I'm Megan, a senior at Susquehanna University. My hope is that this blog will cover my four years here, from the firsts to the lasts.

In college, you learn how to learn. Four years is not too much time to spend at that." - Mary Oliver

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Senior Scholars Day

This Tuesday I participated in a Susquehanna tradition called Senior Scholars Day. During the day, students give oral presentations and poster presentations about their senior research. Music students have recitals, while students' graphic design work is also put on display. In some ways, this event is a sort of academic culmination for seniors. It’s a chance to show off all the work  you’ve been doing to members of your community, including friends and faculty. I was able to present as well as see some of the other presentations.

What I liked about seeing other students’ presentations was that I could get a better sense of their passions and what they spent their time working on this semester (or this whole year). Though I’m aware that many other seniors are also tackling extensive research projects, I still rarely think in detail about all the work other people are putting in at the library or at the lab. I stopped by two posters by friends of mine who did scientific projects. It was nice to be able to hear about their projects—even if I felt like I didn’t have a very sophisticated understanding of the scientific terms they were using! One of my housemates did a poster presentation about her project as well, though hers was in a humanities field. I felt like I learned more about her research when I stopped by to support her, which was cool since we'd already been talking about it frequently throughout the semester. 

I ended up going to quite a few interesting oral presentations as well. Oral presentations on Senior Scholars Day last about 10 minutes and then leave a few minutes for questions. I got to hear about similarities between early Islam and Christianity, the racial integration of a college football team, a comparison of Holocaust museums, and the ways Confucian thought can be beneficial to Roman Catholics’ participation in rituals. My friends really are doing compelling research!

At 2:20 p.m. was my presentation on my capstone for the Religious Studies major, called “Recovering a ‘Heart of Flesh’: Challenging the Devaluing of Emotion in Evangelical Christian Approaches to Dating and Rhetoric.” Preparing for this presentation was a challenge. The paper I’m working on about this subject is at 40 pages right now. Reducing that information to 10 minutes seemed almost impossible. After a very late night on Monday, however, I was able to narrow down my scope and figure out what I wanted to present. I shared with my audience some information on how evangelical Christian books on dating and purity talk about emotion, as well as some quotes from female medieval mystics that I think challenge that attitude towards emotion. I felt as if I sharing such a tiny sliver of my research, but perhaps that is really all that needed to be done. A ten minute presentation isn't really enough to allow someone else to dive into your subject, but it is enough to introduce it to them. Some of my friends came to support me, which I really appreciated.

All in all, though, I must admit that it felt a bit anti-climactic. I had this presentation at the back of my mind all year (to be honest, I had probably been assuming I’d participate in the day even longer than that), and then, well, it ended so quickly. Perhaps I was envisioning something more. Maybe I had been wanting people to leave the room as fired up about my topic as I was. Even if that wasn’t quite the case, I did receive some good feedback. Maybe it mostly felt strange because it was another major senior year milestone crossed off my list. Though I have exciting opportunities awaiting me after graduation, I’m still pretty uncomfortable with the fact that there are very few milestones left to go. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Final Retreat

It’s April—which is a significant fact because that means May (the month of my college graduation) is next month! The month is very busy even after graduation. The same day I graduate, I’ll be heading to camp with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in New York for a few days of reading the Bible and focusing on God. Then I’ll be home for a day or two before I head off for a Disney World vacation with a group of my senior friends. Again, I’ll come home for about a day or two before heading off for a job at summer camp. Life is certainly going forward at full-speed.

It’s nice, in all this forward motion, to get some time to relax and reflect. On the weekend of March 21st to the 23rd, I was able to do just that through Susquehanna’s Christian Fellowship Retreat at Mountain Dale Farm. Every semester, Susquehanna’s Deacon of Spiritual Nurture organizes a retreat for students. I have been attending these retreats since my freshman year and have valued the time to escape campus for a while, bond with other students, and grow spiritually.

