It’s Earth Week!

As some of you might know, this Tuesday, April 22, was Earth Day! As the college with the oldest environmental studies major in the country, Middlebury loves a good planet-centered holiday. So much so, in fact, that two different organizations on campus have expanded it from a day to an entire week.

The Campus Sustainability Coordinators (CSC’s) and the Real Food Group are taking advantage of April 22nd to promote further environmental awareness on campus. Both are incorporating local food into the mix – Real Food had a dinner in Atwater dining hall on Monday and the CSC’s quickly followed suit with a delicious Atwater dinner on Tuesday (I’m still hoping for seconds of the roasted root vegetables. So good).

Both groups have also brought speakers to campus to talk about a variety of issues – tonight an executive at a large plastics company is coming to talk about inciting environmental change from inside a large, petro-chemical organization. As an enviro studies nerd I can’t wait!

And tomorrow is the grand finale… a spin bike challenge! Here on campus we have our own spin bike classroom where the bikes actually generate energy while you’re working out. Groups all across campus are making teams to compete on Friday to see who can generate the most energy. My friends and I are hoping to give the hockey team, last year’s winners, a run for their money.

So from all of us here in Vermont, Happy Earth Week!

Preview Days Reflection

Well, Accepted Students Weekend 2014 is behind us, and it was a rousing success. This was one of the biggest events of the year for the Admissions staff and senior fellows and all of them (us) did a great job launching a memorable weekend for the 2018ers. It was weird this year, for me, seeing all those excited and wide-eyed prospective students gawking at Middlebury and at its tales of liberal arts and cultural immersion and endless opportunity. That was me four years ago. It was four years ago that I made my first Middlebury friends at the reliably awkward Ice Cream Social. “Full circle” doesn’t even come close to describing how far it felt I’d come as I toured prospies around campus, helped organize events, and stood by to help lost families find Axinn 219 (not least of all because full circle would land me right back where I started). Events like Accepted Students Weekend are, on a small scale, a reminder of how important it is to pay-it-forward: in Middlebury, in life, everywhere. I remember the nerves and jitters and excitement of that uncertain time, and nothing made me feel more fulfilled than to share a story and witness a small circle of next-years shake with anticipation. The universe works in cycles, I’ve heard it said. This one is about to come around. It just makes me happy to know that, as we head forth, there is another group here to take our places; an eager, anxious, interesting, and interested assemblage of tomorrow’s Middlebury.

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.

Not your average Friday

Friday, April 11th was probably the busiest Friday of my year.

At 8am, I was up having breakfast on Ross Terrace before heading to Bicentennial Hall to sign in for the Student Symposium. I was presenting my J-Term project on Mapping Trade areas of Grocery Stores and the day had finally arrived. I spent the morning walking between poster presentations and oral sessions and learnt about Alexander Hamilton, the psychology of comforting conversations, mergers in the Airline Industry, the evolution of EDM, and more! I went to lunch with other presenters and then returned to present my poster to professors, students, parents and other visitors to the symposium. The symposium finally came to a close with a large reception with delicious chocolate covered strawberries and a performance by the Middlebury Dance Company.

I ended up grabbing dinner to go and ran to the Ceramics House on campus. I was late to meet my friend who was going to teach me how to throw, use the pottery wheel, and hopefully make a bowl! I ended up breaking the bowl as I was using the wheel, but I had a great hour making a fool of myself and learning about clay.

After washing off, I watched the sunset on my walk over to Wright Theater to see the student -faculty play! It was A Clockwork Orange, one of my favorite books. I was excited to watch my book come to life. Alex and his Droogs,  Beethoven’s 9th, and this dystopian world were all brought to life by a cast of around two dozen Middlebury students. Professors and students worked together to design and make the set, costumes, and props, and a Middlebury Alum was the director! The show was a wonderful end to the symposium, where students in the theater department had the opportunity to showcase their work!

Finally, I had a relaxing end to my night, meeting up with some friends on the Middlebury College Activities Board for some snacks and games where the different committees (Marketing, Concerts, Social etc) went head to head!

Overall, a super eventful Friday!

Oh, the eating you’ll do!

One of the things that (pleasantly) surprised me the most about Middlebury was the abundance of phenomenal restaurants a short walk or drive from the campus. Just in town we have delicious flatbread, sushi, three mouth-watering sandwich places, a fancy cafe right on the river, the best artichoke dip you’ll ever eat (looking at you, Two Brothers) and a place that serves ‘thumbs and toes’ and ‘the cookie skillet’. With all these winners, it is safe to say that Addison County has a highly developed, and widely diversified, culinary scene.

