Profiles & Projects

A diverse group of stories:

What is like when your classroom is your dining room table? Colleen Williamson writes about an evangelical family in Jenkintown who has decided to homeschool their four children.

They even have a name for it: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  It refers to mass deaths among honeybees — an no one knows what causes it. Audra Devoto looks into the latest efforts to find what is killing American honeybees.

Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Café near Penn’s campus, has been a culinary pioneer, but food is only one of her passions. Another is social activism. Sabrina Emms profiles the author and activist.

Why do they call it Posse? Nicole Gildea explains in a story about the Posse Foundation, the non-profit that pays for full tuition, room and board for low-income students at prestigious colleges.

About 1,700 meals are served each day at Bryn Mawr’s main dining hall. Sophie Webb has written a day in the life of Erdman dining hall that explains how it gets done –from start to finish.

As a jewelry designer, a crafts person or an artist who produces items for sale the real challenge is to find customers. As Jian White relates, that’s where the website Etsy steps in to help.

At age 76, Sister Ann Marie Slavin is still spreading the faith. Colleen Williamson profiles a Franciscan nun with more Twitter followers than some movie stars.

Bryn Mawr student Helen Hardiman has a job whose purpose to scare the hell out of you. Maire Clayton profiles “Madame Rust” of the Fright Factory.

 

Classes without the classroom

We profile a Jenkintown family dedicated to homeschooling

By Colleen Williamson

Mikayla Gardner has never been late to school.

Of course, it’s not that impressive when first period is in her dining room.

Every morning, the high school junior wakes up in the room she shares with her sister, putting a denim skirt and blouse in the dark, and starts breakfast and a pot of coffee.

Finding a quiet corner in the house, she pulls out a well-worn King James Bible and reads for half an hour. Her mom, Joy, bustles into the kitchen while Mikayla is reading, alerting her to the time.

“I’m starting school!” she informs her mom, and walks out — to the next room, sits down, and pulls out a yellow pre-calculus textbook.

Instead of dusty, rarely-used chairs and old china plates, the room is neatly organized, with three wooden desks arranged around a larger one, bookshelves, a rolled-up American flag in the corner, and a blackboard hanging on the wall with the words “Don’t forget your devotions!” scrawled cheerfully in white chalk.

It has the appearance of a one-room schoolhouse and, really, that’s what it is.

“I hate math,” Mikayla says, nibbling on the eraser of her pencil. “That’s why I always do it first, before the little ones start school because I take breaks on my work to help them.”

HOmeschooling

“The little ones” are her four younger siblings–Daniel, David, Makenzie, and the baby, Rosalie. The boys are still eating breakfast but 11-year-old Makenzie takes breaks from eating her oatmeal every 30 seconds to anxiously peer into Rosalie’s crib. As soon as the baby wakes up and starts crying, Makenzie bounds over and picks her up, soothing her.

“I can’t wait to be a mommy,” she says, rocking her sister. Mikayla smiles encouragingly. Continue reading

The Mysterious Death of Honeybees

Image

Why are they dying? What is the cause? Haverford researchers are on the case

By Audra DeVoto

Chloe Wang tipped the glass beaker towards me, pointing out a faint impression in the tin foil covering in the shape of an X.

“See, the sharpie disappears,” she said.

The beaker had just come out of a 400º-Celsius oven (that’s 752º Fahrenheit), and any residual carbon molecules on its surfaces—sharpie included—were gone. Combusted. They had all floated away as molecules of carbon dioxide, leaving the glass and tin foil cleaner than the day it was made.

Wang was combusting carbon for a good reason. She was trying to identify chemicals that had been found on and in honeybees, and any contaminants on the glass beakers she used—no matter how small—would interfere with that process.

“I can’t use plastic pipettes because plastic is a hydrocarbon” she said, sitting down in front of a glass window that protected her from the experiments behind it—or rather the experiments from her.

“Here, the gloves are to protect the samples” Wang said.

