Ben Berger Brings Lang Center Energy, Ideas and a Passion for Connection

Ben Berger is looking for students and professors with ideas, ideals, and the enthusiasm and expertise to realize them. He’s also looking at a world of potential, as he begins a five-year term as executive director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility at Swarthmore College. Alumnus Eugene Lang established the Lang Center in 2001 to help promulgate and realize his idea that liberal arts education at Swarthmore and elsewhere should serve to benefit people outside their ivied walls, as well as inside.

Ben Berger. Photo by Laurence Kesterson/Swarthmore College

Ben Berger. Photo by Laurence Kesterson/Swarthmore College

“Gene was ahead of his time,” Berger said, citing Lang’s manifesto, “Distinctively American,” published in Daedalus in 1999. “When he wrote that article, he was on the cutting edge; people were just starting to think ‘How could you make a liberal arts curriculum have a very close intersection with citizenship education and active citizenship, and, how might a center look?’ … If you look back at missions of old universities with liberal arts, they often have language about missions of citizenship, but they’re often thinking of an elite model of citizen. There’s no new thing under the sun, but Gene was restating it for this more democratic time and place.”

Berger likely will devote much of his abundant energy to making connections — between Swarthmore College students and professors and the communities in which they live and work and study, whether overseas in exchange programs or across the SEPTA tracks in Swarthmore and Chester.

“Gene talked about campus, community, classroom. I like those 3 Cs,” Berger said, pointing out that members of the college’s campus community are also part of external communities, where they study and volunteer in Chester or Swarthmore; of virtual communities of scholars in their academic fields; of university and urban communities in Ghana, where many Swarthmore students study. “How do we connect the curriculum to any of those communities? … There should be this back and forth. In higher education it’s so easy to fall into this ‘We’re going to ride in on a white horse; we will tell you what your problems are and how to fix them.’ It’s a dangerous mentality. In this era we’re trying to emphasize humility more.”

The Lang Center annually selects Lang Opportunity Scholars and provides them with support to create a social resource, effect social change, or improve a community’s condition. Funding and academic capital are part of the support, Berger said, but the town of Swarthmore itself is a rich resource for the college community, and one whose potential is just beginning to be tapped.

“Lang is really a network, providing social capital: relationships among faculty, students, people in different communities, active citizens,” Berger said. “In this town you can’t go to the swim club or a barbecue without bumping into a nuclear physicist or a business leader or a physician or a professor at some other school, all well-educated and highly experienced, and doing what Rebecca Chopp called ‘living liberal arts lives’ — being active citizens, somehow finding the time to do Doctors Without Borders or work on the Chester Fund … I started talking to friends in the community … we found people in town who had expertise relevant to Lang Scholars’ projects, and we got them talking to each other” at a series of dinners, Berger said “We had one for Global Public Health, and we’re going to do more. It was phenomenally successful.”

Staying Connected to Students and Faculty

Berger, who has served as Lang’s interim executive director since last July, is an associate professor of Political Science, and will continue to teach on “a one-half teaching load, teaching straight Political Theory” this coming year. “We love the students … but the students are gone in four years, and we stay here for a longer time. If you want to keep a lot of energy going on, you have to show faculty members how this stuff relates to their teaching, so I’ve tried to keep a really active teaching regimen, to be at meetings, talking to other faculty to ask, ‘What are you doing, how can we help you?’ We want to set up a few programs within the Lang Center umbrella that will be run by faculty members with particular expertise … One will be called the Urban Inequality Initiative. That will be led by Keith Reeves, political science, and Nina Johnson, sociology; they both teach Inside Out courses to incarcerated students alongside Swarthmore students …that’s a very moving process.”

