Gigi Giles beckons her students’ waning attention to the projector screen, although their three hour evening lab is nearly over. She plays a video of the Falcon 9 booster crash landing on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The 14-story spacecraft bursts into flames as it hits the barge, just after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. Her enthusiasm suggests a burning fire of equal proportion.
“I don’t usually say this to my biology students, but astronomy is what I’m all about,” she said.
Giles began working at Sierra Nevada College as a science labs manager in 2013, and is now teaching Environmental Systems, Introductory Astronomy, and two biology lab courses. In addition to her work at the college, she is finishing a masters in astronomy. It’s an achievement, one might say, that has been on her horizon from birth.
“I’m from Houston, Texas, and I grew up during the Space Age,” she said. “Starting in the second grade, schools take the kids on their first field trip to the Johnson Space Center. We got to see the Apollo capsules and Saturn V rocket. The tours continued all the way into college for science majors. Then we got to see the neutral buoyancy lab that the astronauts train in, in their full suits. I’ve always loved it.”
Despite the countless hours she spent in her backyard pouring over star charts, Giles was not optimistic about opportunities in the field of astronomy. She double majored in chemistry and biology at a small private college in Houston. But it seems no matter where she ventured, the vast expanse was always on her mind.
“When I met my future husband, I moved to Hawaii, where he was. I was the director of astronomy at the Hyatt in Maui, and I led three star tours per night on their rooftop with a big telescope,” she said. “The skies are beautiful in Hawaii.”
After honeymooning in Tahoe, Giles and her husband made Incline Village their permanent home, where she continued to find jobs that fulfilled her passion. She led star gazing programs at the Hyatt in Incline Village and Squaw Valley. Although neither programs are currently available, Giles remains active in the field.
“I am a member of the Astronomical Society of Nevada, which meets in Reno,” Giles said. “It’s a nice group of amateur astronomers who want to get out with their telescopes with a gang of people. The club also does events for schools, and I do my own fair share of events by myself for national and state parks.”
Her most recent achievement comes at a critical time, as she takes on growing responsibilities at the college and prepares for two masters projects through Swinburne University in the upcoming month. She has been appointed the Reno Solar System Ambassador for NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Becoming a representative of NASA is a great honor for Giles.
“I’m a super fan of NASA, so it’s really exciting. It’ll be much like what I already do, which is provide opportunities for the community to understand outer space and what NASA is doing. I get a lot of really cool training,” she said. “Right now I have the opportunity to listen and talk with the mission specialists of New Horizons, which is going to be arriving at Pluto soon.”
Giles is a strong believer that space science is as essential as many other topics taught in school, and she finds it disappointing that primary and secondary education frequently overlook it. With the field growing, she anticipates many opportunities for new students in the future. Her hope is to integrate a real astronomy program into the science department at SNC. The curriculum might include classes like astrobiology, planetary science, and observational astronomy.
“I would like to build up the astronomy program. The school has had some great astronomy instructors, but as far as I know just one class, the introductory elective,” said Giles. “It’s great for an intro course, because it’s a really cool science, but there is so much in astronomy. The field is just bursting.”
The lab course, Giles warns, would be highly dependent on the weather. But on clear nights, the class could use a telescope to study planets, satellites, asteroids, nearby galaxies and supernovae, just to name a few.
Giles’ eyes widen while discussing some of the greatest objects she’s viewed through a telescope. She breathlessly describes the Omega Centauri, a globular cluster packed with ten million stars, and the whirlpool galaxy, a classic spiral with a central bulge and winding arms. When asked to pick a favorite astronomical sight, she pauses and sighs, “Oh, that’s a question I’m going to have to think about.”
GIGI GILES teaches Environmental Systems, Introductory Astronomy, and two biology lab courses.
As students pour into the less than 200 square foot mailroom eager to pick up their packages, they all but pile up on top of each other mimicking the box-like formation under them.
“It’s like Christmas morning except I don’t get to open any of the presents!” says Jim Markle, Director of the Mailroom. He watches a student pick up a box and shake it, and shouts “No! That’s my job!”
Jim Markle is known by the students as the mailroom guy. But what they don’t know is that Markle also has a career as an environmental photographer, he’s spent time as a college instructor, he’s worked as a House Coordinator for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare festival in the summer and he’s an avid outdoorsman. Since he started working at Sierra Nevada College last winter, he’s posed several solutions to make the mailroom services more efficient.
