Monday, December 13, 2010

By Lana A. Whited
Professor of English and Director of the Boone Honors Program

In the classroom, I ask a lot of questions to which I already know the answers, leading students in paths of knowledge that I have already traveled. So what I have enjoyed most about working with senior Whitney Scott in an independent study this fall is the opportunity to be a student again myself.

Whitney’s project will ultimately serve as the material for Ferrum’s first honors thesis. An English major from Rocky Mount, Whitney will write the thesis in the spring semester and present her work in April 2011 at the college’s Arts & Humanities Symposium.

For her project, Whitney selected 11 novels dealing with the concept of utopia or dystopia – literary depictions of societies that are either perfect or severely warped. She and I began our work in May with a reading list and a general interest in looking at roles for women in these societies, not even knowing for sure what questions the primary sources would raise.

To some extent, I am out of my element with Whitney’s project, as most of the novels represent the science fiction/fantasy genre, an area of literature that, except for my extensive work with Harry Potter, I have largely avoided.

By fall break, Whitney had nearly completed her reading list, and I was struggling to keep up. She had become increasingly interested in three novels: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World (1974) and The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) by Starhawk.

In particular, Whitney began to examine the role of religious fundamentalism – specifically Christian extremism – in the formation of the dystopias depicted in each of these three novels. She was intrigued by Margaret Atwood’s comment that she tried to set The Handmaid’s Tale in her native Canada but found that it worked much better amid the religious fervor that characterized the United States during the rise of the Moral Majority. As I was a college student at that time and Whitney was not born yet, I could help her understand the sociopolitical context of Atwood’s novel.

Her exploration of this topic led to an interesting discussion of witchcraft persecution and how European societies (and those, like ours, derived from Europe) have always tended to demonize women who defy social norms and conventions. Whitney read the Malleus Maleficarum or “Hammer of Witches,” a treatise written by an inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church in 1486 and commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII himself. The document, which provides specific directions on identifying witches, ignited the worst period of witchcraft trials in Europe.

Another aspect of Whitney’s project that I have really enjoyed is the way she has recruited a team of faculty to collaborate in mentoring her. Her thesis committee also includes Dr. Susan Virginia Mead, a sociologist who has taught Starhawk’s novel repeatedly in Sociology 101, and Mr. Danny Adams, a member of the Stanley Library staff who knows the genre of science fiction better than most of the English faculty. English professor Karen Duddy, who is teaching “Women in Literature” this semester, has served as a sounding board for Whitney’s ideas. And Stanley Library Director George Loveland has helped with her secondary research and her study of George Orwell’s famous dystopia, “1984.” Simultaneously with her independent study, Whitney enrolled in Dr. Milt Rowan’s “History of Women in the 20th Century” course, which has deepened her understanding of the waves of feminism that have shaped our country in modern times.

On Wed., Dec. 9, just as Fall exams were beginning, Whitney presented her preliminary theories to a group of English professors and other interested faculty, staff, and students. One of the faculty members present called the project “a multidisciplinary undertaking of considerable sophistication.” Another said that Whitney was already working with texts the faculty member’s daughter hadn’t discovered until she took women’s studies courses in graduate school.

Just a few days before the presentation, Whitney received an e-mail from a graduate program director who had read about the project in the Council of Undergraduate Research’s student database. The director invited Whitney to apply to her university’s doctoral program in English, which includes faculty specializing in gender studies and feminist theory.

So as she prepares to undertake the writing of the thesis, Whitney will also begin planning the next phase of her education. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with her are eager to see what she will teach us next.

Note: Whitney’s thesis blog, “All Fullness, All Vacancy,” is posted at

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ferrum Students Camp in the Snow

By Aaron Conover
Adventure Programmer
Ferrum Outdoors

The only sounds that came to my ears when I woke up during the night were those of snowflakes hitting the side of the tent and the wind roaring through the trees on the ridge above. As I drifted back to sleep, it occurred to me that there were probably not too many people out there backpacking on this cold and snowy weekend except for maybe Dan Caston (Instructor of Recreation and Ferrum Outdoors Coordinator), thirteen students from Ferrum College and Roxy the trail dog. This was because Dan was leading the experiential portion of the Winter Camping 105 class and invited me to join them.

The original plan was to hike in and stay overnight in the backcountry at the Mount Rogers Recreational Area which offers unique terrain consisting of open slopes, red spruce and Fraser fir, massive rock outcroppings and free roaming ponies. The forecast called for Mount Rogers called for multiple inches of snow and low temperatures in combination with gusting winds. That prompted a location change.

