And that’s a wrap!

Even though the semester finished online, it ended (almost) like most do.

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

I had final projects and assignments to complete. Juniata College’s athletics department had the Alfies, the annual award ceremony. Although a few things were missing, two important events still happened online: Liberal Arts Symposium and graduation.

Juniata Cheerleading Seniors
watching the Alfies together
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Liberal Arts Symposium

Liberal Arts Symposium (LAS) is Juniata College’s version of a research symposium. It is my favorite tradition because it showcases students’ work and projects from the academic year. I was able to present my Hollings scholarship project with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia because I have been spending the academic year working on a manuscript for a publication with my mentor. The benefit of this being done via Zoom is that my family were able to listen and support me from afar.

Send Off Zoom Calls

As a senior, this semester was supposed to be my last time to annoy my professors and pick their brains. Some of this time was lost, but many departments still gave their seniors a send off celebration. We had a Zoom happy hour to reminisce and tell stories about our memorable moments in the Environmental Science department and at Juniata.

Photos creds to Liz Ruszczyk
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Graduation

Lastly, I had the infamous virtual graduation.

To be honest, I was not expecting much, but Juniata greatly exceeded my expectations. However, my cap and gown did not arrive in time, so I had to get resourceful. I had celebrated with the Her Campus’ “I’m Still Graduating Event” and had received a cap plus some goodies from a variety of brands, including Havaianas, Conair, RXBAR, Hallmark, and Aussie, so I wore that cap paired with my high school graduation gown.

The Zoom room allowed for 1,000 participants so everyone who wanted to attend, plus the students, were able to join. We sat in my living room and I wore my cap and gown because why not? Unlike most “professional” webinar style Zoom meetings, they allowed for everyone’s screens to be displayed and for us to use the chat box with everyone. This was fun because you could scroll through the pages and see all your friends dressed up, like we would have been.

Messages were sent through the chat congratulating each other and sharing expressions of joy. We had speakers, music, and then a huge surprise. The staff and faculty created a video with heartfelt messages to say congratulations and give us their final goodbyes. During the video, our names and honors scrolled across the screen to honor us all individually. There was also an online program to view degrees and hometowns.

This beautiful video was certainly a surprise. I do not think any other class will have this special moment of pride after months of disappointment.

Watch my moment of fame:

After the celebrating, I hopped on my own Zoom call with my extended family to celebrate.

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Farewell Juniata…

I am extremely upset that my semester did not end the way I was expecting. However, I am thankful for all the time I had at Juniata and all the lessons I learned while I was there. Thank you, Juniata community.

I am proud to announce that I graduated summa sum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. I was also awarded Distinction in my major.

I am proud of myself and all that I was able to accomplish despite my academic, mental, and physical struggles.

As I wrote on my graduation announcement:

Successful despite her Crohn’s Disease. Studied abroad in the Galapagos and lived by Raystown Lake. Loves EVERY water body, scuba diving, science, and connecting with people. In the future, hopes to be able to connect society with their surrounding ecosystem better and help our two worlds coexist together.

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What’s Next?

After graduation and my 22nd birthday festivities were over, I still had work to do! I was still working on my research manuscript with my mentor. I spent the end of May and beginning of June focusing on this paper and writing as much as I could.

I also enjoyed time at home with my family. My mom and I did yoga together weekly and worked on transforming our yard to a meadow. We also all watched a bunch of movies!

Although we were in the midst of a pandemic, having this time at home, even when I was finishing classes, was extremely beneficial to my mental and physical health.

First of all, I was able to better control my Crohn’s Disease through my diet and fitness efforts.

Second, I spent time doing professional development, applying for jobs, and identifying prospective career paths.

During this time, I was able to solidify my summer plans…

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Reef Environmental Education Foundation

I am spending the summer in Key Largo, FL as a Marine Conservation Intern with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). I will learn more about citizen science through their Volunteer Fish Survey Project and their role in conservation with the invasive lionfish and Nassau Grouper. In addition, I will learn more about my future career options in marine science and outreach.

I also get to dive in the Florida Keys all summer!!!

Super excited to keep you all updated on this opportunity.

How are your “online” classes?

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Brady Brunch…class edition
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Sigh…online classes…the end of my college career and they were one of the most popular topics of conversation other than COVID-19 the past few months…

While on my spring break trip to Florida, I found out that Juniata College was going to take an extended break and start virtual classes until the beginning of April in hopes that all of this would blow over. When we returned, I packed up things from my apartment that I thought I would need for the next few weeks.

One week later, on March 17th, we received an email that not surprisingly, Juniata was going to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. Although this was not much of a surprise, it was still not easy to come to terms with. I moved out of my apartment the following week. ☹️

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Transition Online

Now, I would be failing my coach if I did not make this point on my blog. What we did was “emergency remote teaching” and NOT online classes. Online courses take a lot of planning, they integrate various methodologies for teaching, and implement multiple platforms or activities for interacting. Although online classes exist in many higher education institutions, such as Juniata, they are only utilized by some subjects or educators for certain classes. Therefore, a transition to EVERY class with EVERY professor is a drastic change and cannot be compared to true online education. Huge shout out to Justine Black, Juniata’s Director of Digital Learning and my coach, for being a leader in making this remote instruction possible!!!

