Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Tolkien Professor's Podcasts Are a Smash Hit among the iTunes U Literary Set

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Professor Corey Olsen launched his Web site, The Tolkien Professor, and began offering free podcasts of his lectures to share his passion for the writer’s works and to bridge the gap between academia and the general public. “I wanted to connect with other people who are eager to be included in a thoughtful, literary conversation about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” he wrote in his Web site welcome page.

It seems to be working well. Very well.

The Tolkien Professor podcasts on iTunes U, Apple’s site for downloading free audio files of university and college lectures, have steadily risen in the ranks of the most downloaded podcasts, and on December 19 his intro talk, “How to Read Tolkien and Why,” hit number 3. He has been featured for weeks as a “Noteworthy” offering on the iTunes U homepage ( and keeps company with the likes of an Oxford University series on “The Nature of Argument” and a video on programming for the Mac OS X operating system from Stanford (ranked no. 1 and 2 as of December 22).

“It’s pretty remarkable that he has stayed in the top 20 for so long,” says Nancy Cross, an instructional technologist who helps administer the iTunes U content for Washington College. “I first noticed him at number 17 back at the end of October, and while other lecture series have come and gone, he’s not only survived, but risen in popularity. I think it shows his cross-over appeal.”

Olsen says he’s been amazed by the response from the beginning. “People of widely different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds have expressed their excitement at the chance to be involved in a serious intellectual discussion of Tolkien's works. A lot of people don't get the chance to study Tolkien in college, and even those who did are delighted to have the opportunity to return to it."

The Tolkien Professor site has attracted more than 4 million visits. He figures his podcasts have been downloaded some 850,000 times. He’s thrilled to be proving that good scholarship and popular literature are not mutually exclusive.

Reader comments on the iTunesU page for The Tolkien Professor are effusive: “A family member recently introduced me to this series and I just can’t stop listening. This is such an intelligent discussion of Tolkien’s works but it manages to be really fun at the same time,” writes one. And another confesses, “I can’t figure out how to describe how incredible this podcast is.”

Listeners as young as 12 have sent in questions, a state of affairs that especially pleases the Professor. “I want to be accessible, and if 12- and 13-year-olds are listening, then I’m doing something right.”

The Tolkien Professor Facebook page boasts 1,800 followers, nearly a third of them international. A 12-year-old girl in China wrote recently to share some Tolkien-inspired poems she had written.

Olsen likes the personal engagement with other Tolkien fans. In addition to posting his Washington College lectures, he hosts office hours on Skype to field questions from listeners, and sometimes records Q&A sessions with listeners or chats with students.

From his early forays into Middle-Earth as a grade-schooler entranced by knights and dragons, Olsen was destined to become a medievalist. He double majored in English and Astrophysics at Williams College, graduating with high honors and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, then earned his PhD at Columbia. He came to Washington College in 2004 and three years later won the Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Washington College Alumni Association.

Olsen has taught everything from the Bible and courtly love to Greco-Roman mythology. But Tolkien has a special hold on him. Earlier this month, he launched a new online seminar on Tolkien’s most challenging work, The Silmarillion. The Online Silmarillion Seminar (and support group) covers a chapter a week, and the Tolkien Professor promises that these stories “are even more profound and more moving than The Lord of the Rings,” and will lead readers to understand The Lord of the Rings “in a whole new way.” The seminar consists of a live chat among participants—one of whom is a U.S. Marine serving in Qatar, and the Professor plans to post recordings of those discussions on his Web page.

Tolkien's works really stand out among other 20th-century works of fiction, says Olsen. “He believed that myths are stories that reach beyond fiction and touch Truth itself. When he was young, Tolkien wanted to write a mythology for England; he felt it had never really had a native mythology of its own. What he ended up accomplishing was much more than that. In The Lord of the Rings, he wrote a new mythology for the whole modern world, a mythology for a world that had almost forgotten myth."

