[00:00:00] Speaker A: You.
[00:00:01] Speaker B: This is your town manager, Alex Torpey, here with another spotlight episode. In this episode, I sit down in Hanover Town hall with Sion Bilock, Dartmouth College's 19th president, who was inaugurated in September of this year. Sion and I discuss a range of issues, from mental health to housing in Hanover to disagreeing while still having civil conversations, what insights we can gain from cognitive science and psych ology about how people interact with each other, and importantly, whether Sion can still beat her daughter in tennis or not. Both Sion and I wanted to make sure to share how essential it is to both of our organizations that we explore new ways to work even more effectively together. Much of this kicked off last year when I and our select board were invited to a reception lunch that was hosted by the college's Board of Trustees. Although many town and college staff already work well together, I made the case for the value in finding new ways to collaborate at a more senior and big picture level, with me being new to Hanover and Dartmouth expecting a new president soon. On that day, everyone recommitted to this great and important work, and I think we've already made a lot of progress with so much more to come. Ceon and I first had the chance.
[00:01:13] Speaker C: To discuss this when we met in.
[00:01:15] Speaker B: February of this year about the challenges and opportunities in Hanover at Dartmouth, and in our broader regional community in the upper Valley. Since then, the college has created a vice president of government and community relations position. It's a great discussion with Emma Wolf a few episodes back, and since then we've worked together on a range of new programs and issues, such as around economic and community development, especially in our downtown around housing, transportation, sustainability, student involvement, and more, already with some notable results. Now, growing up in a college town in New Jersey that I later happened to become the mayor of, and being involved in town governance when I was in college, the complex thread of how dynamics work in college towns has always been on my mind, and that complexity, vibrancy and challenge and opportunity is part of what excites me about the work that we're doing in Hanover. Finding the right way for the town and its many related stakeholders, and the college and its many related stakeholders to work together, even, and especially when we aren't 100% aligned on how to approach a particular problem, idea or policy is one of the most important things we can do in Hanover to ensure our community's success and future. So please enjoy this conversation with Sian and look for more in the coming weeks, months and years about how we're collaborating on issues that matter most to our community. Thank you and enjoy.
[00:02:44] Speaker C: All right, folks, welcome to another spotlight episode of Hanover Happenings. We're in town hall here, and I am sitting down with new president of Dartmouth College, Sion Bilach.
[00:02:54] Speaker B: Sion.
[00:02:55] Speaker C: Welcome, town Hall.
[00:02:56] Speaker A: Oh, thanks for having me. Great to be here, Alex.
[00:02:58] Speaker C: Yeah. So, speaking of being here, what's it been like transitioning? Let's jump right into Upper Valley life to start. What's it been like coming from the city to Hanover into the upper valley? I imagine a bit of a transition for you and some of the staff.
[00:03:13] Speaker A: Yeah, it's certainly a transition, but I've really loved it. I love the upper valley. I love the nature. The people have been great, and it's nice to be part of a community.
[00:03:27] Speaker C: Yeah. And I think Hanover especially, there's definitely that feeling here. And the upper Valley in general, I think we saw some of that over the summer with some of the crazy flooding that we all saw. People just really band together. But also, it's not that many people here total, but it kind of feels like more.
[00:03:44] Speaker A: Almost everyone I've met, whether it's folks related to Dartmouth or in Hanover, the Upper Valley more broadly, has been so excited to talk about their experience here. And in addition to the people, I'm loving the outdoors and everything that comes along with living in a region like this.
[00:04:08] Speaker C: Is There anything that sort of sticks out in your memory? I'm sure you've met thousands of people over the last few months. Is there anything that sticks out in your mind of people kind of reflecting on life around here that's been particularly memorable, that you've learned about Hanover, the upper valley?
[00:04:24] Speaker A: Well, everyone has given me tips for where to eat, what bakeries to go to, or what brewery, which I always appreciate. But I've loved some of the tips about hiking and where to run, and it's been really nice.
[00:04:39] Speaker C: That's great. I imagine you're not finding yourself with an overabundance of free time these days, if that's accurate.
[00:04:47] Speaker A: That is true. But I write in my book how the body knows its mind about the power of being in nature and about even looking at nature. And sometimes when I've had a hard day even walking home and being able to look out across the hills and this beautiful environment, I know it has a positive impact on my mental health.
[00:05:07] Speaker C: Yeah, it definitely does. And that's certainly one of the values of being in areas like this. And I think hoping that even in more urban metropolitan environments, that folks are sort of finding ways to integrate nature more into city planning to try and bring some of that in. We don't have to worry about that here and now. Mental health has been one of the issues in the upper valley for years from a few different perspectives, and it's something that I know you've made a priority so far in your administration. Do you want to share a little bit about some of the plans and what you all are working on there?
[00:05:43] Speaker A: Yeah. Well, first, I think it's important to step back and remind people that I'm a psychologist.