Now, at the outset of a 5-year term as Lang’s executive director, Berger intends to fully implement some ideas that have been percolating during his interim term. “When I started here, I knew I would love to start up a PPE program — philosophy, politics and economics. We are doing that. I want to connect it up with the engaged orientation that the Lang Center has; we’ll call it Engaged PPE. It’s not a formal program yet, it’s a class, and the curriculum committee still needs to vote on it for it to become a minor. Econ, Poli Sci, and Philosophy are all on board … and we have Hans Oberdiek (emeritus professor in philosophy) to teach a gateway course in the fall called, ‘Introduction to Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.’ He taught in the original PPE program at Oxford, so he’s an amazing person to do it. PPE would have a capstone element. It might be something as simple as applying ethics to policy, turning our orientation to the public eye, suggesting how an intellectual discipline can interact with [for example] medical ethics or political.

“Facilitating curricular additions has been one of my hopes for the Lang Center, and also to support external programs like Peace and Conflict studies and Environmental studies which have an experiential component to a lot of their classes … that kind of connection of the curriculum to the community in a formal sort of way.”

The Lang Center also supports pre-senior internships for students to work in the community, either abroad or at home, Berger said. “We can match up students with an appropriate internship or travel opportunity that ties in with their studies or interests. We have money to help the students connect their coursework, volunteer in the community, engage in activism on campus. Life is extracurricular … what the Lang Center can do is help make things co-curricular. That’s one of those buzzwords. It ought to be defined as the intentional connecting of the curricular with the extracurricular.”

To enhance the Lang Center’s value as a resource to all Swarthmore College students, Berger said, “We’re in the process of searching for a coordinator with academic expertise who can advise students in how to take fellowships and connect them with campus work, curriculum, and other opportunities. This would be somebody who can advise a student who says, ‘I want to be an engineer and yet I’m really passionate about education. Is there a way I can navigate so as to suit my passion and also get a liberal arts education?’ We hope this new person will be very familiar with curriculum, know what the faculty is doing, how the academic world works, and have a passion for pursuing justice.”

Sounds like a job for another Ben Berger.

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South Media Initiative Puts Kids’ Art In Public Places

6-24 Art after school

Artmakers (kids, l. to r.) Camille Dixon, Maxine McKinney, and Jaelen Knox show their work on the new sign at Sapovits Park in South Media. Celebrating with them were initiative founder and former WES principal Dr. Ellen Milgrim (left) and Bridget Hochstoeger, an art teacher at Swarthmore-Rutledge School and a teaching artist in the initiative.

In spring of 2013, during her last semester as principal of Wallingford Elementary School, Dr. Ellen Milgrim had this persistent thought. “I felt we had to engage kids in the WES community who had nothing to do after school.”

She and NAACP Media chapter president Dr. Joan DuVall Flynn convened other leaders, parents and neighbors in the South Media neighborhood of Nether Providence, Dr. Milgrim said. An agreement quickly emerged to develop an after-school program to engage students in collaborating on projects that would benefit the community, and make them proud of their contributions. The group of WES students in grades 1 to 5 would meet on six Mondays each semester. It was not a hard sell to students or supporters, she said.

“The Community Arts Center was very eager to do outreach, and an art program made so much sense. The South Media Fire Company was dying to get the community into the firehouse, and it was perfect for a venue. We wanted to work on something that was meaningful locally; WES needed paving stones for its library courtyard, so those mosaics became the first of our public art projects.”

At a celebration this week of its sixth completed collaborative project, students and their families joined Nether Providence and Wallingford Swarthmore School District leaders, WES and SRS teachers and other supporters at the South Media firehouse, then paraded to the sites where their works were recently installed. The hand-painted sign at Sapovits Park, and a painted archway and woven decorations at Woodrow Wilson parks in South Media welcome all visitors, and will be a lasting source of pride for their creators.

After the celebration, Dr. Milgrim reflected, “I didn’t know I was still going to be doing this after I retired, but it ended up being the best thing ever.”