She was surrounded by a constant buzz of machinery, air filters running, refrigerators humming, and various machines talking softly in the background. Despite the numerous benches and instruments packed into the small lab, each surface was immaculately clean. Carbon, the basic chemical building block of life, is everywhere. So keeping it off of surfaces and away from precious samples is a difficult task. Honeybee

After washing all her tools in three different chemical baths, she was ready to begin work on her sample: a small, innocuous tube consisting of two layers, a brown mush at the bottom, and a yellowish liquid on top.

The “mush” was honeybees. Ground up honeybees, to be exact. In the brightly lit, ultra clean lab deep within Haverford College’s science building, Chloe Wang was examining honeybees trying and determine chemical signatures of bee health.

She is part of a web of people consisting of farmers, beekeepers, researchers and students from two colleges, and even a large multinational corporation, all collaborating to save the bees through a novel approach—by cataloguing the chemicals a bee encounters in its lifetime, and linking those chemicals to disease and health.

And the bees, as many have realized, desperately need saving.

Back in 2006, honeybee hives started dying. Beekeepers would wake up one morning and find half, or more, of their hives gone—simply vanished. They left behind unhatched brood, plenty of honey—even their queen, unattended and alone. Even stranger, the honey left was not robbed by other bees or infested with parasites—something that normally occur within days of a hive being emptied.

In lieu of any known reason for the disappearances, and in an attempt to bring national recognition to the problem, beekeepers and scientists coined a new term for the phenomenon: Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.

Many environmentalists blamed neonicotinoids (or neonics), a class of insecticides that are coated on seeds before they are planted, then are taken up by the plant as it grows, allowing the pesticide to be incorporated into the plant’s very tissue. That tissue includes pollen, the logic goes, which is collected by the bees and brought back to the hive, exposing not just worker bees but the entire colony.

But neonics are just one of many chemicals bees must contend with—one study found over 118 different pesticides in pollen, beeswax, and on bees themselves—and it turns out that although neonics have not disappeared from commercial agriculture, CCD is no longer killing the bees.

That is not to say that they are safe: in 2015, the national survival rate for hives was around 44%. Rather, it means that what is killing the bees is far less understood and more complicated than neonics—and that might be the scariest thing about it. Continue reading

On the Menu: Social Activism

How Judy Wicks has combined the culinary world and social action.

By Sabrina Emms

Judy Wicks knows to carry a wet cloth if there’s a chance she will be teargased. Wicks, who turns 70 in the new year, can easily list the times she’s been arrested for direct action. She may not be a, “professional troublemaker” but she isn’t one to back down from a fight.

She looks as far from troublesome as you can look, with her long curly white hair and simple knit sweater. She’s warm and a little brusque, the way you’d expect a successful businesswoman and skilled people person to be. But Wicks is more than a businesswoman, she’s an activist, and an effective one. She causes change, first in herself and her business ventures and then for her community.

She’s best know for the White Dog Cafe, and more recently for her tireless work here and abroad. She’s stealthy changing the food economy of Philadelphia, a little bit at a time.

Just as artists have mediums, so do activists.

Wicks, formerly the owner of the White Dog Cafe, is certainly an activist, and often, her medium is food. When Wicks says, “I use good food to lure innocent customers into social action” she isn’t lying.

The White Dog was transformative. In Philadelphia it popularized the trend of locally sourced, really good food begun in California by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Wicks draws a clear line.“I don’t compare myself to Alice Waters. She’s a world-renowned chef. She started to create the wave that I and many others rode, in terms of just the right moment to have a restaurant that featured local food.” Wicks says.

Wicks is no chef, and White Dog certainly doesn’t have the acclaim of Chez Panisse, but it has become a Philadelphia institution and a cornerstone of the local food movement, with Wicks as its fearless leader and champion.WEhite Dog Cafe

In 2009 Wicks sold the cafe. In 2014 she wrote, “Good Morning Beautiful Business”, which won a Nautilus Award for Business/Leadership in 2014. Now she focusses on BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which she cofounded in 2001 to combat decentralization and globalization in our economies and supply chains. If that’s not enough, she’s working on a campaign to solarize center city.

