In New York, where you can see productions originating from Africa to Iceland, you can also see musicals this year that came from your own back yard, Suffolk University.
Three musicals originally developed by the Boston Music Theatre Project (BMTP), a program of the Suffolk University Theatre Department, had professional New York area debuts this season. The incredible circumstances are not the triumph of coincidence, but the result of a carefully crafted model and the tenacity of Theatre Department Chair Marilyn Plotkins.
Plotkins founded BMTP in 1987 as the first professional organization in the Greater Boston area dedicated exclusively to the development of new work in musical theatre. “I have a life-long interest in musicals,” says Plotkins. “BMTP was a natural outgrowth of my training, experience and professional interests.”
For the next 10 years, Plotkins partnered with local and national organizations and artists to develop new work, including Elmer Gantry, produced by the Nashville Opera and the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University in January, 2008, and Look What a Wonder Jesus Has Done, featured in the New York Music Theatre Festival this September.
In 1999, Plotkins integrated BMTP into the academic framework of the newly formed Theatre Department to engage Suffolk students in the development process. Crossing Brooklyn, a new musical by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, premiered off-Broadway in the fall at the Transport Group and was the first BMTP piece developed with students—but it certainly won’t be the last.
The hands-on experience of BMTP is a unique facet of the Suffolk Theatre Department and has inspired other in-house professional development opportunities, such as Wesley Savick’s National Theatre of Allston and Richard Chambers’ professional design apprenticeships. As the program continues to grow, so will the opportunities. Plotkins is currently in negotiation with two New York writers for the next BMTP project, slated for spring, 2009.
“The department chairman asked me what I wanted as a retirement gift so I told him I wanted an iPod,” says Education and Human Services (EHS) Professor Joseph McCarthy in reference to his sell-out Popular Songs seminar.
McCarthy, who retired in 2007, first came to Suffolk in the early 70s and has taught in both the EHS and History departments. Had he been an Oxford don in the 19th century, he would probably have been classified as a generalist. Then again, this would be an atypical Oxford don with his blue jeans, sneakers and Claddaugh earring.
McCarthy’s teaching career at Suffolk has moved from one area of interest to another. He created the university’s master’s degree program in Higher Education Administration, advised graduate students, taught freshmen, encouraged young history majors in their baccalaureate pursuits, and taught courses about World War II, medieval popular culture and the theory and practice of history.
“I always marvel at Joe,” says Dean Kenneth Greenberg. “He is such a great scholar who knows so many of these different ways of learning and knowledge. It’s remarkable.”
McCarthy taught his students that the worker, the scholar or the professional should have an unfettered intellectual curiosity. From the first day of a new course, he would say that his course would not be a pedantic regurgitation of names, facts and half-baked analysis, just “story time with your Uncle Joe.”
In the words of an old 70s soul song, there ain’t no stopping McCarthy now, because he’s on the move. On the South Shore of Massachusetts, he presides over a bit of the old agrarian Massachusetts where he splits logs and raises chickens that have claimed the blue ribbon at the annual Marshfield Fair for two years running, all the time looking after his grandchildren.
McCarthy will continue to teach and informally advise at Suffolk. He is a living connection to Suffolk’s days as that small upstart Beacon Hill institution educating commuter students. No matter what course he teaches, the fundamental lesson will always be the same: never lie about facts and never be afraid of ideas.
Students from Eric Dewar’s Anatomy and Physiology course huddle around a softball-sized orb balanced on a short metal tripod at the corner of his desk. They’re working on an extra credit project, recording a podcast into the space-aged looking microphone for class.
Dewar, a paleontologist and assistant professor in the Biology Department, is one of several professors in the College using podcasting in his courses, uploading lectures and class recordings to iTunes University and making course content as mobile as a browser or mp3 player.
“Part of what I wanted to do with this is meet students where they are,” he says. “But I also wanted to show students that scholarship or research in science isn’t something that requires a ton of buildup, it’s just what we do when we’re scientists and any way we can communicate our ideas is positive.”
The podcasts might be 10-15 minute lecture recaps or topics examined by students in small groups. “The thing I like about being able to involve students in the podcast is creating a sense of ownership,” he says. “Students have had tons of science by the time they get to college. But have they ever really done science? I want to model what a professional scientist does. Students can do this. It’s like an Amish barn raising, and when we’re done we have something we built ourselves and it looks nice.”
Students post the recorded podcasts online for their classmates. Eventually, some podcasts may reach a wider audience. “I’m hopeful that some student projects can be made publicly available,” he says, anticipating results from project-based laboratories, surveys, or data gathered from the basketball team, for example, to see what their oxygen consumption is like on a treadmill. “That’s the kind of thing we can post up on the public site and say, here’s what students are doing at Suffolk.”
