by Zinta Aistars
Words Jeremiah Duncan, Ben Dueweke and Joe Barth never got to say on their way to college: "Are we there yet?" The three friends had to walk hardly more than a block or two to reach the Kalamazoo College campus. As incoming freshmen of the class of 2013, the campus was already like a second home.
The parents of all three freshmen are not only long-time friends; all also work for the college. Jeremiah's mother, Teresa Denton, is associate director at the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service Learning. Ben's mother, Anne Dueweke, is the director of faculty grants and institutional research (and a 1984 alumna). And Joseph, or Joe, calls Eric Barth, associate professor and chair of mathematics and computer science - Dad.
"It is rather a strange experience, sending your child off to college knowing he is physically present at the same place you are on a daily basis," says Teresa Denton. "My experience is even more surreal because our family lives two blocks away, so Jeremiah grew up in this neighborhood and Kalamazoo College was his playground."
All three boys grew up in the neighborhood and attended elementary, middle, and high school together. Ben and Jeremiah actually knew each other before that: they are companion preschool grads.
"All of the parents were pleased that all three of our sons chose a college literally in their backyard," Teresa says, then smiles: "Of course, all were relieved because all three are here on a Heyl scholarship."
The Heyl scholarship is awarded to students majoring in one of the sciences or mathematics. Jeremiah hasn't declared a major yet. He loves to draw and is passionate about kicking a soccer ball around, but he expects he will probably choose biology. Ben hasn't declared a major yet either, but he knows it won't be math. Joe has his eye on health sciences while peering over the brassy gleam of his saxophone, his compromise between the practical and the wonderfully impractical.
"My decision was between Kalamazoo College and music, someplace like Juilliard," Joe says. "Then I realized I didn't have to choose. I can take part in the New York Arts Exchange Program. Maybe do an internship in music. Health sciences is about my career. Music is my love."
"I call it the Proud Dad Alert when I listen to him play the sax," Joe's father, Eric Barth says. Between solving math formulas, Eric plays the sax, too, and his father, Joe's grandfather, a medical doctor, plays the piano. The family also includes a cellist and a singer.
Anne Dueweke is glad that her son Ben is on campus, particularly so because it's the College's pilot year of the new curriculum. Like Eric Barth, she serves as a student advisor and sees firsthand how students can shape their curriculum for a bright future. "It's a great time for Ben to be starting at 'K,' with so many great things going on," she says. "And I'm glad he'll have the flexibility of the new curriculum."
The new curriculum provides students more flexibility than ever to explore their interests and connect on and off-campus experiences while reflecting on their experiences in seminars and senior individualized projects. It will make it possible for Joe to play his sax while working on calculus, Jeremiah to play on the soccer team while studying biology, and Ben to enter his education open to the world and all it offers.
"Study abroad was definitely attractive to me in my decision to come to Kalamazoo," Ben says. He applied to other colleges and universities, too, but Kalamazoo won out with its offer of the Heyl scholarship, a study abroad program like none other, "and smaller classes for a better learning environment," he adds.
"You can make Kalamazoo College as far or as close to home as you want it to be," Joe says. "I visit Dad's office as much as I like. He's there for advice when I want it. Sometimes I don't see him for days, but then I know," Joe grins, "all the professors have their eye on me."
Eric Barth mirrors his son's grin. "Sharing the Kalamazoo College experience with my son seemed like a very natural move, a logical choice. For me, this is my dream job. For Joe, these are four years that are a crucible. I believe in the 'K' experience."
Seeing Kalamazoo College through his son's eyes, Eric says, adds a new perspective. As a professor, he sees the schedules, the grading of papers, the assignments. As a father, he notes the stresses of homework and awaiting grades, and the hopes of a father for his son's education.
"I can always go home to do laundry.""I have a new appreciation for what a student goes through," he says. "It's made me a better advisor. These are very busy students."
Teresa Denton has made a special effort to stay anonymous and out of her son's pathway on campus. "We almost never see each other except on Jeremiah's weekend visits down the block - at home," she explains. "For a relatively small campus, there is a lot of room to live your own life. When I attended parent orientation at the beginning of the academic year, I didn't identify myself as staff to other parents. I wanted the parent experience. Do I worry less about my son with his being here? I can't say it makes a difference in terms of distance. I worry less because the campus is smaller, because people here know each other, and watch out for each other."
Anne Dueweke says, "As far as having Ben go to the college where I work, it's mostly good. We don't run into each other much at all, and he seems to be making Kalamazoo College his own instead of a place where his mother works. It's nice to see him from time to time. It's convenient for him to stop by my office for whatever reason. I worry about him a bit more than my other son who goes to Beloit College because, as an academic advisor, I know what he's probably dealing with as a first-year student at 'K.' I have too much information, not about him specifically, but about the experience generally - for many students, the amount of work they have to do takes them by surprise. But I know I'll worry less as he gets established here and I get better at letting go."
The crucible of college years, it seems, is one for parents as well as students. Yet all three parents have one other thing in common by sharing a campus with their sons.
"Really, there is one great advantage," Ben says. "I can always go home to do laundry."
"Yeah," Jeremiah nods. "Although Mom makes me do the laundry myself."
"Once a week for laundry, yes," Joe says.
The advantages of a shared campus for all seem to outweigh any disadvantages. It all comes out in the wash.
Employee parents and student offspring share a "K" tie. From left: Eric Barth and son Joe, Anne Dueweke and son Ben, and Teresa Denton and son Jeremiah Duncan