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National Council of Teaching English (NCTE) Conference

The back of the Writing Centaur T-shirt

The back of the Writing Centaur T-shirt

I hear a lot of Juniata College students mentioning conferences. I assumed they were mostly for different science fields, but I was wrong. From November 20 to November 22, I attended the National Council of Teachers of English conference in National Harbor, Maryland with my fellow Writing Center tutors. Eight other Writing Center tutors and I piled into a van at 8:30 Thursday morning and we set off for the conference with Professor Peters. On Thursday, we registered for the conference and began to attend presentations. On the first day, I attended a panel on linking young adult literature and nonfiction. The panel was all about making connections between books that discuss real issues that young people deal with on a daily basis. One of the coolest aspects of the conference is that the panels were quite often authors who were talking about their own books, not professors or teachers. That night, the entire group went to see Sonia Nazario speak. She was incredible. In order to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Enrique’s Journey, she took the same train-hopping route through Central America and Mexico that many young people also traveled. I am excited to read her book when I get some time over break.

Meeting Cinda Williams Chima

Meeting Cinda Williams Chima

Friday was another day full of panels. However, Friday was also the day that the book floor opened. Imagine a large convention center right outside of Washington, D.C. full of English teachers. Now imagine a whole ballroom full of booths run by different publishing companies. Oh, and just a minor detail: most of the books and items were free. People were walking around with rolling luggage in order to hold all the books, bags, pens, posters, and everything else that was given away on the book floor. “Wouldn’t they run out?” you ask. No. The books are refilled every hour because every hour each publishing company has different authors signing books. Not only are many of these books free, but they’re also signed. I’m a huge fan of Cinda Williams Chima, and I was able to meet and get a picture with her on Saturday. On top of that, I took about twenty signed books home with me over Thanksgiving Break. The book floor was pretty awesome.

As I mentioned, I met one of my favorite authors on Saturday. However, I also saw Cory Doctorow speak. I am reading Little Brother in my young adult literature course, so it was great to see him talk about some of the issues that he discusses in his book. Also, after his presentation when he was signing books, we bonded a bit over the struggle of being called the wrong name. As a “Cody,” I often get called “Cory.” He has the opposite problem.

In addition to all the actual conference events, it was also a good time to bond with my colleagues in the Writing Center. Making coffee runs across the city before a panel, playing games in the hotel rooms, and hanging out for three days was a great team-building experience. Plus, a bunch of people wanted our Writing Centaur T-shirts. The conference was an awesome experience and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to go.

Writing Centaurs preparing to head back to Juniata

Writing Centaurs preparing to head back to Juniata

The Mid-Semester Slump

My reading list for the rest of the semester.

My reading list for the rest of the semester.

Pretty much everyone on campus is feeling it to some extent: that stress and bump in the road that happens around this point of the semester. It’s a conglomeration of everything that’s going on. We’re past Fall Break with Thanksgiving Break right around the corner, midterms are over and finals are too far away to worry about, clubs and activities are in full swing, some students are working on campus, study abroad applications will be due soon, it’s getting colder, and we have the added excitement of tenting in preparation for Madrigal.

It’s nice to have a lot happening. College is a time to build relationships with friends and faculty, to spend time participating in extra curricular activities, and to think about the future. However, perhaps the most obvious part of college life is taking classes. At Juniata College, academics are serious and challenging. The professors expect a lot from their students because they are deeply invested in our educations and want us to receive a strong liberal arts education.

I’m immensely grateful for my opportunity to receive a liberal arts education at Juniata, but this is one of the times in the semester where college can get a bit rough. Juniata students always seem to be busy with something. It could be work, volunteering, practice, labs, research, or anything else that other students get involved with. There’s so much going on with classes, clubs, activities, and work that, at times, it’s hard to sit down and get homework done. Not because of an excess of work, but rather because of an excess of opportunities outside the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never catch me complaining about reading a book for one of my English classes. Doing concept maps for my biology class is a different story.

We’re eleven weeks into the semester with only five more to go. As it gets closer to Thanksgiving and finals, we’ll work our way out of the slump and finish strong both inside and outside the classroom. Then next semester, we’ll do it all over again.