I've made my career looking at how anxiety and stress affect the brain and body. And I know how important it is that you can't do okay unless you feel okay, unless you have the resources and support, and that it's okay to fail to not get everything right, but that you need a community and surroundings that are helping you along the way. And that's true on a campus as well. And so I've made health and wellness my first priority, not just for my students, but for the faculty and staff. I'm really proud of some of the work that we've done. We rolled out a strategic plan for student health and wellness this fall, just a couple of weeks ago, and we're also thinking about how to support the faculty and staff, because you can't be okay. The students can't be okay unless they have healthy faculty and staff around them that are supporting them. And so I'm right now looking for a chief health and wellness officer that will sit on my senior team and really think about this across the campus. And just a couple of small steps we've taken.
First, we, for the first time ever introduced a childcare stipend for faculty and staff at Dartmouth to help support childcare needs. And we're thinking about what it means, especially to make sure that our faculty and staff are trained in mental health, first aid, and other areas to help notice and support signs of stress in our students.
[00:07:14] Speaker C: Yeah, it's really amazing. And, I mean, I think the perspective that you bring. I know when we first chatted in February of this year, which seems like years ago, I'm sure even more to you, it was just so interesting. You're coming into, obviously, a senior management position in a very large organization, but have this background, this psychology and cognitive science background, and I imagine that that informs a lot of the way that you approach the work that you do, even beyond a policy perspective.
[00:07:45] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, I tend to think about how people and organizations interact, and I want to get the best out of people, and I'm a big believer. If you can get the right people at the table talking to each other in a way, they feel like they can really push at each other, you get better outcomes, and that's true for our students, too. I think often health and wellness sits on the side or next to academic excellence. You don't think of it as important for excellence. And I firmly believe that we have to make sure that our students, especially, have the tools to support themselves and know they don't have to do it all alone, that everyone from time to time should see a counselor, should find support from others, and that's how you get better.
[00:08:30] Speaker C: I mean, it's really sort of a meta issue. Everything flows from if people aren't able to process new information or talk to somebody else, or if all that is being blocked by something else, I feel like that just creates a ton of downstream consequences that we probably might argue we're seeing throughout our sort of political and civic ecosystem across the country right now.
[00:08:59] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, I agree with you, and I think you were here when we had all living surgeons general to campus at Dartmouth in September for only the second time in history to have a conversation about mental health. It was moderated by Sanjay Gupta, CNN. And it was so powerful to have them all in the room together and really historic. But I thought it was one of the things that they pushed on is that part of where they see the mental health crisis coming from right now is loneliness. And even though we're so connected, we don't talk to each other and we don't know how to have conversations with each other.
And I thought it was really interesting, the current surgeon general who said, it's hard to hate people up close.
[00:09:40] Speaker C: Right.
[00:09:41] Speaker A: And that was really meaningful to me, both for how we build community in our campus and support our faculty, students and staff, but how Dartmouth is not just in Hanover, in the upper valley, but we're of it. We're part of that community. We have to work really intentionally to build that community.
[00:09:59] Speaker C: Yeah. And it's so tough because I feel like there's many things in people's lives where perhaps there's a feeling of loneliness if someone can put that fine of a point on it themselves and they're looking for solutions, but those solutions, which are often through someone's phone, may not actually be helping in the long run. It might feel better in the short term. And so I imagine that you've seen throughout your years in this field on the higher education side, even in the last ten years, probably a change in how students use technology and how integral it is to access, for them to access a lot of resources.
What's the thinking around weighing the pros and cons of technology? When does it help? When does it hurt?
[00:10:43] Speaker A: Yeah, it's such a great question, and I don't think I have an easy answer. I think technology can be incredibly isolating if you're only reading news and social media and feeds that just underscore a particular point of view. And we know that's happening if you're using it to judge whether you're having more fun than someone else or less fun.
And so I think we have to talk to our students about being good consumers of technology. That's really important.
I also think there's opportunities for technology to help us. So we know that when people find community groups through technology that help support them in a particular issue, say they've lost a loved one, those can be really helpful. We also know through what's happening at Dartmouth, Geisel School of Medicine and Dartmouth Health that our faculty are building mental health technologies that are helping people in the region and across the world. So, Dartmouth, actually, our medical school, has the only center of excellence in digital mental health technology in the country. And some of the work they've done, for example, is building apps and supports on phones to help people, say, with opioid addiction and their ability to continue their recovery. And they've shown really promising outcomes with having that phone based app, in addition to professionals, augment their recovery.
[00:12:08] Speaker C: Right. Yeah. It's interesting.
Our relationship with our phones is just continuing to evolve and feel like finding the ways to use them for them to serve our purposes, not the other way around, is really valuable.
