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Skidmore College

Why I bought 144 plastic ants for my Scribner Seminar

April 30, 2019
by Hillary Goldstein '20

If you’ve toured Skidmore at all, chances are you’ve heard your tour guide use the phrase “Creative Thought Matters” at least once.

You’ve probably also heard about Skidmore’s first-year Scribner Seminars. And if you’ve ever been on a tour with me, I know you’ve heard me use Scribner Seminars as an example of what Creative Thought Matters means.

Scribner Seminars aren’t “typical” first-year seminars where you sit through lectures on college basics and write papers to learn “college writing.” Instead, they are funky, cool, unique and, dare I say, creative classes inspired by each professor’s passions.

Interdisciplinary by intention, they embody Skidmore’s brand of hands-on, experiential learning. That means learning about maritime history by canoe on Saratoga Lake, analyzing sports to learn statistics and getting your first taste of cultural anthropology by listening to K-Pop.

My Scribner Seminar entry into college was through Picturing Time with Sarah Sweeney, associate professor of art. From buying 144 plastic ants to bonding with new friends and more, here’s why I absolutely loved it.

Five reasons I loved my Scribner Seminar

1. The totally one-of-a-kind topic

First-year students receive a list over the summer of more than 40 Scribner Seminars to choose from. You’ll have summer advisers to help you, but I feel it’s really about going with your gut and trying something outside of your comfort zone.

At first I was overwhelmed by the whacky course titles.

There was Human Dilemmas, Extraordinary Bodies, In the Light of Death, What to Eat?, Sailing with Captain Cook and more. Picturing Time, however, got my attention with its description:

Time is the material of artists working in photography, video and animation. But, is time moving backward or forward? Does it take the shape of a loop or an arrow? What does it mean to stop time? We will consider time as a social construct, an area of scientific discovery, a tool for structuring narrative and a medium for recording our lives.

I knew this class would make me think in ways I never have and leave me puzzled by how weird time is. (I didn’t know I’d subject my friends to an entire semester’s worth of monologues about this strange phenomenon we call time.) 

2. The assignments

In this class, we did time experiments and then created art pieces based on our findings.

We spent an hour walking up and down the famously awkward stairs by the art building to experience what one hour felt like.

We wore watches that vibrated every five minutes to feel time, whether that was experienced through seeing how fast a class was going or realizing how much time we spent procrastinating in the dining hall while talking to friends.

We used Go-Pros to explore campus, filming through the stairs of the Tang Teaching Museum or from the top of a tree to create time-lapse movies and pop-art pieces.

I even photographed ants to Photoshop them onto my friend’s face … but more on that next.

Hillary Goldstein art project

3. I had to buy 144 plastic ants

You read that right. For my seminar, I ordered 144 plastic ants on Amazon Prime just so I could photograph one. Let me explain.

We had an assignment in which we had to create a “future ritual.” This assignment entailed us thinking about rituals and customs that don’t exist now but might in the future. Our professor encouraged us to think outside of the box and get creative with our ideas.

Sitting in the library and thinking about how I wanted to be outside, I created a future ritual of eating ants. I went outside to try and find an ant to photograph, only to realize that ants were hard to find in the snow, so I went to the place all college students go when in a crunch — Amazon Prime.

Weird, I know. But it led to some of my favorite memories at Skidmore, plus I now own over 100 plastic ants (a few may have crawled off to some different dorms each semester) to sneakily leave in my friends’ rooms.

4. 4th Hour

Once a week our class would spend an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less) doing something other than class, often led by our peer mentor, an upperclassman dedicated to supporting first-year students. There’s one for each seminar.

Sometimes we hiked in North Woods. Other times we walked through the various elements of class registration and degree audits, one step at a time. We also had movie nights, carved pumpkins, made gingerbread houses, learned how to take the bus downtown and went out to dinner together.

Each 4th Hour experience helped me adjust to college life and learn about both Skidmore and the Saratoga community in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

Hillary Goldstein and a friend

5. Meeting my current housemate

Another class assignment was to go meet a stranger and photograph them 10 different times in 10 different shutter speeds, then use the footage in Photoshop to create a story or collage.

Wanting an excuse to go to a place I love while also doing my homework, I went to our on-campus pool to find my stranger. When I arrived, there was a girl swimming laps. I awkwardly explained my project of meeting a “stranger” and, thankfully, she agreed to help by swimming more laps and blowing bubble rings.

Two years later, that stranger is now my housemate!

Hillary Goldstein art project

Heading into my seminar for the first time, I was skeptical as to what we would be doing and worried that it might just be a lecture-type class with a cool title, but boy was I wrong. My seminar became a place for me to debrief with my peers about other classes and a safe place to try new things. It was a fun class that helped make the transition from high school to college so smooth because it was set up in a way that ensured I always felt welcomed. 

About the Author

Hillary Goldstein

Hillary Goldstein is from Colchester, Connecticut, and studied education and health and human physiological sciences at Skidmore. When she's not baking heaps of Challah for charity, she's changing young lives as a school teacher.