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Mallory Keller ’17 reflects on her National Youth Leadership Council experience

By Quanzhi Guo on September 8, 2015

Mallory Keller ’17 is a junior at Colgate University studying educational studies and art history. She enjoys traveling, reading, knitting, and watching movies. Her future plans are to work one day in the educational field.  In this blog, she wrote about her experience with the National Youth Leadership Council in the spring semester.

I am standing in a suite on the 10th floor of the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. Participants are going around the circle saying why we came to the National Service-Learning Conference. It has been another year of great service learning, but as it gets closer to my turn, I start to get nervous. Why am I here? Is it because I enjoy going to conferences? Is it because I love to travel?

When my turn came, I just blurted out, “Because I love NYLC.” I realized that I had to elaborate more on my point, so I talked about my experiences with the organization: how service-learning made me care about my education for the first time in middle school, how I felt so inspired by the power of education when I attended my first service-learning conference in 9th grade, how I felt bad for our education system failing over a million students a year. Simply put, NYLC is more than an organization to me, they are a community, they are a family that I have grown up with, and I would not be who I am today without it.

The National Service-Learning Conference is one of its kind. It is a gathering of educators, students, non-profits, NGOs, and policy makers that celebrates the field of service-learning and projects done in diverse communities and discusses the future of our education system as a whole, through workshops, booths in the exhibit hall, the Day of Service, Capitol Hill Day, and plenary speakers. For those of you who do not know, service-learning is when you integrate service into the classroom curriculum to create a meaningful impact to the community. It makes education relevant to the world around the student. This is my fifth year attending the conference, and every year I am more inspired by what students are doing in their communities. During the plenary, I heard from those who are leaders in the field, members of the Department of Education, and most importantly, youth themselves, talking about what service-learning means to them. The overarching theme was that service-learning is a way to change our society and that it embraces as its cornerstone what other educational strategies do not–the youth in schools today.

This focus on youth in school today is the reason why so much work of NYLC’s is concerned with the achievement gap and educational inequity in schools. This issue is so important to the youth that NYLC NYLC launched a new campaign– Youth4Education. Youth4Education recognizes that our education system is failing youth because of systematic inequities, and it encourages students to solve this with service-learning. I could feel the excitement in the plenary as the campaign unveiled and I know I have said this so many times, but it was inspiring to see youth committed for a cause and to know that NYLC supports those of us who want to make that change. The excitement continued when we received a message from a surprise supporter–Kevin Bacon! It was so cool that the work that NYLC is doing is getting recognition from celebrities and that their impact is expanding. If you would like to get more involved and support the #Youth4Ed movement, sign the youth or adult pledge.

I was able to leave the conference this year full of ideas inspired by workshops conversations with other educators and students. The Benton Scholars Program has become a community that I involve myself deeply in because it gives us the support to be who we want to be at Colgate. To me, the Benton Scholars would be the place to implement service-learning. Service-learning is a way to serve your community and to think critically about what you are learning in the classroom, so I think it is exactly something Colgate needs on campus.

I would like to thank all of those who made my journey possible—the Benton Scholars Program at Colgate University, the National Youth Leadership Council, and finally, the support systems I have locally and nationally that continue to inspire me to serve.

Adam Basciano’s visit to “the timeless city”–Istanbul

By Quanzhi Guo on August 30, 2015

Adam Basciano ’16, an International Relations major, studied in Israel in the spring semester and shared with us his trip to Istanbul.

Adam with his family

Istanbul is truly a magnificent city, full of complexities and history that left us with countless ways to spend our six days. I arrived here alongside an American friend from Hebrew University last Sunday. We met up with some of his friends who are studying in Istanbul for the semester, and they helped show us around the city.

Istanbul, a city that straddles both Europe and Asia, offered experiences and sights generally unavailable to us in Jerusalem. For instance, our dinner the first night was at an authentic Persian restaurant. Amongst our dinner party sat young students who each identify as Lebanese, Moroccan,  Persian, Pakistani, Israeli, and well, me from New Jersey. Moments to get to know students from all over the world were abundant throughout the trip. It was both refreshing and informative.

