The Heartbeat

How the Upper Valley, Tuck’s home base, promotes reflection, full immersion, and community.
Photo by Rob Strong

By Megan Michelson

Aug 18, 2021

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies and schools across the world shut down and homes transitioned into offices and classrooms, something unique happened at the Tuck School of Business.

Because of Tuck’s size and location, with prudent safety precautions in place, students were welcomed into Tuck’s residence halls and classrooms. Classes were offered through a combination of in-person hybrid instruction and online-only arrangements. Co-curricular events shifted to smaller group settings. Yet it was Tuck's distinct environment that truly kept the community well and connected.

“If I had to choose somewhere to ride out a pandemic, this is a pretty fantastic place to be,” says Katherine Britt T’21, now a senior manager at HubSpot in Boston. “When things feel stressful or uncertain, there’s something to be said about being able to step outside your door to find beauty in this place. I spent much of my second year at Tuck opting to be outside as much as possible.”

The Upper Valley became a retreat for many people during the pandemic, beyond just students. Lebanon, New Hampshire, located next to Hanover, was among the top-10 towns people relocated to during the pandemic, according to a study from The New York Times.

Pine Park. The Appalachian Trail. Gile Mountain. Balch Hill. With hundreds of hiking and walking trails across the valley, a key element of the Tuck experience is enjoying the outdoors between classes and studying. | Photo by Laura DeCapua

“This place is an incredible respite from the city,” says Sally Jaeger, associate dean of the MBA program at Tuck, who first moved to the Upper Valley in 1986. “You come here and focus on the things you need to focus on: learning, being in a classroom with people from many different backgrounds.”

Jaeger lives in an 1840s farmhouse on 30 acres in the tiny town of Orange, New Hampshire, population 300, in the foothills at the base of Cardigan Mountain State Park. She was on a five-mile walk from her house recently when she met a new neighbor. “He’d just moved here from Boston and bought a log cabin that sits up high with this spectacular view, where he’s now working remotely,” Jaeger recalls. “He said he couldn’t be happier.”

Tuck’s very mission—to develop wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business—is shaped by the school’s bucolic setting. “You’re developing the skill sets—the leadership skills, the personal skills,” says Jaeger. “You come here, and you can focus on that. Because of where we are, because of the size of this school, it breathes community. You get to know people on a very personal level.”

A spring pick-up match with T’21s and professors Daniel Feiler, Pino Audia, and Brian Tomlin, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research. | Photo by Laura DeCapua

That tight-knit community and close connection, that full immersion in one’s studies, and that intimate access students have to faculty and resources all lend themselves to a richer quality of life and a more personal, immersive educational experience. “Tuck felt like a place where you could live life in totality,” says Muyambi Muyambi T’18. “You get this education from a top-notch institution, but you also get this incredible opportunity to explore nature and take care of yourself as a person. You’re finding success, mentally and physically.”

Muyambi knows firsthand how Tuck’s setting helps create close connections. He arrived in the Upper Valley for his first year at Tuck by bicycle, riding 160 miles from Boston to Hanover alongside Leslie Robinson, professor of business administration at Tuck and an avid cyclist. Other students and faculty joined for the last 30 miles of their bike ride, and at Tuck, fellow students held welcome signs when the peloton of riders arrived on campus.

“You’re basically in the mountains,” says Muyambi, who grew up in Uganda and started a nonprofit now called Cycle Connect that provides bicycles to improve the livelihoods of rural Ugandan farmers. “But you have this community and this attention to nature.”

Kayaking. Rowing. Fishing. Paddle-boarding. Swimming by the docks. In the warmer months, the Connecticut River is a second home for the Tuck and Dartmouth community. | Photo by Laura DeCapua

 Where It's Easy to Unplug

Life in the Upper Valley is like nowhere else. Made up of quintessentially New England villages that straddle the New Hampshire-Vermont border along the shores of the scenic Connecticut River, the area includes towns like Hanover, Lyme, Lebanon, and Canaan in New Hampshire, and across the river into the Vermont towns of Norwich, Hartford, Woodstock, Windsor, and Quechee.

The area got its name in the 1950s, when the local newspaper, the Valley News, coined the term the “Upper Valley” to refer to its circulation area across the two neighboring states. This is the land of covered bridges and old farmhouses, of country stores and craft fairs.

