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I’m finding my final year in college to be bittersweet – exciting and terrifying. Looking back on my years here, I can’t capture into words all that I have gained and become. College is transformative and lasting. My time here will never be forgotten, and I will always look back at parts with love.
As a final blog, I want to talk about one of the most important pieces of my time here. My mentors, my advisors, my role models – my professors.
As a student who came in with a strong idea of what I wanted to do, it was shocking how quickly I shed that notion. But then without it, where was I going to go? What was I supposed to do without my idea of the future to hold my hand?
The god’s honest truth is I still have no idea. I don’t know what next year will bring. I don’t even know what next semester will bring. I’ve almost (not quite) come to accept that I’ll probably never know what the future holds for me. Not with certainty, at least.
What I do know is that it will be fine. I will be fine. I know that, not because my professors here have told me, but because they have built me up to be someone who knows myself. They have built me up to be someone who is capable, strong, and powerful. Someone with a voice and someone willing to act when action is due. This hasn’t just happened through classes in my POE, or with only a handful of professors. It has been slow, organic, and expansive.
I have been built up by Dr. Neil Pelkey. He has always encouraging me in my writing, and has always read pieces that I send to him, even when they are not quite what he might have been expecting. I have been solidified in who I am by Dr. Donna Weimer, who tells me to never doubt my voice. I have become the person I am today through my classes and discussions with Dr. Alison Fletcher, Dr. Chuck Yohn, Dr. Polly Walker, Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan, Dr. Norris Muth… The list can go on because each and every professor I have interacted with here has given me something different, something wonderful.
Even when I have hated classes, disliked teaching styles, and disagreed, I have felt supported and encouraged by our faculty as a student here.
You can say a lot about the college admissions process. I remember it. It feels like all colleges promise you something shiny and new, and it’s terrifying. You’re making a major decision that will impact your life immensely. That’s not something to take lightly. Investigate, visit the campus, talk to students, do your research. I cannot tell you if this is your school. Only you can decide that.
What I do know for myself, and what I can say is that I would not be the same person I am today if I had not gone here. That fact is thanks to the faculty, staff, and students here. They have cared for me, they have advised me, they have let me cry when tears were what I needed. There are no words I can express that will fully capture the gratitude I feel for those three groups of people here. But with my very last blog here, I thought I might try.
Enjoy your college search. Be inquisitive, ask questions, assert yourselves. You’ll know the right choice when the time comes.
This year, Stephanie Letourneau is living at the Raystown Field Station and running her own blog about the adventures there! To not miss any of her updates, follow her blog Pursuing Passions.
Waving hello from the lake!
On August 22nd, I successfully moved into the Raystown Field Station. We had a presentation after moving in on field safety and then went down to the fire pit by the lake for s’mores and residential life information.
The schedule at the field station includes having one class all day each day. Our first day was an introduction to the station, tours, and logistics.
My class schedule is:
Mondays – GIS
Tuesdays – Sense of Place Seminar and Nature Photography
Wednesdays – Research
Thursdays – Aquatic Ecology
Fridays – Limnology
Our first class was Limnology on Friday. We have only had a few classes, but so far, we have designed a leaf decomposition study as a class to evaluate nearby ponds and Raystown Lake. Our labs the past two weeks have comprised of going out on the lake on the boat and measuring the lake’s physical and chemical properties.
For GIS, we have been exploring the program and practicing creating maps or finding information. I am very excited to learn how to use GIS more and how it can help with my research.
Sense of Place seminar began with a boat tour of Raystown Lake, which included the basic science and history facts of the area. Who knew you could have a lecture on a boat? We also discussed our research projects for the semester. I am not sure what I am exactly studying yet, but I will be researching an acid mine drainage site.
The first two weeks, we did not have anything on Wednesdays because we do not have our research projects established yet. My professor said, “Either make it a very productive day or a really good day.” I did a combination of both; I did some homework in the morning and spent the afternoon kayaking on the lake with some classmates.