The Turkish culture is alive and vivid in the country’s epicenter in Istanbul. The food was enjoyable and cheap, accessible through nicer restaurants as well as friendly street vendors. Each day brought with it at least two or three trips to a local cafe to relax with Turkish coffee or tea. A fusion of European and Middle Eastern culture could be seen throughout daily life here. At night, bars and dance-clubs light up the upper levels of the day’s shops and restaurants. Young Turks and tourists blend together to provide for a nightlife that reminds you of the secular nature of the Ataturk’s grand vision.

The insides of one of the many mosques in the city

The view from a ferry on the Bosphorus Strait

A visitor to Istanbul can choose to let these comfortable cultural surfaces define his or her trip to this city that is home to over 18 million people.

However, walk one block from the live music at the dance-bar you just spent the evening in, and you are greeted by the dozens upon dozens of Syrian refugees roaming the streets. They are amongst the city’s poorest, and have been continuously flowing into Istanbul and Turkey as a whole since the start of the Syrian Civil War roughly four years ago. Very different to the homeless people in cities like New York or Washington DC, their fate is unknown and the solution seems ungraspable. Ranging from young children to former professionals and academics, the Syrians sell items ranging from tissues to selfie-sticks.

To more fully understand present day Turkish society, one also must make himself aware of the increasingly authoritarian nature of the country’s leadership. Journalists are imprisoned regularly and the internet is carefully watched. It is uncommon to observe Turkish citizens speaking loudly on public transportation or for people to openly criticize President Erdogan in cafes. It only took one day after our arrival for the social media sites Twitter and YouTube to be shut-down by the government. The motives for doing so is believed to be related to the incidents that happened last week when there was a hostage situation in a courthouse that culminated in multiple people dead. While the websites returned to functionality eventually, we were reminded that Turkey is not as Western as it sometimes appears, despite how European the country strives to be.

The popular tourist spot, Taksim Square, at sunset

An appreciation and understanding of Istanbul requires the awareness of the many complexities prevalent, a small sample of which I just described.

Not that you can truly compare Jerusalem to any other place in the world, Istanbul does leave a lasting mark similar to that of the City of Gold. Built on rolling hills and instilled with the histories of powerful empires, both Jerusalem and Istanbul represent convergence points of the world’s great civilizations. Both are also fully immersed in the highly complicated scenario of being cities of religious importance to many while simultaneously catering to the requirements of a secular, modern city. Their identities lie in their complexities and contradictions.

I couldn’t imagine spending my two-week vacation break any better. The plane is now boarding, and the second half of my semester abroad is calling.

You can read more about Adam’s life in Israel on his Hebrew blog:http://adamoshe.tumblr.com/

Quanzhi Guo ’18 reflects on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Japan

By Peter Tschirhart on June 30, 2015

Quanzhi Guo ’18 recently returned from the Benton Scholars’ trip to Japan. In what follows, she reflects on the trip as well as important questions concerning power, warfare, tradition, and the remarkable resilience of the Japanese people.

Under the backdrop of lush green, the flame in the cenotaph flickered in the gentle summer wind. Flocks of school children in uniforms sang a melody of peace. I felt a powerful serenity in the air, weighed by solemnity.

70 years have gone past. As I stood at the epicenter of the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, there was no sight of the blinding flash, the suffocating smoke, or the scorched remnants. Behind the beautiful and welcoming city, I felt the pains, saw the scars, and heard the haunting wails that once overwhelmed this site on August 6th, 1945.

Hiroshima tops the list of historic Japanese cities that I had the chance to survey and study this summer through the Benton Scholars Program. Along with 16 other Colgate students, I took the Advent of the Atomic Bomb with Professor Karen Harpp in the spring semester, and visited Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kyoto from the end of May to the beginning of June.

