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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.

Advice on Advisors

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.

Figure 1: Members of Dr. Dries' Lab at our lab bonding event last semester.  We learned that Dr. Dries is weirdly good at Trivial Pursuit.  Do you know the capital of Australia?

Figure 1: Members of Dr. Dries’ at our lab bonding event last semester. We learned that Dr. Dries is weirdly good at Trivial Pursuit. Do you know the capital of Australia? 

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.

Finding Your Fit

Advising-Donna Weimer

Like many students who transfer, Jamie Mistretta ’17, from Philadelphia, Pa., was struggling to find an engaging environment at her previous college, which led to a phone call with an admission counselor at Juniata. “I didn’t feel academically challenged, so I knew I wanted to attend a school where academics are a priority, and find a place where I could really get to know other students and professors,” says Jamie. Her phone call allowed her to meet an alum of the College and gain a really authentic understanding of the Juniata community.

After visiting Juniata, Jamie reflected on how easy and important it can be to design your own Program of Emphasis (POE). At Juniata, Jamie is able to take classes in a pre-designated POE program and then take specific courses that allow her to re-define her degree program. “It is great to have the option to study what I want to study and create my own personal POE,” says Jamie. She didn’t lose any time by transferring, as nearly every credit transferred to Juniata. She is currently pursuing a PreK– 4th grade education POE, but she is also interested in speech pathology.

In addition to finding her academic transition easy, Jamie also quickly adapted to a new social atmosphere on campus and in the Huntingdon community. “It was really important for me to go to a school where I could have great relationships with students that did not only revolve around studying,” says Jamie.

Juniata encourages students to interact with classmates through at least one of more than 100 campus clubs. She is currently an active member of Amigos de Guanin, a club that raises awareness and hosts fundraisers for people in Guanin, Dominican Republic, and she is a member of concert choir.

According to Jamie, the key to transferring is acknowledging what aspects you truly need out of your education. Transferring to a different college can be stressful, but phone calls and visits can really allow you to share some of your concerns and interests to achieve a more satisfying college education.

“Don’t hesitate, always apply,” Jamie says. “Applying gives you options and opportunities to find the qualities you want in a college experience.”

 

Written by: Lauren Frantz ’15

Staying FIT in College

You’ve probably all been warned of the infamous “Freshman 15”—the inevitable 15 pounds that you gain during your freshman year of college. Although this might be true for some people, I’m here to tell you that this does not have to be your fate! If you make proper meal choices and exercise regularly, you’ll have nothing to worry about!

For my first two years at Juniata, I was a member of the track and field team, so I didn’t have to worry much about creating my own workout schedule. My daily exercise routines were mapped out by my coaches. Due to a change in my priorities, I decided that being on the track team was no longer for me. This meant that I had to come up with my own workout schedule, if I wanted to stay fit.

Inevitably, I gained a few pounds from not having as rigorous of a workout routine as before, but I also started to get bored of my same uncreative workouts. Ultimately, I needed some more motivation.

Thankfully, I found out about FITLAB, which is a workout program offered every weekday morning at 8:00 am by Neal Utterback, assistant professor of theater. The program was originally offered to only a small group of students who were training for an endurance obstacle race, but due to the high interest from other students, the program is now open to everyone.  The workouts vary daily and include endurance exercises, circuit training, stairs, and yoga. Before beginning each workout, we have five minutes of silence followed by five minutes of mindful meditation.

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My friend, Tyler Ayres, and I after our Wednesday morning yoga workout.

For me, these workouts are truly a blessing. Since this is my last semester of college, I had been getting a little distracted and not focusing on my health as much as I could have been. Now, I am motivated by working out with a great group of supportive people.

Though I don’t have my first class until later in the morning, I wake up every day at 7:20 am to get ready for FITLAB. I don’t regret waking up early because after a good workout, I feel awake and alert throughout the rest of my day!

From 0 to 400 in One Semester

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Because I’m a freshman, I’m expected to take the intro classes – the easy ones. However, this semester I decided to do something different. Back when I was signing up for classes, I decided to take a 400 level biology class called Environmental Toxicology.

Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with how class levels work (honestly it still confuses me a little bit). Essentially, I decided to take a class designated for juniors or seniors who had taken more than the single biology class I had taken, and perhaps a chemistry class or two. Simply put, I was crazy, or at least that’s what my friends told me. I was worried, but not too much because I had another freshman friend who would take it with me! Well, as it turned out, he had to drop the class, and so on the first day of classes I walked into Toxicology more than a little intimidated by what I had signed up for.

