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She Kills Monsters

For the past few months, I have been hard at work in rehearsals for a production called “She Kills Monsters”, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by Neal Utterback, one of the theatre professors here at Juniata College. This show is about a cheerleader named Agnes who gets thrown into the world of Dungeons and Dragons after the loss of her little sister Tilly. Agnes has no idea what she is doing, but throughout the show, learns how to stick up for herself, learns more about her younger sister, and learns how to finally confront and defeat her inner demons. The show is a crazy mix of monsters, puppets, dancing, fight scenes, and comedy. It’s basically a giant 90’s party that we’re throwing in Suzanne Von Liebig Theatre!
Cosimo Sciortino, class of 2020 (right) and I during a rehearsal for "She Kills Monsters".

Cosimo Sciortino, class of 2020 (right) and I during a rehearsal for “She Kills Monsters”.

When rehearsals first got started at the beginning of the semester, it was very hands-on and physically demanding. We rehearse six days a week for 3-4 hours each day, all while trying to balance our schoolwork and other activities outside of the show. On the weekends, in addition to building the show, we were also working on strengthening and conditioning as a cast, since this is a very physical show. There are a lot of fight scenes throughout the show, and for my character specifically, not much rest time between scenes, so it was important to build up strength and breath.
We also had workshops throughout the rehearsal process to work on choreography, fighting, and puppetry. Our choreographers for the show were the two presidents of the Dance Ensemble, and our dance numbers were super fun and silly. Since the show takes place in the 90’s, there was definitely an incorporation of moves like the running man, as well as iconic songs, such as “Ice Ice Baby” and “Whomp There it Is”. We had a fight choreographer and her assistance fly in from New York to help choreograph our fight scenes. We worked with real steel prop weapons, such as swords, shields and knives, which I had never worked with before. The first thing I noticed was how heavy the weapons were! There was no room for flimsy, cheap materials in this show! All of our fights were incredibly specific, and we had to know exactly when and where we were attempting to hit another person, and how to safely block and returns blows. We learned specific vocabulary for fighting, to help make it easier to learn the choreography. With puppets, we had a professional puppeteer bring her supplies to us and teach us about the history of puppetry, as well as work with us with different kinds of puppets, to get used to how they work and feel. Most of our monsters in the show are puppets, which is the style of the playwright Qui Nyguyen, as well as a little bit of imagination. I personally do not get to handle puppets in the show, but several other cast members were able to work heavily with different kinds of puppets.
Me rehearsing the final scene of "She Kills Monsters".

Me rehearsing the final scene of “She Kills Monsters”.

I’ve done several shows here at Juniata within the Theatre Department, and I can definitely say this is the most intricate and difficult show I have ever worked on. Not only was it incredibly physical and emotional for me, but the entire premise of the show is so incredible and deep and beautiful. I truly have fallen in love with this genre of fantasy comedy, and I have had such an fantastic time working on the show. We have already had three performances so far, two of which were completely sold out, and we have three more this coming weekend. If you haven’t seen the show yet or got your tickets, be sure to check out the Theatre Department homepage for ticket information. Our final shows are October 26th, 27th and 28th! I hope to see you there!

Adventures in the Adirondacks

27 hours in a van. 15 students. 4 instructors. 2 incredible location. 1 experience I will not forget anytime soon.

This past week, I went on a field trip with my Forestry class of 15 students to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Adirondacks in New York. We were on a forestry tour of New England, and it was amazing.

Moose Poop!

Moose Poop!

Starting on campus at 7am on Monday morning, we loaded up in the vans and headed to the White Mountains. When we arrived (11 hours later, I might add), we spent the night in an old farmhouse. The next day, we took a tour of Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest – one of the most famous sites of forestry research in the world. We went out in the field to see the research projects and were able to directly apply what we had been learning in the class. We also saw some moose poop! From clearcutting experiments, to calcium drops for sugar maple health, and climate change studies conducted by heating the soil, the research was beyond impressive. After the tour and lunch, we loaded in the vans again for a 5-hour drive to the Adirondack Ecological Center.

