Category Archives: Student Life

Otter Pup

I have a new baby sister. Well, not biologically a baby sister, but the closest I will probably ever get. This non-biological family I have found here at Middlebury goes by the name of the Otter Nonsense Players. Since getting into the group freshman year spring, it has become my familial unit far away from home. With its ups and down, the group has been there for me in times of pure joy, absolute silliness, and days of sadness. However, the sadness never lasts long with this gang of characters. And the gang is now one more strong. Last week we had auditions and I am so very excited that we welcomed in one new member, the incredibly funny and charismatic sophomore girl who already meshes with our dynamic effortlessly.

Improv has been an amazing outlet of creativity and fun throughout these past years. These last auditions were very bitter sweet, marking the second to last that I will ever take part in. When going through deliberations of the many talented and deserving candidates, I wanted to take everyone, bring as many people into the family as possible for departing. It is just too fun to not let everyone come play make believe for two hours twice a week and the occasional show when we step out of safe confines of rehearsal and make fools out of ourselves in front of hundreds.

This week’s family activity – trust falls.

This weekend’s family outing – apple picking.

 

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!

Play Ball

Last first day of classes. First day of last year of school. But beyond that cliché Facebook status everyone seemingly fell victim too, making us realize that no matter how individual we are we really are walking this cobble stones path together, this is about yesterday.

 

Yesterday was Convocation and seeing the first years line the path to Mead Chapel, dressed in a familiar dress or button down, a pair of slacks, and a familiar sense of unfamiliarity that has begun to feel comfortable. I remember that day vividly. Our orientation week had been a hot one, confusing for an incoming student believing that, “wait, isn’t Vermont supposed to be cold all the time?” Caught off guard by the beautiful heat, we lined the path to Mead Chapel, following behind our Common’s banner, almost marching behind a flag, a team, a country, a new family tartan. What does Wonnocott mean? And why is our mascot a squirrel?

 

We were the incoming class of 2014 and were beginning, finally. After years of preparation, even deliberate or not, we had made it to the place we would call home for the next four years. We were united in a common nervousness if nothing else.

 

The nervousness culminated into a group mind of action, and that action was the wave. Yes, while not quite a Fenway Park all the way around the stadium wave, it was a top of the hill to the bottom of the hill wave. Smiles a mass and arms in the air, immediately more than nervousness bounded us. Perhaps it was more of a reaction than an action, but none the less, a memory was formed.

 

That same flutter of energy was felt yesterday. As I returned from a run I saw the first years lining up. Sweaty and tired, I climbed the stairs in my dorm that lines the quad and commented to a roommate, “Did you see all the first years lining up for convocation?” With a yes of agreement and an “We are old,” we began to hear singing. The communal nervousness of 2017 had manifested itself into a roaring revel of “Star-Spangled Banner.”

 

First Years, it is time to play ball. With the national anthem and the wave in place, it is going to be a great game.

What Do You Do For Fun Here?

 

Speaking of concerts… I always get the question from prospective students, “What do you guys do for fun here?” And I get it. The idea of a college in a small town in Vermont does not sound like the most “happening” place in the world and initially looking at colleges, I was worried about the same thing. I had friends who had already committed to schools in the city because there would be “so much to do all the time.” However, I distinctly remember a current student telling me during my preview days, “Yeah, the great thing about Middlebury is that either the school brings cool things here or the students make cool things happen.” And the thing is… she was totally right.

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Another thing I have loved about being on this campus is how much is always going on here because of a few things:
1. 98% of students live on campus so everything is happening right here
2. This is a student body that is constantly creating events with such innovation and drive
3. The school is always in support of these student initiatives. If you have a speaker, band, performing artist, comedian (you name it) that you want to bring to campus, with a little bit of organization, it isn’t that difficult to make it happen.

