Category Archives: Uncategorized

Science and the Liberal Arts

As a chemistry major, I’m often asked about the opportunities at Middlebury for the natural sciences. “Middlebury is known for its language and environmental studies programs,” some will say with the underlying question being “Middlebury isn’t necessarily known for their sciences. So how do they fare?”

This is a fair question…and they fare pretty well if I do say so myself.

Middlebury’s Bicentennial Hall – “the science building” – was constructed with the prospect of highlighting the natural sciences in a stereotypical humanities-driven community. It is the home to seven academic departments and three academic programs, equipped with a science-focused library, the biggest window in Vermont, and top-notch professors. The professors are graduates from top research universities who are passionate about teaching. (Teaching in this case is not limited to the classroom, but includes the labs as well). They encourage independent research, they publish academic work with students as co-authors, they teach how to write for their academic discipline, and they are at the front of 100-level courses getting new students excited about their passion with interesting anecdotes and fun demonstrations. Professors, not teaching-assistants, are the ones invigorating students and consequently motivating their passion.

I transferred to Middlebury in the Fall of my sophomore year from a large university where teaching-assistants were the ones teaching my science courses. I came to Middlebury not sure if I still wanted to pursue the sciences. Despite my ambivalence, I mustered the courage to take organic chemistry my first semester and haven’t looked back since. A slew of opportunities has opened up for me upon declaring my major: I worked in an organic chemistry lab at Middlebury over the summer, 3 years later my professor is publishing that research with 3 students as co-authors. The following year I joined an inorganic chemistry lab and did two independent studies looking into a fundamental mechanism to explain Alzheimer’s Disease (which I’ve adopted as my senior thesis). This past summer I did an internship at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in their nanoengineering facility. We don’t have engineering – or nanotechnology – at Middlebury but I was still extremely prepared due to the endless opportunities of labwork experience I received back here in Vermont. This summer internship provided another opportunity to do research the following summer, but in an international research facility. I applied and was accepted to work at the National Institute for Material Science in Tsukuba, Japan. To prove that this is Middlebury and not “just  me” – two other Middlebury students have done this program. One student did her first summer at Stanford, the other at the University of Minnesota. Each of us applied and went on to do the Japan internship, an incredible opportunity that we can attribute back to the research skills we acquired at Middlebury.

These opportunities and important research skills are not only found in the chemistry department, but in all departments in BiHall (and across all disciplines on campus). For those of you interested in the sciences, but hesitant to pursue them at a liberal arts school like Middlebury, I highly encourage you to give Middlebury a chance. Middlebury has been the perfect place to pursue the sciences and I’m looking forward to applying to chemistry PhD programs this summer.

 

If you have any further questions about Middlebury and the sciences, please do not hesitate to contact me: stacih@middlebury.edu 

 

Liberal Arts: A Practical Application

I am a huge proponent of the liberal arts education.  Anytime anyone asks me what I am studying, while I say my major, what I really want to say is, “an incredible set of skills.”  I think at the heart of these skills is the ability that I have gained to pursue opportunities with a passion backed by both intellect and integrity.  A big critique of the liberal arts that I have not only heard, but at times used, is “all you do is talk.” In some sense, yes. We fiercely debate issues, learn new ways of thinking, and push our boundaries in discourse.  However, we take what we learn from these conversations and we apply them to the real world with a strong factual background and what I refer to as the liberal arts stamp. This stamp is the inability to hear any speech, news broadcast, or opinion without questioning its content, perspective, and argument.  This stamp continues in the way liberal arts students talk to each other. I catch my friends and I having the most academically worded conversations about the most inane things.  We’ve learned how to argue with a pure motive and how to only speak when we have the knowledge to back it up.  But, these conversations and the ability to speak mean nothing if not put to a good use.

I have thoroughly enjoyed and found great meaning in independent work here at Middlebury College. It allows me to take these conversations and do research and projects that mean the world to me.  This semester, I am working on a project dealing with Veteran Affairs.  My goal is to find how Middlebury College and its students can become involved with the Veteran community, how Middlebury College can be more intentional regarding the hiring and support of veterans in the faculty and staff, and to create educational opportunities for local veterans.  Whenever I mention what I hope to be working on, people are enthusiastic to share their own stories in return. It seems that almost everybody knows someone who has served or questions the treatment that veterans receive upon returning to the U.S.  As a Marine Corps officer candidate whose Grandfather was a career Marine, I keep this topic near and dear to my heart.  I want to generate a venue through which students can engage with these veterans while also learning from the veterans’ stories that are often times overlooked. I would love to leave Middlebury knowing that this school, which commits itself to community engagement, actively seeks to honor and make life easier for those who served our country.

