From far and wide: visiting Winter Study professors from all walks of life

Every January, students come back to Williams and ease back into schoolwork with Winter Study. Although the period is not a continuation of vacation on campus, students find more time to pursue extracurricular activities such as the popular Williams Outing Club (WOC) classes since they are only responsible for one academic course.

Far from being a dalliance, however, the lone course is intended to allow students to explore a field they may not otherwise have a chance to pursue. With students attempting to discover new things, classes ranging from “African-American History Through Film” to “Cosmology: The History of the Universe” make satisfying one’s curiosity far from difficult.

Some may not know, however, that besides offering a wide range of unique courses during Winter Study, the campus is also host to a diverse group of visiting professors. These classroom heads are unique in that their lives and careers are not centered on teaching; this allows them to offer practical expertise in their respective fields.

The result is that courses taught by “non-professors” contain real-world applications of skills, or can provide advice on aspects of a career that are less known and cannot be discussed in a traditional class setting.

As a professional illustrator who specializes in the natural world, Robin Brickman is one example of a Winter Study professor with unique expertise. She has won many awards for her work, including a Child Study Association Children’s Book of the Year for her first book, I Am An Artist, a Gold Award from the International 3-D Awards Show for A Log’s Life and Best Children’s Book of the Year for the 2001 edition of Starfish.

On the first of Brickman’s excursions into the instructional scene, she was driven by a desire to interact with college students, reflective that at the time she was a mother of two small kids. Her positive interactions with undergraduates motivated her to continue the practice.

She now contributes her time to teaching a Winter Study course for the experience. “I like the change,” she said. “It’s a necessary change.” Brickman said that students can benefit the most from Winter Study by following a “more personal interest.” In her course, anyone interested in illustration or publishing would benefit greatly from her specialized background.

In Brickman’s course, “Natural Science Illustration” techniques such as black and white drawing, color drawing and three-dimensional picture-making are covered in great detail. Brickman said that her course not only teaches students how to illustrate better, but also gives students a heightened awareness of their natural surroundings.

She explained that in order to draw a natural object such as a leaf, a person must examine the object closely to capture every detail. Drawing an object forces people to look at an object in new ways, she said, “and drawing an object gives students a better understanding of what they’re looking at.”

Ralph Lieberman brings a different set of skills to the College for the Winter Study session. He teaches a course that has never been taught here before: “Large-Format Photography.” His course covers techniques to create oversize photographic prints from large negatives. Unlike Brickman, Lieberman did not begin his career as a photographer or a professor, but has instead a number of professional abilities that all of his students are able to benefit from. He began his career as an art historian specializing in architecture and sculpture.

In his book Renaissance Architecture in Venice, Lieberman kicked off his career as a photographer by creating every picture for the book himself. Although he has a lot of professional experience, this is his first time teaching a darkroom course. “It is very exciting to me to help my students achieve what they want,” he said. Lieberman has also found his experience teaching relatively new subject matter here enjoyable, and said, “It is a fabulous place to teach,” he said, citing the interest and capabilities of the students in easing his transition from professional to educator.

Mike Stevens ’73 is similarly drawn to his alma mater by the interest and engagement of his students. This will be the third time Stevens has spent his January in Williamstown as an outsider, teaching on each occasion a course entitled “Entrepreneurism.” He also offers the course because to him, teaching at the College is an opportunity to give back to his alma mater.

The liberal arts background of Williams plays a significant role in his decision to come back for the winter month, and he claimed that the learning environment and attitudes on campus provide a “very good background and framework for thinking broadly.”

In the course, Stevens incorporates case studies, guest speakers and role-playing to explore the different aspects of being an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur himself since 1988, Stevens says that a course like this is not easily categorized into an academic department. He says that an entrepreneur must learn to “think outside the box” and find “a new way to look at life.” He recognizes these practices as the reason for his own success.

Brickman, Lieberman and Stevens are only a few of the professionals that contribute their time to Williams students, faculty and the community at large for Winter Study. With the addition of experts such as these to the campus, the college environment truly becomes an excellent place to explore and learn about something completely different, inclusive of drawing and entrepreneurism and beyond.