Tolkien's works are also fundamentally grounded in Christian theology, Olsen adds, where myths get at the truth of our existence. "This world is not our destiny. That's the reason we feel dissatisfied. Through the mythological world Tolkien creates, we can begin to think about things beyond the mundane world around us.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hodson Trust Gift Will Boost Faculty Research, Economics Professorship and Scholarships

CHESTERTOWN, MD—The Hodson Trust earlier this month awarded $1.7 million to Washington College to fund three strategic priorities. Washington College president Mitchell Reiss says the gift will fund scholarships and faculty research and help the College build the endowment for an existing professorship in economics.

“This generous gift, the latest in a long tradition of support from The Hodson Trust, will enable us to meet a number of important goals identified in the College’s strategic plan,” Reiss adds.

The majority of the gift will add $1.2 million to the $16.6 million Hodson Trust (Merit) Scholarship Endowment, which provides four-year awards to full-time students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, character and citizenship. At present, 49 students are receiving a combined $780,000 in annual scholarship support from the endowment; this year’s gift will ultimately generate an additional $60,000 in annual scholarship funds. “Increasing endowment for student scholarships remains one of the College’s most pressing needs, and The Hodson Trust has been a long and steadfast supporter in this regard,” said Reiss

This year’s gift also provides $250,000 to establish The Hodson Trust Faculty Development Fund, which will more than double the resources now available to faculty for ongoing research, scholarship and professional development. The fund will provide competitive grants for scholarly work on campus, around the nation and across the globe. The Faculty’s Service and Scholarship Committee will administer the fund and make awards based on a peer review of submitted applications. “The personal interactions and mentoring relationships between our professors and students remain a key aspect of our graduates’ success. By helping our professors stay current, vital and actively involved in their areas of expertise, The Hodson Trust funding will nurture the very heart of our mission as a top-tier liberal arts college,” observed Reiss.

Finally, The Hodson Trust has provided a $200,000 addition to the endowment that supports the Hodson Trust Professor of Economics, established in 1977 and recently valued at close to $367,500.

These gifts from The Hodson Trust add a new chapter to the story of a generous partnership that spans more than nine decades.

The Trust, established in 1920 by the family of Colonel Clarence Hodson, benefits four Maryland educational institutions: Washington College, Hood College, St. John’s College and The Johns Hopkins University. Colonel Hodson grew up in Somerset County, Maryland, and went on to found the Beneficial Loan Society, a groundbreaking home mortgage business that grew into a major financial services corporation. An initial investment of $100 grew over the ensuing decades into a trust that has awarded almost $225 million to the four beneficiary institutions. For more information, visit

Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, it was the first college chartered in the new nation. To learn more, please visit

College Gets into the Giving Spirit With Toys, Toys, and More Toys for Local Children

CHESTERTOWN—The Washington College community showed its holiday spirit and generosity by collecting bags of toys for 250 local children from economically disadvantaged families as part of the Adopt-a-Bear program. A Christmas tree in Hodson Hall Commons was the collection point where students and staff piled festively wrapped toys—and some shiny new bicycles—to brighten the holidays for some local families.

At the start of the outreach project, that same tree held 250 paper tags shaped like teddy bears and containing information on a particular child’s age and interests or needs. Students and others on campus chose a bear tag and then shopped, sometimes jointly with teammates, club members or friends. The Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, for example, adopted three “bears” from the tree.

Founded 20 years ago by Easton residents Klaus and Anne Liebig, the Adopt-A-Bear program offers individuals, groups and businesses a way to reach out to the less fortunate in Kent, Talbot, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties during the holidays. Washington College alumnus Heather Tinelli ’94 is treasurer of the toy drive and coordinates the distribution of tags to participating groups.

Beth Anne Langrell, the College’s director of student development, brought Adopt-a-Bear to Washington College five years ago and has been thrilled by the response from the campus community. Washington College is now the largest contributor to the project. The gifts left under the tree are picked up by volunteers each day of the drive, stored briefly in a local warehouse, and then distributed to the families the week before Christmas.

This year’s gift drive was sponsored by the Washington College Office of Student Development, the Service Council, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the sisters of AOII, and the Student Government Association’s Community Service committee.

"I am so proud of the students, faculty and staff for the generosity that is shown each year with the project,” says Langrell. “ I can still remember the first year, when I agreed that we would adopt 50 bears, and I worried about whether we would reach our goal. Now we are up to 250 bears, and the bears were all taken off the tree in the first three days! That is a true testament to the spirit of our students, faculty and staff. My sincerest thanks to everyone who participated!"

