Category Archives: Academics

Distribution Requirements

Before coming to Middlebury, I was sure of a few things: I wanted to take a new language, be in a play or two, and stay as far away from history and the sciences as possible.  Much to my chagrin, I promptly discovered that due to the 7 of 8 distribution requirements at Middlebury, I would have to choose the better of two evils. My natural instinct was to avoid latex gloves, bunny brains, toxic chemicals and extra hours so I begrudgingly signed up for a history course, The American Mind.

On day one, I realized that I was one of two girls in the class and one of the only who had never taken any other history courses at Middlebury before. The professor explained that the course would consist of reading primary texts of American thinkers, rather than other historian’s description of thoughts and events. Each class, we read two to three texts from significant thinkers in our country’s history and wrote summaries for our favorite one. Individuals studied ranged from George Washington to Bill McKibben and included both traditional and radical thinkers.

Reading direct texts from such prominent thinkers was unbelievably exciting and empowering. The course permitted me to travel through time and feel as though I was in the same room as Abraham Lincoln, discussing his ideas and future plans.  I remember that often, I would read a text aloud to make it come alive even more, and when I found one reading to be particularly interesting, fortunate friends or family would act as my (eager) audience. I worked extremely hard in this class as the material was novel to me and I was certainly forced out of my zone of comfort. However, the class was equally rewarding and handing in my final exam marked an accomplished moment. Not only did I feel that I had a significantly improved my grasp on our country’s foundations, but also that I had come to view history distinctly and much more enthusiastically. That spring, taking a history elective became a priority and that Christmas, Abraham Lincoln’s hardcover biography topped my wish list.

True Life: I Survive in the Green Mountains

It may come as no surprise (if you are a middkid) and the people from U.S. News Today, that we have lots and lots of homework. And I do not mean the busy work they give you in high school that you procrastinate on and ultimately finish 5 minutes before class. I mean a never ending supply of assignments, labs, papers and research proposals that if you truly calculated would take you about 7 years, 3 months, and 4 business days to complete. Middlebury on the other hand wants you to do it all in 4 years, plus or minus 2 J-terms.

Coming to Middlebury, I was excited! I planned on being a History and English major so I would be able to read and write all day. Then I had a few epiphanies and decided I like the sciences and film studies; two academic areas that would absorb my time both meta-physically and cognitively. Not only did I have classes during the day from 8 – 4:30pm, but I would have night classes at least 2 days a week, rendering me exhausted and dazed as I trekked through the snow back to my room during the wee hours of the morning only to sleep 5 -6 hours and do it all over again when the birds began to sing. I have tried many times to operate on auto-pilot. Yet as technology would have it, something always malfunctions and I am left troubleshooting my way back into the swing of things.

Reading this, many Middkids would probably respond with a face resembling one such as this -> 0_0.  Wondering why did she break the blue panther shield of silence? We are supposed to keep up the image that we are unstoppable, indefatigable in our attempts to achieve excellence and raise the bar of liberal arts academia to new heights. Yet the reality is: We  All Struggle. Each and every one of us has had a day, or two or three (hell, let’s round up to a semester) where we question why we are here. Are we really smart or are we just exceptional skimmers and plot over-viewers? Where we look at a lab write up and ask ourselves “Would Chinese 101 be easier?” Where we sit in class looking at the clock, praying that our eye-lids don’t close for too long and our notes will be legible later on today and not resemble ancient Sanskrit.  But the reality is, we do it. We make it though. We might not be unscathed, but if it is anything we have learned from this 200k education, it’s how to fake till you make it. Welcome to the Big Midd Blue.

Thesis Proposal Season

The beginning of senior year at Middlebury might be the only time in our entire college careers when all of the Class of 2012 has the same assignment: write your thesis proposal. While theses are not required in every department, almost all seniors either complete a thesis or take part in a high-level project as part of the senior seminar class in their major. “So what are you writing about?” or “how much d’you think I can ask for from the Senior Research Fund?” are common questions at dinner, and my friends seem suddenly much busier than usual as they meet with their thesis advisors to revise their proposals. And the proposal is only the tip of the iceberg!

My thesis is a little unorthodox by Middlebury standards. I don’t have a thesis carrel in the library. I’m not preparing myself for a Jterm of constant writing. Instead of making scientific discoveries about the floor of Lake Champlain, researching an era in art history, or analyzing the historiography of Japanese-Chinese relations in a 100-page paper, I’m starting the process of making Art. (Yeah, it’s not intimidating at all.)

Each year, Dance majors at Middlebury contribute their work to an evening-length senior thesis concert, one that showcases the pieces we’ve been working on all year—which in turn showcase everything we’ve learned in our academic and artistic careers at Middlebury. We’ve all choreographed work before, but this is a bigger deal—we have much more freedom to direct our own artistic visions, and many more resources with which to do so. We get first pick of the student dancers who come to auditions. We get priority for rehearsal space. We have a budget with which to buy costumes, props, sets—anything we can dream up and justify artistically. (No really, anything—this semester one senior is working with a trapeze. Like the kind you’d find in a circus.) We meet with the lighting designer once a week to discuss the technical production of our concert, and meet with our thesis advisors regularly to check up on our dancers’ progress and the development of our choreographic ideas.

Yeah, it’s a little scary—“I thought I was a student! Suddenly I’m a real artist? When did that happen?”—but really… it’s kind of… fun. My academic work is my passion is making dances, and I get tons of time and support with which to do it. What more could I ask for from my senior year? (I think it’s certainly better than sitting in a thesis carrel and writing for the next eight months!)

How Zach got his groove back

Coming back from a full year abroad, I pictured my first few weeks at Middlebury as a disheartening series of handshakes and reintroductions–something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Zach, I used to be your friend before I went away for a year.” What I had forgotten was that I was not the only one with such fears. With over 60% of the class studying abroad for at least a semester, my worries were shared by just about everyone, even the students that had chosen to stay on campus.

I walked into the dining hall the first night with nightmares taken directly from every bad Molly Ringwald movie. She’s holding a lunch tray, she looks around the cafeteria, sees no friendly faces, hears murmuring that may or may not refer to how awkward she looks, just standing there; she breaks down, runs screaming–it’s terrifying.

My experience was a little different. First, Middlebury no longer has lunch trays (promotes more reasonable portions, less waste, fewer chances for students to hurt themselves riding makeshift sleds during the winter). Second, the first thing I saw in the cafeteria were old friends bounding toward me, attempting to give me awkward hugs that didn’t ruin their shirts with tomato sauce. That scene has repeated itself for most of the past two weeks. As more and more students made their way to campus, I found everything fitting into place, almost effortlessly.

The same goes for the academic experience. Studying in England was, I’m sure, not like studying in another language. Yet the tutorial system at Oxford is a distinct approach with distinct practices and expectations. Once again, I found myself making my way back into the coursework at Middlebury with surprising comfort. It was almost as if I had once gone to school here.

It is now clear that the most difficult part of the experience, at least in my case, will have little to do with social or academic reintegration. Far more trying, and perhaps far more significant in the long run, will be avoiding a total reintegration and the excessive comfort that entails. That is, failing to apply the lessons and experience gained abroad to my life here. It’s shockingly easy to get back into the same habits, to do the same things as before. But if studying abroad has any lasting value (and I think most students you find here would argue, rather passionately, that it does), then something should change. This may require a more deliberate approach than I anticipated. It may require asking myself, when thinking about preparing an essay for example: “How did I do this in England, and how might that improve my work here?”

If you have an image of me sitting at my desk talking to himself while looking back at old essays, then you’re spot on. I have had little trouble finding my groove again. The main goal now is finding that balance between comfort and complacency. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. I’ll be sure to let you know when I find it.

ES Senior Seminar

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.

The End of an Era

So all of your bloggers here will be graduating in just a little over two weeks so soon we’ll have to say good-bye to not only you, but Middlebury.  My last articles for the school paper hit presses today.  And tonight D8 and the Mischords, two of our beloved acapella groups will send off their senior members in their Spring Jambo.  Over the course of the next week or two all 8 acapella groups (Study break concerts in dorm lounges are so much fun!) will be doing the same.  We’re all approaching the end of an era.  Soon, we’ll have no more papers (score!), but there’ll be no more crawling into a friend’s bed for a mid-day heart to heart either.  No more racing across campus at 1:57 a.m. to make it to the Grille before it closes at 2.  No more middle-of-the-night trips to Denny’s just because it’s practically the only sit-down restaurant Vermont that’s open 24-7.  More than anything else all of my friends won’t be in the same place anymore.  No more Weybridge Feasts full of local foods, that are delicious enough to make even standing in the rain worth it.  There’s so much more that I could add, but you get the point.  I wonder what everyone else is saying goodbye to? 

It’s been a wonderful ride, Middlebury.  I hope that some day you can try it too!