My friend, Annemarie, pretending to be a deer for a capture demonstration

My friend, Annemarie, pretending to be a deer for a capture demonstration

AEC, which is managed by SUNY ESF, is a beautiful site. The campus is situated on a lake with a 50-foot natural beach right across the street from Goodnow Mountain (which we did get the chance to hike!). Our next two days were filled with forestry tours, wildlife research lectures, a friend of mine pretending to be a deer, and a trip to the Wild Center – an incredible nature center in the Adirondacks. It was an experience I never would have gotten outside of class, and I’m still so in awe of everything I got to experience on the trip.

The beach at the SUNY ESF Newcomb campus

The beach at the SUNY ESF Newcomb campus

On Sunday morning, we all begrudgingly loaded into the vans to come back. The trip was over. Luckily, before it ended, we all were told about the multitude of internship opportunities at the sites we had visited, which I’m sure some of us will be applying for!

A portion of the Wild Walk at the Wild Center in the northern Adirondacks

A portion of the Wild Walk at the Wild Center in the northern Adirondacks

Being back on campus now, I’m not missing the hours we spent in the van. I don’t quite miss the early mornings and almost complete lack of Wi-Fi. However, I am missing the high mountains splattered with the colors of fall. I’m really missing looking for moose out the roads. I miss the egg salad that I got to pack for lunch every day. I’m missing the stars. I hope I can make it back up to those high mountains soon.

Adventures in the Allegheny National Forest

Last Monday, I went to sleep in a van behind Brumbaugh Academic Center, and woke up in Allegheny National Forest. It was quite the pleasant surprise.

 

This semester, I decided I wanted to put off taking Macroeconomics on campus, and take Forestry at the Raystown Field Station. I knew it was going to be a little tricky, seeing that classes at the Field Station are an all-day commitment, and Forestry was on Monday. I couldn’t simply drop all of my Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes. Luckily, after talking it through with my professors, they let me off class on Mondays and I was all set to go take a class at the Field Station.

 

The foliage of the trees in the Allegheny National Forest is quite breathtaking.

The foliage of the trees in the Allegheny National Forest is quite breathtaking.

And that’s how I ended up in Allegheny National Forest at 10 AM on a Monday. We started off the day with a lecture on the history of the forest and its current uses. Our lecturer was a part of the research division of the National Forest Service, where they test regeneration, silvicultural (growing trees as crops) practices, and any other research question they can imagine.

 

After our morning lecture and a quick lunch, we were off to a very famous part of the forest: the Tionesta Forest.

 

This forest has been untouched by the hands of humans for over 400 years. It was originally dominated by beech and hemlock trees, but many of the trees were blown down in a storm 40 years ago. Now, beech bark disease and hemlock wooly adelgid (both forest pests which kill those species), seem to be slowly changing the composition of the forest. Because of the struggles these species are facing, it is unknown if they will ever grow to such monstrous proportions again, at least in this area. It was incredibly cool to see these giants in person – my arms didn’t even reach halfway around the trunks of some of the trees.

 

Fall colors were beginning to show through.

Fall colors were beginning to show through.

As the day finished up, we packed back into the vans to leave. It was a busy three-hour ride back to campus with a Sheetz stop, hair braiding, and napping. There is always plenty of napping on the long van journeys.

 

This week, I will be setting off on another long journey with the Forestry class. We are taking a week-long tour of forests in New England, and I couldn’t be more excited. I knew classes at Juniata could take me amazing places, but this course has been even more incredible than most.

Out of the Darkness

On October 1st Juniata College hosted a suicide awareness walk called ‘Out of the Darkness’. The purpose of this walk was to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention and prevention programs. They had three speakers for the opening ceremony, one was our own campus Chaplin who had a moment of silence to honor those lost as well as say a few words for those left behind and another speaker told a touching story about how suicide has affected her life. She talked about how her fiancé had committed suicide and not long after that she lost her brother to suicide as well. Many of the people in the crowd were brought to tears by her story. People from all over were involved in the walk; some were people of the community, staff of the College, or students.

One of many speakers at the walk.

One of many speakers at the walk.

 

The procession for the mile-long walk was a sight to see, I didn’t expect so many people to show up to support suicide awareness. You never know whose life has been affected by suicide. My friend Ann and I joined the walkers as they marched around our campus. Some of them were somber and talking about people they had lost to suicide, how hard it had been for them and how they never want anyone to have to go through the same things that they have. Others were laughing while they talked about lost loved ones, remembering the good times they could have with those people who were important to them. Everyone was very supportive of each other and there was a very large age range, from toddlers to the elderly. It was a beautiful thing to see and experience.

