David Ernst A personal site

Simon's Rock student opinions

Simon’s Rock describes itself as “a small, selective, supportive, intensive college of the liberal arts and sciences in the middle of the Berkshires, one of the nation’s cultural and natural treasures.” It’s a pretty fantastic place.

This summer I had the great fortune to stay in Great Barrington and work for the Office of College Relations. This was one of the projects I worked on: to collect impromptu student testimonials to add authenticity to the school’s website.

How do you describe this place to others, especially those that have never heard of Simon’s Rock?

“Simon’s Rock is a college that you can attend whenever you’re ready, be that at 14 or 40…though most of our student body tends toward the former. It’s the nerdiest, warmest, silliest campus in the world, and you’ll learn more there than you ever have before.” – Rachel Feltman ’08

“Everybody wants to learn. Everybody has a touch of something very unique about them.” – Bethany Geiger ’10

“I try to specifically discuss the immersive education that students receive here. When talking with my friends on campus, I often find that we forget to acknowledge how intensive and all-encompassing our curriculum really is. Simon’s Rock honestly isn’t for everybody. You sign up for a totalizing experience that will change you when you decide to become a student here; it takes dedication, discipline, and focus. As much as I love the community and social life at Simon’s Rock, I always stress to those who don’t know much about the college the extremely exceptional work that this institution does in developing its students’ intellectual capacity and social awareness. ” – Sierra Randall ’09

“It’s a college specifically for high school students who are ready for a challenge.” – Emma Sanger-Johnson ‘10

“Simon’s Rock is a place where imagination is heightened, where you can kill yourself at academics with people who genuinely care about life. Foucault, Weber, Schmitt, Arendt, Tracy Strong all became my companions and gods. What’s more, the people I studied with and had class with and lived with worshiped them as well. Life doesn’t follow societal norms and in the best classes you can’t even tell who is a teacher and who is not except by their physical age.” – Satya Tabachnick ’09

“Simon’s Rock has become my home, and I am reluctant to leave. This place has come to mean more to me than any other academic institution that I have ever attended. The people, and the conversations I have with them, are always engaging. That’s something I have found completely lacking elsewhere in this world. People want to be here: they are nice to each other and care about the community. The faculty members you get close to will go out of their way to keep you stimulated. And most of all, emphasis is put on shaping each individual’s “mental agility.” It is not just about knowledge and learning to absorb information and then regurgitate on a test, but actually being able to use one’s brain in any situation, academic or otherwise. This skill is indispensable in any time or place.” – Sarah Trachtenberg ’08

What is the best part of Simon’s Rock for you?

“What is probably most remarkable about Simon’s Rock that I haven’t seen anywhere else is how significantly the academic and social spheres overlap, so that my closest friends are also some of the people that I most intensely respect as thinkers.” – Zak Breckenridge ’09

“The relationships with the faculty. We’re all on a first name basis, and I’ve been to dinner at a few professors houses. There’s a great sense of mutual respect between students and faculty. ” – Rachel Feltman ’08

“Figuring out who I am among the most open-minded, informed, and inspired young people that I have ever met. This environment is one that makes it necessary to become your absolute self, but it also teaches you to improve yourself during the most formative years of your life. I love the fact that my schedule and my own boundaries are the only things that can limit my education. My professors are willing to do all they can to help me learn. The adults on campus recognize that we are independent people before we are students.” – Bethany Geiger ’10

“The best part of Simon’s Rock is that everyone is generally accepting. You could have committed a crime of some sort and someone here would forgive you. It’s just such a kind school to be a part of.” – Nicole Gunara ’10

“Simply put, and this may be cheating a little to use this answer, the people. From the other students to the staff to the teachers, the individuals that make up the Simon’s Rock community are wonderful. The teachers are the definition or supportive and challenging, the staff work tirelessly do keep the schooling running smooth, and the prevailing aspect of the students is that they want to be at Simon’s Rock. The students aren’t here because they were expected to go, like many student who go to college at a “normal” age, but they are here because they had the motivation to do so, because they loved learning and they wanted to be challenged.” – Jameson Lisak ’10

“As a first generation college student, I don’t know in details how other students feel about going to big universities, but Simon’s Rock is definitely as perfect a fit for international students as I’ve seen so far. I have friends all over the world, but never felt that they are different from me. Regardless of your economic background, or differences in academic excellence, there is no discrimination or anyone looking down on you because of those factors.” – Ei Kyaw ‘10

“The fact that they embraced my unconventional background. This schools’ faculty and administration are so embracing of diversity and difference. It’s astounding. I’ve never seen or heard of such levels of appreciation for the plurality of varying thoughts, ideas, and beliefs in any other academic community. ” – Sierra Randall ’09

Have you changed as a result of studying at Simon’s Rock? How so?

