On Sunday November 5th, a group of friends and I went to see Juniata College’s Concert Choir to support our friend who is a member. They sang eighteen songs, which is an impressive amount of songs to learn. Several of the songs were performed in a different language with the translation in the program provided at the door. We learned that the choir is going to travel to Vietnam in January to perform with another Vietnamese choir, we heard some of the songs they are working on in Vietnamese for this trip. The choir travels to another country every two years to sing abroad and experience a new culture. I don’t know anywhere else that has their choir travel like ours does. This really speaks to the liberal arts education that Juniata strives for. It gives students a more well-rounded knowledge of the world. My favorite song was called “Northern Lights”; it was a beautiful piece that showed the skill of the singers and the effort that they have put into this concert. The emotion in the voices of the choir could be felt and many of the audience members were moved by this piece. I also enjoyed listening to the different folk songs which were more upbeat and energetic.
The audience seemed to respond best to the folk songs because of the energy coming from the choir. They all looked like they were having a lot of fun up on stage singing those songs which is important during a performance. There were a few solos that were beautifully done and could easily be heard. Most of the choir’s songs were done A Capella, which is amazing because it can be very difficult to stay together without music, but during one of the folk songs three students came down off the risers to place instruments to accompany the singing. This added a fun aspect to an already entertaining piece. I have always loved going to see the concert choir’s performance. The singers all appear professional but they also show how much they enjoy singing. Their music is varied so that you don’t have to listen to the same kind of music for the entirety of the concert and it shows off the skill and work the singers have and have put into their concert. I would encourage everyone to attend more of the choir’s concerts to support them and as a chance to experience the beautiful music that these students work so hard to provide for their audience. It really is a wonderful experience to heard my fellow students doing what they love and creating something so unique.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I so often get asked how and why I ended up here at Juniata, in a tiny, little mountain town in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. I grew up in southern Louisiana for most of my life before moving to Singapore for four years, so needless to say Huntingdon is a bit of a change of pace from what I was used to. When it came time to start looking for colleges I knew one thing for sure- I wanted to be somewhere that was completely different from what I already knew, and that’s how I ended up here.
At the time that I visited Juniata I was dead set on coming here, Juniata had been on my mind since early on in my freshman year of high school, so I had been waiting a long time to finally see it. I spent most of the plane ride bouncing in my seat, overly excited and driving my mom nuts. My mom and I got to Huntingdon late in the evening on a weeknight and weren’t going to campus until the next morning, so our plan was just to grab some dinner and look around the area a bit. At first glance, Huntingdon wasn’t quite what I had expected. I had spent months fantasizing about Juniata and what it would be like here, but the town was so much smaller than I had imagined. I was honestly so scared that the place I’d spent forever dreaming about was all wrong for me. That night I lai
d in the hotel room bed panicking about what I was going to do and it wasn’t until the next morning when we finally got to campus that everything started falling into place.
Pretty much from the second we were on campus my whole mood changed. I had been told by a lot of my older friends that when you found the right college that you would just know, there’d be some magic “click” inside of you and that would be it. I never understood that until I walked onto campus here at Juniata. All of my fears from the night before were gone as soon as I stood in the middle of the quad. As cliché and cheesy as it may sound, something just felt right on campus. Despite how I’d felt before I knew that this campus was my home. Now, a year and a half into my Juniata career I know that I absolutely made the right choice in coming here. This little town that felt so scary at first is now the place where I feel safest and most at peace.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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®ion=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.
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.