Tag Archives: Community

Why Michael Chose Tufts

Written by Michael Ruiz, Bioengineering M.S. 2020

In this multi-part blog series, we will be exploring why current #TuftsGrad students chose to pursue their graduate education at Tufts University. Today, we hear from Michael Ruiz, Bioengineering M.S. 2020, in part 1 of our ‘Why Tufts?’ series.

Tufts University was the first school that accepted me twice. I was admitted into the Biology (MS) and the Bioengineering (MS) program. I was ecstatic because Tufts was also my first official graduate school acceptance. I can remember anxiously sitting at home when I got the email that a decision had been made on my application. During this round of graduate school applications, I had applied to about 20 programs including an international university in Tel Aviv. I had been working at Boston Children’s Hospital as a research technician in a regenerative biology lab for nearly 2 years to prepare myself for a graduate education in STEM. After countless hours of discussion with other engineers, friends, and my partner I decided to remain in Boston and pursue my engineering degree at Tufts.

Ultimately, I made my decision to attend Tufts School of Engineering based on two important economic factors: proximity to the Boston biotechnology ecosystem and the earning potential in the Boston area. In other words, I was concerned with how difficult it would be for me to enter the job market and maximize my earning potential once I gained experience. 

According to Glassdoor and LinkedIn, entry-level Biomedical Engineers in the Boston area have a much higher earning potential than in other big cities like New York City and San Francisco where salary might be higher, but so is the cost of living. I am originally from Los Angeles, California (the land of eternal summer), and knew that San Francisco would be a change, but I like living in the Northeast too much. Boston is a college town so there are a lot of college students here which means the quality of conversation is always engaging and challenging (no shade to my LA friends that work in the film industry … well, maybe a little). 

Despite the ‘frigid’ stereotype of Bostonians, I have really found a great community here of scholars, entrepreneurs and scientists. Bostonians, and New Englanders in general, have truly warmed up to me. 

Event Spotlight – Graduate Student Research Symposium and 3-Minute Thesis

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As a member of the Graduate Student Council, I’ve had the pleasure of helping organize a number of events. From roundtables with administrators, to pub nights, to community service opportunities, one of the primary goals of the GSC is to provide meaningful experiences for all graduate students within the Tufts community. 

One of the most popular events is the annual Research Symposium. Every year in early March, graduate students from across campus come together to present their research in a variety of different formats; posters, speed talks, long talks—there’s something for everyone! And as usual, we aim to feed attendees with plenty of food. This year we even had the Frozen Hoagies  food truck, a local ice cream sandwich favorite. Graduate students present their research while faculty members and post-doctoral fellows provide feedback and ultimately choose the top 3 from each category. The winners get awards, but everyone gets free food and has a great time.

This year was no different. The day began with a poster session. Students from Biology, Chemistry, and other departments all presented their research during an informal reception. We were grateful to have judges from diverse, interdisciplinary backgrounds. One of the best things about Tufts is being surrounded by such interesting and broad research. At these kinds of academic events, we emphasize communicating research in an accessible way. Though I’m a biologist, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from students in the English, History, and Child Study and Human Development departments. As a Tufts graduate, I can guarantee you that you’ll have your elevator pitch down and that you’ll be able to clearly discuss your research with anyone who might listen.

The posters were followed by 15-minute talks, during which I learned about triple-stranded DNA, how climate change is impacting the use of bike share programs, and whether cupcakes and muffins are statistically distinguishable. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a symposium that is more diverse than that!

While the Research Symposium is the biggest academic event that the GSC runs, we have also begun a 3-Minute Thesis competition in the fall. 3MT is an international event that began in Australia, but any school can create its own version. It’s pretty much all in the name—you have to describe your thesis research in 3 minutes, using only a single PowerPoint slide with no animations. It is definitely challenging to say the least. This year we had nearly 15 participants from across the campus. Competition was fierce, but Alec Drobac from the Physics and Astronomy department prevailed. We’re looking forward to continuing to expand this event, and possibly even including other Boston-area schools in the future.

