Alumnus Makes Community Involvement
a Priority

Chris Hantman '14 

Through his work with the College and in his personal life, Chris Hantman '14 has long made a practice of being involved in the community in which he lives. Last summer, he took his dedication to that effort to the next level by becoming a "community action leader for North Adams."

Hantman, who is MCLA's community engagement coordinator, accomplished this by completing Northern Berkshire County Coalition's Outreach Education training, sponsored by the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO). The program – run and attended by a number of MCLA alumni – requires a commitment to fulfill work training for six months, as well as 16 three-hour classes.

"Attending this training was the perfect fit to develop myself as productive citizen in my new home of North Adams, as well as my role as the community engagement coordinator," Hantman said. "I wanted to learn more about the community, and be able to better connect the wonderful people of Northern Berkshires to the countless and under-utilized resources." 

Hantman didn't waste any time in converting theory to practice as he some fellow trainees addressed area job and career readiness by organizing a fundraiser to support Employ North Berkshire. "We came up with the Rockin' Raffle Waffle Bar, featuring Flannel Dan and the Panhandle Band. This local rock group – also comprised of MCLA alumni who donated their time – provided an upbeat atmosphere for folks to enjoy delicious waffles and bid on various prizes from around town," he explained.

In addition, the training introduced Hantman to a number of new agencies he hopes to work with or support in the future, either personally or professionally. "It also gave me the opportunity to learn more about resources and groups that I already knew about, but learning more about what they do and how they do it gave me a new-found appreciation for so much of the work they do," he explained.

Other participants included young alumni from both MCLA and nearby Williams College, as well as local residents from a variety of walks of life.

"This really helped me to learn more about the community from others' perspectives, which was a great refresher as someone who had only seen it through my MCLA lens as a student, and then as a staff member," Hantman said.

Some of the highlights of the intensive experience included the opportunity to meet with new agencies and change-makers in the community, and to learn their stories. "The ability to pick the brain of so many local leaders of different styles was a great learning experience," he said. "Whatever I do, I will do so more consciously. This program taught me how to better map my resources and work with a wide range of individuals to make a project come together."

Because of this work, Dilthey, who double majored in English and environmental studies at MCLA, recently won the 2016 New England Outdoor Writing Association's Award.
"I write about things that mean a lot to me, and I think anyone can connect with someone's experience if the story they're telling is meaningful and honest," Dilthey said.
"I think it's great that a lot of my work resonates with people. I especially love the community on my site, where I have regular readers who comment and tell me what they think about my articles. That feedback really makes me want to write more and more," he added.
Dilthey originally planned to major in art. He switched to English after a positive experience in a writing course. Then, during his sophomore year, he became "hooked" on biology after taking a course to fulfill a science prerequisite, and ended up adding the environmental studies major soon after.
"I don't think I'd have picked either of these majors if I wasn't inspired by the courses and professors at MCLA," Dilthey said.
Now a graduate student in the Sustainability Science program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he is completing his master's degree and beginning work on his Ph.D., Dilthey's many activities include working with a team of Ph.D. students and faculty to co-author a paper on adaptation and mitigation for climate change resilience in coastal environments.
Dilthey also teaches his own class," Sustainable Living: Solutions for the 21st Century," a four-credit course for first-year UMass students.
In addition, he's working with the Residential Academic Programs Office to develop new connections for first-year students and programming partners across the University of Massachusetts system as they create a general education course on life at college.
"I push the benefits and importance of a diverse, rich, and multifaceted education to my students any chance I get, using my time at MCLA as an example of the power of interdisciplinary learning. I am immensely proud of our school, and I am lucky to have started there. I would not be here without MCLA," he said.
In fact, Dilthey finds himself spending a good deal of time telling students about the benefits of his experiences at MCLA, such as how they can find opportunities in clubs and the value of  learning from a diverse selection of classes.
Dilthey, whose writing also is featured in Adventure Cycling and Bikepackers magazines, discovered his love for camping, hiking and backpacking during his senior year through the MCLA Outdoors Club. There, he learned everything he needed to know to eventually lead trips himself. The experience, he said, was "transformative."
At UMass, Dilthey said he has one of the strongest backgrounds in environmental law among others in his department. "MCLA taught me that the courses outside of your major or focus can sometimes be the most valuable to your career. 
He recommends MCLA – and the English and environmental sciences programs, in particular – to prospective students.
"Both of these degrees are absolutely as rigorous and comprehensive as degrees from other colleges, and I have never once felt underprepared for my career and graduate school. I know a lot of my peers that graduated with me would say the same thing," Dilthey said. "Our entire group is doing amazing things, and we're all still connected because of the sense of community we had at MCLA."

Copyright 2015 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts