ExCollege 50th Anniversary

Woolf, Howard


  • Short film about Tufts Experimental College
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Fifty years ago, Tufts president Nils Wessell wanted to do something to make Tufts more than just a good grade school. He pulled together young faculty like Sol Gittleman and Seymour Simches and worked with them on an idea to bring innovation to the curriculum and energy to the campus. Thus was born the ExCollege.
Many students first exposure to the ExCollege is taking an exploration, one of the ExCollege's earliest and longest lasting experiments. The idea for explorations came from students on the ExCollege board who felt that advising for first years needed something that faculty alone couldn't provide.
BRUCE REITMAN: I'm remembering Terry Simon coming up with the idea for explorations. At first we all said, "You want to do what?" But, quickly the advantage of the long hit, this three person team, that stayed with the 12, 15, 17 students for the entire semester, I still think it's the best model of all of our advising models
DEB JOSPIN: My first relationship or experience with the Experimental College was as a freshman. And freshman exploration which I would say saved my life here because when I came to Tufts, if you remember, I came from Savannah, George, never having been north of the Mason Dixon line into my first day of school. I was so lost up here.
You know to me it was like, it was like I had gone abroad for four years and having that nucleus of ten students, to me was big because I had gone to a small highschool, a nucleus of ten students and these upperclassman were so cool and so hip and really could mentor you, it was fantastic.
IOANNIS MIAOULIS: As a freshman I took an exploration and it had significant impact on me. I made, not only I made new friends, but I got to know the university in an interesting way being taught by peer students on a topic that I was interested in.
MIKE EPSTEIN: I took a freshman exploration, when I got to school in the fall of 1984 and the exploration was the media and the 1984 election, it was an election year, so it was Reagan against Mondale. The two people who taught the exploration were editors of the Tufts Daily and they made me come down, they forced me, and I went down to, I went down to the Daily the initial meeting
I guess two weeks into my freshman year, and that became where I spent the bulk of my four years of college.
TOM ALPERIN: Well, I was a beneficiary of attending my first ExCollege course my freshman year, it was on Boston city politics. And it was a wonderful way to experience the city, it was a wonderful way to experience the school.
DAN PLISKIN: I really liked my exploration, it was a film class basically and, of course, we didn't know this at the time, but the two teachers were a guy named Jeff Greenstein and a guy named Jeff Strauss. They were both involved with the start of Friends and they've gone onto Hollywood and been very successful and these were our exploration teachers.
JEFF GREENSTEIN: This is kind of great, we have not been on campus together in like 20 years?
JEFF STRAUSS: Since Tisch library.
JEFF GREENSTEIN: Right, it's been a while. When I say we taught a course called Intro to Film
it sounds like what we did was a big sprawling survey course that encompassed the vast breadth of American and world cinema from Lumiere to the present.
JEFF GREENSTEIN: Instead, we taught Elvis Presley's Fun in Acapulco.
While taking an ExCollege class is a great experience, teaching one as an undergrad is often transformational.
NEAL SHAPIRO: I think the ExCollege experience really changed my life. The classes I taught, taught me that I really cared about the craft of journalism, that I liked sharing with others.
I still love and believe in the path of journalism and the importance of passing on what you know.
MICHAEL GLASSMAN: My greatest ExCollege moments, I mean they actually let us teach freshman, incoming freshman about TV production. It was just a really nice coming together of creative minds
and they made some interesting films and I can't remember what any of them were about now.
JASON WANG: It was about LA and a few of them ended up out here. So we started them off on their careers and they'll probably be in a future message showing how much more successful they are than us, but we gave them their start.
JIM STERN: It was probably the single most significant thing I did at Tufts. I learned how you make things interesting, how you engage people, and how you get them to come and engage in your class, not just because of credit and how to use your imagination.
KATHLEEN MCCARTNEY: When I was a senior one of my fellow technology majors, Leslie Slaven, and I decided to write a proposal to teach a course for freshman and it was called The Psychology of Sex Differences. I think it's fair to say that that experience changed both of us. We both went on to get PhDs in psychology, we both taught at the college level, something that I continue to do in my role.
And I think teaching through the ExCollege really gave me the confidence, particularly as a first generation student that being a college professor was an attainable goal to me, that I could learn how to teach and enjoy doing it. That I could mentor young people, so I guess you could say my life long passion for higher education began in ExCollege.
