In Which I See Some Light from A Few Million Years Ago

Do you know why the Milky Way is so named?  It’s shaped like a disk, and since we sit inside of that disk, there’s a particular direction we can look and see the “thickest” slice of our galaxy (from where we are to the edge).  This slice appears as a band across the sky, milky because our eyes can’t distinguish the billions of individual stars from one another.  The sight of this illuminated strip, a reminder of our own insignificant place orbiting one star out of a few hundred billion in one galaxy out of a couple hundred billion, is truly amazing.  Have you seen it before?

If not, you should really head over for a tour of the Mees Observatory.  The observatory, owned and operated by the University of Rochester and about an hour’s drive away, sits on the highest point in Ontario County; given the low levels of light pollution there, it’s kind of like “the best seat in the house” when it comes to observing the stars (and other such astronomical objects).

The trip started with a powerpoint.  Well, no, the trip started with the bus ride over (which I planned to spend reading but, naturally, got sucked into a conversation about Marxism and television and Ramadan and what those all have to do with each other, because a bus ride with Rochester students is never boring).  And then continued with us getting out of the bus to stand on a dais outside the house that treated us to this panorama:


And then with us getting coffee and donuts.

But after all of that, there was a powerpoint, courtesy of our tour guide Dave Cameron.  Highlights of the presentation include: everyone at the UR has been pronouncing Gannett wrong (actually guh-NET), and the house at the observatory is named after him; on any given night there will be about 3 dozen satellites visible, most of which are garbage (“we’re polluting the sky”); the night of our visit was the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11, of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fame; someone asked “Does Pluto still exist?” when we were naming off the planets; and, as beautiful as our auroras are on Earth, listening to Saturn’s aurora provided me with a brand new soundtrack for my worst nightmares.

Overall, the presentation was fun and engaging.  We did pause for a moment during to head outside and see an iridium flare, which is when an iridium communication satellite catches the light just so, and, well, flares.  The flash can be incredibly bright, up to 30 times brighter than Venus, and I’m really sorry that I just ruined that one time you thought you saw a UFO (if you’re interested, you can plan a viewing here).

The tour continued with a trek into the actual observatory.  There are two parts to the observatory: a control room and the telescope.

The control room, running on computers older than me, locks in on a star (or other object) and moves the telescope.


Meanwhile, up in the telescope area, you can rotate the ceiling to reveal some pretty spectacular views.

To help you navigate in the dim red lighting, there were carefully placed glow-in-the-dark stars.
To help you navigate in the dim red lighting, there were well placed glow-in-the-dark stars, which we all found equal parts helpful and amusing.

The first thing we saw was Saturn, and all its rings.  The rings are only about 30-300 ft. thick and more than 750 million miles away (point of comparison: that’s more than 100 times the combined height of every single living person)… and yet, here they were, clearly visible.  I saw how the planet was tilted, and the swirls on its surface.  I don’t know the best way to communicate what it was like to see something that cool, but I will say that the first person to go up and take a peek simply exclaimed: wow.

We saw a ring nebula, and (my personal favorite) the Hercules globular cluster.  All the while, Eric Mamajek, a UR professor, answered our questions and shared stories about the universe and where it came from (and let us know that if we’re interested, we can learn much more about it in Astronomy 105 or 111 next semester).

An expedition to Niagara Falls or Letchworth State Park can certainly be beautiful, but to me, there’s something even cooler about being a tourist of your solar system.  We ended the night by going out, looking up at the stars, and seeing the band across the sky that gives our galaxy its name: the Milky Way, the ultimate sightseeing experience.

PS: if you follow that Mees Observatory link, it loads a different background picture whenever you refresh the page, so have fun with that.

The Loon is Where Debate is at

The UR Debate Union (URDU) is a hidden gem that more students need to be extracted more often. In high school, I participated in Lincoln Douglass (LD) debate and Student Congress, but I wasn’t as active as I would like due to money issues. I wasn’t as driven to do debate in high school because I never won anything at a tournament (and never made it to eliminations), and that changed once I joined URDU. My first intercollegiate debate tournament was the West Point Invitational at West Point. There, I won my very first debate round ever and I owe that to the wonderful debate coaches. The thing about URDU that makes it so different than most teams on the NDT-CEDA circuit is the openness of the team.

URDU on the steps of Rush Rhees having fun at our annual debate banquet.

Debaters with no experience are more than welcomed to join URDU and all they have to do is attend an URDU meeting. The best thing about the URDU is the free travel! Because of a gracious benefactor, all members of the URDU can travel for free to tournaments. FREE hotel rooms, team dinners, car and air travel (to national tournaments) are FREE. Also, if you can prove that you are dedicated to the debate game and show potential/progress, you might be able to get URDU to subsidize your tuition at summer debate camps.

My bear and Rocky chilling in my hotel room at the Harvard Tournament in October 2013.

Currently, I am at policy debate camp in Vermont called The Loon, more specifically the East Coast Loon since there is another Loon on the West Coast. As a debater for the university, I decided to spend some of my summer to refine and develop my debate skills, so I can be a better debater and advocate. My time at the Loon has been very interesting and life-affirming. The East Coast Loon is located on a mountain in Vermont where I have had the privilege to see STARS! There were hundreds of stars scattered and packed throughout the dark sky and for a minute, I felt really really small.   The best part of my star-gazing  was when I was lucky enough to see a meteor shoot across the sky! As a girl from a large city in the south , I never had that privilege or opportunity to see the beauty of space and Vermont gave me that.