The class is taught by Dr. John Matter, who is one of the professors for the freshman biology class. I enjoyed his section of the course so much that I decided that I would take a class with him in the spring semester. As it turned out, the only class he taught that I could possibly take was Toxicology, and so I decided that would be my class. I had to do a few things first: get his permission, and my advisor’s permission.

When I went to get Dr. Matter’s signature, I was a little worried he would just say “no” with no debate to be had, and so I was pleasantly surprised when he smiled at me and said “sure!” He assured me that even though it might require some work, he thought I could handle the class. With this newfound confidence in myself, I went to my advisor’s room to get her signature. She gave me a funny look and said, “Are you sure?” and then gave me her permission as well.

Walking into a room full of seniors and juniors on the first day of class was intimidating, but as it turned out, there were some faces I recognized. The first couple of classes went well, and I did not feel lost. Dr. Matter was hilarious as usual, and so I stayed in the class. It’s week three, and I’m still (and hopefully will continue to be) enjoying myself.

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The point of this story isn’t that you should take Environmental Toxicology when you get here because it sounds easy, because it’s not. The point isn’t that Dr. Matter is a hilarious professor, even though that is true. The point is that throughout the whole process, nobody told me “no” or “you can’t do this.” Throughout the whole process of signing up for this course, I was the only one considering holding myself back. You can do anything once you get here, like take crazy classes or join all the clubs. You can do whatever you let yourself do, and that is the best thing I’ve encountered about being at Juniata.

The Burning Question

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Figure 1 Just a small part of photosynthesis that contributes to the success of the entire system.

 

Dr. Hosler is one of my biology professors this semester. In his section of the class, we are learning about the finer points of photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and currently about how surface area and gradients help plants or animals carry out their respective processes. He draws marvelous diagrams and has a way of explaining complicated and dynamic processes like photosynthesis and cellular respiration so that the layman can understand exactly what is going on. He is a marvelous teacher and like any good teacher he asks us questions, and like good students… well most of the time we just sit there in silence.

That sentence should have ended, “we raise our hands high and proud to answer the question because we think we have a fairly good answer.” But we don’t, at least not often and definitely not all of us. Dr. Hosler pointed that out to us today in class. And it is not just us; professors from all departments at Juniata and at other schools have noticed a definite decline in people raising their hands to answer questions. Even back at my high school, it was the rare occasion when one of us would raise our hand to answer a question and it would always be the same set of people.

Why? What has changed so much on the student side of the learning process that we no longer feel the need, or want to ask questions? One of the many reasons I liked Juniata was the small class size because it is, quite simply, easier to learn when the teacher’s attention isn’t divided among a lot of students. Smaller class sizes allow for more teacher student interaction which also means more ability for a student to be able to voice their opinions in class. But as I have grown older, that has become less and less true.

From conversations I have had with friends and classmates, there are two big factors (probably more but these seem to be the most prominent) that affect how and when we choose to raise our hand. The first is the fear of being wrong. I think we have been trained over the course of our academic careers to fear bad grades and wrong answers because in our minds that is equal to failure and failure means not achieving your goals. But failure is not always bad. Unless you just inherently pick up on a subject, you will not know the answer the first time around. This is why we have professors: to be able to ask and answer questions. Learning is not always having the right answer; it’s a process that uses practice to go from a relatively poor knowledge base in a subject, to a broader and more solid grasp on the material. The second factor is fear of being the “know-it-all” kid who always has an answer.

The know-it-all does not always have the right answer, and when they don’t, the professor will correct them and open up the question to someone else to get a new perspective. Learning is a dynamic process, much like the processes I am learning about in Dr. Hosler’s class. If only one plant cell carried out photosynthesis, that plant would not last very long because it just would not make enough glucose. But all the plant cells working in concert to produce glucose make a thriving plant. Similarly if there is only one student per class that answers questions, they are really the only ones getting the benefit out of it. Sure, they may ask about something you didn’t understand, but in the end the class as a whole will do a lot better if everyone participated.

We come to places like Juniata to improve our minds, but also our person as a whole. Part of that is developing the critical thinking and social skills to voice your own thoughts on a question and to be able to back it up with supporting evidence. We will not always be right, because we don’t know everything, but we will be better equipped to think about the right answer and how to approach questions like it in the future.

So raise those hands high, for even though you may not have the right answer, you will be better off for having answered.

Wrapping it Up

It’s crazy to think that I only have three weeks left of my first year of college. It seems like just yesterday I was taking trip after trip back out to the car to move all of my stuff into the dorm. This year has definitely flown by! As my semester comes to a close, and this is my last post for the year, I’d like to recap some of my favorite things about my year at Juniata.

