Collaborative spirit

Lee Mills and Robert Bode

In his music professor’s office, Lee Mills ’09 practiced on and on — with no instrument.

He stroked and boxed the air with hands, his head moving, body swaying, making his way through a maze of a Mozart overture.

Mills’ professor, Robert Bode, following along with a music score, tapped rhythms, mimicked instruments, and stopped and started Mills to discuss pathways through the score — to further the student in his single-minded journey to achieve his dream: to become a symphony orchestra conductor.

In addition to his work with Bode, Mills also practices on his own six or seven hours a day. But he didn’t think that was enough. So in his sophomore year, he went to Bode’s office with no small idea.

This was big — about 30-musicians big.

Mills told Bode he needed ongoing, real experience with an orchestra to make his dream a reality; he wanted to form one. “I said ‘great,’” said Bode, whose conducting classes had introduced Mills to what would become the student’s path.

And so the Divertimento Chamber Orchestra, featuring about 30 of Whitman’s top student musicians, was born.

Yet another professor-student collaboration at Whitman.

And then there’s the student music theorist who found an essential binding element in Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” that even his professor, who knows the symphony backward and forward, never knew was there.

Another faculty-student pair, artists and colleagues, created book art currently featured in a top Seattle show; a geology student helped her professor find something wrong with accepted research on glacial history in the Grand Coulee area; and yet another team, based on the student’s idea, did research on the effectiveness of a government agency’s weed eradication method — the results of which federal park officials are excited to use locally to help re-vegetate a national historic site near Walla Walla.

“It’s what we do at Whitman,” said Patrick Spencer, a geology professor now involved in collaborative partnerships with several students.

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