In a separate effort organized by Kent & Queen Anne's Alumni Chapter co-chairs Chuck Waesche '53 and Deeann Jones '92, area alumni, along with members of the College’s 1782 Society, brought unwrapped toys to the chapter’s annual holiday party. This year the party was a “Meet the President” event held December 11 in the president’s residence, the Hynson Ringgold House, and included members of the 1782 Society. Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations, Lorraine Polvinale ’69 said more than 120 people brought at least one gift to be distributed through the Toys for Kent County Kids program. “This is an annual community service project for our local alumni, and every year they have given generously,” she commented. “It was wonderful to see the enormous pile of toys under the Christmas tree at Hynson-Ringgold House.”

Pictured, top, the tree at Hynson Ringgold House is surrounded by gifts donated by Kent and Queen Anne's County alumni and members of the College's 1782 Society. Bottom, some 250 children received gifts from the campus community as part of the Adopt-a-Bear program.

Friday, December 17, 2010

100-Voice Choir Returns to Washington College January 29 for Sixth Annual Gospel Concert

CHESTERTOWN–The 100-Voice Choir will return to the Gibson Center for the Arts on the Washington College campus on Saturday, January 29, 2011 to raise spirits and celebrate the life and example of the late Rev. Vincent Hynson, a 1987 alumnus of Washington College and a dedicated community leader in Kent County. The gospel concert will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. in Decker Theatre.

Proceeds will benefit the Vincent Hynson Scholarship at Washington College. Hynson, who died of cancer in 2004, was a beloved Kent County teacher, coach, pastor, and community leader. The scholarship in his name is presented to an entering freshman who is a graduate of a secondary school in Kent County, who demonstrates financial need, and whose achievements and aspirations most closely emulate the values of community service exemplified by the life of Rev. Hynson.

As part of the fundraising event, artist Emmy Savage, who sings with the 100-Voice Choir, is raffling a large pastel titled “Autumn Redbud.” The painting, which measures about 35 by 32 inches in its framing, will be on display in the window of the Compleat Bookseller, corner of High and Cross streets, after Christmas. The raffle tickets are priced at $1 per ticket, or 10 for $5, and are available at Scottie’s Shoe Store, 307 High Street, Chestertown. You can also order them by calling the artist at 410-708-1859 or Susan LaFerla at 410-810-2666. The winner’s name will be drawn during a 100-Voice Choir rehearsal.

To be considered for the Vincent Hynson Scholarship, interested students should submit a scholarship essay and complete all admissions and financial aid application requirements no later than February 15, 2011. Essay instructions and admissions and financial aid information are available from the Washington College Office of Admissions by calling 410-778-7700.

Founded in 2005, the 100-Voice Choir is the vision of Sylvia Frazier, a gospel music producer and promoter who runs S&B Productions with her husband, Bill Frazier. Anyone who loves to sing gospel is welcome to audition for the choir. The annual fundraising concert in honor of Vincent Hynson is co-sponsored by Washington College and the Kent County Arts Council and is organized by S & B Productions. Tickets, at $7 a person, will be available at the door and in advance after January 10th at The Compleat Bookseller, Twigs and Teacups, and Scottie’s Shoe Store, all in downtown Chestertown.

For more information, contact S & B Productions at 410-778-6006, the Washington College Office of College Relations at 410-810-7408, or the Kent County Arts Council at 410-778-1149.

Photographs: The Choir in action during the 2009 performance at Washington College. Emmy Savage's pastel Autumn Redbud, which is being raffled to raise funds for the Vincent Hynson scholarship at the College.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holbrooke Was Honorary Alumnus

The Washington College community mourns the passing of Richard Holbrooke, the veteran American diplomat who received the College’s honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, in February 2002.

Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and to Germany, and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, was the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the war in Bosnia. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. He later served as President Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans during the crisis in Kosovo.

In presenting the degree at George Washington’s Birthday Convocation, College President John S. Toll applauded Holbrooke’s skills as a problem-solver and recognized his “no-nonsense style in dealing with some of the toughest issues and the most volatile situations in the world.”