During class sessions back on campus, we explored the history, science, and ethics behind the decision of dropping the A-bomb, both online with alumni and offline in person. The scale and impact of the attack were confounding; so throughout the trip, I had been trying to see them from Japanese perspectives.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the atomic bombs were dropped, I visited the atomic bomb museums and parks, and met with the survivors.

From melted lunch boxes to a watch that stopped at the moment of the explosion, the collection of artifacts was a somber and evocative reminder of the destruction and loss suffered. Fountains were built as a symbolic offering where victims died of thirst.

The Atomic Bomb Dome, which is one of the few structures left standing after the bombing, was a chilling symbol of the dark legacy of Hiroshima.

The atomic bomb dome left standing on the peaceful river bank.

The atomic bomb dome left standing on the peaceful river bank.

At Shiroyama Elementary School in Nagasaki, newly constructed buildings stood side by side to the empty damaged ones. Students who were having lunch in the freshly-painted classrooms greeted us enthusiastically as we passed by, shouting “How are you? What’s your name?” When I pictured the same innocent laughter from the damaged building 70 years ago in my head, it was such a depressing juxtaposition.

Both cities, because of their dark legacy, have devoted their human and capital resources to peace and anti-nuclear activism. Emerging from the horrific trauma seven decades ago, they also exude hope and life. Volunteers, many of whom have personal connections to the bombing, offer tours and presentation for visitors. On the riverbank alongside Hiroshima’s Peace Park, school bands performed an open-air concert, while school children in yellow hats hung strings of colorful paper cranes near the Children’s Peace Monument.

Cranes of hope – we folded 1000 and left them at the Monument.

Cranes of hope – we folded 1000 and left them at the Monument.

I think it is courageous that people found hope against all odds. I wondered how they overcame their personal loss, and came together as one again. When I asked a survivor from the Hiroshima bombing how he overcame the psychological trauma, he chuckled, and fell into silence for a while. “Life resumes. It was not good to look back. I had to look forward,” he said slowly and calmly.

It is also remarkable that the devastation of the past never overshadows the vitality of the present. While history has been remembered, people are not stuck in the past, but have moved on. Like the survivor from the Hiroshima bombing said, “history tends to be forgotten. It is important to learn from history and have facilities to tell the young about it. History is our mirror. We should forgive, but never forget.”

In Kyoto, the ancient capital, I saw a richer Japanese culture. In the Manhattan Project, Kyoto was identified as a potential target before the atomic bomb was dropped. However, with its sublime gardens, splendid shrines, and state-of-the-art cuisine, it was no wonder that Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of the War, who had been to Kyoto, removed it from the list.

Besides visiting the famous temples, we went to a tea ceremony. While sipping the freshly prepared matcha, I marvelled at the exquisite cup in my hand. The temperature was just right. The taste was fragrantly fresh with a tinge of bitterness. Every movement of the yukata-cladded tea master was full of concentration and composure. It was Zen in a cup!

When I wandered in the Gion district, looking for geisha scurrying to their liaisons, I found brand-name boutiques side-by-side with traditional pastries and Japanese craft. When I strolled in the central shopping district in Shijo, I saw traditional tofu-makers, ceramics masters, and umbrella makers who take so much pride in their original and unique wares. It dawned on me that, had Kyoto been bombed, not just the city’s psyche but the nation’s—rooted in a rich collection of cultural monuments, ascetic discipline, and traditional practices—would have been wiped out.

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

We often use science as a solution, but without fail, it generates a slew of new problems. The problems today are never easy, and there might not be an answer. My visit to Japan allowed me to better appreciate the dropping of the atomic bomb from the Japanese perspective and added nuance to my understanding of the power of nuclear weapons—and peace.

I have only scratched the surface of our trip, but this is a good start.

