Monthly Archives: March 2014

Oh, the eating you’ll do!

One of the things that (pleasantly) surprised me the most about Middlebury was the abundance of phenomenal restaurants a short walk or drive from the campus. Just in town we have delicious flatbread, sushi, three mouth-watering sandwich places, a fancy cafe right on the river, the best artichoke dip you’ll ever eat (looking at you, Two Brothers) and a place that serves ‘thumbs and toes’ and ‘the cookie skillet’. With all these winners, it is safe to say that Addison County has a highly developed, and widely diversified, culinary scene.

Only a few weeks ago, a new, and highly anticipated restaurant called The Lobby moved into town. It was highly anticipated by students and town citizens alike because it is the newest member in a family of favorite restaurants located in nearby towns, each known for its distinctive atmosphere and creative menu.

Wednesday of last week my friend Liza and I went to investigate the claim that The Lobby had some of the best burgers in town. As somewhat of a burger enthusiast, I felt it was my duty to check it out. The restaurant is so popular we made our reservation a week in advance to secure an 8 pm dinner time. When the big day finally came, however, Middlebury was locked in one of the biggest snowstorms we’ve seen this year – in the middle of March. On March 12th.

Did the fact that the visibility was much too poor to drive stop us? Absolutely not! I’ve seen what Vermont restaurants are capable of and was determined to honor that reservation. So we laced up our snow boots, put on the biggest hats we could find, donned safety goggles (in Liza’s case) and headed for town on foot.

We got stuck in snowbanks, blinded by icy winds intent on rubbing our faces raw, and slipped down more than a few hills. But when we got there, ordered a few local beers, and took that first bite of classic burger we knew it was all worth it. American cheese, beef, bacon, special sauce, all on a sesame bun… safe to say I would brave a blizzard for a meal at a Middlebury restaurant any day.

Symposium Fever

Think stimulating conversation, delicious food, debates, performances, speakers and presentations. Take them, put them all together, and you have the student symposium- a two day event where students get to display works of art, performances, theses, and independent projects. The two day affair includes a keynote speaker, two performance sessions, poster sessions, and oral presentations, where students who conducted different research/work are allowed to present any way they prefer.

So why am I already excited? The symposium doesn’t begin until April 10th… Mainly because for the first time, I’ll be presenting my independent project!

Yesterday, all the presenters had a meeting, where we learned about when certain presentations would happen, guidelines for posters and presentations, and about what other people were presenting. It’s amazing how one meeting can start the excitement. Forget midterms! All I want to do is start my poster and work on presentation points. Do I want my maps in the center, or the text? It’s a stream of never ending questions that I can’t wait to answer. Present, take a break, grab some chocolate covered strawberries, and take a walk around the room to ask some questions and learn from my peers!

Magic Hat Mardi Gras

We may be far up north from the festivities down in St. Louise, but that does not mean we do not have a celebration of our own. In fact, a mere 40 minutes further north (gasp) we have the largest Mardi Gras festival on the Northern East Coast. In fact, from February 28 until today, March 2, Burlington can expect over 25,000 to pack Church Street with excitement and bravado.

Nineteen years ago this February, the Magic Hat Brewing Company had a crazy idea: to gather the city of Burlington, VT together for a Mardi Gras-themed celebration to benefit a local non-profit. The only catch was that the Vermont brewer had to figure out how to get Burlingtonians outside for several hours in the middle of winter’s coldest, most unforgiving month of February. After countless hours of asking local businesses to participate with a float, working with the city of Burlington, the police department, the fire department and many more organizations, the parade was ready to go, but the question remained: Would anyone actually show up?

Yes! Quite a ton of people, and more than a few Middkids as well! The parade was this past Saturday and what an incredible day it was. A bunch of friends and I drove up in a caravan of cars, carpooling each one to the legal limit of course, and made our way to Burlington late morning. It was lunch time so we made a point to stop at Chipotle. Pause and enjoy this moment please because I sure did. Moment of pause for Chipotle. Great, thank you.

Once arriving we found parking and joined the purple, green, and bead-clad crowd. While things might not be as wild as St. Louise, there is no lack of enthusiasm.

All profits raised throughout the weekend go towards HOPE Works, a Vermont based charity dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence. The Magic Hat Mardi Gras weekend is HOPE Works’ largest fundraiser, having raised more than $215,000 over the years.

Great Day. Great Cause. Great Friends. Great Memories. Great Food.

(we stopped at chipotle on the way home for dinner, too)

The Oscars Party

Right now, I am sitting in McCullough, the student center, reading about psychological behaviorism. In a few minutes (after my blog-break), I will put that book away and turn my attention to a few short stories by Chekhov before reading about the consequences of affirmative action in higher education. I am eating a delicious waffle with Nutella and bananas prepared for me by the lovely all-student staff at Crossroads Cafe. The Oscars are on the screen and there was a distinct cry of relief from the crowd when Frozen was announced as this year’s best animated feature. There are about 100 people here enjoying this scene. There is a mixture of studiousness and leisure in the air that is quintessential college. A few students shoot pool, faux ivory balls clacking against each other with Newtonian predictability. Free popcorn flows. I just finished a discussion with a friend who wants to write a short story about a woman who finds a secret message hidden in a book and becomes the subject of some more highly-enlightened human being’s attempt to simulate emotions. On, our student events blog (which manages to be so much more), there is a new song buzzing around, a hip-hop arrangement by Innocent, Dwayne, and Caroline that is creative, engaging, and 100% going to blow up.

There is a special quality to life here sometimes, a tacit recognition of the Sunday blues and a willingness to combat it by any means necessary. I can’t tell if I’m procrastinating right now, by sitting here and reflecting on this special scene, or if I’m engaging in some higher form of education that is distinctly Middlebury. Either way, I’m not complaining.

Come join us!

Doctor (Spatafora) Without Borders

At this point in my Middlebury academic career, I figured the trajectory of my Molecular Biology/Biochemistry concentration would be coming to a plateau, a stasis. The departmental requirements have been fulfilled, my current thesis project is well underway, and I am on a first name basis with most of my professors. Never did I think that the spring semester of my senior year would be anything but a gratifying reflection of the past four years.

Molecular Genetics is a course that broadly examines the function and structure of genes at the molecular scale. The field it encompasses is continually evolving, however, for all intents and purposes, that which occurs at the undergraduate level is pretty standardized. Professor Grace Spatafora begs to differ. She approaches our course through an applied lens, conveying material not in isolation, but in the context of medical case studies. DNA replication becomes Werner Syndrome. Epigenetics becomes Rett Syndrome. Such a strategy opens up avenues for exploration that could not even be fathomable with traditional textbook learning. The laboratory section is no exception. Instead of simply developing techniques relevant to molecular genetics, we are applying them in a semester-long, novel investigation. If you insist, our project studies the properties of a protein that belongs to a cavity-causing bacterium.

Such a unique course structure would be nothing without a competent instructor to direct it. Dr. Spatafora may be one of the most enthusiastic yet disciplined, brilliant yet accessible, and quirky yet grounded professors I have had the pleasure of engaging. She is the type who will belabor a point until absolutely everyone in the class understands it. She is the type who intermixes “conformation-specific yeast two-hybrid system” with “gashalt” (Still don’t know what that means, though I think it is of Yiddish origin) and “truckload.” But most importantly, she is the type whose passion for biology is infectious and tangible. This is evidenced after each one of our class meetings, when I am so invigorated, so inspired that the only way I can express myself is by proudly declaring, “SCIENCE!”

Thanks to Dr. Spatafora, the proverbial senioritis will not be a case study to be examined. If anything, she should see herself as one its most potent remedies.