Time for a Thesis

Last week, all seniors received an email from the library staff encouraging students to sign up for a senior thesis carrel.  A thesis carrel is a small desk on the upper or lower levels of the library which senior thesis writers can reserve for the semester.

This sign-up email made me realize that I was about to embark on an academic project I had been anticipating almost since the start of my time at Middlebury.  During this fall semester and Winter Term, I will be writing a History thesis.  For some reason, as I read through this email, it struck me how near I am to finishing my majors (History and Political Science), and how much academic work I’ve progressed through at Middlebury.  At Middlebury, some majors require a thesis, some majors require it only if a student wants to receive departmental honors, but almost all departments require some form of senior work or capstone project.

There is a typical life cycle to a thesis carrel throughout the year.  Invariably, while writing a thesis, students acquire a stack of books and papers that pile on the carrel.  Printed out rough drafts with edits marked in pen cover the desk.  Post-it notes with encouraging messages from friends appear on the carrel’s upper shelf.  Empty coffee mugs dot the rows of carrels.

I took a course designed to prepare History majors for the thesis during the fall of my junior year, when I wrote a 30-page research paper on 1890s Malawi.  This junior thesis was a great way to get experience in finding primary sources.  It also introduced me to the fantastic staff in our library and the College Archives.  The librarians can help you find information on seemingly every topic under the sun.  Even History topics that seem very far removed from Vermont and the United States (like Malawi or the Ottoman Empire) are accessible thanks to the help of the library staff.

Getting to claim a carrel for my senior thesis makes it feel like I am graduating from an introductory thesis to the real deal. As a History and Political Science double major, I have been thinking about how I can craft a thesis that has a focus on an international relations or political institutions theme.  I returned relatively recently from Turkey, where I spent the spring semester of my junior year abroad in Istanbul.  The courses I took at a university there have influenced my thinking on a thesis topic, and as I write this I hope to research a topic that has to do with the 19th-century Ottoman Empire.

It is an extraordinary thing to be an undergraduate and have the opportunity to work closely with a professor to do original research on a topic.  I am grateful for my adviser’s assistance and will no doubt rely on his expertise in historical inquiry as I begin the marathon that is a senior thesis.

A typical History thesis is between 60-70 pages, and the scale of the project can seem daunting.  But when I think ahead to the books and research, I am not so much nervous as I am excited.  I can’t wait to get started.

A Self-Proclaimed MiddCOREr

Like most Middlebury students, I’ve been developing an ongoing bucket-list in my head since my first day at Middlebury. And like most seniors, I am now hyper-aware of the time restrictions with which I need to complete my bucket-list. I haven’t been procrastinating too much; throughout my time at Middlebury I’ve been checking off these items one by one. Maple Run – check. Spend a summer in Middlebury – check. Sunrise hike – eh, close enough. Tell a story at the Moth – this Thursday! MiddCORE – umm…

For those of you who don’t know, “MiddCORE is a mentorship-driven, experiential-learning program that builds skills, creates opportunities, and expands networks for tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.” More simply: MiddCORE is a class you can take during January term (J-term). From my limited understanding of what MiddCORE actually is, I would describe it as an intensive training in real-world problem solving using a liberal-arts mindset. I realize that is equally as vague, so this is where I direct you to the link at the bottom of my post to learn more.

I have never taken MiddCORE (hence my umm…) and I know I won’t have the opportunity my final J-term. But it’s on my bucket-list for a reason. It’s intense, interactive, collaborative, goal-oriented, and all those other buzz words that make my (somewhat) career-driven-self salivate. I want to do MiddCORE, but I can’t.

Or so I thought.

Turns out MiddCORE hosts workshops throughout the Fall and Spring semesters. As the eager-beaver trying to plow through my bucket-list, I signed up for almost every MiddCORE workshop available this Fall, obviously thinking that by the end of the semester I could be a self-proclaimed MiddCOREr.

