A video recaps the sights and sounds of Commencement Weekend


Commencement 2017

A video recaps the sights and sounds of Commencement Weekend

See all of this year’s commencement-related information.

Students in a fall-semester course on Robert Rauschenberg were influential in mounting a current exhibition of his work at the Williams College Museum of Art


Rauschenberg: Art & Archives

The Williams College Museum of Art’s (WCMA) exhibition of the work of Robert Rauschenberg, one of the most influential artists of the late 20th century, draws on his art as well as on his life—and students were involved in the exhibition process every step of the way.

“The Rauschenberg Foundation recently opened the artist’s archives to the public, and offered us and our students unprecedented access,” says Lisa Dorin, deputy director of curatorial affairs at WCMA. Dorin and Professor of Art C. Ondine Chavoya built a course around that invitation. They co-taught the course Rauschenberg: Art & Archives in the fall, with plans for a spring exhibition.

Students in the course were steeped in the artist’s life and work “as well as in the theory, practice, methods, histories of archives and archival research,” says Chavoya, whose own scholarly focus has long involved artists’ archives.

After some workshops at the Williams College Archives and the Clark Art Institute, the five undergraduates joined Dorin and Chavoya on a two-day trip to New York City to conduct primary archival research. “Each student arrived with a specific topic and question in mind,” says Chavoya. “But they quickly learned that archival research is anything but linear.”

Curator Lisa Dorin and Alex Jen ’19 look at materials from the course Rauschenberg: Art & Archives, which informed an exhibition that runs through Aug. 20, 2017.
Curator Lisa Dorin and Alex Jen ’19 look at materials from the course Rauschenberg: Art & Archives, which informed an exhibition that runs through Aug. 20.

Alexander Jen ’19 hoped to learn more about what he considers to be Rauschenberg’s tendency to cover up information in his art. “He has a series of paintings in which he paints strips of newspaper in black paint,” says Jen, who plans to major in art history. But when he couldn’t find archival documentation about those paintings, he decided to look into a series of minimal sculptures made of cardboard, glue and sand, which Jen hadn’t known about before seeing them in a gallery in the archives.

For Rebecca Smith ’18, a biology major with a background in studio art and photography, archival research led to a great discovery. She hoped to figure out who took a photograph of the artist used in Autobiography, one of his best-known pieces, and the centerpiece of the WCMA exhibition. The photograph has long been unattributed.

After looking through hundreds of photographs documenting the artist’s performance work, Smith found an image that matched the background of the one used in Autobiography, which led to the likely identification of the photographer. “It felt like detective work,” Smith says.

The archival material the students collected helped Dorin and Chavoya frame Rauschenberg’s work in the exhibition. “The artwork is all contextualized by the archival materials the students found, and the research and label-writing assignments they completed for class informed our exhibition didactics,” Dorin says.

“These students rose to the challenge of creating work that would resonate with a museum-going audience,” Chavoya says, adding that this particular audience will likely include Rauschenberg experts, given MASS MoCA’s recent opening of Building 6, which will also feature Rauschenberg’s work.

Reflecting on the class and the opportunity to help mount the exhibition, Jen says, “The course was unusual because it was positioned between art history, curatorial work and archival research. I felt lucky to be a part of it.”

Read more about the Rauschenberg exhibition, which is open until Aug. 20, 2017.

—Julia Munemo

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Class of ’66 Environmental Center Achieves Living Building Challenge Petal Certification


Class of 1966 Environmental Center Achieves Petal Certification for Living Building Challenge

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute; Amy Johns; Jason McLennan, Chair of the Board of International Living Future Institute and founder of the Living Building Challenge.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., May 22, 2017—The Class of 1966 Environmental Center has achieved Petal Certification, meeting six of the seven environmental performance criteria for the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives Director Amy Johns ’98 accepted the building’s Petal Certification at the Living Future Conference in Seattle, Wash., on May 18.

Twelve months of consecutive data showed that the center qualified in six of the seven environmental performance criteria for the Living Building Challenge (LBC), but fell short for the energy standard, just missing full certification as a Living Building.

