A Summer to Write
Initially, Mickey O'Neil '13 wasn't even going to submit a summer research proposal.
At the urging of her advisor, English professor Will Marquess, she reconsidered. Next thing she knew, she was spending her summer in Vermont writing a novel.
O'Neil's proposal outlined a 50,000-word summer goal for her writing, which focused on taking her two majors at the time, English and psychology, and synthesizing them into a fictional account of a character struggling with bipolar disorder. All summer, she worked under the guidance of Professor of English Liz Inness-Brown (herself a published author of fiction).
Though she didn't quite hit the proposed word count, O'Neil said both Inness-Brown and the college "respected it as something that might not have to have a certain end goal," which allowed her the freedom to focus on the quality and depth of the writing rather than "writing to fill a quota." More importantly, she came to some important conclusions about her course of study at Saint Michael's and where she would like that lead later on.
"I learned that I didn't want to be a psychology major," O'Neill said. "I realized writing and reading is what I need to be doing with my life. People sometimes scoff when you say you want to be a writer. Writers will go their whole lives sometimes trying to get sponsored to write. And I get a grant to write for the summer, which was incredible. I don't think a lot of schools offer that opportunity."
"Support like this for a writer early in his or her career is invaluable," Inness- Brown said. "It sends a message that the writer has talent and potential and is taken seriously, which can be tremendously motivating. I was proud and happy to work with Mickey on her project, and I look forward to seeing where she takes her writing next."
O'Neil also learned how much regimentation and dedication writing requires. The fact that she enjoyed the hard work let her know writing is something she could see herself doing for the rest of her life. It didn't hurt that she was surrounded by other summer research students whose ambition was contagious.
"Get paid to do what you like, find your bliss," she said. "That's what I learned over the summer. While my friends were at home working at the pool and lifeguarding, I was working alongside students developing things like prostate cancer cures." Those kinds of opportunities, she believes, are unique to Saint Michael's and set it apart.
"When I first started looking at colleges, I thought a small school would be isolating or claustrophobic. But I've had so many opportunities at Saint Michael's that I wouldn't have had at a big school. People really care about you and want to help you fulfill everything you have in you. If I were somewhere else, there's no way that I would have been able to write for a summer and be paid to do it." - C.C.
A Summer to Get Wet
Each year, a select number of Saint Michael's students are lucky enough to spend the hot summer months standing knee-deep in mountain streams. What's more, as part of the Vermont EpScor Streams project, they get paid to do it.
But this is no summer vacation. The Streams project is a serious program that affords students the chance to do graduate-level research and collect data used in statewide policy-making. Quite frequently, the experience alters and helps them solidify what they want to go on to do with their lives.
Streams focuses on monitoring and analyzing water quality data throughout the Lake Champlain basin, using the cooperative efforts of high school students, teachers, undergraduates and college faculty. A portion of it is headquartered at Saint Michael's College, where biology professor Declan McCabe oversees the work.
"Two things are the goal: get the students solid experience and get high quality data sets," McCabe said. "They're gathering data that end up used in the real world. It's got to be done well and it's not just ‘Let's go have fun with bugs!' Although, they do have fun with bugs."
The bugs McCabe mentioned refer to macroinvertebrates, one of the many things the students measure in their work. Janel Roberge '12 summed up nicely how something so small comes to mean so much because of that work.
"The fact that what we're doing directly influences the environment is a pretty big deal," Roberge said. "I took a shower today and thought about how that might mess up a mayfly's day. People don't typically think that way, but maybe we should."
Roberge was a member of the Streams team for two straight summers, touting the high-level research and mentoring opportunities she enjoyed during that time. The joy she found in the lab and field work steered her toward her post-graduation employment in the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. That sort of career inspiration is common among Streams participants.
"The summer after my freshman year, I got into Streams and bugs and I decided I didn't want to be a vet," said Bridget Levine '12. "I don't want to work with bugs for the rest of my life, but I'm totally into field research and collecting data sets. We're learning some really indispensable skills about how to analyze data, how to make it accessible to people. These are really important issues. People kind of look at you funny when you say you work with bugs. They think 'why should I care?' And that's just it. I got really into caring."
The importance of doing meaningful work is something students often learn at Saint Michael's. But, perhaps just as often, it seems to be a reason they are drawn to the college as well.
"I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking at macroinvertebrates," said Anne Burnham '13 with a laugh. "Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, really, my interest is in water quality issues and broader themes of EpScor. I'd like to do either environmental management or a combination of environmental law and policy. And a lot of the students, myself included, have the sense that they're contributing to something that's part of a larger project, a larger puzzle. That's really important."
A Summer to Explore
Following their work this summer with Professor Adam Weaver, Marci Wood '14 and Alison Lajoie '13 are known around campus as "the leech people." And that's just fine by them. "It's definitely a source of pride," Lajoie said. "We even have t-shirts [that say it]."
Wood and Lajoie spent their summer months on campus studying the leech heartbeat and nervous systems in two different leech species that had never been previously studied. That meant long hours in the lab dissecting and analyzing creatures others might run screaming from. The two reveled in the unique opportunity afforded them by Saint Michael's summer research program.
