Category Archives: Student Life

Academic Atmosphere at Middlebury

FINALS WEEK— where the most wonderful time of the year turns into the most stressful time of the year. A time where students across the country are up to their ears in work and sleep and sanity are at all time lows. While Middlebury is certainly no exception to this rule, it has been my experience that although stress is high during this time, that there is something about the collective culture here that makes everything a little more bearable. Here are some reasons I’ve come up with to explain what that has meant to me:
  1.  Students are not competitive with each other: Contrary to the experience I had in high school, when everyone was competing for the same goal of getting into college, I truly find that while Middlebury students are quite competitive with themselves, we are not competitive with each other. None of my friends or classmates would ever ask me what my GPA was because they genuinely would not care. If someone did ask me about a specific grade, it would probably be because they wanted to see if I did something differently to receive a better or worse grade and not because they wanted to compete with me. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that unlike high school, college students choose a wider variety of paths. I think this is further strengthened  at Middlebury because it is a Liberal Arts school where students are much more likely to be taking different types of classes, have different majors, and different aspirations than they would be if you went to a larger university where you were enrolled in a specific school or program.
  2. Collective Atmosphere: Since there isn’t much competition between students I find that the academic atmosphere is more collective. When you have a lot of work the chances are that others have a lot of work as well, which certainly fosters the “all in this together” atmosphere. This is only strengthened during finals when, due to Middlebury’s physical size, everyone studies in the same places.
  3.  Supportive environment: Being with everyone is in the library with a lot of work strengthens the feeling of our collective identity as Midd kids. This collective identity, coupled with the fact that we aren’t trying to compete with each other, fosters a very supportive environment amongst students. It is very common in times like these to hear exchanges between students where they both talk about their long to do lists and then provide words of encouragement. When you have three papers to write in two days, hearing that someone else has three papers and an exam to complete in the same amount of time is comforting, because, in a strange way, you feel less alone.

Not Competitive–>Collective Atmosphere —> Supportive Environment.

I am certainly not trying to say there isn’t high stress at Middlebury, or, that we all sit around in a circle giving each other back massages and smiling during finals week. I think we all need to try to put less pressure on ourselves as individuals, to try harder to  remember the bigger picture, why we are here and why we want to learn in the first place. What I am trying to say, is that in times of high academic stress it has been my experience that the students seem to really come together and support each other. As I go into my seventh finals period as a Middlebury student, I think I have finally realized how positively this supportive environment has effected my academic experience.

“What’s Next?”

Recently, I’ve been getting the same question seemingly wherever I turn. And it’s not just the same question—many times, it’s the same phrase, and I’ve taken a liking to how it’s worded. Professors, friends, and colleagues have been asking me, “What’s next?”

Although it’s a question that I know is causing some stress for a few of my peers, I like the way it’s phrased. “What’s next,” after all, means that what I did here at Middlebury is connected to what’s ahead. In this regard, Middlebury has done a great job of preparing me for whatever lies ahead.

When I was a first-year, I remember being surprised that the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) was open to underclassmen. I soon learned about the tremendous resources within the CCI that Middlebury students have at our disposal. Only a couple weeks of college under my belt and, thanks to the CCI, I was able to have a counselor look over my resume and discuss job and internship prospects for the summer. I also remember being thrilled by how one could simply drop into the office without an appointment and there would be staff members on hand. In my many trips to the CCI since my first year, counselors have assisted me with planning a course load, scheduling my time abroad, and evaluating potential work opportunities.

The advantages for Middlebury students don’t end at the CCI’s doorway. A comprehensive network of Middlebury alumni are ready and willing to dispense advice and to help Middlebury students get a foot in the door during the job search. Middlebury alumni will often post opportunities on the online network of Middlebury jobs and internships, MOJO. It was there that I saw an internship opportunity to work for the White House, and I jumped at it. It was an incredible experience that I will always remember, and I owe a ton to Middlebury. After my summer working for the President, I’m always encouraging students to use the CCI and MOJO—you never know what opportunities are out there.

The CCI doesn’t just provide advice and connections, either: they also help fund unpaid internships for students. The CCI distributes approximately $450,000 to several hundred students every spring, and it’s available to all class years (not just sophomores or juniors) to fund an internship or summer project. The funding I received from the CCI my sophomore year was instrumental in helping me cover the costs of living in a city as expensive as Washington, D.C.

I was talking recently about life after Middlebury with several friends who have graduated. Even though they are just a few months or years out of school, they are already doing some incredible things. One is working for a national newspaper on the west coast, another is traveling in Southeast Asia, and a third is teaching.

I’m not sure what’s next for me, currently. I’ve submitted a couple applications to various opportunities but in the meantime, I’m keeping busy with the newspaper and enjoying this last semester of classes!

J-term, New-ways-to-spend-the-day-term

Smack dab in the middle of the winter, when wind is brisk but the views are breathtaking, you might think the best way to enjoy the winter is snuggled up with tea, looking out your dorm room windows. While this is more than lovely, J-term is really the best time to get out and have fun! And I don’t necessarily mean outside (so you don’t need to worry about frostbite).

Because we only take one class during J-term, we all have tons of free time to attend Middlebury-sponsored events or bring our friends together in a way we don’t usually have the time to. Just last night, my housemates and I attended an etiquette dinner hosted by our Center for Careers and Internships. We all dressed up in our most dapper business-casual attire and learned all of the proper steps of buttering your bread. While this may seem silly, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend times with my friends in a completely new environment that was a little challenging but ultimately came with a delicious catered meal.

And it just gets better from there! Not only do we all have extra time to go to sponsored events, we can put on our own little luncheons such as Thai Thursday. While my housemates and I usually have class on Thursdays, we took J-term time to spend the afternoon together off of campus in our greater Middlebury community. Lunch in the dining hall with friends is wonderful, but getting together to plan something different is truly special.

If you want to go even further, if a lunch trip into town just doesn’t seem like enough, J-term classes often aren’t five days a week, so day trips become far easier than they are during a typical semester. This week, my housemates and I are planning a trip to a small Vermont cheese-making factory. I can’t image anything better than eating cheese with my best friends. If you can, I’m in!

J-term is one of the most exciting parts of going to Middlebury. At first, you have so much time to read for pleasure, you spend all of your time in your room reading young adult novels (or at least that’s what I did), but then you see that you have been given an amazing opportunity to spend time with your friends in whole new ways. Whether you’re faking your way through an etiquette dinner or tasting cheese, J-term is nothing but fun and surprises!

Meet the Press

Like clockwork, every Thursday morning copies of The Middlebury Campus can be found on the dining hall tables.  Stacks of them sit at the entrance to the Axinn Center.  Students page through before the start of class.  While these newspapers appear as if by magic, there is a large team of dedicated students with varied talents behind the operation of producing a weekly newspaper.

I started writing for the Campus during Winter Term of my first year at Middlebury and now am lucky enough to serve as the Editor-in-Chief.  Although I had never written for my high school newspaper, I saw it as a great way to get involved on campus, to meet interesting students, faculty, and staff, and to improve my writing.  Knowing the large amount of writing involved in a History or Political Science major, the Campus seemed like a surefire way to learn from skilled editors and writers.  On a whim, I joined the Features section.

There are six sections in the Campus, each with its own personality in terms of the types of stories they run.  News takes breaking stories.  Local covers the town of Middlebury and Vermont news.  Opinions publishes Op-eds, columns, and letters to the editor.  Features writes human interest stories and long-form pieces.  Arts & Sciences writes arts reviews and reports on research happening on campus.  Finally, Sports covers Panther Athletics.  These sections are each led by two to four editors who curate content and train writers.  Unlike some student newspapers, all of the writers and editors of the Campus are volunteers and do not get paid.

I owe a lot to the Features editors who helped me improve as a journalist when I was a writer for their section.  They coached me through interviewing, writing and rewriting, and how to identify a potential article idea.  It is incredibly rewarding for me to now be able to encourage new writers to join the paper.  I try to help writers and editors improve their journalistic abilities as much as I am able and I always want to make their extracurricular experience as rich as it was for me.

I have a ton of admiration for the editors and writers who work for the Campus.  For writers, making an article a great piece requires follow-through and tenacity.  Editors spend countless hours in our office in the basement of Hepburn Hall editing articles, brainstorming new story ideas, and designing the look of that week’s issue.  However, all of their hard work is worth it when the paper arrives on campus every Thursday.  Seeing the hours of writing and editing take shape into something tangible is one of my favorite parts of working for the Campus.

Wonderland

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Almost instantly after we finished our ascent, the forest had transformed itself into a sunlight grove with golden leaves swaying from every tree branch. My friends and I peered around in awe as if we had just stumbled upon Wonderland. Could this be real? We hurried through the cover of the glimmering leaves to the vista below.

As I sat on Rattlesnake Cliff looking down at Lake Dunmore, the Champlain Valley, and the distant Adirondacks, I felt absolutely at peace. After a week of dismal gray clouds, the skies opened up and gave us the most glorious fall week I’ve ever had at Middlebury. Maybe the advent of my last year at Middlebury had inspired a particularly deep connection to the fall colors. But I knew I had to be out amongst the trees during this spectacular weekend.

As we climbed the two miles up to the top of the cliffs, conversation bounced between relationship questions, post-grad exploration and travel plans. I had done this same hike almost exactly two years ago. As sophomores, the conversation felt more frenzied and hurried. We were all still establishing ourselves on campus—contemplating majors, navigating the workload, giggling about the night before. But now, our conversation felt settled and relaxed even though we are facing even more uncertainty than at any other point at Middlebury. We felt no urgency to fix each other’s problems like we had in the past. We simply walked and talked and shared.

photo (6)

Listening to Paul Simon and Stevie Nicks, we drove home past cow pastures and a dipping pink sun, and I thought about my goals for the semester. For my Social/Emotional Development class in the Psychology department, our professor asked us to create three goals for the semester. They needed to be specific, measurable, and attainable. I knew I definitely wanted to have a post-grad goal (talk to a professional in my desired field once a week, spend two hours a week doing research, etc.). But I also wanted to create Social and Emotional goals, something that I could reflect on through my life at Middlebury but also through my coursework. I wanted more moments like this, where I felt totally at peace. As if I was in the exact place I was supposed to be at the exact time. A natural fixer, I decided I should focus on actively listening to friends without trying to intervene as we all did on the hike. Additionally, I want to do more to engage in Vermont before I leave. I hope to get off campus at least once a week, preferably without a plan, and head off to enjoy the beauty around me. I want to immerse myself fully in Middlebury and Vermont before I leave.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll magically stumble upon another forest from Wonderland.