[00:12:25] Speaker A: Yeah. And we just had a faculty panel on this last week, and I actually wrote an op ed, and I think the Washington Post about a month ago on this. That technology, I do think, has know there is a role to play in some of the mental health problems that we see. But I also think we can think about it as a way to help us push forward. And so I don't think our phones are going away. And so the question is, how do we use them for good?
[00:12:50] Speaker C: Right. Well, in thinking about how people interact with each other, especially around issues that we could maybe oversimplify into politics, but really, any large groups of people that are making decisions on behalf of large groups of people, the way that people interact over these technology mediums, like you said just a moment ago, it's so different than how people interact in person. And what's been such a challenge and I've certainly seen this on the local government, and I wonder what it's been like on the higher education side over the last few years with so many.
I think that it certainly kicked government to start doing things that private companies have been doing for 15 years as far as connecting with each other. But it's also very different, not just in thinking about having employees that are remote on some occasions and how that works or doesn't work, but also in thinking about how we engage broader communities and really hard conversations about issues that are really important to them. And it seems like there's almost a quantity quality conflict in some of this and that opening these things up to more people through some of these tools, you're going to add a lot more people into the room, which has a certain set of values to it. But also sometimes it seems like the conversation goes downhill. And especially since coming here, I've been learning a lot. It's been an interesting learning experience and thinking about, especially on the election side of things, which is obviously such an important issue kind of around the country right now and especially leading into next year, and how the election systems in New Hampshire and Vermont very different than New York, New Jersey, where I'm coming from, the scale here is much smaller. The governance is much more local and distributed and informal. And it's just been interesting sort of navigating the value proposition, know, growing something in scale and adding more people in. And when does that break down as far as the ability to manage it effectively and just, I don't know. That was a lot of different stuff there. But curious if you have any reactions to that since being here.
[00:14:55] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, maybe I'll bring it back to the education context, which is it was very clear, for example, during COVID that students as well as parents wanted a residential education for their students. I think if one thing COVID made clear is how important those connections are and those informal connections. And what I worry about is when things are all online, we miss those informal connections. We miss those opportunities to talk to each other outside a dorm room or outside the coffee shop. And that's so important, especially for young people going into the workforce to have those informal connections. And I actually wrote a piece a couple of years ago arguing that a lot of people were saying, well, remote work will be a great gender equalizer, because I think there's good data that show that women do most of the cognitive labor at home, whether it's for kids or taking care of parents or others. On average, that's the data. It could be different for any one individual.
But what I really argued was, I worry that if women decide just to be the ones to not go back to the office, then they're missing all those opportunities for those experiences outside of those formal meetings. And that could be really devastating to the work we're trying to do around gender parity.
[00:16:11] Speaker C: Yeah. And it's the kind of thing that would be difficult to tell until some amount of time has passed.
[00:16:16] Speaker A: Yeah. And so I'm a big believer in in person meetings. I think technology can be helpful, but the ability to be together and talk to each other and understand nuance, I think is really important.
[00:16:29] Speaker C: I agree. And I think just maybe it was last week we were having our meeting of downtown Hanover, which has had really great participation for a couple folks from Dartmouth, which has been just wonderful. And the meeting broke up. And one of my favorite things, know, when you're putting groups of people together, you're sort of convening, and then the meeting finishes and you've got all these pods of people that are still hanging out and talking. And I love sort of stepping back and looking at that. There's no agenda anymore. The meeting is over. Everybody's free to leave, but they can't because they're still interested in talking about something.
And we were all remarking, we were just kind of standing there, and there was a few different pods of people talking. Said, you can't do this over Zoom.
[00:17:11] Speaker A: You can't do this over Zoom. It's one of the reasons that I've worked really hard in my office and area to bring my senior leaders and to all be in the same building so that we can have those drop ins. I think it's so.
[00:17:24] Speaker C: Yeah, yeah, that's interesting.
So in thinking about how to have hard conversations about important topics, maybe we could talk a little bit about housing, which is know, of course, everybody's mind here in the upper valley, and I don't know if you had a similar experience, but certainly I know when I was offered the job here and started looking at, I didn't really believe people said, the housing market's not great. I said, okay, well, I'm coming from New Jersey. It can't be any worse than that area or friends in California, but it is.
And we've got some really great progress going in the right direction. But I guess just kind of. What's been your initial reaction to people's feedback? I'm sure when you're asking people what issues are on their mind, this must come up a lot. And what have you been kind of hearing.