Only a few weeks ago, a new, and highly anticipated restaurant called The Lobby moved into town. It was highly anticipated by students and town citizens alike because it is the newest member in a family of favorite restaurants located in nearby towns, each known for its distinctive atmosphere and creative menu.

Wednesday of last week my friend Liza and I went to investigate the claim that The Lobby had some of the best burgers in town. As somewhat of a burger enthusiast, I felt it was my duty to check it out. The restaurant is so popular we made our reservation a week in advance to secure an 8 pm dinner time. When the big day finally came, however, Middlebury was locked in one of the biggest snowstorms we’ve seen this year – in the middle of March. On March 12th.

Did the fact that the visibility was much too poor to drive stop us? Absolutely not! I’ve seen what Vermont restaurants are capable of and was determined to honor that reservation. So we laced up our snow boots, put on the biggest hats we could find, donned safety goggles (in Liza’s case) and headed for town on foot.

We got stuck in snowbanks, blinded by icy winds intent on rubbing our faces raw, and slipped down more than a few hills. But when we got there, ordered a few local beers, and took that first bite of classic burger we knew it was all worth it. American cheese, beef, bacon, special sauce, all on a sesame bun… safe to say I would brave a blizzard for a meal at a Middlebury restaurant any day.

Symposium Fever

Think stimulating conversation, delicious food, debates, performances, speakers and presentations. Take them, put them all together, and you have the student symposium- a two day event where students get to display works of art, performances, theses, and independent projects. The two day affair includes a keynote speaker, two performance sessions, poster sessions, and oral presentations, where students who conducted different research/work are allowed to present any way they prefer.

So why am I already excited? The symposium doesn’t begin until April 10th… Mainly because for the first time, I’ll be presenting my independent project!

Yesterday, all the presenters had a meeting, where we learned about when certain presentations would happen, guidelines for posters and presentations, and about what other people were presenting. It’s amazing how one meeting can start the excitement. Forget midterms! All I want to do is start my poster and work on presentation points. Do I want my maps in the center, or the text? It’s a stream of never ending questions that I can’t wait to answer. Present, take a break, grab some chocolate covered strawberries, and take a walk around the room to ask some questions and learn from my peers!

http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/resources/uro/symposium

Magic Hat Mardi Gras

We may be far up north from the festivities down in St. Louise, but that does not mean we do not have a celebration of our own. In fact, a mere 40 minutes further north (gasp) we have the largest Mardi Gras festival on the Northern East Coast. In fact, from February 28 until today, March 2, Burlington can expect over 25,000 to pack Church Street with excitement and bravado.

Nineteen years ago this February, the Magic Hat Brewing Company had a crazy idea: to gather the city of Burlington, VT together for a Mardi Gras-themed celebration to benefit a local non-profit. The only catch was that the Vermont brewer had to figure out how to get Burlingtonians outside for several hours in the middle of winter’s coldest, most unforgiving month of February. After countless hours of asking local businesses to participate with a float, working with the city of Burlington, the police department, the fire department and many more organizations, the parade was ready to go, but the question remained: Would anyone actually show up?

Yes! Quite a ton of people, and more than a few Middkids as well! The parade was this past Saturday and what an incredible day it was. A bunch of friends and I drove up in a caravan of cars, carpooling each one to the legal limit of course, and made our way to Burlington late morning. It was lunch time so we made a point to stop at Chipotle. Pause and enjoy this moment please because I sure did. Moment of pause for Chipotle. Great, thank you.

Once arriving we found parking and joined the purple, green, and bead-clad crowd. While things might not be as wild as St. Louise, there is no lack of enthusiasm.

All profits raised throughout the weekend go towards HOPE Works, a Vermont based charity dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence. The Magic Hat Mardi Gras weekend is HOPE Works’ largest fundraiser, having raised more than $215,000 over the years.

Great Day. Great Cause. Great Friends. Great Memories. Great Food.