We opted to stay closer to home and moved our adventure to the lower elevations of McAfee’s Knob instead of an epic atop the 5,729ft high Mount Rogers.

The goal of the course was (and is) to teach the necessary skills to safely and successfully camp overnight during the winter. The students took this knowledge and put it to a real test by developing their own food and personal equipment lists, packing a backpack with all the gear, hiking in 3.5 miles, setting up a tent, cooking meals on a lightweight stove and making a fire to help keep them warm. Although the keeping warm part of the program was met with varying degrees of success, everyone had smiles, all of their fingers, toes and paws at the end of the trip.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thoughts on the December 3 Lockdown.

Event shows campus systems work.

If you have any connection with Ferrum College it would have been hard to miss the news last Friday (Dec. 3, 2010) that the school was on lockdown during the overnight hours after a student called 911 to say she heard a loud noise that could have been a gunshot.

Ultimately, there was no evidence of any kind of threat, and despite the best efforts of police and even the maintenance staff, (which combed Basset Hall looking for anything that could have made a loud noise) we still do not know the source of the sound.

Be that as it may, Ferrum College should be proud of the way this event was handled. Campus police, along with Franklin County and State Police were on the scene 1 minute after Franklin County Dispatch received the 911 call.

Here’s why:

Police Chief Libby Legg, a former Lt. in the Roanoke City Police department has fostered relationships with the county and the state. The Ferrum Police headquarters serves as Franklin County’s western outpost for the Sheriff’s Department and a sub-station for State Police. That doesn’t mean we always have Troopers and Deputies on the premises – but they are here more than in years past, and they were here the night of December 3. Kudos to Chief Legg for creating an atmosphere where law enforcement officers feel comfortable and welcome.

Another success was the campus notification system. With the press of a single button, the Ferrum community was notified via the campus website, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail that a lockdown was in place, but that there were no injuries. The campus siren sounded with the pressing of another button to coincide with the other messaging. The lockdown was lifted via the same mechanism – minus the siren.

To Lockdown or Not Lockdown?

This one wasn’t as easy, and the decision was not made lightly. Campus leaders convened in the President’s Conference Room in John Wesley Hall to discuss the options. Had only a single student heard the noise, there may have been no lockdown. But when police arrived, several other students said they had also heard a sound. With no explanation for the sound forthcoming, the group felt that if we were going to err, it would be on the side of the safety of Ferrum students.

The lockdown allowed campus police to do an orderly search of campus and each residence hall and to confirm there was no need for alarm. That way, when the all clear was signaled around 5:30 a.m. – we were confident there truly was no threat.

To View the story that aired on WDBJ-7 Click here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

By Kimberly P. Blair
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Ferrum College

As the fall semester gathers to a close, we eagerly look forward to the holidays and time with friends and family. It is essential that at some point during all the festivities for me to take time to reflect on the many things for which I am thankful. This year, near the top of the list, is the gratitude I feel for the Ferrum family of alumni, parents and friends. Their expressions of continued support for this wonderful place are inspiring.

I drove by the location for the Hank Norton Center today and saw the crews with their heavy machinery working on the utility and water lines in preparation for the foundation of the Center. Ferrum Mountain looms over the sight displaying the last vestige of fall color and showing signs that change is in the air. The construction activity and the Center itself generate feelings of progress and opportunity for the future for our College.

It will transform that section of campus and will give us an opportunity to showcase our student athletes and provide a more competitive facility for recruitment for our outdoor sports. The Center is an exciting development for Ferrum.

Again, during this season to give thanks, and throughout the year, we feel blessed for the progress of the College made possible by the unrelenting support from the “Ferrum Family.” Go Panthers!

Kimberly P. Blair

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ferrum College's First Mountain Bike Race

By Aaron Conover
Assistant Director of Ferrum Outdoors

The brisk and sunny morning on Saturday, October 30th provided a perfect setting for a mountain bike race. The riders started the 2.5 mile course at Chapman Pond working their way through the woods to connect with a challenging ascent. After regaining their breath, they descended a fun, newly built single track section then pedaled to the finish. All the riders returned sporting smiles with their bikes (and themselves) intact.
This event came together because of the students here at Ferrum College. Brian Wilson, Matt Fioramonti, Matt Foster, Max Ruozzi and Zack Johnson participated in designing the course layout, trail design and new trail construction. Erin French handled the registration plus timing and Henry Buchanan was out on the course making sure everyone was safe on the day of the race.

Ferrum Outdoors is excited about the growth of mountain bikers on campus and is looking forward to expanding the opportunities and resources for them. New Trails, riding technique and repair clinics, group rides and another race are in the works. Those with bikes or without can contact us at or call (540) 365-4324 to take part in activities or receive more information.

Race Results:
1. James Turbyfill
2. Matt Fioramoniti
3. Max Ruozzi
4. Brian Wilson
5. Aaron Conover

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Folklife Festival 2010 = Success.

If you were at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival this year you saw a lot. A lot of people. A lot of food. A lot of animals. A lot of community.

The festival was moved this year to be more on the west side of campus -- nearer its host the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum. It made the crowds look a little bigger because people were more clustered -- but initial indications were that the crowd actually was bigger.

Festival coordinator Roddy Moore received estimates from the state police that put the number of people between 10-12 thousand.

Beyond the numbers, many of the food vendors told me they simply ran out of food. Attendees seemed understanding, while those looking to raise money for say, the local church, were tickled to death.

If you've never seen the mule jumping competition, you owe it to yourself to see it at least once -- but beware, you're likely to want a return engagement.

This year's car show was exceptionally strong -- and the antique tractors and crafts were amazing.

If you didn't see the hand carved rattlesnake on the side of a walking stick with each scale carved and painted -- you would think it couldn't be done.

"I wouldn't take less than $500 for it," was the answer when I inquired about the price. If he had said $10,000 it wouldn't have surprised me. Amazing stuff.

Keep an eye on for additional information on the Festival. We are working on a short video for our YouTube channel on a Ferrum Alum who designed a turkey call from a piece of slate and a turtle shell. Photos from the event are also available on the front page of the website.

Thanks to all who came.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ferrum College, Belize -- and Macaws

If experience is the best teacher then one of the rising sophomores here at Ferrum College must have a head full of lessons.

Take a look at the Ferrum College You Tube Channel and you'll see a couple of recently posted videos from the May e-term. The e-stands for "experiential." That's a big deal here at Ferrum. We put our education students in classrooms as freshmen. Our environmental science students are in the field doing research as undergrads, and every May the kids have a chance to go somewhere and do something cool.

One video shows an interesting study in history that took the form of a mural at Ferrum Elementary School. It's a spectacular piece in the cafeteria that spans more than 40 feet. Among the student artists, only one was an art major -- the rest were there for the experience.

Another video depicts a trip to the Virgin Islands, where Ferrum students studied coral reefs, local culture, and participated in an archeological dig. They brought back tales of barracuda, sharks, and ancient civilizations.

The next video we'll shoot will have more to do with birds and jaguars than fish, and will tie one student in particular to woman whose fight to save the nesting grounds of the scarlet macaw was the focus of a best selling book.

The Backstory.

Ferrum College this year took its first e-term trip to Belize -- a small country in Central America that was once known as British Honduras. During their three week tour, called Rain Forest to Reef: Natural Resources in Belize, students learn about the country's culture, political structure, and of course the environment. In a nutshell, the nation is primarily English speaking, not as corrupt as many of its neighbors and covered in jungle.

One of the students on the e-term trip, Abigail Lewis, opted to stay a little longer -- to intern at the Belize Zoo.

Not to digress too much -- but to understand the significance of that opportunity, you must know a brief history of the Zoo and Sharon Matola, who founded it.

Matola took a round-about route to learning how to handle large cats like lions, tigers and jaguars. (She started out as the wife of a dentist, hopped a train to Florida, joined the circus and never looked back. I told you it was interesting.)

Fast forward to Belize where she is putting that knowledge to work during the shooting of a documentary on jungle animals. The documentary over, the producer packs up and leaves her with critters which cannot be returned to the wild. With no other choice, Matola sticks a post in the ground with a sign that says "Belize Zoo."

All of this is detailed in Bruce Barcott's book, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, which I am currently reading. The book is not unlike other environmental thrillers such as Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm. There's intrigue, evil, multiple sub-plots, heroes and tragedy -- but none of it is fiction. It's an actual page-turner.

Ferrum College Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, Glen Stevens left the book on my desk two weeks ago. "If you are going to do a video on the Belize group, you need to read this," he said. Now I see why.

The book details not only Matola's efforts to establish the zoo, but more importantly, her fight to prevent the building of the Chalillo Dam which would flood one of the last nesting sites in Belize of the scarlet macaw -- the beautiful parrot you may have seen for sale in pet stores. The book details the popularity of the birds dating back to European explorers who gave them to kings as gifts from the New World, to Eco-tourists who flock to the jungles to see them in the wild, to the pet trade, where people pay thousands per bird because of their colors and intelligence.

Back to the Ferrum College Angle

If the e-term group received a small dose of this story during their trip, then Abigail got the full IV version.