“A student told me she was driving in her car, and her boyfriend was looking at her iPod and said, ‘What’s this anatomy thing you have? Oh hey let’s listen to it.’ To know that I’m somewhere between Beyoncé and 50 Cent in my students’ playlists I think is very funny.”
For the first time in the University’s 101-year history, the College is offering a concentration in ancient classical literature. Students will be able to immerse themselves in the epics of Homer, Virgil and Dante. They will be charmed by Ovid and challenged by Aeschylus. They will sit on the shoulders of Tacitus and Suetonius in observing Imperial Rome at its apex.
For Professor George Kalogeris BS’78, the Classics program’s guiding force, it is the first time in a 20-year teaching and writing career that he can work full time with two things he loves most: ancient writers and the students who want to study them.
“When young people engage with these texts it helps them to develop an inner life, whether they know it or not,” says Kalogeris.
Raised in Winthrop with the smell of the oceans and the sounds of rebetika—a style of Greek folk music popular among 1930s day laborers—Kalogeris’ interest in words and language came from his mother, who understood and conversed in nearly every regional dialect of modern Greek. As an undergraduate, Kalogeris took the Blue Line for four years to Suffolk University where he studied literature and psychology. His undergraduate thesis was on Jim Morrison’s allusions to Sophocles in The Doors’ tune, “The End.”
After a brief stint as a psychologist, Kalogeris entered the University Professors Program at Boston University where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in Comparative Literature. He recently released a collection of his translation of Albert Camus’ diary notebooks, Carnets (Pressed Wafer Publishing, 2006) and had his translation of a C.P. Cavafy poem read before a commencement audience at Oxford University.
Kalogeris believes the most valuable lesson he has learned as a Suffolk professor is the importance of students. “It’s about people seeing things for the first time,” he says. He fosters this awareness in students, from giving out his home phone number and taking calls night and day to spending countless hours hosting informal poetry discussions. “I kind of hate English and classical literature,” said a student at a discussion on Sappho, “but I like Kalogeris and I could never miss this seminar.”
Since becoming an assistant professor in 2006, Rachael Cobb has already put her stamp on the Government Department of Suffolk University by being a catalyst for two innovative programs, the University Poll Workers Project and the Boston Area Colleges Election Project.
The University Poll Workers Project, which Cobb established, recruits and trains a diverse array of students to be the next generation of poll workers. It has already yielded positive results, with over 100 Suffolk students working the polls for the City of Boston on Election Day during the past two years. The program will continue to be a resource for students and the community in the fall 2008 Presidential election.
The Boston Area Colleges Election Project is a collaborative effort between the Suffolk and Harvard University Government Departments and Harvard Law School. Through the project, students help to gather data on voter satisfaction in the city of Boston.
“I am passionate about our political processes, and these two programs will enable our students to be even more politically competent by taking action in our democracy,” says Cobb.
Cobb was born and reared in Cambridge, where she still lives with her husband and two young children. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College and received her PhD from MIT.
Now, as a professor on Beacon Hill, Cobb is motivated by the eagerness of her students and appreciates Suffolk’s dedication to small class sizes. Her passion for public service is contagious. “Rachael has a remarkable ability to work with all kinds of people,” says professor and chair of the Government Department John Berg. “She is excellent at bringing people together and making things happen.”
Future friendly furniture. Self-generating hydropower faucets. Recycled rubber flooring. No paint polymer siding. Cardboard fiber countertops.
These and other innovations were on display at a green/sustainable design trade show hosted by Professor Karen Clarke‘s Sustainable Design for Interiors class last spring. Students discussed product life cycles, chemical composition, and the environmental impacts of materials as they examined carpet recreated from “mining office buildings instead of the earth,” and fabrics made from crushed water bottles broken down to polymers, melted, spun, dyed, and then woven into new textiles.
The trade show, “Design for the Environment,” provided real-world examples of a growing market dedicated to green building. “This is out there now,” says Clarke. “Students want to be green designers, and it’s important because that is what the industry is demanding.”
The July/August issue of New England Home notes, “Interior designer Karen Clarke co-chairs one of the best-kept secrets in the country: the interior design program at New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University.” But it’s no secret that Clarke has long been an advocate for sustainability. “She has really taken green issues on, not only on behalf of our students but also the University. It was she who pushed for University-wide recycling, for example,” says Sara Chadwick, director of administrative services at NESADSU.
Clarke guides students through the industry standard for sustainable building: the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, set by the US Green Building Council. Her goal is to prepare students to take the LEED exam and become accredited professionals. “Architecture is changing, and we have to be respectful of the environment and incorporate design that takes into account the future now,” she says. “There are requests for sustainability and builders who want to go for LEED certification. Clients need people who specialize in this area.”
“In the next 10 years, every project, every product will have some sort of green aspect to it,” says Clarke. “As interior designers, we shape and design buildings for the users. Good design is being responsible socially and environmentally. And since 95% of our time is spent in interior environments, it’s important that our environments are healthy.”