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ABASM: We Came for the Science and Stayed for the free T-shirt

This past weekend, several Juniata students had the opportunity to present their research at the Allegheny Branch of the American Society of Microbiology’s yearly conference.  As a bonus the meeting was held right here at Juniata in the von Liebig Center for Science.  The conference took place over the course of roughly thirty-six hours starting from early afternoon on Friday and ending early evening on Saturday.  Over the course of those thirty-six hours students from nineteen institutions, both graduate and undergraduate, had the opportunity to learn about a diverse range of topics from distinguished speakers and from one another.  There were several unique presentations over the two-day period.  The first was a self-mentorship workshop where the speaker guided us through introspective searches into our deepest desires and goals which we later used to help craft a personal mission statement.  The next day we participated in a workshop given by a Juniata alumnus that now works at Ecovative, a company that produces biodegradable packaging products with fungus.  We even got to take some samples home with us!  To close out the conference Juniata’s very own Dr. Belle Tuten, a history professor that specializes in medieval medicine, gave a talk on the methods by which doctors in medieval times used to treat wounds.  The subject matter, which was quite humorous by itself, was made even more so by Dr. Tuten delivering her speech as if the medical practices of the past were perfectly reasonable methods for treating diseases.

Some members of Dr. Lamendella's Lab and myself looking more awake than we actually felt
Some members of Dr. Lamendella’s Lab and myself looking more awake than we actually felt

While the workshops and speaker sessions were fun and educational, nothing compared to the student presentations.  Although I presented this summer at the Landmark Conference at Susquehanna University, presenting at an actual society meeting had a much more significant feel to it.  Sharing my hard work with a room full of people who were just as big or bigger science nerds than me was phenomenal and then being able to sit back down and learn about all the other awesome projects students were working on was just as exhilarating.  This conference further affirmed by desire to go into research when I graduate from Juniata this May.   I learned so many new things about tools like CRISPR and about how viruses affect fetal brain development, to cover just a few things.  This conference increased my thirst for knowledge and understanding about the scientific world and made me that much more excited about graduate school next year.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the constant support and mentoring by Dr. Regina Lamendella and Justin Wright and their lab.  Without them I highly doubt that our lab would have done so well at the conference, and many of us that presented wouldn’t have had as high quality research to present on without their connections and collaborations.  There are many labs that conduct undergraduate research on campus.  Students can do research in almost every department on campus, and many students present this research at local, regional and national conferences, including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and our very own Liberal Arts Symposium which we host every Spring.

Ecovative preparing samples of their product for the conference attendees
Ecovative preparing samples of their product for the conference attendees

From my experience, albeit limited, Juniata has one of the best programs for undergraduate research.  Everyone is encouraged to participate and you can get involved as early as your freshmen year.  All it takes is a little initiative, drive to succeed and no small amount of curiosity on your part.  Even if you don’t think you’ll like research, I still encourage you to participate.  You might find, like me, that you love research and the amazing sense of discovery that comes with it, and find it much more satisfying than being a doctor.  Or you might not.  It is better to try and not like it, then never try and miss out on an amazing opportunity.  Not only that but if you do want to go to med school it looks good if you have done research.

Truc '18 and Hoi Tong '18 after their very successful presentations
Truc ’18 and Hoi Tong ’18 after their very successful presentations

I leave you with this: Research can be difficult.  There are days where you will want to pull your hair out because your line of code just isn’t working or your organic reaction has failed for the twentieth time.  If you get nothing else out of research, you will at least learn the ability to fail.  Yes, the ability to fail.  It is an art, one that I am still mastering.  Sure, succeeding at everything you do feels great, but you don’t really learn anything from it. Failing teaches perseverance and creativity.  Believe me, you do a lot of failing when you first start researching.  You learn as you go and slowly, you improve.  The quality of your work gets better as does the understanding of your project, and for me, my desire to learn more about what I was researching also increased.  It is quite a journey but there is no better place to undertake that journey than Juniata.

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

Senior Dinner

My friends and I at Senior Dinner
My friends and I at Senior Dinner

If I’m being honest, most of my Saturday nights this semester have been wonderfully lazy: playing games, watching movies, and going to get a milkshake at Standing Stone with my friends have become the weekend norm. So, it was a nice change to have a reason to put on a fancy dress and eat some good food. And that reason was Senior Dinner.

On March 1, the Class of 2014 was invited to spend a night remembering the wonderful last four years at Juniata College. This event was generously hosted by the Alumni Association and they succeeded in making it a night to remember. As we walked in, we were able to present something to the class time capsule that will be opened during our 25th Class Reunion in 2039! I recently got a new phone, so I placed a plastic bag into the capsule that held a letter to my 47 year old self and my old EnV 3 phone, which contained texts from friends saved from the night before I left for college my freshman year, pictures from all four years, and lists that I made during my time at Juniata, including my bucket list and a ten year plan. I can just imagine myself, 25 years into the future, looking at the ancient piece of technology and instantly remember all the amazing times I had during these four short years.

My contribution to the time capsule.
My contribution to the time capsule.

