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Currents: exploring santa fe

A Long, Far Look: Wesson Students Leave New England to Explore Southwest

"Boston for beans, Seattle for rain, San Francisco for bridges, and Santa Fe for a long, far look at what God made." - Home Country, by Ernie Pyle

The annual Wesson Weekend provides honors students at Colby-Sawyer the opportunity to venture out of New England and experience other parts of the United States. The first Wesson Honors Weekend was to Seattle, Wash., Bill Wesson's birthplace, and then Charleston, S.C., Chicago, Ill., and Washington, D.C. With 72 students in the honors program, there were more applicants than spaces available for this year's destination of choice, New Mexico.

Led by Assistant Professor of Fine and Performing Arts Brian Clancy and Assistant Professor of Business Administration Christopher Kubik, seven other students and I went west for four exhilarating days. It was the first time I've been to the Southwest, and the experience was phenomenal.

On Friday, March 27, we joined our professors in a van and drove to Boston to stay the night before a 7 a.m. flight to Albuquerque. Once in New Mexico, we made a brief stop at our hotel and then left for our first adventure in the “Land of Enchantment.” While some students went to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the rest of us went to Albuquerque's Old Town, which consisted of ten blocks surrounding a plaza. The adobe buildings were very different from the traditional New England structures I usually see, and made an impression on many of us.

First-year student Michael Lepore said, “The pueblos were definitely my favorite part of the trip; their style is just so cool and different from anything we have here in the Northeast. The coolest pueblos were the ones that were stacked four or five stories high; they had tons of rooms and just seemed to be going in all different directions.”

That night, our group reunited for dinner and then went to the center of Old Town for a ghost tour, led by a certified paranormal expert. It was a unique tour, filled not only with stories about the sites we went to, but audio and visual examples of ghosts. At one point, it turned out that I was sitting in the very seat where a weeping ghost is often seen. I was glad to get out of the chair soon afterward.

Sunday the group split up again, with four students going with Professor Clancy to Santa Fe and Madrid, and the other four (including me) joining Professor Kubik at the Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier was an amazing landscape, full of ancient Anasazi homes beside the canyons. While hiking along the canyons, our group found the opportunity to climb up 140 feet to look at a traditional ceremonial cave. It was worth overcoming any fear of heights as the view was incredible.

After Bandelier, our group went to Los Alamos, the home of the atom bomb. We investigated the Bradbury Science Museum, and watched a video on the building of the atom bomb. Then we went down to Santa Fe to meet the rest of the group, who had been having their own adventures. After dinner (which was filled with plenty of authentic New Mexican chile), we went back to our hotel in Albuquerque for the night.

Monday morning brought us back to Santa Fe, where we visited the Loretto Chapel, famous for its spiral staircase that has no central support, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, and searched for treasures at the market downtown. We also visited the state capital, which was designed based on the New Mexican flag: its center is circular, and it has four branches that represent the north, south, east and west. New Mexico was mentioned in the news often during the last presidential election when its governor, Bill Richardson, ran in the primaries. The First Lady of New Mexico is Colby-Sawyer alumna Barbara Flavin Richardson '69. We tried to talk with the governor, but he was out for a bit, so we left a message with the secretary that people from Colby-Sawyer had stopped by to say hello.

Tuesday came too soon, and after breakfast we went to the last stop on our itinerary, the Rio Grande Zoo, which was full of animals from all over the world. We found out the hard way that the swans were not as friendly as the ducks (don't feed them!). Then we started our trip home by way of a layover in Houston. After long flight delays and the drive back to school, we arrived back at Colby-Sawyer very late, sadly said our good-byes and went our separate ways.

Not only was the Wesson Weekend a great way to become closer to other honors students and the professors who led us, but it was extremely educational and showed us a part of the United States that was new to most of us.

Professor Clancy says, “Chris and I proposed this trip because we wanted to share a learning experience with students outside of the classroom – and outside of the state, even. It offered us a chance to expand ourselves beyond the 'comfort zone' of our familiar subjects and courses.” He adds, “We were each familiar with Santa Fe and Albuquerque from our own travels, but it was particularly rewarding to see these cities through the fresh perspectives of the students.”

First-year student Brianna Poulin says, “I found the description of the weekend appealing, and thought it would be a good experience to include in my first year at college.” She notes, “It really opened my eyes to a place that is extremely different from New England, not just in culture but in landscape as well.”

Other students agree. “The biggest thing that I took away from this experience was realizing that even though all 50 states are a part of the United States, each possesses its own unique characteristics,” says first-year student Nicole Moyer. “The people, the dialect, and lifestyles of every state differ across the country.”

Senior Abby Cramer had been interested in seeing the Southwest for a number of years, and says her experience in that part of the country was very important to her. “I believe that the Wesson Weekend benefits the program by providing an opportunity for the students who participate to form strong bonds, which automatically strengthens the program. The weekend also benefits the honors program because it allows students to learn a great deal about a place that they otherwise probably would not have learned much about during their college career.

"These things benefit the students and the program, because by enriching the students, the program is enriched by what those students can then give back to the program," Cramer adds. "The Wesson Weekend also benefits the college as a whole because all the knowledge gained on the trip is shared with the college community during the Scholars Symposium.”

Sophomore Meghan Steele recalls another part of Cramer's experience that she didn't mention. “One funny little moment was when we arrived in Houston from Albuquerque, we had to take a shuttle train to get to another terminal. The doors were closing and not everybody was on. Abby was about to enter the train when the door almost closed on her. It was a close call.”

From the adobe buildings and vast terrain to the amazing red and green chile, the Wesson Weekend in New Mexico was a great way for me to end my four years at Colby-Sawyer. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to travel across the country and experience a lifestyle quite unlike my own in New England. I encourage future honors students to take advantage of this gift of a life-changing experience. It is worth going through the application process!

-Aubrey Thomas '09

Aubrey Thomas is a Communication Studies major and Business Administration minor from Lincolnville, Maine. Thomas is part of the Wesson Honors Program and co-editor of the program's newsletter, and serves as a resident assistant. She is a reporter/copy editor for the college's student-run newspaper, the Courier. Thomas is also a member of Alpha Chi National Honors Society and Lambda Pi Eta National Honors Society, and studied for a semester in Perth, Australia, where she joined the Perth Undergraduate Choral Society.