Staff after hours: A look inside the lives of UP staffers

Featuring a board game collector, artist and marathon runner

By Sam Cushing | November 1, 2018 9:47pm

Jeromy Koffler stands in front of his collection of board games in his office at UP. He owns 405 board games.

Media Credit: Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

Faculty and staff are often seen at the front of classrooms or behind desks, but many of them lead exciting lives outside of work. From making sculptures to running marathons to collecting board games, UP staff and faculty do it all.

The Sculptor

Psychology professor Mark Pitzer has been creating sculptures since graduate school. For the past several years he has focused on kinetic art, meaning sculptures that move. 

The subjects of Pitzer’s artwork usually come from topics he teaches in classes like his psychology class, called Sensation and Perception, and from discussions with colleagues. For his next project, Pitzer will make a moving projection of the moon’s surface. 

“I think (sculpting) is an addiction,” Pitzer said. “It just overwhelms me, and I feel like I have to be working on something at all times.”

This untitled sculpture is inspired by Lee Bontecou, an artist that rose to prominence in the 1960's New York art scene. Her work pushed the notion of how sculptures could be constructed, using canvas as sculpture material, rather than a flat, stretched material to be painted.

Description and photo submission courtesy of Pitzer and the Pilot Scholars online archives.

Sculpting isn’t Pitzer’s only hobby. In spring of last year, he presented a TEDx talk at Eastside Preparatory School in Kirkland, Washington. He was invited to do the talk after a freshman student’s parent, who happened to be a TEDx representative, heard him speak at UP’s freshman orientation in 2017. 

His talk, called “What’s a brain like you, doing in a classroom like this?” explored the ways brains absorb information, and how this process can best be used in a classroom. 

“There are multiple learning circuits throughout the brain,” Pitzer said. “They’re all viable options and ways of learning, so why not try to recruit them all?”

Title: Consciousness is Always the Last to Know. This sculpture represents all the work that our minds and bodies have to do before we make decisions, whether it be the decision to lift a finger or get out of bed. 

Photo submission by Pitzer and the Pilot Scholars online archives.

After Pitzer gets an idea, whether it be for a TED talk or a sculpture, he goes through hundreds of scraps of paper. Creative people, Pitzer says, don’t function differently than anyone else. Creativity is a process like any other, it just takes a lot of time and work to attain.

“The brainstorm usually comes about with a bunch of cups of coffee and a single beer, no more,” Pitzer said.

The Runner

Becca Nerstad, program coordinator for student activities, has been running competitively ever since her cousin got her into the sport six years ago. Since then, she has completed the Portland marathon and 10 half marathons.

Nerstad holds up her medal after finishing the Portland Marathon.

Photo courtesy of Nerstad.

“I think the reason why I’ve always enjoyed running is it’s low equipment,” Nerstad said. “You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive things, and it keeps you in shape.”

After running so many half marathons, Nerstad began looking for a new challenge. Her last half marathon in August was a trail run, and so is the one she is currently training for -- the Silver Falls marathon in November.

The training process starts several months before the event. Nerstad typically starts at three to five miles per run and increases by two miles each week. The start of the school year was a busy time for Nerstad, though. Her job included organizing several events early in the semester, but now she’s back to training. 

In addition to her runs, Nerstad walks her Australian Shepherd, Sadie, every morning and teaches Pilot Cycle, a spin class, in Beauchamp. She started as a spin instructor in January 2017 and occasionally teaches classes for faculty and staff during lunch hours.

“I really like that people get to know other people through it,” Nerstad said of these faculty and staff classes. “They probably wouldn’t ever have crossover in their jobs, but because they’re meeting outside it’s kind of neat.”

The Gamer

Board games have been a part of the Koffler family for years, but Student Activities Director Jeromy Koffler didn’t start collecting them until his cousin introduced him to a gaming group in Salem four or five years ago.

“Being an educator, I’m always interested in discovering new ways to learn, to think, to communicate, to bond with people,” Koffler said.

Koffler, a board game enthusiast, explains the game "Ticket to Ride".

by Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

Koffler owns 405 board games, a respectable amount among board game collectors, some of which are kept in his office. He prefers strategy games that can be played under an hour in a group. 

Koffler plays in board game tournaments every Thursday in Salem, where groups of 12 to 30 people gather to play several rounds of the same game before deciding on a winner. Koffler sometimes attends with his daughter, Anna, and his son, Nick. His son even won one of these tournaments playing a strategy game called “Clank!” which happens to be Koffler’s favorite game.

Here is Koffler playing "Alhambra" at a board game tournament.

Photo courtesy of Koffler.

“I mostly like to play because of the relationships, the fun I can have with friends, with colleagues, with students, with my kids,” Koffler said.

Koffler’s games are available for students, clubs and other campus groups to check out from his office in St. Mary’s.

Sam Cushing is a reporter at The Beacon. He can be reached at