WES second grader Camille Dixon (with mom Felice Dixon) pointed out part of her contribution to the program’s latest public artwork, a painted gate which was just installed at Woodrow Wilson Park in South Media. “The children really commit to the program.” said Mrs. Dixon. “Every Monday, Camille knew that’s where she wanted to go after school.”

WES second grader Camille Dixon (with mom Felice Dixon) pointed out part of her contribution to the program’s latest public artwork, a painted gate which was just installed at Woodrow Wilson Park in South Media. “The children really commit to the program.” said Mrs. Dixon. “Every Monday, Camille knew that’s where she wanted to go after school.”


Floating Photographer

What’s in your garden this year?

Asked and answered at the Swarthmore Community Garden
(Harvard and Yale avenues) during May and June.
By Chris Reynolds

6-24 floating tom hals

I live right there so every morning I come over and cut greens and inspect. Things are going wild. We have tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, kohlrabi, beans, basil, squash. This is our third year.

Tom Hals

6-24 floating klotz

My wife likes cherry tomatoes, so that’s what I grow. Also, basil, oregano and parsley. I’ve been gardening here for many, many years.

Gene Klotz

6-24 f-Savinese

It’s my first year here, and I’m doing a medley of old favorites: hot peppers, tomatoes, basil, parsley, Asian greens, green beans, and Armenian cukes.

Kirsten Savinese
Ridley Park

6-24 f-Borrelli

We’re getting a late start — it’s our first year in this garden — but we’re going to be doing the same old stuff: tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini.

Hudson: And watermelon.

Grey: And cantaloupe.

Andrea Borrelli
With sons Grey (4) and Hudson (almost 7) Dunn

6-24 f-Rolli

Some of the usual — tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, kale. And a lot of wacky stuff. … perennial herbs like mountain mint, bloody dock, marjoram, echinacea, sage. Red, green and yellow cherry tomatoes, including a red one named for my grandmother, Eva.

Mike Rolli
Upper Providence

6-24 ad discussion group


6-24 wedding

Carrie O’Donnell and Peter Ratz

Carrie O’Donnell and Peter Ratz were married on April 9 at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

Carrie is the daughter of Chas and Pat O’Donnell of Swarthmore and a 2003 Strath Haven graduate. She graduated from Boston College in 2007 and is currently working as a CPA for the Capital Group.

Peter grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Maureen Sherer and Tom Ratz, and graduated from Villanova University. Currently on leave from his job as a Diplomatic Security Special Agent with the State Department, he is deployed as a Special Warfare officer in the Naval Reserve.

The couple lives in Virginia Beach.

New Arrivals

6-24 birth menke

Anna and Jackson Pritt and their son, Calvin, of Berkeley, Calif., were joined June 9th by fraternal twins Matilda Ann and Gwendolyn Asker. Maternal grandparents are William and Carol Menke of Swarthmore. Paternal grandparents are Richard and Margaret Pritt of Salinas and Berkeley, Calif. The addition makes three under three for the West Coast parents.

6-24 birth lebowitz

Philip “Flip” Thomas Lebowitz was born June 2 to parents Sage Leonard and Nate Lebowitz and big sister, Penelope Ann. He was 6 lbs., 8 oz. and 20 inches long. Flip is the grandson of Tom and Penni Leonard of Wallingford and Phil Lebowitz and Sharon Lee of Swarthmore, and is named for his grandfathers. Nate, Sage and family live in Center City Philadelphia.

Briefly Noted…

Swarthmore Swim Club Lap Swimmers: This week’s winners of the turquoise with navy writing 2016 1,000-lap T-shirt include: 11.) Gigi Simeone, 12.) Naomi Schneider, 13.) Gerald Wertheim, 14.) Linda Hauck, 15.) Galina Chipitsyna, 16.) Sally Wadleigh, 17.) Jim Greer, and 18.) Gerald Levinson.