So for all of you prospective students who are not familiar with the expression FOMO, you will understand its meaning soon enough if you decide to attend Middlebury College.  FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out and is a problem that every Middlebury student suffers from.  At the student panel during preview day for admitted students, someone asked panelist Abe Katz what the worst part about Middlebury is, and without blinking an eye he answered “FOMO”.  I could not agree with this answer more.  There are just so many things going on here and you will want to participate in them all.  Sadly there are only 24 hours in a day and things like classes and homework exist meaning that you can’t possible participate in all activities, leading to widespread breakouts of FOMO across campus.  For example…

Last Thursday night I suffered from a particularly bad case of FOMO.  I wanted to go a lecture at 7:00 sponsored by the Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies department, but I also had a meeting for the community service club I am president of, two friends birthday parties at the bar in town, and I wanted to go to the Verbal Onslaught performance at 51 Main, a college owned restaurant/bar in town.  On top of that, I had a 40-50 page final senior essay for my English senior work due on Monday.  Yikes.  As you can probably guess, I didn’t make it to everything.  I pushed working on my essay to Friday (procrastination is never a good decision), went to most of  the lecture, left to attend the community service meeting, missed Verbal Onslaught (huge mistake, Verbal Onslaught is great) and chose the friend I liked best and went to his birthday party. 

This is a typical predicament for a Middlebury student to find him/herself in.  So many things going on, so little time.  As I sit here writing this blog write now, I am thinking of all the different things I want to do before Saturday: Work on my essay (my final draft is due in a week), help a friend put some finishing touches on organizing a Relay For Life team (happening this weekend) take a road trip with friends to Canada, organize a community service event for my club, go to the Weybridge house feast, and do laundry/clean my room (my mom would be so proud).  I have about 36 hours to do all this…

Basically what I am trying to say in this rambling post is that there are so many amazing things happening at Middlebury that there will never be a dull moment.  Arts performances, athletic events, lectures, hanging out with friends, (not to mention work), will be sure to keep you busy and engaged.

Explore Middlebury Video Snapshots!

If you would like to get a good snapshot of Middlebury College and what we are all about, be sure to check out these videos!

And, our very own senior fellow Ben Wessel is featured in one the videos speaking about his passion for the environment!

You can also view the videos separately under the following categories:



Student Life


Academic Life

Enjoy the videos!

April ARTS

At the end of every semester I find myself booked with seeing and/or participating in a wide range both student and faculty produced theater, dance, music, and art shows. While I have always been a patron of the arts, it is always exciting to see a fellow friend in a production!

For example, the first week in April the Department of Theater put on its first show of the semester, Eurydice, at the Seeler Studio Theater. This play, written by Sarah Ruhl, is a modern adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that focuses on Eurydice’s journey into the underworld and her struggle to keep her memories of life. In addition, there was an original play, MOVE, based on the Philadelphia MOVEMENT that was written and produced by a Middlebury senior.

April 15-17: Low Level Panic and the Senior Dance Concert impressed both a student and community audience. Both shows were the final senior thesis for 7 Middlebury students that were coordinated with the Spring Student Symposium. Low Level Panic was the combined Theater 700 Thesis for Lindsey Messmore’11.5 in directing and Ele Woods ’11 and Jess Spar ’11 in acting. Read more about the production in the Middlebury Campus.

Coming this weekend: The Department of Theatre and Dance Presents: Victory by Howard Barker and Speed the Plow by David Mamet (senior work of Willy McKay and Dustin Schwartz). Get your tickets at the Box Office today!

ARTS at Middlebury are truly a vibrant part of our college community. Whether it is a professional faculty production or student produced concert or play, Middlebury is always able to showcase the incredible talents of so many students!

Spring Symposium, 2011

One of the most exciting annual events at Middlebury is the spring symposium. Each year Middlebury students from all four classes present and perform at the symposium. This year there are 306 oral and visual presentations and performances that will take place in Bicentennial Hall on Friday, April 15! It is a time of celebration; parents, family members, and friends come to Middlebury from all over the country to join students for this amazing day! Students share their thesis work, independent project findings, and a variety of other projects that they have been working on.

A little bit of self promotion: I will be presenting on my non-profit organization, HELA, and my thesis “Expert Discourse around Women’s Bodies and Their Subjugation: Imagining and Being the Afghan Woman.”

This year’s keynote speaker is a Middlebury alumnus, Brad Corrigan ’96: “Brad Corrigan ’96, member of the bands Dispatch and Braddigan, is the founder of Love, Light and Melody a non-profit in Nicaragua. A music major while at Middlebury he also studied Environmental Ethics and Philosophy.”

For a complete list of presenters and a detailed schedule for the symposium, please click here.

Here are some images from previous symposiums: