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Last but Definitely Not Least…

January 14, 2011

by Raye

Good day, fair readers. Apologies for the lack of posts and PR verbiage recently—“bureaucracy problems” (read: first world problems) and chronic illness have been taking up a lot of time. Unfortunately—or fortunately, it’s really your call—this will be my last blog. Next semester I’ll be taking courses at Woods Hole in oceanography, nautical science and maritime history. We’ll have guest lecturers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory, full access to their joint library, and a field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. After that we’re shipping out to the Sargasso Sea to conduct research—I’ve been busy drafting a proposal this week. Managed to antagonize the library staff by not only accruing astronomical late fees, but also using up all the ink printing journal articles on phytoplankton blooms and microbial ecology. Hopefully over the summer I’ll be doing a marine mammal research internship on Cape Ann, then popping over to Scotland and finishing my degree at St Andrews. At the moment I’m cramming for finals. I’ve just discovered that BBC Radio can live stream in my room. It’s been vacillating between Don Carlo, Christmas music and Panjabi Hit Squad for about an hour, which is not conducive to studying. But I digress.

 

Most leave at the end of sophomore year if they leave at all, but the opportunity arose and it appealed to the esoteric scientist in my hearty-heart-heart. Simon’s Rock was extremely accommodating, keeping a collective level head whilst I ran around frantically ordering transcript requests, soliciting recommendations and generally a) wreaking havoc and b) being a nuisance. It’s a lovely place, and I’ll miss the people tremendously. Professors in particular—Patty Dooley is a phenomenal chemistry instructor. I’ve found that liberal arts colleges often do ‘science lite,’ but Patty’s class is the most challenging I’ve taken to date and enormously rewarding. Her enthusiasm about the subject is excellent, and she frequently brings in interactive demonstrations. Joy Lapseritis’ cell biology class was comprehensive and really, really fun. She let us use the graduate-level textbook, which is now my lawfully wedded husband. (No, really—ask my roommate about my torrid affair with Molecular Biology of the Cell, 5th Ed.) She encouraged us to do extracurricular reading and see her if we had trouble or just wanted to discuss the curriculum, and if it was related, brought her research into class discussion. She was also an excellent academic advisor and is at least 30% responsible for my current interest in oceanography. Patty introduced me to the Journal of Computational Chemistry, which has become my constant companion as well; she explained orbital hybridization to me after class several lessons before we covered it because I kept asking questions. Both have the patience to deal with my incessant nattering and the consummate skill to command the respect of a class, whether it’s in a lecture center or relocated to the physics lab. Between the two of them I’ve learned to think scientifically—and most importantly, to think critically about science.

 

Perhaps what I’ve done is provide a ‘portrait of a Rocker,’ from green-ensign freshman year through jumping ship to live on a ship and buggering off to Britain. Hardly typical, but as I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as a typical Rocker. I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into pseudo-professional blogging, and that it provides some insight into the Simon’s Rock experience. It certainly is an experience. Though I’ll miss it here, I finally have the chance to work on my own research, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. Simon’s Rock is not for everyone, and the people it is for are strikingly varied. ‘Bright and/or motivated’ are words that come to mind, but of course that’s a rotten cliché. I’ve gained a massive amount from my time here, and it was well worth the 1.5 years I’ve put into the Rock. Now turn that into an equation: ‘Raye’s personal gain as a function of her time at SRC…’

 

Anyway, I hope you’ve gained something from my time here as well. Farewell, readers of this blog. Over and out.

Looking ahead

October 29, 2010

by Raye

Greetings and salutations, readers of the admissions blog. I’m writing from my room, which is currently masquerading as a meat locker. I returned from class to find ice bobbing around in my teacup. Note to Crosby: heat is beneficial. It’s difficult to write essays when one cannot feel one’s extremities. That aside, I was surprised to be pleased at the prospect of returning to campus. Of course I love it here, but I’d spent break mostly staying with one of my best friends, whose mother fixed us macaroni & cheese with roasted red peppers and bought us cider donuts and made us tea while we marathoned Criminal Minds with her dog, the world’s most adorable West Highland Terrier. After fall break work starts returning with renewed vigour, and though the material is almost always interesting (I think we’re starting gene regulation in genetics today *squee,* and my chem. professor told me where to find some extracurricular reading on computational chemistry *squee again*), it’s not necessarily what you want to jump into following a relaxing break.

 

Strangely enough, I’m excited to be back in class. I generally have more fun in chemistry than I do interacting socially, and even though the library doesn’t have a copy of The Fractal Geometry of Nature, it does have the sort of nonfiction my tiny rural library doesn’t. Then again, according to their card catalog Tolstoy doesn’t exist, but that’s another story for another day. Seminar has dived back into political and historical analysis, though I’ve managed to skew every paper scientifically so far. Darwin pervades my consciousness and invades my ‘scholarly output’ (directly or indirectly). Got away with a pinch of Richard Dawkins and a dash of Herbert Spencer as well. Clearly, I am incapable of thinking within the social sciences. Then again, I was writing the first draft while waiting for the nylon membrane to dehydrate during a Southern blot, so it makes more sense.

 

The best news I’ve gotten recently is that I’ve received an unconditional offer to read biology at the University of St Andrews next year. Unfortunately, this means I’ll be departing the verdant New England countryside (aka, endless wasteland of frozen tundra after November) for the bonny bonny banks of Scotland. However, this reminds me of two trends I’ve noticed: 1) the increasing number of students studying abroad and staying, and 2) the increasing number of students transferring back to Simon’s Rock after an unsatisfying brush with the status quo. One theory to explain the former would be general economic collapse, but that’s occurring at a global scale. Some places on the expat Rocker’s itinerary I’ve heard are England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and China. In some cases the destinations are relevant to people’s majors—Asian studies, Celtic studies, modern foreign languages, classics, even culinary arts—but more often than not it’s just a desire to get out of North America. Personally, I’ve wanted to live in Britain since I can remember. As for the latter trend, as I said in a previous blog, people miss the first-name basis, the individual attention, the weekly advisor meetings, the low professor:student ratios, and the personalization that a microscopic campus allows. Teachers have time to read every answer on an exam and write thoughtful critiques, instead of skimming and scanning for the ‘right’ answer and ticking it off as correct or incorrect. They take the time to learn how each student’s mind works. That’s one of the reasons I chose St Andrews—the biology department is relatively small, and there are tutorials with professors in pertinent subjects. It has the closeness of the Simon’s Rock community, but with more…reliably functional lab facilities.

 

Will update from Honors Convocation this weekend. Over & out.

Six Weeks

October 11, 2010

A couple days ago I noticed that I have been calling my dorm room “home.” I was beyond startled. When I first came to Simon’s Rock I had already decided that I would not call my room “home.” I felt like I could never really be at home anywhere but in New Mexico. Now, six weeks later, I am sitting in Albany International Airport waiting to fly back to New Mexico for the first time since I enrolled at Simon’s Rock.  With my carry-on suitcase and my Norton Shakespeare at my feet, I am packed to visit … home.

When I first came to Simon’s Rock I felt a physical sensation of nausea every time I looked out my window. I decided this must be what was meant by the “sick” part of homesick. I wrote a poem, which I’ll attach to this blog posting. I had no idea what it meant for a place to be lush until I came to the East Coast. I felt (and sometimes still feel) like I was being eaten by all the green. However, living at Simon’s Rock has been an incredibly exciting experience so far. I have passed several milestones in these last six weeks, including buying my first umbrella (which, having been well-used, hangs proudly on my closet doorknob) and turned in my first round of papers.

Simon’s Rock teachers, like my Shakespeare teacher Hal Holladay, demand complete engagement of their students. I entered not knowing much about Shakespeare, and I’m still overwhelmed every time I begin a new play, but Hal poses questions and those questions along with my classmates’ ideas are giving me a method for thinking about things I don’t understand. When I was in high school it had never occurred to me that I might someday be ecstatic about receiving a “B” on a paper, but after getting my paper for my Shakespeare class I wound up doing a little dance in my room (ending when I tripped over my chair). The “B” is a challenge. It reaffirmed what I have already been discovering: at Simon’s Rock I am not the smartest person in the room, I am surrounded by people who are much better read than I am, and that – in and of itself – is a thrilling experience.

[Untitled]

Leaves hang in moons over her pale skin,

round and luminous near the roof of the canopy.

The burning twigs exhaust their fragrance,

curled and pungent they depart

to tigered flame. Their smoke wafts to

the imperfect triangles of slate colored sky,

body corrugated and rippling between the foliage.

People can be eaten by all this green.

She leans back from the tented fire

so that verdant palms brush against her cheeks,

moist—

softer than the plastic orchids potted in her mother’s atrium.

Her eyes remain open against

the cacophony of leaves—

she doesn’t believe in divinity.

The circle of crossed legs and male voices ignores her retreat,

the quiet strumming and moaning

of the boy with the guitar

continues.

She can smell someone dragging on a cigarette,

wonders if tobacco tastes different

when incensed by fire

rather than the click of a lighter

or sulfurous match.

If she lifts her head

just high enough to feel the tug on her neck

she could see the gray

billowing from some gape-hinged mouth.

The bed of rock has furrowed her skull with trenches

for decaying leaves and ants to invade,

busy and dead in their colonies.

She imagines

that the insects peak out from their miniscule holes

like burrowing owls,

dew-eyes sable and reflective in her loose hair.

About: Clara

October 4, 2010

Name: Clara (C. Lib, Clare Bare, Sushi Monster, Marcus, Genny, Terminator X)

Year: First-Year

Hometown: New City, NY (45 minutes north of NYC)

Concentration and/or current intellectual obsession: asking big questions
(Who am I? Who are we? Why are we here?), cheese (educating/consuming),
music (making it, listening to it, criticizing it), animals
(dogs/cats/horses/lizards/pygmy hedgehogs/horses/ferrets/fennec foxes),
photography (film/digital), writing (poetry/prose), dance

How did I get here?

I came here twice and settled once. The second interview reassured me that
this place was a great opportunity. Doesn’t everyone find it to be a
fantastic alternate system? Look where you are! Look at what you can do!
You have to be a little selfish coming here; you’re leaving your high
school; you’re starting college; you’re doing it for you. My friends from
home still question me.

Despite all the homebound confusion, “how are you getting a diploma” and
“how are you going to college” the college year here began; I found it
very manageable… and fun. My high school agreed to let me take my
requirements here, so my first semester schedule has some strangely
juxtaposed classes. To not necessarily have math and economics as my main
interests, it’s still interesting to be part of a class where so many
young people are passionate and smart… so early. My peers’ energy is
exciting and contagious throughout the campus.

The best bit about being here is the freedom to be who you want to be. I
came here with my instruments, but dancing began to take over instead. The
dance studio is beautiful; there isn’t a light that it does not look
strangely pure in. The opportunities are so open for each individual.
There are resources for each student if they need them. The support here
has made my transition simple and enjoyable.

So here I am: fascinated and lured by every department here… Well, Phish
said it better: “Undecided, undefined, undisturbed yet undermined,
relocated not retired, reprimanded and rewind, mystified and misshapen,
misinformed but not mistaken, reinvented, redefined, rearranged but not
refined, unrelenting, under stroked, undeterred yet unprovoked,
reinvented, redefined, rearranged but not refined, mystified and
misshapen, misinformed but not mistaken, undecided, undefined.” I suppose
this is the beginning that college encourages…

Musings from the lab

September 28, 2010

by Raye

Biology works differently at Simon’s Rock. That is to say—whether it’s based on a theory, hypothesis, or law, experiments never work the way they’re supposed to. Our lab reports are rife with ‘problem analysis,’ discussions taken up with what went awry. Did we run out of powdered ATP during a bioluminescence demonstration? Yes. Did we leave our electrophoresis gels too long in de-staining solution and accidentally erase our results? Yes. Were our S. cerevisae cultures left 24 hours too long in the incubator, and did our mated strains get contaminated? Yes, that’s happened too. From lack of resources to lack of adequate equipment to lack of common sense, the SRC bio labs have done it all. Regardless, I do enjoy the informal atmosphere, and anticipating some shortcomings puts less pressure on us to be overly fastidious or scrupulous. It is the peculiarity of bio lab that found a frantic, ‘EMERGENCY OPEN NOW’ email in my inbox two weeks ago. E. coli colonies had, once again, been left in the incubator and it was imperative that they be transferred to a freezer before they overpopulated. What had I been doing up till that point? Celebrating Glam Saturday, a David Bowie-inspired night of 1970s facepaint. Now, Fisher is closed after a certain hour—so I went to the security shack in nitrile gloves with black & green makeup on my face and red glitter on my lips. Asking to be let into a locked building to shuffle bacterial cultures while effectively dressed as Frank N. Furter. The security personnel were very gracious, politely averted their eyes, and did not comment on the fact that Rocky Horror had apparently regurgitated on me.

This is in stark contrast to chemistry labs. We work individually, each at our own lab bench; results almost always conform to theoretical yields and stoichiometric values. Because of this, there’s exponentially mores stress involved. Felicia Day wrote in one of her blogs that she was changing the phrase “stressed beyond belief” to “dealing with a wealth of opportunities.” I am dealing with a metric ton of opportunities. Like internship applications, and transfer applications, and preparing a poster for a conference, and moderating. Sometimes it would be great if giving into agoraphobic urges were socially acceptable, but alas, this is not the case. Le sigh.

Finally left my cave (the 5X5 area around my desk) this weekend and purchased three books of note:

1)      Et Cetera Et Cetera by Lewis Thomas. His chapter on etymology in The Medusa & the Snail was so eloquent that I just bought his book on etymology.

2)      The Discoveries by Alan Lightman. He’s written wonderful books about physics, and this one is oriented more toward the history of science, using publication of influential papers as a timeline. I think it’s divided by discipline, and then chronologically within each field. Includes the full papers and then Lightman’s commentary on historical & scientific significance, with a brief biography of the authors. Basically, pure crack for a science and history geek like myself.

3)      Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. I have an unhealthy obsession with the history of whaling. I’ve read accounts of Basque right whale hunts from the 1400s. I can quote portions of Moby-Dick from memory. More cetacean geek crack!

I leave you with an ‘Overheard at Simon’s Rock’ excerpt, related to me by a friend, who observed the following exchange sometime around 4 AM:

-          “What if hegemony is a social construct?”

-          “Dude, with if social constructs are social constructs?

*Stunned silence.*

Next post will review moderation and Honors Convocation, as opposed to Raye’s permanent residence in Fisher. (There’s a lovely little alcove in the lobby where a mattress could be wedged discreetly…so tempting…) Perhaps my paycheck will cover the counseling bills incurred over a semester of dreaming about redox reactions. Also, factoid I picked up this week: the denotation of the speed of light in a vacuum (c= 299 792 458 m/s) comes from the Latin celeritas, for speed. Same root as J. Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics company that worked on the Human Genome Project. Etymology is full of win.

About: Corey

September 17, 2010

Name: Corey
Year: First-Year
Hometown: Redding, California
Current Interests: Creative writing, photography, sociology, goblins

Some small realities:
i. I’m 17. I most recently lived in Redding (that’s in northern California. Living in Redding = Exhibit A of my reasons for my escape to Simon’s Rock). I, like everyone else you might ask at Simon’s Rock, am here because high school was not enough for me. I’m jazzed to be here. There’s not much else to say—how I found out about Simon’s Rock isn’t exactly a riveting story, so I’ll move on.

B. I’m a writer (I write everything. Poems, stories, essays, wandering prose pieces…). I like telling stories in whatever way they need to be told, be it words or something else (“The only true way to tell a story is… puppetry.”). I’m a raptor trainer, too (if you’re curious, come find me). I might be a photographer; I can’t really tell yet. I’m also interested in cosmetics chemistry, and animal behavior, and sailing, and taking naps. Math and I will occasionally get along. I always love the rain. I’m not a hippie.

3. I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life, but I get the feeling that’s an acceptable answer here to “what’s-your-major” questions from other people. I’d love to learn something here that I’ve never even thought of doing before. You will likely witness much indecision in terms of life plans over the next four years here. Don’t be alarmed. I’ll figure it out eventually.

IV. “At last Tatterhood said, ‘Aren’t you going to ask me why I wear these ragged clothes?’
‘No,’ said the prince. ‘It’s clear you wear them because you choose to, and when you want to change them, you will.’”

About: Bethany

September 15, 2010

Name: Bethany

Year: Freshie!

Hometown: Indiana, Pennsylvania (But we’ll say “Pittsburgh” to avoid confusion.)

Concentration and/or current intellectual obsession: Theater and Play/Screenwriting

It’s funny how one little thing can totally change your life.

If I hadn’t gone to summer camp. If my friend Becca hadn’t decided to tell all of us at camp about the Young Writers Workshop she just came back from. If she hadn’t sounded so in love with Simon’s Rock. If Google hadn’t been working, and I hadn’t found the Simon’s Rock webpage. If I hadn’t been so frustrated with high school and desperate for a way out.

If none of that had happened, I wouldn’t have even applied. But that just paved the way for a whole other set of “ifs”:

I saw the deadline for AEP applicants: two days away. I emailed Joe Corso, my admission counselor, who gave me a short extension. What if I hadn’t done that? Anyway, I jumped right in, cranking out my application in five days, not thinking on it like a reasonable person. What if I was a reasonable person?

I couldn’t believe that my parents went along with this crazed idea. Couldn’t believe that my teachers gave me those letters of recommendation so fast. Even my guidance counselor was supportive. But what if none of that had happened? If my essays had said the wrong thing. If I had botched my phone interviews.

Then I wouldn’t have been accepted. But I was!

My parents and I went through all the formalities: the financial aid forms, visiting campus, sitting in on classes. Simon’s Rock didn’t feel like a perfect fit, but at least it was better than high school.

However, another set of coincidences went sour on me. There were no hopeful “ifs” here. I had not gotten enough financial aid. The bank wouldn’t give me or my family a loan big enough. And unfortunately, we didn’t win the lottery. So I did not attend Simon’s Rock in the fall of 2009.

Yes, I had to go back to high school. Just two more years, I kept telling myself.  High school, ironically enough, gets more bearable when you stop focusing on how unbearable it is. It ended up not being so bad. I had a good set of teachers, and I had a good set of friends. Two more years of high school – it’s not like going through the seven circles of Hell. High school is do-able.

When January came around again, my brain boomeranged back to the Rock. Should I apply again? Seriously, what are the odds that I’ll get enough money? And high school’s not so bad. I can survive. I have things to look forward to in my senior year.

Eventually, I did apply again. After all, why not? It’s not like I could actually get enough money to go.

HA.

Fate is such a sadist.

I got an even bigger scholarship. And I could get a loan. Simon’s Rock was looking more and more possible.

Which I had definitely not expected. That meant that I actually had to make a decision, instead of having all those convenient circumstances choose for me. I hadn’t actually thought that I’d be able to go. I’d already made plans for my senior year. I was happy being at home. But Simon’s Rock was so unique, such a miracle waiting to happen. This was more than a fork in the road. This was a many-pronged, vicious utensil that I’d never seen before.

But now I know why all those roadblocks were shoved in front of me. If I hadn’t really been meant for Simon’s Rock, I would have given up. And if I’d gone last year, it would have been just to escape high school. As it turns out, one year later, I wasn’t running away from anything. I was running towards the Rock. A real choice.

Now that I’m here, of course, I’ve never made a better decision. Simon’s Rock is a perfect school for me. No other college could make me as happy as I am here. And now I can see it as that, instead of as an escape route from high school.

But if all those dominoes hadn’t been lined up, if even one “if” had been missing, then I surely would not be blogging here today. It’s been a long line of dominoes that brought me here, and I don’t regret a single one.

I hope that, if you’re reading this, you’re looking for a place as far out and unique as you are. Because you will totally find it.

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