Mallory Keller ’17: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 30, 2015
The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The following post was written by Mallory Keller ’17, who just returned from the Benton Scholars’ spring break trip to Silicon Valley. An aspiring educator, Mallory reflects on the future of higher education and the importance of building community.

I started this trip doubtful about the future of online education. For almost a year, the Benton Scholars program has focused on online education in a university setting; we took online courses ourselves, then hosted speakers who are leaders in the field of online education. We are even designing and participating an online class for Colgate University–working together to see if it is possible for a small, liberal arts university to exist online, and in what capacity. There was a wide range of opinions and experiences with online education across the group of us who went on the trip and, at least for myself, I was hoping this trip would change my opinion.

Our first visit was to Minerva, an online institution that opened this year, that aspires to change the concept of an university. Minerva felt very much like a start-up, which at least for myself, is not something I want to feel from my university. Maybe it is the social construct that has been engraved in my brain since I was young, but I still view a university as a campus with huge, beautiful buildings with students lounging on the quad, throwing a frisbee around. To enroll in a school like Minerva, you have to be able to take risks, and I am not willing to do that with my education. The next day we visited Khan Academy and were able to sit down and talk with Sal Khan, the founder. We all had read his book, The One World Schoolhouse, and we were full of questions to ask him. We discussed the future of online education, and I feel like the conclusion of the discussion was that online education is a supplement to what a student learns in the classroom, but it cannot replace the physical classroom.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

While some online spaces may foster this, the one thing that I value most in my education, and the thing that I find missing in online education, is the sense of community that is created on a campus. There is a bond that is formed from being in a physical space with the same people day after day, which I do not think exists online. While you can be logged-on and participating in discussions at the same time as others, you are in different physical spaces, like your home, a coffee shop, or the library. The importance of community was shown through this trip as well. At the end of their freshman year, the Benton Scholars’ freshman class takes a trip together abroad, so I was already pretty close with the other sophomores on this trip. However, there were freshmen and seniors on the trip that I was not as close with, and I enjoyed that we were able to get to know each other more during the four days. While the purpose of this trip was to learn about online education, I think it also helped create a greater sense of community in the Benton Scholar program.

Quanzhi Guo ’18: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 27, 2015
The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015.

The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015. (Photo by Karen Harpp.)

Quanzhi Guo ’18 traveled with the Benton Scholars to San Francisco during March, 2015. Their trip explored innovation in the education and technology sectors and included visits to Khan Academy, the Minerva Project, and Tesla–as well as a hike through Big Basin Redwood State Park. In what follows, Quanzhi reflects on this experience, and on the importance of a dynamic and engaging liberal arts education. (A longer version of this blog post is featured at China Personified.)

On the ninth floor overlooking the busy San Francisco downtown, everyone is working on Macs in open-plan stations—the atmosphere feels like any startup in California.

But I am in a school, with no students in sight — Minerva Schools at KGI, a new institution that hopes to shake the whole education sector.

Over spring break, I traveled with an online education-themed Benton trip to San Francisco, where we visited both Minerva and Khan Academy.

The Benton seminar I am taking this semester is called the Advent of Atomic Bomb, which examines the history, science, and ethics behind atomic bomb. My experience had been, so far, bittersweet. While it is interesting and intellectually stimulating to engage with alumni from all age groups and various walks of life online, the workload is heavier. Besides the normal assigned readings and project-based homework offline, we need to watch the lectures online beforehand because class-time is reserved for advanced discussion. So we are expected to master the basics on our own time. This targeted and technology-enhanced blend is challenging and rigorous–it is the way I want to be pushed.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

To me, Minerva is exciting. However, while living in six countries (students at Minerva live in a new city each semester) and being one of a select few has allure (last year, the acceptance rate was only 2.8%), I question the real meaning behind it. Does being physically present in a country, spending most of your time taking online classes in dorms, while going shopping and sightseeing on weekends, equate to immersion in a foreign culture? Aren’t existing study-abroad programs, which allow students to take classes in local universities and live in host families, more authentic? For affordability, at least Colgate subsidizes all expenses for students receiving financial aid. Similarly with diversity: Does having a higher number of international students necessarily mean more different perspectives? At Minerva, one can definitely take advantage of urban resources; but how can you truly make use of it in Berlin if you can’t speak German, or Barcelona if you can’t speak Spanish?