So first week of senior year I walk into the MiddCORE house (their headquarters) for Persuasive Speaking with Mike Kiernan. His biography online says he is an expert in “all areas related to communication” – how persuasive. If you read past the first sentence of his biography you will also learn that he has worked as a communication consultant with political candidates, physicians, and business executives. He is also a doctor. Really, there is nothing on the website that communicates how wonderful of a workshop he would host. He is a communication guru.

There were six other students in attendance for the two-hour workshop. We did all things in a circle formation, which included activities like:

  • State the energy in the circle
  • Overcome your subconscious consciousness
  • Give a pitch (these ranged from why you should eat at Proctor if you are looking for Vegan deliciousness to how to invest sustainably)
  • Listen to Mike Kiernan’s wealth of wisdom

It was a great way to kick-off the semester. Meet new people – check. Get a fix of the out-of-the-classroom learning (that happens all the time at Middlebury) – check. Practice speaking in front of strangers – check. Become a self-proclaimed MiddCOREr – almost!

Prime Time for Apple Picking!

Last week, approximately 600 first-year students along with a couple dozen transfer and exchange students arrived to Middlebury for their MiddView Orientation, participating in a variety of different on-campus activities and student-led outdoor, community service and wellness trips ranging from camping to yoga and meditation. One of my good friends, Dave Yedid, led a camping trip for new students and made strong connections with all of the participants of his trip. The day after he returned, I caught up with him on his trip in our residence hall, Munford House. After our conversation, he mentioned what a beautiful day it was outside and suddenly asked me, “Do you wanna come apple-picking with me?”

As a New Yorker transplanted to Middlebury, Vermont for several months out of the year, I am always willing to take advantage of the unique opportunities I have to be outdoors. Also, believe it or not, in my three years at Middlebury, I had never been apple picking before! So I accepted my friend’s offer and we headed over to Happy Valley Orchards, which is about a 5-minute drive from campus.

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Dave (left) and I happy to be apple picking at Happy Valley Orchards!

A self-proclaimed apple-junkie, I probably consume at least an apple a day. I love apple cider, apple turnovers, apple crisp and even sour apple candies! So it was great for me to finally go to where it all comes from (minus the sour apple candies, of course). I enjoyed walking through the field of apple trees, taste test some apples to see if they were ready for indulging and chatting with other apple pickers that afternoon.

I highly recommend to all those who visit our scenic campus in Vermont, whether that is from an urban metropolis like New York City or elsewhere, to pause and take a moment either before or after your information session and tour of Middlebury to explore all the beautiful places that surround us here. Let us know if you need any suggestions! You will be surprised by what you find.

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No apple-picking experience is complete without a dynamic jumping picture.

Welcome to the Blog!

Hello! Welcome to the Senior Admissions Fellows’ Blog. My name is Rachel, and I’m on the Senior Fellows. We’re here to tell you our stories about Middlebury. Whether you visit the college and listen to our information sessions, send questions our way, or read this blog, we’ll give you the student perspective on what it’s like to be a Midd Kid.

On this blog, you’ll find the ruminations, musings, and reflections from the nine Senior Fellows. We’ll write about our most delicious Atwater dinners, our most adventurous hikes, our most stimulating classes, and much more. We come from different places and backgrounds, and we’ll share our varying perspectives with all of you. Check this blog regularly to hear student perspectives about this campus. So, without further ado, let me give you an update…

Happy first day of school! The sun is shining, the quad is green, and the mountains look beautiful! We Senior Fellows are bustling around campus, enjoying our last first day of class. You’ll find us finishing up our majors, exploring new departments, and embarking on our capstone projects. You might also spot us reuniting with our friends and returning to our favorite haunts. We’re all still having new experiences too as we become acquainted with our new classrooms, professors, and classmates.

Personally, my year has begun with a good balance of the familiar and the newfangled. I’m living in a new building called Voter. It’s one of oldest buildings on campus, complete with built-in shelving and huge picture windows. There’s a spiral staircase in my suite! (It makes up for the small bathroom.) The five other people cohabitating with me all lived in my first-year dorm, Battell. We’ve been friends since we first started at Middlebury. My course schedule this semester includes some familiar selections too including the Senior Colloquium for my major and an English class with one of my favorite professors. I’m also trying to expand my horizons with a class on health policy, a new subject for me, and an independent study. In all, I’m looking forward to enjoying my favorite aspects of Middlebury as well as finding some new passions.

That’s all for now! I hope your first few weeks of school are going well. Don’t forget to check this blog again soon to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Middlebury student.

 

The Finale

For us seniors, May is a month of lasts. The last time you’ll hike snake mountain, the last time you’ll have chicken parm in proctor, the last Vermont sunrise you’ll watch over the football field before graduation. For many of our class, it’s also the end 16+ years of continuous schooling – the last time to be in a college classroom, the last paper you’ll ever write for a professor, the last exam you’ll sit in, that last powerpoint presentation.

As an environmental studies major, my last assignment at Middlebury College was a culmination of all these academic milestones. The capstone environmental studies course, called ’401′ for short after the course, always consists of a group project with a community partner focusing intensely on one particular environmentally related issue. This semester, all our projects focused on environmental innovations occurring in Rutland County, about an hour south of Midd.

Therefore, for the past semester I have been working with a group of three other students from different foci and the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), an organization that is devoted to fostering the farm-to-plate movement in Rutland County. We ambitiously aimed to make a video for our project based on interviews we conducted with farmers, restaurant owners, chefs, hunters, anglers, even insurance agents, about their connections to food and eating local. As a result, we took upwards of 10 trips to Rutland as a group during the semester, interviewed 12 people, conducted 5 short surveys, and attended several food-related events, like the farmer’s market.

Last night, we finally had the chance to present everything we’ve worked so hard on to our community parnters at RAFFL, our professors, and the rest of the Rutland Community. We did our presentations actually in Rutland, as opposed to here at the college per usual, at the Rutland Public Library. To max out on academic potential, we presented a PowerPoint presentation, turned in a 22 page written report, made a website, and finalized and aired our video (which was so nerve-wracking it certainly felt like taking an exam!).

All in all, the feedback we received and the positive reception from our professors and community partners made the entire semester worthwhile. All the long drives and long days spent editing video footage paid off in a capstone presentation of which I am truly proud. It was an appropriately ambitious way to finish out my final semester here. I can’t believe last night I turned in my last paper, presentation, and test. All good and satisfying lasts.

Make It Happen May

It is here. This “May” that I purposefully never flipped to in my planner for fear of my eyes wandering to that highlighted box – May 25th. May means that a count down is unnecessary; the date you write down on all assignments is a constant reminder of the ticking time clock.

Here is my bucket list:

1. Dunmore Day

2. Ben and Jerry’s Factory

3. Shelburne Farms

4. Climb Camel’s Hump…and Mt. Abe….and Mt. Mansfield (sorry calves)

5. Make a pilgrimage back to old dorms with my roommate (yes, I have had the same roommate every year and am already feeling the separation anxiety)

6. Sunrise from organic garden

7. Enjoy it all (this one is easy)

The funny thing is that Middlebury has felt like one giant check off the bucket list. While here, I have done so many things I never thought I would, things I had never imagined, and things I had no idea to put on my bucket list. However, it has all fallen into place because this four year experience has been so amazing. You literally get smacked in the face with the water pouring out of the buckets you are turning over nearly every day. Is that where the phrase comes from? I should look into that.

Anywho, it is Make It Happen May. Best to-do list ever. You all best hold me to this. Yes, you, reading this.

The Light Though

Something I’ll never quite get used to at Midd is the evening light. The “golden hour” which happens right after the sun goes up in the morning and before it sets in the evening is universally a wonderful thing, but I’ve never seen it quite as beautiful as it is in Middlebury. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t even necessarily require a beautiful day. Sometimes the best evening light comes from days with funky clouds or a little rain. Maybe it has something to do with the hills and dales the light seeps through, or maybe it’s because it catches you by surprise as you’re walking to dinner or to a meeting.