This semester, we reflected on what it means to be spiritually awake or spiritually asleep. Being “spiritually asleep” might mean only going through the motions of your faith or generally being apathetic. To me, being awake means being an active participant in one’s relationship with God. I personally felt woken up by the weekend. I had been more engaged in reading my Bible there than I had been for quite some time, which was an awesome feeling.

Though the retreat was great, it was definitely bittersweet. I’ve become attached to the drive there through middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, to Mountain Dale Farm, to the deer heads mounted on the walls and the mismatched couches in the room place we call “The Room of Death,” to candles in a cross formation in the middle of the floor during worship, to games like Catchphrase, to intimidating geese, to lazily sprawling out on the couches during free time, to talking through life with a prayer partner, and most of all, to the great people that come each semester. The last night of the retreat was one of those times where graduating really hit me. It was the last of something important to my college experience—and I knew a lot more lasts were on their way.

That night, the senior girls all decided to sleep over on the couches in the “Room of Death” instead of going to our cabin. When I was an underclassman and not all the girls could fit in the  cabin, upperclassmen girls often ended up sleeping over in that room. None of us had ever done it, so we took our chance. I don’t think any of us got great sleep, but it was worth it for that memory that felt so college—a bunch of girls sprawled out on couches pushed into a circle, chatting and reminiscing in the dark as we curled up underneath our blankets and sleeping bags.  

My friends and I hope to go back to Mountain Dale one day for a reunion of sorts, but if that never comes to fruition, I had a great final retreat that I’d be happy to call my last Mountain Dale memory.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Breakfast with the President

One of the great things about going to a small school like Susquehanna is the accessibility of our professors. We are lucky to have a very accessible president as well. President Lemons is notorious on campus for his friendliness towards students and stunning ability to remember students’ names, as well as his annual Twas the Night Before Christmas reading before winter break. 

Over the course of their senior year, all students are invited by President Lemons to a breakfast or a lunch. In a way, these meals serve as a focus group for students to share their experiences with Susquehanna—good and bad—with someone who has the power to make change. I went to this breakfast with a group of students last Friday. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the reflections that breakfast prompted.

The first question we were asked was how and why we chose Susquehanna. I was initially drawn to Susquehanna by its creative writing program. As a high school student, I attended two of the summer writing workshops held at SU, which helped contribute to my love of the place as well as my confidence that a Creative Writing major, not some English major with a creative writing concentration, was what I wanted. Of course, I could’ve studied Creative Writing somewhere else. Though I may want to say that the particulars of SU’s Creative Writing program is what sold me, that isn’t true. It was the Susquehanna atmosphere. The other school I was considering just didn’t compare in terms of the feeling it gave me. Thankfully, Susquehanna offered me an assistantship scholarship where I would get work experience in the University Communications office that helped make the school the sound choice as well.

Though the Creative Writing program is what drew me here, it’s amazing to think of all the great things I’ve experienced outside the department—things I didn’t even consider when I enrolled! In particular, I think about how enriching my Religious Studies major is and how I might not have ended up adding a second major in the field at another school, where I wouldn’t have encountered the same, wonderful faculty or may not have been encouraged to enroll in a religion class for Central Curriculum credits.

The second question we were asked was our favorite part of Susquehanna. Though it felt very cliché to say so, I had to be honest. My favorite part is the people. I was blessed to meet really great people my freshman year of college in Hassinger Hall. Every year since, I’ve lived with some combination of these people, and still, all my closest friends lived with me on the third floor. Our friendships, however, have blossomed since then, and we have lived so much of our college lives together. The faculty figure into that favorite people answer as well.

During our breakfast, I specifically mentioned how great I’ve found all the Religion faculty members. I’ve enjoyed every one of the professors I’ve had through the department and have gotten into great conversations with many of them. I’ve taken three courses with one of the professors who has really helped shape the way I approach Scripture, particularly in terms of feminist issues. She is currently advising me on my capstone, and I love getting to meet with her to discuss the ideas I’m exploring. She has also been happy to talk to me about careers and graduate school. Another one of the professors has talked with me various times about vocation and my future when he served as our interim chaplain. He also took a friend and I out to lunch to discuss how to give rebuttals to sexist ideas about female leadership in the church. When I had class with Rabbi Palley on Intro to Judaism, she gave a friend and I encouraging words about being progressive women within a faith community.

The third question asked what I would change about Susquehanna. Though Susquehanna isn’t perfect, and I did have an answer ready for that, it felt notable that I wasn’t able to choose from a long string of complaints. Susquehanna is and has been the right school for me; that's something I will be able to say with confidence as I graduate.

I know a lot of people don't have a college experience like this. Their college might be a school, but it never feels like a home. Some people I know don't like their colleges at all and are counting down until they can get out of there. I know other people who don't get the right school on the first try and eventually transfer to some place that makes them happier.

I am quite privileged to have had this warm, positive experience of college life ever since I walked on campus in August 2010.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Such a Senior

It’s been quite a while since I last posted on this blog! Sorry about that, senior year has been pretty busy. The second semester is now in full swing, and at the end of next week, I'll be heading home for Spring Break. How quickly this semester is going is a bit nauseating, to be honest.The last time I posted, I referenced that I hoped to be in graduate school next year. Things have changed a little since then. I decided that I wanted to take a step back and give graduate school more consideration before plunging right into it, especially because I wasn't sure if I wanted to get an M.A. in Religious Studies, a Master of Theological Studies, or a Master of Divinity degree. I had applied to some international graduate school opportunities, however, but I didn't end up receiving those fellowships.

Nevertheless, I’m still quite excited about what life after graduation has to bring! I will be serving in a program called the Episcopal Service Corps. The Episcopal Service Corps is a ten-month program, organized by the Episcopal Church, where volunteers are placed with internships in non-profit organizations and live together in intentional community. I will be in a program in Milwaukee called Creating for a Cause that brings together volunteers trained in writing, graphic design, photography, etc. to use their creative skills for worthwhile causes. That program will start in August and run until May, much like an academic year. I am very passionate about working with or for the church, and I am hoping the Episcopal Service Corps will help me discern how I want to be doing that in the future.

Besides figuring out some post-graduation plans, this semester has been filled with plenty of other activities that scream SENIOR! Just last week, I had my senior reading. All creative writing majors read about ten minutes of the work they've completed during their time at SU in a senior reading. These readings are spread across the whole year, with five to six majors reading at each event. I shared six poems. I was really satisfied with how the night went. It was especially fun that I was able to get some laughs from the crowd.

I’ve been up to some senior shenanigans for my other major as well. This semester, I am completing a 4-credit capstone project for my Religious Studies major. “Capstone” is what we call our final or culminating undergraduate projects in our fields. I’m endeavoring to write a 40-plus page paper that challenges some of the underlying notions about emotion in popular Christian advice books on dating and relationships. I love working on this project, even if the prospect of getting it all finished is overwhelming. The other day I was poring over feminist theology books in the library before meeting my friends for dinner. I was so passionate about what I was doing, I was practically bouncing in the cafeteria with capstone excitement.

Of course, there is much more to senior year than these academic components. As graduation draws nearer, I’m getting more sentimental about no longer being able to live with my great friends. A while ago, we had our Senior Convocation, which was a dinner event marking 100 days until graduation. That certainly made everything feel more real. Though I'm looking forward to meeting new people and diving into new opportunities, I'm also not at all ready for my Susquehanna experience to end.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Introducing a Visiting Writer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and of course, college being fairly busy and fast-faced, a lot has happened in that time! One of the things that stands out most, though, is that I got to introduce a visiting writer.

Susquehanna’s writing department brings in a series of visiting writers each year, spanning across genres. These writers do Q & A sessions with students in the afternoon and then have a reading in the evening. At each reading, a selected creative writing student always introduces the author before they take the stage. I was surprised when I received an email from the head of the department asking me to introduce Alison Stine.