You can pick up wild mushrooms, granola, or handmade soaps at the Norwich farmers’ market, hike Gile Mountain before breakfast, and shop for flannels or sleeping bags at Farm-Way. In the fall, you can pick apples from Riverview Farm or eat pie and ride a ferris wheel at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. Mountains, rivers, and lakes are the main attractions here, and traffic means waiting a few minutes at a stoplight.

Tuck felt like a place where you could live life in totality. You get this education from a top-notch institution, but you also get this incredible opportunity to explore nature and take care of yourself as a person. You’re finding success, mentally and physically.

—Muyambi Muyambi T’18

It makes for a unique environment to study for an MBA, with no distractions from fast-paced urban life. Future leaders are trained in classrooms, but also on trails and in swimming holes. “There’s no better way to get to know someone than going on a long walk in the woods with them. Having those experiences outside lends itself to building strong friendships,” says Britt, who graduated in the spring. “Part of the mission of Tuck is cultivating a lifelong learning mindset. Being in Hanover and the Upper Valley puts you in a place where you can create that mindset shift, since it’s this unique time and place to be.”

Tuck students spend their weekdays studying strategy and accounting and their weekends hiking Mount Ascutney or paddling Storrs Pond, or in the winter, skiing at Killington or Dartmouth Skiway, or playing pond hockey on Occom Pond.

“It’s easy to unplug at the end of the week,” says Robinson, the Tuck professor and cyclist who often plans informal weekend bike rides with her students. “Students plan all kinds of outings outdoors, so there’s a real separation between school and social life that’s facilitated by this environment. They go camping or skiing over the weekend, then come back Monday recharged.”

There’s no better way to get to know someone than going on a long walk in the woods with them. Having those experiences outside lends to building strong bonds and friendships.

—Katherine Britt T’21

Locals joke that dressing up here means putting on a flannel shirt and boots. A down vest is considered a must-have item. “I can’t remember the last time I wore a pair of high heels,” adds Robinson. She moved to the Upper Valley in 2006 to work at Tuck, and she and her husband have raised their two kids here. If you want community, friends and neighbors are here. If you want solitude, that’s within reach, too. “It’s an easy place to be alone. You could spend a whole day hiking somewhere and never see another person,” Robinson says.

You don’t have to travel too far outside of Hanover to experience the allure of the Upper Valley. “Students often make the mistake of just staying in Hanover or traveling quite far, like going to Maine,” says Robinson. “They often miss the 30-mile perimeter around Hanover and how special it is.”

T'22s take to the hills of Hanover for an impromptu sledding session. | Photo by Robert Gill


 Part of This Community

It’s not just the outdoor recreation and remote wilderness that draw people to the Upper Valley. It’s also the tight-knit community, the neighbors who look after one another. Add the Ivy League institution of Dartmouth College, a phenomenal hospital at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and a thriving arts scene that includes theater and opera, and the Upper Valley feels like its own version of Eden.

In the fall, kids trick-or-treat on Rip Road and go pumpkin-picking at Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, VT. There’s a growing network of hiking and biking trails, thanks to the trail building efforts of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, and the Overland, a local 50-mile dirt road bicycle race that starts in West Windsor, Vermont, fills up within minutes and easily gets over a thousand cyclists lined up each August. 

This is a magical place. The natural beauty is one part of it—it’s gorgeous. But it’s the culture, too. People are humble, curious, and just happy to be here.

—Jarett Berke T’17

“You can literally be on top of a mountain in the morning and sitting at a great dinner or going to an opera at night,” says Jarett Berke T’17, owner and CEO of Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery in downtown Hanover.

Berke, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served in the Marine Corps for over a decade before enrolling at Tuck, decided on Tuck in part because he knew Hanover would be a great place to raise his family. “We had two kids at the time, with our third on the way, so finding a place to raise a family was a very important aspect in where we wanted to live,” Berke says.

While at Tuck, Berke says the setting of the Upper Valley shaped the culture of the school. “You’re out in the woods in New Hampshire. The friends you have are the people in class with you and in a lot of ways that defines the culture at Tuck,” says Berke.

After graduating, Berke and his wife didn’t want to leave the area. So, they bought Lou’s Restaurant, a beloved Hanover eatery that’s been a Main Street landmark since 1947. Berke has since launched a restaurant incubator that pairs Tuck students with local chefs and he worked with other local restaurants to debut a food delivery app during the pandemic that gives back to its restaurant partners.

“This is a magical place,” says Berke. “The natural beauty is one part of it—it’s a gorgeous place. But it’s the culture, too. People are humble, curious, and just happy to be here.”

Story originally appeared in print in Tuck Today Summer 2021.