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Family and the Long Drive Home

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…

Zachary Hesse is a writer, commercial fisherman, and philosophy student at Juniata College. You can find more of his writings and get in touch with him at his website, zacharyhesse.com.

 

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.

International Day of Peace

When people ask me where Juniata College students go out for dinner, coffee, or to relax outside of campus, I usually have a premade list in my head that I tell them, but that list always starts with the same answer: Standing Stone Coffee Company.

Standing Stone is owned by a Juniata graduate, and is only a short walk from campus. It’s a great place to sit, do some homework, or to potentially get a job (as my roommate, Bekah, did). However, they also host these incredible open mic nights in partnership with the college. The open mics can be for everything from just the fun of it, to an open mic night for Genocide Awareness and Action week. Most recently, Standing Stone hosted an open mic night for the International Day of Peace, and it was delightful.

A student performs at Standing Stone's Open Mic Night for the International Day of Peace.
A student performs at Standing Stone’s Open Mic Night for the International Day of Peace.

The International Day of Peace open mic ran from 5-6PM in the cozy coffee shop. I was a little late to the event myself, but when I got there, it was amazing. Professors were singing songs about war and peace, students were reading original poems or other works, community members were there, and there was an overall atmosphere of peace in the room.

There was so much variety in the pieces that were read. Some had a somber atmosphere, some were hopeful, some were angry… I got the chance to read a piece that I wrote this summer. My reading was a short little blurb of thoughts about an old man and a pipe, which may not sound like it has anything to do with peace outright, but I like to think people enjoyed it! This was my third time reading my work in front of a crowd here at Juniata (or anywhere really!), and it keeps getting easier and more fun every time. It is something I would definitely recommend to any who are interested in trying!

The open mic wrapped up, and then the evening carried on with free live music from a local artist. Overall, I think it was a wonderful event. This has turned into a bit of a piece about how great Standing Stone is, and about how much I like the open mic nights, but that’s okay. It truly is a great little coffee shop, plus they have excellent food if you ever need a snack or a break from dining hall food. And the open mics are something I never thought I would participate in, but really enjoy. All in all, I’m just very thankful that this partnership exists between small businesses in town and the college. It creates something wonderful for all of us.

Microbiomes and Internships and Jobs Oh My!

This summer may have been the best summer of my life.  Some version of this clichéd line can be found at the end of any nineties summer coming of age story, but it does accurately sum up my three months in Huntingdon doing research and experiencing just a little bit of what my life might be like after graduate school.  The beauty of a summer internship experience is that it allows you to not only get hands-on experience in your desired field of work, but it also helps you to decide if the work you are doing over that summer is what you want to do for the rest of your life.  In the last few days, in fact, I was lucky enough to realize that I do want to go into microbiology and bioinformatics. However, this realization also came with a gut wrenching, panic stricken moment because suddenly I was no longer set on going into neuroscience, something I have wanted to study since I was a Junior in high school.  With this change of my heart has come several moments of panicking and internally hyperventilating about my future and everything that I must complete for graduate school between now and December 1, 2017.

 

Juniata's Von Liebig Center for Science, specifically room 1090 was my home this past summer.
Juniata College’s Von Liebig Center for Science, specifically room 1090, was my home this past summer.

So, what could have possibly caused my sudden change of heart?  What groundbreaking research have I done that has convinced me to completely switch career paths?  To be honest my work really hasn’t been that groundbreaking.  It has been fun though.  I am sure that it is hard to imagine how sitting at a desk for eight hours a day staring at a computer can be considered ‘fun’, believe me I understand where you are coming from.  That’s not the part of the job I found glamorous.  It was discovering relationships between bacterial species and the gut cells of mice that I found so fascinating.  I have had a minor interest in the gut microbiome since I read a book on how the gut microbiome is thought to influence some neurodegenerative disorders, but it was not until my research this summer that I really began to appreciate our microbial gut friends.  The project was made even more fun since it was my own project.  I oversaw the analysis and it was on me to determine what the results of my analysis meant.

The partnerships that Dr. Lamendella and Justin Wright, my two mentors this summer, have cultivated through their bioinformatics company Wright Labs (a startup company funded in part by Juniata’s Business Incubator) have allowed students like myself to get an almost graduate school level of research experience while still at our undergraduate institution.  This opportunity, as I have already pointed out, has been instrumental in the decision of a career path.  I am excited to continue working with Dr. Lamendella and Justin through this next year, which will sadly be my last at Juniata.  Though I’ll be leaving in a few short months, I know that the work I have done for Wright Labs has set me up well for graduate school and all the research work I have ahead of me.

Graduation, it’s only a year away…

Spring is often seen as a season of new beginnings.  The dead limbs of the trees burst back to life and the dandelions become prolific.  It’s a seson of sunshine and happiness after the dark and cold and dreary days of Winter.  For some, however, it can be a season of melancholy.  I am of course talking about the Seniors who will be graduating in thirteen days.  Yes, graduation is supposed to be a happy affair, a celebration of achievement over the past four years and all the achievement that the future holds for the graduating class.  It is also a bittersweet affair because while the graduating class is going off to change the world, their graduation marks the end of a very remarkable era.

I am a Junior here at Juniata and with each passing day I become more and more preoccupied with my own impending graduation.  There are so many things that I need to do in the next year to be even remotely ready to graduate.  I need to take the GRE so I can apply to Graduate schools, I need to apply to Graduate schools, write a thesis on the research that I have done here at Juniata, and try to have as much fun in the next year as I possibly can.

 Figure 1: Just two of the many amazing people that I have met while here at Juniata, doing what we do best, making door decorations for our residents.

Figure 1: Just two of the many amazing people that I have met while here at Juniata, doing what we do best, making door decorations for our residents.

I am not a fan of clichés, especially in writing, but I do believe that college is one of the best times of your life.  I didn’t come to terms with this realization until the beginning of last semester.  I was not having any fun.  Now that’s not to say I stayed in my room and did homework all the time; I did manage to get out periodically, but I never did anything that was outside my comfort zone, nothing that challenged me to grow as a person.  So, I decided to change that.  The one thing that I do not want to do is walk across the front steps of Halbritter a year from now and wish I had done more during my undergraduate years.