Having the basis in research, discussion, and organization I acquired at Middlebury, having a passion to apply those skills to and then the chance to explore that passion, epitomizes not only the resources available to students, but also the deep seeded support and trust for students with a goal.

 

Music @ MIDD!

This past week revealed that our spring Concert  will headline T- Pain! It is so exciting for my final spring concert to come rolling around as MCAB does an amazing job at organizing live music shows throughout the school year. Normally during the academic school year there are two major concerts put up by MCAB’s Concerts Committee in both the fall and spring semesters. The talent that the school brings really ranges in interests and performers and it is not only MCAB that does a great job at getting live concerts to campus. Organizations such as WRMC, Middlebury Musicians United, Commons, and many more are able to pull artists from around the nation to come to our campus. Here is the breakdown of major live concerts that I’ve been able to attend organized by students:

Freshman:  Wale, Dead Prez, Guster

Sophomore:  Miniature Tigers, fun., Timeflies , Rubblebucket

Junior: Chance the Rapper, Matt & Kim

Senior: Cloud Nothing, Vacationers, Mr. Wives (coming up), T-Pain

Some of my most memorable experiences have been at these concerts. It’s a fantastic way to blow off steam while  relishing in music that feels as familiar as when you put on earbuds and also being exposed to completely new genres.  That is not to say that the music scene ends on campus. I have been able to go to concerts in both Montreal and Burlington, where a wide variety of artists frequent these beautiful cities. It’s not uncommon to grab a meal and concert on a given weekend.

Music on campus is something that people enjoy and connect over together, whether it is sharing a new Spotify playlist to listen to over your Atwater breakfast or plugging the aux cord in and blasting some tunes to groove to.

Spring is Coming.

I’m not going to lie to you–it’s been a cold winter. For the month of January, the temperatures did not even think about reaching above freezing. This winter, I have established a meticulous bundling routine that ensures maximum warmth: long, warm socks, Bean boots, puffy jacket, thick mittens, and a lavender circle scarf that covers me from clavicle to nose. With hair down past my shoulder blades, I have strategized about the best time to wash it in relation to when I was leaving the house and how long I would be walking so as to avoid it freezing in large chunks.

And as I am sitting here writing this, I know that so many other places in the United States have been hit with a much more brutal winter. My friend from Boston told me her parents have snow up above their windows at home. Even down south, they have been experiencing chilly weather.

But regardless of what kind of winter you’ve had, everyone rejoices over the beginnings of spring.

Now, I don’t want to jinx it, but there is maybe a possibility that the thaw is beginning here at Middlebury. Just maybe, I write, in an effort to appease the winter gods for I do not wish to enrage them in with insolence. But for the last few days, we have been graced with a warm, radiant sun and our mountains of snow are slowly trickling away. Abandoning my circle scarf, I have walked with an upturned face, hoping to swallow as much Vitamin D as I can. I have even found an extra bounce in my step as I walk from classes to meetings to meals, as if the sun helps propel me through my day.

While winter on this campus renders Middlebury an absolute dream, the emergence of spring is irresistible. And I don’t know if we are there quite yet, but I look forward to a campus that has embraced spring. The Adirondack chairs return to Battell Beach, tables grace the outside patios of the dining halls, and students lounge between classes on whatever grassy patch they can find.

In addition to the weather, the spring always provides a jam-packed social schedule. Concerts, roller rinks, food festivals. As the sun returns from hibernation, the students follow suit.

While I am sure the snow gods will repay this post with another snow storm, the thought that spring is within reach puts a smile on my face.

Art, Art, and More Art

Last summer, I had the fortune of working in the Middlebury College Museum of Art as a full-time curatorial intern, alongside the Chief Curator of the Museum, Emmie Donadio. During my time at the museum, my main project was to help Emmie assemble two upcoming exhibitions, one on a number of Andy Warhol prints and the second on  street artists. Despite not having had a lot of exposure to contemporary art prior to last year, or perhaps because of it, working on these two exhibitions was an exciting and rewarding task that allowed me to see the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes in a museum setting.