Nature photography is a lot of terminology and learning the basic concepts of how to take a good picture. It is particularly difficult to take pictures of wildlife because of their movements so we have learned a lot of specialized techniques so far. Our first project was a picture of a wildflower. I am looking forward to improving my skills.
Aquatic Ecology has been an introduction to ecology and learning the applications of these concepts in aquatic ecosystems. This course is unique because it is taught by Dr. Lane Loya from Saint Francis University.
One afternoon, we had a mini Lake Symposium to listen to researchers discuss the previous studies on Raystown Lake and the potential issues for the future. The presenters included a park ranger from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and from Juniata, Dr. Sharon Yohn and Dr. Chuck Yohn. It is interesting to learn about an ecosystem in which you live and about the different issues that have to be monitored.
I also enjoyed kayaking and going on a firework cruise on the lake with my mom on Labor Day weekend.
From September 10th to 14th, our class at the field station travelled to the Finger Lakes region of New York to study lakes and streams. We stayed at the Cornell Biological Field Station and the USGS Lake Ontario Biological Station. On the way home, we stopped at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Our Limnology and Aquatic Ecology professors joined us too, which provided an immersive experience to apply everything we have learned and will learn this semester.
I wanted to end this post with some fun from Juniata’s traditions, Lobsterfest (Yes, sometimes I actually go back to campus.) It is an opportunity for students to sign up for clubs and enjoy delicious lobster on the quad.
Another tradition at Juniata is Mountain Day. One day in the fall, classes are canceled, and the school provides buses to take everyone to Seven Points Recreation Area on Raystown Lake for a day of outdoor fun including a picnic lunch, kayaking, slip and slide, inflatables, tug-of-war, and more. However, no one knows in advance when it is going be. As the Juniata website states, “trying to guess the date of Mountain Day is one of the most popular topics of conversation among the students and faculty in the weeks leading up to the event”. It really is. Students and professors will place bets when they think it will be and students will stay up all night if they think it might be the next day.
Luckily, Mountain Day didn’t happen while we were in NY, so we were able to sail the research boat across the lake to join in on the festivities!
Here’s to more adventures and beautiful sunsets on the lake.
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.
A few weeks ago, Juniata was visited by a very special guest, Dr. Bill Phillips of the Juniata College graduating class of 1970 and one of the 1997 Physics Nobel Laureates. Despite his huge success in his field, Dr. Phillips has not forgotten where he got his start, a small Liberal Arts college nestled in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Dr. Phillips comes back every four years to give talks about physics and to interact with current Physics students, and others as well. I’m sure he has many reasons for why he does come back, but I’d like to think that he mainly does it to inspire younger generations, to instill within them a belief that they can do anything and go anywhere with hard work and the right attitude.
His own attitude is one of positivity and an almost childlike sense of curiosity and fascination with physics, even after a lifetime of in-depth study. His energy and enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself excited for each new physical property that he introduced, despite my small amount of disdain for the field of physics. He bounced from one side of the stage to the other, always talking, his hands always moving as he described the intricacies of time and its relation to the coldest temperature ever recorded. During the talk, I roamed through the crowd and behind his presentation setup taking pictures of his talk. I captured liquid nitrogen being poured, ad libitum, on the floor and up the aisles of the lecture hall and I watched as the 77 Kelvin (really freaking cold) liquid nitrogen shrunk twenty or more fully blown up balloons down to a size small enough to fit them all into a bait bucket approximately one gallon in size.
Smashing frozen solid rubber balls into oblivion on the black concrete floor of Alumni Hall in our very own Brumbaugh Academic Center was cool (pun intended) to watch, but more fascinating was watching the crowd. Each face lit up with excitement as they watched each new demonstration. By far the most interesting faces to watch were those of the professor emeriti, those scholars and teachers that have retired from Juniata, several of whom taught Dr. Phillips when he attended Juniata. Their stoic faces broke into easy smiles with each joke and one was even giddy with excitement with each new revelation of a physical phenomenon. And the best moment of them all was when a water bottle filled with liquid nitrogen and placed under a trashcan, exploded launching the trash can up in the air causing the entire audience to jump and my heart to stop for a few seconds.
