Reflections on the Duck Pond Run

In the midst of my final Hell Week at Bryn Mawr, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on when I was helled my freshman year, and specifically, the infamous Duck Pond Run.

With a name like “Hell Week”, it’s hard to explain to outsiders that, like our other traditions, it’s really all about welcoming the freshman class as part of our Bryn Mawr community. We have a saying here: “Your mind makes you a scholar. Your body makes you a woman. But the Duck Pond Run makes you a Mawrtyr.” Essentially, each freshman who chooses to do so picks a sophomore to be their “heller”. They are then given a schedule of silly tasks to complete throughout the week. Everything in Hell Week is optional.

Probably the most intimidating task of the week is the Duck Pond Run, in which the entire freshman class runs down Lancaster Avenue to the Haverford College Duck Pond. If it’s warm enough, it’s not uncommon for freshmen to be pushed into the pond at the end. It happens the Saturday morning of Hell Week, bright and early.

Friday night my freshman year, back in 2009, I was tucked into bed early by the upperclasswomen who lived in my dorm, Denbigh. They reminded me to rest up as I had a big day ahead of me, but of course, it was a little hard to sleep with all of the anticipation of the next morning’s run. My two roommates and I stayed up past our bedtimes going over our strategies one more time and making sure we had our sneakers and water bottles ready to go.

As a first-year on the rugby team, I had the pleasure of getting a personal wake up call to my room from my older teammates the next morning…at 5am. You see, the rugby team has a tradition. The rugby freshmen must win the Duck Pond Run. At the very least, we must beat the crew team! We take the Duck Pond Run very seriously. While other freshman sometimes are able to bribe their friends with cars for a ride, ruggers and rowers engage in a friendly rivalry—we must run the whole way, and the victorious team earns bragging rights for the rest of their time at Bryn Mawr. My freshman teammates and I had spent quite some time on Google maps figuring out the quickest route and picking out the perfect outfit to wear for the run. We had even taken a practice run earlier in the week, so we would know exactly what to expect.

After some stretching, my teammates and I were ready for the run to begin. Our planning and preparation paid off, and we were able to take a shortcut that got us to the Duck Pond just ahead of the crew team frosh. We were greeted by scores of Bryn Mawr upperclassmen and of course the rugby team waiting to congratulate us. Unfortunately, it was a bright and sunny day that year, so our teammates celebrated our victory against the crew team by pushing us into the pond. It was all in good fun, though, and they served us mugs of hot chocolate and piled dry towels on us once we had managed to climb out of the muddy water. Then the rugby team all headed over to the IHOP in Ardmore, where the upperclassmen treated us to a well-deserved breakfast of pancakes and bacon!

This year it was my turn to give the rugby freshmen their wake up call, be there waiting for them at the end, and then take them out to breakfast. I’m proud to say that our freshmen managed to make it to the Pond first again this year.

To all the freshman who still have a few more days of Hell Week 2012 left, make the most out of it– it’ll be over before you know it!

10 Best Study Spaces That Aren’t Your Room: Advice from a thesising senior

Let’s be real, your bed’s just not a good place to study. Your desk probably isn’t either, given its proximity to your bed. Here’s some alternatives.

1. Collier Science Library. It seems an obvious place to study, being a library and all, but I know seniors who haven’t set foot in Collier since the Customs Week scavenger hunt their freshman year. Try it out. It’s got great lighting, group and individual quiet study rooms, and you’ll be surrounding by the wonders of science!

2. Thomas Great Hall. You’ll feel like you’re studying for your Defense Against the Dark Arts exam at Hogwarts. Plus Athena will be watching over you, and that’s got to be good luck or something, right?

3. Denbigh Backsmoker. Plenty of outlets, super comfy couches, and a vending machine. Also, check out the backsmoker diaries for some study break entertainment (an anonymous collaborative diary full of the secrets of Mawrtyrs past!).

4.. Merion Basement. Bryn Mawr’s newest student space, brought to you by the Self Governance Association. It’s like the backsmoker, but with a TV!

5. Milkboy Coffee on Lancaster. You’re less likely to run into people you know off-campus, therefore less likely to be distracted. There’s free wifi, a 10% student discount, and a nice selection of teas.

6. The London Room in Thomas. Good luck finding it, but when you do, It makes you feel like you’re an elegant princess studying for her princess exams. This gorgeous room’s walls are lined with hundreds on old London-themed books to peruse on your study breaks!

7. Upper level of the Writing Center in Canaday. There’s a beanbag chair.

8. Panera Bread: If you can convince a friend with a car to come hang out with you for a few hours, it’s totally worth the 7 minute drive to Wynnewood. Lots of tables, free wifi, and delicious soups. And there’s a 5 Below and a pet store next door, so you can embrace your inner child when deconstructing the patriarchy gets too serious.