Now, more than five months later, both these exhibitions are on display at the College Museum. The first, containing 10 Andy Warhol prints gifted to the College by the artist’s foundation last spring, opened in the first week of January. Ranging in subject matter from his famed Campbell’s Soup Can to a flamboyantly coloured Mao to Queen Ntombi of Swaziland, this eclectic collection of uneditioned proofs are now a part of the College’s permanent collection. As an artist, Warhol is one of the most renowned household names in America, with one of the most prolific oeuvres of any artist in the 20th century. As such, doing research on Warhol was like staring into a bottomless pit of unanswerable questions. Scholars and commentators have studied and written on just about every facet of Warhol’s life and his art. Synthesizing all that information was one of the most challenging experiences of my summer. In the end, I distilled the information I researched into short and sweet wall labels, which tell viewers the significance of each work. Since the Warhol Foundation donated countless gifts to many educational institutions in recent years, 2015 is an especially busy year for Warhol exhibitions around the country.

The second exhibition that I worked on was “Outside In: Art from the Street”, mostly in its preliminary research. The exhibition, which takes up most of the upper floor of the museum, contains an incredible array of contemporary urban artists from around the world, including some of the biggest names in street and graffiti art today: Banksy, JR, Swoon, and Bäst. Nevertheless, these are street artists, and prints can only tell you so much about their talent and creativity. As such, the museum hired British street artist Ben Eine, whose work British Prime Minister Cameron gifted to President Obama in 2011 during a visit to the U.S., to paint a wall for the exhibition. To bring in an even more authentic taste of the street, a co-curator of the exhibition even went down to New York City to bring back the remains of an actual graffiti wall from the studio of the artist-team Faile.

With some of the biggest names of contemporary art right here on campus, it is indeed high time for art here at Middlebury. If you find yourself around town, be sure to check out both these exhibitions, which will be on view until Sunday, April 19.

Laundry and Waxing Poetic

Last night, I did my laundry. Laundry is one of those tasks that always takes me longer than I anticipate—I find folding especially challenging—and I always kind of resent it. Last night, however, I felt suddenly struck by the significance of the activity. There I stood, sorting my socks from my jeans in the basement of a dorm, chatting with a friend about laundry detergent. After putting my laundry in, I walked down the hall to sit down and read before heading up the hill to dinner with friends.

I suddenly realized the smallness of my radius of movement. It was absolutely miniscule. From a bird’s eye view, my days would look like laps from dining halls to classrooms to libraries. They would look like I was spinning in circles. I had never noticed that before because I had never actually felt bored. Well, in truth because I never have been bored.

Some might look at this situation—my small radius of movement—and find it stifling, and I think I would have agreed with them before this experience. But living in it, I so appreciate the tight-knit community of Middlebury. My change of heart stems from the realization that this is not just a close community; it’s brimming with resources and new experiences. Sometimes, I feel as if I am peeling back layers of potential—discovering rooms I did not know existed and people I have never met. Middlebury feels simultaneously supportive and expansive, as if despite my extreme comfort here, I could keep discovering new things. This sensation of never-ending newness comes from the energy of the people who comprise this community. Certainly, Middlebury does not constantly keep hiding new rooms or strangers around campus. Rather, students, staff, and professors bring exciting new ideas to campus. Whether it’s a new club, class, or a new way to use a space, innovation renews Middlebury everyday.

I probably will always dislike laundry, but Middlebury sure is a great place to do it.

Winter Hiking

As a south-Floridian, I don’t really define myself as a “winter person.” I really like the heat, the sunshine, the rain, and the comfort of sandals. Being raised in a place of constant summer meant major adjustments were to be made during the long winters at Middlebury. I had to buy socks that covered my ankles and were as thick as my pinky finger; I had to learn to walk on icy sidewalks; and I had to find the joys and comforts of that once foreign season that would define about half of each academic year. I had to find that “invincible summer” within the cold, beautiful winter in the mountains.

