Balancing Minds and Bodies Over Four Decades
Rita Pougiales, Member of the Faculty
Rita Pougiales was introduced to The Evergreen State College by founding faculty member Willi Unsoeld, who could perhaps be called the father of outdoor education at Evergreen. It was the late 1960s in Andover, Mass. Pougiales and Unsoeld were both working at Outward Bound. Unsoeld was also working on his application to Evergreen. Once on the faculty, Unsoeld, together with Pete Sinclair, Pete Stilberg and others, carved out a niche at the new college for education in natural environments.
Pougiales, who started as a student and stayed for a career, reminisced about the beginnings of Evergreen’s relationship with its environment. She notes that the distinctive stamp put on outdoor education in those formative years was learning in nature rather than learning about nature. It was not, for example, about technical climbing techniques or how to conduct scientific field work. The goal was to discover, individually and collectively, how people learn in the face of physical challenges – the mountain as metaphor for life; the rope as metaphor for community.
About her friend, Willi Unsoeld, Pougiales acknowledged that despite degrees in physics, philosophy and theology, Unsoeld was always best known for his mountain climbing adventures throughout the world."
“The outdoor education programs in those first years,” she continued, “tended to attract students who were interested in a big life experience more than a traditional college educational experience.”
Today, Pougiales says, “we still have a number of faculty members interested in outdoor education but it hasn’t coalesced into a curricular area.” The trips tend to be field-focused, she explained, and to occur within environmental studies and science-related programs.
In addition to the rich tradition of outdoor education at Evergreen, Pougiales recalls there was more recreational endeavor in past times – women's softball games, tennis, frisbee games –competitive and non-competitive physical activities that drew faculty, staff and students together for the simple joy of it all. Those activities have waned over the years.
Turning to the topic of intercollegiate athletics, Pougiales does not share the belief of many of her generational colleagues that traditional athletics have no place at Evergreen. She sees a role for all manner of physical endeavor.
Speaking personally, she said “I couldn’t do what I do, I wouldn't be so peppy if I didn't stay active.” For her, the key is self-expression, health, and well-being rather than the nature of the activity. Pougiales cites personal experience in her belief that students learn better and feel better when they have balance in mind-body work.
In terms of sports participation, “student athletes have to be very disciplined, focused and organized to balance their studies and their athletics,” she noted. “These are wonderful skills that should be supported and encouraged.”
Pougiales sees that recruiting students athletes can be complicated. "I think our admissions people do wonderful work. It may be that the message to student athletes is more complicated," she speculated, especially in light of Evergreen's unique structure and pedagogical model.
She went on to suggest that faculty members and advisors might do more to support students who juggle sports team responsibilities and academic work. “I think that it's often the case, that students carry the burden of negotiating and advocating for themselves, when we could be helping them navigate their options.”
Evergreen today? “It’s not in balance,” Pougiales stated. “The mind dominates over the body aspects of learning.” She applauds the growing incorporation of yoga and other movement practices into the classroom as an important curricular addition. Still, in an environment of shrinking governmental support and the scramble for resources, Evergreen will continue to wrestle with of the role physical activity – in learning, community-building and in supporting a diversity of options for student self-expression.