Then there was Sal Khan, who sat on an organic-style stool at Khan Academy, talking about how he started making tutorials to improve the accessibility of new information. Thanks to people like Sal Khan, information is becoming more freely accessible, so class time can be reserved for engaged and deeper-level discussions, for skill development and real-life interaction. And I really appreciate how Colgate, too, can offer that–all with classes of size no more than 20.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

When we discussed and shared views over a cup of coffee in the afternoon sun, I realized that what I value after nearly a year at Colgate is the sense of connection. Personally, I hate the panic when my computer breaks down and an online submission is due soon. Also, I don’t want to just “like” my classmate’s answer by clicking a button. I want to give him a pat or high-five with a wide grin. Most importantly, I treasure how my professors interact with me, not just in class or office hours, but how they share with me their life stories over home-cooked dinner, after guests’ lectures, and during trips like this one.

I don’t think that brick-and-mortar universities will be obsolete soon, but it can definitely become better. Technology is never a substitute, but a complement to make things better.

Details: Benton Scholars, Online Education Symposium

By Peter Tschirhart on September 15, 2014


As part of a semester-long program to explore online education and its implications for liberal arts institutions, the Benton Scholars are hosting visits from three experts in the field, each of whom will bring a very different perspective to the conversation:

  1. Thursday, Sept. 18 (4:30pm, Lawrence 20): Dr. Fiona Hollands, Columbia University and author of an in-depth study on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), investigates the goals of institutions that are developing and delivering MOOCs, their costs and impact on educational outcomes, and expectations for whether and how this phenomenon may change the landscape of learning over the next few years. The full report is here.
  2. Monday, Oct. 20 (4:30 PM, Lawrence 20): Dr. George Siemens, Director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Research Lab at the University of Texas in Arlington, has been a pioneer in online education and is author of Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age and Knowing Knowledge. His blog can be found here.
  3. Monday, Oct. 27 (4:30 PM, Persson Auditorium): Dr. Marc Bousquet, Assoc. Prof. Department of English, Emory University, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, and editor of The Politics of Information; The Electronic mediation of Social Change and Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers. His website is here.

We welcome anyone interested in these topics to participate through any of several different venues:

  1. Come to the presentations! There will be ample time for discussion during and after the presentations, and a reception afterward. Times and places are listed above
  2. Listen to the presentations online. They will be livestreamed through the Colgate EdX site. You can sign up here.  The site is open, and has the following resources available:
    1. A list of readings relevant to the seminar by Dr. Hollands.
    2. Discussion questions designed by Dr. Hollands in preparation for the seminar.
    3. An open discussion forum to begin conversations.
  3. Submit questions at any time before or during the presentations by emailing: ols@colgate.edu
  4. Watch the presentations later on our EdX site. They will be archived for later viewing.
  5. Join-in conversations during and after the presentation, also at the EdX site. We invite Colgate students, faculty, and alumni, as well as individuals from our peer institutions, to participate. We hope to generate an ongoing conversation that will benefit everyone.

Please join us as we explore this important issue in higher education today. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact either Karen Harpp or Peter Tschirhart.

First All-Benton Dinner of the Year

By mkeller on September 3, 2014

The Benton Scholars program kicked off the new school year last Thursday with an All-Benton Dinner at Alana Cultural Center. Members from all class years attended this event, along with members from the greater Colgate community, including Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Program; Professor Karen Harpp, Benton Scholars Faculty Director; Dean Kim Germain from the Office of Fellowships; Kara Bingham from the Office of Off-Campus Study; Thad Mantaro from the Shaw Wellness Institute; and Michael Sciola, Director of Career Services.

