Preview Days

Hello Accepted Students!!!

 

This week is Preview Days and the senior fellows are anxiously awaiting your arrival. We’ve been working hard to ensure that you have the best time of your life over the next few days. We even ordered top notch Vermont weather for your enjoyment (forecast is sunny and 65 F with 0% chance of rain).  Be prepared to toss a frisbee on Battell Beach and chat with new friends on Proctor Terrace while watching the sun set. If you’re looking for some more structured activities, you can find a whole slew of them posted here:

http://www.middlebury.edu/system/files/2015previewdays_webv5.pdf

I highly recommend the Student Panel and Brooker Fireside on Wednesday. Likewise, the Iron Eyes Cody concert and Middlebury MothUP will be awesome on Thursday. But really, everything will be fun.

Wednesday through Friday your days will be packed. My advice to you – especially if you’re still trying to narrow down your decision [to Midd] – is to talk to as many students and professors as you can. Ask questions that matter to you. Determine if this is a place that will challenge you and support your search for knowledge. See if you find Middlebury fun.

Please note: College today is not only about the books you read and the concepts you study. You will learn the same history, math, philosophy, chemistry, or sociology wherever you decide to spend your next four years. What matters at the end of the day are the people who shape your experience. I hope Midd’s Preview Days will alleviate the burden of your college decision-making.

 

Wishing you all the best,

Staci

Exploration, Discovery, and Inspiration

Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays. I have always found that Middlebury professors want you to be inspired by your work, that they encourage you to be innovative and creative in your research and papers, but that often still comes with prompts and structure. Every so often, though, you will walk into a class that is all about exploration. I am currently enrolled in two classes in which the professor provides structure for essays but also makes it very clear that she does not want to tell us what to explore. Every essay comes with a “your choice” prompt. Pedagogically, she wants us to find something that means a great deal to us in the hopes that we will use this topic to really let us grow and develop as students and people. Giving us free range allows us to be the best possible versions of ourselves, because we want to learn as much as we can about a subject for reasons that are not purely rooted in obtaining a good grade.

While it may seem obvious that writing about something you are interested in is more rewarding than writing about something about which you care little, but it has really come into focus for me this semester. I am currently working on an essay about various works of the children’s author Kate DiCamillo, and I am not writing about her because she was assigned reading, but instead because I happened to pick up Because of Winn-Dixie on a plane and fell in love. I immediately wanted to read everything she had written, and more than that, I wanted to bring all of this reading together in an academic way that would then become part of my Middlebury learning experience. I actually wanted to write an essay on this author. Just reading her work wasn’t enough; I needed to pull apart her novels, see how they fit together and where they find their place in the literary canon. Because I was given free range over what to write my essay about, I was free to find my own inspiration, and this has led to writing a really fun essay that I can honestly say I am proud of.

As an English major, I have written many an essay in my time at Middlebury. I have been given a lot of freedom in my writing, and I have also been put under a lot of constraints. Each essay has led to new discoveries and a deeper understanding of not only the material, but also who I am as a student. Not essay assignment, though, has really exemplified the Middlebury ideals of exploration, discovery, and inspiration in the way this essay has. Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays, and every once in a while your whole perspective will change.

Faculty and Staff Appreciation

As the Chief of Staff of the Student Government Association, I have been working with the College’s administration to coordinate the nominations for the annual faculty and staff appreciation awards. As nominations from the student body have been trickling into my inbox this week, I have been reminded that one of the things that makes our campus community so vibrant and dynamic is the energy and commitment of our professors, our caretakers, our athletic coaches, our public safety officers, and our dining hall staff. While our Awards Committee will choose one member of the faculty and one member of the staff for their hard work, I think that all of them ought to receive more appreciation for the important role they play in our community.

To start with our professors, they are some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met, but what I will remember about them after graduation is the time I spent talking about them in office hours, after classes, and even in grocery stores. Our professors are here because they love teaching and they truly care about us as more than students, but as people. In addition, from the professors I’ve met working with the SGA, I can tell that they really care about the community they are a part of, dedicating their time to our judicial process, discussing issues in Community Council, and attending sporting events, concerts, and presentations their students are a part of.

Other than our faculty, our staff members, ranging from the chefs to the caretakers in the dorms to the librarians, help make the College the smooth-oiled machine that it is. Many of them rise bright and early, long before many students even think about getting out of bed, to make sure that everything is ready to go for a new day. They do such a good job that we hardly notice their presence. Yet, when you take the time to get to know our staff members, they are humble, caring, and hard-working people, whose presence remind me that there are bigger things in life than that next class, the next paper deadline, or the sports practice.

Many students here often describe Middlebury as a “bubble” – a place where we are safe from the trials and tribulations of the real world. While our students may feel this way, Middlebury is the real world for our faculty and staff. This is their home, in a much more permanent sense than we could ever call it that. And their love for this place is contagious. For that, I salute every faculty and staff member here at Middlebury. Without them, this community would not be what it is.