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Juniata Online: an unofficial look inside with 63 anonymous survey participants

Disclaimer: this is not a real study…just me…being curious. Therefore, proper sampling technique and etiquette was NOT followed. I paraphrased all results but if you were one of my respondents and do not want something you said on here, let me know and I will remove it!

I would like to say I think that overall my professors did an incredible job meeting students needs and providing quality education. Students were also given the flexibility to change their courses to pass/no pass. However, I was not taking many courses and wanted to know how my peers were feeling.

I did a survey halfway through this experience to see how other students felt. This gave me a new feeling of connection because as a student body, we had lost our camaraderie. I was no longer sitting in the dining hall listening to the complaints or victories from my friends, teammates, or even the table I was eavesdropping on because lets be honest, we all do it at least once.

I received 63 responses out of the potential ~1,500 students and I asked 8 questions, including free response. So this really is only a small portion of what really happened and the school has received its own survey data since, but like I said, I needed that connections with my peers.

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The Results

Have your professors been accommodating with attending classes and turning in assignments?

Roughly two-thirds said “yes” and one-third said “kinda”. Less than 5 respondents said “no”.

Most things went well: Majority of responses were positive. Most professors were incredibly understanding, allowing for flexibility with due dates and not giving penalties for late work. For students who could not connect with class via Zoom, professors provided recorded videos.

Some things could have improved: Some students did not find that their professors were being understanding and there was not much discussion about due date flexibility. One student found mandatory group work difficult to do in this situation and with slow WiFi. It was noted that as students, our living situation changed completely, which depending on the nature, could make finishing our courses more difficult. For example, taking care of siblings. Also, some students are essential employees and might have picked up more demanding work hours.

Someone even just noted that it was horrible, which I can infer as that the whole situation was just overall unsavory.

It is also important to note that students work differently. I personally prefer due dates because they keep me on track and some students need that structure to stay on task. However, some students may really just need more time because they have too much going on in their situation or even mentally. I think that it was difficult for professors to find the balance between being too strict and being too lenient.

“What Juniata faculty or staff have been the most helpful during this? What have they done?”

To name a few: Dr. Muth and Dr. Grant sent uplifting messages and fun science updates. Dr. Matter did his best to make a lab an online course. Dr. Amy Mathur helped her students by lightening their load and sending out weekly Huntingdon updates. Dr Weimer, Dr Worley, Dr Streb, Dr Kruse, Dr. Bennett, Dr. Poole, and Dr. Peters were all accommodating and reached out to students. Dr. Dunwoody and Dr. Gentile provided extensions when needed. Shannon Cotrell, Lauren Perow, and Dr. Sarah Jane DeHaas also all checked in on students. Bethany Benson got creative and sent her ceramic students a gray play dough recipe. Dr. Lynn Cockett involved students in navigating the new learning environment, asking for feedback to better accommodate students. Blair Cutright continued supporting students by helping make schedules for at home productivity. Kathy Baughman reached out to each of her classes and seniors individually to offer support.

Additional shout outs to: All ceramic professors, Tammy Stuber, Dr. Pletcher, Ryan Gibboney, Jared LaGroue, Jacoba Rock, Justine Black, Molly Thompson, Dr. John Bukowski, Dr. Welliver, Dr. Matt Powell, Dr. Keeney, Dean Damschroder, Dr. Johnson, Jon Cutright, Patty Klug, Dr. James Tuten, Dr. Barlow, and Provost Bowen.

Have your classes changed drastically?

About one-third said “yes”, half said “kinda”, and only about 20% said “no”. Majority of students had drastic changes in their courses.

Things that changed: There seemed to be a lack of a schedule. The amount of work to turn in changed, due to syllabus adjustments or lack of ability to perform tasks online. Classes became less hands on and there was no opportunity for field work. Asking questions during lectures became difficult and the quality of some lectures decreased. There was less group discussion. Some assignments became more time intensive, it felt like busy work, and there was more writing instead of presenting. Assessment formats were altered. Formats of entire classes changed. Final projects were removed or altered. It was noted that some professors did not hold classes and instead just gave assignments while corresponding with students through email. Software used in some courses changed completely due to lack of access at home. Many courses were also removed from their physical resources such as labs and studios. And overall, students felt less engaged.

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What advice would you give a professor or a student in this situation?

“Be willing to answer questions over zoom, even if that means setting aside a discussion period outside zoom class periods.”

“Make a routine and stick to it.”

“Please understand our situations and how difficult it is to work at home. A lot of us don’t have desks even at home which means we have to work at kitchen tables/bedrooms, which doesn’t allow for very efficient studying.”

“Be prepared for problems because it is technology.”

“Be kind and understanding of one another and the positions that we’re in.”

“To be patient and understanding that everyone’s situation is unique.”

“Don’t overcompensate…focus on content, rather than additional materials.”

“Be patient! Everyone’s trying to figure out how to navigate this situation.”

“I would tell a student to plan their day as if they’re at campus. Don’t try to do too much in a day because it’s less likely you’ll do it. Break down your work on a Monday-Friday schedule like it would be at school. Find a quiet space where you can do your work and be patient with yourself.”

“Just keep pushing. Reach out when you need help. You are not alone.”

“Keep your head up and we’ll keep working together. It will be okay.”

“Focus on your mental health.”

“Prioritize self-care. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and more important than schoolwork.”

“Always communicate with your professors they are here to help if you need it.”

“Be lenient but keep your students accountable. They need to still turn in homework, but this is a stressful time so maybe if it’s a day late you can still accept the homework for full credit.”

“Give each other some slack during these difficult times.”

“I know this isn’t ideal, but it’s a global pandemic please be understanding to the fact that this is completely unprecedented and nobody trust knows the correct course of action yet.”

Anything else you want to say about the switch to online classes? (other than this sucks)

“It’s sucks a lot.”

“It is very tough to stay focused being home; it’s very hard to stay motivated.”

“Though I do wish I was on campus, I think Juniata has done a great job with this adjustment because it is not easy and nobody was prepared for a situation like this.”

“Can’t wait to be back on campus.”

“This is the future. Get used to it.”

“It’s working out better than I thought it would, but it is definitely not equal to being taught in person.”

How are you socializing with friends from campus?

I wanted to add this question because I was curious as to how people are connecting with campus.

Conclusion:

Overall, it went pretty well. I mean it could have gone a lot worse, but I think we have built a resilient community at Juniata that was able to withstand the changes. Obviously, we hit some bumps in the road, but as many of my peers pointed out, no one really knew what was the right thing to do. In my opinion, Juniata did as well as or even better as many of the other institutions put in similar situations (from what I heard from friends and the internet).

Unprecedented and other overused adjectives…

This was definitely not ideal. The college responded as best as it could, we all did as best as we could. Given the circumstances, I am overall pleased with how the semester worked out, the performance of my professors, and myself.

I also hope this never has to happen again, so abruptly as it did.

The final semester…pre-pandemic

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

In the beginning of 2020, I was getting ready to begin my last semester at Juniata College. Looking back on my short semester, it is absolutely insane at how much I was able to do…

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Cheerleading…last season

I arrived onto campus early for some pre-season training with my team for basketball season. It was definitely bittersweet to face the fact that I was graduating and not going to be cheering anymore.

But I am so happy that I was able to have this experience!

Classes

For my last semester, I took a lighter load than usual and very practical classes. I was taking Advanced GIS, doing independent research for credit, Water Resources II (hydraulic modeling with HEC-RAS), and Quantitative Ecology (statistics with R).

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Conferences!

Luckily, I had very supportive professors and I was able to participate in a bunch of conferences outside of the classroom.

Delaware Wetlands

The last week of January, I drove to Wilmington, DE to present at the Delaware Wetlands conference. It was an awesome event because I got to see one of my mentors, National Estuarine Research Reserve employees, and some Juniata College alumni. There were amazing talks from all different aspects of wetland conservation.

During the meeting, I had the opportunity to go to the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge/DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Christina River, where I learned about their restoration and education efforts.

I also got to catch up with one of my best friends from high school!

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American Fisheries Society

Then, on February 6th and 7th, Juniata College hosted the Pennsylvania American Fisheries Society (AFS) Chapter’s 2020 Technical Meeting. One of our professors at Juniata in the Environmental Science Department, Dr. George Merovich, is the President Elect for the PA AFS Chapter and helped plan this meeting. In addition, Dr. Merovich is the advisor for our student chapter on campus that I served as treasurer for this year.

I was excited to be able to participate in the meeting by presenting my research from my Hollings internship. The first day was full of speakers and research presentations from professionals, academics, and students. After my class was over that morning, I headed over to Ellis Ballroom to begin soaking up information. I walked in when Marc L. Yergin from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was presenting on freshwater sponges.


My presentation was after lunch. I have had a lot of practice presenting since I have given this same presentation many times prior, but I was nervous to present in front of two of my professors and my friends. I went up there and gave one of my best presentations ever. I enjoyed the experience and the audience had great questions at the end.

That evening, the poster session was from 6pm-9pm. I went back to the meeting late because I had cheerleading practice. I gobbled up my dinner and ran up to the ballroom to socialize and enjoy the posters. At the end of the evening, they began announcing student awards. When announcing best student presentation, the chapter President, Dr. Greg Moyer, asked, “Is Letourneau still here?” and my eyes grew big. That was the LAST thing I was expecting. There I was accepting an award, a little sweaty, in my practice clothes, looking completely unprofessional. I apologized profusely and they assured me it was alright and that my award was well deserved. I was floored by the circumstances, but honored that I was chosen.

Accepting the award from Dr. Greg Moyer

The next day, participants had the choice of 4 different workshops in the morning. I attended the workshops: “Begin using R” and “Cyprinid ID”. Not only were these informative, but I also was able to network with other participants. All in all, it was a successful meeting and I am humbled I was able to attend and receive such an honor.

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Ocean Sciences Meeting

Lastly, on February 16th, I got on a plane and flew to San Diego for the Ocean Sciences Meeting. I went to present a poster on my research from my Hollings internship, network with professionals, and learn about potential career opportunities.

My poster presentation was fun and I got some great questions. I also ordered a fabric version of my poster for easier travel and I HIGHLY recommend it!!!

One of my highlights of the conference was when I attended the COMPASS Town Hall. COMPASS, which originally stood for “Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea”, was co-founded by my marine science idol, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of NOAA. COMPASS focuses on effective science communication, which has become a strong passion of mine. This was my 2nd time listening to Dr. Lubchenco talk and I actually was able to nervously introduce myself this time.

I also had the opportunity to meet a woman who I had no idea was everything I want to be and more. Dr. Dawn Wright is the Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), which is the leading Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and data science company. GIS might look familar if you have been reading my blogs. That is because I have learned how to use GIS in my courses and absolutely love it.

And my Story Map I made last summer? That was made using GIS software and web-applications!

I was able to talk to Dr. Wright and discuss my project with her. She proceeded to give me her business card and since then I have actually shared my project with her via email.

Dr. Lubchenco (far right) and Dr. Wright (to the left of Dr. Lubchenco)

Definitely the highlight of my conference experience!!

I also got to see a bunch of my friends from study abroad, the Hollings Scholarship Program, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Hollings Scholars at OSM!

In addition, I took advantage of the area and I adventured to Oceanside to run with the big dogs and the La Jolla area to do some tide pooling.

And with all these pretty sites, I unfortunately saw a bird playing with some trash 😦

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Senior Dinner

Before spring break rolled around, the senior class had our annual senior dinner. Little did we know that it was going to be the last time we celebrated in person, all together.

Juniata senior cheerleaders put a bow in our class time capsule and we all signed it.

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Spring Break

Before we became aware of the pandemic and COVID-19 broke, the Juniata Scuba Diving club planned a trip down to Florida to go camping and diving. When the trip rolled around, there were no positive cases in the areas we were planning to go to, so we were still able to continue our descent. Luckily, we were able to complete our trip entirely, but we definitely washed our hands a lot.

There were only a few of us this year, including the residential director at the Raystown Field Station, but we had fun and were able to do a lot of dives.

We began at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in the Tampa area and dove at Ginnie Springs. This was my first freshwater dive and we got to go down into a cave.

On our off day, we went to the Florida Aquarium. One of the highlights was that the aquarium was hosting a Washed Ashore exhibit, in which art is built with plastic debris from coastal clean ups. In December at AGU, I had met someone who was part of this project and seeing it in actions was very neat!

Then, we went to enjoy the Clearwater Beach!

We then traveled down to Miami and camped at Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park.

The next few days, we did 5 dives total in Key Largo, including one night dive!

We dove at:

We saw some cool stuff including a pod of dolphins, a HUGE grouper, turtles, nurse sharks, barracuda, parrot fish, lobster, moray eel, and MORE.

It was SO COOL! I have not gone through my dive footage yet…I will soon I promise.

While we were down in the Keys, we also ate some yummy key lime pie.

I really loved this trip. Not only was I able to enjoy the recreational side of scuba diving, but I was able to improve my own skills and learn more about other dive opportunities available.

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Then we drove back to campus, leaving paradise behind…

While we were on the trip is when Juniata College announced they were extending Spring Break due to COVID-19. So we knew when we got back that we had to then go home but the worst part of drive home is that we drove through snow.

What happened next will be a whole new post, but you likely already know… #GraduatedInAPandemic

Be back soon with more information about that!

Conferences, Classes, & Cheerleading: Senior Year

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

As my summer ended, my school year began. I was nervous about going back to living on campus since I had just spent the year away, at the field station and then abroad on the Galapagos. Although I spent the summer in Virginia, readjusting to a life on campus as a college student again is another change. I have mentioned this before, but reverse culture shock is definitely real. I am lucky to have had a lot of support on campus with this adjustment.

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Tour Guide Training

My experience back onto campus began with tour guide training. Every year, I have to participate in this training even though I have been a tour guide since sophomore year. Many things on campus change over the summer and it is important to stay up to date. However, when you are off campus for as long as I was and there are major curriculum changes, all day training about campus is a little overwhelming. I made it through and had the opportunity to enjoy my new apartment with one of my roommates and friends.

Cheerleading

Shortly after, I had my last preseason for football cheerleading. This is a few days of cheerleading ALL day. We also did some team bonding like our annual scavenger hunt and tie dying!

Classes Begin

Classes began a few days later. It was my very last fall semester at Juniata! This semester was overwhelming and completely different. Not only did I return from a year off campus but I also experienced having roommates for the first time and starting a new job position.

My classes this semester included Hispanic Culture in Film, Environmental Geology & Lab, Conservation Biology, and Global Environmental Issues. I also took a credit of research to work on my project from my internship from over the summer. I really enjoyed taking geology and I highly suggest it to everyone. It is so important to understand the building blocks of our earth, literally!

Working Girl

I began working in admissions as a freshman as Student Assistant for an admission counselor. I worked my way up to Tour Guide and now this year, I began my position as an Assistant Admission Counselor. I assist the admission counselors by interviewing students who visit Juniata, informing families about Juniata financial and application details, and assisting during open houses. This position is more money but also allows me to do one of the things I love to do most: get to know people. I get to talk about the place I love but also understand student’s backgrounds and why they interested in Juniata. I love being a professional in the office.

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Conferences

Wyoming: The Cowboy State

After my study abroad semester, I became part of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Alumni Network (after completing the program which provided me with a scholarship to go abroad). As part of this network, I was invited to the U.S. Future Leaders Topical Seminar: Energy and Natural Resources in Laramie, WY. So I missed the 2nd week of my classes and went to Laramie!

These few days were hosted at University of Wyoming (UW). Here are some highlights! One of our speakers included a Senior Executive at Exxon Mobil Corporation and he sat at my dinner table with his wife. I toured the High Bay Research Facility, which aims to improve the efficiency of the extraction of oil and natural gas resources. I also visited the High Plains Wind Farm as part of Rocky Mountain Power, learning about how wind power is used in Wyoming and in surrounding states!

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Down South to Charleston

In November, I traveled down to Charleston, South Carolina for the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Association Annual Meeting. I was able to go because of my internship last summer at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia. At the meeting, I had the opportunity to be in the same room as almost all the staff from each of the 29 different NERRs. The networking I was able to do was phenomenal. I also got to catch up with other Hollings interns that I met through the program.

Here are the highlights!

I began with a Climate Change Communication workshop by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). This was a super awesome workshop backed by research. The next day I sat with the Education Sector for the morning to discuss internships and putting diversity, equity, and inclusion in practice. We then went to the South Carolina Aquarium to investigate interpretive design best practices for exhibits at visitor centers. This included touring and understanding the construction of their newest exhibit about their turtle hospital. They also gave us extra time to enjoy the rest of the aquarium!

That evening, I presented my research in a poster format and got to interact with many people from all over the reserve system. It was super fun to also have my mentors there for support!

I also got to try a Peace Pie!!

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San Francisco days, San Francisco nights

My last conference of the semester was the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2019 in San Francisco. I roomed with one of my friends I met through the Hollings Scholarship and got to see many more of my friends while I was there. I presented my first oral presentation about my project at a large conference. It was an incredible experience and I was glad to be part of it.

I also attended many different presentations, visited a wide variety of posters, and participated in great science communication workshops.

One of my favorite ones was about marine debris and the plastic problem. We learned about plastic found on the coasts and the origin of the mass of it. We also learned how different programs such as Washed Ashore, are using their debris from clean ups to build plastic sculptures and putting them in public spaces to create conversation. During the workshop, we got to make our own designs with actual plastic pieces from the clean ups. Not only is this promoting environmental consciousness, but it is also adding the art literacy component. When we created our own designs, we focus on colors, or types of plastics.

What are some origins of the masses of plastics in the ocean?

  • Landbased/Recreational Activities (beach toys, plastic bottles, etc)
  • Commercial Fishing (traps and nets left in the ocean)
  • Container Spills (large shipments of goods such as hockey gloves, dolls, or shoes)

Afterwards, I actually had lunch with the presenter and got some career advice from him!

I also got to see my mentor from my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and more people from my scholarship program!

AND I saw one of my friends (huge surprise) from study abroad!!!!

We explored San Francisco in the evenings after a day full of taking in all the science.

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End of Football Cheerleading

In the midst of all of this, I also had my last game cheering for football. I will miss being on the sidelines so much!

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Last Traditions/Moments on Campus & in Huntingdon

I also had my last of many traditions and favorite activities on Juniata’s campus and in Huntingdon

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Mountain Day

There’s nothing quite like having class cancelled, but Mountain Day is the epitome of cancelled classes. This annual tradition is one of my favorites and began in the late 1880s. On this day, classes are cancelled with no prior notice. The saying on campus is “Mountain Day is always tomorrow”.

On Mountain Day, students are given the opportunity to spend the day at Raystown Lake to enjoy a picnic, swimming, water sports, crafts, yard games, and inflatables. There are usually surprise raffles and treats. This year we had FREE Rita’s Italian Ice!

The scenery is picturesque. Hammocks swing from trees, laughter roars from the waterside, students are falling off kayaks, and speakers sing anthems of a fun day. My favorite part is that faculty and staff are invited. Professors engage in conversation with barefoot students, who insist on petting every dog in sight.

After lunch, each class battles in tug-o-war until the strongest group takes on the faculty and staff. In the finale, we brought in many seniors who were nervous to join but were persuaded by our camaraderie; we barely had enough rope for everyone to hold on. As a proud member of the class of 2020, I would like to announce that we won!

This year, Mountain Day was a total surprise for me and many others. It was a great day with the Juniata community including faculty, staff, and students. Only Juniatians really understand the magic of Mountain Day, everyone else is just insanely jealous because they want their classes cancelled.

But this day is much more than that.

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Special Olympics

Every year Juniata College hosts the Special Olympics Central Pennsylvania Fall Sectional. On this day, our campus becomes the stage for athletic excellence and perseverance. Athletes from over 20 central Pennsylvania counties come together to show off their abilities. These athletes work extremely hard for this day, and are full of excitement upon arrival.

I look forward to this event every year. As a cheerleader, we participate in the opening ceremony events by greeting athletes, cheering them on, and doing a short performance. We also volunteer at various stations throughout the day. Although we arrive early in the morning, I keep my energy high and my smile bright. These athletes give their 100% and they deserve my 100%.

I love being able to be part of this exciting moment and support others in their journey to success. No matter who someone is or what obstacles they might face, they deserve the utmost respect for their hard work and achievements.

Special Olympics International has started “The Revolution is Inclusion” campaign to create a fully inclusive world.

