Edward Kerwin ’79

Edward Kerwin

I continue to be astounded how Colorado College offers an opportunity for each three-and-a-half-week course to be a unique adventure, to equally embrace arts, sciences, social sciences, and above all, to love learning.

I arrived at Colorado College in Fall 1975. My first course was a Shakespeare English course. I remember reading two plays a week: attending classes mornings 9-12 noon, reading plays all afternoon, and attending performances at night. I’ll always remember my first CC paper “Hal and Iago: Hero and Villain,” typed laboriously on a decrepit manual typewriter on erasable rag paper.

My next block, I had the Philosophy of Science with Hans Krimm. In those days, Prof. Krimm could bring his pipe stuffed with aromatic tobacco right into the classroom in Armstrong Hall. This idea of philosophizing over an aromatic pipe atmosphere filled study was like an icon of liberal education for me. We read Jacob Bronowski on how science invents just like poetry…. I was hooked and captivated forever.

Later I became a physics major who loved humanities (the Arts of London and Florence) and history (Twentieth Century Europe) equally well. I will always remember spending twenty handwritten pages to solve “the raindrop problem,” for Professor Val Veirs’ final exam for the advanced dynamics physics course. Of course, I could complete this final exam anywhere (in my room or outside) with CC’s wonderful honor code freedoms. What an adventure! One professor at the time, Glenn Brooks perhaps, said at CC you should take your homework outside: read Plato on a rock in the mountains, break any boundaries between classroom, nature and life at large. I also read Martin Heidegger with Glen Grey, pondered the Idea of Liberal Education with Glenn Brooks, studied music theory (with Beethoven’s piano sonatas), and even pondered the aesthetics of bird song in later CC classes.

Each CC block plan class was a pearl, a beautiful jewel or gem, to add to my education necklace. We late 1970s CC graduates were quite disappointed when in the 1980s CC dropped from nine blocks to eight blocks a year (although the professors needed this schedule easing). This meant fewer jewels for our educational necklaces, so beautiful and unique for each CC grad. Leaning to concentrate on the block plan schedule was a joy, and as natural as eating. This is how learning should be, how we all learn as young children, launching into learning just like play.

When I started an engineering job at NASA, I was puzzled that other workers punched a Monday to Friday 8:30-4 time clock schedule. I rederived Pythagoras’s theorem of right triangles at my desk, took work to read outside on the office lawn, and found a mentor who guided me on how to write science papers.
CC taught us to be “never at rest,” as the title of a biography of Isaac Newton puts it. Each day became a gift, and three and a half weeks became a beneficence to accomplish many things. Of course, the block breaks were also an enormous relief and joy, shedding all cares behind for five days monthly—gaining that “summer-break” freedom again and again.

So, after forty-six years, I have to believe the pioneers of the Block Plan at Colorado College got it just right! To develop a passion for learning. To sculpt each class to be personable: I could schedule a small 10–20-person class with my favorite teachers again and again, and most teachers invited us to dinner parties at their home. To discover that education does not fall into boxes or labels: That art, science and humanities blend together seamlessly: The physics and math professors made up many of the renaissance music ensemble. I sang Vesperae solennes de confessore in Shove Chapel right before physics exams or the Putnam mathematics exam. I never bought a pipe (like Hans Krimm), but I took my shoes off (and still do) at every opportunity, especially when pondering deep, novel thoughts. I sought to make science exactly like poetry, as William Blake worked to accomplish this.

That was what Colorado College and the Block Plan meant to me. It was irreplaceable, and after forty-six years, I am still am still never at rest.

Edward Kerwin,
Class of 1979.

Lois (Ruback) Zuckerman ’78

Lois (Ruback) Zuckerman ’78

As a psychology major at Colorado College I was taught data-based psychology. The focus was behaviorism: sensory psychology, learning and behavior, physiological psychology, etc. Thus, I was quite familiar with the Fixed-Interval Scallop. The Fixed-Interval Scallop is defined as “a gradual increase in the rate of responding, with responding occurring at a high rate, just before reinforcement is available”. It is the typical response rate for most students (or anyone with a deadline): fairly slow to start on homework/projects/readings whatever, followed by serious increase in the work rate right before class, or a test, or whenever the project is due.

What I learned from the Block Plan was to avoid that Fixed-Interval Scallop. An assignment came out, and I went to work. Procrastination meant disaster. It has stuck with me. I started graduate school in a school that was on the quarter system. My fellow grad students were overwhelmed with how quickly the quarter passed and were struggling to catch up as exams approached. I was surprised by how much time I had between the first day of classes and finals.

Now, more than four decades since I attended CC, I’m still loath to procrastinate when given a project. I’m in two book clubs, and I start the next book as soon as it is decided upon. I don’t quite understand my friends who wait for the last few days to begin reading. That’s the Block Plan in my response.

The other huge benefit for me was finding that I learned well from the immersion offered by the Block Plan, and retained that information. I took my licensing exam 15 years after I completed graduate school (a couple kids kept me busy in the interim). Thus, there was a great deal of study and review from my graduate classes needed before I was ready for the licensing exam. Interestingly, I didn’t have to review much from the material I had learned as an undergrad. All those courses: Learning and Behavior Theory, Physiological Psychology, Sensory Psychology, etc. were still solid. It follows that each person learns differently.

Ten years ago my husband and I started a non-profit to provide free help for students and parents as they navigate the college application process (check us out at Mentors4College.org). Our goal is to make sure all students find the best fit school for themselves; just as I was able to do at CC.

Thank you, CC and the Block Plan, for training me to move ahead, not wait for the last minute. Thank you for teaching me how to learn, and teaching me that each student needs to learn in their own style. 

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.