[00:18:14] Speaker A: Yeah. I mean, from talking to Dartmouth faculty to staff to students to community members, I think the one common thing has been housing, housing, housing. And for me, from all the conversations I had, it was very clear early on that this is an academic issue at Dartmouth. If we can't hire the best faculty and staff and help them with housing, if we can't house our students in appropriate ways, if we're not contributing to the community in which we live, if we're making it harder, that's a problem for an institution that strives for academic excellence. So, for me, it became really clear very quickly that this is something that we had to tackle, and I want Dartmouth to be part of the solution, not part of the It. Also, this is one of the reasons, as I started hearing about some of the issues that really were not just Dartmouth, it's Dartmouth Upper Valley, Dartmouth Hanover, that I was so excited to have lunch with you last fall and to have our new, or last spring and to have our new position, our inaugural vice president for government and community relations, Emma Wolf, come in, whom I think you've had on this podcast, because I think we have to work on these things together. So Dartmouth is really going to do its part. We've made a commitment to 1000 new beds in the next decade with breaking ground for developments for faculty, students, staff, and graduate students in the next 24 months, at least on first projects. And our goal is to work with Hanover, to work with other entities in the area, like DH, Dartmouth, health, to make sure that together we're better than the sum of our parts.
[00:19:54] Speaker C: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think one of the difficulties here is that a lot of the governance is so fragmented. There's not a county government that's in charge of creating regional plans. And so it's really left up to a lot of towns and a lot of small towns. I mean, Hanover, we're lucky to have the kind of staff that we have, even here for the town government. But a lot of the smaller towns in the area, I mean, outside of Lebanon and Hartford and a couple others, there's really not much. And so there's some organizations, and there's our regional planning commissions, there's different entities and stakeholders that attempt to coordinate some of that. But it's all sort of making up for a very hyper local governance structure, which the consequences of some of that seems to be clear.
[00:20:38] Speaker A: Yeah. Well, I think we can all agree that we need more affordable housing, and we need to make sure that people are attracted to this area in a way that they have the ability to get appropriate housing. And for Dartmouth's part, I think we've made a renewed commitment to keep our undergraduates close to campus, to have them really within walking distance, but to also think about how we make sure we have adequate housing for our faculty, our grad students, our staff, which maybe can be a little farther out from campus.
[00:21:08] Speaker C: Right. Yeah. And so what went into your thinking about that? I mean, I know it's certainly something I've heard from community members over time and in general speaking. Something I think that we're trying to look at as well is on the town side, the projects that we're looking at to be on water and sewer and to. Ideally, I mean, I think it'd be difficult to live in the upper valley and not have a car at all, unfortunately, but maybe allow people to live where they could have one car instead of two cars. I mean, that's still a huge step in the right direction. And so what informs some of your thinking about not only this sort of renewed commitment from Dartmouth on the housing front, but also more specifically about bringing some of that undergraduate housing closer to campus?
[00:21:52] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, we talk to people, and you are very helpful in suggesting who we should be out talking to, community members of Dartmouth, but really members of the upper valley, and understanding what the pain points were, how they thought about it, what would be more helpful and down government.
My goal is to have my team out there talking and understanding an issue. And we might not always agree and get to the exact same steps, but I think hearing perspectives that are different than your own, hearing other perspectives can be really helpful. So we've done a lot of talking, and we'll continue to do more, but that really prompted some of our thinking about making sure that our undergraduate housing was as close to campus as possible. We want our students to be able to walk and be part of that community, at least at the undergrad level.
[00:22:44] Speaker C: Yeah. And that certainly seems like the feedback that I've heard from undergraduates as well is that they would love to be able to do that. And I think we have some work on the regional side. I mean, we've made a pretty good step recently with advanced Transit going 2 hours later in the evening and Saturday service. And that was something that they had thought about doing for a while. And a couple of us threw extra money in the budget for the year, and we had some conversations with Dartmouth staff as well, and we all kind of got together and figured out a way to make it happen. And I think most of us hope that. That is one more step along the way of continuing to create a transit network that really. I mean, I remember going to college in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts and the five colleges there. I mean, it was connected by a 24/7 bus system that was just. And granted, you have UMass Amherst, which is just huge, and so a lot. A lot of economy of scale there, and four other colleges in the area. But in thinking about the ease of getting around here, especially in the winter, I mean, I don't know how people ride bikes around in the snow. I've seen them do it. I don't really plan on doing it myself, I don't think. But it is tough, because in the summer, I mean, it feels great. You can walk around and take your bike from here to here, but it starts getting below zero, and those options really aren't on the table. And so what's there instead?
[00:24:02] Speaker A: Yeah, I'm so happy about our expanded transit, and obviously, there's still more work to do, and I think it's another place where Dartmouth and the town of Hanover and the upper Valley more broadly can partner.
[00:24:15] Speaker C: And so what does that mean for. So we're thinking about, know, bringing undergraduates closer to campus, increasing the number of beds. Know, that's all really exciting because obviously, that's going to provide a great experience for the students, but also from a larger housing stock sort of view, if students are moving out of single family homes right now that are kind of converted. And some of these. I'm sure you've heard this feedback as well. And part of the reason we created this rental housing inspection program is some of that housing is really substandard. And I know we would all feel a lot more comfortable on the town side, on the code enforcement side, if they were in Dartmouth, built and owned and operated housing. That's great. And we've just heard so many kind of horror stories there, but that students moving out of those housing into housing that's sort of more geared. Right. For them opens up some of those housing units for other folks to move into, and it really could make a big difference in the area.