“I’ve always been service oriented. Maybe it goes back to when I was a college professor. My goal was to help students get through their program and make the best of what they had. It’s a teacher mentality sort of thing, to provide a service that somebody can benefit from. I don’t make a killing doing this, but my wife is here!” Markle said.
Born and raised in West Virginia in the Northern tip of the Shenandoah Valley, Markle received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. Right out of school he spent several years in the military before enrolling at Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois. There he received his Master of Arts in Communication, majoring in journalism.
“I realized that to make it as a designer, it was important to learn how to write for clients, using that knowledge to leverage the design aspect,” Markle explains
He worked for six years as an advertising manager in publishing as well as teaching courses in advertising and graphic design at College of DuPage outside Chicago. That’s when he decided to start his own advertising design business.
Markle and his wife, Betts, moved to Incline Village in 2007 when she became the Library Director at SNC. For a couple of years he taught at Lake Tahoe Community College located in South Lake Tahoe, California. Not completely enthralled, Jim immediately began working as a volunteer with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) where he also worked as a photographer and script writer on the award winning 3D presentation “Lake Tahoe in Depth.” In addition, he also produced a time-lapse video documenting a wetland restoration near Tahoe City, California. He’s been working with TERC for the past seven years, as well as volunteering for organizations such as Project Mana, and The Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
For 22 years, Illinois was home for Markle and his family. With new job offers in Atlanta, the couple moved south and Jim began teaching at Bauder College as a graphic design instructor. He taught classes in advertising, art history, computer graphics, and photography. As a photographer, he also worked on assignments for Conde Nast Publications covering events in and around Atlanta.
It wasn’t until just last year that Markle began working for Sodexo at Sierra Nevada College.
“The reason I ended up in the mailroom…the person working here needed help. I agreed to work ten hours a week, which has since turned into about 30 hours a week. So you could say I stumbled into it,“ Markle said.
Brian Schultes, director of facilities for Sodexo, explains that “The mailroom volume is increasing, so we’re running on a six day operation and going to the post office on Saturdays now…Thanks to Jim, he has really systematized how packages are received, processed, and distributed, and that makes the world of difference. It’s not an easy job, but he does a great job managing to keep students faculty and staff happy..Sometimes he’ll send me an email saying, ‘mailroom disaster!’ And I will come down and help him sort on the busy days and do pickups, because he’s just got so much to do.”
Markle began doing research in the fall term of this year by contacting a handful of small colleges to see how they ran their mailing operations. From there, he drafted some policies and procedures that have not yet been accepted, but are in the works for future changes.
“Now that we are a bookstore and everyone has discovered online shopping, we have four times the mail we had prior to the 2014 fall semester. I get the frustration that comes from the students because there is a limit to the hours of operation. I am here from 9a.m.-3p.m., but I’m also not here since there is more to this job than sitting in the mailroom. Most people are appreciative, and some people, I understand, are frustrated but I’m only one person,” Markle said.
Markle laid out several possible solutions. First, is the option to lease mailboxes that include bins for larger packages. They could be installed in the hallway for students to access with a punch code at any time the building is open.
Second, is a postage machine. This could be a station for stamps, weighing items, packaging items, etc. This would speed up the transactions and the packaging process with charges made to a credit card.
Third, is creating more space. The ideal would be to claim Room 216 next door, which was the original plan. The single set of double doors would be far more convenient for shipping and receiving, and far less disruptive for classes.
Fourth, utilizing students for work-study jobs. Markle has had numerous students ask to work in the mailroom, but he and Brian can’t say yes until the college supports the idea. Utilizing student help to service a new “mailroom window” would be helpful in preventing people from taking packages that do not belong to them.
“I know for a fact that students come in here when its crazy busy and grab stuff to take out, probably for a roommate, but I’ve also had students come to me looking for packages they never received,“ Markle said.
Last but not least, the software. Endorsed by the post office, it’s embarrassingly cheap, being only $99 dollars per month to serve a campus of up to 1,000 students. With a purchase of a $35 dollar scanner, boxes come in, they are scanned by barcode, and the student would automatically be notified by email.
Lizzie Thibodeau, Director of Student Affairs and Housing, explains that, “We get mail here from students that have been gone for ten years. We have to come up with a better solution. A lot of past students haven’t taken care of their accounts, so we get a lot of mail that is return to sender, and sorting through that is difficult.”
There are ways to improve this system. The question is then when will the school, contracted under Sodexo, be willing to implement these new actions?
“I think the first thing that I’m looking at is making the mailroom manager a full time position, and the second thing I’m looking to do is to bring in student help for at least 10 hours a week. I think those two things in and of themselves will give Jim some breathing room,“ Schultes said.
