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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.
I was first exposed to lacrosse as a freshman in high school when I was applying to Fountain Valley School of Colorado. I knew nothing about the sport, but from the moment I saw the few pictures of what looked to be combination football-hockey players striding through the trees of Fountain Valley’s Victory Road, I knew I wanted to play. These hopes were soon dashed by an aside comment from one of my Track and Field teammates who, when I told him that I wanted to play lacrosse because it looked fun, said, “Dude you’re so tiny those guys would kill you.” And that was the end of that.
At the beginning of this spring semester, Juniata Women’s Lacrosse made their NCAA D3 debut. I can’t say that I was all that excited about watching the sport because I didn’t understand the rules (and even after watching two games I still don’t understand what half the fouls were called for) and my initial infatuation with the sport had faded. But I was excited to watch my friends play a sport they loved and had practiced hard to do well in.
The day of the first lacrosse game was cloudy but uncharacteristically warm for mid-March in central Pennsylvania. The stands were not as full as they could be for the inaugural game of our lacrosse program, but those of us who were there were all there to support our friends and family and we were excited!
To be honest I’m not sure how many of us thought we were going to win that first game. Of course, we were all hoping and praying that our team would win but it was their first game and we assumed the girls they would be playing would be hardened Lax athletes. But from the moment Kat scored the first goal, I knew it was going to be a good game. The moment the crowd saw the ball hit the back of the net, it exploded to its feet cheering and screaming in the elation of an early success. Then Britt scored, then Natalie then Kat again and Britt again and before I knew it the game was over and we had managed to win by a decent margin and we had made it into the double digits.
Before this year I never attended Juniata sporting events. I just never found the time to. But the energy of that first lacrosse game, the support that the crowd gave to the team was infectious and next year, when I will be a Senior you will hopefully find me at every single home game, supporting my team.
Hands down, today was the best day I have ever had at Juniata. To start, the weather was beautiful, especially compared to the nasty conglomeration of precipitation the meteorologists like to call “winter mix.” The sky was clear and the wind that had plagued us all week had diminished to a light, almost refreshing breeze. All of this provided a lovely backdrop to the amazing event of Springfest. Every spring, our Juniata Activity Board, more commonly referred to as JAB, puts on a day-long event to celebrate the coming of spring and the sun and the warm weather that comes along with it.
This year Springfest was Coachella themed, as the JAB member who planned the event told me. They brought in four performers from across the northeast, including Lee Dewyze the winner of season nine of American Idol, and an amazing acapella group out of Canada call Eh440 (check them out they were AMAZING). The event ran from noon to seven in the evening and every hour of the event was packed with bouncy castles, food trucks, three encore performances from the Downbeat Percussion group, and a Ferris Wheel.
For me, it wasn’t the terrifying awesomeness of a Ferris Wheel (what? I’m afraid of heights) or the red chili chicken burrito served from a food truck that mad the day so memorable. I think I can take the liberty to say that for most, Springfest is the first day in a long time that they can leave their rooms and homework, and bask in the warmth of a sun that is too often hidden during the winter months. It’s a time to let loose a little before the final projects and tests start flooding in, robbing us of any time that we might otherwise have spent on the quad, lazily hammocking.
Even though I still have several homework assignments ahead of me tonight that I should have worked on today, I don’t regret spending my entire day outside. Sure, I’ll be a little more tired this week, but it’s also only three days long for me (thank god for Easter weekend and not having classes on Thursdays). My skin will also be red as a beet and burning up due to sunburn, but being uncomfortable for a few days will be well worth the day of music and food and fun that I just had.
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.
Your Resident Assistant is as important to your freshmen year as the friends you make during those first few weeks on campus. The RA is not just big brother listening at the door for shenanigans, they are also a friend and mentor. I have been an RA for the past two years and I can honestly say that if I had to go back and do it all again, I would still choose to be an RA. I have gained an overabundance of leadership experience and I have also gotten to meet and build relationships with some pretty amazing people.
Among those great people are the Resident Director Brett Greene, Residential Life Coordinators Kevin Turner and Jason Francey, our Director Tasia White and Penny Hooper-Conway. First, Penny is a saint. She is our Associate Director of Reslife and she is the glue that holds the office together. She has been there the longest and her experience shows (and is much appreciated) during times of high stress, like Room Draw. Tasia, the Director of Reslife is new to her position but not new to Juniata. I spoke with her last semester when she was applying for the job and her passion for Reslife and her love for Juniata are the main reasons that I recommended her for the position (though as a lowly RA my input probably had little to do with her hiring).
As freshmen, the RLC you’ll encounter most Is Kevin Turner. As the Senior RA of Sherwood Hall, it has been my pleasure to work alongside Kevin this past year to develop the freshmen community in that building and across all our first-year buildings. Next year he’ll be working with Senior RAs Becca and Ellie, in Sunderland and Sherwood respectively, to continue to grow the communities in those buildings and improve upon the programming that we offer.
The most exciting thing about next year is the staff. We have biochemists and zoologists, an expert bowler (with his own perfectly white bowling shoes) and a lacrosse player, a member of the Juniata Concert Choir and a kid who likes to ride bikes a little too much (though I can’t talk because I run a lot so…). We have a diverse staff and we all have very diverse interests and personalities. What we do have in common is a love for Juniata and the drive to make others feel as welcome here as our RA’s made us feel when we were freshmen.
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.
When I came to Juniata College, I had no intention of living anywhere but a dormitory. I loved (and still do) that Juniata guarantees housing for all four years. When I was in the midst of the college search process, I’d immediately scratch any college that forced students off campus after a year or two off my list.
