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Knox Magazine

Fall 2022


The Inauguration of C. Andrew McGadney

Twentieth President of Knox College

Knox College celebrated the inauguration of C. Andrew McGadney as the 20th president of Knox College on May 6, 2022. Hundreds of alumni, trustees, delegates from other higher education institutions, family and friends, and members of the community gathered at the Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg to mark the historic moment for the College.

Honorary degrees were presented to Sarah Jane Ahmed ’12, a financial and environmental strategist, David A. Greene, president of Colby College, and poet Haki Madhubuti. Knox awarded doctor of humane letters degrees to Ahmed and Greene, and a doctor of literature to Madhubuti.

View Inauguration photos and full story here.

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Knox Magazine

Fall 2022


Learning to Live on the Land

Green Oaks Term Celebrates 20 Years of Immersion Living on the Land

Thomas Cook ’05

Imagining the prairie landscape that greeted the early settlers of Galesburg and the surrounding communities is difficult for today’s students. The cityscape, while small, is largely concrete with green spaces dotted throughout. The surrounding farms are mainly large agricultural businesses where rows of corn and soybeans outnumber native plants. Drawing in part on the success of the College’s Farm Term, Knox professors created the Green Oaks Term in 2002, the second in a line of rural Midwest experiences that have connected Knox students to the land. The term provides a glimpse back at the prairies while giving students the opportunity to learn not only about the land, but also ways to live in it, communally and sustainably, all the while learning about nature, art, literature, and history.

Green Oaks Terms
Cadence Eischens ’24 and Kevin Cox ’23 work on art projects during the 2022 Green Oaks Term. Photo by Carla Wehmeyer

This year, Knox commemorates the 20th anniversary of the immersive and interdisciplinary trimester spent living, working, and studying on 704 acres, including an area that was formerly strip mined. Biology professors Paul Shepard and George Ward began converting farmland owned by the College to a native prairie in 1955, and the College obtained an adjacent portion of land that had been owned by Alvah Green, an 1890 alumnus and trustee, through his estate in 1958, creating the area now known as Green Oaks.

Peter Schramm, professor of biology, continued the work started by Shepard and Ward and instituted the annual burns in 1965. Today, the prairie burn is a seminal event that is the celebratory and symbolic center of the student experience for those who take part in the Green Oaks Term.

“Prairie ecosystems, like grasslands all around the world, are firedependent ecosystems in which all species—plants, animals, and fungi—are adapted to frequent fires,” explained Stuart Allison, current director of Green Oaks Biological Field Station and Watson Bartlett Professor of Biology and Conservation. “Many of those species depend on fires creating conditions that favor their survival. For the last four or five thousand years, the climate in Illinois has been suitable for the establishment of forests. The fact that prairies exist here is the result of those fires—which for hundreds of years were set by Native Americans as part of their eco-cultural practices and now are set by us.”

Allison has been taking part in the term since its inception. He arrived at Knox in 1997 and has been the director of the Biological Field Station since 1999, three years before the Green Oaks term began. Green Oaks is 20 miles east of the college campus and hosts a number of facilities, including Schurr Hall, a classroom, laboratory, and dormitory, as well as a cabin for the faculty directing the term, the caretaker’s home, and a barn that students, who are known as Oakies, use for projects. Allison is the last remaining original member of the 2002 group that founded the term—Jon Wagner, professor of anthropology, retired in 2015, and Robin Metz, Philip Sidney Post Professor of English, passed away in 2018.

During the first year of term, Wagner lived in the cabin for all 10 weeks of the experience, and Tony Gant, associate professor of art, and Allison have also done so. Usually, the professors involved rotate through their time in residence at Green Oaks, typically swapping out every two weeks, as spending 10 weeks with, in this current year, 13 Knox students as the sole faculty member, can be—well—

Prairie Burn
Stuart Allison, Watson Bartlett Professor of Biology and Conservation and director of the Green Oaks Biological Field Station, explains the process for the prairie burn to students in the spring of 2022. Photo by Carla Wehmeyer

The curriculum of the Green Oaks term has been relatively unchanged since its inception. Wagner’s original Deep Maps of Place course, a sociological tracing on the people and histories of the land, has been taken on and adapted by Katie Adelsberger, professor and chair of environmental studies. Metz’s course in the arts and imagination has been adapted by Gant to focus on visual art, and Allison continues to teach a course that helps students connect to landscape ecosystems of the Midwest, and demonstrate how the region has been shaped and changed by natural processes and human intervention. Jim Mountjoy, associate professor of biology, teaches the natural history course in years when Allison is not involved with the program. Allison explained that the College does a lot to embrace its place-based environmental origins, but it could do more.

“The College as an institution has a great deal of pride in its location in the rural Midwest and the way the landscape and people of the area have helped form it. We embrace our location in programs like Farm Term, the Great River Seminar, and Green Oaks Term. But we need to do more to transform our reflection on the local to a pathway to considering how Knox and its students can engage with the entire world.”

Knox’s effort to replant the native prairie in the 1950s was an important step in regenerating a natural landscape that had been disrupted by the previous 130 years of European settlement and industrialization. Early research into prairie restoration processes was begun at the University of Wisconsin at Madison arboretum in the 1930s. At Green Oaks, Shepard’s work was aligned with the spirit of the work at that time, which aimed to restore the prairie to an estimation of how it was before white settlement. Allison recalls hearing stories of that early effort, which was largely Shepard and students walking the land and scattering seeds. Since that time, the focus to maintain that original composition has served a vital purpose for student research in biology, environmental studies, sociology, history, and the arts. “We’re trying to restore to a target from the past,” Allison said, “but the rapidity of climate change means we have to adapt. We may have to ask, do we need to plant other species here that are likely to flourish in the changed environment?”

The species of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that thrived in Midwestern prairie ecosystems would have necessarily adapted to their changing environment as years went on, Allison said. Thus, he believes, the work ahead of the students and professors at Green Oaks is twofold. First, 70 years of diligent restoration and rebirth, culminating in the annual burn, is an achievement and activity worth continuing in the future. At the same time, there is a dimension of the process that is artificial and does not account for all the variables involved in warmer summers and shorter, wetter winters, the tangible effects of our changing planet. Fortunately, these new efforts square with aspects of the College’s mission, specifically to provide immersive experiences for students and close student-faculty interaction.

This does not mean that study at Green Oaks is focused on this particular landscape to the exclusion of others. In fact both Allison and Adelsberger bring their previous research, on marine and desert ecosystems, respectively, to bear on their work at Green Oaks. In turn, students get the opportunity to see how their work in the field can extend to the different landscapes and different disciplines entirely. Mountjoy with his research on avian life, brings another dimension to the Green Oaks experience. This diverse set of faculty interests is reflected in the students who participate in the term. Graduates of the Green Oaks Term have gone on to pursue careers in public health in India, and in sustainability in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as taken roles as educators, biologists, and environmental scientists. In June, a reunion brought together 40 Oakies, along with friends and family to share and reminisce.

In this close and collaborative environment, the experience can best be summarized by the additional “course” in which all students are enrolled. This is a half-credit course called the Dynamics of Intentional Living, which sounds abstract but is the most tangible of experiences. It allows students to plan, reflect on, and organize their lives in the Green Oaks community, from the basics of who cooks and cleans, to their intentions for their time in the term as well as beyond the term. Essentially, this course is about engaging in a community and the natural world as a citizen, with a focus on the collective good.

What alumni had to say about Green Oaks Term:

“The Green Oaks program, student participants, and all the professors involved played such a pivotal role in my educational and personal development. I would not be in my current career field if it were not for the conversations and experiences I had in the classroom, on the prairie, and around the campfire at Green Oaks. In particular, Jim Mountjoy sparked my passion for birding during a crazy roadside dash to chase a displaying male American woodcock, and Stuart Allison helped foster my interest in conservation biology and applied science through field labs and lessons at Green Oaks.”

Alicia Young Herrera ’03, who currently works as a Rangeland Watershed Initiative Partnership Biologist in California

“The memories that sit in my mind from Green Oaks Term were not from our big trips or classes or adventures, but things like chatting over tea with some Oakies and heading down to make myself a late-night snack. One night, I came down to find another Oakie from my cooking team marinating some chicken for the next night’s dinner. I was struck in that moment with a really profound sense of place and home. The quaintness of our living situation, the joy of sharing that space, and the act of preparing dinner for all our family a whole day before, all while just sharing stories about our lives before entering into this space was, for whatever reason, very impactful and sweet in my mind.”

Finnegan Hautau ’25

“I did Green Oaks Term during my junior year. I had to make a choice between doing it right away during my freshman year or not. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Living on the prairie in a converted barn with people was such a great experience. It gave me a chance to live in nature: nice, simple communal living.”

Zarir DeVitre ’07, a freelance sustainability generalist in Mumbai, India

“Green Oaks gave me a much deeper appreciation for rural Illinois and prairie ecosystems that I have kept and shared with my students, friends, and loved ones. My time at Green Oaks helped me connect better with the idea of developing a sense of place in a location. In retrospect, the freedom we were given to explore our interests (and develop new ones) during the Green Oaks term was very valuable to me and helped set me up for success in subsequent endeavors as a student, Peace Corps volunteer, and advocate for both environmental and social causes. In 2020 I worked as a visiting professor for a study away program based in Oregon. I think the time that I spent during the Green Oaks Term helped make me better contribute to that program as a professor and community member.”

Megan Butler ’08, educator

“Returning to Green Oaks has always felt like coming home. Every time I am there I am flooded with memories of walking the land, of painting landscapes and making sculptures, of connecting with people and nature. Coming back for the 20th anniversary with my 7-year-old daughter Maggie was very special. I was so proud to see her hiking the Shortcut Trail, swimming in the lake, exploring Tony Gant’s massive art installation, square dancing in the barn, and having a singalong with the recent Oakies around the campfire. I was thrilled to teach her about Leopold benches, and I saw a cerulean warbler!”

Meg Huizenga Jedrey ’05, educator

“My boyfriend and I drove a total of 2,500 miles from Albuquerque, N.M., for the reunion. It was incredibly meaningful to return and introduce my boyfriend to such an important place and group of people. The best part was how much it felt like coming home and how easy it was to fall back into an easy community with the other Oakies, not only the Oakies from my term (although it was nice to know I could still rely on Nick Liberko for extra camping gear), but also Oakies from other terms—older Oakies, newer Oakies, even the current Oakies!”

Emily Roberts ’16, library and information professional

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Knox Magazine

Fall 2022


No Limits: How a Knox liberal arts education prepared alumni for sports-world careers

Brynna Barnhart Blodgett ’03
Photo submitted

Brynna Barnhart Blodgett ’03, NCAA managing director of enforcement

At Knox, Brynna Barnhart Blodgett learned how to think analytically and write clearly in all her of liberal arts classes, especially those taught by political science faculty Lane Sunderland, now the Chancie Ferris Booth Professor Emeritus, and Louisa Sue Hulett, now the Henke Distinguished Professor Emerita.

“I learned to interact and have vigorous discussions with a variety of people who are different from me, have a different viewpoint, or are in a different position of power,” said Blodgett, who later earned a law degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale after earning her B.A. in political science.

These skills have served her well during her 14-year career in enforcement with the NCAA, where she has conducted and overseen high-profile investigations involving rules violations in both men’s and women’s college sports.

“When I was an investigator, I could start the day interviewing a high school prospect and parents and later in the same day sit down with a university president for discussions,” she said. “My Knox experience helps me connect and communicate with people on issues that can be contentious.”

A four-year starter on the Prairie Fire women’s softball and basketball teams, Blodgett said playing sports also influenced her personally and professionally.

“I learned how to balance my time, collaborate, and communicate with other people toward a common goal, and figure out my role on a team … while helping the team succeed,” she said. “Being a student-athlete got my foot in the door with the NCAA, and my sports experience helps me relate to the student-athletes we serve now.” Blodgett recalls nearly accepting an offer to study journalism at a different Division III school but settled on Knox, in part, because of the actions of legendary Athletics Director Harley Knosher.

As point guard for her high school team, she was accustomed to making assists rather than racking up big scoring numbers. One night at Galesburg High School, though, she was draining baskets in the first half. Unknown to her, Knosher was listening to the game on his car radio as he drove out of town on a trip.

When she got home from the game, there was a message on the family answering machine from Knosher saying how proud he was of her for such a stellar first half.