Being on the debate team, especially at UR, has provided me with great experiences and access to a community filled with love, competitiveness, and deep intellectuals. If you would like to know more about the URDU or policy debate in general, you can email me at or visit Dewey 1-204 when school starts.

The Magic of Willy Wonka

About two weeks ago, I attended the Summer Sessions movie event at Jackson Court where the feature movie was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

A mixture of students enjoying the classic story about a poor boy getting a happy ending

Although I am not a big fan of the movie, I did enjoy some aspects of the event. For me, the best part had to be the free candy.  (The struggle is real in college and anytime I see advertisements for free food or candy, I have to be there).

Blue Raspberry Cotton Candy
No golden ticket here
A relatively bad picture of the first golden ticket winners huddling over their precious candy prize

The disappointing part of the event was that I did not receive a Golden Ticket. I wanted to be Charlie that night, but my dream never came true.  I guess maybe that is why I had to leave the event before the movie ended; it was just too hard to see Charlie on the screen and know that I could never be him.

Young Charlie


In Which Naps are Extolled

Rochester’s beaches, as you’ve heard from a few of us bloggers by now, are pretty nice—but you don’t have to venture beyond the edges of campus for a relaxing day.

Even the adults on campus like to kick back and relax.
No beach required to kick back and relax.

Feel like getting some sunlight? You can enjoy sitting on the Quad, stretched out with a good book, or playing Frisbee with some friends. If it’s air conditioning you want, you can head to bright and sunny Hirst lounge and enjoy the bustle of our student union, or go hang out in the “treehouse” (the upper level of Rettner Hall, with a great view of the campus).

Added bonus of the treehouse: toys!
Bonus of hanging out in the treehouse: toys!

Beyond simple convenience, an added benefit of staying on campus is seeing your friends and classmates (and sometimes even professors), so there’s always someone around for an impromptu game of hacky sack or an interesting conversation.

Having Sophie sit on the academic quad was staged, running into two of our friends who met and then hit it off, not staged.
Having Sophie sit on the academic quad was staged, running into two of our friends who met and then hit it off, not staged.
Seriously, guys, this is a candid shot.
This is actually a candid shot, that’s just how perfect hanging out on campus is.


Conversely, you can also ignore everyone and just take a nap, and no one will judge you because this is college and naps are universally revered.


You can swing by Wilson Commons or Starbucks first to grab something tropical to sip on (orange mango smoothie, anyone?), or drop by the library to check out a new summer read.

Peach green tea lemonade works too.
Peach green tea lemonade works too.
There's even a "summer reading" section, guys, it couldn't be easier!
There’s even a “summer reading” section, guys, it couldn’t be easier!


While trips off campus are lots of fun, it’s nice to know that a suntan and a peaceful afternoon are no farther away than the lawn outside your own window.

Especially when the lawn outside your window looks like this.

Transitioning from College to the Real World

Well, it has happened. Those four years flew by. Everyone said they would – and I believed them – but in the back of my head I couldn’t help but feel that they would be wrong. Somehow I’d be in college forever, static in the footprint of the University of Rochester ad infinitum.

Living in Buffalo now, I suppose you could still say I’m in that footprint, but I’m certainly not in Kansas anymore. Buffalo, for being as close to Rochester as it is, has a distinctly different feel. I haven’t exactly been able to put my finger on how that feel is different yet but it is. Maybe it’s being close to Canada, maybe it’s the fact that it is new to me, or maybe it’s something I haven’t yet seen.


But after being out of school for a few months and working my current job for a few weeks, I feel like I’ve seen a whole new world. A world which I was prepared to deal with, but not in the way I would have expected. With that, I’d like to share some advice on how to succeed with the transition:

1. Be flexible. Yes, it is very general advice and cliched, but it is valuable beyond measure. While you’re moving into a new apartment, starting a new job, meeting new people, and having new experiences, it isn’t going to go exactly as planned. You’ll have to deviate from the ideal path you were picturing in your mind. That’s fine. That’s actually to be expected. Just take a step back, reassess, and keep on keeping on.

2. Own your work. At the University, you’ll have many students who take immense pride in their work. You’ll also have some who take a bit more relaxed approach to academics. I tended to be the latter, but now wished I was the former. I’ve realized that by taking ownership over what you do not only are you more satisfied with it, you’re more likely to achieve.

3. Humility is key. Coming out of college, not everyone will have a job. Not everyone will get into grad school. Therefore, it is key to be thankful if you do land a job or if you do get into that grad school you’ve been working towards all your life. Don’t forget to stop and say thanks for the opportunities that have come your way.

4. Realize that social life is going to be different. This one I wasn’t prepared for. While at school it is relatively easy to have a thriving social life. Everyone generally lives close, you’re all going through the same experiences, you all will have diverse yet similar interests, etc. Post-graduation, in order to have a thriving social life you need to change your approach. It is more of an active process. Instead of letting people come to you, go out and meet people. Say hi and introduce yourself. Make lunch plans and stick to them. I’ve integrated myself quick and can say I’m doing well now because I took a more active role than previously.

After just a short time, it seems astonishing how the transition has come so fast. It has been good, and I’m loving everything now, but I can’t say I don’t miss the U of R every so often. But, once a Yellowjacket, always a Yellowjacket, right?

University Of Rochester