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Research at Juniata: Sharing your passion with the world

Writing a thesis is hard. It is the culmination of all the hard work and late nights that you put into your research project to make it the shining testament to your will power, work ethic and ability to muscle your way through writer’s block and procrastination. It’s a long and arduous task and at the end of each day your head is spinning from all the scientific papers you’ve come through just to provide evidence for on paragraph. Yes, it’s difficult and at times all I want to do is crawl into my cozy bed and watch the snow fall outside of my window, dreaming of my childhood where my greatest worry was if I was going to have enough snow to build an igloo. Having the opportunity to write a paper that brings together the project you have been working on for months or years is rather unique, at least from my perspective.

Hard at work making figures for my thesis.

Hard at work making figures for my thesis.

You see, once I complete my thesis and defend it at Thesis Night in late April, I’ll be submitting it for publication to a bonafide science journal. That isn’t something that most undergraduates can do, especially if they attend a larger institution where most of the research projects are carried out by graduate students. Thankfully, Juniata doesn’t have any graduate students, barring those accountants, so young aspiring researchers or doctors, or even literary scholars and future orators all can conduct graduate level research at the undergraduate level. If you continue your project long enough, or compile enough evidence to draw a conclusion from your data you can compile it into a thesis and maybe can submit your manuscript to a journal within your field. Graduate and medical school admittance committees look very highly on that. It shows you are highly motivated and exceptional work ethic.

An additional benefit for the aspiring researcher that is considering Juniata is our annual Liberal Arts Symposium (LAS) which we will be hosting on April 19th this year. Students doing research in every department have an opportunity to present on the progress they have made on their projects either through a poster or through a presentation. When you wade through the masses that crowd around the posters and you sit in on presentations throughout the day, you really begin to understand the scope of research that is offered here at Juniata. One of the most beautiful aspects of Juniata, to me at least, is the ability for anyone in any department to conduct research on a subject that is near and dear to their heart. And they can present their findings to the school, and sometimes the rest of the world. At Juniata we are all about writing our own story and part of that, for many students, is the ability to write the story of their research.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another stack of papers to read through.

The Cross-section of Science and Philosphy

Hundreds of years ago, what we would now know as “the sciences” were a particular branch of Philosophy known as “Natural Philosophy.” From a historical standpoint this makes sense: philosophy prompted the first turn away from theology or scholasticism towards hard logic, and the real world lent itself particularly well to rational inquiry. With that said, then, it should not be so odd to see a Philosophy major like myself in a physics class generally more suited form environmental science majors than those in the humanities.
Such a unique schedule is the result of Juniata’s FISHN and quantitative reasoning requirements. As a humanities student I’ve fulfilled my requirements for the natural sciences through a combination of statistical studies and high school courses. Yet the nitty-gritty math of it all requires something more focused: in this case, a course on modes of power generation, human interaction with the environment, and the physics thereof.
I can imagine a great many Philosophy majors would be unenthused, intimidated, or even scornful of these requirements. Too many people seem to fail to recognize the requirement to study outside their own particular field of expertise, or to challenge themselves with alternative ways of thinking. At Juniata, however, interdisciplinary studies are common—and mandatory. My studies in statistics and formal logics across a variety of fields have helped me to understand the physical and mathematical concepts we touch on in Environmental Physics.
An added benefit of cross-disciplinary studies is that it allows one to approach problems in alternative ways. Philosophers spend a great deal of time inside our own heads, considering problems at high levels of abstraction. Yet when one has a solar panel and a battery in front of oneself, it prompts a different and altogether more concrete way of considering issues. I am grateful to be at a college which recognizes the capacity for enrichment through studies in fields which are not one’s own, and whose curriculum supports those even if one has no direct experience. Now I just have to get a labcoat!

Zachary Hesse is a writer, editor, and sailor finishing a degree in Philosophy at Juniata College. You can find more details and works of his at zacharyhesse.com.

