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Conrad Pitcher, Robert W. McGlynn Chair in the Humanities

Gabriel Amadeus Cooney

by Rob Morgan

Before teaching at Deerfield, Conrad Pitcher hadn’t traveled very much. “I had never been out of the US.” At Princeton, he studied history and earned acclaim as an all-Ivy track and field star, but “it wasn’t college that opened up my world,” Conrad said recently. “It was coming to Western MA. It was Deerfield.” A familiar sentiment on this small New England campus, as opportunities afforded here have a way of opening doors to the wider world. In his two decades at Deerfield, Conrad has been chair of the history department, a college advisor, a dorm resident, and a coach. He’s taught courses ranging from US History to African History to Latin American History. And he’s had a chance to see a little more of the world, logging miles to Cuba, India, Italy, South Africa, and Brazil, among other places, to enhance his teaching and bring real-world experiences to the classroom. A priority of Imagine Deerfield is to unlock global opportunities for students and faculty. Experiential learning allows teachers to better communicate the nuances of cultures, as well as the global marketplace, to our students. “Travel affords a rich opportunity to experience the world and bring back ideas to inform teaching,” Conrad explains. “It can be tied directly to curricular pieces—for example, it enriched the units we have on South Africa and Cuba—but travel also helps to develop a sensibility for what our international students are dealing with and what our US students can expect when going abroad. I am more attuned and can read and react to our students better as a result of the travel I’ve done.”

along albany road

Traveling Man

Some of that travel occurred during the 2010-2011 academic year, when Conrad and his wife, Deerfield science teacher, Heidi Valk, were on sabbatical. With sons, Jackson, 12, and Bennett, 10, they spent an enriching month at a school in Rio de Janeiro, visiting classes and working with their Brazilian counterparts. In Costa Rica, Heidi helped design the science curriculum for an emerging educational initiative established by a Deerfield alumna. When Conrad was volunteering for an Earthwatch program in South Africa, walking transect lines through the bush for two weeks, he flushed out a leopard and a lion and was “treed” by black rhinos—twice! His Deerfield experiences, he insists, have been no less thrilling—or satisfying. As the head coach for boys basketball, he points to a recent win over Choate in the last game of the season as a highlight of the year. For Conrad—who also coaches track and field—the real victory, however, was not the win, but the way his team pulled together. “We have few great basketball players,” he concedes, “but we have many great people who are eager to represent Deerfield well.” “The school shapes and builds character. Young people come here and are asked to negotiate the school on their terms, and with support of faculty, they are taught and encouraged to think and make good choices. Hovering over the whole enterprise is the sense, for teachers and students, that we can do better, we can reach new heights.” Conrad’s Deerfield days, like those of other faculty, are eventful. “I might be Skyping with an admission candidate and potential basketball player from Austria one minute and then leading a discussion on the history of the American West the next. After that, I coach.” In spite of a full schedule— or because of it—“There’s rarely a day here when something doesn’t go right, some moment when the magic of Deerfield doesn’t fall into place.” Like Robert McGlynn, the renowned English teacher in whose name he holds a chair, Conrad has been committed to Deerfield. McGlynn spent 41 years at the Academy. When asked if he thought he might put in another 20 years himself, Conrad says, “I don’t have a 10- or 20-year plan, but I am eager to keep teaching, learning, and growing. I know there will be opportunities here—that’s Deerfield—and I’m excited to see where they lead.” ••

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Spring 2012 Deerfield Magazine  

The alumni journal of Deerfield Academy

Spring 2012 Deerfield Magazine  

The alumni journal of Deerfield Academy