"I was really excited about the chance to stay on campus and work with a professor who knew me, talked to the biology faculty to get to know all of us," Lajoie said. "Instead of having to interview at a large research facility where they wouldn't know much about me, it was really cool to stay in the Saint Michael's community."
"I haven't heard that my friends who go to other colleges are working directly with professors," Wood said. "It's pretty unique. It gives you such good experience to put on your resume. As undergrads, you're usually in a lab for three hours a week, versus the eight hours a day we were putting in this summer."
Like many Saint Michael's summer researchers, Wood and Lajoie said the experience helped clarify the career paths they'd like to pursue after graduation, while compiling important data for the scientific community at the same time.
"It complements the rest of what we've studied," Wood said. "We'll be able to apply the skills we've learned this summer everywhere. Learning to work closely in the lab with other people, for example, is a great skill to have in any career, especially in science, which is so collaborative."
After graduation next spring, Lajoie plans to take a year off and then head to medical school. Wood is in the pre-pharmacy program and, following the completion of her biology degree, will begin taking pharmacy classes next year. In addition to reinforcing their interest in their respective fields, their summer work honed some other interesting skills.
"The first day, I don't think we even finished a dissection," Wood said. "At that time we didn't really know what we were looking for. But by the end of the summer, we could do a dissection in an hour and a half."
All told, the two said "probably a total of 40 leeches went toward science," though one special giant leech still lives in the biology lab refrigerator.
"It is a true honor to work with such bright and motivated students," says Weaver. "They take their work very seriously. We moved in a few short weeks from a mentor-mentee relationship to working as true colleagues contributing equally to the project."
"I'm really grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to do this research and to Adam for being so helpful," Wood said. "I do think this is an opportunity we wouldn't have had outside of Saint Mike's." "And the opportunity wouldn't have been personalized or, frankly, as much fun," Lajoie added. - M.T.
A Summer to Act
Josh Bardier '10 discovered Charlie Brown in the funny pages but got to know him better by watching and playing him on stage. There was something deeply familiar about the loyal, optimistic, animated fellow who feels at times like the odd duck but never lets that get in the way of doing what he loves.
Bardier, a talented young director, actor and dancer/choreographer, says he felt a similar instant soul connection with Saint Michael's College when he first visited campus as a high school junior. Neither affinity, it seems, has remotely subsided.
Fresh off two years exploring the theater/ dance scenes of London, New York City and his home region of Worcester, Massachusetts, Bardier returned to Saint Michael's this past summer in part to direct You're a Good Man Charlie Brown for Playhouse Junior, the children's theater extension of Saint Michael's Playhouse.
The late Henry Fairbanks, a legendary humanities professor, conceived of the Playhouse in 1947 largely as a teaching instrument for students. Ever since, Playhouse internships have been either a springboard or a reality check for scores of theater major, says Producing Artistic Director Chuck Tobin '80, who, like Bardier, had his first professional theater experience as an intern there. Now both men pay it forward by showing current Playhouse interns how the show-business professionals do it.
Bardier spent much of his senior year as a theater major interning with Tobin to learn the business side of running a theater. That led to a paid job as house manager for the Playhouse after he graduated in 2010. The two kept in touch, and at Tobin's invitation this year, Bardier agreed to direct the season's two children's shows.
His charge from Tobin was to breathe extra life and professionalism into the Playhouse Junior productions. To judge by the children who lined up for autographs from Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Schroeder, Sally and friends after an early August performance, he succeeded.
Part of his success was because he cast Saint Michael's alumni, including classmate and best friend Kate Clark '10 and other close theater alumni pals as his "own personal Peanuts Gang" to star in Charlie Brown, including Brendan O'Leary '10 as Charlie Brown, Rory Fitzgerald '10 as Linus van Pelt and Jayden Choquette '10 as Schroeder.
Marla Caram '13, a theater major who spent this summer as a Playhouse administrative intern, had the prime role of Snoopy. "A lot of interns tend to be actors," she says, "so we can act in children's shows if not a Main Stage show, or sometimes both, while working during the summer and making money." Caram loved her role, but the experience confirmed for herself that she's most interested in a possible career in one of the off-stage roles that interns get to see and try up-close: costumes, lights, scenery, props, directing.
"It's a great system" Clark agrees. As an intern, she had featured roles in Playhouse productions, worked in the box office and acted in children's shows."It's an amazing experience to be working with professionals, getting to know these pros as friends, and then also to nurture your own creative growth as an actor. Clark now lives and works in and around New York City while trying to make a go of the actor's life like Bardier. Both say they've been grateful more than once for a connection or foot in the door through a pro they worked with at the Playhouse.
Right before his most recent project, directing Clark University theater productions back home in Worcester, Bardier played Charlie Brown in a community theater show, an experience that put him in mind of his Saint Michael's friends, mentors and community.
"The underlying theme in the play is always, 'what is true happiness?' Bardier says. "The heart that is inside of each of these individuals just comes shining through."
"In the play, as in in real life, we see it truly is all about collaborating, and that is something I did learn at St. Mike's because of the community that's here," says Bardier. ? - M.T.