These academic-focused events give students the opportunity to practice communicating their research to the broader Tufts community. It’s also a great chance to meet and connect with students outside of your department. You never know where your next collaboration might be, even right on campus!

The Ultimate Healthy Eating Guide for #TuftsGrads

Written by Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

After I finished high school, my parents sent me to Canada for an international cultural exchange program where I got to spend the whole summer in a small town called Guelph (near Toronto). I stayed with a host family, and became very close friends with their daughter Meagan. The next summer, she visited me in Istanbul, and we took her to our summer house which is located in Tenedos, one of the Greek-Turkish islands on the west coast of Turkey. My mom prepared a typical famous Turkish breakfastwith all the fresh produce she picked up from our garden, while my dad was spearfishing to catch some bluefish for dinner. When Meagan saw the table, she couldn’t hide her astonishment by how much we eat at breakfast. Then she grabbed a bite of a plump tomato, and amazedly murmured: “I didn’t know that real tomatoes actually taste like this!”.

Growing up in Turkey, I was very spoiled in terms of my food. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, organic legumes, and assorted table wines were essentials of our pantry. Wild-caught fish was served at least three days a week with a drizzle of the highest quality extra-virgin olive oil. My family grew some of our own food, but we also had access to good quality fresh food at local markets.

Dealing with the differences in food culture was one of the biggest challenges I faced when moving to the U.S. for graduate school; not only the kind of food consumed, but also the way it is packaged and sold at supermarkets.

Graduate student life is very busy and demanding, and unhealthy habits can make our lives more difficult and stressful. Nourishing our bodies is as important as having a good night sleep and regular exercise. Understanding nutrition and healthy eating is more common these days, but for some people it can still be difficult to know where to start making changes to improve their health and feel better about what they eat.

Here is some basic information that will help you begin your journey towards a more balanced plate: avoid too much sugar and salt, read the list of ingredients on food packages, and try to learn more about the meanings behind terms like “gluten-free”—they don’t always mean “healthier.”

First of all, EAT YOUR VEGGIES! Here is an example of my weekly vegetable shopping from the farmer’s market.

 In addition to all the minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals necessary for your body to fully function, vegetables are also packed with fiber, which affect your overall health starting from your gut microbiome to all the way up to your cognitive abilities.

A great way to introduce more vegetables into your diet is to go seasonal—do some research online about what produce is in season for your location, or visit a local farmer’s market and see what’s available. Choosing fresh, local vegetables is also preferable to pre-cut, imported vegetables from the supermarket because pre-cut vegetables are more prone to bacteria and can lose their nutritional value when cut. Many packages also contain preservatives to keep them fresh; chlorine and ozone are sprayed on the vegetables to delay spoilage. Try to buy whole fruits and vegetables, and wash and cut them right before you will eat them; the difference in taste is impossible to ignore.

Another good way to get more healthy foods into your diet is to eat more high-quality proteins. Lean protein sources such as chicken breast have always been a “go-to” meal for me. However, considering how common the use of antibiotics in chicken farming is in the US, it could be a better idea to switch to turkey, which is a safer option in terms of additives. Turkey is also a great source of the amino acid called tryptophan, which is known to aid in quality sleep. Can you say no to a better night sleep as a graduate student? I thought so. If you don’t eat meat, you can add lentils and tofu to your diet for more protein.

When it comes to sleep quality, another thing you should be mindful about is the time at which you sip your coffee and how much you consume in a day. Coffee is the elixir of life for us graduate students, but it can take up to eight hours to be metabolized. So, if you go to sleep at 11:00 pm and want to wake up the day feeling well-rested, try to avoid drinking coffee after 3:00 pm, and aim to not exceed 400 mg of caffeine per day. It is also noteworthy that consuming coffee right after your meals significantly decreases the absorption of some minerals and vitamins in your food, such as iron.

Lastly, I would like to talk about meal-preps. I looooove meal-prepping! As a chemical engineer, I have this an obsession with knowing what exactly is in each of my meals. With a little preparation, you can bring your own food to campus and know that you have made something delicious and healthy (not to mention cost-efficient)!