“I’ve become so much more confident in myself as a student and as an individual. My writing has suffered many a harsh critique, but with that in mind, my essays and my ability to think critically have surpassed any expectation I ever had for myself. I’ve studied subjects that were foreign to me, and thereby discovered areas of study that I’m so wildly passionate about and fascinated by.” – Jackie Harris ‘11

“I never thought I’d be able to leave my family, my friends, my hometown for such a challenging school where I knew no one and everyone seemed to surpass my intelligence by an unfathomable margin. Through all the struggles of adjusting to a new environment, I came to realize that my expectations for myself and my success were far lower than my ability actually was.” – Jackie Harris ‘11

“The beauty of a liberal arts education is that it teaches one how to think, and Simon’s Rock does that with flying colors.” – Jameson Lisak ’10

“I believe that the education that I’ve received here is unrivaled. Beyond reading a lot of books and learning to spout a bunch of academic jargon via spoken word or written text, I’ve learned how to be a person that cares about the life chances and social outcome of others. I’m not just learning information; I’m learning how to apply it to my life and others’.” – Sierra Randall ’09

What do you think you will you remember about Simon’s Rock five years from now? Fifteen years? Thirty years?

“There’s room to breathe and say seriously anything you feel like you need to say. I don’t think there are a lot of places in the world where you can experience this kind of freedom.” – Bethany Geiger ’10

“Five years from now I will remember Simon’s Rock as my first stepping stone to success. Fifteen years from now I will remember Simon’s Rock as the place where I learned to be independent. Thirty years from now I will, hopefully, remember it as a place that I would have sent my children to.” – Nicole Gunara ’10

“I’ll remember the friends I’ve made here who are just the best I could ever ask for, and I’ll remember how Simon’s Rock saved me from an average future. It was an unbelievable opportunity that has really changed my life.” – Jackie Harris ‘11

“I hope everything. And if I don’t, then it will only be because of the failings of my own mortal corpse. Yet in a sense, I never remember many specific memories: what is left in my mind is a feeling. A landscape of history represented as a certain tug on the soul. That feeling I will never forget, and in that sense, I will never forget Simon’s Rock.” – Jameson Lisak ’10

What do you think potential students should know about this place?

“Simon’s Rock is challenging. You will never feel more stressed or more mediocre in your life. You will also, most likely, never learn more and have such a good time doing so. The key is just to get the word out there. Simon’s Rock speaks for itself. There will always be young students who are searching for something more, more challenge, more independence. Most students who fit that description today just haven’t heard of Simon’s Rock, and that is a great pity.” – Jameson Lisak ’10

“Simon’s Rock is probably one of the five most difficult colleges in the entire country. You don’t coast here. That being said, it’s totally worth it. You’re way more prepared for grad school or work than the average undergrad student.” – Rachel Feltman ’08

“It is definitely a special place in which everything is always changing. The academics are phenomenal and the students are great. It is a fantastic place to be if it’s right for you.” – Emma Sanger-Johnson ‘10

“Tell them this. Simon’s Rock is a safe place to be you. If you are too liberal, too outspoken, too intelligent, too shy to make it in a “normal” school or if you simply feel that lack of creativity and caring in a “normal” system then this is a place you can feel safe in your differences. It’s a place to meet blindingly intelligent people and find out if you’re really as intelligent as everyone’s always said you are. If you want to learn how to forget that the box exists and draw a universe in its place then Simon’s Rock is the place for you.” – Satya Tabachnick ’09

What is unique about Simon’s Rock?