6-24 WES Calonita

Wallingford Elementary School was a Mecca for children’s authors during the school year which just ended. Rounding out a series of six visits from authors (arranged by WES librarian Martha Lambertsen in conjunction with Children’s Book World), Jen Calonita (above, standing) in May shared stories and sections from books like Flunked and Charmed in her “Fairy Tale Reform School” series. John Patrick Green then visited in June to read from his graphic novel Hippopotamister and to talk with students about the creative process. Photo by Kristin Snyder

6-24 st john's cyo

The St. John Chrysostom CYO honored two “good sports” among the graduating 8th graders from Mother of Providence Regional Catholic School in Wallingford. Kyle Ly (2nd from left) and Gabby McGinn were recognized among their classmates as students who consistently demonstrate sportsmanship, dedication, and leadership as athletes in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). Presenting the awards at a Mass and banquet earlier this month were CYO coaches Glenn Venturini (left, cross-country and track) and Mike Kirkman (boys and girls basketball).

6-24 st john's math

Teams from Mother of Providence Regional Catholic School in Wallingford performed well in the “First in Math” online program. The school was ranked among the top 100 schools in the nation, and was second among similarly-sized schools. Three teams from the school were among the very best competitors at their respective grade levels. The 8th grade team was ranked 39th in the US; the 7th grade was 36th; the 6th grade was 35th. Pictured above are 7th grade team members (left to right): Amanda Shaughnessy, Kayla Taylor, Lily Bernard, Gianna Colletti, Erin Gillin, and math teacher Antoinette Talone.


Catherine Ulozas

Catherine Ulozas

Catherine Ulozas of Swarthmore has been named to the board of directors of the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union (FMFCU). Ms. Ulozas, the chief investment officer at Drexel University, is responsible for managing a $650 million endowment. She also serves on the advisory board of New Spring Capital and the board of trustees of Clarify, a consumer credit counseling agency.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania has named the following students to the dean’s list for the spring semester: Margaret Mary Otruba and Imani Reynolds-Hamm of Morton and Sarah Redican and Micaela Winter of Wallingford.

Caleb Baukman of Wallingford has been named to the dean’s list for the spring semester at Kutztown University.

Katherine Loiselle of Wallingford graduated with a master of engineering degree in structural engineering during Lehigh University’s commencement ceremonies held on May 23.

Michael McConnell of Swarthmore, a member of the class of 2017 majoring in robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, recently completed an intense, hands-on research project in Mandi, India. The project was titled, “Evaluating Waste Management Systems: Kataula and IIT-Mandi.”

Laura Albany recently graduated from Susquehanna University with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. Laura, a 2012 graduate of Strath Haven High School, is the daughter of George and Jennifer Albany of Wallingford.

Alison Caulfield graduated from Susquehanna University with a bachelor of science degree in accounting. Alison, a 2012 graduate of Strath Haven High School, is the daughter of Robert and Kelly Caulfield of Rose Valley.

Lauren Casella of Wallingford graduated from Colgate University on May 15. Lauren majored in religion and political science.

Daniel Landau of Wallingford graduated from Colgate University on May 15. Daniel majored in economics at the university.

Alexander Schaff of Swarthmore graduated cum laude from Colgate University. Alexander majored in biology.

A Note About the Graduation Issue

If your student is missing from the graduation issue, I would like you to know why.

The school board decided to give the students the choice to “opt out” or “opt in” with their name, photo and college destination.

From what we understand, the decision was made in order to alleviate the stress on juniors trying to figure out what schools to visit based on data they have about the previous year’s graduates.

For the last couple of decades, the graduates’ names, photos and colleges have been a regular feature in the graduation issue. We consider it our gift to the community.

This year we received the list from WSSD with instructions per student. Some wanted no information published; some wanted name and photo only; and some wanted no photo, but name and plans.

For 26 years, I have been putting together the graduation issue. Each student and picture are dealt with individually. Once the initial setup is complete, it is difficult to make changes, so it is important that deadlines are honored so that everyone is included however she or he wishes. And, I have tried to accommodate everyone’s wishes.