The beginning of this semester totally showcased this point. In one weekend, we had WRMC (student radio station on campus)’s spring music festival Sepomana, which brought rocking indie bands like Baths, Delicate Steve, and Rubblebucket. The next night, a benefit concert was thrown with Middlebury’s very own Alpen Glow opening for Anya Marina while at the Hepburn Zoo, an improv group brought PULSE, a 10-Person percussion group to perform. After this, one house hosted a 1950’s high school dance with a student band playing live. Whoo.

And best thing about it, rather than some concert in a city, I get to be dancing with all my friends throughout.

Alpenglow In Studio from WRMC 91.1FM on Vimeo.

 

Finding home

One of my first weekends at Middlebury, a friend and I ran up Chipman Hill. As we reached the top, both of us grew quiet. Taking in the vast expanses of the patchwork landscape – the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west – I stood in awe of the place I would grow to call home for the next four years.

From my freshman year, the combination of the natural beauty of Addison County and a curiosity to understand it led me to the study of Conservation Biology. Throughout the campus, and especially as an Environmental Studies major, we often engage in conversations around sustainability. As a budding ecologist, climate activist, and a steward of our natural world at Middlebury, sustainability is more than an oft-repeated buzzword across Admissions brochures. It’s a guiding principle we live every day.

Derived from the Latin word sustinere – to hold up, support, and endure – sustainability at Middlebury is a forward thinking principle that acknowledges the future consequences of today’s human impacts, the interconnectedness of natural and human communities, and the moral obligation to support future generations.

Take my BIOL 0302 class, Vertebrate Natural History with Steve Trombulak. You wake up at 5 in the morning. It’s pitch black. You slowly crawl out of bed, throw on as much wool as you can find, and walk into the biting cold to set out mist-nets. Minutes later you’ll walk the lanes of nets, hold in your hand a Black-capped chickadee, a White-throated sparrow, or maybe a bright red male Northern cardinal. That same afternoon you might go out to Lewis Creek to electrofish or set up Sherman traps to collect a flying squirrel in Cornwall. Or take BIOL 323, Plant Community Ecology, when we hiked through the old-growth hemlock-pine forest of the Battell Research Forest, measured the invasion of European buckthorn and Eurasian bush honeysuckle, and traced the changes in forest composition along an altitudinal gradient.

At Middlebury, our professors do not treat us as students in the traditional sense, but as apprentices in the craft of each field of study. Middlebury students are budding mathematicians and economists, future surgeons and psychologists, or emerging marine biologists. When we learn about how to protect species diversity, conserve natural habitat, and protect wildlife corridors, or the importance of breeding grounds, pollinators, and seed dispersal pathways, this knowledge is not theoretical. It is the work of the future.

All Environmental Studies majors participate in a capstone seminar course which is both project based and in conjunction with a community partner. The theme of this spring’s senior seminar is “issues in transboundary sustainability.” I’m working with a team of five other ES majors each with a unique focus. We are students of political science, economics, biologists, and geographers looking to understand the cross-jurisdictional regional prevention of aquatic invasive species in Lake Champlain. While our professors and community partners are here to guide us with academic support, resources, and expertise, the whole project is ours. Inspired and enriched by this project-based philosophy, we are able to pursue solutions with curiosity, self-discovery, and collaboration.

Four years after beginning my study of conservation biology, the top of Chipman Hill is more familiar. What was once a vast expanse of space has been transformed into place, both personal and specific.

When I arrived at Middlebury, I fell in love with the forested landscape of Vermont with no real regard for its natural history, inhabitants, or processes. Four years later, Addison County is no longer a “landscape” but a place, endowed with value and meaning as I have experienced more attachment to this community. Walking around campus bird songs are no longer undifferentiated calls as I have learned the tones and rhythms of their chirpings. The forest is no longer filled with “trees” but individual species, each with taxonomic nomenclature and natural history. At the top of Chipman Hill, I no longer only see a view, but become a part of what Aldo Leopold pens as the sensory experience of the “theatre of evolution.”

I never thought I’d ever call going back to Middlebury “coming home.”

