Teaching Winter Study Set Me on My Career Path

by Amy Whitaker '96

Teaching a Winter Study course in January 2009 set me on my path as a middle-of-career college professor. It was a few months before my first book came out, and art history professors Mike Lewis and Eva Grudin sponsored me to teach "Entrepreneurship as an Art Form," cross-listed in art and economics.

During the first minutes of new faculty orientation, I met the man sitting next to me but didn't exchange names. When he later introduced himself to the room, he said something to the effect of, "Hi, I'm Steve Case '80 and I'm teaching How to Change the World 101."

Snowy view of the Purple Mountains

Then I had to sheepishly follow (the AOL founder) to announce that I was teaching entrepreneurship, never having founded a company. I asked if he would speak in my class and he agreed, then under-promised and over-delivered, sharing stories about his own entrepreneurial ventures as a Williams student.

The class met around a seminar table in Stetson Hall four days a week, quite the training pace of preparing for Williams minds in action. The students were lively and varied, minds that kept me on my toes and helped me learn—ahead of them and with them. The class attracted students from a wide array of disciplines, including, as I remember, one chemistry student.

One particular memory from that month was of going to a basketball game with two of my '96 classmates who were living in town, Jonnie Cluett and Cornelia Alden. We ran into one of my students, and Jonnie and Cornelia kept telling the student, “Winter Study! It's pass/fail!" And I had to remind them to be cool, that I was the teacher.

That January was also the month Barack Obama was sworn in as President, a different time. Since then I have taught first as an adjunct professor, then full-time, and now in a tenure-track research job. That first Winter Study class—in a memorably bright, snowy January—got me started.

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