I made many of my friends through living in a dorm as an underclassman. If you end up on a floor with a lot of freshmen who keep their doors open, you’ll meet a substantial number of your classmates. With a meal plan, dinners and lunches become good times to catch up with friends about their days and even better times to procrastinate work.
I went abroad and ended up in a house with six Irish girls. My meal plan was gone and I was responsible for cooking for myself, cleaning the house, and buying necessary items like dish soap, aluminum foil, and toilet paper. A huge advantage to living in a dorm with a meal plan is that you don’t have to worry about a lot of these more mundane tasks.
After returning from abroad, I decided to keep the house-style living. But, as I said earlier, it was important to me that Juniata never forced me off campus. I made the decision for myself. Seniors have the option to apply for approval for off campus housing, and my house was accepted. Seniors, with the highest room draw numbers, also have apartment-style living options through Juniata, as well as single rooms in Nathan Hall or other double dorm rooms throughout campus. I have friends who still live on campus and those who don’t, and it really depends on each person’s preferences. The most important part of choosing a house for those of us off campus is that we are close to campus, because even when we’re not living on campus, we are still spending a lot of our time there – going to class, doing research, and working the jobs we’ve had throughout our time here.
While there are times that I miss aspects of living in a dorm (being only a few steps away from your friends’ rooms is pretty great), I do appreciate the chance to gain more adult experience. Sure, there are days when I wish I didn’t have to cook myself dinner. I also have to go outside to see the friends that I don’t live with. However, living off campus has been a positive experience overall and I value the chance to gain some extra responsibility before moving to meet whatever life has in store next.
Saturday Nov. 12th marked my most memorable day of the semester at Juniata. The Ubuntu African club held a cultural event that featured a fashion show demonstrating traditional attires, music and dance from various regions of Africa. I was very proud to have been part of this event called “I Am African, but I don’t Speak African,” because we wanted to educate the public about Africa’s ethnic diversity.
The planning of this event started a month ago when my fellow club members met at the Unity House to discuss our ideas for the semester. Although the Ubuntu club was known for dancing at various events, including the multicultural fest and the dance ensemble fall recital, we wanted a platform of our own. As such, we chose a date, booked the venue, created posters and reached out to professors and peers to spread the word. In addition to dancing, we had other members show their hidden talents through poetry, modeling and singing. I was mostly involved with reserving the venue and choreographing dances to popular Afro beats songs like “Bank Alert” by P-Square, “Tiguidi” by Tour de Guarde, and “Shake Body” by Skales. My favorite moment of the event when a kid named Jillian bravely came to dance with us. He was amazing, full of energy and quickly picked up our dance moves.
The event would not have been successful without our combined efforts, which is what the name of club reflects. Ubuntu is a Swahili word, meaning “togetherness”. We had Stephanie as the master of ceremonies, and she made sure that the show ran smoothly! Other club members helped make the event successful, including the club’s president, Hephzibah, from Nigeria, the club’s event coordinator, Joycelyn from Kenya, Sayida, from Niger, Taha from Tunisia, Melat, Kisest and Ruhama Ethiopia, Zoe, from New York, and Theresa from Maryland. In total, five African countries were represented that night: Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Tunisia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria; and seven ethnic languages: Swahili, Gouro, Baoule, Haoussa, Tunisian Arabic, Amharic and Igbo. Our message was clear: Africa is not a country but a continent, and its diversity goes deeper than country borders drawn on the map. These borders do not necessarily represent or isolate the different ethnic groups, which number in the thousands.
Our event had a great turnout, and I was very happy to see our peers and professors celebrating our cultures. This was very important to us because it encouraged us to put plans into motion for our bigger event in the spring, where we will have authentic African dishes from various parts of the continent.
Photo Credit: Nahui Twomey
My mother never thought I’d be happier than I was when I was in Ireland; I had a smile on my face every time we Facetimed. She told me over Thanksgiving break that she was surprised how quickly I adjusted back to my Juniata College life after a year in Cork. So, I thought about it, trying to discern what it was that was so appealing to me about Juniata this year in particular. I readjusted so quickly because I really missed my classmates and now that I’m back I want to spend as much time as possible with them.
I went to school with the same people for fourteen years before I came to Juniata, so I never really had to make new friends. I think that’s the case for a lot of students. The advantage to the small campus at Juniata is that it is really conducive to making friends since everyone is in close proximity and you see most people on a daily basis. My friend Elise and I connected through overlapping Inbound activities, and Maris and I met through a mutual friend. We’ve remained friends since the early days of the first semester.
I spend a good portion of my week with my fellow Writing Center tutors, and they’ve become some of my best pals. Here, you can see Katie and me bowing to the newly crowned Mr. Juniata.
I always tell people that one of my favorite aspects of Juniata is the students; we are both intensely passionate about their areas of interest and willing to drop all that we’re doing to participate in an event or a tradition to have a good time. We do our schoolwork and take it seriously; we pursue internships and opportunities ravenously. However, we also want to have fun and embrace the quirks of Juniata and its students. Maybe there’s another school where students sleep outside in tents for a week just to sing one line in one Christmas song, but Juniata’s ambitious dichotomy in both fun and work is unique.
When I visited Juniata, I ate lunch with a friend who attended my high school and then went to Juniata. She asked if we could end lunch a bit early and partake in a sign language scavenger hunt. I obliged, and the resulting half hour is one that I talk about often. The rules of the scavenger hunt were simple: get people who were not in the class to do the actions that you wanted them to by only using sign language (think “sign language charades”). When students on the quad dropped their backpacks and sprinted around and football players did cartwheels in the Ellis Ballroom, I knew that Juniata was a place where I could learn and get the school portion of the college experience, but also that it was a place where I could have a good time and make some fond memories. That memory-making potential is what really drew me back in after my year away, and it’s what has me excited for all that is to come with the remainder of my senior year.