“We knew when we started that the Living Building Challenge is just that—a real challenge—and that it would take time, experimentation, and ongoing learning to achieve certification,” said Johns. “What we have learned can be passed on to the community and to those who come after us in pursuit of the LBC, and that’s what makes this building a valuable place for teaching. ”

The LBC program, administered by the International Living Future Institute, is the most stringent measure of sustainability in the built environment. It certifies buildings that have positive, regenerative environmental and community components. To meet the challenge, a building must demonstrate that it can live within its means, using only the electricity produced and water collected on-site and devoting 35 percent of its landscaping to food production.

Twenty imperatives determine ambitious goals in seven areas, known as petals: energy, water, materials, site, health, equity, and beauty. To date, only 11 buildings in the world have received full LBC certification.

The center continues to work on the energy goal for the building, partnering with consultants who have worked on other LBC buildings to review energy consumption and generation for the building and explore ways to improve both. The consultants’ analysis suggests that the building is using approximately the amount of energy that the original model predicted, but that the solar panels are under-producing by about 20 percent. Williams hosts the panels and purchases the electricity from them, but SolarCity owns the equipment. The college is awaiting approval from SolarCity to have an independent solar engineer examine the equipment.

Sitting in the heart of campus, the environmental center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to office space for the Zilkha Center and Center for Environmental Studies (CES), the building includes study areas, meeting and classroom space, and a kitchen that students may use to prepare and cook meals.

“We were aware from the very inception of the project that achieving Living Building Certification was going to be a great challenge, and that in many ways the greatest benefits from the endeavor were likely to come from what we learned as we tried to find ways to overcome the obstacles that we would encounter,” said Ralph Bradburd, CES chair and the David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy. “The idea of the building is to live in it and learn from it. The learning justifies the time, effort, and money we put into it.”

For more information on the Class of 1966 Environmental Center, including group tours for college, school, or community groups, go to http://env-center.williams.edu.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.




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A strong spring season catapulted Williams to its 20th Directors' Cup


Ephs Win 20th Directors' Cup

A strong spring season catapulted Williams to its 20th Directors' Cup

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Yuv Khosla ’17 leaves campus this week with his diploma—and his pilot’s license


Reaching New Heights

Reaching New Heights

Yuv Khosla ’17 left campus after graduation with more than just his diploma. He also has his private pilot’s license, which he began during his junior year.

The New Delhi native says he had a “love/hate” relationship with air travel until he took a scenic flight over Williamstown and the surrounding area his sophomore year. The experience led him to enroll in Teamflys, the flight school at Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams.

“I made up my mind in November 2016 that I was going to conquer this fear,” he says.

He faced many obstacles on his way to obtaining his license. An economics and religion major, he already had a heavy academic workload. Without a driver’s license, let alone a car, he had to ride his bicycle to the airfield in all sorts of weather. And he had to log more than 40 flight hours of flight, after passing a FAA-approved medical exam and a rigorous a written exam to evaluate his proficiency in a wide array of subjects including aerodynamics, flight instruments, navigation, weather, communications, weight and balance, and FAA regulations. After showing competency in a variety of aerial maneuvers, such as take-offs and landings, stall recovery and 45-degree banked turns, Khosla was also required to fly both a 50-mile and a 150-mile solo flight and to complete flying tasks at night.

But the experience was “a great stressbuster,” Khosla says. “It was an outlet, like being a member of a sports team—you just find the time. Flying at Teamflys became a different part of my college identity and has been very comforting.”

Throughout the intensive training, Khosla found community in the instructors and other pilots who supported him. One especially memorable flight was with his flight instructor Shane Lamarre, on a lesson to fly in a fixed-wing, 150-hp. Cessna 172 from North Adams to the Albany International Airport in New York.

“I’ll always remember the feeling of landing at the Albany airport and having a huge airliner coming in behind me and realizing I was almost on the same level—a student at a college doing the same thing as a professional pilot of a large commercial aircraft,” Khosla says. “Even if I stuttered, we were both talking to air traffic control and getting instructions to land.”

Khosla, who attended an all-boys’ boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas, first learned about Williams from the daughter of his music teacher. The stories she shared about her college experience inspired him to travel 11,505 miles around the globe to attend.