Markle feels that it won’t be until the new budget year until anything is changed, but that he will have his proposal ready. Until then, Jim Markle, you’ve got mail!
JIM MARKLE, an avid photographer, has occupied a vast number of different jobs at and around the
college since moving to Incline Village in 2007.
In Gayle Brandeis’ classroom, the students read aloud stories from their lives that they have just put onto paper. Brandeis smiles warmly and adds supportive commentary after every piece. Writing has been at the center of her life since she discovered poetry at four years old.
“I was always writing as a kid, just poems and stories. I put together a little neighborhood newspaper. I was a shy girl, but I would go door to door and interview my neighbors,” Brandeis said.
A visiting professor at SNC this year, Brandeis is from Riverside, California, where she has held the title of local literary laureate for the past two years. With three published novels and a collection of poems, she has established a name for herself in the literary community.
Brandeis fondly remembers being invited to teach at the school by English Department Chair June Saraceno last spring. “It was just such a beautiful, generous, unexpected offer. I have had fantasies about living in the mountains for the last two years,” she said.
Brandeis and her family relocated to the Lake Tahoe area last month, and she says they are enjoying the small town atmosphere and beautiful locale. Although she has lived in California since the 1990’s, Brandeis was born just north of Chicago in the suburb of Evanston. She spent much of her childhood writing, and at 18-years-old she was selected to be one of six writers whose work was placed into a time capsule at New York’s centennial celebration for the Statue of Liberty.
“It was an essay on the meaning of liberty, and I wrote it about how our imaginations are what makes us free. Even if we are in jail, our imaginations can go anywhere,” Brandeis said.
Brandeis now has three published novels and a collection of poems in print. Recently she has also experimented with electronic publishing.
“Being published by a traditional publisher is great, but traditional publishers aren’t doing so well,” she said. “ There are so many options available to writers now in terms of bringing our work out into the world. It’s become much more democratic and accessible.”
By Calhoun Boone
Bruce Meierdiercks, head coach of the SNC men’s lacrosse team, has dedicated a solid portion of his life to coaching and promoting the sport of lacrosse. However, lacrosse has not always been his favorite sport.
“I started out as a basketball star in high school. I could dunk at my height, and somehow I’ve found myself coaching lacrosse for the past 42 years,” Meierdiercks said.
Meierdiercks didn’t play lacrosse until his junior year of high school. He grew up on Long Island,New York and attended El Mont High School where he played basketball for his coach, Richie Moran. Moran went on to become a famous lacrosse coach at Cornell University. In Meierdiercks’ junior year, Moran started a lacrosse program at El Mont High School. Meierdiercks says he was blackmailed into joining the team.
“He told me I was never going to play at the next level in basketball due to my size. When he asked me to join the lacrosse team I said I didn’t want to. He told me if I didn’t play, he was going to bench me for my entire senior year of basketball season,” Meierdiercks said.
Meierdiercks joined the lacrosse team, quickly becoming a star defensive player. After high school, he went on to play Division One lacrosse at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. At Adelphi, he became the team captain and was named All American as well as most valuable player.
After college, Meierdiercks moved with his wife to the Virgin Islands where he began coaching and teaching. After two years, he and his wife moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he started the Tamalpais lacrosse program in Marin County and coached at Santa Clara University. He stayed in the Bay Area for 20 years until he was contacted by SNC about starting a new college lacrosse program.
“I was burned out and ready to retire. I had had enough of coaching, but when the school got in touch with me about starting a program I got excited about lacrosse again,” Meierdiercks said.
Last spring, the SNC lacrosse team went undefeated in its inaugural season as with Meierdiercks as coach. Looking back on his entire lacrosse career, Meierdiercks says his best memory has been “going 7 and 0 with a brand new program last year with Sierra Nevada College.”
BY Natalie Clark Postles
Katie Zanto, mother, wife and the chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Sierra Nevada College joined the faculty in the winter of 2004, and is currently at the end of her 10th year here at SNC. Zanto, while currently the chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, was originally hired to teach a few freshman English composition classes.
According to Zanto, as each semester progresses more opportunities open up for her at the school. Before she taught at SNC she taught English at multiple schools, including both middle and high schools. Zanto also worked as a guide and outdoor facilitator through Outward Bound for more than 10 years.
