We got to hit the casinos for class! Well, it’s not what you’re thinking — there was no gambling, drinking or seeing shows. As part of a trip for Professor Joyce Bennet's "Anthropology of Tourism" course, however, we did get to tour Mohegan Sun's various gaming rooms, paying particular attention to aspects of Native American culture and the way these details are utilized for aesthetic purposes. Mohegan Sun is located just fifteen minutes from campus. While I’d been to Mohegan Sun before to see Penn & Teller, getting to study the space with an academic lens was an entirely new and fascinating experience for me. The way the lights, sounds and “natural” looking decor lure gamers into a welcoming environment is incredible to study from a bystander perspective. Diligently taking notes and snapping photographs, I felt like a true anthropologist documenting the workings of a unique culture. I’ll always remember how much academic discovery can be found in a space I previously thought was just for fun and games.
As a certificate student in the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, I get to do a lot of amazing things. Last year, I worked for a conservancy group, organized field work days, met farmers and activists in the community, and made some truly great friends in the center. This past weekend, I was reminded just how lucky I am to be part of the center when I got to participate in the Feeding the Future Conference, which took place on campus. The two-day event included speakers like Dan Barber, executive chef at Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns; Marlene Zuk, evolutionary biologist and author of "Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and the Way We Live;" and Malik Yakini, founder and the executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. In addition to these speakers that are doing great things in the world of food, I also got to host and introduce Zuk at the conference, a daunting but exciting task. I have to admit I was pretty nervous but it went well and was a hugely rewarding experience for me.
The networking opportunities for me and my classmates were plentiful, an experience I couldn't have had at any other time or place. I had a great conversation with a journalist who was writing about the conference for CC:Magazine, and I connected with the president of Food Tank who asked some of my friends and I to write about how we are going to live in a zero-waste house next year on campus.
I had a fascinating conversation with David Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill and founding partner of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He's also a Connecticut College alumnus and a trustee of the College. My friend and I asked him about the food that does not make it to restaurants and is wasted in the delivery process, since his New York City restaurant recently had an event focused on just that topic. He showed us a picture of a monkfish, which has very delicious meat in its head but is not usually shipped to restaurants because the small quantity doesn't justify the cost.
The attendees also got to experience a lot of local foods and sushi that help support the ideas of feeding the future. I think the highlight of that was eating cricket sushi from Miya’s Sushi in New Haven. (Yes, that's cricket sushi in the photo.)
As college students, we are encouraged to make connections and network, but it's not always easy or accessible. Events like these are different, bringing together many people who are an integral part of the college experience and help prepare us for life after graduation.
What I love about Conn is the plethora of activities that happen on this campus. Dances, seminars, guest speakers, clubs — the list goes on. A friend of mine asked me to attend her poetry performance and I happily agreed. Her group is called Reflexions, and what was especially fun was watching students perform their own poetry. We spend a lot of time hearing readings of poems by others, so it is a rarity to hear poets read their own work.
This event wasn’t a typical poetic reading about sappy romance. Instead, the anthology was based on the theme of love and every poet/performer offered different perspectives on the concepts of love. I got to listen to beautiful pieces about what it is like to be in love with an abusive person; what it means to love being a Haitian woman; what it is like to be in love with a person of the same sex; what it is like to be in love for the first time; what it is like to fall out of love; and what it is like to have love torn from you. Some poems had a melodic structure while other poems had a prose-like structure. Every performer offered insights into not only the idea of love, but, more interestingly, the experience of love.
Besides the actual work and material produced, what really amazed me was the community of people willing to come and support their friends. People here are willing to take time out of their busy schedules and be there for people whom they appreciate and respect. The audience engaged with their peers, often by snapping in agreement to something the poet said or nodding their heads. No one was texting or looking bored and, of course, the audience shared a loud applause to thank the poets for being brave.
It’s that time of the year again — registration, that is. No matter what institution I have attended, I can’t escape the familiar feeling of apprehension. What classes am I going to take? Will there be enough room for me? Will the class time conflict with another course being offered? Then, of course, there are the courses you should take for your major and the courses you take to fill other requirements. It’s no wonder Conn makes every student meet with their adviser. The information overload and the requirements engulf your mind. It helps to talk it out with a professor who dedicates time to provide you with undivided attention.
I had my first advising session here at Conn College with my sociology adviser, Professor Campos-Holland. She’s not only an amazing professor who inspires me, but also a hands-on adviser. I always say her class is like a religious experience because every time, I come out feeling enlightened. Her advising session was no exception.