Alison Stine is a poet who has had two full-length collections and one chapbook published. For my Advanced Poetry course, we read her book Ohio Violence, which I enjoyed. Though I was honored that my poetry professor had thought to refer me for this task, I was also very nervous! I still don’t feel as if I’m very articulate when discussing poetry, and I felt like I had no idea what or how much to say. Thankfully, the introduction started to shape up when I began thinking about my personal connection with Stine. Stine, particularly with her first collection, explores some teenage female experience, and in interviews, had really embraced a young readership. I loved that. I, too, write about young female experiences. In my collection for Advanced Poetry right now, I sometimes examine figures of teenage pop culture (Nick Jonas, Corbin Bleu, etc.). Other poems are inspired by my experiences, as a teenager and as a young adult, of trying to measure up to standards of what a “good Christian girl” should be. These aren’t necessarily the topics poetry critics are always interested in—but Stine’s work reminds me that I don’t need to write for them and that these youthful experiences can be imbued with beautiful language and complexity. Finding this connection allowed me to tap into a passion that I think, judging by some of the comments I received after the reading, really came across in my introduction.

Because I was introducing Alison Stine, I was invited to go to a dinner before the reading with her and some of the Creative Writing faculty at BJ’s. This was a bit nerve-wracking for me because I’m not the most extroverted person. However, I think it went well. I also was able to bring a friend with me (who is much more extroverted than me fortunately), which made it more comfortable.

This scenario, along with this whole semester, has led me to reflect more on what it might be like to pursue poetry professionally. Though I’ve been growing more and more comfortable considering myself a “poet” as my time at Susquehanna goes on, I think this semester I have spent much more time imagining being a professional poet as a possibility. One day—possibly—I could be the person giving a reading and being introduced by a student. Over winter break, I plan on going through the poetry I’ve written for my Advanced and Intermediate poetry workshops and finding poems I think might be ready to be sent out to magazines. In the world of poetry, you usually need a number of poems published before you can pursue chapbook-length or book-length publication, so this is an important step. 

I have one poem that is forthcoming in an issue of a small journal called the Saint Katherine Review, which I look forward to seeing in print. Last year, my Intermediate Poetry professor recommended the journal as a place to submit one of my poems. The editor of the review is Scott Cairns. Just recently I picked up some of his poetry from the library, and I am loving it so far! He tackles religious and spiritual subject matter in a beautiful way. It’s exciting to know that someone whose work I admire has read my work--and it's particularly exciting to think about a future where there may be many more people who read my work (even if that poetry audience is quite smaller than fiction or nonfiction's).   

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scheduling For My Final Semester

Last Friday, the newspaper was in my mailbox. Yes, the newspaper. The registration newspaper. My final one.  

The Friday before a course registration period begins, Susquehanna students all receive a list of the course offerings printed on newspaper. This information is online, but it’s handy to have in paper form—something I think Susquehanna students agree on, judging by how often I’ve seen students consulting it or circling things in it. Registering for my final set of Susquehanna courses is a big reminder of how short of a time I have left as an undergraduate. 

When students register for courses, they can consult something called a “degree audit” that shows all the required courses that students have left to take, including courses for majors, minors, and the university’s Central Curriculum. In past semesters, I always had a list of requirements to consider. Now I only had a few items! That's a great thing because it means I will graduate on time. However, it still feels very strange. 

The requirements I have left are an Oral Intensive course for the Central Curriculum (which I plan on fulfilling with a Modern Philosophy class), an English course called Forms of Writing that I need for my Creative Writing major, and the senior honors program requirements, which include a senior honors seminar and some type of research. The research requirement will be filled by the Capstone, or culminating project, I’ll be taking on in the Religious Studies department.  

All of these courses will amount to 14 credits. A standard credit load here is 16 credits, though people may take as little as 12 while remaining a full-time student. Many students exceed that 16. Right now, for instance, I'm taking 18 credits. Next semester I may have time to add an additional course, though it wouldn't be required. That course would probably be New Testament with one of my favorite religion professors. A part of me, though, thinks it might be better to stick with my 14 credits and dedicate more time to my independent study, especially since I will definitely be taking classes dealing with the New Testament if I end up going to seminary. One of my options might be auditing the class, which would mean sitting in and participating but not getting credit for the course and not having to do the homework.