Last year I thought the best way to do this was to simply get outside. My friend Emma and I ran to a local mountain (Snake Mountain), did a 2mile sunrise hike, and ran/hitch-hiked back.* It was quite the adventure and oodles of fun. But for some reason, I didn’t go for another hike until Spring. With that in mind and my relatively indoor-driven J-term, I decided to revive my winter adventuress within me: I signed up for a Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) sunrise hike.

MMC hosts tons of different outdoor opportunities throughout the semesters. You can go kayaking, rock-climbing ice-climbing, camping, winter-camping, sunrise-hiking, hiking, etc. Most trips are free and entirely funded by the club. Because of that, students sign up for trips on an individual basis. So you never know who could be on your next trip! It’s a great way to get outdoors and meet some new friends.

I signed up for a winter-sunrise-hike of Mount Philo this past week. at 5:00am I showed up to Adirondack Circle to meet eight bright-eyed and bushy tailed students who were as crazy as me to go hiking in 15 degree weather. Kent and Parker were the trip leaders, trained Mountain Club guides who ensured that I would be taken care of if I froze from hypothermia. Kent also provided micro-spikes for all of us newbies who didn’t own our own pair. (If you are now thinking you are a newbie based on your lack of knowledge of micro-spikes, micro-spikes go over your shoes so that you have better traction and grip while hiking in the snow. They are great.)

After a twenty minute drive and a mild hike to the top, we saw an awesome view of the awakening neighboring towns:
Mt. Philo
…but no sun. Turns out Mt. Philo faces West and the clouds were too thick for any westward reflection. Regardless, it was a great way to kick of the first Thursday of Spring semester!  And the group of us wants to go back for a sunset hike this spring.

 

*A great story of friendship between Middlebury students and two local high-schoolers. Snake

“What did you do over your Febmester?”

It’s that most splendid time of year again…THE FEBS ARE HERE! What’s a Feb you may ask? Well, here’s a link for some of the logistics: http://www.middlebury.edu/admissions/apply/february but to really know the Feb program, you need to know the Febmester. Currently at the forefront of everyone’s minds—Feb and Reg (September admission) alike—is that age old question: “What did you do over your Febmester?”

Each Feb is given the incredible opportunity to take a Febmester, which is like a gap year but only eight months in length. The best part of the Febmester? What you decided to spend your eight months doing is entirely up to you. It’s a chance for you go somewhere or learn something you had always wanted to but couldn’t find the time for in high school. It’s a chance for you to learn a new language in a foreign country, hike a trail that challenges every part of your mental and physical endurance, or reconnect with family that fell to the side when SAT prep, band rehearsal, and soccer practice reigned supreme. It’s a chance to take something you’ve always found interesting and turn it into your greatest passion or discover something you never thought of trying before. For me, the Febmester was the perfect time to get my first job and learn how to play the guitar on the side. I had never had time for a job before, and I really wanted to enter Middlebury having had that particular kind of responsibility.

And what is ultimately most wonderful about the Febmester is the stories you bring with you to campus in February. By the time February comes, Febs are so excited to finally be at Middlebury, they want to learn everything about each other. Febmester stories are not only a great way to break the ice during orientation, but they’re also a way for you to tell people what you love to do, who you are when you’re not at school. It’s amazing how the Febmester stories simultaneously make every single one of us unique and bring us all together to unify the class. I have many friends who spent their Febmesters hiking long, involved trails, and those who hiked in Spain have a lot to share with those who hiked in the US. Those who went abroad to Italy have a lot to talk about with those who went abroad to South Africa, because even though the cultures are hugely different, the experience of being in a strange country with new food, new customs, and, often, a new language builds friendships that last not only your four Middlebury years, but also far beyond graduation.

There are countless perks of being a Feb, but the Febmester—both the experience and the way it aids in your transition to Middlebury—is by far one of the most special pieces of Feb life.

The Last Day of the Last J-Term

After having a hectic fall of research projects, senior seminars, and job applications, this J-term felt wonderfully free. Firstly, I was able to add the class “Bollywood and Beyond” so I spent my month watching Shah Rukh Khan dance around the Swiss Alps in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Amitabh Bachchan restore his honor in the name of justice in Sholay, and Nargis embody post-Independence India in Mother India. In addition to watching these fantastic films, we learned about the religious epics, polarized politics, and social conventions that inform these movies. For my final paper, I read Devdas, a short story written in 1917 by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, which has since spawned 12 film versions of the same story over the past century. After reading the story that began the legacy, I watched Bimal Roy’s Devdas from 1955 and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version from 2002, noting the differences in nostalgia, melodrama, and aesthetics.