Dolci – A Unique Middlebury Dining Experience

 

One of the best-kept secrets at Middlebury is Dolci dinner, a five-course restaurant-style culinary experience that brings upscale dining to Atwater on Friday evenings. A student head chef prepares a five-course meal around exciting themes such as breakfast for dinner, geometry, and bacon. With the guidance and support of the Atwater dining staff, student teams of sous-chefs prep each component part of these elaborate meals days in advance of the actual event, where lucky students who were the first to register online get to invite a date to a unique dining experience. Dolci is a real privilege to experience (at no cost to students I should add) and is just one of many great ways to kick off a weekend. After a long week of work and running around, relaxing over blood red orange soda while snacking on pita bread with baba ganoush reminds me that a whole world of culinary traditions has creatively found its way onto my doorstep in Middlebury, Vermont.

Below are some examples of the dishes offered at the two Dolci dinners I’ve had the luxury of attending. From tonight’s dinner (Mediterranean theme) there is a lamb with Israeli cous cous and falafel as well as a desert dish comprised of candied figs and pistachio cookies. The third picture is of a dessert from the geometry themed evening: a molten lava cake with home-made pistachio ice cream and two sauces, one raspberry and one mint.

 

For anyone looking for activities to add to their senior-year bucket lists, Dolci is a must!

 

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Extracurricular Reflections: Election Season

While the United States picked its president on November 6, at Middlebury we’ll be choosing our next president of the Student Government Association on May 3. It’s an exciting time, with aspiring candidates putting up creative posters, accosting students outside the dining halls, and giving dramatic speeches in random locales in an attempt to woo the undecided masses.

For me, this year’s election season is bittersweet. For the last year I have served as president of the Student Government Association, which has been a unique and fantastic opportunity for me. In that role, I have sent thousands of emails, attended hundreds of meetings, and worked with fellow students, faculty, staff, and administrators across campus. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me, as I’ve had to engage with a variety of issues, learned to work more collaboratively and effectively, and to be a real leader. As I’m getting ready to transition out, I know I’ll miss having these opportunities.

In many ways, as you can see, I’ve learned as much in this extracurricular pursuit as in some of my classes. While my particular role is unique, the incredible learning value of extracurriculars for Midd students is not. Student athletes learn about the value of teamwork on and off the field. Members of performing groups, in addition to honing their various techniques, are also coordinators and leaders who work with others to accomplish shared goals. A major driver of what keeps Middkids busy day-to-day is our extracurricular involvements, and that is a key reason that student life here is so vibrant. We take these commitments seriously because they are as important as what we do in the classroom in driving student learning. But they’re also fun.

As I nostalgically watch underclassmen campaign for my job, it is hard not to think of the extent to which my non-academic commitments have shaped my time at Middlebury—my skill sets and schedule, to be sure—but far more importantly the friendships I have made and the ways in which I enjoy myself. The choices we make on that front sometimes may seem arbitrary when we make them, but ultimately have significantly consequences for how we spend our time. My involvement over the last four years in student government, Hillel, the College Democrats, College Choir, and other groups have fundamentally shaped my time at Middlebury. They’ve each been learning experiences, they’ve been places to make friends and enjoy myself, and the way it’s all shaken out, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Spring Student Symposium

As I am always telling my information sessions, I have two favorite days every year at Middlebury: Chili Festival and Spring Student Symposium. The reason I love Chili Fest is obvious, I think, because I get to sample dozens of kinds of chili while casually strolling along Middlebury’s Main Street on a balmy day in March. But the reasons I love Spring Student Symposium are a little more complicated.

Spring Student Symposium takes place on a Friday in late April, and classes are cancelled for the day. McCardell Bicentennial Hall (“Bihall”) transforms itself into the college-level equivalent of an elementary school science fair, and hundreds of students put up posters, make presentations, and give all sorts of demonstrations. The topics? Anything they want—papers they’ve worked on, research they have undertaken, senior theses, work done while studying abroad. The Symposium is a celebration of the huge amount of undergraduate research that takes place at Middlebury.

