It’s that time of year again – the time for The Wildlife Society Northeast Student Conclave.
I’m realizing that these words probably mean nothing to you, but that’s okay. I’ll give a brief explanation. Every year, the Juniata Chapter of the Wildlife Society attends Northeast Student Conclave. To break that down even further, it is a weekend gathering of wildlife and nature nerds, and it’s the best. This year’s Student Conclave took place this past weekend in Halifax, Pennsylvania, and had almost 150 participants.
The Northeast Student Conclave was full of mammals, wildlife competitions, presentations on falconry, reptiles and more, but my favorite part about this weekend was the Bioblitz competition that took place on Sunday. For this competition, the group from Juniata was competing against other schools to see who could find the most species of plants and animals in an hour.
Sunday morning, the 5 of us did what any reasonable college student would do – we woke up early, and went out to look for plants and animals. As the hour began, we were off. We wandered through the woods flipping rocks, searching in streams, analyzing tree bark, and listening for bird calls. As we ran around in that early morning hour, we identified over 100 species of plants and animals. As that time was wearing on, I slowly began to realize how much I actually knew, and how much the people around me knew as well. It was incredible.
Now I’m guessing what you’re thinking right now is “oh my gosh, that girl is a super nerd”. Well, on one hand, yes. I am just a super nerd, but that isn’t the whole point. My point is that this past weekend, I got to spend all my time with a group of almost 150 people who shared the same passions as me – 8 of them being from Juniata. That’s what happens here. You get connected with people who love the things you love, and there is no feeling better than sharing a passion.
Oh, and we got 2nd place in the competition! Fun fact about wildlife nerds – they give you animal skulls as trophies.
You’ve all heard it before… Juniata is a special place. We all have heard it, we all know it, and we all sell it. For some reason, however, whenever I’m asked the question “why?”, my mind goes blank.
How can I tell you why Juniata is special any more than I can tell you why gravity happens or why bananas are the best when they’re mostly yellow with just a touch of brown? The words escape me, and it just seems like a fact of life. However, one thing recently gave me a true reason, a true piece of evidence to prove that Juniata is a special place – The Bailey Oratorical.
The Bailey Oratorical is the longest standing academic tradition at Juniata College, this being it’s 107th year. It is a speech competition that happens every spring and has 7 contestants who each give a 6-8 minute speech answering a prompt. I could go on, but these statistics of the Bailey, the history, the prizes, the try outs – they all pale in comparison to actually being in that room. None of those things are what amazed, captivated, and touched the audience this past Tuesday night. What we felt that night was pure heart and pure love.
36…7..3…and beyond. From 36 tryouts, to 7 finalists, to our top 3, and to hundreds of people who received the gift of hearing these speeches last night, the Bailey is a treasure. The speeches ranged from Claire Delaval’s questioning of the assumptions of the prompt: “At the heart of the liberal arts is civic engagement: How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?”, Nitya Chagti decidedly stating that we are all her family, and Maeve Gannon welcoming us into the world of social change. It was heart wrenching to hear their personal stories, to feel their presence reverberating throughout the room. In the end, they were accepted and appreciated by each and everyone one of us in that theatre.
The first prize for the Bailey is undoubtedly impressive – $1,000. However, I do not think a single one of those seven finalists that night was thinking about money. I know a few of them personally, and their actions were not driven by a desire to win, make a quick buck, or get a resume booster. Each of them had an idea that they thought could make the world better if they shared it, and I think that they were right.
The love, friendship, and support I felt in that room was endless. And that feeling, that one of fullness, pride, tears welling in my eyes, warmth exuding from my heart…. That is what makes Juniata special. For as little as I can put it into words, I hope you all know what I am talking about, I hope you have all felt it before. There is no feeling like it.
If you ever get the chance, I suggest you tune into the Baileys. In person is preferable, online is second best. You will be surprised, happy, sad, angry, hopeful, loved. The people here will love you, and that is beautiful.
Thursday morning I woke up around 2 AM, and looked out my window to see before me a winter wonderland. It was the picturesque snow – the one which rests easily on the trees and transforms your whole view of the world. It was gorgeous. I promptly appreciated it for a minute, and immediately fell back asleep, because nobody needs to be awake at 2 AM.
Now many of you may be thinking, “Oh cool, a snow day!”. I hate to break it to you, but absolutely not. Very rarely do we ever get classes canceled here at our little mountain college. You see, we are hardened to the snow here. We are unaffected by the cold. We are winter warriors! …sort of. Because most of our professors live in town, and Pennsylvania is well educated in snow removal, classes being canceled is a rare treat, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the winter weather.