Take the pledge Inclusion Pledge here: https://jointherevolution.org/

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Study Abroad Fair

I got to represent the Galapagos semester at our study abroad fair on campus! I also got to hang out with a friend who was studying abroad at Juniata and my friend who went abroad with me.

Trough Creek State Park

My family took my friend, who was spending a semester at Juniata from York, UK, to enjoy the local central PA nature at Trough Creek State Park!

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Hydrilla Study on Raystown Lake

When I was at the field station, I got to assist with a study of invasive hydrilla on Raystown Lake. This year, I got to help again!!! It was a full day of fun, sampling the bottom of the lake.

Raystown Field Station Alumni Retreat

Only 4 of us remained on campus since our semester at the field station was mostly seniors. So we decided to rent out Grove Farm, have a campfire, and reminesce on our good ole days at the lake without annoying anyone else about it.

The next morning we went down to the lake to take a picture with our RD, John, and his mighty sidekick, Margo.

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Madrigal

We have a dance and dinner at the end of our fall semester. It was quite fun this year with my roommates and friends!

Senior Year

I am of course writing this post on the day we found out we are not returning to classes on campus and will be learning remotely until the end of the semester. I do not want to get too sappy until my next post about the spring semester. However, I do have to say….I wish I would have soaked in some more of Juniata and my memories during my fall semester knowing now that it is all over.

I will always be a Juniatian.

Island Hopping: Galapagos Archipelago

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Spring Break!!!!

Yes, we had a spring break while being here. And it was AMAZING. My last class was on March 15th and I left on the 16th for Santa Cruz, the most populated island. I did not come back to San Cristobal until March 24th because I had the whole week free. I went with 3 other girls in my program and we did not plan much beforehand because we wanted to have maximum flexibility. It worked out so well!!

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Day 1

We left San Cristobal early in the morning on a speed boat. Tickets typically cost $30 dollars one-way and it is a 2 hour boat ride. Some boats are nicer than others and sometimes the waves are rough. This ride is not great for those who get sea sick. Luckily, I do not get sea sick and I enjoy it!

When we arrived to Santa Cruz, we looked for a restaurant with WiFi and breakfast. We went to The Rock, which is a popular spot. From there, we found a place to stay, Hospedaje Carliza 2, and walked inland to it. It was sort of far from the Malecon and the tourist area of the port, but that is what made it so cheap and within our budget. It had a kitchen too, so we were able to cook meals to save money, which worked out really well.

After resting a little, we bought some snacks, found the bank, and asked a taxi to take us to the lava tunnels in the highlands. I was lucky one of my friends already had a few ideas and did research on what to do. The lava tunnels are on the El Chato Tortise Reserve so we got to see both! It was cool walking through dark tunnels formed by lava and then see tortoises in the wild. It was a beautiful area and a great afternoon.

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Day 2

This morning we woke up early and took a water taxi to Las Grietas, a popular snorkeling and swimming spot on the island. The water taxi drops you off near the trail to get there and you walk past Germany Beach and through a wetland to get there. It is a huge crack in the earth filled with water. The pool is deep and you can swim to the end if you climb a few rocks. The calm water is a nice place to hang out.

After Las Grietas, we bought tuna fish, cucumbers, and crackers for a refreshing lunch. Then we took the journey to the well known Tortuga Bay, a beautiful long beach with white sand and turquoise water. You can either walk on a path to get there, which takes roughly 30-45 minutes, or use a water taxi, which would be about $10 per person for one-way. We chose to walk and the path is incredibly gorgeous. When we arrived, we walked along Playa Brava, where you cannot swim due to strong currents, to get to Playa Mansa, the designated swimming area. We arrived late afternoon so we did not have much time, but we enjoyed seeing the baby sharks in the water and many iguanas.

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Day 3

I had a friend travelling with me who was also scuba certified and we decided to do a dive in Santa Cruz! We woke up early to go to North Seymour, a small island, and Daphne Minor, an extinct volcano. Both dives were AMAZING! I saw hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, eels, rays, and colorful fish. We dove with Eagle Ray Tours and would definitely dive with them again. They took great GoPro footage for us, check out videos on my Facebook Page (when I upload them)!

The dive trip was over by 3 pm and we were exhausted. However, we still had daylight to kill so we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. On the way we found a beautiful ceramic garden with mosaics.

My favorite from the garden

At the station, we first looked inside at the exhibits, watched a short clip about research in the Galapagos, and put a stamp in our passports! There is also a breeding center for different species of tortoises from the different islands. In addition, you can see adults from different islands and view the morphological difference.

One of the biggest draws for many people is viewing the preserved body of Lonesome George, the last individual of the Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about George’s legacy here.

Lonesome George and my brother’s reflection (Taken By: Mom)
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Day 4

We woke up very early this day to catch our 7 am boat and traveled to Isabela Island. We arrived at the island again with no major plans so our first task was to find breakfast and a hostel. We ate breakfast and looked up places, eventually finding one that would work. We stayed at Hostal Cerro Azul and loved it. They had a kitchen and fun hammocks in the living room. It was also a perfect location!

After a recovery nap, we rented bikes and went south of the town to find a trail along the ocean. Before we reached the trail, we stopped at a trail where you could view flamingos in a pond/lake. There was a bridge that took you through and it was breathtaking to see these birds in person at Poza Puerta de Jelí.