Tonight was a beautiful one. So we made some sandwiches and wrapped some pie up in paper napkins and walked out to the garden. Still a little chilly, especially as the sun went down, we snuggled together on the hill, ate walnut bread and avocado, watched the sun set, and talked and laughed.

We have three weeks until graduation and three more weeks of being bathed in these beautiful evenings. I hope these next few weeks are filled with lots of dinners outside in the grass.

It’s Earth Week!

As some of you might know, this Tuesday, April 22, was Earth Day! As the college with the oldest environmental studies major in the country, Middlebury loves a good planet-centered holiday. So much so, in fact, that two different organizations on campus have expanded it from a day to an entire week.

The Campus Sustainability Coordinators (CSC’s) and the Real Food Group are taking advantage of April 22nd to promote further environmental awareness on campus. Both are incorporating local food into the mix – Real Food had a dinner in Atwater dining hall on Monday and the CSC’s quickly followed suit with a delicious Atwater dinner on Tuesday (I’m still hoping for seconds of the roasted root vegetables. So good).

Both groups have also brought speakers to campus to talk about a variety of issues – tonight an executive at a large plastics company is coming to talk about inciting environmental change from inside a large, petro-chemical organization. As an enviro studies nerd I can’t wait!

And tomorrow is the grand finale… a spin bike challenge! Here on campus we have our own spin bike classroom where the bikes actually generate energy while you’re working out. Groups all across campus are making teams to compete on Friday to see who can generate the most energy. My friends and I are hoping to give the hockey team, last year’s winners, a run for their money.

So from all of us here in Vermont, Happy Earth Week!

Preview Days Reflection

Well, Accepted Students Weekend 2014 is behind us, and it was a rousing success. This was one of the biggest events of the year for the Admissions staff and senior fellows and all of them (us) did a great job launching a memorable weekend for the 2018ers. It was weird this year, for me, seeing all those excited and wide-eyed prospective students gawking at Middlebury and at its tales of liberal arts and cultural immersion and endless opportunity. That was me four years ago. It was four years ago that I made my first Middlebury friends at the reliably awkward Ice Cream Social. “Full circle” doesn’t even come close to describing how far it felt I’d come as I toured prospies around campus, helped organize events, and stood by to help lost families find Axinn 219 (not least of all because full circle would land me right back where I started). Events like Accepted Students Weekend are, on a small scale, a reminder of how important it is to pay-it-forward: in Middlebury, in life, everywhere. I remember the nerves and jitters and excitement of that uncertain time, and nothing made me feel more fulfilled than to share a story and witness a small circle of next-years shake with anticipation. The universe works in cycles, I’ve heard it said. This one is about to come around. It just makes me happy to know that, as we head forth, there is another group here to take our places; an eager, anxious, interesting, and interested assemblage of tomorrow’s Middlebury.

Find your beach

Sometimes at Middlebury when it is meant to be spring the weather throws us back to a winter wonderland or a monsoon of rain and mud. While I do enjoy the pristine clean white powdered covered trees and a romp in my Hunter boots, sometimes I yearn for the days of sun, warmth, and the potential for a full body sunburn.

Sometimes I sit back, close, my eyes, and find my beach (cue corona commercial). Now and again I drift so far as to hear seagulls squawking in the sky. But is this such a dream? I open my eyes and see that in fact, it is not. I can’t be alone in wondering why we have seagulls in Vermont, a land locked state far from salted waters. I set out to suffice this curiosity. Here is what I found:

Seagulls are a fallacy. “Seagull” is a layperson’s term that is not used in science. This name is used informally to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning. Because of this, “seagulls,” which I will not correctly call “gulls” are not always found by the sea but can be found hundreds of miles from the nearest saltwater.

Gulls can be found near any large body of water, fresh or saltwater. So thanks to Lake Champlain, Lake Dunmore, and perhaps Battell Beach after last nights storm (pre-snow), Vermont and Addison County is the home to 26 species of gulls, terns, kittiwakes and skimmers.

So the next time you are outside enjoying whatever the weather may be and hear the squawk of a gull, do not be alarmed and confused, but instead smile, soak it in, and let it help you find your beach.