On our end, we have no idea if parents were involved with their child’s decision. Our information comes from the WSSD administration.

— Diane Madison

Strath Haven Class of 2016 Set a High Bar, Then Cleared It

The Miranda Center at Neumann College was the setting last Friday, June 10, for Strath Haven’s Class of 2016 Commencement Ceremony.

The Miranda Center at Neumann College was the setting last Friday, June 10, for Strath Haven’s Class of 2016 Commencement Ceremony.

Two hundred fifty-six bright and bright-eyed seniors radiated enthusiasm as they massed backstage at Neumann College’s Miranda Center before processing into the gym where keyed-up families awaited them.

On stage, student speakers expressed gratitude in their remarks, and the seniors received their diplomas with pride, shortly afterward, flipped their tassels, and joyously tossed their mortarboards toward the ceiling. Awash in these emotions, the Strath Haven High School Class of 2016 was released to a gorgeous summery evening and the promise of the larger world beyond.

Like his predecessor in 2015, Dr. Michael Pladus addressed his last SHHS class as superintendent. It was also his first, as he recalled being recruited to come out of semi-retirement to serve as interim WSSD’s superintendent. “Nearly a year later, I can tell you that if I could only have one graduating class to call my own in Wallingford-Swarthmore, it would be you, the Class of 2016. I entered the District with the highest of expectations based on the Strath Haven and Wallingford-Swarthmore reputation, and I leave even more impressed with not just your reputation, but, more importantly, your character.

“Let it suffice to say, that the Class of 2016, Strath Haven High School, and the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and community lived up to its rave reviews, [and] is every bit as good as everyone says, and, dare I say, even better! … I will leave you with the ten words with which I greeted the faculty and staff back in August: Work hard, be grateful, pay it forward and enjoy the ride!”

Student speakers began by reflecting on the past, while their teachers and leaders helped them look into the future with confidence. Seniors Jen Rowan and Kate Dirienzi, chosen by their class cabinet to represent the Class of 2016, recalled their journeys through the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, from The Kids’ Place to SHHS, and the lessons that stayed with them.

Jen Rowan

Jen Rowan

Musing on the theme “Carpe Diem,” Jen Rowan said, “At age 10, overwhelmed by my own curious and eager mind, living every moment to the fullest seemed like such a simple task. … Growing up, we lived a life that was scripted. Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school. Every day has been preparation for the future. But it’s now the end of our script, the end of our neatly paved path, and the beginning of an open terrain …

“You all must have the courage and intuition to work for the things you wish to achieve. … Only moving forward down the path, never feel as if you need to go back, never ask yourself ‘what if?’ As we are unleashed into the real world, embrace all the extraordinary things you can accomplish with the time right in front of you. To the Class of 2016, the clock is ticking, now is the time where we begin writing our own scripts.”

Kate Dirienzi recalled the school supplies lists that provided structure and comfort at the beginning of each school year, and made suggestions about what standard equipment should replace the trapper-keepers and 24-color box of Crayolas in the (metaphorical) backpack a graduate will tote into the next phase of life and learning.

Kate Dirienzi

Kate Dirienzi

“Leave room in the second compartment of your backpack for the teachers who believed in you and were able to assure you that your input was not only intelligent but somehow extremely important. Leave behind apprehension and instances of disappointment. Inclusion of this in your backpack will only weigh you down and slow you down. You may leave names and faces of the people that surround you at home if you wish. They are inevitably bound to fade. In spite of that, carry with you at all times the feelings and memories that these various names and faces created with you.

“Carry the time you accomplished something you would have never thought possible the year before. Carry the late nights, the laughs, and the irrefutable connections you have formed over the years. Be sure to leave room in your heart/backpack for what is to come. Carry with you the exuberance of making it here and the excited anxiety of moving forward.”

