“I like taking care of a place and feeling like my work has meaning,” Nate Cornwell says of his position as a groundskeeper at Bennington College, where he has worked for nine years.
Though he appears unassuming, behind his bright smile and gentle demeanor Cornwell is a true force at the school.
“Ownership and pride [are essential] no matter your job,” he says, and though his position demands daily effort, from cleaning student messes to caring for the new lawn robots, Cornwell goes above and beyond to aid in the school’s ability to “adapt to the future.” He sees the importance of Bennington College’s longevity for both the students, who chose the place for its unique education and opportunities, and the surrounding community who depend on the college for jobs and economic health. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how good this place really is,” he says.
Cornwell knows that environmental sustainability is especially important for the school’s future and, with his fellow groundskeepers, has made several efforts to improve its footprint, from urging the administration to stop disposing metal scraps and instead store them for future projects, to convincing the school to produce its own firewood from felled and fallen trees rather than buying it. He feels frustrated at the school’s negligence in documenting its efforts to reduce waste and energy but knows from his own work and through seeing other college’s efforts that Bennington is commendable in its practices.
His dedication to the school goes beyond a work ethic, however; “I like that I can meet a lot of different people from a lot of different places,” Cornwell says of his time at Bennington.
“I really liked being in college. Working [at Bennington] allows me to stay in touch.” From helping with the Purple Carrot Farm, to pizza ovens and, most recently, a class project for Yoko Inoue’s Culinary Triangle course, Cornwell participates in the community with the same vigor that he shows for his work. It is safe to say that he has become rather famous around the campus for lending a hand with a smiling curiosity.
“I prefer being outside and doing outside work,” he says, and over the years he has consistently found satisfaction in connecting to the outdoors. Before his time at Bennington, Cornwell worked at both Shaftsbury and Woodford state parks.
“Half of [the time] I can tell them what the trees are and when I cut them down,” he says in regard to the firewood he helped Inoue’s class gather. This kind of innate understanding of a place is unique to someone who pays close attention and care to their work.
After studying in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the “urban sprawl” took a toll on him, Cornwell returned to Vermont for that same love of the country. “I like to be out in a back road,” he says in reference to his one and a quarter acre piece of land near Arlington, Vermont where he keeps thirty chickens and used to actively tend a large garden and cornfield.
He especially appreciates the access to the woods because it means that he can hike in the summer and snowmobile in the winter. “You can get all the way up to Canada,” he says, and does so at least once a season; taking weekend trips up the state helps him relax and enjoy the beauty of winter.
Beyond the chickens, Cornwell has a dog named Godiva (Divey for short) and a cat. He found Patches on the side of College Drive while doing his daily litter pick-up; she was just a “tiny, tiny, tiny kitten,” and still too small to be away from her mother so he took her home.
Look out for Cornwell in overalls and a shining smile. He is always curious to make new “student friends” and learn about personal projects and experiments. His connections, information and stories are sure to enliven and expedite any endeavor.