The presentations really range the academic spectrum. I’ll give an example, using two roommates I know. One is a physics major, and was part of a team that converted a tractor to run on hydrogen. (I went for a ride.) The other roommate is a classics major with an interest in the civil rights movement—so, naturally, he translated the works of Malcomb X into Latin. So Spring Symposium presentation topics truly range the gamut.

The reason I love Symposium is because it is an opportunity to see what friends and peers are up to and to marvel at the amount of research that goes on here, in some really fascinating different fields. We all know that our friends are smart and that our friends work hard, but to see them presenting the results of their hard work in a group setting can be inspiring. In my mind, Middlebury’s emphasis on undergraduate research—across the curriculum and at all levels—is a unique trait and one that cannot be understated.

This year, I will be presenting at Symposium for the first time. I’ll be discussing my senior thesis, which is about Internet censorship in China. I’m excited for my friends, peers, and professors to see what I’ve been up to all year, and I know that it’ll be a proud capstone for my Middlebury experience. But I’m more excited to see what my friends and peers have been up to this year—I know I’ll be astonished and inspired by their work.

Going Full Circle: Jonathan Safran Foer as the 2013 Commencement Address Speaker

I am not sure if you’ve seen the big news on the front page, but author Jonathan Safran Foer is going to speak at the commencement address of the class of 2013! Which is my graduation!

Now, the fact that such a renowned author (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Eating Animals) is already pretty huge. Ever since being introduced to David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement address, This Is Water, given to the Kenyon College class of 2005, I have always dreamed of having a favorite author deliver the parting words of my college.

But this is not just any favorite author. This is the author of my year’s Common Reading selection. The summer before you come to Middlebury, you receive a welcome packet that includes a map, your first year course selection, some promotional materials, and a book. This book is your Common Reading and the school ask that you read it before arriving on campus to then engage in intimate group discussions led by faculty and staff during the week of Orientation. The book I received my year was Everything Is Illuminated. I can remember this book being what completely reaffirmed my decision to enroll at Middlebury. It was the first time reading the book (I had only seen the movie with Elijah Wood…) and I remember being astonished that the school would select such a complex and emotion-filled book as the introduction to the college. When we arrived on campus, I was so excited to have our Common Reading discussion – I had fallen in love with the author’s prose and his style of communicating the narrative. I could not wait to begin connecting with other students through literature.

After this experience, I held on to the dream that Jonathan Safran Foer might be the one to speak at our graduation – that the voice that welcomed us to this four-year adventure might be the one that would send us off. When the news came out that he would indeed be that voice, I jumped in joy the way I did when I found out I got into Middlebury. What a beautiful thing to see it all come full-circle.jonathan_safran_foer_nymag

 

J-Term

The first week of J-Term -also known as yay-term and play-term – has come to an end, and we are already half-way through the second week. It was only yesterday we were all freaking out about the apocalypse and wondering if we were going to make it to 2013! Time really flies during the month of January at Middlebury. I am taking a class  called Visual Data Analysis, which explores various ways of representing data using R, a statistical language. My friends are pursuing independent projects, writing their theses, taking a class on Immunology (just in time for the flu epidemic), working on the Solar Decathlon house, and taking an EMT course. Anyhow, my class takes place only on Tuesdays and Thursdays … which means I have a four-day weekend!

There are so many fun things going on during J-Term. Of course, you can always go skiing or snowboarding at the Snow Bowl. If you’re more of a cross country skier, the Bread Loaf campus has a lovely trail as well. If you are more inclined to stay indoors, this Thursday, Fun. (of Some Nights and We Are Young fame) is coming to Middlebury. The Dance Marathon is also happening this weekend. The proceeds will support  local families at the Vermont Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Fletcher Allen, in Burlington, VT. What a great excuse to dance all night long? This week’s Free Friday Film is Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom,  and Trivia Night happens every Wednesday if you want to test your ability to hold random facts.

I have to admit, though, all these fabulous events aside, some of my best J-term memories consist of long conversations with a friend over hot chocolate with a subpar reality show playing in the background.