There were emotional speeches given by class officers and leaders that reminded us what makes Juniata so special – Madrigal tenting, amazing professors, and Mountain Day. Then, along with some sappy songs, a slideshow was presented with pictures from the past four years that people could submit through the Juniata Senior Facebook page. Memories as recent from my house’s Welcome Back BBQ and as old as freshman Madrigal zoomed by on the screen, and it hit me for probably about the thousandth time that my time here is almost over. That feeling cannot be described any other way than bittersweet. I know that JC has more than prepared me for the “real world” and that it will always be my alma mater; but that does not fully make up for the sad fact that my college experience is almost at an end.

Family and Homecoming Weekend

As you may know, this past weekend was Juniata College’s Family / Homecoming Weekend! So many events were happening on campus: sporting events like football, volleyball, field hockey, and alumni rugby games; a performance of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels by Juniata’s theatre department on Friday and a performance by the Asphalt Orchestra on Saturday; activities like a market place, Club VLB, a class competition, and a book sale to celebrate Beeghly Library’s 50th anniversary; and alumni events like reunions, panels, and more.

Happy birthday Beeghly library!
Happy birthday Beeghly library!

On Friday, I attended the English Alumni Career Panel. The four alumni who sat on the panel were great. They were both insightful and friendly and I really enjoyed the hour-long panel and everything else that they had to say after it had formally ended. Later that night, the Juniata Activities Board did a great job of turning the lobby of the von Liebig Center for Science into a club. As an English POE, I usually just go into VLB to get coffee from Jitter’s, but I’m pretty sure that those strobe lights were not always there.

Saturday was a very nice day for a football game. It was a great game, even though we lost. Thanks to the book sale in Beeghly Library, I finally have a copy of The Scarlet Letter and also a third version of The Iliad. Having all the families on campus meant that a lot of parents were able to meet many of their student’s friends.

Prior to coming to Juniata, I noticed that everyone whom I talked to described the Juniata College community by saying “it’s like a family.” One notices that this holds true after a few weeks on campus. However, seeing alumni walk around Juniata, laughing, having a good time, and reminiscing about their time at Juniata is just further testament to the fact.

CJ IHeartJC Web

It’s Shelby’s Turn to Give Back To Juniata College

As a recent Juniata graduate, I am so excited to be an official member of the Admissions team!  Here’s a little bit about me including my experiences at college, my hobbies, random facts, and whatever else I could think of mixed in between.

I graduated!
That’s me, Shelby Cassell.

So what could be a better way to start than to talk about Juniata?  Each time I visited Juniata while I was in high school it rained.  That did not, however, keep me from seeing how great this place is.  My favorite aspect of Juniata is the sense of community it has.  I love how friendly everyone is from the faculty to students to administration…I could go on and on.  I did not get enough in my four years here as a student so now I am sticking around for more!  In May I graduated with a degree in Health Communication and a secondary emphasis in Spanish.  Working in various positions at the Enrollment Center for the past year allowed me to learn about a new career path that I am now pursuing.

Besides working on campus, I also played volleyball while at Juniata.  It was so much fun to be a part of a team here on campus and make so many great friends through the years.  We traveled many places together including St. Louis, San Antonio, Rochester, and others.  It was always most fun, though, to play in our own gym here at Juniata surrounded by friends and professors cheering us on.  I actually flew on a plane for the first time in my life when we traveled to Texas my freshman season!

My volleyball team, and our beloved Eagle, at our annual “Dig Pink” game to raise funds for Breast Cancer awareness.
My volleyball team, and our beloved Eagle, at our annual “Dig Pink” game to raise funds for Breast Cancer awareness.

In addition to Juniata, I love the outdoors!  I can’t stand to have a day go by during which I haven’t spent time out in the sun.  Hiking, running, and vacationing at national parks are just a few outdoor activities I enjoy.  I have been to Yellowstone, Acadia, Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt, Grand Teton National Park, and more.  Hopefully in the next few years I can make it to Denali in Alaska and Redwood in California.  Recently, I went camping at Raystown Lake near Juniata.  The picture below was the view from my campsite!

SC Raystown Web

When I just need to get away, though, my family cabin is the first place that comes to mind.  While at my cabin there is plenty of wildlife to see including elk, deer, bears, etc.  I make sure to pack my hiking shoes, comfy clothes, and of course my latest book.  Sue Grafton is the author of my favorite series about the adventures of a private investigator and currently I am working through U is for Undertow.  I also enjoy reading health and fitness magazines.  My latest hobby that I am working on developing is cooking so if you have any favorite recipes, feel free to share them with me!

Me and my 2 year old Springer Spaniel at my cabin in Elk County, PA.
Me and my 2 year old Springer Spaniel at my cabin in Elk County, PA.

Some other random facts about me include that I enjoy watching movies and I find Steve Carell to be especially funny, my favorite colors are blue and purple, I love just about any kind of seafood, Red Lobster is my favorite restaurant (makes sense right?), I like to spend time with family and friends whenever possible, and I enjoy going to the beach during the summer.

I am looking forward to expanding my horizons through my work with Juniata Admissions.  I will definitely be looking for new natural areas, restaurants and fun things to do in my region!  If you have any questions about Juniata please do not hesitate to contact me!