She is there at that same zoo, with those same jungle cats and yes, Sharon Matola, who is now a world figure when it comes to macaws, jaguars and environmental battles. Stevens has exchanged e-mails with Abby and it appears she is seeing more of the big cats than she is Matola -- but that was to be expected.

No matter. What counts is that she is there. She is learning, and she's doing it from Ferrum College -- where experience counts.

Note: We'll be posting more information, including an interview with Abby after she returns from her adventure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One heck of a bike commute

Before I could ride my bike to work, I had to ride it home. Let me explain.

One of the best aspects of Ferrum College is its location. It's just far enough away to be isolated, but near enough to have contact with cities like Roanoke and Greensboro. It's also just far enough away to make National Bike to Work Day just a bit epic.

It's 31 miles from Ferrum College to my home in Roanoke. Take the back roads through Franklin County and the scenery is as pretty as anywhere, unless you have a strong dislike for rolling farmland, mountain vistas, gurgling brooks and that kind of stuff.

In the mid-to late 1990's I bicycled these roads regularly. But that was 10 years and 20 pounds ago. I had been wondering if it was still doable and with a little nudge from a buddy who laughed earlier in the week and said sarcastically, "are YOU riding to work on Friday?" I decided I'd do it.

The fitness part of biking to work is just part of the problem. There's logistics. I wanted to have a change of clothes at the College, so I drove to Ferrum on Thursday, with the bike, all my gear and a change of clothes in my beloved Mini Cooper. My plan was to ride home from work, and get up on Friday and ride back.

It made sense for a number of reasons. First of all it was going to take 4 hours plus to make the commute. If I had ridden to work and home in the same day, that would have made for a long Friday. Plus, with minimal time on the bike so far this year, the thought of a night's sleep in between the efforts seemed like a good idea.

So at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, I hopped on my bike and headed over Ferrum Mountain and into the countryside. It was gorgeous. The sun was out, the farmers were cutting hay and for whatever reason, even Boones Mill and the truck traffic seemed quaint. I had kept my eye on Cahas Mountain in the distance and for a time it seemed to get no closer despite my efforts.

Once in Boones Mill I turned off Bethlehem Road and spent less than a mile on the dangerous Route 220 before turning off onto another country road that took me along Maggodee Creek. Just after crossing back into Roanoke County, I descended a hill local cyclists call the "Wall." My speedometer registered 57 miles an hour.

I dragged myself up the hill to my house, pleased but apprehensive. After all, it was 31 miles BACK to work in the morning.

Friday Morning.

Up at 5:30 and the thermometer said 50 degrees. That can be a chilly ride. I upgraded my jersey, threw on a nylon vest, had some coffee, toast and a granola bar and hit the road.

Remember the "Wall?" Now I had to ride up the beast. I actually took my older bike for the return trip because it has easier gearing, but the Wall -- 4 miles into the ride was more than I had in my tired legs. I rode all the way, but "cheated" by looping back and forth across the road. Think of it as creating your own mini-switchbacks.

After that is was a beautiful, twisting downhill for several miles to Boones Mill. The sun warmed things up about 10 degrees, which was perfect.

I stopped to take a photo 18 miles into the ride and thought about how lucky I was to be able to do this.

As Ferrum Mountain emerged in front of me 10 miles later I wasn't so sure. Back in the day my buddies and I played a game to see if we could maintain 10 mph all the way up. This day, success meant just another turn of the pedals.

Be that as it may, the top eventually arrived and it was a thrilling descent back into the heart of the college.

I may do it again as a test of my fitness after what I hope is a summer of riding. But tonight, I'll be happy to see the scenery from the car.

To see the route click Here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eating flowers and getting jobs

This week, Ferrum College Student Melissa Maldonado has the keys. She was one of many Ferrum College students who attended the annual Protocol Dinner -- designed to show students how to handle a business meal and/or interview situation. Here are Melissa's thoughts.

Mom could only teach us so much when it came to table manners, but, she never had occasion to teach us about flowers in our salad. Issues such as that were right in front of us at the annual Ferrum College Protocol Dinner, where students join faculty, staff and local employers for a fancy dinner in the Blue Ridge Mountain Room.. Our host, and guide for the evening was Jack Sharlow an etiquette specialist.
Students walked into the Blue Ridge Mountain Room to find tables with more silverware than we had ever seen around a plate and a very interesting looking soup. At that moment I was intimidated.

But host Jack assured us that this dinner was a learning experience and a comfortable setting. He started off by showing us basics like the proper way to put the napkin in your lap (fold it diagonally halfway). He then told us to open sugar packets by tearing the paper only halfway. No sooner had he said that than I did what I always do – tore all the way through, leaving TWO pieces of paper on the table instead of the preferred, one. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed. The business executive for Safe Sleep beds, Mr. Al Flora to my left laughed and said " I know, its hard to break habits." This made me feel a lot better and I began to relax.

