Reflection Friday series asks “what matters to you, and why?”

By ABIGAIL CHANG

COURTESY PHOTO
Political Science Professor Murray Dry, one of many guest speakers invited to participate in Reflection Fridays, spoke about his lifelong commitment to learning.

With preparation for midterm assessments dominating students’ schedules, many may find opportunities for reflecting on their values and choices few and far between. In recognition of this absence, the Center for Creativity, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, better known as the Innovation Hub, hosts Reflection Fridays, parts of a series that occurs several times per semester. 

Through the series, which began a few years ago, participants have found a way to tap into Middlebury community members’ experiences, bringing together a collection of interviews throughout the semester that engage with the question “What matters to you, and why?”

Each Reflection Friday installment features an interview-style talk in front of an audience that allows guest speakers to discuss their academic and career paths in the context of their core values. 

“We often are in this very formal learning environment at Middlebury, and the series also is intended to allow members of the Middlebury community to perhaps share aspects of their identity or their life or their interests that may not have surfaced in a more professional context,” said Charlotte Sullivan, an associate of the Social Entrepreneurship Program and coordinator for the series.

This year, the coordinators of the series are partnering with the Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. 

“Being creative and being innovative really requires a depth of thought and feeling that is often very spiritual,” Sullivan said.

The Innovation Hub has been working with Mark Orten, the director of the Scott Center, to design a set of fall semester interviews focusing on beginnings and endings. Interviewees include members of the  Middlebury community both new and old. The upcoming weeks will feature interviews with David Gibson, the new vice president for communications and marketing, and Nan Jenks-Jay, dean of environmental affairs and director of the Franklin Environmental Center, who is retiring this year.

The Reflection Friday series began after a suggestion from Tiffany Sargent, director of the Center for Community Engagement. Sargent was inspired by a similar program at Yale University that proposed the question: “What matters to me and why?” 

Coincidentally, Jonathan Isham, an economics and environmental studies professor who helped found the series, was already asking this question in his classroom. Isham had his students break up into groups of three, with one person posing the question to another and the third observing. After two minutes, every group paused to debrief before switching roles.

“It’s such an important question and it’s embedded in questions about your identity and agency, how you see yourself, and how you go through the world,” Isham said.

One of Isham’s advisees, Alyssa Brown ’20, was the first person to be interviewed for the series this semester. Brown spoke about forgiveness, both of herself and others, as well as where she is from and matters of identity, race and inclusivity.

“I didn’t think I would have a lot to say, but after the interview, I found that people were actually interested in my thoughts and words,” Brown said. “My most powerful takeaway is that most people are interested in what others have to say — I love hearing people speak, and the same goes for others who listen to me.”

Reflection Friday interviewees are able to select their own interviewers, giving the discussions a comfortable atmosphere. Brown was interviewed by Isham. 

Gibson has yet to select his interviewer, but Jenks-Jay will be interviewed by longtime colleague Steve Trombulak, a recent retiree from the Biology Department. Generally, speakers can choose anyone to interview them, even those without a direct connection to the college. As Sullivan said, “It can be your mom. It can be your little brother. That would be so fun.”

In addition to the college faculty, staff, students and friends of interviewees who often attend, residents of the town of Middlebury may attend Reflection Friday installments. This has proved difficult, however, as the discussions are held in the Chateau, which is inacessible for those without a Middlebury ID.

The series’ hosts hope to provide a time for Middlebury community members to examine how each interviewee’s values have shaped their experiences. However, the series seems particularly applicable to the students in the audience, who are in the process of developing their own principles and interests, especially while selecting a major or looking for a job.

“There’s so much pressure to have the thing that you’re doing be from external pressures or from fear or from money or from all this noise that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the interior or personal values,” Sullivan said, “So to hear about that aspect of making choices even with all the noise is also really valuable to complete the picture.”

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