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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.
Hands down, today was the best day I have ever had at Juniata. To start, the weather was beautiful, especially compared to the nasty conglomeration of precipitation the meteorologists like to call “winter mix.” The sky was clear and the wind that had plagued us all week had diminished to a light, almost refreshing breeze. All of this provided a lovely backdrop to the amazing event of Springfest. Every spring, our Juniata Activity Board, more commonly referred to as JAB, puts on a day-long event to celebrate the coming of spring and the sun and the warm weather that comes along with it.
This year Springfest was Coachella themed, as the JAB member who planned the event told me. They brought in four performers from across the northeast, including Lee Dewyze the winner of season nine of American Idol, and an amazing acapella group out of Canada call Eh440 (check them out they were AMAZING). The event ran from noon to seven in the evening and every hour of the event was packed with bouncy castles, food trucks, three encore performances from the Downbeat Percussion group, and a Ferris Wheel.
For me, it wasn’t the terrifying awesomeness of a Ferris Wheel (what? I’m afraid of heights) or the red chili chicken burrito served from a food truck that mad the day so memorable. I think I can take the liberty to say that for most, Springfest is the first day in a long time that they can leave their rooms and homework, and bask in the warmth of a sun that is too often hidden during the winter months. It’s a time to let loose a little before the final projects and tests start flooding in, robbing us of any time that we might otherwise have spent on the quad, lazily hammocking.
Even though I still have several homework assignments ahead of me tonight that I should have worked on today, I don’t regret spending my entire day outside. Sure, I’ll be a little more tired this week, but it’s also only three days long for me (thank god for Easter weekend and not having classes on Thursdays). My skin will also be red as a beet and burning up due to sunburn, but being uncomfortable for a few days will be well worth the day of music and food and fun that I just had.
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.
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.
As I begin the second semester of my Junior year, I have started to look back on all of the people that have helped me and supported me. You might say it’s a little too early for this level of nostalgia, but in a year from now I will be anxiously awaiting news about my graduate school applications as well as frantically trying to figure out where my life is going over the next five to six years. Thankfully, Juniata is filled with kind and supportive people who care about the student’s lives, and who do their utmost to make sure they get where they want to go in life.
One of these people is Ellen Campbell. I first met Ellen when I was applying to be an RA my freshmen year. At that time, she was the Resident Director for our off-campus housing. She has a quick wit and an enthusiastic personality and she made the stressful process of applying to be an RA a little less so. Ellen is now the Assistant Dean of Students and is doing all she can to make Juniata an amazing place for all who go here. She is incredibly approachable and will even yell across the quad if she sees you. She has the unique capability to take a funny conversation or story and seamlessly transition it into a serious conversation. One of the things that I believe sets Juniata apart is the Faculty’s relationship with the students. Given that our student to professor ratio is 13:1, our professors and administrators time is free to interact more with the students and it allows them to invest more in our lives.
One of the ways they do this is by participating in student events. Last semester, Ellen and I had the unique opportunity to be a part of one of Juniata’s more comedic traditions, Mr. Juniata. One of the contestants performed his rendition of the Mean Girls talent show routine. As soon as the quartet walked out on stage Ellen started to laugh. Ellen does not have a normal laugh. Ellen’s laugh engulfs everything around it and can be heard above even the rowdiest of crowds. She grabbed my arm and the arm of the kid on the other side of her and started shaking us in her excitement and merriment. I don’t think I have ever laughed harder in my life than I did in that moment. If I had gone to another school, I don’t think I would ever have been able to experience something like that with a professor and certainly not an administrator.
From the brief time I have known Ellen she has made me feel welcomed and supported and, even if she didn’t realize it, she has taught me that education of any kind is an investment and you get out of it what you put in. If you ever get the chance to come to campus I sincerely hope you get to meet Ellen and barring that, I hope that you get to hear her infectious laugh as it echoes across campus.