(we stopped at chipotle on the way home for dinner, too)

The Oscars Party

Right now, I am sitting in McCullough, the student center, reading about psychological behaviorism. In a few minutes (after my blog-break), I will put that book away and turn my attention to a few short stories by Chekhov before reading about the consequences of affirmative action in higher education. I am eating a delicious waffle with Nutella and bananas prepared for me by the lovely all-student staff at Crossroads Cafe. The Oscars are on the screen and there was a distinct cry of relief from the crowd when Frozen was announced as this year’s best animated feature. There are about 100 people here enjoying this scene. There is a mixture of studiousness and leisure in the air that is quintessential college. A few students shoot pool, faux ivory balls clacking against each other with Newtonian predictability. Free popcorn flows. I just finished a discussion with a friend who wants to write a short story about a woman who finds a secret message hidden in a book and becomes the subject of some more highly-enlightened human being’s attempt to simulate emotions. On Middbeat.org, our student events blog (which manages to be so much more), there is a new song buzzing around, a hip-hop arrangement by Innocent, Dwayne, and Caroline that is creative, engaging, and 100% going to blow up.

There is a special quality to life here sometimes, a tacit recognition of the Sunday blues and a willingness to combat it by any means necessary. I can’t tell if I’m procrastinating right now, by sitting here and reflecting on this special scene, or if I’m engaging in some higher form of education that is distinctly Middlebury. Either way, I’m not complaining.

Come join us!

Doctor (Spatafora) Without Borders

At this point in my Middlebury academic career, I figured the trajectory of my Molecular Biology/Biochemistry concentration would be coming to a plateau, a stasis. The departmental requirements have been fulfilled, my current thesis project is well underway, and I am on a first name basis with most of my professors. Never did I think that the spring semester of my senior year would be anything but a gratifying reflection of the past four years.

Molecular Genetics is a course that broadly examines the function and structure of genes at the molecular scale. The field it encompasses is continually evolving, however, for all intents and purposes, that which occurs at the undergraduate level is pretty standardized. Professor Grace Spatafora begs to differ. She approaches our course through an applied lens, conveying material not in isolation, but in the context of medical case studies. DNA replication becomes Werner Syndrome. Epigenetics becomes Rett Syndrome. Such a strategy opens up avenues for exploration that could not even be fathomable with traditional textbook learning. The laboratory section is no exception. Instead of simply developing techniques relevant to molecular genetics, we are applying them in a semester-long, novel investigation. If you insist, our project studies the properties of a protein that belongs to a cavity-causing bacterium.

Such a unique course structure would be nothing without a competent instructor to direct it. Dr. Spatafora may be one of the most enthusiastic yet disciplined, brilliant yet accessible, and quirky yet grounded professors I have had the pleasure of engaging. She is the type who will belabor a point until absolutely everyone in the class understands it. She is the type who intermixes “conformation-specific yeast two-hybrid system” with “gashalt” (Still don’t know what that means, though I think it is of Yiddish origin) and “truckload.” But most importantly, she is the type whose passion for biology is infectious and tangible. This is evidenced after each one of our class meetings, when I am so invigorated, so inspired that the only way I can express myself is by proudly declaring, “SCIENCE!”

Thanks to Dr. Spatafora, the proverbial senioritis will not be a case study to be examined. If anything, she should see herself as one its most potent remedies.

Winter Carnival

February is the shortest month of the year, but then again, short is sweet! It’s one of my favourite months of the year at Midd: the days are getting longer, the spring semester begins, and it’s the month of Winter Carnival. This year we celebrated our 91st! Winter Carnival Weekend is a celebration of our varsity ski teams, where students go to the Snow Bowl or Rikert and watch the alpine and cross country ski teams race at home (that means students get Friday off to go watch races)!

The carnival also entails a big kick-off bonfire and fireworks show followed by a comedian performance right across the street! Everyone shows up to the bonfire in their big jackets and grabs a cup of hot chocolate to watch the fire grow, and soon coats are off because the heat from the fire (and the hot chocolate) is keeping everyone toasty. Soon enough, the fireworks are up in the sky and the DJ is playing tunes as everyone enjoys the evening!

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Friday is always the first day of races, and friends will get together and take the shuttle up to the Snow Bowl, or to Rikert to watch our teams compete, listen to some live student bands, and get some grub, and as the day is done they come back to campus just in time for a small concert to get their groove on! Saturday entails more races, an après-ski hot chocolate bar (yes we’re big on hot chocolate here- but don’t worry there is white chocolate too!) and the Ball. Every year, 1500 students will fill the decorated Nelson Arena and enjoy snacks, some drinks, and dance till they drop (or until the ball finishes at 2am).

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Now that the races are over, the ball is done, and February is starting to draw to a close, I’m waiting to see what March brings…