The Bailey Oratorical: Changing the Word one Speech at a Time

Tonight, is the annual Bailey Oratorical contest here at Juniata. The event is celebrating its 118th year which puts it up there with other long-standing and cherished Juniata traditions like Madrigal and Storming of the Arch. Unlike those events, the Bailey is a true testament to the liberal arts values that we as a college try to espouse daily. The Bailey gives Juniata students the chance to express their own unique opinions about the specific prompts put forth each year. The finalists this year will be asked to describe their dream for the future, and why they have that specific dream. It’s a prompt that I think is particularly apt given the current state of global affairs. Regardless of your political ideology or what country you live in, I think one thing that we can all agree on is that there is no small amount of uncertainty about the future of our world, and that future is in the hands of my generation.

The Bailey regularly draws a full house. Some people even sit in the aisles!

The Bailey regularly draws a full house. Some people even sit in the aisles!

That is one of the most beautiful things about Juniata and the faculty and staff that strive to make it a haven for academic achievement and interdisciplinary appreciation. I think the endurance and success of the Bailey speaks for itself, no pun intended. The Bailey challenges students to think about the world and tis issues and to offer up their own perspectives on the world and ways that we could maybe make it better.

Last year, contestants were challenged to think about how civic engagement and the other values that are inherent in a liberal arts education could help to heal the divides present not only in our nation, but the world over. We heard speeches from sociologists and mathematicians, historians and biologists and I think that is the testament to the true liberal arts nature of the Bailey, and of Juniata. The mathematicians aren’t just taught to see the world through numbers and equations just as the politics POEs aren’t taught to see the world through power dynamics. The Bailey and similar events like the Liberal Arts Symposium later this Spring, challenge the students at Juniata to think outside of the box of their perspective on the world and to see the world and its issues through someone else’s eyes.

I don’t know what tonight’s speeches hold, but if they are anything like past speeches I have heard, they’ll be thoughtful and insightful and will challenge the audience to think, just as much as the contestants had to think about the prompts. And maybe we might just gain a new perspective on a brighter future.

Starting a Student Club

One of the many things Juniata College is known for is the variety of student-run clubs our campus has to offer. We’ve got something for everyone, such as Juniata College Dance Ensemble, College Against Cancer, Self Defense Club, JC Divers, Ping Pong Club, Globalization Alliance, and Juniata College Star Wars Club. Every fall, we have an event on the Quad called Lobsterfest, which is our version of an activities fair. Every club sets up a table with information, snacks, and games, and students can roam around the club, learn about different clubs, and sign up for the ones they are interested in. If there’s something you’re even remotely interested in, we probably have a club for it. But what if we don’t? What happens then? Luckily, it is super easy to start your own club!
Juniata's annual Lobsterfest is the best way to connect with the various clubs and organizations on campus. You might even be able to sponsor your very own club some day!

Juniata’s annual Lobsterfest is the best way to connect with the various clubs and organizations on campus. You might even be able to sponsor your very own club some day!

As a member of the Theatre Department, which is relatively small, we have become a very close-knit community. Although we are all close, we are always trying to expand our department and find new students to take our classes and workshops! At the beginning of last semester, some of the students, faculty, and I decided we should start a Juniata Student Theatre Ensemble, as a club separate from the department. Thankfully, it was really easy for us to come together and get our club approved! All we had to do is fill out a form for SECA (Student Engagement and Campus Activites Office) answering questions about our goals, mission statement, ideas for possible events, and students who are interested! We had a really surprising turnout for our interest meeting, and we had almost fifteen members right off the bat! We have a really talented team of officers running our club, and we started out really strong. Of course, the first few months after starting a new club can be tricky, because you don’t immediately have funding from the school, and it’s difficult to just jump right in and begin hosting events. We worked together as a club to decide what events and projects interested in, and took our time getting things done. This semester, we came back stronger than ever. We have three different events planned for our club, including a staged reading of a student play, a collaborate night of monologues/poetry to support Women’s History Month with the Poetry Club, and a stress-buster event for the end of the semester. Although we’re still building our club and working on becoming more well-known on campus, I’m so excited to see where this club goes!
Starting something new from scratch can be very nerve-wracking. Especially you have a small department backing you, and not many people know or support your idea. However, our club is growing and is planning some really exciting events, and everyone involved is becoming better friends, which I believe is the most important thing about being a part of a club.

