new Master Plan. Everyone knew it would be hard at first for some majors. I was an English major, so it was not nearly as difficult for me as it was for my friends with majors like math or physics.

My very first class was on Dada (taught by Art and English profs), and we all– profs and students– were totally immersed in the waters of the endless 3 1/2 week possibilities, creating outrageous ‘happenings’ around campus and culminating in a moveable feast of epic proportion.

I still remember most of what I learned and experienced; this is the rich treasure of immersive learning. It was the perfect introduction to the Block Plan. I took courses I never would have even imagined, since I could easily manage just one block’s worth, and they all were wonderfully worth my having been part of them. My sciences (gulp!) were Psychology, Underwater Geology, and Cosmology and Evolution, and I ended up even understanding them!

Classes with my esteemed and lofty mentor Dr. Neale Reinitz (eg: Themes and Types: the Voyage) were always in-depth, engaging, intellectually demanding and mind-boggling. The class that best exemplifies the essence and challenges of these earliest attempts at condensing a full semester into one Block was the “Greek History and Philosophy: Plato and Aristotle” course (taught by Classics and Philosophy profs). We covered 17 deeply intense volumes in the course. One day, I just withered in the midst of class.

I clearly remember Owen Cramer saying, “Cherie: just close the books, stand up, and go take a rest.” “No!” I protested. “I’ll be losing a month’s worth of learning!!” Then I reluctantly left for the rest of the day, coming back revived and ready to dive back in the next morning.

And there were unique CC adventures outside of class: I helped create the first Passover seder on the CC campus, I camped in the mountains and came down in time the next morning to shower and get to class, I delved into so many cultures and experiences, and I camped halfway up Pike’s Peak and got stuck for 3 days in a sudden Spring snowstorm.

My very last class was “Literature and Painting of the American Frontier”. My friend Peter and I dreamed up the class. We were to be on campus for 3 days, reading and discussing the topic. Then, we would take off to camp all the way from the Tetons to Yellowstone and beyond, learning and laughing all the way, from our books and from the magnificent scenery.

Back then, if there were 10 students who wanted a class and a professor to teach it, CC made room for the class. Our two Art and Literature profs were somewhat reluctant to go, yet we all had the most magnificent journey and adventure. It was perfect, right down to the ‘immersive principle’ of being together in hot springs in the middle of the night, listening to the bugling of the elk and sounds of the moose!

I am still in contact with some of my CC fellow-travelers. And, every time I meet a CC graduate, there is a knowing kinship. And, I have told people for all these decades since graduating, that I can think of no other place on the planet that was so perfectly fitting for me and my style of encompassing immersive study. I needed, I thirsted for, I yearned for a learning experience of this caliber to emerge for me. And magically it did, in the form of the CC Block Plan. How fortunate, how blessed I have been. I am a better learner, educator, partner, friend, writer, innovator and human being because of Colorado College’s nascent Block Plan.

To the CC classes of today and in the future: Relish this amazing, astoundingly beauteous opportunity to learn for learning’s sake. Take chances, take in teachings deeply, try new approaches and subjects, question more, experiment, let yourselves go further in learning and experiencing than you ever thought possible… and then go even further. May your Colorado College years be as profoundly life-affirming a time for you as it was for me.

Cherie Anne Karo, Class of 1973
Now Cherie Karo Schwartz
Storyteller, Author and Educator

Bill Oman ’71

Bill Oman '71
Bill Oman ’71 during his CC years

I was a political science major. My classmate Sally Nash and I interviewed every member of the faculty for the better part of a year before the faculty voted to move forward with  it. We met over lunch at Rastall Center with each member of the faculty, asking them what they thought were the positive and negative aspects of the plan. We reported a summary of our findings to our Political Science Professor Glenn Brooks. I recall being so impressed with the commitment and enthusiastic endorsement by practically every faculty member, even though every one of them would have to drastically revise their lesson plans.  It really was a reflection of the faculty’s commitment to deliver the best educational experience possible to students.

