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Black Boxes: An English Professor Reflects on Juniata’s First Hy-Flex Semester

Laura Feibush
Dr. Laura Feibush, Dept. of English

Here at the close of 2020, it’s fitting to reflect on Juniata’s first semester of hybrid-flexible learning. I’m sure I’m not alone in my feeling that hoo boy. It has been a ride.

In general, I’ve been inspired by the innovation that our COVID-induced, hy-flex fall semester has occasioned. Faculty, leadership, and administration alike have asked themselves: “What really is the essence of education?” They’ve acted on the answers with revamped and revised digital pedagogies, mental health Mountain Days, and the planning of a virtual Bailey Oratorical in the spring.

In addition to many positive developments, naturally I’ve also heard the frustrations of my colleagues. Chief among them is the problem of the black boxes: when, during Zoom classes, students opt to turn off their cameras, leaving the instructor confronted by a grid of named rectangles.

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How I learned to ask for help early and often

Jules Slater
Jules Slater ’21, Advocacy Communication POE, Future Mayor of Picklesburgh

One of the best things about academics at Juniata, as many will attest to, is the two-adviser system. Assigned to you upon the start of your freshman year, you’ll have an academic adviser, someone who knows the ins and outs of your POE, as well as a mentor, someone who is there to guide you through your college experience. The pros of the two-adviser system are abundant if you know how to use it.

I believe that I began my first year at Juniata at a disadvantage to many of my peers, simply because I was unaccustomed to asking for help. In high school, I felt like there was a stigma associated with receiving help from teachers. When I began college, I tried to figure things out on my own instead of going to my advisers for help. So for my first two semesters, I relied on myself to schedule my courses, understand my POE requirements, and learn what each requirement meant and how to fulfill it.

It wasn’t until my second year at Juniata, when I decided to change my POE, that I finally admitted to myself that I would need help if I was going to be successful at Juniata.

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Three and a Half Years of Firsts

Julia Newman
Julia Newman ’20, Professional Writing POE

My impending graduation has had me reflecting back on a lot of things lately. Three and a half-ish years ago, I wrote my first blog for Juniata. Now as I write my last, I thought it would be a fun full circle moment to revisit my first ever blog, aptly named “A Year of Firsts.”

My first year of college was one of much adventure. I met my two best friends, lived with my first roommate, gained and then lost the freshman 15, discovered many new passions, tried a million new things, and started figuring out who I was.

Rereading my first blog, I see that so many parts of it were true and so much has changed since I wrote it. I pulled a few quotes that I think are especially relevant to the course of my reflection:

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My journey through Juniata’s pre-dental program

Madison Wrightstone
Madison Wrightstone ’23

I tend to get one of two reactions whenever I tell people I want to be a dentist. The first being some variation of, “I could never put my hands in someone’s mouth!” or “Mouths are so gross; I have no idea why you would want to do that.” The second is some reference to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Hermey saying “I want to be a dentist.” (shout out to you, Dad). Since the 7th grade, I have had my mind set on being a dentist, and the path Juniata has taken me on is one that continues to turn this goal into a reality.

A unique component of Juniata’s pre-health professions program is specialized advising from summer orientation before your freshman year. As a pre-dental student, I was matched with an adviser who specializes in pre-dental advising, making it easier for my advising sessions to be personalized to me. As a student in health professions, you have an adviser specifically for this, as well as a general adviser outside of your designated POE to help you incorporate a holistic approach into your education and help you include your other passions into your academics. From your first day of classes, you are immediately introduced to the entry-level science courses you will need for professional school. With small class sizes, it is easy to seek out help from your professors in class and build personal relationships with them.

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Life on the Video Production Team

Aronley Miller
Aronley Miller ’23, Cyber Security POE

Having a job at Juniata as a student employee has created many different stories for me. I have worked for the soccer team collecting balls on the sidelines during the game, I have packed backpacks with food for students at the local elementary school, and I had assumed the Video Production Team (VPT) would be a similar experience. I would learn and develop skills that I can use in the future. Better yet, hone ones I didn’t even know I had. However, no campus job could have prepared me for what the VPT had in store.

One of the activities we take part in the VPT is called monthlies. Every monthly meeting we are split into groups and assigned a project, for example, our most recent is to make a spooky video because it is October. We work on these projects as groups, planning filming, acting, etc., and the final product is shared with the team in our next meeting. Out of all parts of the process, the most enjoyable aspect for me is working with my team members, creating and watching our ideas come to life. Sometimes they will throw in a requirement, such as including a Dutch angle, in our project to help us get more practice and gain more experience. These are often challenging, but they lead us to find new and imaginative ways to incorporate them into our projects.

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