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Continuing My Love For Community Service in College

All throughout high school I was a volunteer with Sunday school programs, volunteered at community outreach events, and was a camp counselor every summer. It started as a graduation requirement for high school but I grew to love it. Working with kids is a really rewarding experience that I want to continue in college.

I was first introduced to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program through Juniata Inbound. The Inbound program is a combination of an introduction to your classmates and a transition into college life. Inbound offers a variety of retreats such as plexus, biking, hiking, equestrian, community outreach, etc. For Big Brothers Big Sisters, each student was paired with a youth from the nearby community. We participated in an assortment of activities including bowling, rollerblading, swimming at Lake Raystown, and a day at Del Grosso’s amusement park.

2017 Big Brothers Big Sisters Inbound Retreat Group at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park

2017 Big Brothers Big Sisters Inbound Retreat Group at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park

Once lobster fest came around in early September, Big Brothers Big Sisters was the first club I signed up for. We meet weekly for the after school program and once a month for larger group activities. In the after school program, we usually take part in endeavors such as cooking, board games, Ping-Pong tournaments and the Huntingdon Art Walk. For the monthly events, we’ve gone to the Lake Tobias Wildlife Park and had various holiday parties. Witnessing the reactions of the kids when they are taking in a new experience is remarkable.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program was created to encourage youth to aspire to be the best version of themselves. Seeing the improvement in communication skills, engagement and participation of the kids is what keeps us coming back every week. Keeping the kids engaged in their academics, sports, art programs and other pursuits is one of the goals of the Big Brother Big Sister program. Connecting with the kids over something as simple as our mutual love of fruit snacks is an amazing feeling. Not only is it a great way to reach out to the community but it’s a great way to take a break from the grueling world of classes and homework and play a game of bingo or compete in an incredible intense ping ping tournament.

There are plenty of opportunities available at Juniata to expand your horizons or to continue towards your original horizon if you so choose. Being able to continue interacting with the community and make even the smallest difference in people’s lives is by far one of my favorite things about Juniata.

The Best Class I have Ever Taken

Though we aren’t even a month into the semester I’m pretty positive that I’m currently in not only the best class I’ve taken at Juniata, but the best class I’ve ever taken. When I enrolled in Constitutional Interpretation: Civil Rights I was initially terrified and a little intimidated (it is a mouthful after all). I’m a politics POE so as I was browsing the politics course selections for this semester the name peaked my interest because it stood out from the others, but it also stood out because it’s taught by Dr. Lauren Bowen, the provost. I had yet to take a class with her and honestly I didn’t even know that she taught classes, to me she was just one of those official administration people who occasionally speak at events- except she wasn’t even one of the fun ones like Matthew Damschroder; she was the one who oversaw all of academics which when following the energy of Dr. Damschroder or the “celebrity” of President Troha is considerably less interesting. I added the course to a list of classes I was considering, but it wasn’t something I was super excited about or really wanted to take.

Provost Bowen meeting with students.

Provost Bowen meeting with students.

But, at an event discussing the Charlottesville incidents Dr. Bowen was one of the speakers and shared her insight on the civil rights side of things and really caught my attention. Some of the things she said challenged my thinking and made me want to hear more, it was at that event, after hearing her share the tiniest bit of her knowledge, that I solidified that I had to take this class. Now, in our fourth week of classes, Dr. Bowen has yet to disappoint. I come to class everyday and feel thoroughly challenged and I leave not only feeling like I know so much more than I did before but somehow always having even more questions than I did before. This is the first class where I’ve genuinely wanted to do my homework; I always feel compelled to be over prepared rather than under prepared. I think the best part of the class, which also originates from Dr. Bowen and how she is as a teacher, is that it doesn’t even feel like work. I’m challenged in the class every day but it doesn’t feel like a challenge, it’s fun and exciting and it’s all so subtle. She knows just the right questions to ask, just the right points to make, and she has a knack for being able to find the weakness on any side or point of an argument. This class is the epitome of what it means to be in a class at Juniata- to be challenged, to have your horizons broadened, to be able to see something that you’ve known forever (like the Constitution) in a way you’ve never seen it before. On top of that, Dr. Bowen is the epitome of a Juniata professor: she’s intelligent, experienced, and engaging.

