Food for Thought Springboard Hosts Alumni Foodies

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A collaborative writing reflection from Susannah Birch '21 and Ebube Onwusika '21 and faculty members Maggie Howes and Michele Poacelli P '24.

We created the "Food For Thought" course with the intention of it being a yearlong Springboard senior capstone class. COVID-19 required the school to adapt the term calendar, and our year course was condensed to nine weeks. We planned on field trips out into the broader world: farmer's markets, restaurants, food pantries, and cooperatives. This also changed because of COVID-19; travel was off the table. But even with these changes, we still imagined wonderful interactive shared cooking experiences on campus with the students. And then, it was announced that the first seven weeks of the winter term would be virtual. Just as we were hoping to expand our students' perspectives, the world seemed to shrink around us; we were reduced to little two-dimensional squares on an 8x13 computer screen. Meetings in a virtual classroom become mundane sometimes, even when teachers and students give their all to avoid this.  

As we tried to make the most of our situation, an exciting resource came to our aid: Zoom visits with alumni—all of whom shared their unique food stories and experiences. The visits began midway through the second week of classes in January with Bassirou Diakhoumpa '18 and spanned the term to the end of March with Robins McIntosh '70. The presentations and discussions transformed our little Zoom squares into windows to the food world. They gave our students vistas and viewpoints we couldn't have otherwise provided.

We, the teachers, and our students realized the value of these visits early on.

Susannah Birch '21 recounts:
"The alumni speakers in Food For Thought were an absolute highlight of the Springboard class. The alumni offered valuable perspectives and insights on topics ranging from aquaculture to what it is like to start your own business. All the speakers were positive and very engaged with the students, and as a class we were able to have many great discussions which really made our Springboard experience unique and unforgettable. Some students even reached out to our speakers for input on their final projects! One of the best parts of having the speakers is that we got to hear about all the places that food could take us in our lives and the range of possibilities for us after Mercersburg and college. As seniors, I think it is especially important for us to get encouraging and practical career and life advice. Food for Thought could truly not be as amazing as it is without the voices of alumni speakers."

Who were the students' favorite speakers? Who had the strongest impact? It would be impossible to say. The alumni speakers were a buffet of offerings, and students took away a savory bite from each.

Ebube Onwusika '21 shares her takeaways from Arlo Crawford's ('96) visit in February:
"Arlo Crawford gave us an exciting, honest conversation about who he is and how food and writing play into that. As someone who enjoys writing too, speaking with Arlo was enlightening and made me think more deeply about what and why I write. In the short 50 minutes he had with our class, Arlo talked about writing as a form of self-expression for him. He said 'find the things that are already important, and tell people about it.' That's what Arlo has done with his writing, like his memoir A Farm Dies Once a Year, published in 2014. Arlo Crawford had important connections with food and used his go-to self-expression medium to tell others about it. His work inspired me, and his vulnerability with our class made for an overall great conversation, one I'll remember for a while."

Long after we forget the challenges of teaching Food for Thought online this winter, we'll remember the speakers who added flavor, texture, and of course spice to our course. We're so grateful they came to the table.

Sincere thanks to Bassirou Diakhoumpa '18, Cara Fraver '99, Arlo Crawford '96, Rahde Franke '06, Lauren McCartney Hottle '02 , Ravi Jolly '00, Robins McIntosh '70, Emely Sabater '05, and Molly Marino Zemek '94.