The first serving was a melon soup. In the soup was a thin bread stick with ham wrapped around it. It looked kind of like a ham lollipop. I was completely lost on how to begin eating this and by the look on everyone else’s face they were too. We are instructed to scoop the soup away from us, so would not dribble on ourselves. This made sense. As far as the ham-on-a-stick went, we were relieved to learn we could simply pick it up. I sighed in relief this dinner might be a little easier than I anticipated.
The salad was next, it came with a surprise, flowers! I was lost again. We were told the flowers were edible and that we should eat them. I did not see this coming, but why not try something new? I put the yellow flower in my mouth and shocked! It was horrible. I tried my hardest not to make a face, I could not spit it out . That would be completely inappropriate. I was glad it was all over when I swallowed it.
Our next plate was the entree; skewers with chicken steak and vegetables. I knew this was not going to be a barbecue were I could just pull it off with my teeth. To get the food off the skewer we had to use a fork and gracefully slide the pieces off individually, “one or two at a time.” With the chicken it was not a difficult task, but the steak was a completely different story. I could see the senior to the right try and scoot the steak off the skewer slowly. Then suddenly the steak launched into his lap. We knew it had to happen to at least one of us.

Finally desert and coffee. I don’t recall what it was exactly but it was absolutely scrumptious and easy to eat -- thank goodness.
Overall the dinner was a success. Everyone at the table engaged in good conversation. We all admitted that we had some manners to brush up on and that we all will take something away from the experience. I learned to always eat my flowers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Best Student Workers

A good friend of mine used to quip of his days in college, that he, "never let classes get in the way of his education."

It always got a laugh and he had the personality to pull it off. But there's a hint of truth in there as well. Not EVERYTHING of value in college happens in class.

Nowhere was that more evident than on campus this week as Ferrum College honored it's students employees of the year. Eight work study students who went above and beyond the normal hum-drum task of dutifully performing mundane work in return for money for college.

Nominees included:
James Hunter Boyte, Information Services
Corey Elizabeth Brooks, Provost Office
Andrew Michale Maxwell, Dining Services
Wesley Adam Mullins, Campus Safety
Travis Powell Smith, Athletics
Ryan Michael Snyder, Subway
Diana Rochelle Yates, ARC
Michale Travis Zitmore, Facility Services

In a brief ceremony in the Virginia Room in Franklin Hall, Human Resources Director M.A. Whisenant told the students how her goal was to teach the students how to be good employees once they graduate.

Toward that end, nominees were graded on whether they were reliable, the quality of their work, whether they were innovative and professional and the uniqueness of the contribution they brought to the job.

Last year's winner, Bob Dill, now a senior who has two job offers and has applied to medical school, told this year's nominees that he feels the award is among his greatest accomplishments at college and that, "You may get a job in the real world, but you won't keep it unless you take to heart what you learned in your job here at Ferrum."

This year's winner is Wesley Mullins, who worked in campus safety. Police Chief Libby Legg extolled Mullin's contributions to campus safety when he volunteered to answer phones during a campus crisis last fall, among many initiatives he undertook during the year.

"Heroes rise out of tragedy,"said Legg, "and he became a hero that night."

Like I said -- Not all the lessons are in the classroom.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Is In The Air

For a while I thought this was a college without any students.

OK—not really. But for the first month I was here, where there was snow and wind and cold temperatures, you could drive a snowplow through campus and not hit anyone.

Students and faculty were running from building to building bundled up and mostly miserable. The grounds were covered with snow, and the wind was whipping around the brick buildings and across the ice on the lake while the gray skies offered zero reason for optimism.

Now at last, the sun is out and so is the campus community. Students are sitting outside the buildings and soaking in campus life. If nothing else they are out on the grounds instead of hiding in their dorms or classrooms. Life after spring break is much different—and better.

It is with that in mind that I offer the beginnings of the Ferrum College blog. It is to Public Relations what Spring has been to the semester—something new and refreshing and hopefully—like the sun—something that will draw the Ferrum Community far and near from their hiding spots.

There are so many worthwhile things to talk about on this campus that may not make the paper or the 6 p.m. news. But this space, along with our new Facebook Fan page (please become a fan) and a soon to come YouTube channel—not to mention an improved website will allow Ferrum to the rest of the world know what a great place this is.

Please use the comment section to help me further tell the story—or if I get it wrong to refute it.

Feel free to contact me a

Thanks for reading and for spreading the word about Ferrum College.