In Conversation: President Mariko Silver

Recent graduate trustee Jason Moon ’13 talks with Bennington College’s tenth president Dr. Mariko Silver. They discuss what she finds compelling about Bennington, the college’s signature programs Field Work Term and The Plan, as well as the role the College plays as a vibrant model for the liberal arts.

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The Making of Bennington's 10th President, Mariko Silver

The story behind Bennington's first presidential search in 26 years—and the extraordinary candidate who emerged.

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PORTLAND, OR

Bennington College alumni, parents, and friends gathered at the Davis Street Tavern in Portland, Oregon, to meet President Mariko Silver.

Mariko quoted alumna Laura Furman ’68: “There is this thing that Bennington teaches you—not to be afraid of anything. I call it Courage College.”

Mariko highlighted that Bennington specializes in a kind of learning that comes from a student forging their way. It is one of the things that makes us an innovative institution.

“I came to Bennington because it has a unique and important voice, particularly at this moment,” said Mariko. “We need to take a leadership seat at the higher education table. It’s important for Bennington, and it’s important for the conversation about higher education.”


 

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SEATTLE

Bennington College alumni, parents, staff, and guests came together at the Winston Wächter Fine Art gallery to meet President Mariko Silver and talk about the present and future of the College.

After thanking the gallery and the hosts, Mariko recounted that, after she had connected with Winston Wächter Fine Art in planning this event, she learned that Erin Parish ’88 would be showing there later in the month, which reinforced for her that “around every corner, there is a Bennington alum.”

Mariko discussed how a Bennington education—and the evolving nature of the Plan—is an apt preparation for life beyond college. “Bennington is about finding your thinking. It’s about making your way. I hear from alums from across the years that Bennington serves them well, because it’s a Bennington world out there.”

There was discussion of technology at Bennington, and students’ work building, coding, and creating, including two who have received their first patents. True to Bennington, work in technology is not limited to those exclusively focused on computer science. “Any student who wants to do it gets the chance to,” said Mariko. “It’s about teaching STEM in new ways—students in science classes at Bennington are following their own interest, they’re not just ticking a box.”


 

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SAN FRANCISCO

An enthusiastic group of more than 65 alumni, parents, and guests welcomed President Mariko Silver to Liz Mamorsky ’60’s studio and gallery, Lizland, in San Francisco, on Thursday, April 3.

Mariko talked about what drew her to Bennington. “Bennington does education differently.” She talked about teachers who are active in their fields working with students as mentors and experts; the interdisciplinary focus of the curriculum; and the expectation of self-reflection and support of others in the creation of work.

Mariko invited alumni and parents to join her in extending Bennington’s reach. “It will take me, faculty, and staff talking about Bennington within the landscape of higher education and the media. And it will take all of you telling your own Bennington story, using every opportunity to be an ambassador for the College.”


 

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LOS ANGELES

Bennington alumni, parents, and others gathered in the home of Tracy Katsky Boomer ’91, on Sunday, March 30, to talk with each other and with President Mariko Silver.

In introducing Mariko, Tracy talked about her feeling that “Bennington was a profoundly transformative place” and the challenges and opportunities facing Mariko “to protect that special place, to keep the unique and powerful Bennington experience intact, to find all of us alumni who have been disengaged and pull us back in—and most of all, make sure that those kids around the world know that a place like this exists. And I can’t think of a better person to do it.”

Mariko greeted the crowd, and talked about the Bennington-Los Angeles connection.

“LA is important for us; it is an ever more vibrant hub for the Bennington community. Not only because more and more students are coming to Bennington from here, but also because of all of you. I want to work on bringing Bennington to the world and the world to Bennington. As Bennington alumni and parents, you know the Bennington way of thinking and doing. You are a wonderful expression of our ambitions for what a Bennington education can do. I want to work with you all to bring Bennington to LA, and LA to Bennington.”