9. Magill Library at Haverford. A change of scenery is only a bus ride away, but you’re still surrounded by academia so you can stay in study-mode.

10. The Cloisters. Save this for warmer weather, but it’s a great outdoor study spot with plenty of benches (and the spirit of M. Carey Thomas, who is supposedly buried here). Just don’t do anything embarrassing because students in class in Thomas are probably watching you through the windows.

Bryn Mawr Geology Microgravity Team

I wanted to take a minute to post about a cool project some students in the geology department are pursuing. Under the guidance of a faculty advisor, they’ve formed the “microgravity team” to research a project through NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

They hope to fly in NASA’s “Vomit Comet” in order to measure the porosity of Martian soil simulant. The entire flight of the Vomit Comet would allow us to experience a range of microgravity levels, including the specific gravity of Mars. At Mars’ gravity we would be able to measure the exact porosity of Martian soil with the spectrometer. With the exact measurement of the porosity of Martian soil, researchers would be able to understand the surface of Mars more and uncover more knowledge about water on Mars.

The Vomit Comet is a reduced gravity aircraft flies a parabolic curved pathway which allows for thirty seconds of hypergravity as the aircraft is reaching the top of the curve to be felt and 18 seconds of microgravity as the aircraft is descending from the top of the curve. Hypergravity is exceeds the force of Earth’s gravity which would leave us feeling heavy and make it hard to even lift a hand. On the other hand, microgravity would leave us completely weightless with the image of the floating astronaut as a perfect visual.

NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to propose, design, fly, and evaluate an original experiment in microgravity. The whole process from writing the proposal to running the experiment in microgravity is entirely done by students. NASA provides an exciting opportunity for student growth not only within the program team members, but also in the students that our involved in the outreach activities. Science is given the opportunity to inspire and excite the future generations of scientists.

You can read more about their project on their Microgravity blog!


Here’s the team posing for a picture after an early morning meeting–Anna, Christina, Mary, Hannah, Alice, Simona, Danyelle, and Selby!



Heather’s advice for future Mawrtyrs: Skip class.

There’s a lot to do on campus and sometimes choices must be made. French recitation or hearing Madeleine Albright speak? A leisurely dinner with friends, or grab takeout and head straight to the Jamaica Kincaid reading? Calculus office hours or an address from Bill Clinton? Spending an extra two hours on my geology paper, or attend a lecture by Judith Butler? Rugby practice or Jhumpa Lahiri? You get the idea… I blame Bryn Mawr for hosting too many wonderful events.

Once in a while, the best thing you can do for your Bryn Mawr education is skip class. Yes, I am here to go to classes and to receive a wonderful liberal arts education, but in my mind that includes taking advantage of all the opportunities Bryn Mawr presents us with. Classes are a great opportunity for learning, but there comes a point when the chance to learn something a little different is just something that shouldn’t be passed up. I fully support skipping out on the occasional classroom lecture or other obligations in pursuit of another type of learning.

Yesterday was one of those chances. I skipped my class to attend a Pen-y-Groes seminar. A freshman I met through the rugby team actually recommended that I go to one of these seminars—she was so excited about her experience that I figured I’d have to go before I graduate.

The Pen-y-Groes seminars are something relatively new that President McAuliffe started shortly after she began at Bryn Mawr. She invites a small group of students into her home for a lunchtime conversation with a “guest of honor”—someone selected for their accomplishments in their field. Often they are Bryn Mawr alums.

I signed up to have lunch with actress Maggie Siff, who graduated in 1996. You may know her as Rachel Menken in AMC’s TV show Mad Men. The twelve students who were in attendance were served a beautiful lunch and then settled into a conversation with Maggie. She spoke about her time at Bryn Mawr (she was a Pem East frosh, a customs person, and a tour guide!) and how her career ended up taking the trajectory it did. She told us about being a woman in her profession and how female producers and writers are a much-needed commodity in her field. We also discussed what it means to have a career in the arts—a tricky pursuit, because so many people feel the need to create art and would love to do that for a living, and yet it is notorious for being a field that doesn’t always pay well.

Bryn Mawr’s events aren’t limited to big-name celebrities like Jamaica Kincaid and Maggie Siff, though—there is a whole host of other informative lectures and talks worth going to. Fiction writer Karen Russell is giving a reading tomorrow. There’s also a lunchtime discussion of plagiarism and citation in the digital age happening in Canaday, one of our libraries. Later this week there’s a panel of our own geo professors willing to speak with students about graduate school. The department was also invited to a talk on the water quality of the Delaware Estuary at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly. Next week Peter Dodson, a well-known paleontologist, is coming to speak to my invertebrate paleobiology class.