Needless to say, I was in my academic and personal element.

In addition to immersing myself in this facet of Indian culture, I also took moments to enjoy my last J-term. Twice a week, I attended my “Yoga and Meditation” workshop, taking time to strengthen, stretch, and soothe the body. Additionally, with four other friends, I took a workshop called “Art of Tea: Tasting and Sustainably Sourced Loose Leaf Tea (and Chocolate).” We sampled green teas from China, matcha tea from Japan, and of course, we ended the session with a Chai tea from India. We ate white chocolate lavender bark, mocha snacks, and LoFi chocolate with each of the teas, all in the soothing, warm Stone Leaf Tea House.

In between yoga, tea tasting, and movie watching, I headed out to California for my cousin’s wedding for the weekend. I lounged in the pool, ate fresh tortillas tacos, and danced the night away with cousins and aunts and uncles. The wedding was a perfect interlude to reconnect with my family and some happy California sun.

At the end of the month, I was a little sad to say goodbye to J-term. It was the perfect time for me to explore an area of interest I do not normally during the semester. For the month, I was able to engross myself in Bollywood extravaganzas, subtle teas and chocolates, and some quality family time. The end of J-term also heralds the beginning of spring, my last semester as a Middlebury College student. Stayed tuned for exciting adventures next semester!

The Oratorio

One of the four classes that every Middlebury first year takes during their first semester is a first year seminar, a writing intensive class capped at 15 students designed to prepare students for the writing-intensive Middlebury curriculum. Each fall, around 40 seminars are offered for our September admits, ranging from The Art and Life of Andy Warhol to Literature in Exile to The Geology of National Parks to The Story of Geometry. My first seminar, elegantly titled Oratory: Winning the Soul with Words, was one of the most academically transformative experiences of my Middlebury career.

Taught by theatre professor Dana Yeaton, the seminar was divided into three parts. During the first part, we read Aristotle’s book “On Rhetoric” and studied the theoretical components of constructing a powerful speech. The middle third of the class was focused on reading great speeches throughout history, from Pericles’ Funeral Oration to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to MLK’s I Have a Dream. During the last few weeks of class, we wrote and delivered a number of our own speeches, culminating in a TED Talk presentation.

The class was incredibly rewarding precisely because it was unlike anything I had ever done before, or after, for that matter. Since it was the first time he had taught the class, Professor Yeaton experimented with different methods of teaching and various kinds of assignments. He always brought an energy to the room that made the 75 minutes fly by in the blink of an eye. And because of the personal nature of our final TED Talks, the 15 of us got to know each other very well by the end of the semester.

In the January following that fall semester, Professor Yeaton invited a few of us from the seminar to participate in the College’s annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Mead Chapel, an evening of song, dance, and oratory that commemorates the life of the civil rights hero. Together with a few other theatre students, we performed a condensed reading of MLK’s famous I Have a Dream speech. Relying on the projection of our voice and the acoustics in the chapel, we tried to capture, without microphones, the cadence of King’s speech and project its power to the standing-room only crowd. We even added a touch of Middlebury flair by reciting one section of the speech in various foreign languages.

This past Martin Luther King Day, I returned to the chapel to watch the oratorio for the first time since I participated in it three years ago. Professor Yeaton helped direct the show again, this time with students from his Speechmaker’s Studio J-Term class and members of the newly formed Oratory Society. Together, they read a series of quotes from MLK and other civil rights leaders to begin the show and like us, performed a reading of the I Have a Dream speech. Sitting in the pews, with a tinge of nostalgia, I felt incredibly proud of how much Professor Yeaton’s oratory program has grown at Middlebury. This was the second year in a row that he has offered the Speechmaker’s Studio as a J-Term class, attracting students ranging from political science majors to varsity skiers to international first years. His Oratory Society hosted an “oratory slam” in the fall and conducts workshops open to anyone wishing to improve their public speaking skills.

In his quest to bring public speaking to the fore of the liberal arts curriculum, Professor Yeaton has struck a chord with students who recognize the importance of that skill in today’s digitally connected world. The oratory program is yet another example of how the liberal arts continues to evolve here at Middlebury.