Monthly Archives: January 2014

Middlebury, Re-Wired

Cable television is accepted as a basic household amenity in most Western countries. Alongside the Internet and cell phones, it is arguably one of the greatest revolutions in mass communication over the past century. While growing accessibility to the tube has become an important vehicle for global citizenship and interconnectedness, there has been a concomitant decline in our ability to engage life outside the screen.

A brief look into any dorm room will reveal how Middlebury has responded to this trend. Amidst the unfolded laundry and scattered homework, the unmistakable tangle of wires leading to a cable box is missing. There is no 85” widescreen occupying half of the living space. Middlebury’s policy on residential television is stated in subtle, but deliberate language. Basic cable services are provided “in most residential hall lounges” and “some senior suites.” The reasons why such luxuries are not available in individual rooms are unclear, but I believe they derive from the mission on which the school is built – To cultivate a vibrant and diverse academic community inspired by the world around us. So much of this is realized through widespread social interaction, something that is hampered if we are too caught up in the latest reality show.

Since the arrangement was introduced in the 1990’s, the problems once attributed to cable are now being perpetuated by new technologies. Admittedly, limiting television privileges is having less and less of a direct impact on students. What is relevant here, though is not so much the action itself, but rather the spirit and character behind it. If Middlebury has taught me anything, it is that human connection is the most rich form of learning. Because people take precedence over prime time, the relationships we forge as peers, as intellectuals and as a community become all the more stronger.

5pm Freedom

On this day, at 5pm, I will be done with my two-semester long thesis process (I suppose it is past 5pm now posting this but the writing took place early this morning pre 5pm deadline…act of procrastination, if you will). It has been a rollercoaster with all parts included. First was the decision to take the ride, a self-selecting, self-challenging, and almost self-loathing prophesy. As an economics major, it is not required to write a senior thesis or do some form of culminating senior work (although I believe this has since changed and I was grandfathered into the old system) so those of us who choose to are making this decision for ourselves and ourselves only. No one else but yourself is putting you in the seat, and your very own driver’s seat, to launch yourself into a thrill ride the likes of Kingda Ka, a ride that shuts down at the slightest signs of precipitation. However, this ride includes not only the largest and steepest vertical plummet of the green tracks, but also the twist and loops of Batman and the flying thrill of Superman. Rain, snow, ice, or shine this ride is open and ready to go. (For those unfamiliar with the roller coaster references, please visit the New Jersey 6 Flags park map for clarification. However, these are merely metaphors for the adventure that is the thesis process, much popcorn included). So now you have decided to embark on this process and are waiting in the metaphoric line that is hoping to get your thesis topic approved. You have mustered up the strength to put yourself out there and now you keep your fingers crossed that you make it to the front of the ride before it closes.

Approved! Great. Now you are stepping in, strapping on your seat belt, and wildly excited while simultaneously nervous for the next few seconds, minutes, and in reality, months. You are not alone, however. You have the support and guidance of your advisor as well as the other students who have decided to take the same trip. You are ready to begin.

Woosh! And somehow you are in it all. All the rush, the ups, the downs, the turns you never knew you were going to take, the surprises beyond the next corner, the slows of the climb and the adrenaline of the decrescendo.  This, of course, for me was related to the research process, diving into more empirical studies in macroeconomic growth literature than I knew was physically and mentally possible, and the analytically driven methodology, models, and STATA coding. More interests. More equations. More variables. More endogeneity (we don’t want that, okay, now back to the drawing board). New interests. New equations. New variables. More endogeneity. Okay, now a larger drawing board, more erasers, and definitely more chalk.

It was a transformative ride that has all culminated to a presentation, a poster, and one large paper. While the car has pulled back into the station with all passengers intact, perhaps a few misplaced hairs due to high velocity of travel, an unkempt look of a wind brushed face, and a smile of gratitude and satisfaction for successful completion, they each may laugh at the idea of getting on again. Funny enough however, they each would. Perhaps not right away, perhaps needing a break to look back on the experience to laugh and smile at all the hours, triumphs, headaches, coffee breaks, and stress dreams. But, they each would do it all again.

5pm. You are coming ever so soon, not fast enough, yet too soon to unbuckle the seat belt. It has been a great ride.

Thesis Poster Presentation

Never Too Late

In Midd-December (get it??) my 97-year-old grandfather, Preston, died peacefully in his sleep. He was a man of few words and constant projects. Always an engineer, he devoted his retired years to transforming old railroad tracks into bike trails, building boats in his garage, riding his recumbent bicycle, and learning to play bridge. Not only did Preston remain active into his aging years, but he did so despite the fact that cataracts had made him legally blind. While Preston had many sustained lifelong interests, what characterized him equally was his constant attraction to new and exciting ventures. He was always looking for the next way to sharpen his mind or skills.