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

All-Benton Dinners are well attended, giving students a chance to meet the new class of Benton Scholars and reconnect with other students returning from semesters abroad.

Professor Karen Harpp discusses with students

Professor Karen Harpp discusses the upcoming year.

Members of all class years interact with one another

Members of all class years interact with one another

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!

Dinner Discussions

Dinner Discussions


Benton Summer Project, 2014: Revisted

By Peter Tschirhart on September 1, 2014

Predictions are everywhere: online education, and MOOCs specifically, will reconfigure the 21st century university. For some analysts, change is positive, even liberating, because it promises to reduce costs while increasing access to higher education. For others, it is worthy of concern. While digital classrooms seem transformational, they might also consolidate the production of new knowledge, or commoditize face-to-face human interactions.

But many such conversations take for granted the insight and opinions of the very people most likely to encounter change: students themselves. To remedy this scotoma, the Benton Scholars identified a group of fourteen students who expressed interest in taking an online class during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, no Colgate course credit was granted, all students had to register their interest in advance (and have their course proposal approved by a team of faculty and staff), and their time and insights were compensated modestly with a small stipend. After completing their course, students were asked to provide a brief written response as a way to reflect both on the delivery of content (as it compared to a more conventional class) and on the experience of taking classes online: What was it like? Did you feel a sense of community? Did you interact with faculty and learn from other students? Would you do it again?

From the outset, students articulated diverse reasons for participating. Some were curious about the course material, while others wanted to learn new technical skills, especially computer programming. Several even hoped to shore-up previously acquired knowledge or to prepare for an upcoming class at Colgate. In the end, however, our results stood apart from many MOOC statistics. A disproportionate number of our students, over 85%, ultimately completed their course — compared to a MOOC completion rate estimated at under 7%. (This number can perhaps be explained by the incentive structure built into our project and the high level of motivation among Benton Scholars generally.) Additionally, 93% of our participants were domestic students — contrasted with early data suggesting 74% of MOOC students register from abroad.

Over the next several days, we will begin to publish post-project reflections written by Benton Scholars. Indeed, as we prepare to host an Online Education Symposium during the fall of 2014, we hope these voices will serve as a provisional trace of the student experience while simultaneously grounding an informed discussion about MOOCs and the future of academe.

Welcome, Class of 2018!

By Peter Tschirhart on August 25, 2014
Class of 2018 Benton Scholars visit Letchworth State Park near Mt. Morris, NY during Benton Scholars Orientation, 2014.

Class of 2018 Benton Scholars visit Letchworth State Park (near Mt. Morris, NY) during Benton Scholars Orientation, 2014.

From “Korea” to “Corea:” Hannah O’Malley and the ’17 Benton trip

By Peter Tschirhart on August 11, 2014

Hannah O’Malley ’17 has created a blog to chronicle, contemplate, and process her experience on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Korea. Apart from explaining why the country’s name might be spelled “Corea” rather than “Korea,” Hannah encourages us to view travel through a self-critical lens. She writes :

I think it easy to notice and criticize flaws in and make generalizations about other systems without really critically looking back at one’s own system. Over the course of the trip, I tried very hard to think about ways in which we pretty much have the same, or worse, flaws in the US and about what the US can learn from Korea.

She also poses a series of questions inspired by Prof. John Palmer‘s FSEM for the Benton Scholars (fall of 2014):

  • In what ways can the US education system learn from the national curriculum that applies to both public and private schools?
  • How would the US benefit from rigor of the cram schools?
  • Given that K-12 education in both South Korea and the US is driven in part by the university systems in both countries, in what ways might colleges be able to manipulate testing or entrance standards to influence the ways in which K-12 students learn?
  • How can both countries make higher education more accessible and a less elite system?
  • Is there corruption, whether manifest or latent, in our educational system? And if so, where?
  • Who does our educational system serve?

You can see and read much more directly on Hannah’s blog by clicking here.