Monet, Middlebury, and the Musée d’Orsay

Over spring break, I made a quick hop across the Atlantic on a vacation to Paris with my parents and two of my siblings. It was a great trip — we ate plenty of fantastic food and saw all there is to see of the City of Lights. It was also nice to catch up with my siblings and parents. In addition to walking the Seine and the Champs-Élysées, the trip was an opportunity to wander the halls of some of the world’s most renowned galleries of art.

While visiting the Lourve, the Musée d’Orsay, the museum/garden housing the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, and the national museum of Picasso, I was struck by how what I had learned in art history at Middlebury all came rushing back to me. I took a course called Monuments and Ideas in Western Art my sophomore year, which was taught in the History of Art and Architecture department. I had never taken an art history course before, and knew very little about art outside of being able to recognize the big-name artists that occupy places of honor in galleries like the Lourve.

However, while taking the course I was completely enthralled. In many ways, the course was both a broad and deep introduction to what a person needs to know to be an educated consumer of art, even art as varied as sculpture, painting, and architecture. We began our exploration in antiquity, examining depictions of Caeser Augustus and various Greek gods in sculpture, and ended with the perplexing and thought-provoking postwar work of Picasso on canvas.

"Poppy Field," 1873, by Claude Monet is in the Musée d'Orsay and was one of my favorite pieces that I saw there during my recent visit.

“Poppy Field,” 1873, by Claude Monet is in the Musée d’Orsay and was one of my favorite pieces that I saw there during my recent visit.

While visiting the museums of Paris, I was surprised at my ability to take what I had learned several semesters ago and apply it to the art in front of me. It is a testament to the dedication and skill of Middlebury professors, like my professor of Art History. Faculty at Middlebury work tirelessly when teaching a course so that students from a variety of academic backgrounds or interests find the material highly informative, memorable, and rewarding for a lifetime of learning.

Of course, the credit also goes to the liberal arts philosophy of Middlebury. The College has a commitment to broad learning across many different disciplines through the distribution requirements, such as the Art requirement, that cause students (myself included) to explore new and important areas of the curriculum that they might not encounter on their own. You never know where knowledge you pick up at Middlebury is going to serve you well, whether in the museums of France or another locale far across the globe.

Numbers and Mud @ Midd

Walking to Ross Dining Hall today, my first day returning from spring break, my boots were coated with a nice thick helping of what felt almost like primordial mud. Wading through the swamp like land of Battell Beach, I stared down at my shoes to notice the salt stains which serve as Vermont winter tattoos for your footwear—ironically leaving the texture and color of a sun bleach—replaced by the inevitable padded mud that hugged to the bottom of my feet.  At that moment I knew it was spring at Midd and therefore time for room draw.

Today the campus is a buzz with the release of housing numbers for the upcoming draw in mid-April. As a graduating senior who has only been through the lottery process once, I am a  little more divorced from the sentiment that most people are currently experiencing. I’ve only had to move through room draw during my freshman year for sophomore draw but that was a little more lowkey as my friends and I knew we would all be living in Coffrin–the Atwater sophomore housing–either way. I slipped through my junior and senior housing draw as I’ve been part of residential life for the last two years. From my point pint of view, housing thus seems easy and fun, which I believe most people would somewhat agree with. It is a time individuals have the privilege to choose their own roommates and hallmates which allows for development of new intentional living spaces. For sophomores, individuals will live with the same individuals that were in their freshman dorm but can shape their halls. As I am in Atwater, I moved from Allen Hall my freshman year to Coffrin where I lived in an adjoining single with a roommate. Normally during housing draw for junior year, individuals choose to live in a self-conceived special interest house that attempts to engage with the broader Middlebury community.  In the past, some examples have been Vermont Foods, Creative Design, and Spontaneous homes. Individuals also tend to move into Language houses in which residents take a pledge to only speak in the language in order to expand colloquial vocabulary and prepare for junior abroad experiences. During senior year, there is usually a buzz around campus to get a hold of the most coveted senior housing complexes that range from an Atwater Suite, Beach House (a 3 person home) or Porter House (a larger 10 person building). Overall, it brings people together to really start contemplating the realities of next year and is a great way to invite students across campus to start setting personal goals for the coming semester.

My Final Drive To Middlebury (as a student)

The first time I visited Middlebury I drove in from the middle of New York State. I had fallen asleep during the drive (as I am want to do) and was woken up by my Dad’s voice saying that we were 30 minutes away.  I looked to my right — farmland. I looked to my left — more farmland. I looked down at my phone — no signal.  Where was I?  I got on campus, took the tour, heard the information session, visited with a professor and fell in love with the school.