We continued back to the road to follow the trail along the coast and through wetlands with the end goal of reaching El Muro de Las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). In the 1940s and 1950s, this wall was built by prisoners sent to the island from the mainland of Ecuador. They lived in a penal colony and were forced to build this wall to “keep them busy”. These prisoners faced harsh conditions and punishments. Viewing the height and the roughness of the lava rocks made me shiver as I thought about the pain they must have endured.

The wetlands we biked through are called Los Humedales del Sur de Isabela and in 2002 was named a Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance. The roughly 11km path features many trails off of it for different views, lava tunnel, beaches, and sites to see different mangrove forests.

We did not have much time to stop everywhere, but I went back a week later with my family and I was able to see much more and show them everything.

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Day 5

The next day, we woke up and prepared to walk a lot. We had signed up for a tour to hike Sierra Negra Volcano. This is one of five of Isabela Island’s active volcanoes. The volcano last erupted in 2005 and the last recorded activity of the volcano is June 2018 after earthquakes opened up fissures.

The hiking trail is roughly 15km depending on which routes you take and takes about 5-6 hours for the round trip. Once you reach the rim, you can see the 6 mile wide and 300 feet deep caldera. For part of the trail, you hike around it seeing different angles of it. Eventually the paths turn into lava rock, but not just any ole lava rock…the most beautiful rocks. The colors were breathtaking.

During our hike, we got to see the area where there was activity in 2018. It was so surreal to think about how less than a year ago lava flowed where I was standing.

Although it was a lot of walking, it was not terribly difficult. I would highly suggest this activity!

Photo creds below to either Lucy, Lily, or Emily.

The sunsets on Isabela were also breathtaking…

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Day 6

On the last day on Isabela, we went on a tour of Las Tintoreras, a group of small islets off the coast. The boat first takes you around to view different areas where there are groups of penguins and blue footed boobies. It was amazing to see so many cool birds at once! The is also an area the boat drops you off where there is a small 5 minute walk to view one of the cracks in the rocks where white tip reef sharks like to hang out. You also have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the bay and through the large cracks.

Later that afternoon, I went on the boat to go back to Santa Cruz with two other friends in the program. We spent that evening trying to decide what day tour we wanted to do the next day.

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Day 7

We decided to go on a tour that took us to many places. We took a trip to go bird watching at the Daphne Islet, then snorkeling and enjoying the beach at Bahia Borerro, ending with a longer snorkel at Pinzon Island. We saw White tip reef sharks in the mangrove area and beautiful fish.

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Day 8

On my last full day on Santa Cruz, I fulfilled my itching desire. I went scuba diving to Gordon Rocks, a dive site around the remains of a volcanic crater with 3 pinnacles sticking out above. It is often called “the washing machine” due the the strong currents and upwelling. For this reason, they suggest intermediate to advanced divers only do this. One dive master once told me, the number of dives and the experience does not determine someone’s ability to scuba dive. Although I only had a few recreational dives under my belt, I felt confident that I could do the dive. I booked through Eagle Ray Tours again, but they sent me with their friend’s company since they were not going that day. I ended up going with Jesse from SharkBay Dive Center, who had no issue taking me to Gordon with my dive experience. It was amazing and they did a fantastic job during the whole day. It was an awesome dive.

We saw so many things….hammer head sharks, fish, Galapagos sharks, rays, etc…These are some stills of my footage!

Here’s some stills from SharkBay Dive Center!

The day was finished with a quick trip to the fish marke where you can see all the Galapagos animals surround fishermen as they return with their catch.

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Day 9

The next day, I came back to San Cristobal just in time to meet my family from the United States at the airport for their visit on the Galapagos for a week. 🙂

I took them to see all the beaches on the island, to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), a tour of the highlands, including El Junco (freshwater lake), Galapaguera (tortoise reserve), and Puerto Chino. In addition, we did a quick trip to Santa Cruz Island for the Charles Darwin Research Station and to Isabela Island for a night to enjoy the biking and the views.

It was nice to have a little taste of home, but it also reminded me I was going home soon. The last 6 weeks went by so fast and we were all really upset to even think about leaving the island, our new home.

Living on the enchanted islands: college student edition

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hola & Hello!

I am writing this post right before my last class here begins. It has been an amazing experience and incredibly life changing. I miss a lot of things about home, but I really do enjoy my life here a lot. I cannot believe I only have 3 more weeks left. Here’s a summary of my life here and special events!

Punta Carola
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Everyday life (Vida diaria)

The island life is different. Island time is definitely a concept here, nothing is on time or has a definite schedule. Ecuadorian time is already behind, dinner at 6pm could mean anytime between 6pm and 8pm. So if you add being an island on top of that, well it might take you a whole afternoon to get what you need. There’s only a few areas where people can live here, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is right on the water, and El Progreso, a town in the highlands. Everyone knows everyone, for the most part. You could tell a taxi “La casa de ____” and they could probably get you there. I live near a park with two soccer fields, a basketball court, and a new skate park. So I typically just say “Parque de Alegría”. However, I rarely even take a taxi.

