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Students surround Eric Jacobsen, a cellist for the Brooklyn Rider Quartet, as he demonstrates the sound of parallel fifths before performing Debussy's string quartet. The setting is not a concert hall, but a living room with hardwood floors and a burning fireplace. The Feb. 19 house concert, and the dinner with the musicians that followed, is one of the weekly cultural events for students at the East Wheelock Cluster residence halls.
Look in on life at the cluster in this video
"It's a really cool community; people are engaged. I feel like it's more than just a place to live," says resident Isaiah Berg '11 from Starkweather, N.D. "It's really valuable to have dinners like this at professors' homes and have a seminar at least every week. East Wheelock is a place to find friends and engage with ideas."
Events for residents include private dinners and presentations with prominent scholars, cultural excursions, and interactions with professors. The winter 2009 lineup included dinner discussions with Montgomery Fellows director Peter Sellars and poet Galway Kinnell; a "Poker with the Profs" night where students and professors learned Texas hold 'em; and an evening of chamber music with Dartmouth Classical Music Raiders.
Susan Brison, associate professor of philosophy, has been the East Wheelock faculty associate since 2006. She resides in a house at 13 East Wheelock, part of the cluster, and designs and hosts activities for students.
Brison says that hosting events in her home enhances both her own and the students' academic experiences. "I think it's possible to have a different kind of intellectual interaction outside the confines of the classroom," she says.
Brison is joined by Residential Fellow Soo Young Park, assistant professor of studio art, who helps coordinate student programs. Community Director Tessa Tyson assists in developing residential life programs, and Assistant Dean John Pfister, senior lecturer in psychological and brain sciences, provides academic and personal advising. Students must apply to live in the Cluster and are selected by the East Wheelock leadership team.
"The beauty of East Wheelock is there are mentors like Dean Pfister and Tessa Tyson who are here to help you shape your Dartmouth experience, and who care about you," says Zach Mason '11 of Miami, Florida.
It is an experience that can stay with students long after they've left the College. Emily Winkler '08, who is currently reading for a master's degree in Medieval Studies at Oxford University, lived in East Wheelock for four years.
Winkler says, "The activities at the Cluster sparked my curiosity and encouraged me to learn more about a variety of ideas. My discussions with professors and graduate students at East Wheelock events—about their work, graduate schools, and personal interests—influenced my own decision to pursue a career in academia."
Winkler has even applied for funding from Oxford to start a program there inspired by her experience at Dartmouth. "East Wheelock demonstrated to me how enriching and thought-provoking these interactions could be," she says. "I intend to encourage and re-create that atmosphere throughout my life."
By ELIZABETH KELSEY
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Last Updated: 4/10/09