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Fall 2003

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Field work

Come late summer, Colleen Barber ’04 wraps up her work in Skidmore’s psychology lab and spends a week on the other side of the campus, coaching field-hockey camp. One hot and humid afternoon, Barber stands near the artificial-turf arena, dolloping out Banana Boat SPF 30 to the teenaged campers eddying around her. They swig bottled water, then trot onto the field, whacking orange balls with short, curling sticks. Watching from the sidelines, Barber rotates her players into and out of the game so that everyone gets a turn. There’s the sharp braccck! as sticks clash, and finally the game is over.
Academic All-American Colleen Barber ’04 brings a calm intensity to both laboratory and playing field.
     “Good effort, ladies,” Barber tells the sweating girls. “Just remember, when you come up to someone on offense, be patient and get into a good defensive stance before you swing at the ball.” As the kids trudge off in the steaming heat, the coaches and assistants get up their own game. Barber plays center midfield. “As a midfielder, she won’t score herself, but she’ll set up the scoring plays,” explains Skidmore’s head field-hockey coach, Beth Hallenbeck. “Colleen is a very thoughtful player with strong stick skills; she’s never going to make an errant pass. We love the ball to go through her stick every time.” The ball does that so often in varsity play that Barber has twice been named All-American; she was also Academic All-American in 2002.
     The same calm intensity that Barber demonstrates in her stop-on-a-dime sport also distinguishes her in the classroom, where her work on the role of cognitive and social processes in memory and self-perception earned her a top psychology prize at last year’s Honors Convocation. “It’s not easy to do that as a senior, let alone a junior,” says Mary Ann Foley, professor and chair of the psychology department. Foley and her colleague-husband Hugh direct the research in which Barber assisted this summer—an experiment exploring subjects’ recognition of familiar objects from partial and incomplete pictures. An Honors Forum student, “Colleen is off the charts,” says Foley, “in terms of the questions, creativity, and insight she brings to her subject.” To make time for both hockey and academics, Barber lightens her course load each fall, during field-hockey season, and then takes extra credits in the spring semester.
     Growing up in rural Fort Ann, north of Saratoga, Barber was interested in psychology and planned to become a school counselor. It was a Skidmore volunteerism class that switched her focus from working with the young to working with the old. After a semester of community service at an assisted-living facility near campus where her grandparents live, Barber now plans graduate study in the burgeoning field of gerontics. “My grandfather has Alzheimer’s,” she says quietly, “which makes me want even more to go into this field.”
     Might Barber’s athletic discipline give her an academic advantage? Does her psych major give her some team-play edge? It’s clear, as she joins the camp coaches’ game, that some enviable synergy fuels her drive and timing. Sometimes she leads the midfield charge on goal, sometimes she stops it dead, sometimes she just stands back and watches it thunder past. When the overheated heavens suddenly unleash a torrential downpour, nobody on the field—drenched in a matter of moments—pays it any attention. In fact, as the ball speeds into her zone, Barber does just what she told her campers to do: with rain cascading off her ponytail, she takes her time, assumes her stance, and wallops the ball straight toward the goal. —BAM

 


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