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.

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

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.

International Day of Peace

When people ask me where Juniata College students go out for dinner, coffee, or to relax outside of campus, I usually have a premade list in my head that I tell them, but that list always starts with the same answer: Standing Stone Coffee Company.

Standing Stone is owned by a Juniata graduate, and is only a short walk from campus. It’s a great place to sit, do some homework, or to potentially get a job (as my roommate, Bekah, did). However, they also host these incredible open mic nights in partnership with the college. The open mics can be for everything from just the fun of it, to an open mic night for Genocide Awareness and Action week. Most recently, Standing Stone hosted an open mic night for the International Day of Peace, and it was delightful.

A student performs at Standing Stone's Open Mic Night for the International Day of Peace.

A student performs at Standing Stone’s Open Mic Night for the International Day of Peace.

The International Day of Peace open mic ran from 5-6PM in the cozy coffee shop. I was a little late to the event myself, but when I got there, it was amazing. Professors were singing songs about war and peace, students were reading original poems or other works, community members were there, and there was an overall atmosphere of peace in the room.

There was so much variety in the pieces that were read. Some had a somber atmosphere, some were hopeful, some were angry… I got the chance to read a piece that I wrote this summer. My reading was a short little blurb of thoughts about an old man and a pipe, which may not sound like it has anything to do with peace outright, but I like to think people enjoyed it! This was my third time reading my work in front of a crowd here at Juniata (or anywhere really!), and it keeps getting easier and more fun every time. It is something I would definitely recommend to any who are interested in trying!

The open mic wrapped up, and then the evening carried on with free live music from a local artist. Overall, I think it was a wonderful event. This has turned into a bit of a piece about how great Standing Stone is, and about how much I like the open mic nights, but that’s okay. It truly is a great little coffee shop, plus they have excellent food if you ever need a snack or a break from dining hall food. And the open mics are something I never thought I would participate in, but really enjoy. All in all, I’m just very thankful that this partnership exists between small businesses in town and the college. It creates something wonderful for all of us.

Powerlines

Location is key. Who we are is often dictated by where we are, the pressures we face and the opportunities that present themselves to us. Fortunately for a philosophy major like myself, opportunities to channel Thoreau and escape into nature to reflect are many. This is perhaps my favorite perk of living at Juniata; the rolling foothills of the Alleghenies provide as many opportunities to get as lost as one wishes.

Living in a rural area has been a change for me. Where I live at home in Massachusetts might technically be considered exurban, but I’m no civil engineer. It’s safe to say that I would have to drive for several hours before I start seeing cows in pastures on the side of the road. Here, however, cows are nearly as common as cornfields. While some might think this would be a shock to my system, it has in fact proved the opposite. Living in a brand-new environment and facing novel challenges has strengthened my character considerably. Going out of one’s comfort zone–whether it’s taking a class on Business Management as a philosophy major (as if a philosophy student will ever be in charge of a successful business) or joining the SCUBA club as a novice on a week-long trip to Florida–is the most surefire way of developing one’s self.

Zach's Picture
Yet we can’t be challenging ourselves all the time. Even the strongest people need a break. When I’ve had a long week of classes, essay-writing, readings, and my on-campus job, I head off to the power lines in the nearby State Game Lands. Not five miles away from school, these lushly forested game reserves are a hot-spot for runners, hikers, and hunters. My favorite trail takes one along the power lines to overlook the Warrior’s Ridge Dam upon the Juniata River. If you get there at the perfect time, you can see valleys full of mist, a beautiful sunset…
…or both! It’s not always easy to be a diligent student here at Juniata, but it certainly is easy to see why I love this place so much.

Microbiomes and Internships and Jobs Oh My!

This summer may have been the best summer of my life.  Some version of this clichéd line can be found at the end of any nineties summer coming of age story, but it does accurately sum up my three months in Huntingdon doing research and experiencing just a little bit of what my life might be like after graduate school.  The beauty of a summer internship experience is that it allows you to not only get hands-on experience in your desired field of work, but it also helps you to decide if the work you are doing over that summer is what you want to do for the rest of your life.  In the last few days, in fact, I was lucky enough to realize that I do want to go into microbiology and bioinformatics. However, this realization also came with a gut wrenching, panic stricken moment because suddenly I was no longer set on going into neuroscience, something I have wanted to study since I was a Junior in high school.  With this change of my heart has come several moments of panicking and internally hyperventilating about my future and everything that I must complete for graduate school between now and December 1, 2017.

 

Juniata's Von Liebig Center for Science, specifically room 1090 was my home this past summer.

Juniata College’s Von Liebig Center for Science, specifically room 1090, was my home this past summer.

So, what could have possibly caused my sudden change of heart?  What groundbreaking research have I done that has convinced me to completely switch career paths?  To be honest my work really hasn’t been that groundbreaking.  It has been fun though.  I am sure that it is hard to imagine how sitting at a desk for eight hours a day staring at a computer can be considered ‘fun’, believe me I understand where you are coming from.  That’s not the part of the job I found glamorous.  It was discovering relationships between bacterial species and the gut cells of mice that I found so fascinating.  I have had a minor interest in the gut microbiome since I read a book on how the gut microbiome is thought to influence some neurodegenerative disorders, but it was not until my research this summer that I really began to appreciate our microbial gut friends.  The project was made even more fun since it was my own project.  I oversaw the analysis and it was on me to determine what the results of my analysis meant.

The partnerships that Dr. Lamendella and Justin Wright, my two mentors this summer, have cultivated through their bioinformatics company Wright Labs (a startup company funded in part by Juniata’s Business Incubator) have allowed students like myself to get an almost graduate school level of research experience while still at our undergraduate institution.  This opportunity, as I have already pointed out, has been instrumental in the decision of a career path.  I am excited to continue working with Dr. Lamendella and Justin through this next year, which will sadly be my last at Juniata.  Though I’ll be leaving in a few short months, I know that the work I have done for Wright Labs has set me up well for graduate school and all the research work I have ahead of me.

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: