The Experience, Research
February 7, 2015
One of the great things about college — besides the interesting classes, independence, etc. — is the time off. It's the epitome of the "work hard, play hard" saying. After short periods of intensive study, there are so many ways to spend our month off in winter and three months off in the summer, from internships to traveling. For me, I received the good news that I was accepted into Connecticut College’s Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, or CISLA. The goal of this center is to internationalize one’s major. Mine being history, my research proposal involves studying art that was produced under the strict censorship policies of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, exploring topics such as propaganda as art and “cultural wastelands.” So next year, I will be studying and interning abroad in Spain. This means, however, that I have to get my Spanish in gear. My favorite part of the program is its emphasis on language learning, which inspired my recent trip to Guatemala.
Not having spoken Spanish in about a year, it's safe to say my language skills were pretty rusty. So for winter break, I headed off to Don Pedro de Alvarado language school in Antigua, Guatemala. Trying to play catch up, I studied for six hours a day with two different tutors. Contrary to what you might think, the time flew by, especially since the emphasis of my one-on-one tutoring was conversational skills. Every day, I simply spoke with my teachers about my life, their lives, and everything else in between. By the end, I can safely say they became more than just my teachers, they became my friends. They would take me around the city and show me cool art galleries, restaurants and church ruins. My afternoon teacher, Lidia, and I even took a day trip to El Lago de Atitlan. A three-hour trip on Guatemala’s famous “chicken buses,” the day was certainly an experience, from riding on a boat across a beautiful lake to having the man who was sitting next to me on the bus try to baptize me.
During my time in Antigua, I was staying with la familia Darce Pineda, my host family. I was one of five students staying with the family. The atmosphere was so warm that all of us were truly welcomed into the family — from attending their 3-year-old son Renecito’s birthday party to supporting them at their gigs (they are a family of musicians). The picture at the top left of this post is the view from their house’s terrace. In the background, el Volcan de Fuego (the volcano of fire) is erupting. Not to worry — it wasn’t a major eruption, but it is highly active and spurts smoke and ash on a daily basis. Pretty cool, huh? The second photo is of me and some fellow students at the top of Pecaya, another nearby active volcano we climbed one Saturday. While Pecaya is also not majorly active, we did get to roast marshmallows over lava. Yes, I know it sounds a little far-fetched, but really it did happen. It was also probably the best smore ever. While the lava has cooled and hardened, there are cracks that run though it, exposing hot coals exactly the same as what we would see in a dying fire, making for the perfect place to roast a marshmallow.
If I were to ever give advice to a college student, it would be to take advantage of all the time off. It gives us a freedom to study, travel and explore in a way that a full-time job does not. I got to connect my studies at school with an incredible culture opportunity. My Spanish improved greatly, I can happily say I feel more prepared for CISLA, and I got to have some cool adventures along the way.
December 19, 2014
December 9, 2014
With final exams only a few days away, Conn students are busy scouring research materials for projects and papers. (It will be open when we return from Spring Break!), so we aren't able to browse the stacks like usual, but all the library's books and resources are still available. I went behind-the-scenes and into the construction zone with library staff to see how our book requests move from Shain to the temporary circulation desk each night.
November 27, 2014
The College's Physics Department is home to one of the largest telescopes in New England, a state-of-the-art wave fume and a one million-volt particle (ion) accelerator. It's one of just four at undergraduate schools in the United States. We have many science resources at Conn, but the accelerator is the one thing that most are unaware of.
Students who study physics, geophysics and chemistry, however, know the particle accelerator well. The machine is currently processing a program called PIXIE. It analyzes the chemical composition of objects without having to use traditional chemistry techniques that could damage or destroy artifacts. By firing a beam of protons at an object, the resulting X-rays are analyzed to decipher the exact chemical composition of an object.
At Conn, PIXIE is helping professors and students study historical Native American trade routes from the New London region. By analyzing the chemical composition of historic clay pots discovered nearby, my classmates have been able to track where these clay pots were made by comparing them to mud samples. On Mamacoke Island, part of the College campus, classmates have uncovered large collections of clay pots, preserved by time. Of the many that originated on the island, some were found to have originated in Hartford and Long Island. By using PIXIE, we have found concrete evidence of intertribal trade between Native Americans in Connecticut. So far, more than two research papers have been published in scientific journals as a result of PIXIE, both written by undergraduate science students at Conn.
October 29, 2014
Recently, professors, community activists and service members from our neighbors at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy recently met with Conn students to discuss a wide range of topics related to immigration in the United States. After giving a brief description of their role in the issue, the panelists met with students to hear their perspectives on immigration in a more casual environment, fostering dialogue and sharing of ideas. I spoke with Dr. Evan Haglund of the Coast Guard Academy. Working as a consular officer at the American Embassy in Ghana, Dr. Haglund was able to offer a unique perspective on being on the front lines of the immigration process into the United States. It was a great experience to have roundtable discussions with people holding such varied backgrounds and experiences with immigration.
October 23, 2014
Last Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to visit "Lost At Sea: Shipwrecks of the Ancient World," an exhibit presented through the Classics Department. The exhibit is currently up at the Lyman Allyn, an art museum next to campus that the school works closely with. The exhibit consists of amazing, ancient artifacts that until recently remained, well, lost at sea. Also featured are some of the nifty-looking tools used to find artifacts, as well as some short videos about artifact-hunting.
The exhibit room that interested me the most, though, was a room full of live feeds from the Nautilus, a ship currently exploring undiscovered U.S territories in the Caribbean and Pacific. In front of the room, there is an iPad where you can type a question to a scientist on board the Nautilus and get a live response.
After a guided tour of the exhibit, I attended a talk by Dr. Robert Ballard, who led the team that discovered the Titanic. All of the artifacts in the exhibit were discovered by Dr. Ballard, who has a strong connection to the local community and the College. At the talk, he told us about how his fascination with the ocean began, how he fell into his career and, of course, how he found the Titanic. Dr. Ballard was an excellent speaker, and his exhibit was very interesting. I'm glad that I was offered the opportunity to attend.
March 10, 2014
At the beginning of our French class, Professeur Austin excitedly rushed into the room and told us to follow him to the library.
This semester, in my “Historicizing France” class, we are learning about l’age des lumières, the Enlightenment. We have read the works of great philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and we’ve studied the encyclopedia that first published the ideas of Rousseau and others. Even though 18th century France was as equally knowledgeable as England, they did not develop to the same economic level. French thinkers were too wrapped up in the encyclopedia to actually apply those ideas for economic gain.
Looking at online versions of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, I could only imagine the effect the text had in France. I did not have to imagine for long.
As our professor guided us to Shain Library, we climbed the stairs and entered the Archives and Special Collections. We came face to face with original the original French encyclopedias.
Every student in the class was handed a volume of the encyclopedia and we flipped through its pages. Geography, mathematical proofs, Greek mythology, drawings of surgical practices and carpentry jumped out at us. After looking at the encyclopedia myself, I now can’t blame France for being content to merely gaze upon the text. The encyclopedia itself is that enlightening. Even 250 years later.
January 13, 2014
Occasionally, The ConnCollegeLive Experience will invite guests to blog about their experiences as a Camel. The following is the first in this guest blogger series.
I’ve been a tutor at Conn for the past three years. I work with students in the Science Leaders program in one-on-one and group sessions in chemistry, organic chemistry and biology. The tutoring program was started as a way to ensure our Science Leaders excel, but after last summer, I saw it also as an opportunity to experiment with new teaching techniques.
Traditionally, our group tutoring sessions work this way: Students arrive with their problem sets complete and ask the tutor any questions they have. Faculty and students approve of this type of setup because students can try the problems on their own, and anyone who needs extra help attends the tutoring sessions.
Unfortunately, the system never seemed to work out this way. Many times, students come to sessions without the problem set complete, either because they couldn’t find the time, or worse, they became irreversibly stuck at some point in the assignment.
This summer, while I was applying to medical schools, I found that most incorporate problem-based learning (PBL) into their curriculum. I sat in on a PBL class for biochemistry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and it was incredible. Students worked together on complex problems in teams of five, always making sure everyone was on pace and fully understood the question at hand. The strangest thing was, they seemed to actually enjoy it.
So I gathered up our Science Leaders in organic chemistry, and I tried it. This year, rather than stringing together a number of chapter-related problems each week, we started designing problems that pull from multiple chapters and allow the students to make connections between what they are currently working on and older material.
These new sessions foster collaboration between students and teach them that even in organic chemistry, each one of them can benefit from working together.
Yumi Kovic ’14 is a biochemistry major, a Science Leader and the winner of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, which encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in science, mathematics or engineering.