That drive through the tip of New Jersey, three hours of New York State, and the ending 45 minutes of Vermont is one that I have done numerous times over my four years.  I know the drive well. I know which rest stops are best to stop at and make the same punny jokes everytime I pass certain stores. Friends that have been in the car with me and thus heard the jokes before groan, new passengers give a polite laugh, and I’ll admit that sometimes I even say them outloud to myself when I drive alone.

Two days ago, at the end of spring break, the last break of the year, I did my last drive back to campus that I will take as a student.  The landmarks became sentimental, the jokes became meaningful, and the long stretches of I-87 opened up the floodgates of memories.  It felt odd to know that the next time I drive back to campus I will be doing it as an alum.  Each time I did this drive it was with the excited expectation of new experiences at Middlebury and getting back to a place I love.  I’m excited to know that my future drives will serve as a checkpoint of how I’ve grown and the new places that I have seen as I go back to visit Middlebury, my alma mater.

March Madness

March flew by in a whirlwind. 

Week One

After having finished a successful Winter Carnival, I decided I needed a weekend away of relaxation. I texted my friend from Williams, we got in the car, and headed to the Berkshires for the weekend. As we wound down Route 7, we caught up on the last 15 months. See, my friend, Hannah, and I were on the same study abroad program, SIT Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change, and we hadn’t seen each other since December 2013. We immediately fell back into old times, recounting our triumphs and trials since we said goodbye in Denpasar. It was a warm rekindling, a testament to our wonderful semester together and a perfect reboot. 

Week Two

After the success of my weekend away, I geared up for a week of two exams, a birthday party, and our 100 Days celebration. And I had an absolute blast. I reveled in my knowledge of Mughal miniatures and esoteric Buddhist paintings. I celebrated a friend’s 22nd, the beginning of a string of birthdays in our friend group. And I danced the night away in Ross Dining Hall. I was amazed by the familiarity of the sea of faces around me, all celebrating our last semester together on campus. 

Week Three

I wrapped up the last week before spring break with our first executive board meeting with our new fellows for next year for the Activities Board. We had spent the last two weeks reviewing applications, interviewing the applicants, and deliberating as a selection committee. After hours of work, we had assembled our dream team for next year. I felt confident in passing off the torch before I hopped on the plane for Colorado. 

Week Four

For ten days, I hopped around Colorado, heading to Denver, Aspen and Colorado Springs. I appreciated the warm sunshine on my face, the Rockies to the West, and the budding Aspen trees. I will be spending my summer in Colorado Springs so I began to think about potential jobs and fun adventures to be had!

Time seems to be moving exponentially faster with the approach of May 24th! And I’m sure April will go even faster, bringing in more sun, more smiles, and more memories.

Science and the Liberal Arts

As a chemistry major, I’m often asked about the opportunities at Middlebury for the natural sciences. “Middlebury is known for its language and environmental studies programs,” some will say with the underlying question being “Middlebury isn’t necessarily known for their sciences. So how do they fare?”

This is a fair question…and they fare pretty well if I do say so myself.

Middlebury’s Bicentennial Hall – “the science building” – was constructed with the prospect of highlighting the natural sciences in a stereotypical humanities-driven community. It is the home to seven academic departments and three academic programs, equipped with a science-focused library, the biggest window in Vermont, and top-notch professors. The professors are graduates from top research universities who are passionate about teaching. (Teaching in this case is not limited to the classroom, but includes the labs as well). They encourage independent research, they publish academic work with students as co-authors, they teach how to write for their academic discipline, and they are at the front of 100-level courses getting new students excited about their passion with interesting anecdotes and fun demonstrations. Professors, not teaching-assistants, are the ones invigorating students and consequently motivating their passion.

I transferred to Middlebury in the Fall of my sophomore year from a large university where teaching-assistants were the ones teaching my science courses. I came to Middlebury not sure if I still wanted to pursue the sciences. Despite my ambivalence, I mustered the courage to take organic chemistry my first semester and haven’t looked back since. A slew of opportunities has opened up for me upon declaring my major: I worked in an organic chemistry lab at Middlebury over the summer, 3 years later my professor is publishing that research with 3 students as co-authors. The following year I joined an inorganic chemistry lab and did two independent studies looking into a fundamental mechanism to explain Alzheimer’s Disease (which I’ve adopted as my senior thesis). This past summer I did an internship at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in their nanoengineering facility. We don’t have engineering – or nanotechnology – at Middlebury but I was still extremely prepared due to the endless opportunities of labwork experience I received back here in Vermont. This summer internship provided another opportunity to do research the following summer, but in an international research facility. I applied and was accepted to work at the National Institute for Material Science in Tsukuba, Japan. To prove that this is Middlebury and not “just  me” – two other Middlebury students have done this program. One student did her first summer at Stanford, the other at the University of Minnesota. Each of us applied and went on to do the Japan internship, an incredible opportunity that we can attribute back to the research skills we acquired at Middlebury.

