Potthoff '14 Pursues Multiple Passions On, Off Knox Campus

Among them: Athletics, sustainability, world travel, independent study

March 29, 2012

Max Potthoff in Chinaby Stephen Danilovich '14

When Max Potthoff isn't studying in the library or riding his bike through Galesburg, he works on making the Knox College campus a more sustainable place.

A sophomore from Western Springs, Illinois, Potthoff is pursuing an environmental studies major. As Sustainability Chair of the Student Senate Sustainability Committee, he is collaborating with others on various projects, including launching a bike-sharing program on campus.

His position on the committee, Potthoff explained, "complements my major. I get to participate in the things I'm studying about in school."

A bicycling enthusiast and Prairie Fire cross country runner, Potthoff is glad that Knox provides outlets for his athleticism and love for the outdoors. Max Potthoff

"I've done it (cross country) for a really long time, and I was the captain of my high school team," Potthoff said. "I thought that was going to be the peak of my athletic career, but I've found that I've enjoyed cross country immensely here."

Kemper Scholar

In 2011, Potthoff was selected for the prestigious Kemper Scholars program, which prepares students for leadership and service, especially in the fields of administration and business. The program provides scholarships, opportunities for career exploration, and practical experience.

"With all of the opportunities that Knox has provided, that is one that I'm still floored by," he said.

Potthoff attended the annual Kemper Scholars conference last summer, and he is preparing now for the first of two internships through the Kemper program. This summer, he will work in the educational outreach department of The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

"Specifically, I'm helping with a lending program that provides biological specimens and cultural artifacts to teachers for use in their classrooms," Potthoff explained.

His job will be to help the lending program operate in an efficient, well-organized manner by conducting market analysis and "benchmarking," or comparing the organization's existing business methods to the best practices in the industry. The internship will draw heavily on what Potthoff has learned at Knox.

"I've taken two classes from Professor (Steve) Cohn in the Economics Department," he said. "That is a subject that I knew nothing about before coming to this school, and he did a really good job of introducing it so it was digestible, expanding on those basics, and making productive conversations. He pushes you to think about the context of a lot of things."

Teaching, Studying in China

Potthoff said he also appreciates the diversity of Knox students, and he has made friends from different parts of the world. Last summer, one of those friends -- Weizhi Feng of China -- invited him to teach at a language school in Xi'an, China. (Photo at top of page: Max Potthoff with schoolchildren. Below left: Weizhi Feng and Max Potthoff in China.)

"Obviously, I wanted to jump at that opportunity because I didn't have a summer job, and going to China for one is incredible," he said.

Max Potthoff and Weizhi Feng in China"China After Mao," a course at Knox taught by Distinguished Research Affiliates in Anthropology Rubie and James Watson, sparked Potthoff's interest in the country.

"As I began to learn more, it was clear how (the field of) environmental studies is particularly relevant to China's recent developments in the past couple of decades," he said. Teaching youngsters at a school in China provided "a really direct way to study how they were being educated on their country and their environmental challenges, and seeing how they thought about those issues in general."

With support from a Richter Scholarship, Potthoff conducted an independent study project that explored how the schoolchildren are being taught to approach environmental concerns.

While at the Foreign Language Education Center, Potthoff asked the students hypothetical questions, based on actual environmental issues in China. In a paper for his independent study, Potthoff described his goals and how he achieved them.

"That was easy for me, because it was direct. I got to not only ask the kids questions, but also went out on excursions to the mountains right outside of Xi'an to see the environment there, how it's a different dynamic and ecosystem," he said.

"It was the most rewarding thing for me, seeing that in person."