Her own home runs on solar-produced electricity from her roof and renewable energy bought from Lancaster County. Wicks can’t stop. She’s been showing movies and inviting speakers to help convince her neighbors to convert to solar too. But even as her interests have broadened and branched out, she does acknowledge, “most of my work since then [selling the Café and starting BALLE] all sprung from the White Dog”

Back in the days of the White Dog Café, one of the first things Judy did was get rid of pork.

“In particular I was really interested in humanely raised meat.” she explains. “I just made a commitment I would not be part of the evil cruel inhumane system.”

Wicks had become aware of the plight of the meat she was serving, and immediately worked to change it. Pork did return to the White Dog, but this time it came from her free range chicken and egg farmers. White Dog got two whole humanely raised pigs a week. Then she did the same with beef. She worked to create a network of local farms.

“After many years I got to the point where I thought, ‘now we’ve finally done it, we have a menu that’s humane, all of our meat comes from small family farms where the animals are treated with respect and so on’. And that was going to be our market niche. We were the only restaurant that was doing it.” Continue reading

Riding to the Rescue

How the Posse Foundation helps students get into and thrive in college

By Nicole Gildea

Just relax. Yuying Guo tells herself as she steps into the interview room. Her stomach is full of nerves but she takes a deep breath and puts a smile on her face. This is not the time to be nervous. She has to give it everything. Her eyes scan the room and she notices about 24 other students. They all made it to the final interview but only 10 will be selected. Less than half of them. Guo hopes more than anything she will be selected because then she will win the ultimate prize—a full-tuition scholarship to college.

The interview lasts nearly four hours. It is a group interview where candidates answer questions about themselves and participate in interactive workshops. The selection committee already received her grades and test scores. Now they are evaluating her on her ability to communicate well, to work in a team, and to demonstrate leadership.

Guo leaves the building by the end of the night and steps into the December air. She feels a sense of relief knowing that she finished the third and final interview. She feels proud of herself for making it this far. Now all she has to do is wait for the decisions to be made.

Tiny flakes of snow flutter onto her jacket as she walks down the streets of Boston. She ducks into the subway and rides the train back home. She arrives home around 9:00 p.m. and settles into her bedroom. It is a school night. Homework will be due tomorrow. However, Guo is too distracted by the recent interview to do any homework.

Suddenly the phone rings. That’s weird. She thinks. Why is someone calling me this late? She answers the phone. A moment later a huge smile spreads across her face. It is the Posse Foundation on the other line. They are calling to tell her that she has been admitted into Bryn Mawr College on a full-ride.

Posse

Posse students at in Bryn Mawr lab

Founded in 1989, the Posse Foundation is a national organization devoted to college access and youth development. Each year it identifies public high school students from the same urban communities who have demonstrated strong academic and leadership talent. The founder of the organization is Deborah Bial, an alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. According to the organization’s website, Bial got the idea to create the foundation when she heard a student say, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”

The Posse Foundation places students in diverse groups of 10, known as Posses, in prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States. The idea is that by being in a Posse, students will receive the support of the fellow students their Posse to help them graduate. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Dining Hall

Erdman Hall serves 1,700 meals a day.  How do they do it?

By Sophie Webb

One of two dining halls on the Bryn Mawr campus, Erdman is the boxy, gray powerhouse that keeps the Bryn Mawr community fed. Erdman is run by the Bryn Mawr College Dining Services and is a hub for student life at Bryn Mawr.

Bryn Mawr was ranked in the top ten for the best college food by the Princeton Review for 2017. But what is it about Bryn Mawr food that makes it so good? Where does it come from, and what is done to it before students can indulge?

The food at Bryn Mawr is good, but it’s also somewhat of a mystery. A curtain shields consumers from the inner workings of where their food comes from, how it’s prepared, and where it goes once they’re done.

Let’s peel back the curtain and examine the journey of food at Erdman.Erdman Dining Hall

Act 1: The Preface

The Banana Slug String Band wrote a song called “Dirt Made My Lunch,” and they’re not wrong, all food does come from the Earth. But how does that food make its way to Erdman dining hall?

