Professor Zoom

Students witness birth of alpaca in “class”

Field trips for class are complex during a pandemic, so Dr. Jonathan Steinwand, professor of English, set up a Zoom session with the owner of Ten Seven Acres farm, but the class got to see a surprise guest who made an appearance.

“Watching an alpaca give birth over Zoom was definitely not what I was expecting from our virtual field trip to Ten Seven Acres farm,” said Riley Bergstrom ’21.

Suffice it to say, when students registered for Steinwand’s English and Environmental Studies class, they probably didn’t know what to expect. But since you can’t exactly plan the timing of a birth, the live birth came as a surprise to everyone. 

“I'm so grateful that experiences like this can still be possible despite the unconventional setup of this year,” added Bergstrom.

Steinwand said his Animal Stories: Kinship, Rivalry, and Alterity PEAK class witnessed the live birth narrated by the owner of Ten Seven Acres, Jessie Monson.

Steinwand’s class is an exploration of literature written about animals and from animal points of view. The class is exploring things like why do we love some animals, but fear others and find some delicious? And what might we learn from animals if we think of them as teachers and as older relatives?

In class, students are learning from stories past and present, and from around the world about our relationship to animals including “Gulliver’s Travels,” “People of the Whale,” and “Watership Down.”

The course takes on various topics including how we view animals in day-to-day life. Steinwand notes that hotels, apartments, and college dormitories are rethinking their pet policies because pet ownership is on the rise. That’s especially true for those under 30 who are increasingly likely to connect with companion species and emotional support animals. Yet another topic is the fact that animal species and habitats are more and more threatened and ethical treatment of animals in the food and product-testing industries leaves much room for reproach.

There is also discussion of the sustainability of meat consumption and the possible rise of vegetarianism and veganism, but regardless of who you are, the relationships between humans and animals affects everyone in one way or another.

“We also got to suggest names for the little guy,” said Steinwand of the alpaca. “Monson had us brainstorm some names that fit the farm’s comic book theme for this year and we came up with Professor Zoom (aka Professor Eobard “Zoom” Thawne, otherwise known as Reverse-Flash), a supervillain of the DC Comics universe.

Though not expecting to see a live alpaca birth when logging onto Zoom that day, Emily Savageau ’23 said it was a very cool experience.

“Obviously, we do a lot of reading about animals since it’s an animal stories class, but getting to see animals in real time makes connecting to them a lot easier and makes what we learn come to life,” said Savageau.

Kayla Adamek ’23 said the birth of the alpaca happened quickly, one moment the legs and head were visible, and the next there was a baby on the ground.

“It was so fragile looking, but the mama jumped in right away taking care of it. I think it showed the similarities between humans and animals that we often forget about – we all have families,” said Adamek. “It was also fitting that the baby was named Professor Zoom.”