“That human connection—you don’t get that everywhere” she said. “He personified Knox College to me. He is an amazing human, teacher, and leader; one of my all-time favorite people.”  

Ilir Emini ’16
Photo submitted

Ilir Emini ’16, Houston Texans defensive assistant/nickels coach

The Knox personal connection played a role in the meteoric rise of Ilir Emini’s career. As he was finishing up his B.A. degree in elementary education, Emini knew he would pursue a career in teaching, but the question was whether his pupils would be gradeschool children or college athletes.

“I was weighing my options and right before graduating, I decided to go the college football route,” said Emini, a Prairie Fire wide receiver who holds the team’s single-season record for receptions (88). “I was offered a coaching job at Wofford College in South Carolina based on former Knox Coach Damon Tomeo’s recommendation.”

Perhaps more importantly, Emini said, Tomeo instilled in his players the skills they needed to be successful in their careers on and off the field. “He taught us to treat every day like it is an interview,” said Emini. “If I didn’t live this way while I was at Knox, I doubt coach would have recommended me for the Wofford job.”

After three years as an assistant coach at Wofford, Emini landed an assistant coach job at the University of Illinois under Coach Lovie Smith. Several years later, after Smith was named defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans, he invited his young protégé to make the leap into NFL coaching.

“I learned so much from Coach Smith throughout our years together at Illinois and will never forget his call asking me to head down to Houston with him to help build a strong defense for the Texans,” Emini said.

Emini is entering his second season as an assistant defensive/nickels coach in Houston, where he teaches defensive schemes and strategies to specialized position players called nickels—defensive backs who come on the field in place of linebackers when an offense has three or more receivers on the field.

Using individualized learning techniques that he studied in courses that he took from Department of Education faculty members Joel and Diane Estes, Emini tailors his instruction to each athlete’s learning style—visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. For example, he’ll do more on-field instruction and demonstration with a kinesthetic learner, while he’ll watch more game films with a visual learner.

“My background in education helps me to really understand how my players learn, what motivates them, and how we can help them achieve success on and off the field,” said Emini. “Overall, I’ve been able to turn a passion into a career rooted in both education and athletics. It ended up becoming a dream come true.”

Sara Burton ’91
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Sara Burton ’91, University of Illinois executive senior associate director of athletics, sports administration/senior woman administrator

As the highest-ranking woman executive in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s athletic department, Sara Burton oversees the sport administration team, is the sports administrator for the softball, gymnastics, and women’s basketball teams, and chairs the Illini Way steering committee, which focuses on the cultural health of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at Illinois.

“It’s really critical for us to protect what is at the heart of our organization, which is our student athletes,” said Burton, a four-year starter for the Prairie Fire women’s soccer team with a B.A. in anthropology-sociology. “Every decision we make impacts their experience, so we want our people to have a championship mindset and complete integrity.”

Burton assists in leading a staff of more than 300 people, including student interns, veteran administrators, administrative staff, and a variety of coaches—some of whom earn millions of dollars per year for high-profile sports like men’s basketball and football. She works hard to instill a culture of trust, respect, and belonging throughout all athletics.

According to Burton, the knowledge she gained from a broad selection of courses at Knox prepared her well for the Illinois position.

“The generalist piece of my education is an important facet with administration,” she said. “I have a broader view of the big picture and I have familiarity with many aspects of our operation.”

For example, Burton took a course on women, race, and power from MaryAnne Borelli, former assistant professor of political science. She later helped Borelli further develop the course as an undergraduate research assistant.

“That was a phenomenal opportunity to take on a leadership role in an academic space with a brilliant faculty member,” she said. “I learned about power dynamics in relationships and leadership.”

Playing for Coach Amy Reifert while she led the Prairie Fire soccer team also positively influenced Burton.

“She taught us how to compete, what leadership looks like in critical moments, and how to work through adversity,” said Burton, who launched her professional career as an assistant soccer coach for Reifert at the University of Chicago after graduating from Knox.

“Playing soccer was the key that opened the door for me for a professional career in athletics,” Burton said. “I was fortunate to get that call and be willing to take that risk.”

Burton’s coaching career spanned more than 20 years, primarily at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse before she transitioned to administration.