When I was seven years old a few of my friends began taking piano lessons. I felt anxious that I had missed the boat and my friends would all go off on musical adventures without me, and that I would never ever be able to play the piano if I didn’t begin NOW. Unfortunately this attitude was not new for me and my parents had the wisdom to say “no” to many things I had fleeting interest in like horseback riding, harmonica lessons ( mostly because they don’t really exist), tap dancing, etc. But I was positive piano was different and that is was REALLY important that I start. But my parents held a firm “no” as I was already quite busy (and prone to melt-downs when starved for downtime).

Anyways, it was around that time Preston began taking piano lessons, meeting weekly with his teacher and tapping out progressively more complicated melodies on the keyboard in my grandparents’ living room. I found this image of an old man struggling with the same tunes my friends were learning to be incredibly calming. If Preston could start playing piano in his eighties, then I had plenty of time.

I remember this moment whenever I feel like I’m too old to start something new. This J-term it was cross-country skiing. My friends Becky, Gregg, and I all decided to take lessons together. The people at Rikert are wonderful, patient, and  excited to share their love of the sport. Tiring and fun with beautiful scenery, learning to ski has been a great thing to do this month, even if my instructors have been younger than me.

Here’s a picture of me and my fellow nordic newbies Becky and Gregg in the bright, bright sun!


Moving Out, Moving On

As J-term comes to a close, so too does my time living on campus at Middlebury. This is not for any particular reason. I quite enjoy my senior housing down in Homestead on Weybridge Street. It combines many of the luxuries of dorm-life with a geographic separateness that’s often refreshing. The walk up to Proctor in the morning is always cold, but I like the briskness of 9 am in Vermont as trucks whizz by on their way out to the country.

Now I am off to a new home! My sixth and final room. I am moving with a few close friends to live at 2 Park Street in town, above a custom leather-shoes workshop that has given the space its colloquial name: Leatherworks. Leatherworks promises to be a nice change of pace as well as a nice lead-in to life after college. There is a patio and a clean kitchen and a big shower. We have to take out our own trash and keep the bathroom stocked with toilet paper. We’ll probably cook many of our own breakfasts. As I write this post from the comfort of my sofa in Homestead, I am feeling quite claustrophobic as boxes begin to tower in preparation for the big move. And then that will be it, and I’ll be out of here, and I’ll have moved on to a new chapter.

Thinking back on my tiny Allen double, my vaulted-ceilinged Coffrin single, my party-suite Palmer single, my upstairs Palmer double, and now my cozy room in Homestead, I realize how much I have changed in my four years. A wide-eyed and overly enthusiastic freshman Nathan lived in Allen. A hardworking student with a lot of ambition took over Coffrin. A back-from-abroad and determined-to-get-better-at-squash Nathan soaked up the drama of Palmer House as a junior. This semester I was a student of constitutional law, a Disney movie screener, and an active job-searcher. How will my Leatherworks months be defined? Which new version of myself awaits? I always feel a real connection to the space I occupy. “Home” is where the heart is, but I have managed to make all of these places home in one way or another. Each time I move I leave a little bit of myself behind. Each room is replete with memories that weave together like a tapestry of my college experiences. I love moving. A new place, new smells, new sounds in the morning, new visitors, a new view. Fresh, new, alive, like the spring.

Another adventure awaits!

PS Jill, awesome movie.


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:

Bye bye January – we miss you already!


January: that time at Middlebury known as yay-term, or play-term, as students engage themselves with one class that meets a few times a week and have enough free time to try a handful of new activities. There’s only one week left of this j-term and here is what I am determined to get out of it:

1. Snow-shoeing: In my four years here, I have tried a variety of winter activities. I’ve been skiing, sledding, and ice-skating. I tend to fall down a lot. So for the sake of my tailbone, I’ve decided I need to find a new winter sport. My friend suggesting I try snowshoe-ing by taking walks on the TAM ( which is most importantly FLAT GROUND. Hopefully, I’ll be standing up straight and I’ll be able to explore Vermont in the winter!

2. Become a wine sommelier : Every j-term, seniors have the option to sign up for a wine-tasting workshop that meets once or twice a week. Finally, I was able to register with two of my friends and go down to the Sparkling Champagne and Wine bar to taste some delicious sparkling wines. I now know about the single and double fermentation process and the filtration processes. Next week we taste champagne, and then maybe I’ll become an expert!

3. Master GIS: This is probably the wackiest one on my list (yes, even more so than me thinking 4 wine tastings will deem me a sommelier). I’ve spent my j-term using a mapping software to learn how to determine trade areas of a grocery store and learning about different factors that impact site selection. It’s been great, and while I know that I will never be a “master”, I’m determined to become as knowledgeable as I can about using the software and tools that I’ve been employing.

4. MovieMarathonSunday: This may be the only time of year where my school work doesn’t demand attention 7 days a week. I’m going to pick out my favourite movies on netflix, make a pot of tea, and curl up in bed and stay there all day instead of braving the sub-zero temperatures!