Author Archives: Jillian Mock

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.

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!

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.

Last Semester Blues

When you come visit us in the Middlebury Admissions office, we play a short video profiling a few Middlebury students to set the tone for the information session and tour to follow. While most of the movie is upbeat and sunny, in the last few moments a senior reflects on how sad she will be to graduate and leave Middlebury. It’s kind of a somber moment but it perfectly encapsulates our love for this place.

Normally, I sit in and watch the video before I start my information session, tapping my feet in time to the music and quoting the lines with the professors on screen. I know this video by heart now; I even dream it sometimes. When the video ends, I transition from the reflective last line to my silly description of a Texas girl buying snowshoes for the first time with a cheerful “And on THAT note!”

But that was last semester, fall semester, when the senior in ‘Senior Fellow’ felt more like a fancy title than an actual state of being. This state of being has an expiration date, and that date seems significantly closer on this side of j-term.

Today was our last first day of classes at Middlebury. There was the usual first-day jumble of adding or dropping classes, decoding the building acronyms on our schedules, and tumbling into the last chair in class with only a few minutes. But the “lastness” of it really hit me when I was rushing to fill up my tea thermos between classes and I overheard two brand new febs talking near the coffee pot. As I wiggled between them to grab some hot water, I heard one of the febs ask the other where the forks were in the dining hall. The other laughed and pointed to the enormous and fairly obvious island of utensils right behind her. For some reason, this small and silly interaction made me suddenly sad and nostalgic. Here these two new febs were discovering the utensil island for the first time and I’d been grabbing forks nonchalantly from that area for three and a half years now! I suddenly felt extremely old.

So now as I sit here on my last first day of classes, I’m vowing to walk into my information session after the video finishes playing. I’m doing this for all of you, future visitors, so that you don’t have to spend the first ten minutes of your first visit to Middlebury comforting a bawling senior fellow. Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited for all of you to come visit this spring and I can’t wait to talk to you as you start your journey here. But I am also insanely jealous that you have these next four years ahead of you.

As for me, time to start savoring the last four months.

Writing Adventure

This j-term I decided to get really out of my comfort zone by taking a class called ‘Adventure Writing and Digital Storytelling’, an awesome class that involved doing a host of things I never have before: cold calling strangers to take me bobcat hunting (that one didn’t work out unfortunately), making short documentary videos, writing a 15+ page non-fiction creative writing piece, dog sledding, cross country skiing, and skating on river ice. I even helped film an event called the ‘Primitive Biathlon’ – it’s a great sport involving black powder rifles and old-fashioned snowshoes. (If you haven’t googled this event yet do so now… it just might become your newest obsession).

That’s what I love about j-term – not only is it a time to relax from the usual semester routine but it’s also a time to put yourself out there in new and unexpected ways. One year I was so determined to get out of my comfort zone I took Introduction to Studio Art – a big leap for artistically challenged me!

There’s also a general buzz of, well, adventure everywhere you go on campus. People are piling into cars to go to the Snow Bowl or Sugarbush or Mad River in one parking lot, putting on snowshoes and hiking around the golf course in another, and on their way to a swing dance or standing back-flip workshop in yet another. It’s easy to put yourself out there and try new activities when everyone around you is eager to do the same thing. And that right there is the magic of j-term: having the time and the drive to start the year off with something (or somethings) completely new and unexpected.

If you need proof, check out the video I made of one of my adventures this month:

Bye bye January – we miss you already!

Not Your Average Saturday

Last Saturday, instead of digging into my homework in the library or (as is more likely) avoiding the day’s chill in my sweatpants and LL Bean moccasins (guilty as charged, Nathan LaBarba), I was lucky enough to attend a lecture series here on campus called TEDx. An offshoot of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) organization, TEDx events are individually, locally organized events in the TED tradition of promoting ‘ideas worth spreading’. The event combined a sprinkling of TED videos with live speakers discussing their experience in a wide range of fascinating topics, from the revitalization of Central Park to the study of empathy and doctors’ bedside manners. There was even a student speaker, a current senior chosen by the TEDx committee to reflect on the college experience from the perspective of both an introvert and an extrovert.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating day. When the session broke for lunch, my friends and I crowded around a table with our Noonies sandwiches and soups, discussing the overlaps between each talk. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite parts about academics here at Middlebury, too. If you take the time to reflect on each of your courses year after year, it is incredible to see the overlaps, the continuities, the meaningful discrepancies.

The best part of the day, though, was not the insightful speakers or even the food (though the apple cider doughnuts were pretty hard to beat), but it was the vast swath of the Middlebury student body present at the talks. There are a million different ways to spend a Saturday at Middlebury, most of them much less intellectually overwhelming than TEDx. But on Saturday I ran into  friends from all walks of Middlebury life (and several Senior Fellows!), each as excited as the next as they alluded to the forum’s themes, “Research, Rethink, Rebuild”.

Middlebury is many things, and if you’ve ever attended one of our information sessions on campus I’m sure we’ve made that evident. Focused as my sessions are on the internal growth that comes with the Middlebury experience, I often forget to state that ultimately, Middlebury is a great big incubator for new ideas worth spreading. Sitting in the CFA concert hall, full to bursting with locally-sourced cider doughnuts, I was reminded of the diversity of new ideas being developed, spread, and implemented here on campus. And as I chatted with my friends at the forum, many of us seniors attending TEDxMiddlebury while we still can, I couldn’t help but wonder what bright ideas students like us will spread when we leave for the wider world.

The Solar Lifestyle

While the fall leaves are changing and there’s a smell of apple cider and pumpkin in the Vermont air, a few Middlebury students are braving the warm, sprawling desert of Southern California, celebrating the end of the Solar Decathlon Competition.

For those of you who don’t know, the Solar Decathlon is a biannual competition put on by the Department of Energy where 20 schools from around the world are chosen to build a 1,000 square foot house entirely powered by solar panels. The competition is a ‘decathlon’ because each house is judged in 10 different categories, ranging from Market Appeal and Home Entertainment (where each house throws a series of dinner parties), to Engineering and Energy Balance.

Middlebury College is a spunky David in a field of Goliaths. As an unpartnered liberal arts school, we were up against engineering powerhouses like Stevens and Stanford, conglomerates of larger schools like Team Capitol DC (American University, GW, and Catholic University), and schools that represented entire countries like Austria and the Czech Republic. For many Southern Californians, it was difficult to grasp the idea of a liberal arts school pulling off such a feat on its own.

I had the opportunity to travel out to Irvine a few weeks ago to finish construction and lead public tours through the house. While I was sorry to miss a week of the Middlebury fall, I could not give up the opportunity to see the latest and greatest in solar energy building. There was a palpable energy on the competition site as competitors eagerly toured all 19 houses and made new friends from across the globe. Our neighbors and new best friends Team Austria instantly nicknamed us ‘Team Smiley’, probably because of our upbeat demeanor  afinity for early morning yoga, soccer during lunch breaks, and spontaneous mid-construction dance parties.

While it was great touring the other houses and getting to know the competitors, the best part of the week were the public tours through our house, InSite, showing off 2 years of hard work and planning. For those of you that couldn’t make it out, here’s the tour highlight reel from our Five Points of Insiteful Design:

1. Live in a Walkable Community: InSite was designed for a specific lot on Shannon Street. When it comes back to campus as student housing, the house will form a nice bridge between the college and town communities, with the solar panels providing shade over a well worn sidewalk between the two.

2. Prioritize Social Space: Over 2/3rds of the 956 square foot floor plan is dedicated to the open space of kitchen, dining room, and living room. The high cielings and continuous feel of these spaces makes the home feel much larger than its blueprint suggests, encouraging the home’s residents to spend the majority of their time together or with other community members in the social areas rather than cloistered away in the private spaces.

3. Centralize Energy Systems: All of the appliances heavy in electricity and water usage are centralized along our mechanical module to make awareness of these features a cornerstone of the house. Our solar panels are also featured prominantely, with the panels removed from the roof in a pathway that acted as a nice patio shade in SoCal. The Lumos brand panels we used are also distinct from typical panels, with spacing between the silicon cells that allows you to see through them to the sun and sky beyond.

4. Engage the Street: Our house is designed to fit into the local Vermont community. To do so from the outside, the house is clad in reclaimed barnwood over 150 years old. Many key components of the house, like the windows and roof orientation, are designed to engage shannon street specifically.

5. Use Local Materials: The floors are sugar maple woods harvested from Middlebury College forests, less than 10 miles from campus. Look closely and you can see tap holes where these trees were tapped for maple syrup! Much of the furniture was also made by Midd students. The coffee table, the benches, the punch out window seat, the bowl for the bathroom sink, and all of the dishware were made by students this summer.

The competition is now over and the judging complete. Middlebury came in 8th overall and 4th in the People’s Choice Award! An amazing victory for our small school. Many congratulations to our friends, Team Austria, for winning 1st place! The house is being deconstructed as we speak so it can be shipped back to campus. It will be student housing in the spring – so be sure to ask for a tour if you’re visiting us next semester.

Congrats to all of the Solar Decathlon teams for their hard work and contribution to the future of architecture and energy. A special shoutout to the Middlebury team, for proving the mettle of liberal arts students and our contribution to the future.

Go Team Smiley!

Movin’ and Groovin’

This Saturday, the Middlebury athletic fields buzzed with activity. Starting in the middle of campus, the men’s tennis team kicked off the weekend with rounds of singles and doubles matches all day. Winding past the athletic center, women’s field hockey picked up their first win of the weekend and cheers of victory sounded from both the men’s and women’s soccer fields. The  cross country team hosted their only home meet of the season and swept the top finishing spots. Even the men’s golf team played and won on home turf.

A little farther off campus, I was competing in my own sporting event – of sorts. To kick off senior year with a flourish, a group of my friends and I signed up for the Vermont Color Vibe  run in Vergennes. The purpose of this 5k is twofold. One, it benefits a Vermont charity Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a camp  catered to children who have, or have had, cancer. Second (and I have to admit this was the driving factor in our signup), you get to throw paint all over your best friends while getting a little exercise. What better excuse to wake up early on a Saturday morning and support a local charity?

Despite my initial excitement at the idea, my sleepy self was skeptical when we pulled up to the race to the tune of “Gangum Style” at 8:30 in the morning. But once we got out of the car, the spirit of the event and all the brightly costumed Vermonters was absolutely infectious. We picked up our powdered paint packets and set to work tie-dying our white t-shirts. Parents, children, fluffy white dogs, and a large representation of the Middlebury swim team, laughed, danced, and painted their way to the finish line in waves of colorful enthusiasm.

All in all, it was a winning day for the Panthers and a vibrant start to a year of senior bucket lists. I’m already looking forward to the next Vermont adventure!