It’s often said of young people that we don’t appreciate the value of family. In our early twenties we are most concerned with distinguishing ourselves from our families. We strive to a new life and a new character apart from the people with whom we spent the first 18 years of our life. These are admirable—and necessary—goals for college students. But that doesn’t mean a life entirely set apart from our family works best. In fact, most of the people I know at Juniata retain a healthy amount of contact with family.
What one defines as “healthy”, of course, varies depending on the sort of person you are and the circumstances you find yourself in. Many of my more extroverted friends keep in near-daily contact with their family from home, usually through the magic of text or online chat services. Some of my peers live close enough to campus that they either commute daily or, more frequently, spend the odd weekend at home. About half of our population here comes from within the state, so whether they live in Amish country or Appalachia home isn’t so far.
But for myself and many others, home is a long way away. I live in Massachusetts which—though thankfully on the same coast as Pennsylvania—is a nine-to-ten hour drive away. With the exception of Thanksgiving, I spend my breaks and free time exploring in-state or elsewhere. Many more students spend Thanksgiving here, especially those of my friends who live on the left coast. And for the ten percent of students who come from abroad, home is further away than many can appreciate—both in physical and cultural distance.
Thankfully, we are no longer living in the age where telephones require booths and quarters to operate. There are a variety of apps and services which allow one to send messages, images, and voice chat for free over any internet connection. I personally used Viber, a WhatsApp clone, while I studied abroad in New Zealand so as to save on cellphone bills. While I’m in this country, I share a group chat with my nuclear and extended families where we post pictures and musings from our daily lives.
Today more than ever students are traveling further and further away to go to college, something I believe to be an admirable trend. Distancing ourselves from where we grew up allows us to see a new way of life and gives us a chance to redefine who we are. For those of us who find ourselves flung far away from home, even with other oceans or continents between us, our modern age has at least some of the solutions. Now if I could only figure out how to get my cat to Skype me…
When I first came to college, I was thoroughly scared of public speaking and presentations. So, it was thoroughly shocking when I found myself lobbying Congress on Capitol Hill last week.
I was in DC as a part of Juniata’s Climate Advocates. We are a part of a larger group called Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which works to promote carbon fee and dividend (a thing which I can give you a 1-minute explanation of. Thanks, CCL online trainings!).
Last week, the organization had their Congressional Education Day. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means I put on went to a 10 hour training, put on my fancy clothes, and made my way to Capital Hill to meet with state representatives. Even though I now like public speaking, this was still a really intimidating experience. The other people in my meetings were strangers, I had never met with a representative before, and I had to find my way around through underground tunnels. All in all, pretty scary, but pretty cool.
Overall, we had some success. I was able to do some of the presentation, which was a personal accomplishment. I realized (or was reminded by a friend) that the representatives are just people, so they shouldn’t be that hard to talk to. I would even describe the experience as a little fun. Exhausting, but fun.
Our little school impressed quite a few people at the conference. We brought the most students out of any educational institution that came, which is very cool considering that we are quite a small school. The thing is, Juniata people seem to care, and from what I’ve seen, they’re willing to put in the effort to show that they care.
This whole event was possible thanks to the hard work of a few students and one dedicated Chemistry professor, Dr. Sharon Yohn, who worked with students to establish the club only last year.
When I came to school, I expected to study. I expected to take finals and write papers. I expected to enjoy Huntingdon and meet people. I didn’t really expect to be pushed to the edges of my comfort zone, and to learn to do things I once believed to be beyond my reach. It was just lobbying, I know. I probably could have done it a few years ago, but now, I have the confidence and support to do this, and anything else that I can imagine.
On Saturday November 11th I got the chance to go to one of Juniata’s most loved traditions; the Mr. Juniata competition. Every year boys from all of the classes are voted in to compete with each other in front of a panel of judges to win the crown. One of the judges this year really caused a stir, Laura our favorite Sodexo employee who had left us came back for a visit. The contestants all participate in an opening dance number, usually choreographed by the dance club. Every year we have a different theme for the Mr. Juniata competition and this year’s theme was ‘king of the island’ so everything was tropical. The contestants are given a list of questions to answer ahead of time which the host, Professor Amy Mathur, uses to introduce them for the talent portion of the competition.
Each person creates their own act, sometimes individual and sometimes with the help of friends, to put on in front of the judges and students. It’s always incredibly entertaining and I’m always surprised by the creativity and effort put into their talents. From there they bring out their escorts for the night dressed in their formal wear and present their escorts with a gift. Some of the gifts given are very heartfelt and beautiful while others are just silly but still well meaning. The boys model their formal wear for the judges and are sent off while the scores are compiled. The top three contestants are selected and asked two questions, one they were given that morning and the other they had no preparation for. Most of the time the answers are ridiculous because they’re made up on the spot but it’s all good fun. Then the judges pick their winner, this year our winner was a senior at Juniata College, Storm.
I’m always shocked by how much goes into this competition, the decorations are amazing and there are well thought out questions to match the theme for the boys who always give us answers that make us giggle. Mr. Juniata really is something that is unique to our college. It shows how all of the different classes can come together to create something brilliant despite competing and have some good-natured fun. This gives you a great idea of the general environment on campus, everyone is always so friendly and willing to help each other out.