The Gift of a Good Mentor

About a year ago, I wrote a blog about a mentor of mine here at Juniata, and since I am heading into my last semester and nostalgia is hitting me like a tsunami, I thought I should revisit the topic. My current mentor came into my life about the same time I wrote the last blog about mentorship and, at the time, I had no idea what an effect her mentoring would have on me.

Dr. Regina Lamendella has been at Juniata for just about six years now but she has definitely left an enduring mark. About two years ago, Dr. L and one of her former students Justin Wright, decided to start their very own bioinformatics company, Wright Labs, to fill a niche in the ever growing world of bioinformatics. The specific area of bioinformatics that we dabble in is host and environment microbial interactions. Basically we analyze how bacteria in the human body affects certain disorders and overall human health, and how certain bacteria in the environment are helping to improve or worsen the condition of said environment. We work on a wide array of projects with an even wider array of collaborators, some students working alongside top names in the sciences like the EPA.

Dr. L in her native habitat.

Dr. L in her native habitat.

Through Wright Labs and the tireless efforts of Dr. L and Justin, the students in their lab have had the opportunity to do some amazing,  graduate school level work as undergrads. That kind of research experience, regardless of the field you want to go into, is invaluable and very impressive to an interview committee of a graduate or medical school program (I know as I am currently in the graduate school search process).

Its not the various projects and tools that Dr. L has made accessible to the members of her lab that makes her such a good mentor though. I have never in my life met someone with quite the work ethic and stamina that Dr. L possesses. She is always in meetings with collaborators or writing grants or teaching classes and lab courses or raising her two kids. Yet despite her insanely busy schedule, she always finds time for her students when they need her. You might find a quick ten minutes with her over lunch or you might catch her on a walk around the quad with her new baby. But no matter where she is or what she is doing, she’ll make the time to talk to you.

Above all, though I think without meaning to, Dr. L is teaching those of us in her lab how to be good mentors, and by that same virtue to be mentees. She teaches us how to ask good questions and is constantly challenging us to think critically about the research we do and about the research others do. Almost weekly two of the lab members present on a paper on some new advance in the world of bioinformatics, and its our job as lab members to delve into it and see if the results makes sense and if the methodology was sound.

When it comes down to it, Dr. L has made me a better person by making me a better student. Her guidance has helped me become more focused and organized in my academic life which has translated into the way I live my personal life. And my experience with Dr. L is not an isolated event. Every professor at Juniata strives to mentor their students to not only make them better learners, but better members of society. The professors here take an honest interest in their students’ lives and do their best to guide and help them through their four years here. Without Dr. L I still wouldn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life and I definitely would not be accepted into a graduate program. For that reason I will be forever grateful to Dr. L.

What Comes Next?

As I approach my final semester at Juniata, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with the thought of “what comes next?”. Family members, friends, and coworkers always ask what my plans are once I graduate, and thanks to Juniata College and the Theatre Department, I can say with confidence exactly what I am going to do once I leave.
One of the new classes the Theatre Department has implemented is called Integrated Experience. It’s a one-credit class where the seniors of the department meet with all of the faculty once a week to discuss what comes next, and how we are going to get there. The curriculum is self-driven, so the students decide what their deliverables are going to be for each week, instead of being given coursework by our professors. At the beginning of last semester, we spent a considerable amount of time creating our personal mission statements, as well as identifying what our one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals are. For me, I knew that I wanted to move back home to Boston after I graduate to focus on building my professional acting career, and then move to New York City to perform on Broadway when the time was right. In order to get there however, I needed to do some research. For the first few weeks of the semester, I brought in information about different theaters in the Boston area, what types of performance they do, directors to contact, etc. I worked on building/editing my resume, as well as crafting cover letters to different directors. It was definitely intimidating putting myself out there, but I am so grateful for these uncomfortable experiences, because over winter break something very exciting happened.
Me and Cosimo Sciortino ('20) performing in "She Kills Monsters" at Juniata College.