“You literally watch the students change from no confidence, not knowing how to make a decision and awkward, to so ready and confident to apply their new selves to the world.” Zanto says referring to time working with Outward Bound. Zanto says teaching in an academic setting was not her initial intention. While working for Outward Bound she initially saw herself as a guide or an outdoor facilitator and not a teacher, but it was her time working there that made her into one.
Zanto reflects that her real passion was to “integrate the power of outdoor education with literacy instruction”. She wanted to integrate the teaching of reading, writing and speaking with second language learners that were struggling with the power of outdoor education.
To do so, she went back to graduate school at Stanford, researched her interest of starting a nonprofit directed towards teaching underserved youth by integrating in-class education and the outdoors, and found out if anyone was facilitating the same sort of program.
Stacy Taylor is a popular professor with Sierra Nevada College students because of her unique way of teaching economics. She thinks that the best way to teach is to give students the chance to problem solve and have a hands-on approach.
“The way Professor Taylor introduced economics into my college experience really showed me how interesting and exciting economics can be, ” Senior Austin Leal said.
For many students, Economics 101 and 102, or macro- and micro-economics, are the first stepping-stones towards a degree in economics, so it’s important for the professor to introduce the new undergraduates in a positive manner.
“I like being the first contact that students have with economics. I like to make it positive for them,” Taylor said. ”If you are having a great time students will probably come along with you.”
Taylor started teaching at SNC in the fall of 2012. Before then, she had a successful career in banking.“I loved banking and I was very successful at it. I used to start and run big businesses.” Taylor said.
During the financial crisis, she decided to make a change in her career. Taylor was working in the mortgage business, which began to show signs of collapse.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that. I left and moved into my ski house here in Tahoe.” Taylor said.
The upstairs art studio has a unique, pungent smell today. The aroma of peppers and onions being pulverized overpowers the nostrils. In the back of the printmaking studio, Mary Kenny is whipping up a batch of chili. A few students work on projects, create artwork, and classes are in session. This place of organized chaos is home base for Kenny here at Sierra Nevada College, which might explain why she is cooking.
“This started with Laura Bennett, who started bringing fresh vegetables from her garden in Auburn. I looked at them and I just thought of chili. I make chili for finals sometimes,” Kenny said.
Kenny has been teaching art at SNC for 12 years. Her bubbly personality and laidback attitude make it easy for students to get along with her. Before her time at SNC, Kenny lived in Ohio for 22 years. She was born, raised and completed her undergraduate degree there. After graduation she moved to Eugene, Oregon for six months, but following a visit to Lake Tahoe, she returned to Eugene and immediately put in her two-week notice.
“I have kind of been here since. I was a nanny in Eugene but knew I wanted to get my masters degree. I started looking around for where I could do that in California. It is so expensive to live here. I tried to figure out how to afford to live in San Francisco and get my master’s at the same time, ” Kenny said.
That ended up being too large of a time commitment for Kenny. She attempted to work as a nanny while going to school in San Francisco, but she didn’t have enough time for studying and work. She ended up moving back to Ohio to complete her master’s degree.
“I basically lived in my studio. It didn’t really matter where I lived because I spent most of my time there,” Kenny said.
After graduate school, Kenny signed up for a summer printmaking workshop that was being held here at SNC. During the workshop, she learned that the printmaking teacher was retiring. That left a perfect opening for her and she became a permanent Tahoe resident.
“I have my master’s in printmaking. We have all this equipment here, the presses and everything else, I understand how to use it,” Kenny said. “My work has a lot to do with paper. I love paper. I love folding it.”
You enter and hear nothing but silence.In this dimly lit space, students gather and study. It’s a calming atmosphere of tranquility.Here and there among the library’s stacks, students grab books.
Often they’re greeted by SNC librarian Betts Markle. It’s a name that rings in everyone’s ear, from students to faculty members.
“I come from a long line of Elizabeths,” Markle said. “There has been Elizabeth, Beth, Betty, and Betsey. My parents didn’t want another Betsey, so they named me Betts.”
She never liked being called Betsey anyway as it was the name of an old childhood doll.
Markle has been working in libraries for more than 30 years. She is also a professor at SNC, teaching business and marketing classes this semester. She is also a writing instructor for graduate students, but she has never been interested in teaching English. “I don’t like teaching literature too much, but I could,” said Markle.
Whether she is traveling from building to building at Sierra Nevada College or traveling overseas to Afghanistan or South Africa, Mary Lewellen makes a mark everywhere she goes. As an associate professor of International Studies, Lewellen uses her experience and knowledge to encourage students at SNC to make the world a better place.