Teacher Timothy Styer, selected by the class of 2016 as faculty speaker, delivered “Haven’s Last Lecture” — by no means his last, but rather a valedictory imparting of wisdom to the seniors, abstracted from some of the rules of Mr. Styer’s own classroom, and influenced by his interactions with students over the years: “Be positive. Make others smile. Value trust.

Timothy Styer

Timothy Styer

“Embody integrity. Extend forgiveness. Avoid complacency. Always improve. Be the best. Exceed potential. Surpass expectations. Finally, be happy.

“I would like to finish with this last one and how it reflects upon my own interpretation of the meaning of life — it is, after all, really not that complicated. The meaning of life is to simply make sure that your life has meaning, loving what you do and surrounding yourself with loving, supportive people … A goal that you need to make for yourself is to establish the meaning in your life; with this will come fulfillment and happiness. If, at the end of the day, you can look at your reflection in the mirror and you can say to that person that you are truly happy, then you have won.”

‘A class so strong in accomplishments and character’

As she presented the Class of 2016, SHHS Principal MaryJo Yannacone also noted the essential roles that parents and members of the faculty play in the development of a class so strong in accomplishments and character. “Each class of graduates who walk across the stage to receive their diplomas represents the broader community which has supported them in pursuing their passions, persevering through adversity, and accomplishing their dreams.”

In addition to citing its academic, athletic, and artistic accomplishments, Dr. Yannacone thanked the Class of 2016 “For raising the bar at Strath Haven, specifically with regard to school climate and culture.

“Last spring as you began to plan for your senior year and set goals for yourselves as a class: setting a positive tone and encouraging active involvement were two areas you clearly expressed as significant and important to you. From that point on to today, you have worked consistently and collaboratively to reach those goals, and you leave Strath Haven a better place as a result … thank you for your leadership in the classroom.

“Your teachers describe you as passionate, engaged learners … Most worthy of thanks, however, is your development into adults with a genuinely refined sense of personal responsibility, a true optimism about life, and a sense of gratitude for what Wallingford Swarthmore has provided to you. I cannot tell you how much it means to me, to our teachers and staff to know that as a class you have understood and appreciated the efforts of everyone in our school community to bring you the finest educational experience available anywhere.”

2016 Seniors’ Commemoration Was a Throwback

The Scott Arboretum was the setting for SHHS Class of 2016’s Commemoration Ceremonies. Photo by Carter Krouse

The Scott Arboretum was the setting for SHHS Class of 2016’s Commemoration Ceremonies. Photo by Carter Krouse

By Carter Krouse

On Thursday, June 9, the Class of 2016, along with their families and friends, shared memories in the annual Commemoration ceremony at the Scott Amphitheater on the Swarthmore College campus.

The theme of the night was “Throwback Thursday” as the seniors remembered the great times they shared together throughout the years, while also reflecting on their accomplishments. The ceremony was highlighted by wonderful poetry, dance and singing performances that included songs such as “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay and “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus.

Although this was an emotional night, it was also very entertaining and funny, particularly as groups of seniors representing the four elementary schools in the area (Swarthmore-Rutledge School, Wallingford Elementary School, Nether Providence Elementary School, and St. John Chrysostom) spoke about their memorable experiences, including talent shows, field trips, and chorus.

A transfer student from Finland reflected on his time at Strath Haven. He thanked his teachers and friends, specifically football coach Kevin Clancy for allowing him to fulfill his dream of playing American football.

Another highlight of the evening was when students from the ABC Strath Haven House gave a heartwarming speech thanking not only their parents, but their house parents for providing a nurturing home environment that allowed them to take advantage of excellent academic opportunities throughout their high school careers.

The evening concluded with three seniors making an analogy based on “The Game of Life.” The tiles in the game represent all of the various paths that the students may take. No matter which tile they land on, the Class of 2016 will be successful in life because of the love and support they have received from their teachers, family and friends.

Carter Krouse is a rising senior at Strath Haven High School and an editor of SHHS’s Panther Press.