Bill Phillips most influential contribution to this campus did not come in his relation of physics to students of his alma mater, but in an answer to a question from a young audience member after his talk had concluded. The student asked what, if anything he would tell his younger self. He answered by telling a story of a time during his junior year at Juniata College when a physics professor from Princeton came to give a talk. During the question and answer portion the Juniata students asked about graduate school and getting into Princeton and the speaker gave the rather flippant answer that no one from Juniata could ever get into Princeton.
Bill Phillips took that information and proceeded to ignore it as he not only applied to Princeton, but also Harvard and MIT. His overarching point with the story was to not let anyone ever sell you short, especially if you are a Juniatian. That really hit home for me as I am now applying to graduate school and worrying if I will get accepted. What I tend to forget is that here at Juniata we are almost over prepared for our futures. If you choose to come to Juniata for the four years of your undergraduate study you are sure to embark on a difficult journey. Fun? Absolutely! Fulfilling? Of course. Difficult? Definitely. But we are better students and people for having gone through those difficult times.
Even if you are not a Juniatian now and even if you never will be. Remember to never let anyone sell you short. Show them what you can do and prove them all wrong. You might be surprised how far you get. Maybe you’ll even win a Nobel Prize.
You can find the video mentioned in this blog at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzESTv7ohhY
This summer may have been the best summer of my life. Some version of this clichéd line can be found at the end of any nineties summer coming of age story, but it does accurately sum up my three months in Huntingdon doing research and experiencing just a little bit of what my life might be like after graduate school. The beauty of a summer internship experience is that it allows you to not only get hands-on experience in your desired field of work, but it also helps you to decide if the work you are doing over that summer is what you want to do for the rest of your life. In the last few days, in fact, I was lucky enough to realize that I do want to go into microbiology and bioinformatics. However, this realization also came with a gut wrenching, panic stricken moment because suddenly I was no longer set on going into neuroscience, something I have wanted to study since I was a Junior in high school. With this change of my heart has come several moments of panicking and internally hyperventilating about my future and everything that I must complete for graduate school between now and December 1, 2017.
So, what could have possibly caused my sudden change of heart? What groundbreaking research have I done that has convinced me to completely switch career paths? To be honest my work really hasn’t been that groundbreaking. It has been fun though. I am sure that it is hard to imagine how sitting at a desk for eight hours a day staring at a computer can be considered ‘fun’, believe me I understand where you are coming from. That’s not the part of the job I found glamorous. It was discovering relationships between bacterial species and the gut cells of mice that I found so fascinating. I have had a minor interest in the gut microbiome since I read a book on how the gut microbiome is thought to influence some neurodegenerative disorders, but it was not until my research this summer that I really began to appreciate our microbial gut friends. The project was made even more fun since it was my own project. I oversaw the analysis and it was on me to determine what the results of my analysis meant.
The partnerships that Dr. Lamendella and Justin Wright, my two mentors this summer, have cultivated through their bioinformatics company Wright Labs (a startup company funded in part by Juniata’s Business Incubator) have allowed students like myself to get an almost graduate school level of research experience while still at our undergraduate institution. This opportunity, as I have already pointed out, has been instrumental in the decision of a career path. I am excited to continue working with Dr. Lamendella and Justin through this next year, which will sadly be my last at Juniata. Though I’ll be leaving in a few short months, I know that the work I have done for Wright Labs has set me up well for graduate school and all the research work I have ahead of me.
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.
We left Juniata on Friday morning and had a rainy drive to the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Association (MAWCA) Conference in Reading, PA. Every year, our Writing Center Director (Professor Carol Peters) takes us to a conference for both professional development and group bonding. When I was a sophomore, we went to the National Council for Teachers of English Conference, and my fellow tutors went to the International Writing Centers Association Conference in Pittsburgh while I was abroad for my junior year. Some of us can gain some presentation experience at these conferences, too!
