Bennington College's Mariko Silver speaks before lawmakers


MONTPELIER -- Mariko Silver, President of Bennington College, spoke before the House and Senate Committees on Education of the Vermont General Assembly on Tuesday, and praised the role Bennington College plays in its community.

Fourth largest employer

"You may already know that Bennington College is the fourth largest employer in our county, with a total institutional economic impact of over $30 million. We bring well over 5,000 visitors to the area annually," said Silver, in a written copy of her testimony, "Beyond its economic impact, Bennington College is an intellectual and cultural resource, both for our immediate community and the state broadly. Each year the college hosts hundreds of lectures, performances, art exhibits, and other events, the vast majority of which are free and open to the public. I am pleased that we have established a new partnership with Bennington Museum on their forthcoming modernism exhibit. I see a role for the college in helping to strengthen Vermont's reputation as a cultural destination, extending the arts corridor north from the Berkshires to the Green Mountains."

Silver was appointed as the tenth president of Bennington College on July 1 of last year. She has held prominent roles at Columbia University, Arizona State University, and in the administrations of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and president Barack Obama, where she served as the acting assistant secretary for international affairs and deputy assistant secretary for international policy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In Napolitano's administration, she served as a policy advisor, and was responsible for the state's public and private universities, community colleges, and vocational institutions.

"Vermont, I must say, is a remarkable place," she said, "I am thrilled to be here, in its great beauty, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves. I do not have to tell you that Vermont is not alone in the challenges it faces in reinventing once thriving industrial towns for the 21st century. In fact, I am here to learn from you. I hope you will see a role for Bennington College, and its Center for the Advancement of Public Action especially, in helping our community and our state prepare for and weather these transitions."

Silver pointed to the work of Susan Sgorbati's "Solving the Impossible" class, which recently worked with the Village Trustees of North Bennington, Green Mountain Power, and Efficiency Vermont to assess the viability of converting the village's streetlights to L.E.D.s. After their presentation, the trustees voted to move forward with the project which is expected to cut the village's energy usage by up to one third.

Silver thanked the legislators for inviting her to speak, and presented a standing invitation for them to come visit the Bennington College campus.

Silver also praised the educational style that Bennington College employs. "By asking [students] to build, articulate, and advocate for the substance of their education, a Bennington education helps students become confident self-starters, able to thrive in a world without givens, to tolerate ambiguity, and to see clear to a solution even when a path is not laid out before them. These are valuable skills to take into the world and into the workplace."

Bennington College students are required to participate in a seven-week, off-campus winter internship, called Field Work Team, each year. "Every winter, students secure jobs or internships that allow them to delve more deeply into areas they are studying and test the application of their skills in the workplace. Students may seek fieldwork experiences anywhere in the world, and many choose to stay right here in Vermont. This past winter, for example, my daughters attended a pop-up preschool designed and run by two Bennington College students at a neighboring cultural institution, the Vermont Arts Exchange. Over the past four years, Bennington students have worked for 70 Vermont businesses and not-for-profits contributing 27,000 hours of work to the state's economy."

Silver closed her talk by saying, "I took this job because I fell in love with Bennington College, and I fell in love with Vermont. I want Vermont to continue to be a wonderful place to come; to visit, to go to college, to start a business, to live. I look forward to working with you in the years to come to secure Vermont's best future."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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