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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

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.

Powerlines

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.

Zach's Picture
Yet we can’t be challenging ourselves all the time. Even the strongest people need a break. When I’ve had a long week of classes, essay-writing, readings, and my on-campus job, I head off to the power lines in the nearby State Game Lands. Not five miles away from school, these lushly forested game reserves are a hot-spot for runners, hikers, and hunters. My favorite trail takes one along the power lines to overlook the Warrior’s Ridge Dam upon the Juniata River. If you get there at the perfect time, you can see valleys full of mist, a beautiful sunset…
…or both! It’s not always easy to be a diligent student here at Juniata, but it certainly is easy to see why I love this place so much.

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.

SPRINGFEST: A Tale of Many Sunburns (and some other fun stuff too)

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.

Figure 1: Not the most majestic of pictures, but hey, Ferris Wheel.

Figure 1: Not the most majestic of pictures, but hey, Ferris Wheel.

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.

Ain’t No Life Like the Reslife

Your Resident Assistant is as important to your freshmen year as the friends you make during those first few weeks on campus.  The RA is not just big brother listening at the door for shenanigans, they are also a friend and mentor.  I have been an RA for the past two years and I can honestly say that if I had to go back and do it all again, I would still choose to be an RA.  I have gained an overabundance of leadership experience and I have also gotten to meet and build relationships with some pretty amazing people.

Figure 1: Three of our amazing RA's for next year, and one very odd RD... you decide who is who.

Figure 1: Three of our amazing RA’s for next year, and one very odd RD… you decide who is who.

Among those great people are the Resident Director Brett Greene, Residential Life Coordinators Kevin Turner and Jason Francey, our Director Tasia White and Penny Hooper-Conway.  First, Penny is a saint.  She is our Associate Director of Reslife and she is the glue that holds the office together.  She has been there the longest and her experience shows (and is much appreciated) during times of high stress, like Room Draw.  Tasia, the Director of Reslife is new to her position but not new to Juniata.  I spoke with her last semester when she was applying for the job and her passion for Reslife and her love for Juniata are the main reasons that I recommended her for the position (though as a lowly RA my input probably had little to do with her hiring).

As freshmen, the RLC you’ll encounter most Is Kevin Turner.  As the Senior RA of Sherwood Hall, it has been my pleasure to work alongside Kevin this past year to develop the freshmen community in that building and across all our first-year buildings.  Next year he’ll be working with Senior RAs Becca and Ellie, in Sunderland and Sherwood respectively, to continue to grow the communities in those buildings and improve upon the programming that we offer.

The most exciting thing about next year is the staff.  We have biochemists and zoologists, an expert bowler (with his own perfectly white bowling shoes) and a lacrosse player, a member of the Juniata Concert Choir and a kid who likes to ride bikes a little too much (though I can’t talk because I run a lot so…).  We have a diverse staff and we all have very diverse interests and personalities.  What we do have in common is a love for Juniata and the drive to make others feel as welcome here as our RA’s made us feel when we were freshmen.

Graduation: How is it Here Already?!

Can you believe I’m going to be ordering my cap and gown next week? Senior salute is in just a couple of days. Not only will I be trying on hats and gowns for size, but I’ll be tying up loose ends and deciding what’s next for me as I say goodbye to the staff from offices around campus.

What’s next for me? I was able to obtain a job in Philadelphia working for an adult education center, starting over the summer as an early education coordinator and transitioning into a night class teacher. While working, I plan to take pre-requisite credits at Temple University for speech pathology with hopes of continuing my education as a fulltime graduate student in the fall of 2018.

My education at Juniata College was individualized—I got exactly what I wanted from it. I picked Juniata so that I could have an undergraduate degree in something more marketable than pre-speech pathology. This was because I wanted to be more marketable and be able to work while attending graduate school so I could afford it and also so I could be gaining experience while still in academia.

I’ve already made this connection with the adult education center from two summers ago, I worked with them as a rising junior. Now, I am doing exactly what I wanted to do because of my marketable degree in Education Studies and Human Development.

I look forward to the years of possibility ahead. This is just the beginning. There are six weeks left of classes and 47 days until I take that walk down and switch over that tassel. It’s all just so surreal!

