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Not your average D.C. internship

Having an internship in Washington D.C. was a transformative experience for both my professional and personal development. On January 24th 2018, I arrived at the Washington Center’s Residential and Academic Facility, ready to begin my new internship. Little did I know, my path to finding my perfect internship wouldn’t be the smoothest, but my Juniata education provided me with the resilience and resources I needed to get there.

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ABASM: We Came for the Science and Stayed for the free T-shirt

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.

Some members of Dr. Lamendella's Lab and myself looking more awake than we actually felt
Some members of Dr. Lamendella’s Lab and myself looking more awake than we actually felt

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.

Ecovative preparing samples of their product for the conference attendees
Ecovative preparing samples of their product for the conference attendees

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.

Truc '18 and Hoi Tong '18 after their very successful presentations
Truc ’18 and Hoi Tong ’18 after their very successful presentations

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.

Chilling Revelations from a Nobel Laureate

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.

Bill Phillips '70, magically shrinking blown up balloons.
Bill Phillips ’70, magically shrinking blown up balloons.

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.

By pouring liquid nitrogen into a clear container we were able to watch this very, very cold substance boil at room temperature.
By pouring liquid nitrogen into a clear container we were able to watch this very, very cold substance boil at room temperature.

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.

Dunking normal objects, like a flower, into liquid nitrogen makes them brittle enough to disintegrate with a firm squeeze, as Dr. Phillips gladly demonstrated!
Dunking normal objects, like a flower, into liquid nitrogen makes them brittle enough to disintegrate with a firm squeeze, as Dr. Phillips gladly demonstrated!

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.

The professor emeriti, left and center midground of the photo, observe a demonstration, perhaps reminiscing about the time they had Dr. Phillips in their classes.
The professor emeriti, left and center midground of the photo, observe a demonstration, perhaps reminiscing about the time they had Dr. Phillips in their classes.

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

Mountain Day of the Mind

One of my favorite events Juniata has every year is the Liberal Arts Symposium, or LAS for short. Each year, classes are cancelled for the whole day, and students and faculty are encouraged to travel across campus and attend student presentations about work/research they have done during the year. There are a lot of different types of presentations, and most common presentations are often in the sciences. This year however, I was able to present my own work at LAS, with focus on the Theatre Department.
This semester, I decided I wanted to do an independent study with one of my professors, Leigh Hendrix, and I wanted to attempt to write a full-length play. I have written several short plays (10 minutes or less) throughout my time at Juniata, but I have never tried to write something as complicated and in-depth as a full-length play. I came up with the idea to write a murder mystery, because that is my favorite genre to read/watch. I’ve always loved crime shows and mystery novels, but I never realized just how difficult it is to write a mystery yourself! There is so much background work that needs to occur before one even starts writing in order to create a successful, fluid piece. Once a week, Professor Hendrix and I would meet to look at my writing progress, and map out the entire storyline of the play. I honestly didn’t think I would finish this semester. I know that it sometimes takes years for people to complete a play, and shoving this project onto my already packed work load was definitely difficult for me. However, a few weeks ago I managed to finish a first draft! As soon as I finished the draft, it felt like I had given birth! I had worked hard toward this goal that I didn’t think I would reach, and I did! Over the following few weeks, I printed out the entire script and edited it over and over again. I then recruited a bunch of my friends to aid in my presentation for the Liberal Arts Symposium.

 

The cast of the staged reading of "Airborne", an original murder mystery play at Liberal Arts Symposium.
The cast of the staged reading of “Airborne”, an original murder mystery play at Liberal Arts Symposium.

Since I was just doing a public reading of half of the play, it was a less strenuous rehearsal process, since the cast only had to meet once the read through the piece before presenting it at LAS. My play has eight different characters, so I had to ask a lot of different people to be involved, but everyone did such a great job reading their character at the presentation! After the reading, my mentor facilitated a talk-back session, where I could ask questions of the audience and receive feedback about the process. My first question to the audience was: Who do you think did it? To my surprise, although the audience guessed five different characters, none of them had correctly guessed the killer! That was definitely a confidence-booster for me, and it showed me that I wrote a really great play. I received such amazing feedback from the students and staff and outside audience members who came to listen to the reading. It truly was an amazing moment of pride, excitement and joy to hear my words being read out loud, and receiving positive feedback from so many peers.
Although the semester is coming to a close, that does not mean my work on this play is done. For most, a play is never done. There are always changes that can be made. I hope to keep editing this play and make it longer and stronger, and hopefully be able to stage the show at some point next year! Overall, the Liberal Arts Symposium was such a great experience for me to present a project I had put so much effort into, and see how others reacted to it. I can’t wait to keep working on my play!

The Wildlife Society Northeast Student Conclave

It’s that time of year again – the time for The Wildlife Society Northeast Student Conclave.

Northeast 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.

Me and my friends 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.