Working on Campus: More Than Spending Money

When I was visiting colleges as a prospective student, I remember thinking that I definitely wanted to work in a Writing Center and to be a tour guide.  This year, I am doing both.

As an English POE, I am thankful for the opportunity to work as a Writing Center tutor. The opportunity not only to edit papers, but also to work on writing skill acquisition is as beneficial to the students I work with and me. For me, the Writing Center is an opportunity for me to use my skills and talents to help others, but it is also a channel for personal and professional growth. Of course, every day of work is an opportunity to solidify and strengthen my own analytical and writing skills, but working at the Writing Center is more than that. It is a collaboration between tutor and student to improve a paper for the present and skills for the future. Working with other students is great for interpersonal communication skills. Also, the Writing Center functions as a team. Throughout the seven weeks of the semester, I think I have learned valuable lessons about teamwork that I can carry with me throughout my Juniata College career and beyond.

CJ working writing center web

I’m the type of person who feels an intense loyalty to his school, and I think acting as a campus tour guide is one of the best ways for me to share my fondness for Juniata. I really enjoy answering questions about campus and talking about Juniata traditions and my personal experiences at Juniata. Speaking directly to prospective students and families and answering questions has improved my communication and public speaking skills, and the small trivia facts that I’ve picked up about campus are interesting not only to the prospective students, but also to my friends. While facts about the size of our window in the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre (we have the second biggest window in a theatre space next to Disney World) or the Juniata chestnut arboretum (we have a chestnut sanctuary to help regrow American chestnut trees which perished during the chestnut blight in the early 1900s) are fun topics of conversation, I’ll be able to take professionalism and communication skills with me into my career.

With my friend and fellow tour guide, Morgan

With my friend and fellow tour guide, Morgan

The relationships I’ve developed with my coworkers and the skills I have acquired through these positions are really important to my college experience. The hours spent at my jobs are some of the highlights of my weeks.

Lobsterfest 2014

Lobsterfest on the quad.

Lobsterfest on the quad.

This past Saturday was Lobsterfest. For those of you who don’t know, Lobsterfest is a Juniata College tradition established in 1988 in which students have an opportunity to join a variety of campus organizations. Registered student organizations line up on the quad and offer other students information about the club and a chance to sign up. Then, lobster is served for dinner (steak, chicken, and a vegetarian option are available, too).

Lobsterfest definitely attracts a lot of students to the quad. As a freshman, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed not only by the amount of clubs available, but also by the variety. With over one hundred clubs and activities to choose from, it’s easy to find ways to get involved. Personally, getting involved with Eagle Ambassadors and the Juniata Activities Board really helped me to make some friends as a freshman. Juniata has organizations for students interested in art, advocacy, club sports, communication and business, culture, the outdoors, science, service, and spirituality.

The best part about Lobsterfest is that it is an event that is inherently Juniatian. Everyone is friendly and welcoming; if you want to join a club to learn a new skill, that’s not only acceptable, but is also encouraged. If you’ve never touched clay in your life and you want to join the pottery club, go for it. If you want to learn the art of beekeeping, there’s a club for that, too! Also, Juniata students are characteristically very passionate about their interests. Lobsterfest is a way for (especially new) students to find students who care about the same activities that they do and to be welcomed to a part of the Juniata community.

End of Freshman Year

A lot of people say that you change when you go to college. I expected myself to change; Juniata College was listed in Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives. I just didn’t know how I would change. A graduating high school senior hears so much about college that he or she has no idea what is true, what is an exaggeration, or what does not apply to that specific school. While I haven’t finished my college career yet, I have finished one year and I can already see a difference in myself and how I view the world.

Juniata’s environment encourages healthy change. The professors are available and willing to talk to students about their academic interests to help them find a direction to head in or their personal problems to help them make the transition to the college lifestyle. Additionally, there are plenty of students who have great consciousness of issues and plenty of students with open minds who are willing to learn more. Juniata is a great place to have a casual and intellectual conversation. It’s a friendly place to get used to living away from home and to get a taste of the “real world.”

The most major change that I see within myself is my new awareness of the world. There are global issues that I’ve never heard of or discussed before, problems that individuals face in other countries and in our own, and a lifetime worth of literature to read from non-English speaking countries. I never thought that reading literature in translation would be this rewarding until I took World Literatures last semester. You could say that I had a fairly sheltered life. I never watched the news. I never picked up a newspaper. Now, when I hear about something I read news articles myself and I talk to people who are always on top of the latest news. The friendliness of Juniata’s students is really helpful in these situations, since other students are often happy that you are willing to try to understand these issues and will help you out as much as they can. I’ve made friends from all over the United States and also from other countries, and I’ve come to realize that every one of these people has had different life experiences up to this point and that I can learn something from every person I come in contact with. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the standard advice of acting friendly toward everyone is very true and very important and that you should approach every situation and opportunity with an open mind.

Liberal Arts Symposium

As a first year at Juniata College, today I experienced my first Liberal Arts Symposium. Liberal Arts Symposium is a day where classes are canceled and the Juniata community is encouraged to go to see presentations about the research done by students. In addition to oral presentations, there were posters in the library and student art in the von Liebig Center for Science. Liberal Arts Symposium is also called “Mountain Day of the Mind,” and while looking at posters and listening to presentations does not sound like the ideal day of canceled classes, I found Mountain Day of the Mind just as exciting as Mountain Day (I also did not have to wake up at 4 in the morning).

CJ LAS1webI started the day by attending presentations on history and English research, which I found really interesting. After those, I went with some friends to see the art in VLB. The drawings, paintings, ceramics, and everything else were great. One of my friends went with me and she gave me some insight into the symbolism of different colors and styles in some of the pieces, which I really appreciated. We then went to the library to see some of the posters. The posters covered disciplines such as computer science, communications, environmental science, biology, and chemistry. Later in the day, I observed a panel of four students who created videos for an upper level writing class. The videos concerned accurate and ethical portrayals of themselves or others, which led to some moving stories of real people. Finally, I attended the Multicultural Storyfest, which consisted of international students sharing parts of their cultures. Two Russian poems and a dance from Thailand are some examples of the presentations from Multicultural Storyfest.

CJ LAS2 web

Students at Juniata work hard. With classes, papers, exams, homework, and other activities, the average student has a decent amount of work at any time. I think that Liberal Arts Symposium is a great way for other students and professors to take a break for a day and recognize and appreciate the impressive research that is being conducted or artwork that is being made throughout the year.

International Roommate

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects about Juniata is the presence of international students on campus. I can’t think of an experience that I have had with an international student that was negative. Overall, they are some of the friendliest students on campus. It’s also interesting to see what different perspectives they bring to the classroom. I’ve met students from England, Germany, Russia, Spain, Japan, and Myanmar, just to name a few. However, I also have a roommate who is from France.

I know almost no French. And I can’t even pronounce the few words that I do know, I can only spell them. Nonetheless, we are able to communicate through English. Although he is usually pretty good with vocabulary, there are times when a word escapes him. This leads to one of my favorite parts about rooming with someone whose native language isn’t English: the game of guessing what he is trying to say. It’s kind of like a real life version of Catch Phrase or Taboo. Of course, there are websites for translation online, but where’s the fun in that? There’s also the friendly accusations that arise when English has stolen a word directly from French or when French takes from English. This word guessing game keeps both of us on our toes with vocabulary, which I appreciate as an English POE.

I’m not well-traveled at all; I’ve never left the country and I can count the states that I’ve been to on my fingers. So, it’s really nice to be able to talk to someone from a different culture and to see where we are similar and where we are different. Apparently, our American trains are not as good as European trains. He takes a train to school every day in France, and I’ve never taken a train anywhere in my life. Also, since the education systems are different, the term “college” for him is “middle school” for me. It’s really interesting to be able to talk with someone from another country on a regular basis and to be able to learn from each other, and I’ve had a great roommate experience.

Lift Ev’ry Voice

Lift Every Voice participants.

Lift Ev’ry Voice participants.