 

Find your beach

Sometimes at Middlebury when it is meant to be spring the weather throws us back to a winter wonderland or a monsoon of rain and mud. While I do enjoy the pristine clean white powdered covered trees and a romp in my Hunter boots, sometimes I yearn for the days of sun, warmth, and the potential for a full body sunburn.

Sometimes I sit back, close, my eyes, and find my beach (cue corona commercial). Now and again I drift so far as to hear seagulls squawking in the sky. But is this such a dream? I open my eyes and see that in fact, it is not. I can’t be alone in wondering why we have seagulls in Vermont, a land locked state far from salted waters. I set out to suffice this curiosity. Here is what I found:

Seagulls are a fallacy. “Seagull” is a layperson’s term that is not used in science. This name is used informally to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning. Because of this, “seagulls,” which I will not correctly call “gulls” are not always found by the sea but can be found hundreds of miles from the nearest saltwater.

Gulls can be found near any large body of water, fresh or saltwater. So thanks to Lake Champlain, Lake Dunmore, and perhaps Battell Beach after last nights storm (pre-snow), Vermont and Addison County is the home to 26 species of gulls, terns, kittiwakes and skimmers.

So the next time you are outside enjoying whatever the weather may be and hear the squawk of a gull, do not be alarmed and confused, but instead smile, soak it in, and let it help you find your beach.

Save the shoes

It is beautiful and snowy.  It is that time of year when you see skis resting outside of classroom doorways anxiously awaiting the student that has the efficient plan to meet the shuttle bus at ADK right after class. Many of us have done this: wake up, pack bag for school, pack ski bag, pack a snack, attend class, hit the slopes. Both nordic and downhill lovers are privy to the prompt bus shuttle schedule from the Middlebury campus up to either Bread Loaf for some cross-country ski fun or the Snow Bowl for some shoop shoop shooping in that fresh pow pow.

Speaking of pow pow (powder in colloquial terms), we currently have some beautiful pow pow. A few feet in fact. The west coast may be the best coast but the east is beast. I have skied on the east coast my entire life and we currently have some of the best conditions I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. However, when the wintery fluff turns to a wintery mix there can be issues.

Mainly, footwear. I made the mistake today of seeing the clear and crisp morning sky and deciding that the paths were clear enough to wear a cuter and more spring like pair of boots. Rookie mistake. As I sat in my political science seminar on US and Latin American Relations my heart sank…straight to my boots. It had begun to snow and not just a light dusting but a proper snow that meant I was about to be slipping and sliding on my way to Environmental Economics across campus. Not only was the potential embarrassment of a wipeout on my mind (we have all done it, it is a right of passage really), but these poor boots were about to get a beating.

Alas, they are only boots and alas I am a senior who should know better. Every now and again it is fun to walk on the wildside and slip on the waterslide.

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: https://vimeo.com/85370826

Bye bye January – we miss you already!

Missing Midd

In the words of current hit “Let Her Go” by Passenger (check out the cover by Jasamine Thompson– it’s better in my opinion) “you only know you love her when you let her go.” While the song’s sentiment is a little more dramatic than my life is right now, it is true that sometimes it takes distance to reflect on how much I love something. For me and Midd, winter break often provides that time. It’s a break just lengthy enough that I begin to long for my bed at school and my friends and Proctor apples. This is my fourth winter break during which I anticipate a return to Middlebury in early January, and it being my last one it is particularly thoughtprovoking. Some things I am missing about Middlebury right now:

– Burger Night at 51 Main. A quasi-religion for me, burger night provides the iron and companionship that makes me my best self. I live in a vegetarian home, and sometimes I just really miss Vermont beef and the friends I eat it with.

– Wilson Cafe Booths. Great light. Just enough activity to provide the white noise I need to focus best on whatever it is I’m doing.

– Sunsets. I say it often, but there is something about Vermont sunsets, something that sets them apart. I think it’s the way they take you by surprise. People often observe sunsets when they expect them to be beautiful: at a mountain’s summit, at the beach, at your cousins new condo “with the greatest view”. But at Middlebury, the sunsets sneak up on us as we leave class and cross the street, head to the library, or sit at an early dinner. The seep under doors and through windows. They intercept your regularly-walked routes. The everyday sunsets in Vermont have an undeniable edge on the competition.

– My friends being near. Next door, down the hall, or across campus, friends are all close. The convenience and closeness it brings is something I take for granted when I’m there, but miss most when I’m away.

It’s about to be 2014, and I’m looking forward to returning to a familiar place for a new year.

 

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!