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The Semester is ‘Final’ly Over

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Figure 1: Getting Ready for Madrigal

 

The end of the year at Juniata is a fun and exciting time that’s here and gone faster than you can say ‘finals’. One minute you’re picking out your Madrigal suit, the next you’re spending way too many hours awake studying for the final you’ve known about for three months but have been ignoring till two days before. The most fitting metaphor I can think of is that of a dance… and that’s not just because Madrigal was last weekend. When we got back from Thanksgiving break, the campus was abuzz with excitement about Madrigal, what dresses people were ordering, what tie was going to go with whose dress, and which professor would be serving you at the dinner. There is always a frenzy of activity the week leading up to the traditional dinner and dance because it is the last big event before the end of the year. As soon as we wake up the Sunday after the dance, we stop performing the excited happy dances of young people and start the exasperated stress induced dance of the overworked and under slept.

Finals week and the week leading up to it are not all that bad. They just sort of creep up on you. One minute you are going through RA training, the next you are living in some forgotten corner of an academic building trying to remember a semester’s worth of Inorganic chemistry in preparation for your upcoming test. Madrigal is rather well placed, because although it cuts a bit into study time before finals, it gives us one last opportunity to let loose with friends, to reminisce about the semester, and to hang out with some of the best people you will ever meet before you all go home for a month.

We go through the semester attending classes, completing homework, hanging out with friends on the weekends, procrastinating, procrastinating on the procrastinating, and before we know it another semester has come and gone, another year coming to a close. Similar to how I danced at Madrigal, I think as a school we go through the year in a very eclectic way. One minute you could be doing the hustle, the next dancing a slow waltz. One Thursday you are pulling an all-nighter to make up for your weeks of procrastination and Friday night you’re procrastinating again. And while this cycle may seem grueling at times, it really makes the time fly by.

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Figure 2: Ochem, Not even Once

 

The semester is almost over and that means the end of a lot of things. For me it’s the end of organic chemistry, a class that has reshaped how I think about science, and the first half of my sophomore year. There are those older than I that may be graduating and ending their time here at Juniata. The ending of anything brings with it a sense of melancholy. Even though I will be returning for RA training in only a few short weeks, another stage of my college career, however small, is over.

Thankfully with every ending there is a new beginning and I personally cannot wait to see what next semester has in store.

The Burning Question

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Figure 1 Just a small part of photosynthesis that contributes to the success of the entire system.

 

Dr. Hosler is one of my biology professors this semester. In his section of the class, we are learning about the finer points of photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and currently about how surface area and gradients help plants or animals carry out their respective processes. He draws marvelous diagrams and has a way of explaining complicated and dynamic processes like photosynthesis and cellular respiration so that the layman can understand exactly what is going on. He is a marvelous teacher and like any good teacher he asks us questions, and like good students… well most of the time we just sit there in silence.

That sentence should have ended, “we raise our hands high and proud to answer the question because we think we have a fairly good answer.” But we don’t, at least not often and definitely not all of us. Dr. Hosler pointed that out to us today in class. And it is not just us; professors from all departments at Juniata and at other schools have noticed a definite decline in people raising their hands to answer questions. Even back at my high school, it was the rare occasion when one of us would raise our hand to answer a question and it would always be the same set of people.

Why? What has changed so much on the student side of the learning process that we no longer feel the need, or want to ask questions? One of the many reasons I liked Juniata was the small class size because it is, quite simply, easier to learn when the teacher’s attention isn’t divided among a lot of students. Smaller class sizes allow for more teacher student interaction which also means more ability for a student to be able to voice their opinions in class. But as I have grown older, that has become less and less true.

From conversations I have had with friends and classmates, there are two big factors (probably more but these seem to be the most prominent) that affect how and when we choose to raise our hand. The first is the fear of being wrong. I think we have been trained over the course of our academic careers to fear bad grades and wrong answers because in our minds that is equal to failure and failure means not achieving your goals. But failure is not always bad. Unless you just inherently pick up on a subject, you will not know the answer the first time around. This is why we have professors: to be able to ask and answer questions. Learning is not always having the right answer; it’s a process that uses practice to go from a relatively poor knowledge base in a subject, to a broader and more solid grasp on the material. The second factor is fear of being the “know-it-all” kid who always has an answer.

The know-it-all does not always have the right answer, and when they don’t, the professor will correct them and open up the question to someone else to get a new perspective. Learning is a dynamic process, much like the processes I am learning about in Dr. Hosler’s class. If only one plant cell carried out photosynthesis, that plant would not last very long because it just would not make enough glucose. But all the plant cells working in concert to produce glucose make a thriving plant. Similarly if there is only one student per class that answers questions, they are really the only ones getting the benefit out of it. Sure, they may ask about something you didn’t understand, but in the end the class as a whole will do a lot better if everyone participated.

We come to places like Juniata to improve our minds, but also our person as a whole. Part of that is developing the critical thinking and social skills to voice your own thoughts on a question and to be able to back it up with supporting evidence. We will not always be right, because we don’t know everything, but we will be better equipped to think about the right answer and how to approach questions like it in the future.

So raise those hands high, for even though you may not have the right answer, you will be better off for having answered.

Am I Still Convinced That Juniata Was a Good Choice for Me?