View from where I live, you can see the ocean!
The view from the balcony at my house

Although it is a touristy area, it is still an island. Do not expect to be able to use credit or debit cards everywhere. Also, do not be surprised if you cannot find the hours stores or places are open. They open when they can but it might not be on a schedule and if it is, well, the locals already know what times. In addition, the few hours after lunch, most tour agencies and stores are not open. Lastly, there is only like two bars and one discoteca on the island. Social life is pretty small scale here. But the locals, who all know each other and most have grown up together, make the most of it.

My daily life here is pretty simple. I usually bike or walk to the university for class in the morning with my friend who lives in my neighborhood. Some students are lucky and live close by, but I live on the exact opposite side of town from the university. Even though the island is small, it is a 30 minute walk (unless you walk fast but it is HOT here so that is hard to do). At least it’s a beautiful place to walk around and you get exercise to start the morning! I was going to rent a bike for the whole 3 months I was here but one of my program coordinators on the island had a bike she was not using that I could borrow. I just had to take it to the bike shop and the shop owner fixed it for free. He is a really nice man and is always happy to help.

The Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) campus is right across from one of the most accessible beaches, Playa Mann. It is convenient because after class you can sit on the beach and sometimes the WiFi can reach out there. There is a nice space for students to do homework and enjoy the view above the classrooms in the building. There is also a balcony with outdoor seating. One thing that is different about Ecuador and the Galapagos is that open air is much more common. Especially in Quito, the weather is so temperate that windows and doors can be open comfortably and you do not need air conditioning. In the Galapagos, it is preferable to have windows and doors open, unless you have air conditioning. It is somewhat rare to have it, especially in stores, houses, and restaurants. However, one bread shop, the discoteca, our classrooms, and some host families have it. Some students got lucky, but I honestly do not mind just having a strong fan!

Playa Mann sunset
USFQ GAIAS campus

After class, I typically get lunch. Our host families provide breakfast and dinner during the week but lunch is on our own. There are 3 restaurants on Playa Mann that have good food, but also there are a bunch of places a short walk away on the Malecon or in town. Many students congregate at Fresco, the vegetarian café. Where else can you get pesto pasta or quesadillas here? Most places have basic lunch specials that include soup, juice, and a meal for only $4-$7. Except it gets old sometimes because it is always some sort of meat, a veggie or salad, and a big serving of plain white rice. Rice is a primary food group here. Eating pasta? Let’s have some rice too!

Quesadilla at Fresco

After lunch, I will either stay at the restaurant if it has WiFi or go to a coffee shop. There is a bread shop, Sabor Cuencano, with great coffee and delicious bread. They also have air conditioning, so it is the best escape. I am also a fan of Calypso on the Malecon. In the past, I have had group projects or reports to work on, so I will spend the afternoon doing that. Sometimes I use my afternoons to do field work for research projects, which is sometimes going to other beaches. I am so school focused I have barely given myself much time during the week to just lay on the beach. However, in the past 2-3 weeks, I have been working on fixing that problem. Side note: best ice cream is on Playa Mann. You can get a cone for $1 and flavors are typically blackberry, coconut, or passionfruit. Tastes like frozen yogurt!

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Volunteering (Voluntariado)

I volunteered in the afternoons for 3-weeks at a summer camp for local children here ages 6 through 12. I am taking classes right now, but the Galapagos is in the midst of summer. It was really fun to be with kids again and do fun things like painting or playing games with them. I also got to practice my Spanish and they got to practice English. I feel more connected to the local community after working with them. They are very intelligent about where they live and environmentally cautious. It was a pleasure to dedicate time to them. Although they were crazy, they taught me a lot and I understand the culture here a lot more. I also really enjoy being able to see them around town!

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Elections & Fiestas

The Galapagos had elections during my time here. Ecuadorians use the elections as an excuse to party. And Ecuadorians party hard. There were concerts, parades, and parties. The political songs were always blaring from taxi car stereos. Flags and billboards were placed around the town. It was strange at first but we all got used to it. Some students host parents were even running for a position in the campaign. It was interesting to be here during that time.

In addition to the elections, the San Cristobal hosted beauty pageants. I understand the beauty pageant world in the United States pretty well and enjoy them a lot. However, this was not what I was used to. The audience acted as if it was a soccer game. There were noise makers, beer, entertainment (I saw singers and dancers more than the contestants), food vendors, and children staying up really late. I was shocked and by 3rd hour of the first pageant I went to, I was very ready to leave. This first pageant was in El Progreso. The next one was right downtown. I am not really sure how it all works, but all I know is they are LONG.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to participate in Carnaval on the Galapagos. It was not as crazy as it is on the mainlands, but it definitely was a lot of fun. There was live music, people throwing paint and foam on each other, and some people were unlucky to get egged. There were parades and lots of drinking. I had a lot to do that week for class so I only did it for one day.

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Estoy Feliz

Overall, I am really enjoying meeting new people, having new experiences, and making memories. The Galapagos is a special place with unbelievable things to offer. However, I really like being integrated into the community and being able to be less of a tourist. I am friends with locals and I have been able to learn how life here really is. Although the wildlife and environment are amazing, there definitely are some issues on the islands that cannot be witnessed from a boat tour with a naturalist guide. Being able to experience island life has helped me see this place with an interdisciplinary perspective and understand my role in nature, my career, and the world.

Playa Mann, across from the university