Professor Campos-Holland sat with me in her office and typed up a spreadsheet, documenting the courses I have taken, those I'm required to complete and those that are needed for my major. She helped me pick courses for the fall semester and made sure I had back-ups just in case the class filled up. For the classes she knew about and for the professors whom she knew, Professor Campos-Holland gave me a quick summary of the courses and the professors’ teaching styles. I really appreciated that, because she got me excited about the courses I plan on taking.
When I left her office, I wasn’t as tense about the registration process. I came out of my advising session feeling more comfortable and confident about my future plans here at Conn.
I started swimming when I was about 4 years old, and since then I've continued once in a while. I was on my high school's team for a bit, but I knew that I'd never want to be on a college team. I didn't want to give up on swimming — it's the only exercise I can bear, because I'm not sure I'm actually a land creature — but the idea of being on a team was terrifying.
I went into college thinking that I'd swim on my own terms during open pool hours. A lovely thought, indeed, and one I followed through on... once. I underestimated the power of my sedentary nature. What free-thinking human being would willingly jump into a cold pool, while half naked, and then proceed to flail their limbs until fatigued? Not this gal.
There was a pervading sense of guilt that came with this passivity, but it went unattended to until I happened to notice that there were swimming classes in the course catalog. I thought that signing up could be risky because I really had no idea what proficiency level the other students in the class would be on.
It's been a relief, however, to find that the course is adjusted for each student. Everyone's on a different level, and there's really no pressure. It's taught by Matt Anderson, our water polo coach, and there are only six students in the course, so there is ample individual attention. It's been a great way to improve my stroke, force myself to work out and also score an extra course credit.
If swimming isn't your thing, there are other single-credit athletic courses, as well. If you're really ambitious, you could even go for something like scuba diving.
Cummings is my favorite building on campus. It's got a quirky design and layout of classrooms, but it has an atmosphere that's especially fitting for the art that's created within. I love Cummings because art is everywhere. As an art center, this shouldn't be surprising, but it goes beyond the expected.
The Joanne Toor Cummings Gallery on the main floor showcases student and faculty art in an official, formal manner, but it’s the first and third floors that I like the most. There, the works of art are scattered about. In the printmaking room, each student has a section of the wall where they hang up all of their drafts and brainstorms. Walking to my drawing class this semester, I pass through a corridor where art hangs along the walls and changes constantly. Right now, it’s the work of the large format painting class. Before, the same wall showcased the results of an eight-hour drawing marathon. This same corridor showcases sculptures, as well.
Art of all shapes, sizes and materials is scattered throughout the passages. One sometimes must weave through them in order to get to the other end. With so many things covering them, the halls and walls of Cummings become works of art in and of themselves. As an art lover, that makes it a pretty cool place to be.
There are lots of class projects in college: papers are due, lab reports must be handed it, dioramas carefully constructed. These assignments are usually an exciting opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in class and show a professor how you really feel about a topic. Recently, I put together an intriguing project I’m sure you’ll all be interested in: I converted Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse into a house museum for the 21st century.
Now, of course I didn’t actually have the house that flew to Oz in L. Frank Baum’s "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," but I was tasked with stepping into the shoes of a director of a museum who has just received a gift of the actual house that went to Oz. What I came up was a house museum/ tourist trap.
These are the creative and unusual projects that Museum Studies students like myself get to be involved in. We get to be very creative and imaginative, but the lessons we learn are very applicable to the field.
As guests arrive at my museum, they are brought into a state-of-the-art visitor’s center, which set back from the actual property Dorothy’s house is located on. Here, they can get a bite to eat, rent a tablet for the day, or watch a 35-minute film introducing them to L. Frank Baum’s work. Then, they make their way via horse-drawn wagon to the property where they can check out the exhibits in Dorothy’s house and then buy artisan crafts in the barn nearby. With period activities for kids, in-depth information for parents, and something unique for every guest, my museum appeals to a broad range of visitor types.
Inside Dorothy’s house is where the real fun begins. At "Dorothy’s Museum of America and the West," we ignore the existence of any movies. Instead, we rely only on L. Frank Baum’s series on Oz. In-fact, we use "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"as a frame to look back on American life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, the squeaky Tin Man represents the big industry of the northeast. He runs on oil (as many of those companies did) and is searching for a heart (many companies were criticized for not having any heart for their workers). Another example is the Wicked Witch of the West who can be killed with a splash of water. Imagine she represents the western United States, bringing bad fortune to farmers: when water is thrown on her, all the drought she caused goes away.
The museum also looks at how women are represented in the book. The main character is Dorothy, of course, and she does not need help from anyone! She is a good learner in a world where there are few female mentors and in which she must push through a male-dominated culture. She helps three lost souls and defeats a smoke-and-mirrors wizard to bring the reign of the kingdom back under the rightful rule of Princess Ozma. Think of Dorothy as the American Alice from "Alice in Wonderland." Dorothy has no father figures to reconcile with and no prince who rescues her. Instead, she goes out and strikes her own fortune.
