Every fall I get more excited to come back to Middlebury. Walking across campus during the first week of the semester means running into old friends and never knowing when to expect the next bear hug, and the summer weather sticks around long enough that I can squeeze in a few bike rides with my teammates from Middlebury Cycling before the weather gets cold. While I love summer, I always look forward to getting back to school, and even though starting to think of what I’ll be doing next year is a little bit scary, being a senior means greater academic freedom.
I’m an environmental chemistry major, and the environmental studies program requires all seniors to participate in a project-based Senior Seminar that looks at an environmental problem in the local community from scientific, political and human interest angles. My seminar has sixteen students in it, and while each of us has completed the same general coursework to become an ES major, our focus areas range from geology, chemistry and biology to geography, human ecology and environmental nonfiction writing. Together we’re looking at the development of small hydroelectric projects in Vermont and exploring both the benefits of adding a new source to the state’s renewable energy portfolio as well as the potential costs to the local environment and economy. Although we’re guided by a Middlebury professor, most of our time is spent working with local environmental companies and doing our own research, so it feels like we’re working as consultants in a large firm.
Last week we took a field trip to an existing hydroelectric dam in Weybridge, Vermont to talk with some of the engineers who work on the project and to gain a better practical understanding of small hydroelectric projects. Watching the water from the tranquil reservoir above come crashing over the dam and into the creek below gave me a greater appreciation for just how much power even a small project involves. I’m looking forward to working more on my seminar’s project throughout the semester and presenting my group’s findings at the Environmental Studies Woodin Colloquium on December 8th.