Jake Ayers ’06
Photo submitted

Jake Ayers ’06, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) director of athletic facilities and sports operations

A first-generation college student, Jake Ayers didn’t know much about Knox College when he committed to playing baseball for Coach Jami Isaacson even though he grew up in a small town only 40 miles southeast of Galesburg.

“On my first recruiting trip to campus, I walked into Seymour Library’s Red Room and that ignited the inner history nerd in me,” he recalled. “It felt familiar, and I felt like Knox was a place where I could be successful. I would not be where I’m at now if I hadn’t gone to Knox and taken that leap.”

Today, Ayers is the director of athletic facilities and sports operations at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) Colleges, a consortium of D-III schools about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. He manages the athletic facilities and game day operations for all 21 of the schools’ sporting teams, works to attract NCAA championship events, oversees NCAA championship tournaments on campus, and collaborates with CMS capital planning officials on the development of a new $140 million athletics complex.

He attributes his success, in part, to his Knox liberal arts education. He specifically recalls taking the History of Sports in America from Matthew Raffety, former visiting assistant professor of history. That class helped him realize for the first time that it was viable to pursue sports as a profession.

“In the classroom, I learned how to be flexible and adaptable. On the field, I learned how to lead and how to follow.”

Jake Ayers ’06

A multi-sport athlete, Ayers started as catcher on the Prairie Fire baseball team all four years and even saw some action as quarterback for the football team. He earned the baseball team’s most valuable player award his senior year.

“In the classroom, I learned how to be flexible and adaptable,” said Ayers, who majored in social science education. “On the field, I learned how to lead and how to follow.”

After Knox, Ayers played a season in the Israel Baseball League in Tel Aviv, catching for the league champion Bet Shemesh Blue Sox team. He also played two seasons for an independent baseball team in Lincoln, Nebraska, before transitioning into coaching and collegiate athletic administration.

Attributes learned at Knox help him navigate the collegiate administration waters each day.

“My athletic director says that my staff and I are more interested in getting things right than being right,” said Ayers, who is overseeing CMS volleyball facility upgrades in preparation for hosting the D III national championships in 2023. “In my job I need to know a little bit about every sport and be able to adapt, learn, and figure things out quickly, which my Knox education provided.”

Raleigh DeRose ’14
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Raleigh DeRose ’14, Brown University associate head soccer coach for player development

Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, Raleigh DeRose had always envisioned herself playing soccer in college at a school on one of the coasts. However, when she visited Knox on a blue-chip weekend, staying with the players, touring campus, and speaking with the coaching staff, she began to change her mind.

“The players were very welcoming and took a lot of pride in the school and soccer program,” she said. “Their overall love and pride for Knox was contagious. I knew being in the Knox learning environment would be exponential for my growth and who I wanted to become.”

An American studies major, DeRose recalls being particularly influenced by three Knox faculty because of their passion for teaching and their expertise in their subject matter.

“Lane Sunderland in political science, Catherine Denial in American history, and James Thrall in religious studies loved what they did and communicated well, which was inspiring to me,” said DeRose, the associate head soccer coach for player development at Brown University. “As a soccer coach, I’ve tried to copy their passion for learning and positivity.”

Outside of the classroom, DeRose had surgery following her freshman soccer season to repair chronic knee pain and cartilage damage from a high school injury. While she healed and rehabbed for 18 months, she channeled her energy into the Knox Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), participating in service projects and athletic engagement activities.

“I loved my team and took a lot of pride in … being a student-athlete, so I did not want my injury to sideline me from being involved in the athletic community,” said DeRose, who continued to participate in SAAC after returning to the pitch for her junior and senior years. “I learned to balance so many things as a student-athlete, and that has helped me in my coaching career. I’m grateful for the experiences and platforms I had to hone leadership skills, which has prepared me for my job now.”

As the associate head soccer coach for player development at Brown University, she performs a variety of duties that include helping with on-field coaching, enhancing players’ skills and overall fitness, organizing prospective students’ visits and summer camps, and recruiting at tournaments and showcases.

“I teach our athletes that life doesn’t stop because you’re having a bad day,” she said. “You have to push, walk, or exist through. Knox helped me not just exist through [my injury], but I was able to thrive.”