“As far as I can tell, most things at Simon’s Rock are unique, so it would be futile to really try to mention all of them. But the academic program is probably one of best in its ability to engage students with challenging material. Another huge thing that’s unique about Simon’s Rock is the intensity of the relationships that develop on campus, so there can be amazing intimacy as well as social turbulence. It’s a very singularly difficult and rewarding place. ” – Zak Breckenridge ’09

“Everyone at SRC is there because they want to be. No one ends up at early college by accident. That means we all love to learn and are serious about what we’re doing. ” – Rachel Feltman ’08

“It’s all based on the fact that we left high school early. By doing that, it means that we’re a little rebellious - but not for the sake of being rebels. We’re rebels because we want to know more about ourselves and how the world works, because we know that the only way the world can change is if people like us are willing to do what it takes to make that happen.” – Bethany Geiger ’10

“As an environment, Simon’s Rock is quite unique. It’s very close and supportive, but that in no way detracts from the rigor and high expectations placed on the students. The phrase “Those who can’t do, teach” is the exact opposite of my experience with the teachers here. It’s more like, “Those who do it exceptionally well, teach others exceptionally well.” They will know your name, talk to you like a friend, but they will not stop pushing you.” – Jackie Harris ‘11

“The school has been more than accommodating to my specific needs to successfully conquer the differences in my learning style. It’s rare to find an institution willing to go the extra mile to make sure each student is learning in the way that is best for that student.” – Sarah Trachtenberg ’08

Can you describe a uniquely “Simon’s Rock” moment?

“What’s typical of Simon’s Rock is the intense classroom discussions.” – Mohammed Adawulai ’09

“I love how there’s no sense that any group of people is better than another. It’s not just a student-professor thing, we’re also on a first-name basis with our staff members. We are on friendly terms with our housekeepers and security members and dining hall staff. Everybody knows and respects each other, regardless of what role they play on campus.” – Bethany Geiger ‘10

“Hearing conversations about science, philosophy, what’s going on both in the news globally and locally. I love hearing about people’s aspirations and their inspiration. This is what I mean about this campus being engaging no matter where you go. Even the social atmosphere is mature and the people are willing to have discussions about ideas instead of things and people. I haven’t experienced anything like it elsewhere.” – Sarah Trachtenberg ’08

Who are your favorite professors? What about them to do you like?

“I honestly love just about all of my professors. I was astounded by their intelligence and experience after my average and disappointing experience in high school classrooms. Some of my favorite teachers, like Brendan Mathews, Paul Naamon, Karen Beaumont, and Bernie Rodgers, are so open and exciting in discussions. They use their knowledge to draw you in, and open yourself up to subject. They are willing to discuss different opinions and unexplored ideas, as well as inform you of ideas foreign to your own point of view. I never really knew the feeling of being excited by a class until Simon’s Rock.” – Jackie Harris ’11

“Asma Abbas is god. In all seriousness, the first class I took with was an insane experience. It was 300-level class that I took in the spring semester of my freshman year. I’ve never taken a class in which I understood less, or in which I wanted so badly to be able to understand everything. I ended up becoming a Political Studies major, and taking several more, all mind-blowing, classes with Asma. Intro to Politics should be a required class for all students, but then we would have to clone Asma to teach multiple sections, and then the world might just end.” – Jameson Lisak ’10

“Francisca Oyogoa. She’s that college mentor that you dream about having, but never actually know if you’ll be lucky enough to get. My life would be drastically different if she hadn’t entered it and assured me that she cared deeply for me, not just as a student, but as a person. ” – Sierra Randall ’09

What kind of student do you think should attend Simon’s Rock?

“This place needs the kind of open-minded student that is prepared to take on a large course load. This place makes you think ALL THE TIME. Prospective rockers need to be ready for that; if they aren’t, they will be very overwhelmed. ” – Sierra Randall ‘09

How long do you plan to attend Simon’s Rock?

“I just started and I definitely don’t want to leave any time soon. You have everything you need from amazing teachers to an eclectic group of fellow students that you can never get bored with.” – Joyce Chae ’11

What are your favorite things to do in Great Barrington and the surrounding Berkshires?

“There are two amazing cheese shops and three beautiful book stores in the surrounding area as well as awesome coffee shops, gourmet pizza, a local farmer’s market, and contradancing! There are thrift stores and a movie theater that pretty much only shows indie films. Just go walk around in Great Barrington and if you like cute small towns then you will fall in love. Did I mention the awesome Thai and Indian food?” – Satya Tabachnick ’09

“The restaurants in this area are to die for. So high quality and delicious. I also love exploring all the nature that is to be found on and off our campus.” – Sierra Randall ’09

What are your favorite things to do on campus in your free time?

“I love taking a walk around campus from time to time, preferably, at night. It’s just so peaceful and utterly breathtaking.” – Nicole Gunara ’10

“I really like going to club meetings. Also, we have a fantastic forest. I like spending my time with Valerie or playing around in the Daniel Arts Center. I love ‘Closed Door Conversations’.” – Simone Hall ’11