Degree Citation

One of our most brilliant and experienced diplomats, Richard C. Holbrooke brought peace to the Balkans and played a pivotal role in the war for Kosovo. As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he brokered the deal that resolved the delicate issue of America’s back dues and restored our good standing. In his no-nonsense style, he has dealt with some of the toughest issues and the most volatile situations in the world. Now, as the joint leader of the Council on Foreign Relations’ high-powered task force on terrorism and as president of the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, the former ambassador is bringing his expertise to bear on two of the gravest threats humanity faces today.

The American people have great faith that Richard Holbrooke will prevail: he has been hailed by The New York Times as “a master of impossible missions.” The secret of his success as a problem-solver lies in his vast experience in government and in his keen knowledge of the business world. He understands the importance of corporate partners in effecting real social and political change.

In recognition of his immense contributions in the field of diplomacy, his accomplishments as a peacemaker, and his advocacy for the victims of war and disease, Washington College is pleased to present to Richard C. Holbrooke the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sophomore Gabrielle Tarbert Wins First "Leading Women Maryland's Future" Scholarship

CHESTERTOWN—Washington College sophomore Gabrielle Tarbert is the winner of the Daily Record's first-ever Leading Women "Maryland's Future" scholarship, awarded to one Maryland college student who excels in academics, is involved in the community and demonstrates a commitment to inspiring change.

Tarbert was recognized December 2 in Baltimore at a dinner that also honored the 50 winners of the newspaper’s new Leading Women: Maryland’s Future awards. The scholarship includes a cash award of $1,500 provided by Wachovia. Tarbert’s profile appeared in the Leading Women supplement of the December 3 issue of the The Daily Record, a Baltimore-based publication that covers Maryland’s legal and business news.

This was the first year for the Daily Record’s Leading Women program, which honors businesswomen under age 40 for their “professional experience, community involvement and commitment to inspiring change.” The scholarship acknowledges a college student who shares the same characteristics.

Writing in support of Tarbert’s nomination for the scholarship, Washington College president Mitchell B. Reiss described her as someone who leads by example. “She is an accomplished student-scholar, a leader in our athletic and co-curricular programs, and someone who tirelessly works to promote positive change in the conditions of others,” he wrote. “In sum, Gabby’s example offers us all much optimism and enthusiasm about the future for Maryland and our nation.”

Tarbert’s field hockey coach, Rachel Boyle, was not surprised to see her win. “Gabby takes on responsibilities and excels in what she does, always striving to be better, and always looking to inspire others and give back,” said Boyle.

A varsity field hockey team member and Student Athlete Recruiting Host, Tarbert has combined her athletic interests with her philanthropic ones, joining teammates in their “Saves 4 the Cure” event, which last season raised $3,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She also revamped the college’s commitment to Relay for Life and is currently organizing a full-scale Relay for Life event on campus. She spent her spring break working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Columbus, GA.

Tarbert is a high achiever in the classroom, too; a consistent member of the Dean’s List, she is a member of the prestigious Presidential Fellows, a group of Washington College freshmen and sophomores recognized for their academic talents and promise.

Her many accomplishments are made all the more impressive considering the hardships Gabby has faced since losing her father at a young age. “Life can take a lot of things away from you,” she wrote in her application for admission to Washington College, “but there is nothing that can take away your will to succeed. Our family was broken, but we turned to each and looked within ourselves to make the best of what we had.”

Referring to the 50 businesswomen honored at the dinner, Tarbert said she was “honored and excited to be included in such a great group of women,” and called winning the scholarship a “humbling experience.”

Daily Record publisher and Washington College alumnus Suzanne Fischer-Huettner ’95, who withdrew from the judging panel when she saw that her alma mater had a nominee, was thrilled to see a Shorewoman win this first-ever leadership scholarship. Fischer-Huettner, herself, made Washington College proud when she became the first female publisher of the 122-year-old Daily Record. Her appointment to the post was announced at the Dec. 2 leadership dinner. Fischer-Huettner has risen through the ranks of the newspaper since starting in classified sales in 1996.

