Community college doubles its offerings

BRISTOL — Heading into its second year, Hogback Community College has doubled its course offerings and is expanding beyond the realm of ecology-focused classes to incorporate courses in health, acting and even homebrewing. The first classes start later this month with some getting under way later in the spring.
Based in the five-town region around Bristol, this offshoot of Vermont Family Forests — a local nonprofit dedicated to environmental conservation — doesn’t offer grades and doesn’t have a campus.
“The idea is to create a local community college that is accessible, affordable and utilizes existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible,” said Bristol resident David Brynn, co-founder of Hogback Community College. “That’s why we don’t have buildings and don’t plan to have buildings.”
In 2011, the school enrolled about 50 students across five classes that covered topics ranging from reptile conservation to wildflower biology to wetland ecology. One class straddled the natural world and the arts: a 12-hour course called “Frost in the Forest,” which was taught by retired Middlebury College English Professor John Elder, who founded Hogback with Brynn.
“Frost in the Forest” was the school’s first course offering. During this class, Elder led students through Robert Frost’s work via readings, discussions and an exploration of surrounding forests — the same setting that inspired the imagery used in many of the poet’s most respected works.
This same setting was used in all of Hogback’s first-year courses, which focused on the local environment. Brynn said this hands-on element of the college attracted a lot of local public school teachers as students.
“What I’m really thrilled about is the number of teachers taking the courses,” said Brynn. “Most of the classes we offer are field-based, so (these teachers) go out into the hinterlands and learn about the ecology and science of the place, and those same places are very accessible to them when they want to take their own classes there.”
While Hogback courses offer the structure and content of college courses, school officials are not seeking accreditation, nor do they currently offer credits for transfer to other educational institutions. Nevertheless, teachers often can take Hogback Community College courses as part of their professional development requirements.
Course fees range from $80 to $320; Portland State University professor Scott Burns will deliver a talk titled “The Mystery of Terroir: The relationship of geology, soils, and climate to wine,” on  Jan 24, which will be free to the public.
Seeking to attract a wider range of students, the school will kick off 2012 with 10 courses, and that number could grow said Brynn. Hogback will stick with some of the same ecology-focused offerings from the year before and will also offer courses in logging. But the bulk of this year’s fresh slate of courses will delve into different realms, like martial arts, alcoholic fermentation and acting.
For instance, Rachel Edwards, a Chinese medicine practitioner, will offer an eight-week course in the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi chuan at Bristol’s Open Sky Studio. Jeff Munroe, an associate professor of geology at Middlebury College, will share his 15 years experience in homebrewing beer with eager students when he offers “Homebrewing 101” at New Haven’s Lincoln Peak Vineyard later this month.
Having spent 50 years in theater, Richard Steggerda will teach the five-week course “Acting as Story Telling” at Bristol’s Open Sky Studio. And Susan Gallagher Borg — who has taught experiential anatomy and human kinetics (the study of human movement) at Middlebury College, Burlington College and elsewhere — will teach the course “Body Knowledge” at her homestead in Lincoln beginning later this month.
Elder will also be back at Hogback this year, teaching a spring course called “Writing the Waterworks,” which will encourage students to explore nature writing in conjunction with a blooming season.
“The instructors have been amazing and the response has been fabulous,” said Brynn about Hogback’s first year. “It’s local, it’s efficient, it’s fun and people know the players. People know John Elder … and (herpetologist) Jim Andrews and they’re getting to know (wetlands expert) Shelly Gustafson … I think the school seems accessible to people.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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