At first glance, Sterling College doesn’t seem to have much in common with Sterling School, aside from location. Sterling School was an all-boys preparatory high school, whose pupils were required to go to chapel once every day and twice on Sunday, and whose sideburns were carefully monitored for length. Sterling College is a co-educational college that grants a Bachelors of Arts degree, and where the entire community gathers in a circle once a week for Community Meeting, and the style of dress can be described as “free-wheelingly practical.”
These differences, however, bely the continuity that runs through Sterling’s history, from boys’ school to Sterling Institute to the AA degree to now. No matter what, Sterling has always stood for working hands and working minds. And Sterling has always stood for “excellence in education,” says David Behrend ’60.
“No one [was] just a number on a computer sheet,” Behrend says of his time at Sterling, both at the boys’ school and then as a thirty year Board of Trustees member. “The individual attention to every student was present at the boarding school and today’s Sterling.”
Sterling College is still the nation’s smallest secular, residential liberal arts college. The entire community is on a first name basis, including the president, deans, and faculty.
Jeremy Parnick ’15 learned about Sterling College from his dad, John Parnick ’82, who is a Grassroots alum. Jeremy said that one thing they both share about their Sterling experience is “the tight, small community, how everybody works together . . . the student-teacher ratio is small so everyone has extra time with the faculty.”
The Outdoor Classroom
Parnick also cites “the hands-on, being outside” curriculum as being important to his father and himself.
The Parnicks aren’t alone in this. Students have always been focused on living with nature, and it’s always been an important part of the curriculum.
For instance, 2013 was the 48th annual Expedition, a rite of passage for all students that consists of a four day, three night winter camping trip in the woods with minimal gear.
Students from every era found a connection with their focus on the great outdoors and using nature as a classroom. Reid Bryant ’00 said in a 1997 interview, “I found I loved working with the soil and with my hands, and being outside in the natural world.”
The World of Work
Behrend says, “Sterling turns out students with academic but also productive skills, knowing where they want to go and the direction of how to get it.”
Sterling School students all had on-campus chores, including farm work. Sterling College is one of only seven federally recognized Work Colleges, where all students have to work on campus, regardless of financial aid.
Besides on-campus work, all Sterling College students have to complete at least one internship outside of Craftsbury Common.
Jeremy Parnick will be doing his internship this summer in St. Johnsbury working with foresters with the Parks and Recreation Department. His goal is to “gain as much knowledge as I can and pick their brains as much as I can,” he laughs.
Allyson Makuch ’15 was drawn to Sterling College because of its emphasis on work. “I know that at the end of four years I will walk away with a résumé full of work and life experiences that any employer would find of interest,” she says.
Another commonality across the eras was the sense of being in charge of one’s education. In a 1999 interview, Dorothy Murray ’98 said, “I’m truly owning my education. I’m not just going to a class and being force-fed some facts and reading a book, but I’m doing it. I’m figuring out what I want to learn.”
Behrend agrees. Sterling students, regardless of era, he says, share “growth, achievement, determination, and persistence.”
In the end, there appear to be more similarities than differences between the different Sterling eras.
Perhaps the lasting effect of a Sterling education is best summed up by student Egan Elston ’16:
“Sterling, you have radically changed my world view, empowered me, expanded my empathy and stoked the flames of my passion for dedicating my life to helping the earth and humanity.” •