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Zooming In on Virtual Visitors


If the international law seminar had to be taught remotely, which it unexpectedly did, the professor was determined to make the most of it. Turning to his professional connections, he secured three distinguished guests with experience directly related to issues students had studied. 

“It’s a small, discussion-based course, and to a certain extent it replicated through Zoom reasonably well, and we did some break-out groups, but I wanted to mix things up and take advantage of the opportunities remote instruction presented,” says Hamilton President David Wippman, who taught the 12-student seminar.

The three experts are busy people who travel extensively, and getting them to commit to visiting the Hill by train, plane, or automobile, would have taken time and effort under any circumstances, much less short notice.  

Wippman isn’t the only Hamilton professor to seek out virtual visitors since the College temporarily moved to remote teaching. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Seth Schermerhorn had students in his Native American Religious Freedom read a new book, published in April, and arranged for a remote discussion with the author. The book was Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom Beyond the First Amendment, by Michael D. McNally, a Carleton College professor and authority on Native Americans and American religious history. Students read the book electronically, for free, with support from LITS.

"Because [McNally] teaches in another part of the country, we probably would never have been able to have this conversation with him without this technology,” says Lauren Cavignano ’23. “It was amazing to be able to talk with him about his book, especially considering we were among the very first to read it."

International Law students heard from Michael Hurley, a national security consultant who worked for the CIA for 35 years and has deep counterterrorism experience. Hurley led one of the teams deployed to Afghanistan to search for Osama bin Laden; one of the legal questions Wippman’s students looked at this semester was targeted killing, including that of bin Laden.

Students also met with James Steinberg, former deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton and former deputy secretary of state to Secretary Hillary Clinton, among many other achievements. He’s also former dean of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. The third guest was attorney Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, who is on the faculties of the law schools at the University of Minnesota and Queen’s University of Belfast and on the U.N. Human Rights Council’s “Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.”

Each visitor spent an hour or more with students in the three-hour class. “Now that I’ve seen how easy it is and how well it works, I will do it again,” Wippman says about hosting remote guests. 

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