Looking forward to next semester, I’m most excited about my independent study—though I’m a bit intimidated as well. I’ve decided to do a 4-credit independent study which means it’ll be quite a hefty paper. I believe my advisor told me I should expect to write around 40 pages. This makes me wish I'd completed more of my research over the summer like I had planned. Perhaps I’ll be able to get some more preliminary reading done when I’m home over Winter Break. For my project, I will be studying dating advice and approaches to pre-marital romantic relationships in American evangelical Christianity. I’m especially interested in focusing on the concept of “emotional purity” and the boundaries places on emotional intimacy within these relationships.  I’ve already looked at When God Writes Your Love Story by Leslie and Eric Ludy and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship by Joshua Harris, some of the popular titles in Christian nonfiction addressing these topics. This independent study should be great preparation for the work I hope to eventually be doing in graduate school. 

I met with the advisor for my Religious Studies major yesterday, and this afternoon I will meet with my Creative Writing advisor. Afterwards, I'll be able to register online. Unlike some other colleges, registration isn’t a first-come, first-serve, dog-eat-dog ordeal. Rather, the Registrar’s Office figures out who gets into what classes by class year, requirements that people need fulfilled, etc. I won’t know right away, then, about what courses I get—though, as a senior who needs almost everything I’m taking to graduate, I'm assuming I won't have any difficulties.

Right now, I'm just hoping this isn't my last course registration period ever and that a few months from now I'll be doing this from graduate school--a beginner again.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Advanced Poetry

All Creative Writing majors must take at least one advanced course during their time at Susquehanna. I chose to take Advanced Poetry, which would surely surprise my freshman year self who was so set on taking Susquehanna's novel writing course. Advanced Poetry has about eight students, and it’s a night class that happens once a week. During class, we usually discuss at least one book of poems, do some sort of poetry exercise to generate more material, and workshop (which is discussing someone's work and critiquing it) some of our classmates’ poems. By the end of the semester, we will all have completed drafts of book-length poetry collections. This means writing a lot of poems—about fifty pages or so of material!

In our class, we are aiming to create coherent collections revolving around some central ideas, images, themes, or sources, rather than collections that are merely our best work slapped together. The thread holding my collection together keeps changing as I continue to work on it. At the beginning of the semester, I had decided I wanted to use pop culture, specifically pop culture aimed at a female teenage audience, as a source. I turned in 4 poems for workshop that were pop culture-inspired. After my workshop, I didn’t feel as if my subject was working. The poems weren’t conveying what I wanted them to say--mostly because I wasn't sure what I wanted them to say. I knew, though, what people were reading into it wasn't what I had intended. I decided to go back to the drawing board and was attracted to the idea of sacraments. Writing about pop culture had been my attempt to remove myself from my usual subjects—religion, theology, etc.—but I was drawn back anyway!

During my next workshop (for this one, I had to turn in fifteen pages of poems), my professor and some of the other students suggested that I could bring these subjects together. Their comments have allowed me to see a broader concept behind my collection. I intend to explore topics like performance, the truth or transformation that accompanies performance, ritual and worship in religious and pop culture settings.  I also felt encouraged by that workshop to dive into my subject matter on a more personal level. The poems I submitted to my class bounced around between different fictional speakers, but many were reading them as if they were one speaker and wanted to know more about that speaker. In my next set of poems due for class, I'm experimenting with drawing more directly from my own experiences. 

This Friday, I’ll be turning in that next set of poems--another fifteen pages. It’ll be interesting to hear what the class has to say! I’m not quite sure how I feel about many of these poems, so I think whatever their reactions are, it’ll be a lot of help.

Right now the prospect of finishing a book-length poetry collection is fairly daunting, but I’m sure I’ll be happy I was pushed to do so when I have so much to work with once the class is completed. I hope this will provide me with the motivation--and the material--to more seriously pursue poetry publication.