I personally have not been affected by suicide but know several people who have and I have seen how hard it is for them. Often the people left behind will blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently. It’s difficult to watch and something that no one should have to go through. I’m proud to be a part of a College that would host this awareness walk and that so many participated. I feel that suicide isn’t talked about enough and people don’t have all the information they need to keep their family members or themselves safe. It’s something that people need to know about, it could happen to anyone and it is something that can be prevented if the correct measures are taken.

The Juniata Sky

One of the best things about Juniata is the sky. This may seem odd to say, as almost everywhere in the world is guaranteed to have a sky of some manner. But there is something special about the sky in and around 40.48° N, 78.01° W that sets it apart from the sky anywhere else in the world. I personally have had many formative experiences—messy and beautiful alike—underneath that sky. It is the backdrop to enough of my memories that I won’t ever forget it.

A view of the beautiful Juniata sky above the iconic Founder's Hall Bell Tower. (Photo by Valerie Hersh '16).

A view of the beautiful Juniata sky above the iconic Founder’s Hall. (Photo by Valerie Hersh ’16).

Last Wednesday, the ISS made a spectacular transit of our night sky. It flew for nearly 6 minutes, compared to an average of 3 (link: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/view.cfm?country=United_States&region=Pennsylvania&city=Huntingdon#.WdMIW2hSxEY), and went almost directly overhead. With the minimal light pollution from the College and surrounding town it was a spectacular show. Other satellites, too, frequently overfly our sky. A more skilled astronomer than I would be able to look them up based on no more than the time and their tracks. Thankfully for astronomical illiterates like me, yes, there is an app for that.

The Juniata sky is not the only sky discussed here, however. Just the other day we had a talk by Dr. Kiri Wagstaff, the tactical planner and uplink lead for the Mars Exploration Rover, on how the rover’s movements were organized. It takes a large team all morning to finalize the next day’s schedule. I can’t imagine how my life would look if as much thought were put into one hour of it as was put into one hour of the rover’s day. Perhaps the lesson here is that I need a planning committee for my own day?

With midterms looming it certainly feels this way. Between my jobs on campus—including writing blogs like these and working with students to develop their writing skills at our Writing Center—and the academic responsibilities of a senior it can be difficult to get out and appreciate the Juniata sky. Yet when I do find a chance to go outside and stare up at the stars, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it makes me appreciate where I am that much more.

Fall

Today was the first day of Fall… Not literally, that happened about a week ago, but today was the first day where the air was cool and a Fall breeze was stealing the leaves from the tree.  The sun still baked the already yellow grass, but its rays seemed a little weaker today.  The transitional period between Summer and Fall is probably my most favorite time of year because of the beauty that is present at all stages of the transition.   The red leaves that begin to sprout up among the verdant foliage are the first reminder that the lackadaisical days of Summer don’t last forever.  The dark vibrant red color of those first leaves almost suggests that the trees know that it’s time to go and they’ve going out with a flourish.

Huntingdon is currently amid this first stage.  The trees that cover the hills around campus are still covered in leaves but if you walk up into the forest around the Peace Chapel you begin to see Fall showing through.  As the wind blows through the trees it almost smells sweet as it carries on it the smell of decaying leaves and the promise of apple cider and candy.

The realization that summer had officially ended struck me on my run today.  I was up in the Highlands, a neighborhood just north of the college.  It was hot, but a cool breeze kept me comfortable as I ate up the miles.  As the scents carried on the breeze reached my nose I didn’t feel happiness or the giddiness of a child that anticipates Halloween, I merely felt content.  In today’s political climate, a lot can be said for being content.  The past few days and months I, and everyone else in the possession of a social media account, have been bombarded with strong statements about this and that and how we should think and what we should believe in.  As a nation, and a global society, we are cajoled into not being content.  We are constantly asked to question the actions of our leaders and our family members and our friends.  It is exhausting.

As I ran through the town I have come to call home over the past four years, I began to truly realize how nice it is to disconnect from social media, even from other people around you, and just go off and appreciate the little things going on.  Go for a walk through the woods and check out the forest as its beauty goes from verdant to stark.  Go for a run or for a bike ride or, if you are more inclined find a good book and two trees and read in your hammock.  I am also a big supporter of hammock naps.  Like me, you may find that disconnecting leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to face your issues with a renewed vigor.