On Sunday November 5th, a group of friends and I went to see Juniata College’s Concert Choir to support our friend who is a member. They sang eighteen songs, which is an impressive amount of songs to learn. Several of the songs were performed in a different language with the translation in the program provided at the door. We learned that the choir is going to travel to Vietnam in January to perform with another Vietnamese choir, we heard some of the songs they are working on in Vietnamese for this trip. The choir travels to another country every two years to sing abroad and experience a new culture. I don’t know anywhere else that has their choir travel like ours does. This really speaks to the liberal arts education that Juniata strives for. It gives students a more well-rounded knowledge of the world. My favorite song was called “Northern Lights”; it was a beautiful piece that showed the skill of the singers and the effort that they have put into this concert. The emotion in the voices of the choir could be felt and many of the audience members were moved by this piece. I also enjoyed listening to the different folk songs which were more upbeat and energetic.
The audience seemed to respond best to the folk songs because of the energy coming from the choir. They all looked like they were having a lot of fun up on stage singing those songs which is important during a performance. There were a few solos that were beautifully done and could easily be heard. Most of the choir’s songs were done A Capella, which is amazing because it can be very difficult to stay together without music, but during one of the folk songs three students came down off the risers to place instruments to accompany the singing. This added a fun aspect to an already entertaining piece. I have always loved going to see the concert choir’s performance. The singers all appear professional but they also show how much they enjoy singing. Their music is varied so that you don’t have to listen to the same kind of music for the entirety of the concert and it shows off the skill and work the singers have and have put into their concert. I would encourage everyone to attend more of the choir’s concerts to support them and as a chance to experience the beautiful music that these students work so hard to provide for their audience. It really is a wonderful experience to heard my fellow students doing what they love and creating something so unique.
This past weekend, several Juniata students had the opportunity to present their research at the Allegheny Branch of the American Society of Microbiology’s yearly conference. As a bonus the meeting was held right here at Juniata in the von Liebig Center for Science. The conference took place over the course of roughly thirty-six hours starting from early afternoon on Friday and ending early evening on Saturday. Over the course of those thirty-six hours students from nineteen institutions, both graduate and undergraduate, had the opportunity to learn about a diverse range of topics from distinguished speakers and from one another. There were several unique presentations over the two-day period. The first was a self-mentorship workshop where the speaker guided us through introspective searches into our deepest desires and goals which we later used to help craft a personal mission statement. The next day we participated in a workshop given by a Juniata alumnus that now works at Ecovative, a company that produces biodegradable packaging products with fungus. We even got to take some samples home with us! To close out the conference Juniata’s very own Dr. Belle Tuten, a history professor that specializes in medieval medicine, gave a talk on the methods by which doctors in medieval times used to treat wounds. The subject matter, which was quite humorous by itself, was made even more so by Dr. Tuten delivering her speech as if the medical practices of the past were perfectly reasonable methods for treating diseases.
While the workshops and speaker sessions were fun and educational, nothing compared to the student presentations. Although I presented this summer at the Landmark Conference at Susquehanna University, presenting at an actual society meeting had a much more significant feel to it. Sharing my hard work with a room full of people who were just as big or bigger science nerds than me was phenomenal and then being able to sit back down and learn about all the other awesome projects students were working on was just as exhilarating. This conference further affirmed by desire to go into research when I graduate from Juniata this May. I learned so many new things about tools like CRISPR and about how viruses affect fetal brain development, to cover just a few things. This conference increased my thirst for knowledge and understanding about the scientific world and made me that much more excited about graduate school next year.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the constant support and mentoring by Dr. Regina Lamendella and Justin Wright and their lab. Without them I highly doubt that our lab would have done so well at the conference, and many of us that presented wouldn’t have had as high quality research to present on without their connections and collaborations. There are many labs that conduct undergraduate research on campus. Students can do research in almost every department on campus, and many students present this research at local, regional and national conferences, including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and our very own Liberal Arts Symposium which we host every Spring.
From my experience, albeit limited, Juniata has one of the best programs for undergraduate research. Everyone is encouraged to participate and you can get involved as early as your freshmen year. All it takes is a little initiative, drive to succeed and no small amount of curiosity on your part. Even if you don’t think you’ll like research, I still encourage you to participate. You might find, like me, that you love research and the amazing sense of discovery that comes with it, and find it much more satisfying than being a doctor. Or you might not. It is better to try and not like it, then never try and miss out on an amazing opportunity. Not only that but if you do want to go to med school it looks good if you have done research.
I leave you with this: Research can be difficult. There are days where you will want to pull your hair out because your line of code just isn’t working or your organic reaction has failed for the twentieth time. If you get nothing else out of research, you will at least learn the ability to fail. Yes, the ability to fail. It is an art, one that I am still mastering. Sure, succeeding at everything you do feels great, but you don’t really learn anything from it. Failing teaches perseverance and creativity. Believe me, you do a lot of failing when you first start researching. You learn as you go and slowly, you improve. The quality of your work gets better as does the understanding of your project, and for me, my desire to learn more about what I was researching also increased. It is quite a journey but there is no better place to undertake that journey than Juniata.