[00:25:14] Speaker A: Yeah. I mean, our hope is, again, to take some pressure off the system and be a contributor to solving this housing crisis rather than a contributor to the problem.
[00:25:25] Speaker C: Right. And where does that leave things? Looking at the. I don't know, the golf course, the north End projects, the Lime Road projects, where does that leave some of the initiatives? I know there was a couple of different iterations of plans there. Where is that at right now?
[00:25:44] Speaker A: Yeah, our plan is to focus that on graduate and professional student housing. And graduate and professional students, we think can be a little farther out, and oftentimes want to be right. And we're looking at the plans for that right now to help, to help make that a reality.
[00:25:59] Speaker C: That's great. Well, I think these are all really exciting changes, and part of what we're trying to do as well is we've heard a lot as far as retaining people in the area. And I'm curious, too. I mean, a lot of that, I imagine, is focused on student housing and certainly the undergraduate housing near campuses. But from a staff and faculty standpoint, you all are one of the larger employers in the state.
And between the college and the medical center, obviously, there's a tremendous pressure on the housing market here.
There's OD gaps in the types of housing available. And we've been using this sort of missing middle phrase that has become a little more common in the last couple of years, that you can maybe find a studio apartment available. It may not be cheap, but you may be able to find that. You may also be able to find a five, six, seven, $800,000 house, but there's not a whole lot in between. And that's part of what we're looking at trying to build out. What have you heard from the staff and faculty side? Are people interested in something that's not an apartment that they can sort of settle in more, or what's the sense there?
[00:27:09] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, I agree with your missing middle diagnosis, although my team will know more than I have. But I had dinner with about 45 new faculty a couple of weeks ago at my house, and it was something they talked about, right? That it was more than a studio apartment, but less than a four or five bedroom home, especially for younger junior faculty who are just thinking about getting settled, maybe starting a family.
And so we agree that we have to be thinking about each kind of population and what the housing means to them. And also, I mean, faculty and staff often want to live in neighborhoods where there's other faculty and staff know Connect folks connected to Dartmouth or Dartmouth Health. And so thinking really systematically about what that looks like.
[00:27:56] Speaker C: Well, I think we have some exciting times ahead, and I think for a lot of the stakeholders in the upper valley, I mean, you mentioned this earlier, but there's going to be plenty of things that we have a different approach to or different ideas about where to go. But a lot of the high level goals among a lot of the stakeholders in the region seem aligned, especially around housing issues, childcare access issues, transportation issues. And even though we may have slightly different ideas about solutions or approaches having that much, I mean, we just did a goal setting workshop with our select board recently, and the alignment between our planning board and select board and the staff, as far as. I mean, it's just really nice. I've done some of those before where you do a board retreat and you come out and you've got nine different priorities from nine different people. And it's really hard to reconcile all of that. But a lot of folks here really share a lot of the same goals.
And I think same between the medical center and the college, and the town and Hypertherm and King Arthur Bakery and the co op, like all of us have similar, not the same needs.
I don't know, I just think there's a lot of good opportunity for us all to work together.
[00:29:05] Speaker A: Yeah, I agree. And I think we have more commonalities and common views than different views. So I think we have to push on those.
[00:29:13] Speaker C: Yeah, agreed. Now, beyond Hanover, I know that you have also been talking about a pretty kind of ambitious agenda for the college. You want to share a little bit about some of the things that may be interesting and may, and I'm sure will definitely have an impact on Hanover, but perhaps less so than undergraduate housing. So what are some of those kind of big picture goals that you have?
[00:29:33] Speaker A: Yeah. So at my inauguration in September, I talked really about how I think Dartmouth is a place of innovation and impact. Our size, our scale, the fact that we have a focus on undergrads, combined with a world class research institution, with a medical school and a business school, and engineering and graduate programs. I think we can take the best of startup culture and be in this constant iteration of going from idea to impact. And we've seen this in so many ways on the Dartmouth campus. So at the medical school, one of our faculty members several years ago discovered how to stabilize the spike protein. Our proteins are floppy, and this faculty member discovered how to stabilize it in a way that the mRNA vaccine plugged into it for COVID. And Dartmouth is one of the leading contributors to the COVID vaccines. So this is going from idea to impact. We've seen this so many times in our history, developing basic as a computer language. Some of the work that we've done in terms of bringing great works of art, whether it's musicals or others, to the community and thinking about climate change in many different ways, we have this constant push for ideas to something that's going to make the world a better place.
And so I want to build on that. I want this to be a place where our students, our faculty, our staff, even our community can come in to think about how we take ideas to have an impact on the world, to positively affect lives. Touched. One of our faculty members, for example, developed the mechanism for the phone camera, which has been so important in capturing issues around police brutality or others that have had an impact. I mean, so many ways in which we've had this social impact, in what we've done, and helping to make sure that we're supporting our law enforcement and others in the best way.