These opportunities and important research skills are not only found in the chemistry department, but in all departments in BiHall (and across all disciplines on campus). For those of you interested in the sciences, but hesitant to pursue them at a liberal arts school like Middlebury, I highly encourage you to give Middlebury a chance. Middlebury has been the perfect place to pursue the sciences and I’m looking forward to applying to chemistry PhD programs this summer.

 

If you have any further questions about Middlebury and the sciences, please do not hesitate to contact me: stacih@middlebury.edu 

 

Choosing Your Advisor

It might seem strange that a senior, well into her major by now, is writing about the advisor-choosing process.  And it should, because that process took place quite a long time ago for me.  However, I find myself frequently telling the story of how I chose my advisor freshman year, because it continues to amaze me how incredibly lucky I was.

On the first day of my second semester, I walked into a class for which I was not registered. I hesitantly walked up to the professor and simply said, “Hi, I’m Stevie. May I please add this class, and I know this probably seems strange, but will you be my advisor?” I had never met this professor, nor had I ever taken a class in the department in which I was declaring my major. I just had a feeling. In response, this professor—who didn’t know anything about me save my first name—said, “Sure!” I knew the second she walked into the room that this professor would be someone from whom I was going to learn a great deal, someone to whom I could go for advice, someone who would make a large impact on my Middlebury years. It turns out, I was right. Almost four years later, this professor continues to be my advisor, serves as my thesis advisor, and also teaches two of the classes in which I am currently enrolled.

When I was touring colleges, many students told me they had close relationships with their professors. Every time I heard this, I thought it sounded important and wonderful, but I couldn’t image that I would have the confidence to foster a strong relationship with a professor outside of the classroom. What I have found, however, is that becoming close to my advisor at Middlebury didn’t take effort or overwhelming confidence. Instead, it took a shared interest in her academic field and a desire to learn from each other.

In a good advisor, you find someone who is demanding of that which is difficult and is compassionate about that which is most difficult. Your advisor should be someone to whom you go for advice not only on academics, but really about anything. Being at Middlebury can sometimes come with its fair share of stresses, and your advisor is there to help you navigate the rougher waters. He or she knows you are capable of greatness, but also understands that you are human. An advisor’s ability to balance your perspectives can be a lifesaver.

When I look back on my Middlebury years, I know I will remember my teammates, my housemates, and my friends; I’ll remember that incredible class that changed my life and that class that seemed like it might destroy me. There will be books I cherish and lessons I’ll carry with me forever. And at the head of all of this will stand the incredible influence that has been my advisor.

Liberal Arts: A Practical Application

I am a huge proponent of the liberal arts education.  Anytime anyone asks me what I am studying, while I say my major, what I really want to say is, “an incredible set of skills.”  I think at the heart of these skills is the ability that I have gained to pursue opportunities with a passion backed by both intellect and integrity.  A big critique of the liberal arts that I have not only heard, but at times used, is “all you do is talk.” In some sense, yes. We fiercely debate issues, learn new ways of thinking, and push our boundaries in discourse.  However, we take what we learn from these conversations and we apply them to the real world with a strong factual background and what I refer to as the liberal arts stamp. This stamp is the inability to hear any speech, news broadcast, or opinion without questioning its content, perspective, and argument.  This stamp continues in the way liberal arts students talk to each other. I catch my friends and I having the most academically worded conversations about the most inane things.  We’ve learned how to argue with a pure motive and how to only speak when we have the knowledge to back it up.  But, these conversations and the ability to speak mean nothing if not put to a good use.

I have thoroughly enjoyed and found great meaning in independent work here at Middlebury College. It allows me to take these conversations and do research and projects that mean the world to me.  This semester, I am working on a project dealing with Veteran Affairs.  My goal is to find how Middlebury College and its students can become involved with the Veteran community, how Middlebury College can be more intentional regarding the hiring and support of veterans in the faculty and staff, and to create educational opportunities for local veterans.  Whenever I mention what I hope to be working on, people are enthusiastic to share their own stories in return. It seems that almost everybody knows someone who has served or questions the treatment that veterans receive upon returning to the U.S.  As a Marine Corps officer candidate whose Grandfather was a career Marine, I keep this topic near and dear to my heart.  I want to generate a venue through which students can engage with these veterans while also learning from the veterans’ stories that are often times overlooked. I would love to leave Middlebury knowing that this school, which commits itself to community engagement, actively seeks to honor and make life easier for those who served our country.

Having the basis in research, discussion, and organization I acquired at Middlebury, having a passion to apply those skills to and then the chance to explore that passion, epitomizes not only the resources available to students, but also the deep seeded support and trust for students with a goal.