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On-Campus Job

I applied for a job in the Admissions Office right off the bat when I arrived at Juniata, and did not have my hopes up since I was only a freshman. Shockingly, however, I got the job! I have had so much fun learning more about how the college admissions process works, and have met such wonderful people throughout the year. I’ve also learned how easy it is to find a job on campus. If you are in need of some cash, Career Services is an incredible place to start. There are so many jobs all over campus, in every field, so it doesn’t matter what qualifications you have, you will definitely find something.

Cafés, Cafés and More Cafés!

If you know anything about me, you’d know that I love cafés. I love the atmosphere, the coffee, and the creative recipes different places make. I love getting off campus, walking into town, and plopping down at a table with a cup of coffee, a scone and tons of homework. This week especially, since I will soon be returning home to Boston, I decided to visit all the different cafés in Huntingdon. Standing Stone, a popular spot, definitely has the best sandwiches and board games, which is a win-win for me! Stone Town Gallery, a café and art gallery, has the best scones and most interesting decor, and so much fun artwork and jewelry to look at and wish for! Wildflower Café, which I actually only visited for the first time today, has the sweetest staff, huge tables to do work, and deliciously strong coffee. When I first came to Juniata I was very hesitant about the small town and the limited number of places to eat, but I have fallen in love with the sweet shops throughout the town.

Coffee from Standing Stone

Coffee from Standing Stone

Visiting the Jail

When I tell people my college is near a prison, most people are shocked, or scared or confused. I had similar reactions when I first learned that too, but now it seems totally normal to me. Especially due to the fact that earlier this year I got to go inside the prison and talk to some of the prisoners. Last semester I took an Introduction to Criminal Justice course that included an opportunity to attend The Day of Responsibility over at SCI Huntingdon. A few of my classmates, my professor and I spent one day inside the prison, listening to different speakers talk about the effects of crime in communities, and even got to speak to different prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. I was very surprised at how intelligent many of the prisoners were, and how funny, charismatic, and normal they were. The Day of Responsibility definitely challenged and changed some of my views on the criminal justice system, and I was incredibly lucky to have been a part of it.

Personal With Professors

One thing I wanted from college was a strong relationship with my professors. I have learned after this year that Juniata is the best place for that. All of my classes are small (my smallest class is six people), which really gives me the chance to develop a relationship with my professors. I often send an email to one of my professors, with a link to a video I found interesting and thought they might enjoy. I am never afraid to just pop into a professor’s office to say hi, or to ask a question about an assignment, or anything like that. Even if I am struggling with something, my professors have always been there for me, and willing to help in whatever way they can. I really do feel understood and cared for by my professors here at Juniata, which is an incredible feeling.

Warm Weather = Fun on the Quad

As the weather begins to warm up, more and more people have started doing work outside on the quad, which makes me so happy! I always envisioned college to be people leaning against trees, reading books and listening to music while others play frisbee or volleyball nearby. Luckily, that is exactly what I got at Juniata. I’ve been taking my homework outside, and bringing a snack and a blanket in case the weather gets a little chilly, and just finding a spot in the grass to work for a few hours. It’s always relaxing to work in the sunshine, and sometimes (more often than not) someone I know will walk by and sit with me for a while. I’ve even brought my guitar out and took jam session breaks in between studying. I love warm weather, and I love the atmosphere and energy of working outside with others.

There is so much more that happened this year than I can fit in one post, but I tried to capture some of the best things about going to school at Juniata. Although Juniata is a small school and far from home, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to attend.

Staying Healthy at Juniata

One of the most important things to me is my well-being, and staying healthy throughout the year. Coming to college, I was a nervous about the rumoured Freshman 15, and the unhealthy food options many college dining halls have to offer. However, I was pleasantly surprised about the many different programs at Juniata to promote fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

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The program I am most involved in on campus is Fit Lab, which is run through the Theatre Department. One of the theatre professors, Neal Utterback, works with students every weekday morning at 8:00 (early, I know!) to prepare for the Spartan Race, a 10 mile obstacle course race occurring each summer. Each day of the week is different exercises, and on Wednesdays we do a high-intensity yoga session (my favorite form of exercise!). Neal is a great motivator, and really strives to boost endurance and performance.

Another fitness option is Zumba. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are classes held in the lounge of Terrace & Tussey (two of the dorms on campus) that are taught by students. The classes aren’t too difficult, but will definitely make you sweat! If you’ve never tried Zumba before, these classes are a great place to dance with your friends while burning off the fries you might have had at dinner.