This conference was smaller than the one I went to my sophomore year, and that had its advantages. For one, it was more intimate. Many of the sessions were round table discussions rather than lectures. I had not considered how differently Writing Centers could function based on student demographics, institution size, and mentorship styles. There were many interesting presentations, too. For instance, I attended one that talked about tutoring grammar through games. While I don’t know that their approach would work for Juniata’s Writing Center, it definitely gave me a lot of ideas.
Of course, we had to present as well. This is our table at The Carnival, where Writing Center tutors and directors talked to interested conference-goers about games and bonding activities to implement in Writing Centers.
Juniata’s Writing Center is a really tight-knit group, and the conference only brings us closer together. When prospective students ask me what my favorite thing about Juniata is, I either answer “the people” or “the opportunities.” In the case of the Writing Center, it’s a perfect marriage of the two. I’ve had many opportunities for professional growth and I’ve met some of my best friends.
Can you believe I’m going to be ordering my cap and gown next week? Senior salute is in just a couple of days. Not only will I be trying on hats and gowns for size, but I’ll be tying up loose ends and deciding what’s next for me as I say goodbye to the staff from offices around campus.
What’s next for me? I was able to obtain a job in Philadelphia working for an adult education center, starting over the summer as an early education coordinator and transitioning into a night class teacher. While working, I plan to take pre-requisite credits at Temple University for speech pathology with hopes of continuing my education as a fulltime graduate student in the fall of 2018.
My education at Juniata College was individualized—I got exactly what I wanted from it. I picked Juniata so that I could have an undergraduate degree in something more marketable than pre-speech pathology. This was because I wanted to be more marketable and be able to work while attending graduate school so I could afford it and also so I could be gaining experience while still in academia.
I’ve already made this connection with the adult education center from two summers ago, I worked with them as a rising junior. Now, I am doing exactly what I wanted to do because of my marketable degree in Education Studies and Human Development.
I look forward to the years of possibility ahead. This is just the beginning. There are six weeks left of classes and 47 days until I take that walk down and switch over that tassel. It’s all just so surreal!
When I decided to come to Juniata, I did so without visiting. I came because of the stories an alumnus told me and from the conversations I had with students who were already here and my fellow incoming freshmen. I arrived having no idea what the campus looked like or what the classes would be like and to be honest I was scared. For the first week or so I didn’t have an appetite because I was so nervous.
I was still nervous as I sat outside my new adviser’s office waiting to talk about my schedule and what my life would be like over the next four years. As I sat outside the office of Dr. Dan Dries I listened to his voice as he was talking to another of his new advisees. It’s hard to explain, and maybe harder to imagine, but his voice had a carefree lilt to it. His words were often interspersed with laughter and slowly my nervousness turned into curiosity. If he was as jovial as he sounded the next four years were going to be great.
Thankfully, he was. One of Juniata’s strongest and most beneficial programs is its academic advising. We had advisers at my high school and they did a good job helping students pick classes and encouraging us to apply to college, but Juniata’s adviser’s work much harder. Dr. Dries has not only advised me on the classes I should take for my POE but he has given me advice on whether I should attend Graduate or Medical school and where I might start looking for a good Graduate program. This past year I even started working in his lab which does research on neurodegenerative disorders, the area of neuroscience I want to research. He even invited me over for Thanksgiving when I had nowhere else to go. Over the three years I have known Dr. Dries he has remained supportive and enthusiastic about my coursework and my success.
I wrote about Ellen Campbell several weeks ago and just like her, Dr. Dries is not an isolated case at Juniata. Professors from all departments are highly involved in their student’s lives, inviting them over for club dinners, having them house sit and even baby sit. Juniata’s students are as close with their professors as they are with one another and I think that is one of the most unique things Juniata offers. The student to staff ratio of thirteen to one is not just a statistic it represents one of Juniata’s defining characteristics, our community.
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.