Since the entirety of the Bryn Mawr campus is not a garden, and all of the students don’t spend their days planting, tending and harvesting crops, the food has to be brought to Erdman from outside the “Bryn Mawr Bubble.”

Kevin Williams, the Unit Manager for Erdman explained that the majority of the food served at Erdman comes from the company US foods. US foods is a large foodservice distributor that operates across the country. Erdman sources from warehouses located in New Jersey, meaning that although it wasn’t grown on Merion green, the food is less than an hour truck ride away. Because of the diversity of the menu at Erdman, US foods can’t supply all of the food for Erdman. Bryn Mawr uses Sysco, another food provider, located in Pennsylvania, as a secondary source. The produce is provided by Four Seasons, another Pa. based provider.

In addition to the companies mentioned, Erdman also tries to source its food from local providers whenever possible. Williams says that it is tough to provide local food all the time on the east coast, “it’s not like we can get lemons, cantaloupes and stuff like that,” he says. Continue reading

Handmade To Online

How Etsy gives crafts people access to an online market

By Jian White                                                                                                          

The holidays are on the horizon. People across the country are searching for the perfect gifts to surprise their family and friends with, as well as treating themselves to something special. However, they aren’t shopping only in the traditional department stores anymore.

They’ve taken to the internet to do a lot of their holiday shopping. However, it’s not only the big box stores seeing all this extra influx of customers. Small business owners are seeing it too, even shops that don’t have their own website.

This age of mass produced items has shifted some people’s values. More people want to connect to the people making their items. “I really feel good about buying things that have a story behind them,” said Sophie Mongoven, a senior at Bryn Mawr College. “I also like buying things for myself and other people that you know everyone else won’t have.”

Etsy

“It feels really good when you buy jewelry or accessories and someone asks you where you got it and you can say that it was one of only five made and add in the interesting background story of the owner.” said Mongoven. “That’s why I really like shopping on Etsy compared to bigger stores.”

Shopping isn’t only getting personal. It’s getting handmade.

Mongoven isn’t the only one who enjoys buying unique, handcrafted items with a story. Statista.com reported that Etsy annual merchandise sales had risen to 2.39 billion dollars in 2015 from 895 million in 2012. Etsy is currently the home to 1.7 million active sellers with upwards of 27.1 million active buyers across the world, since opening its online doors in 2005.

Etsy found its niche within the handcrafted world of online goods. It appeals to artisans, thrifters, and crafters alike to showcase their talents and finds with the rest of the world. People are selling every from their vintage clothing to art prints. “It’s really easy to get art prints that aren’t too expensive and not everyone else has on Etsy.” said Mongoven.

The site has built a community around not just for buyers like Mongoven, but also for the crafters that are selling on Etsy itself. That’s what sets it apart from other retailers like Amazon and eBay. Sellers and buyers alike can come together to ask questions and share ideas on Etsy online forums boards. Continue reading

Doing God’s Work

At age 76, this Franciscan nun is still spreading the good word

By Colleen Williamson

Sister Ann Marie Slavin is a self-described rebel.

She buys children’s coloring books, colors the sky green and the grass purple, and doesn’t live by other people’s rules.

“A reluctant rebel,” the Franciscan sister clarifies with a laugh. “You have to be brave to be a rebel, and I’m not very brave.”

As she talks, however, it becomes clear that the sister is more fearless than most. On this brisk mid-October Saturday, it’s hardly been 24 hours since she’s had back surgery, but she’s already back to work. She’s traveled all around the world and worked across the country and now, as Associate Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, blogs about her life and justice issues.

Slavin could certainly write this feature herself; part of her job entails featuring other sisters in her congregation for their website and internal news publication. While the features are called “Spotlight on…,” she finds instead that her fellow sisters often shy away from this spotlight due to their training in humility.

Admittedly, she also tries to steer conversations away from her life, so Slavin knows the right words to get the sisters to open up: she tells them not to focus on themselves, but on their mission. And what is this mission?