I’ve found myself saying the phrase ‘Juniata is what you make of it’ a lot recently. It sounds like something I found on genericquotes.com : “Insert word here is what you make of it” (life, time, sweet potatoes, etc). So I questioned myself. Cliché phrases often don’t mean much once they’ve been dissected. But the more I think on it, the more certain I am that for me, my college experience has been what I’ve been able to make of it. And that is exactly why, when people ask me if going to Juniata has been worth it, my answer is a firm yes.

My reasons as to why are multi-faceted, but I will start with the fact that I will be graduating at the end of my 4-years with both an American and a French diploma. I understand that this is perhaps an accomplishment specific to my French POE, but I know for a fact that these kinds of extra achievements are not hard to come by at Juniata. If you are dedicated and passionate about what you study and your outside interests, you WILL find yourself involved in projects, trips and programs that you would not have encountered so directly at a bigger school.

Additionally, Central PA is beautiful.

Additionally, central Pennsylvania is beautiful.

I believe that an enormous catalyst for my experience has been the fact that my professors know me as Erika, an individual person, not just as a student. Juniata IS a small community in the grand scheme of things. If you participate in class (and most of the time, even if you don’t), it is inevitable that your professors will get to know you. They have worked hard with me to develop my skills as an independent thinker and intelligent human being. The connections that I have here with them will extend far beyond May of 2015 when I will graduate from Juniata.

Choosing to go to a private college or university is a scary, personal decision. It’s a financial undertaking and commitment to live the life of a student. Additionally, it requires confidence that your time will be fruitful and ultimately lead to better opportunities and connections. In my case, choosing to attend Juniata College was a choice that I will fervently stand behind and always be grateful for.

The Glass Menagerie

Andrew Kilpatrick (left), Lauren Dobbs (middle), and Megan Smith (right) in The Glass Menagerie.

Andrew Kilpatrick (left), Lauren Dobbs (middle), and Megan Smith (right) in The Glass Menagerie.

As a theatre POE, it’s my goal to participate in as many productions as possible, or at least attend the ones I’m not a part of. Tonight I had to opportunity to attend Juniata’s production of The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams. I decided not to audition for this show in fear of over-scheduling myself at the beginning of my first semester. After seeing the play, and all of the hard work the cast and crew has put into it however, I am seriously regretting my decision not to be involved.

The cast of The Glass Menagerie is a small, four characters. Andrew Kilpatrick plays Tom, the protective poetry-writing brother who works to support his family. Megan Smith is Laura, the incredibly shy, crippled sister who believes she will never amount to anything. Lauren Dobbs plays Amanda, the faded southern belle mother who struggles to accept the flaws of her children. Finally, a friend of mine, Jamison Monella is Jim, an old high school acquaintance who strives for success and love in his adult life.

I’ve been taking two theatre classes this semester, and have become very close with my teacher and academic adviser Kate Clarke. We spoke about the production and how incredible the shows at Juniata always are, so I knew I had to see the show for myself. I was blown away. I’m used to seeing musical theatre productions with large casts of at least forty, with show-stopping musical numbers and intricate choreography. The Glass Menagerie was not one of those shows. This production gave off an eery, realistic vibe that pleasantly surprised me. The acting done by my fellow peers was phenomenal! The students seemed comfortable, and were incredibly believable on stage. It’s hard to truly justify the talent I witnessed tonight, so if you get the opportunity to attend this show or any other theatre production Juniata offers I definitely recommend trying to see one.

As we progress into the midway point of the semester, I have been able to think about how I’ve been doing so far at Juniata, and what I can do to better enjoy myself here. The first thing I always think about is getting more involved in the events going on around campus, and especially in the Theatre Department. Although I don’t think I will have time to participate in the other performances occurring this semester, I am definitely making sure to audition next semester!

When it Comes to School Size, Less is More

Over the past 2 years at Juniata, whether by design or by coincidence, I have frequently stumbled across different lists on various social media sites describing attributes of small liberal arts colleges. So many of them harp on small colleges because you know everyone on campus and professor hang out with students, but honestly, I see the pros of a smaller student body outweighing the cons. Having a smaller student population allows for the campus to build a much stronger community that trusts and respects each other. If I told you to leave your laptop and phone sitting in the middle of the quad and walk to go get a coffee at any campus with over 5,000 students, would you do it? Most likely not. What if I told you that you wouldn’t have to worry about people touching your stuff if you did this at Juniata? This is the type of trust and respect that Juniata’s students have for each other. Even our new President has taken notice of this with how the students leave their bags outside the cafeteria. Spencer Backpacks WebIt is much calmer and makes your college experience less stressful when you don’t have to worry about people stealing your stuff. This is just one reason I prefer the small college experience.

 
With a smaller student population indubitably comes several other benefits. One of which is the ease of access students have to faculty, staff and each other. Many professors at Juniata have an open door policy, where if they’re in their office with the door open, you are free to walk in and strike up a conversation. Being able to have this connection with your professors really is a luxury that increases the quality of your education. I have professors from freshman year that still remember the names of my siblings and pets! Even new President Troha is going out of his way to be accessible to the student body, as seen in Kunal’s blog entry on September 12th. If you want to meet with your academic advisor, department head or even the dean of students, they will usually be able to meet with you within 48 hours. The beauty of having a smaller school like Juniata is that we have so much more access to our professors and staff, and as a result, more of an input into our education. I personally view this ability to interact with Juniata staff at such a personal level one of the pros of having a small, more tight-knit Juniata community. This ease of access is something most people at Juniata take for granted, but is something that also makes Juniata one of the friendliest and most welcoming campuses on the East Coast.

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