In addition to the daily newspaper published five days a week, The Daily Record publishes its website,, plus four blogs, three e-newsletters and a variety of special publications.

Photo: Sophomore Gabby Tarbert is recognized on stage at the awards dinner with Wachovia representative Michele Judman and Daily Record publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, a 1995 alumnus of Washington College.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Students and Staff from GIS Program Join Defense Personnel at Conference in New Orleans

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Students and staff from Washington College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program joined top national-security partners from government and industry at the GEOINT 2010 Symposium in New Orleans, November 1-4. GEOINT is government-speak for geospatial intelligence, which is playing an ever more prevalent role in the nation’s defense.

GIS program coordinator Stewart Bruce, GIS Educator Samantha Bulkilvish and student interns Tyler Brice ’13 and Corey Stokes ’13 were invited to make a presentation and staff an exhibit booth at the conference, which each year draws more than 3,000 attendees in the fields of homeland security, military intelligence, and defense contracting.

The team was part of a conference breakout session entitled, “Filling the K-16 Pipeline with Geospatial Students: Education Challenges and Opportunities.” Bruce focused on the benefits of a liberal arts education for developing the critical thinking skills needed for geospatial analysis. Combining a liberal arts education with geospatial technology expertise prepares students for important jobs in the national intelligence community, stressed Bruce, who emphasizes to his students that GIS knowledge can apply to a diversity of disciplines.
During the team presentation, students Brice and Stokes presented research projects on 3D visualization and feature extraction using GeoWeb3D (from GeoWeb3D, Inc.) and ENVI EX (ITT Visual Information Solutions), both examples of the professional-grade geospatial software being used in the Washington College lab.

The presentation also highlighted specific enterprises of Washington College’s GIS program, such as its “Maryland Offender Management Systems” geospatial data sharing application. By mapping current locations and criminal offenses of convicted adult and juvenile offenders, the program helps Maryland’s law enforcement officials more effectively allocate resources and work together across jurisdictions to improve public safety.

Brice’s 3D model of the Washington College campus, designed with the use of Google Sketch-Up and Geoweb3D, is a project he has worked on since this past summer. At the conference, NVIDIA Corporation donated to Washington College a $4,000 Quadro FX5800 video graphics card that will enable students in the GIS lab to process the 3D imagery more efficiently. Although he is a biology major, Brice believes GIS is likely to play a role in his career plans. “It seems the rule of thumb is, if you can map it, GIS relates to it,” he said, noting that mapping disease progression or toxin levels in different regions could combine his academic major with what he has learned as a GIS intern.

Brice appreciated the opportunity to be at the prestigious GEOINT Symposium, with high-ranking government officials and officers from all branches of the military in attendance. Stewart Bruce says one of the highest ranking of those officials, the Honorable James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, visited the Washington College booth. “We had a unique opportunity to meet key decision makers in intelligence,” he added.

Accompanying the Washington College group were Chuck Benton, a teacher at Dover Area High School, and two of his GIS students there – Alex Miller and Michael Miller. The head of the Technology Department at the high school, Benton also works as a secondary education associate in the GIS lab at Washington College, where he helps design curriculum for the K-12 school environment. Curriculum developed by the GIS team at Washington College is used to teach high school courses at Dover as well as other schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Other colleges and universities that sent representatives to the symposium included George Mason University, Penn State, University of Missouri, Virginia Tech, University of Redlands, University of Mary Washington, University of Denver, and James Madison University.

The GEOINT 2010 Symposium was hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). Both USGIF and defense contractor SAIC provided sponsorship support for the Washington College students, covering the costs of hotels, airfare and meals. Stewart Bruce acknowledged the value of these relationships, affirming that “the support of USGIF and SAIC has been very much appreciated, and we continue to support both of these organizations by working with K-12 schools to educate the next generation of geospatial analysts that are so critical to aiding in our nation’s defense.”

Photos: Top, Max Baber, Director of Academic Programs at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) poses with Washington College students Corey Stokes '13 and Tyler Brice '13. Middle, Stokes staffs the College's information table at the Symposium.
Bottom, Brice's 3D map of the College campus.