Me and Cosimo Sciortino (’20) performing in “She Kills Monsters” at Juniata College.

I had the privilege to meet with Spiro Velodous, the Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage in Boston. I went to the theater, we chatted about my experience and repertoire, and I did a sample audition for him right there in his office. We talked about upcoming auditions for the area, and he told me that I have a lot to offer and he’s excited about my future. It’s safe to say I had a very successful break and am more than ready to graduate. It’s one thing to have met with a director and have upcoming plans for performing, but it’s a whole new level of excitement for someone who hasn’t even graduated college.

Finding things to do in the Face of Boredom Adversity

Coming to Juniata was not a hard choice for me. Once the acceptance letters came in and I was left looking at Gettysburg and Juniata, my path was clear. I knew I would get a phenomenal education and be ready for whatever grad school or med school had to throw at me. What I didn’t know was whether or not I would be bored out of my mind for four years. I come from a small town in northern New Mexico, so I am used to the mild boredom that is bound to accompany living in a small rural community. On the other hand, central Pennsylvania with its Amish communities and verdant “mountains” would end up being a completely different experience. The summer before I left for Juniata, my coworkers teased me, saying that I was going to return the next summer sporting an Amish wife and several Amish children on my hip.


Thankfully that was not the case. When I arrived in Huntingdon I was struck by its picturesque quaintness. Huntingdon has a pleasant mix of revolutionary war era buildings next to more modern edifices. Huntingdon is a far cry from towns like the neighboring State College, home of Penn State, but it has its own blend of unique activities to offer. Standing Stone coffee company is a local favorite of students and townsfolk alike. After we are done studying there during the day, we often stick around for the monthly Saturday night trivia. (We haven’t won a single round or game yet, but we’re sticking with it!) Downtown we have a wide array of restaurants and cafes offering everything from pizza to scones.


If you’re not in the mood for food, you could head out to the bowling alley or movie theater and catch the latest blockbusters in our five screen movie theater. But if you are feeling cooped up and need some fresh air there is the beautiful Peace Chapel trail system only a mile walk from the college. It’s a great spot to run or hike or bike or to just sit and ponder. And of course if you tire of the rural life, State College is just a short drive away with somewhat more to offer the young college student seeking entertainment.


Whenever prospective students ask me whether or not there are things to do in Huntingdon, it’s never a hard answer. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small rural community like Huntingdon, or maybe it’s because I have grown used to life in Huntingdon, but I never feel bored at Juniata. There is always something to do. Sometimes you just have to go out and search for it.


One of the first things that initially drew me to Juniata were all of it’s crazy, unique traditions- when I was looking into Juniata I spent over an hour on YouTube watching videos about all of the traditions here. This past weekend my personal favorite Juniata tradition, Madrigal, took place. Madrigal dinner comes as a reward after a grueling week of tenting. For one week during the fall, which somehow always happens to be the coldest week, students sleep in tents and are awoken almost every hour of the night for role calls and to compete in events in order to gain points. The groups with the most amount of points get to select and secure their table at the Madrigal dinner first. The competition during tenting can get pretty intense, but in the end it’s all worth it for getting to have the perfect Madrigal evening.

As a Juniatian, the entire process of Madrigal didn’t seem that weird to me, but my date was pretty confused the whole night. The pinnacle of Madrigal dinner is singing “The 12 Days of Christmas”- at the top of your lungs…while standing on your chair. While this is an integral part of the Juniata experience, it’s not something you’ll find anywhere else, so to outsiders it may seem a little strange. The dinner is also served by faculty and staff members dressed in silly Christmas attire, which makes it even more fun. That professor who just gave you some feedback on a paper that you aren’t happy about? She’s refilling your water glass. Did your boss give you a long list of work for the week? He’s serving you your chocolate cake. Things like that are a part of what make me love Juniata so much, if I went to a school that was bigger than this I would never get to experience this kind of quirky, fun event. Plus, who doesn’t love a good excuse to get all dressed up with their best friends? Madrigal is another example of how Juniata traditions bringing everyone together to give us a special kind of experience and sense of community and togetherness that you just can’t find anywhere else.



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