MiddCORE Challenges NESCAC Liberal Arts Culture
March 4, 2015
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This past weekend, MiddCORE launched their first Springboard Weekend, taking a program that is usually taught during summer or in a J-term course, and packing it into a weekend. In groups of three to four, students had three days to identify a campus issue, research the problem and do a presentational pitch to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott, among other Middlebury faculty. Students addressed campus issues such as social life, the athletic divide and lack of sex- positive education and introverted spaces.
Set in the Kirk Alumni House, the crash course on leadership and innovation included talks given by Former COO of Life is Good Roy Hefferman, Founder of LeaderScope Consulting Mary Hurlie, Cofounder of Curious Industries Blake Glenn, Instructor in Persuasive Communication Mike Kiernan and MiddCORE Marketing Director EJ Bartlett.
MiddCORE has been growing exponentially with numerous additions to the entrepreneurial program. They have just recently opened their own office on campus located in DKE Alumni House next to the Axinn Center at Starr Library and have seen an influx of funding and guest speakers from administration and donors who value the program’s efforts.
MiddCORE promotes itself as Middlebury’s innovative summer and J-term program for undergraduates and recent graduates. The program instills in its students real-world life skills — such as leadership, collaboration, negotiation, networking, communication, and decision-making, among others. MiddCORE is most well-known for its four-week intensive summer program in which students reside in Tahoe, Sierra Nevada College where they work with upwards of 40 highly qualified and successful mentors, attend 52 hands-on skill-based workshops, spend 20 hours developing their creative ideas and enjoy 60 meals with their mentors. The impressive list of mentors from an array of backgrounds and successes include familiar names such as Marc Randolph, Co-Founder and former CEO of Netflix; Heffernan; and former governors, Company CEO’s, Executives, Directors, artists, and journalists.
In addition to a plethora of external mentors, many of Middlebury’s own faculty members are deeply invested in the program. Associate Professor of Economics Jessica Holmes also serves as the leading Director of MiddCORE. Holmes views MiddCORE’s entrepreneurial education as coinciding cohesively with Middlebury’s mission statement.
She suggests that MiddCORE, like the College articulates in its mission statement, strives to “cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community.”
Holmes added that students are in need of opportunities to gain better leadership and innovative skills.
“This generation is seeking out the toolkits and mentorship that will help them achieve greater impact in the world,” Holmes said.
MiddCORE appears to be the program and opportunity to do so. MiddCORE creates an environment that challenges students to test themselves and apply their liberal arts education to real life strategic problems and scenarios. It is argued that MiddCORE is not changing the academic mission at the College, but rather accompanying it. While many see the benefits reaped from MiddCORE, others challenge it, critiquing that it may be a step away from a liberal art education and not holding true to the College’s disciplines.
No other NESCACs offer a program like MiddCORE, making the application process extremely competitive and selective.
According to Holmes, “MiddCORE is a real differentiator for Middlebury.”
Students at the College are able to apply to the J-term session for free, where as the Tahoe program, open to students and grads from other schools, costs roughly $10,000. While some need-based financial aid is available only to students already on the College’s financial aid, scholarships are limited and the price differentiation can be a major setback for students interested in participating during the summer. A complaint voiced by students around campus is the lack of availability and limited acceptance to the highly- demanded program.
“If there is such a high number of credible student applicants, why can’t they add more sessions or expand the program to accommodate us?” a student rejected from the J-term program said, who wished to remain anonymous.
Many students do not have the means to answer the large expense of the Tahoe session, and find themselves unable to ever participate if they could not otherwise participate in the free J-term session.
“We are currently limited by a staff that is shrinking, not growing,” Holmes said. “So for now, we are focused on ensuring high quality J-term and summer MiddCORE immersion experiences for all our students and mentors.”
The program is extremely demanding, time-consuming and challenging. Students work long hours, daily, for four weeks straight, proving especially trying in J-term when many of their peers are enjoying the relaxed nature of taking one class. That said, nearly all students interviewed after their MiddCORE experience spoke positively and found the end results vastly more rewarding than tolling.
“[MiddCORE] has affected me in powerful ways. I didn’t really understand what ‘failing forward’ meant when this program started…I’m more excited than ever to take risks and more willing to accept the possibility of failure,” one recent participant said.
In incorporating an innovative and distinctive new style of teaching and learning, MiddCORE is inevitably greeted with contrasting opinions. A reoccurring thought gathered among students interviewed who had not participated was that MiddCORE is too much of a time commitment in addition to being expensive: “I think it is a cool idea and program, but I just don’t have the time to dedicate four weeks out of my summer when I could be working,” shared one student at the College.
Despite critique, the influx in applications and competition for acceptance as well as the demand for program growth are indisputable. Such attributes are representative of the positive effects and influence MiddCORE has on its students.
“The most rewarding part of MiddCORE was learning that I have creative capabilities to contribute to the world. It was about rediscovering my skills and passions and combining them together to bring about some innovation into society,” another MiddCORE participant said.
An aspiration for the program would be to relinquish some of the financial stresses for students with an increase in donations, but until then, directors are focused on bettering the program internally. MiddCORE is providing students with a unique opportunity to stray from traditional curriculum and initiate creative ideas to impact our world.