Bill in 2019
Bill in 2019

One interesting fact about my four years at CC leading up to graduation in 1971 was that my transcript reflected three different grading systems. The Block Plan went into effect my senior year. My transcript was such a mess of A/B/C/D, Pass/Fail, and No Credit systems, I jokingly tell people the primary reason I was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School was the admission officers there couldn’t make sense of my transcript!  — Bill Oman ’71

Chris Lee ’11

Chris Lee '11

I studied biochemistry at CC, and I absolutely loved every class, every lab, and every chance I could get to learn more about chemistry and biology (and even neuroscience!). During my sophomore year, I especially leapt at the chance to study as much as I could and to challenge myself in ways that would not be possible on a traditional semester plan. In my first semester, I managed to take Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 (plus Analytical Chemistry and Cell Biology); in my second semester, I took Biochemistry 1 and 2 (plus Physics 1 and 2)! I only had a few required courses left, so I took quite a few higher-level classes as electives in my junior year.

Caitlin (Katie) Barasch ’15

Caitlin (Katie) Barasch '15

When I was a prospective student at CC, I stayed overnight with a few friendly freshmen in Mathias. I’ll never forget listening to my hosts express their excitement about an upcoming trip to London for a class called Drama Away. It sounded too good to be true—three and-a-half weeks exploring London by day, attending performances by night, and participating in lively class discussions about theatre each morning. Although I’m a writer, not an actress, I still think theatre is one of the most profound and unique forms of storytelling—there’s something magical about what happens onstage each night. No single performance can ever be truly replicated. I vowed to take this class myself someday, and two years later, as a sophomore, I was finally able to. (I admittedly put a LOT of points on this course to guarantee I’d get in!) In London, we saw puppet shows, ballet performances, splashy West End musicals, obscure plays in tiny blackbox theaters, and of course, one of Shakespeare’s plays at the famous Globe Theatre. I visited Charles Dickens’ house, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National Portrait Gallery, absorbing as much history and culture as I could. I still find it rather incredible that the Block Plan allows such total and complete immersion—my trip to London remains one of the most inspiring and stimulating experiences I’ve ever had.

Nelson Hunt ’71

Nelson Hunt ’71

Over the years. I have read with great interest the stories about the success of the Block Plan with many well deserved plaudits particularly to Glen Brooks for his role leading the charge for change.  During the intervening 50 years there has been nary a word or acknowledgement of my somewhat peculiar but nevertheless integral contribution to not only the process but actually to the conception of the Plan itself.  My time is nearing its end (not immediately, I hope) so it falls to me to salute myself and those of about 20 of my co-students.

My story commences in my sophomore year when I enrolled in Political Science 101 taught by Professor Brooks.  My recollection is that it was a Tuesday/Thursday class for 90 minutes starting at 9:30 AM.  Professor Brooks was his usual enthusiastic self, looking forward to instilling his love of the subject matter into what he hoped was our equally enthusiastic thirst for knowledge. For our part, we were ready to have our notebooks full of his pronouncements which we could regurgitate at exam time before departing for lunch and other important diversions.  The stage was set for a collision of expectations.

As a group, we were singularly unresponsive to our leader’s attempts to engage us in a stimulating intellectual discussion.  Our disinterest was apparent from the first day.  Professor Brooks clearly and cordially laid out his plan for us and we politely nodded in agreement but remembered we had heard that before and settled in for an unstimulating  lecture.  It was if we knew that we would win out in the end and that we would not have to stretch our intellect or his.

This stalemate went on for days then weeks then months.  Professor Brooks’ frustration with our silence was evident though polite.  He tried everything – calling on us, dark humor about current events and politicians (and there was much to discuss in those rowdy days but not for us in a classroom setting), asking us what would work to get the discussion going.  He even invited the entire class to his house for dinner and an evening informal discussion.

Nothing worked.

Near the end of the semester, rumors surfaced that Professor Brooks was so frustrated with us that he was working on a revolutionary idea revamping the curriculum!

The Block Plan was born and its success has been well documented except for this totally true story of its birth.  I often wonder what would have happened had Professor Brooks succeeded in his desire for us to escape the lecture, notes, exam syndrome and participate in his efforts to get us to think for ourselves.  Perhaps no Block Plan – ever.

So, I am ready to accept the credit and thanks due our class for being the genesis of that truly great advancement.

You are totally welcome.

Nelson E. Hunt, ’71 (and yes I did graduate!)