After classes were over on Thursday, a few friends and I took off to frolic in the snow. The fresh powder wasn’t quite right for building snowmen, but we did throw a snowball or two. It was perfect for writing giant messages in the snow, taking a walk around campus, and finally, finishing the day with a walk to the cliffs.
Only a few minutes walk from main campus, the cliffs are a Juniata gem. The views are breathtaking, and while it looks good in every season, there was something magical about that landscape being covered in a fresh blanket of snow. Of the things I’ve learned being at Juniata, there is one main one that comes to mind right now: very few things are more beautiful than Juniata with a fresh coat of snow. I mean, just look at those pictures.
So yes, while we don’t get very many classes off because of weather, we still get to enjoy the fun of the snow and the beauty of central Pennsylvania, which all in all, I would consider a win.
I’d never considered myself to be much of a “researcher”. Yes, I love environmental science, and most science learning, but when I thought about my future, I never saw research in it. Now, as a first semester Sophomore, I’ve found myself leading my own research project under biology professor, Dr. Norris Muth.
Last year, I began working on the project of mapping the street trees of Huntingdon Borough. I continued that project into this year, but a few weeks ago, Dr. Muth and Jim Savory (a member of the Tree Commission) approached me with a new project – the Huntingdon Champion Trees project. Well, that’s not quite our official name, but it sums it up fairly well. Essentially, our goal is to find the biggest tree of each species across Huntingdon County.
We had an article published in The Daily News (Huntingdon County’s newspaper) about our project, and the tips started rolling in. So far, people around the county have contacted me about almost 20 different trees. I’ve been going out a few times a week since then just to try to keep up with it!
Besides the fact that it’s incredibly cool to have my own project so early in my college career, the project itself somehow managed to combine everything I’m interested in. I love Urban Forestry (trees in cities and towns), history, people, and Huntingdon. I’ve met someone who lives in the same house that their grandparents once lived in, I went to one home that had an old carriage house, and a ramp in the front yard so people could get into the carriage, and I’ve seen some really, really huge trees.
I know trees are not everyone’s thing. Heck, they’re barely anyone’s thing. However, that’s not the point. Even though Juniata does not have a forestry program, I was able to invest myself fully in my interests.
Whenever I encounter students considering coming to Juniata, they always ask me the same few things.
“What is the social scene like?”
“How are the classes?”
“Do you like the size of the school?”
These questions are usually fine, but then I get the one question that is so hard to answer: “What is the best thing about Juniata?”. It’s a tough one. I mean, think about it. In answering that question, I’m trying to pick one thing that summarizes everything that Juniata is to me, and that’s near impossible. So, I’ve decided to make a list. A countdown list of what Juniata’s best is, at least in my opinion. I hope it helps.
- Trips – One of my favorite aspects, and one of my mom’s least favorite (sorry Mom!)
So far this year, I’ve gone on a trip to the Baltimore Aquarium, and to a 4-day professional conference in North Carolina, and its only October. The reality of Juniata is, there are trips happening constantly, they go all over, and they’re incredible. I know people who’ve gone to NYC, Niagara Falls, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and so many other amazing places on Juniata or club sponsored trips. If you’re looking to travel, and travel with a great group of people, Juniata is a good place for it.
- Proximity to home – This one, my mom likes
Juniata really is in a great location. We’re 3 hours from D.C., 3 hours from Philadelphia, 3 hours from Pittsburgh, and fairly close to a lot of other places, such as NYC. Generally, if I don’t know where someone is from, I assume it’s 3 hours away, because we’re pretty much smack dab in the middle of everything.
- Huntingdon – A charming mix of old and brand new
Huntingdon is a fantastic little town. There is a plethora of coffee shops, thrift shops, little stores, and beautiful old buildings. Its small enough to always feel at home, and large enough that you always manage to see something new.
- Tenting – It’s awful and wonderful all wrapped into one freezing week
Tenting is an amazingly awful experience. It’s a hilarious week of talent competitions, 3am challenges, impossible tasks, and a lot of air horns being blown. It’s also a week of freezing your butt off, and realizing at 4 am that you have an exam in less than 12 hours that you forgot about. I would definitely recommend it.
- Everyone – You can’t beat the people
I’ve come to realize that out of everything, the people here are my absolute favorite part of Juniata. Professors, facilities, hall mates, classmates, dining hall workers… they’re some of the best people I’ve ever met. The thing is, everyone around here is willing and wanting to help you. Juniata is a community of wanting each other to be happy, and that fact is evident in everyday life.
I hope my little list was informative and helpful in your journey of selecting a school, but there’s only so much you can get from writing. If you get the chance, you should come check it out for yourself.