Many programs talk the talk about being student-centered, but the ExCollege has always walked the walk. In addition to teaching courses, students have been full voting members of the ExCollege board since 1966.
DAN PLISKIN: Senior year I went onto the board of ExCollege. At that time there was still somewhat of a divide I would say between students and professors. You know, you didn't have a cup of coffee for free on the President when you went to the library. There was a divide. And this was almost the first time that you had more of a peer relationship with people who were older, and you know, more advanced in their training or degrees.
LISA FAIR PLISKIN: I don't think that many college kids get an opportunity to be on a board. I've since gone on to be on the board of the [...] school district and according to Robyn so have several of the ExCollege board members a lot of us have gone onto educational roles and a lot of us have gone onto educational roles with school boards.
JOHN FENSTERWALD: I was on the board of ExCollege for two years, 70/ 71, and during a time, when it was really growing and changing. As a journalist I'm a curious person and I think a lot of the interconnected courses that we took and I saw and approved as a board member of the ExCollege kind of made me to see the bigger connections of things, it sort of led me to journalism for 40 something years.
BRUCE REITMAN: If you asked me what's the most important contribution I made at Tufts, in all these years, as Dean of Students, Associate Dean before that, I would say the most important thing I did here was hiring Robyn. Yes, there was an Experimental College before Robyn Gittleman, but not the same Experimental College.
LISA FAIR PLISKIN: Robyn was an extraordinary encourager. You know, you had an idea, you had something little, and she was never one to just let it sit, she was extraordinary at encouraging it.
JOHN FENSTERWALD: I'm so thrilled to see Robyn continue to be the connecting force for all these years, it's wonderful for me to see that.
DAN PLISKIN: Any institution that survives for 50 years owes a debt of gratitude to the people that are in charge of it, and so all credit to Robyn and Howard for this amazing department that does amazing things.
ALLAN RICE: Robyn who also knew my older sister who went to the school, was kind of like a Jewish mother supplement while I was at Tufts, a little home away from home and Howard was kind of like that crazy uncle. It really is like a family.
Perhaps, most importantly the ExCollege is where people discover what matters to them, where they're going, and who they are.
DEB JOSPIN: People will say, "What do you remember the most? What was the most influential thing about Tufts for me?" I will always say the ExCollege.
ALLAN RICE: I think one of the biggest things I took away from the ExCollege is the collaborative process and I learned how to work with people and it gave me the opportunity to do creative things.
It gave me an outlet I think no other department at the school could have done.
NEAL SHAPIRO: The ExCollege really shaped who I am as a profession, my career as a broadcast journalist, in commercial television, and now on public television.
JEFF STRAUSS: When I came to Tufts I was going to study biology, and I actually finished my biology major, but because of the Experimental College, this place where you could do things outside of the box, do things that weren't what you expected, I'm now a screen writer and television producer.
JEFF GREENSTEIN: The idea that you could go in with the spirit of exploration, and inquiry, and curiosity, and that that would fuel your college experience, felt very validating for me. I think it was one of the reasons we were drawn to the ExCollege both first as students and then as instructors, is that it reinforced that spirit of adventure in us.
This spirit of adventure and innovation continues today through our first year programs, cutting edge courses, and campus wide events. We have our own house, a great staff, and an amazing group of student film makers who make the basement lab their home away from home.
We're turning 50, but it's not an end. It's just a stop along the way.
IOANNIS MIAOULIS: Happy Birthday ExCollege!
DEB JOSPIN: Happy Birthday ExCollege!
MIKE EPSTEIN: Happy Birthday ExCollege!
KATHLEEN MCCARTNEY: Happy Birthday ExCollege!
TOM ALPERIN: Happy Birthday ExCollege! You've just been a wonderful wonderful part of this university.
ALLAN RICE: Happy 50th Birthday!
JASON WANG: You don't look a day over 21 baby.
JIM STERN: 50 years strong! Congratulations! At least 50 years more. It's an extraordinary part of the Tufts community.
JOHN FENSTERWALD: ExCollege, after 50 years, what we did was interesting. What you're doing is absolutely fascinating. Keep it up, I'll be watching.
NEAL SHAPIRO: Congratulations ExCollege. What a fantastic celebration. On behalf of me and so many people who came through the program, thank you so much.