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Three and a Half Years of Firsts

Julia Newman ’20, Professional Writing POE

My impending graduation has had me reflecting back on a lot of things lately. Three and a half-ish years ago, I wrote my first blog for Juniata. Now as I write my last, I thought it would be a fun full circle moment to revisit my first ever blog, aptly named “A Year of Firsts.”

My first year of college was one of much adventure. I met my two best friends, lived with my first roommate, gained and then lost the freshman 15, discovered many new passions, tried a million new things, and started figuring out who I was.

Rereading my first blog, I see that so many parts of it were true and so much has changed since I wrote it. I pulled a few quotes that I think are especially relevant to the course of my reflection:

“There was my first college paper. It took four trips to the Writing Center and lots of caffeine, but I managed a solid A-.”

I struggled with academic writing very heavily during my first year of college. Three years later, I’m now graduating with a degree in professional writing on the publishing track. Who saw that one coming? Certainly not me! I’ve been sending resumes (crafted with the help of career services) to publishing houses, communications firms, media companies, and so many other opportunities.

“I skipped class for the first time and got caught skipping class for the first time.”

Not that this is something to brag about, but I’ve missed a few classes here and there and I gave up on worrying I’d get caught. It’s nearly impossible not to. Juniata’s average class size is 19 students, so professors notice when you don’t show up to class. This is good in some ways and not in others. If I miss a class, it’s not uncommon to see an email in my inbox “just checking in” to make sure I’m okay. It’s almost impossible to slip through the cracks here and that is one of the best parts of Juniata.

“I ate my first microwave cup of ramen noodles.”

Dorm food was a new cuisine for me when I got to college. I’ve recently graduated from microwave ramen to stove top ramen – you could say I’m like a real adult now. As someone who has never had strong cooking skills, I’ve spent a lot of time with my microwave over the last three and a half years. I’ve spent even more time waiting in line at the Sheetz on Moore Street (I’ve achieved ‘Sheetz Freak’ Reward Status three years in a row).

“I went electrofishing for the first time.”

Although electrofishing was insanely cool, I’ve traded in my electrofishing backpack and waders for overflowing notebooks and fancy pens. Changing POEs at the end of my freshman year wasn’t something I thought I would do. I entered Juniata with a POE in Environmental Studies and I had my whole life plan set up around it. Having the opportunity to take classes outside of my POE helped me realize that, although I’m passionate about the environment, I’m much better suited to be a writer than a field biologist. Science may have been my jam in high school, but college presents so many more opportunities to discover yourself and what your academic passions are.

“I took a history class about Australia and New Zealand on a whim and now I’m applying to study abroad in New Zealand.”

The Australia/New Zealand History class prepared me for my semester abroad in New Zealand. Although it did get cut short because of COVID, I wouldn’t trade my month in New Zealand for anything. Although I may not have seen everything I had on my bucket list for New Zealand, I did get to swim at the surfers beach at Raglan (it was only a three mile walk on the hot sand to get there), I ate some of the world’s best samosas at the Botanical Garden’s food festival, and I was able to visit the #1 place I wanted to see in New Zealand – the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. I lived in an adorable cottage with three amazing roommates and made friends from all over the world.

My month in New Zealand was actually my second trip abroad through Juniata. I spent six weeks in The Gambia, West Africa during the summer after my sophomore year. It was on this trip that I met the artists I’d be working with through the Gambian Art Coalition. I co-founded an NGO (non-governmental organization) during my time at Juniata. I didn’t think I’d accomplish that in my life, much less during my undergraduate years.

Looking back…

Blogging for the admission office was my first ever writing job. I’d started blogging before I had officially decided to change my POE to professional writing. I started blogging because my admissions counselor, Steven, had remembered my application essay and thought I’d be a good addition to the blogging team. I might not have even considered changing POEs if he didn’t give me the opportunity to discover how much I enjoy writing for the public versus writing for myself. I might not have pushed myself further and decided to trade some of my environmental science classes for English classes.

I wouldn’t have gained the experience of being an organizational writing intern at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution if Amy Mathur hadn’t discussed it with me in my English Colloquium class. I wouldn’t have co-founded the Gambian Art Coalition through JCEL (Juniata Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership) if Dr. Nagengast hadn’t helped connect us with artists in The Gambia. I wouldn’t have driven four hours at the butt-crack of dawn on a Tuesday to see Puxatony Phil see his shadow if Lynn Cox hadn’t instructed my Intro to Communications class to persuade one of our friends to go on a spontaneous adventure. If you’re not from PA, Groundhog Day is a pretty big deal.

My environmental law class sparked my interest in advocacy and environmental policy. Now, I’m a co-author on  multiple white papers for the NCIA Policy Council.

Inspired by my favorite class that I’ve taken at Juniata, Creative Nonfiction Writing with Hannah Bellwoar, I finally found my place in writing. My senior capstone, Introduction to Familial Studies, a collection of creative non-fiction stories from my life is the greatest project I’ve done at Juniata. 

I’ve done more in my three and a half years at Juniata than I ever thought possible. These few years changed my entire life plan, and I’m so incredibly grateful. I interned for the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, I fell in love with creative nonfiction writing, I started an NGO, I’ve co-authored two papers slated to be published in early 2021, and I studied abroad…twice – that’s not even the whole list!

I would like to think that my three and a half years at Juniata were a success. I will be heading into my next life step more professionally, mentally, and emotionally prepared for whatever the world throws at me next.

Freshman year: First semester Family Weekend
Senior year: The first weekend of my final semester