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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.
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
I’d never considered myself to be much of a “researcher”. Yes, I love environmental science, and most science learning, but when I thought about my future, I never saw research in it. Now, as a first semester Sophomore, I’ve found myself leading my own research project under biology professor, Dr. Norris Muth.
Last year, I began working on the project of mapping the street trees of Huntingdon Borough. I continued that project into this year, but a few weeks ago, Dr. Muth and Jim Savory (a member of the Tree Commission) approached me with a new project – the Huntingdon Champion Trees project. Well, that’s not quite our official name, but it sums it up fairly well. Essentially, our goal is to find the biggest tree of each species across Huntingdon County.
We had an article published in The Daily News (Huntingdon County’s newspaper) about our project, and the tips started rolling in. So far, people around the county have contacted me about almost 20 different trees. I’ve been going out a few times a week since then just to try to keep up with it!
Besides the fact that it’s incredibly cool to have my own project so early in my college career, the project itself somehow managed to combine everything I’m interested in. I love Urban Forestry (trees in cities and towns), history, people, and Huntingdon. I’ve met someone who lives in the same house that their grandparents once lived in, I went to one home that had an old carriage house, and a ramp in the front yard so people could get into the carriage, and I’ve seen some really, really huge trees.
I know trees are not everyone’s thing. Heck, they’re barely anyone’s thing. However, that’s not the point. Even though Juniata does not have a forestry program, I was able to invest myself fully in my interests.
When I was visiting colleges as a prospective student, I remember thinking that I definitely wanted to work in a Writing Center and to be a tour guide. This year, I am doing both.
As an English POE, I am thankful for the opportunity to work as a Writing Center tutor. The opportunity not only to edit papers, but also to work on writing skill acquisition is as beneficial to the students I work with and me. For me, the Writing Center is an opportunity for me to use my skills and talents to help others, but it is also a channel for personal and professional growth. Of course, every day of work is an opportunity to solidify and strengthen my own analytical and writing skills, but working at the Writing Center is more than that. It is a collaboration between tutor and student to improve a paper for the present and skills for the future. Working with other students is great for interpersonal communication skills. Also, the Writing Center functions as a team. Throughout the seven weeks of the semester, I think I have learned valuable lessons about teamwork that I can carry with me throughout my Juniata College career and beyond.
I’m the type of person who feels an intense loyalty to his school, and I think acting as a campus tour guide is one of the best ways for me to share my fondness for Juniata. I really enjoy answering questions about campus and talking about Juniata traditions and my personal experiences at Juniata. Speaking directly to prospective students and families and answering questions has improved my communication and public speaking skills, and the small trivia facts that I’ve picked up about campus are interesting not only to the prospective students, but also to my friends. While facts about the size of our window in the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre (we have the second biggest window in a theatre space next to Disney World) or the Juniata chestnut arboretum (we have a chestnut sanctuary to help regrow American chestnut trees which perished during the chestnut blight in the early 1900s) are fun topics of conversation, I’ll be able to take professionalism and communication skills with me into my career.
The relationships I’ve developed with my coworkers and the skills I have acquired through these positions are really important to my college experience. The hours spent at my jobs are some of the highlights of my weeks.
My first semester at Juniata went by so quickly. Just a few months ago, I was going to high school graduation parties and wondering what college would bring. I think that these feelings are fairly common among soon-to-be freshmen. I was nervous about making new friends and what college life would be like. Also included in my anxiety was whether or not I made the right choice.
So, yes, making friends can be difficult. Before college, I never really had to make new friends. Most of my friends were with me from preschool or kindergarten to high school graduation. But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. A few days into the semester there was a knock at my door followed by, “I heard that you’re a vegetarian. I am, too. Let’s be best friends.” That’s the kind of unexpected thing that can happen at Juniata, and we are now very good friends.
College life is a lot like life at home, but it is also very different. In college, you’re accountable for yourself. There is no one there to remind you to do something or to go somewhere, but the basic schedule of “school, activities, homework, sleep” from high school is still present.
So here we are at the big question: did I make the right choice? Yes. Juniata is a really great place. It may be small, but everyone is so friendly. Sometimes, that smile and wave from someone on campus is what you need to brighten your day. All of the professors that I have had so far have been great, and they really care about what they are teaching and about their students. Activities like clubs and sports and traditions like Mountain Day and Madrigal provide a nice break from the academic side of college. Now, looking back, I realize that being nervous was really unnecessary. Juniata College is a welcoming, interesting, and fun environment that I am happy to attend.