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November 1, 2007


Bryn Mawr Team Takes Top Spot in Spelling Bee

Spelling Bee Team
From left to right: Ellie Esmond, Nell Anderson, Ruth Strickland, Vanessa Christman

Bankers, bikers, lawyers and librarians had all been stumped when a team from Bryn Mawr successfully spelled "consanguineous" — note the tricky "e" — to take the title in the Montgomery County Literacy Network's 13th Annual Corporate Spelling Bee last week.

The winning trio of staff members Nell Anderson, Ellie Esmond and Vanessa Christman was one of three fielded by Bryn Mawr; each of the other teams consisted of a staff member and two students. The College's participation in the event, a fundraiser for the Montgomery County Literacy Network, was organized by the Civic Engagement Office's Ruth Strickland, who coordinates undergraduate participation in the Bryn Mawr/Norristown Community Partnership in Action (CPIA).

The CPIA, established in 2003, helps the College and the community of Norristown share resources and assets in ways that address the needs of both Bryn Mawr and its Norristown partner agencies. Faculty and student scholarship, educational field placements and volunteer services are among the town-gown connections fostered by the CPIA.

Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Del Ricci presided at the spelling bee, and Pa. State Rep. Kate Harper also served on the panel. Words to be spelled were chosen from those used in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which also served as a model for the contest's rules. Each word was pronounced, and then the team to which it was posed was entitled to ask for a definition and a sentence using the word.

An important divergence from the Scripps rules was that the spellers were organized into teams of three.

"The competition was less nerve-wracking because we knew we had the support of our teammates," said Christman, program coordinator for the College's Office of Intercultural Affairs.

The contest could be tricky. "We learned early in the game that we should always ask for a definition after one team was tripped up by 'lama.' They spelled the South American animal and were eliminated,"said Christman. The next team asked for a definition and correctly spelled the designation of a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Samar Aryani-Sabet
Samar Aryani-Sabet '10

That rule of thumb served the team of Samar Aryani-Sabet '10, Klaralee Charlton '09 and Strickland well.

"We were given the word 'purl.' We would have assumed the word was 'pearl,' as in the gem, but we asked for the definition. We were familiar with the word because we all had some experience with knitting!" said Charlton.

Charlton is a student coordinator for the CPIA; she organizes student volunteers to help Montgomery County residents who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit claim the credit on their income-tax forms through a program sponsored by the Community Action Development Commission, a CPIA partner.

Aryani-Sabet, also a student coordinator, organizes volunteers for an after-school program in Norristown. She and Charlton were impressed by the diversity of the organizations that fielded teams in the bee.

"The Montgomery County Bikers Against Child Abuse were there, decked out in full biker regalia," says Charlton.

"There were bankers and law firms and people from Genuardi's [Supermarket]. A senior citizens' organization had a team, and the police association was there. There was a big range of ages and professions," said Aryani-Sabet.

"It was fun and gratifying to be among so many civic-minded groups," said Christman.

"The CPIA is not just about providing local agencies with volunteers and scholars with learning opportunities," says Anderson, who is the field-placement coordinator for the College's Praxis program and co-director of the Civic Engagement Office. "It's about being a part of the local community and participating in its life. The spelling bee is a great way for Bryn Mawr students and staff members to get to know members of the community in a recreational setting. It was really a lot of fun."


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