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Series brings academe to Main Street

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For the past four years each January, Ohio State Professor of Russian literature Angela Brintlinger has been a guest speaker in Elizabeth Lutz-Hackett’s advanced placement high school English class.

The two women met in the most ordinary of ways — ordinary by Yellow Springs standards. They were standing next to each other watching the Miami Township Fire-Rescue department burn down a house as part of a training exercise.

“I was standing next to a woman I didn’t know,” recalled Brintlinger, who at that time had just moved to town with her family, “and she turned to me and said she was a high school teacher and was about to start teaching AP English and Crime and Punishment and I said, ‘Crime and Punishment!? I teach that all the time!’”

The serendipitous conversation led to an annual commitment between Brintlinger and the Yellow Springs High School English class.

“It’s been a really amazing way to connect with the older kids in the community,” said Brintlinger, who lives here with her husband, Steven Conn, and children Olivia, 9, and Zachary, 7. “I know the younger kids from soccer and the Antioch School kids and the children of my friends but it’s harder for me to know the older kids. Now I have this day every year at the high school where I get to see who they are.” Often, after students from the class go off to college, they will return to town on break and approach Brintlinger to discuss their college courses.

“They know who I am,” she said. “I’m able to talk to them about art and literature when I run into them on the street. It makes me feel like a part of the community and so involved in their intellectual lives.”

The same conversation that started the yearly guest “appointment” was also the seed for the lecture series, Local Knowledge, of which Brintlinger is the project director. Five lectures have been scheduled for the first 2008–2009 season highlighting faculty from a variety of disciplines. Lecture dates will be bi-monthly on the fourth Thursday (except in November): Sept. 25, Nov. 13, Jan. 22, March 26, and May 28. Each lecture will take place at the Yellow Springs Senior Center. Gathering time is 6:30 p.m.; the lecture begins at 7 p.m., with a social hour to follow at the Emporium.

Brintlinger’s idea for the series was to provide more interaction between faculty from local colleges who choose to live here and the community.

“Wittenberg faculty, University of Dayton faculty, Wright State faculty, my husband and I teach at Ohio State — so many folks choose to live here,” said Brintlinger. “I began to think, ‘Why is that?’ and ‘How can we give back to the community?’ We have bona fide professors that could be integrated into high school programming.”

Initially, Antioch College was the original sponsor of the series and worked with a steering committee comprised of local faculty and villagers. Since that time, Community Solutions has stepped in to be the new sponsor and grants have been obtained from the Ohio Humanities Council and Yellow Springs Community Foundation.

The steering committee is actively seeking participation from adults, seniors, and students. Brintlinger is hopeful that the series will attract all kinds of villagers, including those with young children. Babysitting will be provided. Each lecturer will speak informally and give illustrative and entertaining talks on their areas of specialty. “Teachers at YSHS and the local colleges may encourage their students to attend and attend themselves,” she added.

An important goal of the series is to make topics typically found in an academic setting more popular and accessible to a wider audience. “When you’re working in a college setting,” explained Brintlinger, “you can’t always talk to your friends and neighbors about your work because it’s very detailed and specific and within your own discourse. The purpose of this lecture series is to try to bridge that gap from the ivory tower to the general public.”

University of Dayton physics Professor Bob Brecha will be the first lecturer on Sept. 25 with his talk, “The Economics of Climate Change.”

“I’m going to be talking about climate change, why it’s a problem, and why it’s something we have to deal with,” explained Brecha. “We often read about there being a choice between the economy and the environment and we can’t do good for both. I don’t think that’s true. A subtitle of the talk could be, ‘Why Yellow Springs should be investing in alternative energy.’”

Andy Carlson, associate professor of political science at Capital University, will present the second lecture on Nov. 13 regarding a 45-year longitudinal study of a rural community in Ethiopia that is also the subject of his soon-to-be-published book.

“I’m going to talk about how population increase and shrinking land availability have led to a number of problems in the community, including increases in malnutrition,” said Carlson. He will also speak on the upside and downside of the community’s experience with globalization.

Future speakers will be Lowell Monke from Wittenberg University, Marie Hertzler from Wright State, and Chris Hill from the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute.

“It’s important to me to be intellectually engaging,” said Brintlinger, “and be utilizing these local experts on global issues.”

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