Health doesn’t just start and end with food. The containers you use to carry your food to campus can also be unhealthy. Many common plastic containers are a main source of “obesogens” called “endocrine disruptors,” and they tend to release into your food when they are in contact with fatty acids. Glass containers are a much safer option to avoid those chemicals. If you would like to learn more about how those chemicals affect our bodies and how serious they are, I recommend the Swedish documentary Submission (2010) by Stefan Jarl.

With a few simple changes, it is possible to eat healthier! Keep things balanced and stick to real food. You can also visit Tufts Sustainability and learn more about healthy eating on campus. With these tips, I hope you can take your healthy eating goals and upgrade them to a new level.

GSO Spotlight: Tufts New Economy

Tufts New Economy members in the apple orchard at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in 2017

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate & featuring Alice Maggio, Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning M.A. student

One of the central parts of being a graduate student at Tufts is participating in Graduate Student Organizations (GSOs). Currently, the Graduate Student Council funds twenty GSOs that cover almost every academic department. We also have GSOs that aren’t academic-related. I recently sat down with Alice Maggio, a student leader with Tufts New Economy (TNE), to chat about this active GSO.

Brenna: Could you tell me a little about TNE?

Alice: Tufts New Economy was formed in 2013 with support from the New Economy Coalition, which was funding student groups around the country that wanted to investigate, imagine, and help create a more just and sustainable economy. Often, people seem to think that one needs to be an economist to understand the economy. But all of us live in the economy every day! In that sense, we are all economists. Many of us are here at Tufts because we have recognized injustices in the world and we would like to gain further knowledge, skills, and relationships to help us contribute to a more fair, beautiful, and sustainable world. What I have found is that many of the problems we face have their roots in the current economic system, where there is an overwhelming monoculture of capitalism. Tufts New Economy is a forum where Tufts students can take time to learn together about different, emerging economic models that seek to serve people and the planet, not just profit.

Brenna: What departments are involved?

Alice: Tufts New Economy is open to everyone in the Tufts community, including graduate students, undergraduates, and professors. Right now, our membership is mostly made up of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) graduate students, but we also have some students from the Fletcher School and undergraduates who participate. We would be really excited to extend our welcome to more people from different departments.

Brenna: What major events do you organize?

2018 Tufts New Economy members tour Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the United States

Alice: Over the years, Tufts New Economy has hosted speakers at UEP’s Wednesday lunchtime Colloquia, we have regularly presented in UEP’s economics course, and we have participated in national action weeks for a more fair and sustainable economy. Last year we had a really great experience organizing a colloquium where seven Tufts New Economy members did lightning presentations on five different topics relating to the transformation of the economics around land, labor, finance, food, and clothing. For the past two years we have organized a trip to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to learn about the new economy initiatives that are active there. We also have meetings every two weeks where we take turns facilitating and presenting on new economy topics that interest us. Anyone and everyone is welcome at our meetings at any time during the year. They are posted on our Facebook page as well as the GSC calendar.

Brenna: You just went to the Berkshires and are planning another trip to Montreal. What is the focus of these trips?

Alice: I think one of the best ways to learn about new economic models is to visit the people and places where they are happening. Because a lot of the ideas we talk about really fly in the face of what’s considered “conventional” thinking about how the economy works, it can be hard to understand and appreciate the way new economy initiatives take shape until you are there, seeing it with your own eyes and talking to people on the ground. For five years before I came to UEP I worked at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in the Berkshires, where I ran the local currency program called BerkShares. I was also involved in the work of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, which holds land in trust for community purposes such as housing for year-round residents and organic farming. When I came to Tufts I wanted to share what I had learned at the Schumacher Center with my classmates, so we organized a trip on the occasion of the 37th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, where we got to hear legendary Native American economist and activist Winona LaDuke speak. This year we went back again for the 38th Annual Lectures, where we heard from Ed Whitfield and Leah Penniman about black economic liberation and “a new reconstruction” that involves land reclamation and community wealth building, (rather than capital accumulation).

Trading dollars for BerkShares at Lee Bank in Great Barrington, MA

Next semester we are planning a trip to Montreal to learn from the many “solidarity economy” initiatives that are intertwined there. UEP Professor Julian Agyeman spent his sabbatical there last year, and so he has a good sense of the landscape and can connect us to the most interesting groups, which include worker-owned cooperative businesses, banks that align their investments with their values, and neighborhood redevelopment projects that are financed and shaped by these solidarity economy organizations. We look forward to learning how this solidarity economy eco-system evolved and what lessons they have learned.

Brenna: What advice would you give to a prospective graduate student interested in UEP/TNE?

Alice: Come check us out! You don’t have to know anything about economics or the new economy to join us—the whole point is to learn together. We also eat well—cookies, doughnuts, and cake have been known to appear at our meetings. To join our email list and find out when our meetings are please email me at alice.maggio@tufts.edu or join the Tufts New Economy Facebook group.

Art Sale @ SMFA at Tufts

Logo artwork by SMFA Print faculty Rhoda Rosenberg

Written by Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017

Recently I was in a Lyft talking with the driver about the greater Boston community. As he was a Boston native, we discussed the things one learns when moving to the area for school.  As I was telling him that I had graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, he turned his head and said “Wait, so you’re an artist?” His shock subsided, and he asked what kind of work I made, then followed up to my response with “I never would have thought you were an artist because you’re so open and social.”

I smiled politely, and informed him that I had grown to be open and in dialog about my work from my years at SMFA at Tufts. I told him that artists thrive with connection, engagement, and the kind of community support I had experienced.

The misconception that artists are sullen creatures, only found tormented and lamenting in their studios is out of date and counterintuitive to the artist’s educational path. Sure, artists can be frustrated like anyone else, however artists pursue graduate arts education not only for instruction, but to build a network of trusted mentors and colleagues. One of the aspects that I love about the SMFA community is its focused events, such as the upcoming SMFA Art Sale.

Every year, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts welcomes alumni, faculty, and the supporting community to come back to the school to showcase and sell their work in the sale. The event gives alumni a voice within the school while at the same time provides the greater Boston community with a chance to view and purchase work by established and emerging artists. Like many of my colleagues, mentors, and friends, I look forward to the opening reception and the chance to catch up with the contemporary Boston community and see some amazing artwork that will be exhibited and sold!

This year, the sale opens on Thursday, November 15th with a public reception that evening and runs through Sunday, November 18th. This is a great opportunity to engage with the artistic community of SMFA at Tufts, and perhaps strike up a conversation with some amazing artists.

 

OPENING RECEPTION Please join the SMFA community on Thursday, November 15, at 5:30 p.m., for light fare, cash bar, music, and more!

PUBLIC DAYS Thursday, November 15–Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m.– 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 18, 11:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.

SCHOOL OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS AT TUFTS 230 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115

FOR MORE INFORMATION call 617-627-SMFA (7632) or email SMFAartsale@tufts.edu.

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve been a dancer. I used to dance around my living room to Disney music, until my parents decided I needed some sort of outlet for my dancing habit. My parents signed me up for ballet classes shortly thereafter, and I’ve been taking dance classes and performing on stage ever since.

I was in my second year of undergrad when I was invited to perform in my first professional gig. I remember the moment vividly: I was at a retreat when my long-time mentor (and now, friend) left me a voicemail. I remember the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I listened to my mentor say she had an opportunity for me to perform and get paid for my dancing. To this day, the voicemail is saved to my cell phone. That voicemail not only changed the trajectory of my dance career, but also altered how I now see myself “fitting into” academia.

Five-and-a-half years have passed since I performed in my first paid dance gig. Since then, I’ve danced in more professional productions than I can recall, ranging from a full-length production with Jazz Inc. Dance to a short-lived HGTV show “Spontaneous Construction”.

Also since then, I’ve grown a fondness for academia. I love learning and being able to research questions I am curious about. My time as a Ph.D. student here at Tufts is nothing short of a dream. However, academia is not always fond of me.

Since entering grad school, I have not stopped pursuing my passion for dance. Dance provides me with much more than just exercise; through dance, I find joy and a sense of comfort that I cannot get anywhere else. My refusal to give up something that I consider to be both a means of self-care and a crucial part of my identity rubs some academics, who, themselves, have lost sight of what a work-life balance should look like, the wrong way.

The pressures to conform to some academic ideal of a work-life balance (which, in reality, is not balanced at all) are not missing at Tufts. However, Tufts is such an incredibly diverse community and it is possible to find mentors and colleagues to surround yourself with that share your own opinion of what a work-life balance should look like. At Tufts, I have found friends in my department who will go take dance classes with me, or who will take a day off from work to go to the beach. I have found mentors who support my love of writing and outreach and who will provide me with opportunities to pursue my interests outside of the lab.

Most importantly, however, I have grown to realize that I don’t need to conform to some ideal of what an academic should look like; at Tufts, I am able to relieve myself of the pressures of “fitting into” academia and just be myself.

When Home is 2,500 Miles Away

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. Candidate

It has been well over a year since I made the decision to attend Tufts for graduate school, yet I still occasionally feel the pang of homesickness hit me. I moved here from Washington state and those 2,500 miles separating me and everything I have ever known are still hard to deal with sometimes. When you come to Tufts, whether it’s from a city in Massachusetts, somewhere on the West Coast, or another country entirely, there will always be differences that make you feel like you are on an alien planet.

Alia’s mountain view leaving Washington for Tufts

For me, the little things hit me the hardest. People stop by Dunkin’ Donuts before work rather than Starbucks, they giggle at my pronunciation of aunt as “ant”, and I am forced to say “Washington state” instead of just Washington so people don’t confuse my beautiful home state with D.C. I used to go days feeling just fine, and then someone would mention they never had earthquake drills in elementary school or they’ve never heard of Jack in the Box and suddenly the thousands of miles between me and my home became very prominent in my mind.

 

It is true that new experiences help you grow as a person, and Tufts has been full of those, so I have never regretted moving here. However, it is still a good idea to have coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with the move.

My first plan of action when I decided to move here was looking up where I would live. I don’t just mean knowing what my address was going to be. I opened Google Maps, searched my future address, and then hunted down every important place within a two-mile radius until I knew exactly where to find anything I would need. I looked for restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, the best places for milkshakes, parks, art studios, museums, the nearest Target, and anywhere else I thought I might need to go. I planned out routes and checked transit schedules until I was confident I could get from my front door to Stop & Shop without getting totally lost.

I also made sure I had things to make me feel comfortable in my new place. I love baking and it always reminds me of home, so I made sure I could get my KitchenAid shipped to my apartment. Baking bread or cookies or something equally carb-filled always brightens my day. Paying for your old guitar to be checked on your flight here, buying houseplants that are native to where you are from or covering your bedroom with your favorite posters may seem silly or juvenile, but you will not regret it later when you have a physical reminder of home.

My worst fear was that I would not be able to meet new people, which is often a big problem due to my anxiety. I started small, within my own department. I lucked out and met some great people right away, but it’s okay if you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone for a bit. Join some graduate groups on campus, check if any of the students in your department do trivia nights, attend an art class at a studio in town. Having people around is so important. Consistent contact with people back home through phone calls and Skype conversations are not guaranteed and are no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

Alia’s view of her new home – landing over Boston at sunset

I will admit that it occasionally feels ridiculous that I get homesick. I’m an adult. I have lived on my own for years. I pay taxes. It seems as though when you get accepted into graduate school you are no longer able to feel things, because you chose to do this. I did choose to come here. I am so excited I get to be here. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard at times. This is a huge metropolitan area, filled with new people, new food, and new weather. No matter your age or subjective level of adulthood, moving is hard. But when classes start, or you have your first lab meeting, or you find the place that makes the best pizza, some of the stress and homesickness melts away.

I’ve gone back to the West Coast four times this year, and each time taking off from the Seattle airport feels a little bit less like I am leaving my family and more like I am coming back home, where the Starbucks isn’t as good anyway and linguistic differences are a fun anecdote at parties rather than a reminder of the distance.

Why Tufts? Part 3

   Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate


Collaboration, community, and teaching at Tufts

There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community. When picking my graduate school, I chose based on the Biology Department specifically. Now, after having been at Tufts for four years, I can say that these two reasons also apply to Tufts in general.

Collaboration: I loved that the Biology Department was collaborative, not competitive. Since we are one Biology Department, there is a range of expertise: from DNA repair to animal behavior, there is likely someone that can help with any project you propose. There are grad students that are co-advised and many labs collaborate. I am currently working on a project with the Wolfe Lab, a lab that studies microbial communities in fermented foods! I am working with the Wolfe Lab to determine if honey bee diet affects the community of microbes that live in the honey bee gut.

In general, I find the atmosphere on the Tufts campus to be a collaborative one rather than a competitive one. There are opportunities for grad students to collaborate with labs outside of their own department. Tufts even has an internal grant, Tufts Collaborates, which is specifically for this purpose! In my department, I know of biologists who work with chemists, engineers, and computer scientists.

Community: Even though we are divided into two buildings, the Biology Department strives to stay united. Every Friday, we have a seminar with cookies and tea before, and chips and salsa after. After seminar, I have the chance to catch up with faculty, staff, and students that work in the other building.

Outside of my department, the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC) strives to create a sense of community within the grad students. There are monthly GSC meetings where you can meet other grad students, hear about things going on, and voice your own opinions. The GSC also hosts academic, social, and community outreach events. Just last month, the GSC held their annual Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). This symposium is for all grad students on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The GSRS is not only a place to meet other grad students, but it’s a place where you can learn about all the cool research happening at Tufts, and maybe find a collaborator!

A couple other reasons specific to me: I grew up in a small town and while I enjoy visiting the city, I am not much of a “city girl.” The location of Tufts is great for the small-town girl in me: it’s easy to visit the city but it’s also easy to find beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature. Just about an hour south of New Hampshire and an hour east of Central Mass, there are plenty of gorgeous hiking trails and mountains within a manageable driving distance.

Since I would one day like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, I also like that Tufts has unique teaching opportunities for grad students. There is the Graduate Institute for Teaching where grad students attend workshops on teaching during the summer, and then co-teach a class with a faculty member during the fall. There is also the ExCollege which awards Graduate Teaching Fellowships for students who want to create and teach a class on their own. This coming Fall, I will be teaching my own class on insect pollinators and applying basic science to conservation practices!

Enjoying the talks at the 2017 GSRS.

Enjoying the poster session and reception after the 2017 GSRS.

Hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, equipped with my Tufts Jumbos winter hat!

Enjoying Boston Winter in Downtown Boston! (I also have my Tufts Jumbos hat on here but it’s covered by my hood.)

The Sweet Sweat of the Sauna

Written by Sam Woolf, Mechanical Engineering M.S. 2017

A university campus is a perfect place for ideas to evolve and and grow. I am drawn to the specific locations that enable this idea incubation, places that foster interactions with interesting people of varying backgrounds. A handful of of these places on campus come to mind; the small coffee shop (Brown and Brew), the president’s lawn on a beautiful day, sharing a table in the dining halls. Though, the most fruitful location is the Tufts Sauna.

There isn’t a strong sauna culture, in the US, and definitely not in California, where I grew up. So, I wasn’t fully convinced of the virtues of pure sweating, until the jolliest Swede you’ll ever meet dragged me in. The first few sessions were painful, hot humid air overwhelming my senses, reducing my conversation to a slow trickle. Though, as my mind and body adapted, I began to see the true magic of the place.

The Tufts Coed Sauna is a small cedar walled room in the heart of the gym. The brown walls, and benches are lit by a warm incandescent bulb, and by the light that trickles through the windowed door. A single heating unit keeps the room at a balmy 105 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. Each time a ladle of water is tossed on the rocks, a wave of even hotter air washes over the place, tingling nose celia and jolting the senses. Unless you were specifically seeking it out, you could easily trot by, completely missing the best place on campus.

It is here, throughout the day, that minds from across the university meet to share a 10 minute sweat. In the sauna, everyone is equal. Occupants embrace the fact that they are a sweaty mess, and all cloaks of social preconceptions fall away. Whereas in the external world, things like appearance, power dynamics, and new friend anxiety permeate. Here, they fall to the floor, encapsulated in that first drip of perspiration.