The most popular place to exercise on campus however, is the Fitness Center. Open every day of the week, it’s the best place to pop in for a quick workout in the morning or before dinner (any time, actually!). Since we go to a small school, the gym is never too packed and there are always plenty of machines to use. There is also a separate room with mats and exercises balls for additional use. I personally like exercising with few people around, so I love going to the gym during the day if I have a break in between classes, when the gym is most empty.

tzipi blog fitness

There’s many places I didn’t mention (the pool, racquetball room, the outdoors, etc.) that are great for exercise or blowing off steam all over campus. College can definitely be a stressful place, balancing classes, social outings and fitting in time for yourself, so it is always important to find places to relax and stay healthy!

Writing Policy for the State Department – visiting U.S. State Department diplomat Scott Kohmel

After meeting Juniata alumni, Scott Kohmel in D.C. the previous year. I became very interested in joining the Foreign Service. Scott works for the U.S. State department and is the Vietnam desk. This is a four year job that he will soon leave to work at an embassy overseas. On his visit to Juniata he discussed how the State Department makes policy and how to write.

A very valuable piece of advice from Scott is that everything that happens in the State Department is based on writing. It is essential to improve your writing ability. The State Department looks for brevity, reading nothing over one double spaced page. Every sentence has to have a point, and it is best to write using as few as possible words. Professor of international politics, Emil Nagengast stated that in his experience students that couldn’t write well also did not read a lot. I am neutral on Professor Nagengast’s statement because I understand that reading does improve your writing syntax; however, struggling with grammar issues and spelling myself I do not believe that reading improves these issues.

As policy was described to me, I did not see much difference between it and some of the papers I write in my politics classes. To draft a policy you have to have an idea, research, and a valid argument that can be put into practice.

Another part of policy is conversation. Scott wanted to highlight that face to face communication is very important for creating a policy. You have to talk to someone in order establish and finalize a policy. This communication develops into negotiations, which are secretive in nature. Scott argues that negotiations should be secretive because the officials who make policy, especially policy with other nations need to be able to talk through the policy and come to a compromise. This compromise will not happen if the public and interest groups are watching and reacting to the negations. The negotiations are where the shaping of the policy is created and allowing these negotiations to be done in secret acts as a massive brain storm see if a win-win situation is achievable.  It is important, however, to release the policy to the public in order to get public support. A policy is not very successful unless you have public support.

One thing that Scott stated that stuck with me that I am still trying to analysis is the statement “you cannot let your classes get in the way of your education.” I will leave you to think about that statement as well.

 

To hear more about Scott, check out this video.

Advising at Juniata College

As I was enjoying my Spring Break and talking to some friends from high school, I noticed that my friends at other colleges are having a drastically different college experience than I am. I don’t mean that my friends don’t get to experience Storming of the Arch or Mountain Day or Liberal Arts Symposium. I understand that different schools have different traditions, but one of my friends who attends a large university said something that I couldn’t even fathom from my Juniata College mindset: he has never met his advisor face to face. Of course, this led to multiple problems with scheduling, internships, and degree requirements, but I couldn’t get over the fact that while I see both of my advisors multiple times per week, he has yet to meet his.

Me, my general advisor, and my friend at Madrigal

Me, my general advisor, and my friend at Madrigal

When I returned to campus and talked to my friends here about this strange phenomenon, they were all as surprised as I was initially. Juniata runs on a dual advisor system, meaning that all students from their second semester onward have both an academic and a general advisor. The academic advisor is from the student’s academic department, while the general advisor is a professor or faculty member from outside that department. Both my advisors are great; I’ve met with them (face to face) multiple times, had them for class, and received multiple letters of recommendation from both of them. With all that my advisors have done for me and how instrumental they’ve been in my college career, I was taken aback by a student one year ahead of me at another school saying that he doesn’t even know what his advisor looks like. When I asked if he thought my advising situation was as strange as I thought his, he said that Juniata’s advising actually sounded great.

I guess aspects of college like advising are sometimes overlooked or taken for granted. I’ve heard students say that getting both advisors’ signatures on papers or forms is a bother, but I think that never seeing my advisor throughout my college career would be infinitely worse. The advising system at Juniata is a tad unusual in that it involves two advisors, but between my own personal experiences with my advisors and what my friends told me about advising at their schools, I am very grateful for the advising that I’ve received here at Juniata. I’ll be sure to thank my advisors for their work the next time I see them!

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