On Friday, February 21st in Ellis Ballroom, Juniata College’s English Department hosted “Lift Ev’ry Voice: Dancing in the Streets.” “Dancing in the Streets” comes from a song performed by Martha & the Vandellas. During the event, poems, songs, and a folktale by African American artists were read and performed by over a dozen students. Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglas, Maya Angelou, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper are just a few of the writers whose works were read.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice” is a program to celebrate African American writers. The event alternates yearly with “Unlock Your Voice,” which focuses on women writers. Both events were introduced by Dr. Judy Katz from Juniata’s English Department. Beginning with “Unlock Your Voice” in 1996,  Dr. Katz introduced “Lift Ev’ry Voice” not long after. However, after many years with the programs, Dr. Katz has retired, marking this as her last “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” but also Dr. Amanda Page’s first.

Since I was involved with planning the event since the fall semester, it was great to see the ballroom decorated along the block party theme that we decided upon. A city skyline spread across the back wall of the ballroom, and strings of lights added an upbeat glow to the walls. Paper records and musical notes decorated the walls, and large posters depicting jazz, motown, hip-hop, and gospel music were dispersed around the room. All the readers did very well, and the event was a lot of fun. I’m sure that I will get involved next year, too!

Reflecting on My First Semester

My first semester at Juniata went by so quickly. Just a few months ago, I was going to high school graduation parties and wondering what college would bring. I think that these feelings are fairly common among soon-to-be freshmen. I was nervous about making new friends and what college life would be like. Also included in my anxiety was whether or not I made the right choice.

So, yes, making friends can be difficult. Before college, I never really had to make new friends. Most of my friends were with me from preschool or kindergarten to high school graduation. But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. A few days into the semester there was a knock at my door followed by, “I heard that you’re a vegetarian. I am, too. Let’s be best friends.” That’s the kind of unexpected thing that can happen at Juniata, and we are now very good friends.

College life is a lot like life at home, but it is also very different. In college, you’re accountable for yourself. There is no one there to remind you to do something or to go somewhere, but the basic schedule of “school, activities, homework, sleep” from high school is still present.

My new friends at Madrigal.

My new friends at Madrigal.

So here we are at the big question: did I make the right choice? Yes. Juniata is a really great place. It may be small, but everyone is so friendly. Sometimes, that smile and wave from someone on campus is what you need to brighten your day. All of the professors that I have had so far have been great, and they really care about what they are teaching and about their students. Activities like clubs and sports and traditions like Mountain Day and Madrigal provide a nice break from the academic side of college. Now, looking back, I realize that being nervous was really unnecessary. Juniata College is a welcoming, interesting, and fun environment that I am happy to attend.

World Literatures – New Perspectives

"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe is one text used in class.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is one text used in class.

I came to Juniata College after fourteen years of Catholic education. While I would not change my elementary and high school environments, I can’t deny that I was fairly sheltered.

When I registered for classes over the summer, I chose World Literatures because it sounded interesting and because I need the class for my English degree. My high school had a great English department. I read a variety of books ranging from Greek Drama and Shakespeare to Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter. I even had a teacher who only taught novels that appeared on banned books lists. However, the majority of the literature that I was exposed to was Western in nature.

World Literatures is a class that focuses on literature that is not Western. As can be expected at Juniata, the class is fairly small and is very participation-oriented. The emphasis on participation means that, after I read and analyze the literature, I am also exposed to the reactions and insights of other students. While reading novels and short stories from different cultures, we are challenged to think about cultures outside our own. Questions of assimilation, adaptation, and colonization are only a few of the topics that are discussed. Does a culture lose anything when its stories are written down? Is easy access to a culture a good thing? Can we read too far into a work of literature and infer things about a culture that the author did not mean to convey?

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

The kinds of questions raised cause students to think critically and deeply about new information. To me, that’s what Juniata College is all about, learning how to think about topics outside of our comfort zones. To feel guilt about cultural misconceptions, to gain interest in the literature of a different culture, and to identify values present in other societies all make me think that with one class at Juniata I have grown ethically, intellectually, and personally.

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