By Aliya Merhi
Elm Staff Writer
His College Experience
Mark Wiest graduated from Washington College with a double major in Anthropology and environmental studies in 2005. As a student he was involved in Environment Alliance and for a short while he played sports. He said, “I played rugby for a while until I got a concussion and my parents told me I had to get my own health insurance if I wanted to keep playing, so that ended that career.” For a while, Wiest lived above a local restaurant where he also worked. After graduating he worked around town as a carpenter. He even graduated a semester early to work full time.
His first semester of freshman year he lived in what is now the lounge of Caroline. He said, “They had four of us piled up in the lounge with four bed and desk units in there. And that’s where we were for the first semester of my freshman year and then they finished St. Mary’s… We each had our own room. So it went from four of us piled in there to each of us having our own individual room.” Since he was a student, Wiest has seen the campus evolve with renovations and new buildings popping up. “Which are all good things, but it doesn’t really remind me of the same place. The biggest thing that strikes me is the dining hall. We used to have to go in and it was old school cafeteria tables that sat 60 people per table.” The rooms and separate tables make the dining experience feel more private.
Between his jobs, double majors, and extra-curricular avidities, Wiest was busy. Dr. Aaron Lampman was his knew Wiest as a student and was influential in helping him get into graduate school. “Mark excelled as a student. He was intellectually curious, deeply engaged with the theory and methods of anthropology, and had a powerful work ethic.”
After graduating Wiest began working at the Custom House and applied for graduate school. During his time at the Custom House he helped design the Chesapeake Semester, a program where students travel around the Chesapeake Bay doing experiential learning and listening to lectures outside of the classroom.
Wiest said, “It’s really awesome to see how well it’s taken off and the number of different years that have gone through it and to still lecture and do experiential opportunities with the students. I still get to know the Chesapeake Semester students every year so it’s pretty funny to think that I was kind of a recently graduated student myself helping to start the program, and now I get to come back and hangout with him and go on boat rides and talk about the Chesapeake Bay.”
Mike Hardesty, his previous roommate of five years, now runs the Chesapeake Semester. “Mark was a stellar student, and he’s always been involved in many different things… I think his curiosity as a student and his ambition as a student directly translated into his curiosity and ambition as a professional. And now he is still doing interdisciplinary work. His master’s degree is in environmental anthropology, which is kind of interdisciplinary in and of itself. Professionally he is earning his incoming restoring historic wooden vessels, but also as an anthropologist working to preserve and celebrate fishing cultures around the Chesapeake. Pretty hard to do, and not a lot of people can do that. Work with your brain and your hands at the same time.”
After working at The Custom House, he went to graduate school at the University of Georgia. “It was a fun opportunity to come back and teach in the department that I was kind of a product of.”
As a Professor
Wiest particularly enjoys teaching hands on classes outside of the classroom. Last summer he was part of a class that took students out on a boat for two weeks. He said, “I really like those kinds of experiential opportunities and I like being on boats. I work on boats and that’s what my real job is.” He restores wooden historic vessels, which the Chesapeake Bay students have the chance to explore and help out with.
He not only teaches experiential classes and Introduction to Anthropology, but Dr. Lampman said, “He teaches topics that we couldn’t teach otherwise, including applied and medical anthropology and marine cultures. These topics appeal to an interdisciplinary group of students that brings new people to the anthropological perspective. He is a much appreciated addition to our department. Students really enjoy his classes.”
Dominic Lathos is a student who has enjoyed one of Wiest’s classes. Lathos said, “To put it simply, Mark Wiest is the reason why I became an anthropology major. I first met Mark Wiest when I was in his introduction to anthropology class in my freshman year. Before I took his class I thought that I wanted to be an international studies major and was only taking introduction to anthro as a requirement. After taking Mark’s class however, I knew that I wanted to be an anthro major.” Besides his ability to make the material interesting and Wiest’s relatability because he is a young professor who also graduated from WC, Lathos also said, “He made himself available outside of class and I even had meetings with him at Play it Again Sams where he was not only interested in talking to me about the class material but about my plans after graduation and he helped me figure out how best to realize my goals.”
Wiest revealed that one of his favorite parts of being back as a professor is getting to know the students. He said, “It’s fun for me to come back and not necessarily be here every day, but fun to be back a little bit and still keep up and meet the students,” he said, “It’s cool to try to inspire students the same way that I was inspired by my really great professors.”