Sister Ann Marie Slavin with a statue of St. Francis

Sister Ann Marie Slavin with a statue of St. Francis

“We try to be sisters to everybody that we meet,” she explains. “We try to be a voice to those who have no voice.”

And her voice reaches far. At 76, she has more Twitter followers than an average 17-year-old—an impressive 2,300 people follow Slavin on the social media site, waiting to hear her opinions on anything from her favorite Bible verses to her thoughts on this year’s presidential election.

Slavin is a master both of old and modern media: she not only writes and edits a print newsletter, but also adapted to the shift towards online communication and became proficient with Twitter, Facebook, and online blogging. Continue reading

Meet Madame Rust

That horrid creature at the Fright Factory is a Bryn Mawr student

By Maire Clayton

Weekend nights, Helen Hardiman can be found covered in sliver paint in a dimly lit toolshed. Skeletons, ropes, and blades surround her as she lures customers into their nightmares.

Hardiman is a Bryn Mawr College junior, majoring in English with a double minor in Classics and Education. She plans to become a high school English teacher.

But, for five weeks a year, Thursday through Sunday, she works as a contortionist at The Fright Factory.

The Fright Factory is an evening tourist attraction in Philadelphia. In its few weeks of operation every year, the Fright Factory pulls all its customers for the entire year, brave souls looking for Halloween scares. The 103-year old warehouse features a set of rooms from toolsheds to toxic waste rooms and everything in between. Actors improvise each set.Fright Factory

For Hardiman, the afternoon feels like the early hours of the morning. Her shift starts in the evening and occasionally finishes at 3 a.m. During the interview, she vigorously clawed at the glue remaining on her face from the previous night.

“She’s my baby,” said Hardiman in a giddy voice, referencing the character she created. At work, she transforms into Madame Rust, a girl horrifically disfigured in a factory accident. Ever since, Madame Rust has replaced her injured parts with metal.

Dressed in all black with a corset cinching her waist, Madame Rust is a slender creature with long, wavy, raven hair. Hardiman often hears, “Oh my God, you look like the grudge!”

“She is incredibly polite, to a fault,” said Hardiman. Just do not make her angry or she will spider crawl towards you.

It is impossible for Hardiman to become Madame Rust in the daylight. “She just kind of emerges,” said Hardiman.  “I can’t do her voice or her persona outside of my room of the haunt.”

“You get into a weird zone,” said Hardiman about portraying Madame Rust. “As soon as 7:30 hits, everyone is in character.”

The intense environment does not stop until the lights come back on. Continue reading

The Science of Everything

The rise of environmental science in the classroom

By Sophie Webb

Stepping into the Baldwin School’s main building does not feel like stepping into a school at all. The building, which is a former hotel designed by Frank Furness, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a towering vision of red. The entryway still resembles the lobby it used to be, complete with coat racks, ornate rugs, and a crackling fire.

Students parade by in snappy plaid uniforms, and the essence of the former hotel gradually dissolves into the noise of the lunchroom, the backpacks of the students and the other small clues indicating that Baldwin is no longer a hotel, but an all-girls private school on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

The Baldwin School

The Baldwin School

Although the uniforms and the grandeur give Baldwin an old fashioned air, the institution is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to course offerings like environmental science, a relatively new offering in secondary schools.

Environmental science is the study of the earth through biology and physical science, as well as the examination of environmental issues and potential solutions.

According to the 2012 Horizon Research, Inc. National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, only 48 percent of high schools nationwide offer any sort of environmental science course, and only 18 percent offer more than one year of environmental science. Although these numbers seem low, they have been growing over the past two decades.

In Horizon Research, Inc.’s report on trends in science and mathematics education from 1977 to 2000, they found that from 1993 to 2000, the percentage of high schools offering environmental science courses increased from 24 to 39 percent. Their 2012 report shows that the percent is still on the rise.

At Baldwin, the science department offers two environmental science courses at the high school level, each a semester long. Continue reading