From Lille to the DNC in Philly: A Summer Well Spent

Wow! I can hardly believe that it’s week 4 of college already. It felt like only yesterday that I was studying abroad in Lille, France, last June, and attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia the following month! As an Eagles Abroad Scholar for French, I am required to study in a French speaking country, which I started by participating in the European Summer Program (ESP) at The Catholic University of Lille or La Catho for short. I enrolled in a French level 10 course, which, as a Francophone, allowed me to improve my writing tremendously. My professor was very dynamic and gave us many opportunities to discuss our ideas and debate in French. We talked about various topics ranging from Francophone cultures and arts to racism and politics, given our various countries of origins such as, Burundi, Colombia, Syria, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, India, China, the Philippines, the US and so many more. In addition, I took an elective course called European Integration: Borders in Turmoil, which taught me about the functions of the EU and its potential future; the course was a great supplement to my politics studies as it provided me with a unique insight on the EU from an actual European, and particularly French perspective.

Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!

Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!

Of course, I did not miss out on the amazing French cuisine. Every day, I got breakfast from the local boulangerie-bakery- right around the corner of La Catho: croissants, brioches, pain au chocolats and hot choco were life! Every so often, I would also visit an Ivorian restaurant called La Main Magique: Chez Josie, which I absolutely adored! Knowing the popularity of the appetizing attiéké dish of Côte d’Ivoire, I pointed the restaurants out to other Africans that I met in Lille. We visited the beautiful cathedral, Notre-Dame d’Amiens-Our Lady of Amiens-and ate some delicious crêpes! We also traveled to the beaches of Normandy, the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint-Michelle!

While I was sad to leave Lille, I was also excited to come back to the States and attend the DNC in Philly, 2 weeks later! The DNC was indeed an experience like no other. I had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, Leah Daughtry, an amazing and charismatic speaker. She inspired me with her saying “In their minds, this is not a ceiling. It’s a starting point.” I felt empowered to pursue endless opportunities knowing that the sky is not my limit but rather my starting point. Daughtry also made me appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who paved the way in order for me to be successful.

Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University

Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University

I had the chance to work with the State Department Foreign Press, which gave me access to the convention hall every nights. I had the opportunity to meet various foreign journalists whom I interviewed for my article assignments. Indeed, the work load was very demanding, but I had fun doing interviews, visiting the city of brotherly love, networking and meeting my favorite journalists, The Young Turks! I will never forget the moment when Hilary took the stage on the last day of the DNC. The crowd roared and cheered and I never felt more fortunate in my life; I was witnessing history in the making and breathing the same air as the first woman presidential nominee in the history of the United States!

Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!

Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!

My summer experiences make me so proud of being at Juniata and thankful for such wonderful opportunities. I am happy to announce that after the DNC, I will be attending the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and witnessing history in the making once again, regardless of whom she might be!!!

Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!

Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!

Puppies and Poetry

Puppies

It’s not uncommon to find a furry friend walking along the science building or taking a stroll beside the library. Juniata’s campus is a very pet friendly environment, I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to play fetch on all that freshly cut green grass of the quad?

It was a Friday, the third Friday of classes to be exact. Things were finally starting to fall into a pace. I walked into my last class of the day, feeling the drag of a Friday afternoon. I realized everyone else was really feeling this drag, too.

Poetry, in my opinion, is a great class to end on. It’s a wonderful wind down after a week full of fast paced, non-stop, college life. Despite my positive feelings towards this class, it’s still an obligation that isn’t quite Grey’s Anatomy and so I took my book out with a sigh, watching the minute’s tick until we began.

As we waited for a few more people to trickle in, a student came running into the classroom out of breath. “Puppies!” she shouted, “There are puppies!”

“Puppies?” my professor exclaimed? “What do you mean puppies? Where?” I think I could tell he was trying to contain excitement.

“Outside! By the Founders Fountain! Can we go? Please?”

Everyone stared at my professor waiting for a response. Awkward seconds passed. “Puppies don’t have anything to do with poetry…” he began. More awkward seconds.

“Okay. Quickly.”

Then suddenly, the Friday drag was lifted. Everyone jumped, and I mean jumped from their seats, including the professor, out and down the stairway to the fountain and onto the grass to play with and love the multiple, freshly born puppies.

The first ten minutes of poetry that day were passing puppies around, holding, snuggling, and watching my professor tell them how much he loved them. A memory, I’ll never quite forget. A memory of Juniata I hold near and dear to my heart. An experience I don’t think I’d get in any other poetry class anywhere else.

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