I’m not sure what my overall purpose for this post is and I don’t think dwelling on it for any longer than I have will make it any clearer to me.  If this blog does nothing else, I hope it makes you think about the way in which society approaches large scale issues.  We get so lost in the dialogue and the need to prove ourselves right that we lose sight of what we were arguing for in the first place and the discussion stagnates.  Taking a step back and observing the discourse from afar allows for perspective and, hopefully when you rejoin the conversation you can help to move it to a healthier and more productive place.

Graduation, it’s only a year away…

Spring is often seen as a season of new beginnings.  The dead limbs of the trees burst back to life and the dandelions become prolific.  It’s a seson of sunshine and happiness after the dark and cold and dreary days of Winter.  For some, however, it can be a season of melancholy.  I am of course talking about the Seniors who will be graduating in thirteen days.  Yes, graduation is supposed to be a happy affair, a celebration of achievement over the past four years and all the achievement that the future holds for the graduating class.  It is also a bittersweet affair because while the graduating class is going off to change the world, their graduation marks the end of a very remarkable era.

I am a Junior here at Juniata and with each passing day I become more and more preoccupied with my own impending graduation.  There are so many things that I need to do in the next year to be even remotely ready to graduate.  I need to take the GRE so I can apply to Graduate schools, I need to apply to Graduate schools, write a thesis on the research that I have done here at Juniata, and try to have as much fun in the next year as I possibly can.

 Figure 1: Just two of the many amazing people that I have met while here at Juniata, doing what we do best, making door decorations for our residents.


Figure 1: Just two of the many amazing people that I have met while here at Juniata, doing what we do best, making door decorations for our residents.

I am not a fan of clichés, especially in writing, but I do believe that college is one of the best times of your life.  I didn’t come to terms with this realization until the beginning of last semester.  I was not having any fun.  Now that’s not to say I stayed in my room and did homework all the time; I did manage to get out periodically, but I never did anything that was outside my comfort zone, nothing that challenged me to grow as a person.  So, I decided to change that.  The one thing that I do not want to do is walk across the front steps of Halbritter a year from now and wish I had done more during my undergraduate years.

My Last Blog

After a week or so of settling in at Juniata College in the fall of 2013, I received an e-mail from my admissions counselor asking me if I’d be interested in joining her staff of bloggers. Here I am, four years later, at the tail end of my college career, writing my last blog.

Juniata has given me an abundance of opportunity. I had multiple campus jobs, studied abroad in Ireland for a year, and took some amazing classes with really great professors. I’m thankful for the jobs because I was able to engage with what I’m interested in: sharing information about Juniata and working with writing. Studying abroad was a great opportunity for me to meet people from around the world and expand my worldview. Finally, while I may heavily favor the English department, I thoroughly appreciate the liberal arts background that Juniata has given me through the courses I’ve taken outside my area of study.

I have taken the majority of my English POE credits with Dr. Mathur, so a last day of class selfie was a necessity.

I have taken the majority of my English POE credits with Dr. Mathur, so a last day of class selfie was a necessity.

I’ll always remember my days at Juniata participating in classes, giving tours, and tutoring in the Writing Center, but I’ll also remember the shenanigans like tenting for Madrigal or getting those early morning calls as part of the Mountain Day wake-up crew. Yes, I developed academically and professionally, but I also had fun. When people ask me what I love most about Juniata, I often say “the people.” I then follow that with a story from when I visited campus. The student whom I ate lunch with had to do a sign language scavenger hunt in which she had to have other students outside the class perform certain actions by giving them instructions in sign language. Students she approached dropped what they were doing to pay attention to her and to try to decipher what she wanted them to do. She had strangers doing cartwheels and football players sprinting to race each other. That’s when I realized that Juniata students are smart, but they’re also fun.

 

My good pals and fellow Writing Center seniors and I enjoying our last shift after three years of working together.

My good pals and fellow Writing Center seniors and I enjoying our last shift after three years of working together.

Thanks, Juniata, for a fun four years, and thanks to any of you who have followed my Juniata journey!

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.

Living off Campus

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.

 

Figure 1: As the flag says, “Welcome to our pad.”

Figure 1: As the flag says, “Welcome to our pad.”

 

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.

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