 

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BENNINGTON

On Tuesday, March 25, President Mariko Silver joined alumni, local educators, artists, business owners, parents of alumni, faculty, former faculty, and other members of the community and surrounding areas for a conversation in the Usdan Gallery at Bennington College.

“The College was created by the community. We draw students, faculty, and staff from all over the country and world, but it was the leadership of the local community that made the College possible,” said Mariko.

During a question-and-answer session, attendees discussed possible partnerships between the College and local institutions and people, as well as Mariko’s goal that the College be a resource for the surrounding area. “I want to open the North gate—wide enough for double strollers and bikes, too. The College is part of the community, and it is open for everyone who lives and works here.”


 

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BOSTON

An engaged group of Bennington alumni, parents, faculty, and friends gathered in the art studio of Jo Ann Rothschild ’71 in Boston on March 20 to meet with President Mariko Silver.

In recounting what drew her to Bennington, Mariko said she saw, and is now experiencing up close, a spirit of innovation, the spark of creating, whether in the arts, sciences, or other disciplines. “There is a kind of light that is part of the core DNA of the institution—for students as well as faculty.”

Mariko talked about the inspiration she’s found in meeting the broader community. “To hear how all of you have taken what you have learned and experienced, found a path, and brought it into the world, it’s clear to me that a Bennington education makes for remarkable lives.”


 

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CHICAGO

Bennington alumni and parents extended a warm welcome to Bennington’s 10th president, Mariko Silver, at Chicago’s historic Standard Club on February 27. The conversation ranged from strategic planning to campus planning, to inquiry, integration, and intersections.

President Silver invited alumni to imagine a revitalized Commons, a hub of social and academic activity. Alexander St. John ’09 described Commons as a place where new ideas are birthed precisely because of the opportunities for cross-pollination.

When asked to consider Bennington in the digital age, President Silver posed these questions: “What would it mean to bring the experience of curating your own education—a process done not on your own but with the guidance of faculty—to students beyond Bennington? Could the College be a laboratory for developing cutting-edge technology supporting individualized learning?”

In her closing comments, host Rachel Schatz ’89 observed that every person who has held Bennington’s chief post has left his or her mark on the institution, and that President Silver’s represents an exciting new beginning.


 

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WASHINGTON, DC

A full range of Bennington’s Washington, DC, alumni—from the 1950s through 2012—gathered in Hemphill Fine Arts on February 5 to welcome new president Mariko Silver. Mary Early ’97 introduced Mariko, who spoke about how she’s learned that “around every interesting corner is a Bennington alum.” She continued, “Bennington students and alumni have an ability to take up anything. I'm struck by where they end up, how they get there and the fearlessness with which they forge their path.”

When questioned about faculty, and how the College gets and can continue to get the best of the best, Mariko asked faculty member Marguerite Feitlowitz to speak about her experience. “In some institutions, writing and teaching are in conflict. At Bennington, we have a need to teach, based on what we‘re working on,” Marguerite said. “Teaching is a discovery, for both faculty and student.”

“If done right, education is a creative, creating experience. Education is a transformation process. Bennington does that better than anywhere,” added Mariko.


 

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NEW YORK CITY

More than 200 alumni, parents, and members of the Bennington community braved deep snow and arctic temperatures to give a warm welcome to Bennington’s new president Dr. Mariko Silver on January 22, 2014.

The talk at the Matthew Marks Gallery turned to many things over the course of the evening but it kept coming back to community. Faculty search committee member Robert Ransick highlighted the community’s role in fostering the spirit of creativity, innovation, and making that sets the College apart from its peers. Mariko spoke of the “openness, warmth, and the eagerness” of the community and described “a real roll-up-your-sleeves quality” of working, which crystalized to her what is so wonderful about Bennington.

“The future of Bennington is not just my work,” she said. “The success of our ideas depends on the community. The core of that is for Bennington to be ever ahead of its time.”