A Short Collection of SLU Stories

Ally Friedman
Class of: 

My role as a tour guide this summer may be my principal, and quite honestly my favorite, duty as an Admissions Intern, but giving campus tours is merely one of many tasks I have taken on over the past few months. And despite my status as an “intern," none of these tasks have involved getting coffee for higher-ups or making copies. In fact, I have been assigned an array of crucially important projects, ranging from data analysis to redecorating the foyer of Payson Hall. Still, I find that giving a tour is almost always the most rewarding and exciting part of my day. I pride myself on having some kind of relevant, hilarious, heartwarming story to satisfy each of the questions I hear most often from prospective students and their families. After all, storytelling is easy when you go to a school like St. Lawrence. It’s easy to become familiar with students who are invested in a fascinating array of departments and activities, and it’s easy to build an experience here that is rich with diverse projects and people.

One skill I didn’t expect to spend much time developing this summer was story collecting. Yet, I have spent much of my time in Payson collecting stories, playing a small part in our office’s constant effort to obtain and provide the most up-to-date SLU news and information. My determination to collect exciting new stories has taken me from Vilas to Brown Hall, inside departments and offices I might not have visited otherwise, and I have collected far more stories than I could ever tell on a single campus tour. Again and again I have been awed by the kinds of projects undertaken by students and faculty here, and for this reason I might even contend that my role as a story collector has been more significant than my job as a story teller. Below is a sampling of a few recent stories I have collected and transcribed; who says interns don’t do anything important?!

“The Power of Porcupines”

(A Story from our Conservation Biology Program)

“If you’re working with me, you’ll go porcupine trapping once a week,” says Dr. Erika Barthelmess, co-chair of the Biology department and faculty coordinator of the Conservation Biology program here at St. Lawrence. What is “porcupine trapping”? It’s not as dicey as it sounds! Dr. Barthelmess isn’t catching porcupines to keep as fun pets, and she isn’t entertaining a hunting habit either. As an accomplished vertebrate ecologist and conservation biologist, Dr. Barthelmess is interested in the natural history of porcupines. Dr. Barthelmess is also interested in her students.

When Johnson Hall of Science was built in 2007, Dr. Barthelmess was involved in designing her future office space. Today, Barthelmess’ lab on the first floor of Johnson includes a sizable conference table, where students are encouraged to work on their own papers and projects whilst their professor writes up her own research. Dr. Barthelmess meets weekly with the team of students who are doing research with her, and requires that this team comes together to edit and review one another’s work. And yes, her team must also venture into the woods to catch porcupines and briefly examine them (don’t worry - they have a New York State Scientific Collecting Permit).  

There may be times when Dr. Barthelmess’ students would prefer to take a week off from porcupine trapping, or perhaps they would rather trap hedgehogs. This is something they are more than welcome to discuss with their professor! After all, forging open and reciprocal relationships between students and faculty is a cornerstone of the St. Lawrence experience. Dr. Barthelmess, alongside the team of professors who teach conservation biology courses here, provide students with a comprehensive experience in science and mentoring that they would be hard-pressed to find at many other undergraduate institutions. Like the conservation biology program itself, which is an interdisciplinary major totally unique to St. Lawrence, faculty here are dedicated to exposing students to the many facets of conservation issues - from biology to political economy to genetics - to porcupines!

“Crusading for Canton”

(A Story from our Sustainability Semester)

Did you know the founder and co-chair of the Canton Village Council’s “Sustainability Committee” is a current student at St. Lawrence named Sean Morrisey '16? While participating in the Sustainability Semester in the spring of 2014, Sean worked with the Village Council to create a new committee dedicated to pioneering environmental change in our charming small town. The committee has since been divided into three subcommittees that will address issues related to food and agriculture, transportation, energy and housing.

All students on our Sustainability Semester program are involved in a Community-Based Learning (CBL) placement, which allows them to engage with local “green” initiatives in varying capacities. Sean’s CBL facilitated his partnership with Canton Village Trustee Carol Pynchon, who assisted him in establishing the Sustainability Committee. Thus far, the committee has generated a lot of buzz in Canton and members are excited to break ground on green projects like a community compost, solar panels for the municipal building and additional bike racks. Anyone can (and should) attend the committee’s monthly sessions to see Sean in action and support our community as we make strides toward sustainability! Meetings are held in the Canton Municipal building at 60 Main Street, and their dates will be set in the coming months.

“Shared Misery, Shared Joy”

(A Story from our Geology Department)

Of course, every academic department at St. Lawrence can boast close-knit relationships between students and their professors, owing to our small class sizes and stellar student to faculty ratio (it’s 12:1 in case you weren’t sure). Yet how many departments can claim that each of their majors will have gone camping with professors by the time they graduate? Not many (probably)! Geology is a discipline that relies heavily on field work, and for this reason our own geology department is dedicated to sending students into the great outdoors. Luckily for SLU students, Northern New York is particularly rich in geology, as the region plays host to many ancient rocks and even some of the first life forms on the planet. Even more lucky for our students, the geology department consistently offers ample opportunities for majors to go look at spectacular geology all over the world! Students will be embarking on academically enriching and exciting trips to the “Barren Lands” (in the Canadian Arctic) and the French Alps in this upcoming school year.

Now, the geology department is not claiming that every one of their students will have shared a tent with a professor by the time they graduate - that would be ridiculous. Camping doesn’t always have to involve tents! Students might end up sleeping in yurts or under the stars or inside of an igloo whilst conducting their field work. On a recent excursion to Colorado this past May, geology students were invited to stay at a ranch owned by a St. Lawrence alum. How nice for them! Dr. Judith Nagel-Myers, our Paleontologist-in-Residence, recently quipped that no matter where the SLU geology department takes students, “if it rains, it rains on everyone.” For this reason, Dr. Nagel-Myers went on to argue that the geology department binds students and professors closer together by providing them a (surely) valuable experience of “shared misery."

Geology professors at St. Lawrence don’t just teach their students how to identify microfossils or determine climate change through glaciers, they also teach students how to cook outdoors and how to set up a rain-proof campsite. On a field excursion to Yellowstone National Park, Dr. Jeffrey Chiarenzelli taught his students about mineralogy while also teaching them how to cope without showers for a week. To instill this crucial lesson, Dr. Chiarenzelli took his team to Chico Hot Springs for a quick rinse-off before they got on the plane to return home. To this point, and for the record, Dr. Nagel-Myers was quick to amend her aforementioned statement about “shared misery” by adding that SLU geology majors are also privy to plenty of “shared joy."