As he returns home to New Delhi to join his father’s microfinance business, Khosla also plans to pursue higher levels of flight training. And, one day, he hopes of to start a commercial aviation business in India.

—Sue Mead

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Elissa Brown ’09 and Robyn Goldman Fisher ’01 are making a living making ice cream—one in an unusual place, and the other using an unusual technique


Two Scoops of Ephs

Elissa Brown ’09 and Robyn Goldman Fisher ’01 are each making a living making ice cream—one in a seemingly unusual place and the other with a seemingly unusual technique.

Elissa Brown, Class of 2009, owner of Wild Scoops Ice Cream in Anchorage, Alaska
Elissa Brown ’09, owner of Wild Scoops ice cream company in Anchorage, Alaska

Brown first started making ice cream when she was a middle school science teacher in North Carolina. “The experiments I was doing in my kitchen were a practical application of everything I was teaching my students, from controlled experiments and learning from mistakes to taking detailed notes and making observations,” she says.

Making ice cream became a way for Brown to connect to the place she lived and the people who lived there. “I used to make so much ice cream that I began hosting tastings to get rid of it,” she says. “People would crowd into my living room every month and sample whatever seasonal flavors I had concocted.” She realized the gatherings were a way to build community. “People who didn’t know each other were bonding over something that at its essence is just a way to bring happiness.”

Today, Brown lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she founded Wild Scoops, which blends fresh, locally-sourced and often unusual ingredients—including spruce tips, salmonberries and birch syrup—with ice cream. Brown moved to Alaska to join her fiancé after she’d spent a year studying experiential education in Norway. “I believe there is a way to combine my love for teaching with my love for ice cream,” she says. “I hope to figure that out in Anchorage.”

After two years of renting kitchen space and selling small batches of ice cream at farmers’ markets and pop-up events, Brown moved into a commercial test kitchen of her own. In the beginning of the summer she opened the doors of a small downtown scoop shop.

Fisher is the founder of Smitten, based in San Francisco. While earning her MBA at Stanford, she developed a business plan for a churn-to-order ice cream business that eliminated what she calls “unpronouncables”–preservatives, stabilizers and emulsifiers—and would “use technology to correct for industrialization.”

“I looked into the science behind ice crystal formation and learned that, despite the marketing power of terms like ‘slow churned,’ the opposite is actually true,” Fisher says. “The faster you churn ice cream, the better the texture can be.” Her plan called for a machine that used liquid nitrogen to churn each scoop to order, making fresh ice cream in less than two minutes.

After finishing business school, Fisher joined a design firm and then the FBI, as a special agent. But her business plan kept calling to her. Despite its lack of certainty—Fisher had done some initial prototyping and tested existing mixers only to discover that freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen was harder than it sounded—she decided to take the risk.

“I was 29 years old, and I knew this was probably the only time in my life, as a completely independent woman, I could take such an enormous risk, and so I just went for it,” she says.

Robyn Goldman Fisher, Class of 2001, owner of Smitten ice cream company in San Francisco
Robyn Goldman Fisher ’01, owner of Smitten ice cream company in San Francisco, Calif.

Over the next two years, she put her life savings into building the prototype machine. “I teamed up with a retired engineer and we built a prototype of our ice cream machine, which we named Brrr.”

When her prototype was complete—and while the recession was in full swing—Fisher bungee-corded it to a Radio Flyer wagon, reconfigured a motorcycle battery to power the machine and began selling ice cream on the streets of San Francisco. In time, she developed a local following and, in 2011, opened the first local Smitten store. She now owns and operates eight stores, with two more opening “very soon” in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Both Brown and Fisher say that they wouldn’t have had the entrepreneurial skills to launch their businesses if they hadn’t gone to Williams. “My education prepared me to wear the many hats of an entrepreneur, where there’s always a lot to learn outside of my ‘discipline,’” says Brown.

Says Fisher, “Serving joy for my job? It’s pretty darn cool (pun intended). So, no complaints.”

Learn more about Wild Scoops and Smitten.

—Julia Munemo



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