And so the question is, how do we get there? How do we do this? And we're doing it in many different ways. We're building accelerators on campus where people can take their ideas to people who will fund it, connecting to our alums. But what I really argued is that we have to have some baseline conditions to do that. First, we have to think about health and wellness. You have to have a healthy community. Second, we have to be a place where we push on each other with difficult dialogue, where we can be brave in our conversations, where we can bring in points of view that others don't disagree with. I want to be clear that this doesn't mean saying whatever you want, whenever you want.
All speech is not free speech, but we have to create environments where our community can come together and have opposing views and talk to each other in civil forms, not with threats, not yelling, not merely shouting across a void, but actually conversation. So, mental health, brave spaces. And then a third that I talked a lot about is connecting Dartmouth for life. So we have so many alums who come back to the area. Dartmouth is not just a four year institution. I have never seen a more dedicated alumni body. So, being clear about how we bring them in and how we support those alumni. And then finally, again, another ingredient to have this innovative ecosystem, making sure that we are a sustainable campus, that we are really paying attention to our carbon footprint, and that we're giving the research that we do on climate and energy away to the world.
So I'm excited to tackle all those as really baseline conditions to being this campus that's innovative, that goes from discovery to impact really quickly.
[00:33:16] Speaker C: Yeah, that's great. And I know on a number of those fronts of sustainability, I mean, there's so much work that is being done now. The campus is such a big apparatus to move over.
And I think that's the kind of thing where the campus community, the community at large, everybody is so on board, moving in that direction.
[00:33:39] Speaker A: And I know we're working very closely with the town of Hanover and others as we think about what it means to really be a carbon zero campus. And we know that will take time. We don't want to do that just through offsets or other things that we don't think across the country or the world. We want to contribute to what we're doing in New England. We want to contribute to what we're doing in the upper valley, and we want to think about how we do things differently on campus.
[00:34:07] Speaker C: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that's certainly the right.
I'm sure you have students that are coming in that are bringing innovative ideas into the classroom in some of these subject areas. And it'll be interesting to see, I think, the environment that you all can create to provide the culture of innovation and ingenuity, which I think the upper valley is, as I've been learning more about the region here, and you see, we have, like, hypertherm, I think, is a great example. I mean, here is this employee owned, super high Tech, specialized company that I didn't really know much about before coming here, but then seeing what they do. And I feel like there's a number of things like that in the upper valley that you wouldn't really expect, necessarily being a couple hours outside of a major city. But we do have that mean, we've.
[00:34:57] Speaker A: I think that's a great example. And we have so many examples of that where our faculty are creating companies, where our students are. And I do think something that's so special is that our alums stay connected, and so many of our alums fund students and faculty and other alums in some of these ventures. And I think we should be doing more and more well.
[00:35:17] Speaker C: And it's great.
There's a few alum in the area, and it's kind of amazing just thinking about. I've got to imagine there's some metrics that somebody's collected out there. But looking at colleges and universities and the number of alum that stay in given areas around, and I feel like this area has probably got a very high ratio of that.
[00:35:38] Speaker A: Yeah, I don't know if I have that metric off the top of my head, but I know that so many of our alums contribute which to Dartmouth, which is a real great metric of their support and success. And we really score highly on metrics of alums funding other alums for companies.
[00:35:53] Speaker C: That's great.
[00:35:54] Speaker A: Start business, and I think that's exactly what we should be doing. That's wonderful.
[00:35:57] Speaker C: Yeah. Talk about creating community, since you've been up here.
What else have you sort of found about the Upper valley? I mean, we're now just getting into the fun season, if you like winter sports.
What's it been like so far? Have you gotten to kind of get out and explore much? Yeah. What's it?
[00:36:21] Speaker A: Well, I have a daughter at the middle school, at Hanover Middle School, at Richmond Middle School, so I'm doing a lot of driving a middle schooler around to different activities. She's riding and playing tennis and making great friends, and so we're exploring a lot together.
I'm excited for winter. I was a ski racer in high school, and I haven't been on skis in a long time, so I'm going to get back on.
[00:36:46] Speaker C: So you're getting ready? Mentally preparing?
[00:36:48] Speaker A: I'm mentally preparing to get back on, and I've loved being able to run, and Pine park is a favorite of mine. And just being able to get out.
[00:36:58] Speaker C: It's beautiful around there.
[00:36:59] Speaker A: Yeah, it's amazing.
[00:37:00] Speaker C: Yeah.
And that's great. So I was a big tennis player when I was younger and recently have got back into it, but I'll say I was playing at boss maybe a month or two ago, and the Dartmouth team was playing on the courts next over, and I was feeling pretty good about myself getting back into it. And then I'm watching them saying, okay, this is a huge difference. I mean, it's just incredible. I don't think I was ever quite that good. I mean, I went to a college that didn't have any varsity sports at all, but, yeah, just. I have mixed feelings about feeling good and feeling bad from that and watching that, but it was pretty incredible.