Doing the research for my project reminded me of what a fantastic series L. Frank Baum put together. There are so many parts of his work that connect back to the United States and the values that we have put in place. It highlights the good in our society and challenges the bad. I want "Dorothy’s Museum of America and the West" to really exist so that everyone can learn about Dorothy and her adventures and how they reflect American culture.
My English class is usually taught by a visiting professor and published author, Conn alumna Jessica Soffer '07. But my most recent class was guest-taught by another English professor, Blanche Boyd, the College's writer-in-residence. After learning our names, she started listing story titles and asking us if we had heard her read them to us before. After settling on a piece, she started reading, occasionally stopping and rereading a particular line to us. We spent most of the class absorbing every word she said.
This was a little different than the way my class usually runs. Sometimes, my professor will read to us, but we usually also do a writing exercise, free write, or we critique a story. One memorable day, my professor brought her dog to class and we all worked together to write a short story about her dog’s morning and what she did.
I find it kind of amazing that even though a class is the same in essence, when two different professors teach it, it can be totally different. I understand now why some Conn students elect to take the "same" class twice, because every professor who teaches provides a whole different experience.
Ok, fine, it's not quite maple tree tapping season anymore. The season is still ripe, however, for my newfound obsession with maple syrup tapping — which, admittedly, may or may not be irritating my parents.
A little while ago, there was some advertising around the school for a lesson on maple tree tapping. I had mixed feelings about attending. I assessed the likelihood that the session would be two hours of hellish tedium. I also assessed the likelihood of the program allowing me to take home a giant bucket of free maple syrup. Fortunately, and unfortunately, neither of my prophecies came true.
The event was hosted by the Connecticut College Arboretum and open to students and the community. Jim Luce, the head of grounds, led the session and told us that anyone who can boil water can make their own maple syrup.
And it's true. Basically, all you have to do is stick a tap in a maple tree and then boil the sap down. It doesn't even have to be a sugar maple tree! Your syrup might be kind of icky if you use different types of trees, but that's your call.
You don't even need any real equipment to start tapping maple trees. Jim taught us that you can get creative and use things like paint buckets and plastic pipes to get the job done. If you do want real equipment, though, taps are pretty cheap.
As it should, knowing that I could theoretically make my own maple syrup and eat it by the spoonful excited me. I started pestering my parents over text about tapping the maple tree in my front yard. Meanwhile at school, my friend Emma and I started pointing out maple trees and making stupid jokes about being able to draw syrup from various types of plants, bushes and such.
I may have missed maple season this year with my passivity, but tapping a maple tree has definitely been added to the bucket list. I would highly recommend taking one of the upcoming maple syrup classes and, if you're ambitious enough, you can tap a tree on campus! (Just ask Jim Luce first.)
My biggest fear coming to college was not being able to get the help I needed in class. My public school classes were never bigger than 17 students, and teachers were always available before and after school. Had it not been for teacher availability, I would not have done as well and probably wouldn't be writing this blog post. After these past two semesters, my worries have finally been put to rest.
As one might imagine, the science fields require a lot of memorization and abstract understanding. I am an astronomy major and need to have a strong physics background, so I bravely took an advanced introduction to physics course last semester. After a few weeks, I found myself struggling with the material. Sitting in front of problem sets for hours never seemed to help me figure out how to go about solving a problem.
Desperately wanting to do well on my second problem set — and in the class as a whole — I snapped a picture of my hairbrained, barely cohesive work and dropped it into an email. Within the hour, my professor had emailed me back, outlining a structure I could follow for figuring out the problem and ending his email with a suggestion that I set up a regular time to meet with him. I ended up going to his office for two hours every week to talk about physics and have my many questions answered. I eventually passed the class with a grade I could be proud of.
Fast forward to this semester. I found myself struggling in a 200-level astronomy course one day. The problem sets were really tricky and I found myself unsure of how to do double derivatives. Professor Brown, whom everyone calls "Doc Brown," ended up sitting with me for four hours and even ate her lunch while we were working. I turned in my problem set and, while I've yet to see the results, I’m sure I haven't done too badly. I now meet with Doc Brown every Monday for an hour so I can make sure I’m answering the questions correctly.
College is absolutely difficult academically. I’ve had my share of late nights. I’ve learned, though, that professors are there for students at every turn, as it's their desire to have students succeed. They understand that everyone is made differently and may need help in different areas, so they make themselves available before and after classes to help their students learn.