A simple, “How is your Tuesday going?”, opens the levee, and my favorite conversations pour through. People share their hearts, thoughts, and stories. In just the last few weeks, I’ve shared sweat with a wide population of people who have stretched my mind.

I chatted with a Fletcher student who is currently attempting to solve an impossible problem: looking at Arctic oil drilling, how do we balance the economic benefits with the inevitable social and environmental costs? A friendly and heated conversation ensued, as we discussed the fallibility numbers, and the poorly placed incentives of capitalistic businesses.

I sparked a conversation with a retired firefighter, who spent 45 years working for the Medford Fire Department. His eyes lit up as he described the old Davis Square, a cross roads containing a handful of Dive Bars and Sandwich joints. He reminisced about the long weekend nights spent waiting for his twin 6’4” sons to stumble in, and give him the full details of what ever brawl had occurred that evening. Though be warned, this gentleman likes his saunas quite hot, and I had to excuse myself to a cool shower before I caught the end of his story.

Another day, two chatty Seniors in the Psychology department joined me. The conversation whisked me back a few years to when I was considering my life after undergrad. Their words were laced with both excitement and anxiety as they pondered what a future could look like.

There is no other place in my life where I deeply connect with people from so many walks of life. Every person that enters the room has gems of wisdom stored in their mind, the sauna provides a safe place where these ideas can be shared and expanded. Each time I enter the room, I am reminded of the genuinely interesting and interested people who spend their time around this Somerville-Medford hill. All it takes is a few words shared in a humble place to feel connected to this community.

When I say “HOLIDAY,” You Say “FOOD DRIVE”

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

That’s just one of the cheers you would have Holiday Food Drive 1heard if you were walking around Porter Square early one Saturday evening (November 21, 2015 to be exact). Jenn (Biology grad student) brought lots of energy—and thus, lots of donators—to the annual Graduate Student Council (GSC) food drive. Clint (Psychology grad student) kept warm—and received lots of hugs from strangers—by walking around in his red panda onesie (because, why not?).

On a more serious note, the annual holiday food drive is a GSC tradition. Every year around Thanksgiving, the GSC Community Outreach Chair (this year, that’s me!) rounds up volunteers Holiday Food Drive 2to collect donations of non-perishable foods outside of Star Market in Porter Square. All donations are then brought to the Somerville Homeless Coalition. The Coalition’s Project SOUP (Share Our United Pantry) is a food pantry that hosts community suppers and distributes food donations to those in need. This year’s GSC food drive was such a success that we may have overwhelmed the Project SOUP volunteers…but in a good way!

This year, we had a total of 14 volunteers throughout the day, 11 of which were grad students representing various departments (in addition to Biology and Psychology, we had grad student volunteers from Physics, Economics, Computer Science and Drama). Those 14 volunteers collected 17 boxes of non-perishable food! At the food drive, we also received $197 in cash donations (which we turned into some of those non-perishable food items).

When our cash donations started piling up, a couple of volunteers would go into Star Market to use the cash to buy more non-perishable donations. At the suggestion of our GSC President, Jeremy, most of our cash donations went toward buying baby food—something most people don’t consider when donating to a food drive. At one point, Jeremy and I went into Star Market with $49.71 to spend on baby food. As we piled roughly $50-worth of baby food onto the conveyor belt, the cashier likely thought Jeremy and I were young, struggling parents with multiples (triplets?).

Holiday Food Drive 3Aside from being able to donate 17 boxes-worth of food to Project SOUP, the best part of the food drive was meeting people from the community and seeing them get into the holiday spirit. We had one man who heard Jenn cheering from afar and told us that he didn’t need any groceries but he was going to go in and buy some just for our food drive. When he came out, he put 2 bags of groceries on our table while chanting “Donate! Donate! Donate!”

There were people who came out with whole shopping carts full of donations, whole shopping baskets full of donations, and one man even went home to clean out his pantry—he brought us three bags of canned goods, oatmeal, and rice. There were also a lot of kids who would shyly put a canned good or two on our table—one was dressed as an astronaut!