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It’s often said of young people that we don’t appreciate the value of family. In our early twenties we are most concerned with distinguishing ourselves from our families. We strive to a new life and a new character apart from the people with whom we spent the first 18 years of our life. These are admirable—and necessary—goals for college students. But that doesn’t mean a life entirely set apart from our family works best. In fact, most of the people I know at Juniata retain a healthy amount of contact with family.
What one defines as “healthy”, of course, varies depending on the sort of person you are and the circumstances you find yourself in. Many of my more extroverted friends keep in near-daily contact with their family from home, usually through the magic of text or online chat services. Some of my peers live close enough to campus that they either commute daily or, more frequently, spend the odd weekend at home. About half of our population here comes from within the state, so whether they live in Amish country or Appalachia home isn’t so far.
But for myself and many others, home is a long way away. I live in Massachusetts which—though thankfully on the same coast as Pennsylvania—is a nine-to-ten hour drive away. With the exception of Thanksgiving, I spend my breaks and free time exploring in-state or elsewhere. Many more students spend Thanksgiving here, especially those of my friends who live on the left coast. And for the ten percent of students who come from abroad, home is further away than many can appreciate—both in physical and cultural distance.
Thankfully, we are no longer living in the age where telephones require booths and quarters to operate. There are a variety of apps and services which allow one to send messages, images, and voice chat for free over any internet connection. I personally used Viber, a WhatsApp clone, while I studied abroad in New Zealand so as to save on cellphone bills. While I’m in this country, I share a group chat with my nuclear and extended families where we post pictures and musings from our daily lives.
Today more than ever students are traveling further and further away to go to college, something I believe to be an admirable trend. Distancing ourselves from where we grew up allows us to see a new way of life and gives us a chance to redefine who we are. For those of us who find ourselves flung far away from home, even with other oceans or continents between us, our modern age has at least some of the solutions. Now if I could only figure out how to get my cat to Skype me…
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.
Saturday Nov. 12th marked my most memorable day of the semester at Juniata. The Ubuntu African club held a cultural event that featured a fashion show demonstrating traditional attires, music and dance from various regions of Africa. I was very proud to have been part of this event called “I Am African, but I don’t Speak African,” because we wanted to educate the public about Africa’s ethnic diversity.
The planning of this event started a month ago when my fellow club members met at the Unity House to discuss our ideas for the semester. Although the Ubuntu club was known for dancing at various events, including the multicultural fest and the dance ensemble fall recital, we wanted a platform of our own. As such, we chose a date, booked the venue, created posters and reached out to professors and peers to spread the word. In addition to dancing, we had other members show their hidden talents through poetry, modeling and singing. I was mostly involved with reserving the venue and choreographing dances to popular Afro beats songs like “Bank Alert” by P-Square, “Tiguidi” by Tour de Guarde, and “Shake Body” by Skales. My favorite moment of the event when a kid named Jillian bravely came to dance with us. He was amazing, full of energy and quickly picked up our dance moves.
The event would not have been successful without our combined efforts, which is what the name of club reflects. Ubuntu is a Swahili word, meaning “togetherness”. We had Stephanie as the master of ceremonies, and she made sure that the show ran smoothly! Other club members helped make the event successful, including the club’s president, Hephzibah, from Nigeria, the club’s event coordinator, Joycelyn from Kenya, Sayida, from Niger, Taha from Tunisia, Melat, Kisest and Ruhama Ethiopia, Zoe, from New York, and Theresa from Maryland. In total, five African countries were represented that night: Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Tunisia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria; and seven ethnic languages: Swahili, Gouro, Baoule, Haoussa, Tunisian Arabic, Amharic and Igbo. Our message was clear: Africa is not a country but a continent, and its diversity goes deeper than country borders drawn on the map. These borders do not necessarily represent or isolate the different ethnic groups, which number in the thousands.
Our event had a great turnout, and I was very happy to see our peers and professors celebrating our cultures. This was very important to us because it encouraged us to put plans into motion for our bigger event in the spring, where we will have authentic African dishes from various parts of the continent.
Photo Credit: Nahui Twomey
My mother never thought I’d be happier than I was when I was in Ireland; I had a smile on my face every time we Facetimed. She told me over Thanksgiving break that she was surprised how quickly I adjusted back to my Juniata College life after a year in Cork. So, I thought about it, trying to discern what it was that was so appealing to me about Juniata this year in particular. I readjusted so quickly because I really missed my classmates and now that I’m back I want to spend as much time as possible with them.
I went to school with the same people for fourteen years before I came to Juniata, so I never really had to make new friends. I think that’s the case for a lot of students. The advantage to the small campus at Juniata is that it is really conducive to making friends since everyone is in close proximity and you see most people on a daily basis. My friend Elise and I connected through overlapping Inbound activities, and Maris and I met through a mutual friend. We’ve remained friends since the early days of the first semester.
I spend a good portion of my week with my fellow Writing Center tutors, and they’ve become some of my best pals. Here, you can see Katie and me bowing to the newly crowned Mr. Juniata.
I always tell people that one of my favorite aspects of Juniata is the students; we are both intensely passionate about their areas of interest and willing to drop all that we’re doing to participate in an event or a tradition to have a good time. We do our schoolwork and take it seriously; we pursue internships and opportunities ravenously. However, we also want to have fun and embrace the quirks of Juniata and its students. Maybe there’s another school where students sleep outside in tents for a week just to sing one line in one Christmas song, but Juniata’s ambitious dichotomy in both fun and work is unique.
When I visited Juniata, I ate lunch with a friend who attended my high school and then went to Juniata. She asked if we could end lunch a bit early and partake in a sign language scavenger hunt. I obliged, and the resulting half hour is one that I talk about often. The rules of the scavenger hunt were simple: get people who were not in the class to do the actions that you wanted them to by only using sign language (think “sign language charades”). When students on the quad dropped their backpacks and sprinted around and football players did cartwheels in the Ellis Ballroom, I knew that Juniata was a place where I could learn and get the school portion of the college experience, but also that it was a place where I could have a good time and make some fond memories. That memory-making potential is what really drew me back in after my year away, and it’s what has me excited for all that is to come with the remainder of my senior year.