[00:37:44] Speaker A: Yeah, our athletes are great, and I've loved being out at games. I was there on Friday. We had a close call, but we would beat Princeton in football.
I love being able to go to all the different games and see our students who are so dedicated to being students first, but also Division one Ivy League athletes. And, yeah, I try and judge my tennis. I actually sometimes jump in a lesson with my daughter, and I don't judge it based on her because she can beat me now, but just based on my own improvement, I find that's mentally healthier now.
[00:38:17] Speaker C: Was there a line, so did you used to play tennis with your daughter where you kind of had the upper hand and then at some point you noticed that changing?
[00:38:24] Speaker A: Just this year. Okay, it's changed. I'm done.
[00:38:28] Speaker C: No number of lessons on your part. You're going to be able to catch up.
[00:38:31] Speaker A: It's over. I'm trying to hang on so she'll even walk on the court with.
[00:38:34] Speaker C: Right.
Well, definitely worth preserving that. And I know Mai was kind of raised in a family of tennis players, and we're all at very different levels, but it's really fun for us to go out and do that together.
[00:38:49] Speaker A: Yeah. And, I mean, I'm a big believer in athletics and the power of athletics to build character and to help you understand how to lose and what teamwork means.
And so it's fun to see her figure out and understand that you can get better at things and that you see the outcomes over your hard work.
[00:39:09] Speaker C: Right now, that's an area that I think a lot of people and a lot of parents struggle with, which is trying to balance that with their kids is letting them fail, but also not wanting to fail too much. And it was interesting seeing before, directly before I came up here, I was working at a Y camp in New Jersey, and we was doing outdoor education, a lot of team building with youth groups. And it was a really fascinating. I mean, it was a wonderful experience because my sister and I both went to the camp when we were kids, and some of the people still work there from when I was younger, so that was kind of fun. But watching how the different teachers and parents interact, watching the different other program staff, some who just had such fine tuned skills about this balance. And with your cognitive psychology, cognitive science background, how do you think about that? I think a lot of people struggle with finding that you've done some of the research already. How do you balance that? And how do you allow someone to fail and to learn in the right environment?
[00:40:08] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, it's hard. As a parent, I think we want to protect our kids, but I'm a big believer that having some struggle and failure and being uncomfortable is a good thing. It's how you learn.
We know our brain cells grow and connect when we have those uncomfortable environments. And if you just take the same basketball shot over and over, a three foot shot, you'll be great at that shot, but nothing else. Right. That may have been a mistake I made. So how do you create those environments where you can be a little bit uncomfortable?
And so I struggle with that all the time, even as a parent.
But I go back to the fact that when you're successful, it's not just because you're endowed with something great. You worked at it. And when you fail, it's the same thing. You have to figure out how to work in a different way.
[00:40:54] Speaker C: Right?
Yeah. All right, so I'm going to throw something out here that's a rabbit hole. But we don't have to go down related to this. And people that listen to the podcast will, at this point, know that I'm a pretty big Star Trek fan because I think there's just fascinating lessons, especially in the next generation, which I think is the best series of all of them. Just about all some of the kind of stuff that we're talking about here. And one of the really interesting things that I've only heard a few people sort of jump into, but a couple of different podcasts I follow have talked about it, which is the basic premise in, I think all of the series is that they're basically living in a post scarcity world, right? There are people have jobs, and they're in this sort of paramilitary science organization, but there's no paychecks.
You have things that can. You hit a button and can create whatever you need. And so there's no currency scarcity, there's no employment scarcity, there's no food or physical safety scarcity anymore. And I think in some kind of, like, Sci-Fi circles, people look at that and say, well, that sounds great. That's, of course, the direction we want to head in. But some have offered the sort of thoughts that, in a really technical sense, how do you raise a child in a post scarcity society where all of your needs are basically met? And that that is actually thinking about that as sort of this utopian vision is sort of nice, but when you start digging a few layers down, if people are growing up and they have not had to face any adversity at all, and obviously, there's way too many people who face way too much adversity. But the idea of the goal being the other side of that, which you could maybe argue that the way that we produce entertainment, content, and other things in the US and the Western world right now is really geared at kind of comfort and convenience. And so throwing that out there, I don't know if you have any thoughts or reactions, just reflecting on how character is built and how people learn how to fail and how to succeed.
[00:42:57] Speaker A: Yeah, I think that finding those situations where even our kids are uncomfortable, where we're pushing them, where they're learning to push themselves, is so important because it sets you up its practice for what's going to happen in the future. I guess if we lived in some sort of utopia where that didn't happen, I might change what I think.
But I do believe, for example, our Dartmouth students come and they've been very successful as high school students and doing what they need to do to get into a place like Dartmouth. And sometimes I worry that they are not as open to taking classes where they might not do as well or don't have the background. And that risk is really important. It opens up your mind. It helps you learn and think in new ways. That's also about finding friends and talking to people who have very different opinions than you, that maybe think the polar opposite of you. That is, when your ideas become better, your ideas don't, in my mind, don't become better when you just talk to people that agree with you, your ideas become better when you talk to people that critique it, that require you to articulate it in a different way. Now, it doesn't mean you have to change your mind. Right. But the ability to articulate it and try and convince someone or have a dialogue or understand their perspective, I think that's inherently uncomfortable. We don't necessarily want to do it, and when we don't do it, we don't learn as much. And I actually have data that speaks to this. I have a paper I published with a postdoc. We look at math anxiety. So anxiety people have around math.
And in the US, especially in Western countries, it turns out that people have lots of math anxiety, and it's socially acceptable. Like, you don't brag about not being a reading person.
And what happens is, it's not just that if you're anxious about math, you're bad at it. We've shown that there's something about the anxiety itself. And one thing that we've shown is that when you're anxious about math, you tend not to do math that's difficult. Like, you just try and stay away from it because it's not fun, but that's how you get better. And so we've done work where we've actually looked at students in AP calculus in high school, and we've looked at them getting ready for the AP test, the calculus test, which is an important test at the end of your high school. We show that when kids are more anxious about math, the way they study is different. They tend not to do practice problems. They just read the book. Because practice problems make you feel uncomfortable. It's harder.
[00:45:14] Speaker C: Right. You might feel bad if you get.
[00:45:15] Speaker A: Them wrong, and it's just not fun.
[00:45:17] Speaker C: Right.
[00:45:17] Speaker A: And then you don't do as well. And so it's a normal human reaction to want to stay away from things that make us uncomfortable. But the problem is that I don't think it helps us learn and grow the way we could.
[00:45:30] Speaker C: And how do you talk about that on campus? So students got their course catalogs that they're signing up for. They're looking at different classes. How do you change the culture? And I'm sure there's plenty of students who jump right into the challenges, too. But for those that aren't quite there, and how do you identify them, and how do you guide and support in this way?
[00:45:52] Speaker A: I think our faculty are really great at that. And of course, we are a liberal arts college. We want students to be support, to explore across the arts and sciences. So they have some requirements they have to take, whether or not they're interested in just science or just literature.
But I think it's talking about it. And I think also it's as leaders and faculty and staff and community members talking about our failures, I don't think we spend enough time talking about when we failed, because everyone fails and normalizing it. And it's not failing a class. But maybe you don't have to go in knowing everything, or it's okay to take a class that you didn't think that you might want to take.
I've had these experiences. I talk about them a lot, and I think we all have to.
[00:46:36] Speaker C: Agreed. And especially in the politics and government world, I mean, failure is just part of it. Yeah, it is. But it's so difficult to create the conditions where people can be that open about it. And there's some really complicated tensions there that I don't think anybody has really quite figured out. But, yeah, it's so important.
[00:46:59] Speaker A: Yeah. I mean, mistakes are how you learn. It's part of how you learn and get better at what you're doing. And I want this to be a place where our students have that opportunity to not get everything right and to learn from it.
[00:47:14] Speaker C: Well, that all sounds really great and curious. If there's anything else that you wanted to share with folks that we didn't get to cover.
[00:47:23] Speaker A: Well, first, thanks for having me.
[00:47:25] Speaker C: Sure.
[00:47:26] Speaker A: I'm really excited to work with you and the town. I think Dartmouth, it's just an imperative that we are of this community, not just in it. And I think that carries a responsibility to think about and be working together on all of the sorts of issues that will make our community better, whether it's childcare, housing, bringing together a community that cares about mental health and supporting each other. And I'm excited to work with you, Alex, and others on those goals.
[00:47:58] Speaker C: Yeah. And I'll say the same thing. I really appreciate the perspective that you bring to the table with all of these issues and a lot of the other staff that have gotten, I mean, a lot of our departments work really well together and have for a long time. I think there's a higher level alignment that's coming on board more and more, and that's been really just encouraging to see. So I think we have a lot of exciting stuff in the future here.
[00:48:23] Speaker A: Me, too. And thank you for all the work you're doing.
[00:48:25] Speaker C: Yeah. And same to you. And welcome again to the upper Valley in Hanover.
[00:48:30] Speaker A: Thank you.
[00:48:30] Speaker C: Yeah, thank you.
[00:48:32] Speaker B: Hey, everyone, and thanks for checking out this special spotlight episode of Hanover Happenings. If you'd like to find all of the episodes of our Hanover Happenings podcast and prior updates, you can do so at Hanover happenings.com or on wherever you listen to podcasts. If you'd like more information about other things happening in town, such as monthly reports, agendas, minutes, events, videos and more, you can do [email protected]
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