Needless to say, I’m not going to skip out on all of my obligations to attend these things on campus, but I’ll definitely pick and choose and take advantage of these awesome opportunities.

A Quick Trip to Philly…

Philadelphia has the highest per-capita concentration of higher education institutions in the nation. There are over 300,000 students in Philly.

Luckily for me, this means that there are literally hundred of things to do and see in Philly…and guess what? Bryn Mawr’s just launched a new program where students can get free train tickets into the city. Yes, free. I request tickets, and a few days later they just appear in my campus mailbox. Thanks, Student Activities! It’s great… I only wish they had started this program before I was a senior!

On Sunday I took the R5 in to Suburban Station and walked with a few friends over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to go check it out, as I had never been. The first Sunday of each month is “pay what you wish” day at the museum, so admission was generously discounted 🙂 The Philadelphia Museum of Art is also home to the famous “Rocky steps”, so of course we had to embrace our inner tourists and run up them. This is pretty much what we looked like, except maybe a little less majestic.

This is the view of the city from the top of the “Rocky steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art!

Last rugby game of the season

Just a quick update– our last rugby game of the season was last Saturday. The team played great and it was one of the most fun games I’ve played in. Bryn Mawr Patch was there to take photos and do a little article on the sport of rugby… check it out!

And, while your at it, check out the team’s twitter, maintained by our lovely team managers (also includes some excellent photos!):!/hornedtoads

Geology then and now

Today I came across some photocopies of letters home from a Bryn Mawr sophomore geology major in 1918.  In it, the student thanks her mother for sending her homemade ambrosia candy and talks about a geology field trip she just got home from. If you’ve been reading my blog you should know by know that I love geology field trips, so of course I got excited when I saw it.

Here’s an excerpt I found especially interesting/funny–the student is talking about her professor who led the trip:

“…managed beautifully. It can’t be easy for the young man (he’s only about thirty-five) to engineer sixteen girls through all sorts of changes of trains, etc. And he never lost his composure for a second. Everything went just according to schedule. That was the case with the Valley Forge trip too. I say if you want anything done, get a MAN to do it. I like Dr. Wright very much. No one could be more polite and obliging to everyone than he is. He knows a lot too.”

Given the history of the geology department, I found this excerpt funny— “if you want anything done, get a man to do it”!

Ironically, our department was founded by Florence Bascom…here she is with her Brunton compass, dressed ready for the field.

Florence Bascom, in addition to being a cool lady, was a pioneer for women scientists. She was the first woman to be granted a phD from Johns Hopkins University, and, at the time, the only woman in the US to hold a doctorate in geology. In 1895 she founded BMC’s geology department.

Here’s a silkscreen a Bryn Mawr alum made commemorating our awesome history. The print was made during a printmaking class she took during her senior year. The alum is currently working for the New Jersey Geological Society–I was lucky enough to hear her speak about her current research a few semesters ago when she presented at Bryn Mawr.

When Florene Bascom started the department, she was certain that students received training not only in classrooms, but also in the field. The Valley Forge trip the student refers to still happens today–every student who takes geo 101 goes there to study in the field. Here’s a clipping from our student newspaper that my friend Kersti who works in special collections sent me. The article is from 1958.

The Marine Geology class I am in had a field trip this weekend. We went to Island Beach State Park in New Jersey. It was a fun trip, and hopefully these photos will prove that geology students today certainly don’t need a man to do something right!


Mary digging at trench at the beach.

Don and Anna taking a core.

So whether it’s in 1985, 1918, 1958, or last weekend, field trips have always been a cornerstone of our department from its beginning.

And, I’m pretty sure some of the other major departments might get a little jealous sometimes.

Here’s one more of my favorite clippings–it’s not from the College newspaper and I’m not sure of the date, but it’s still pretty cool. It says, “Are these Bryn Mawr students America’s brainiest girls?” And there’s a photo of a Mawrtyr in a paleontology lab.

Scenes from a Thursday night at Bryn Mawr

Mawrtyrs work hard and play hard, even on a school night.

Reetu and Sarah get a snack at Uncommon Grounds.

Aybala, Liz, and Sarah get ready to watch Hocus Pocus in the Merion common room.

Caroline and Jess get through late-night studying with Ben and Jerry’s from Uncommon.

A group plays pool in the Campus Center lounge.

Field trips aren’t just for elementary school…

One of the reasons I love my major so much is that for every geology class offered, there is a field trip component that goes along with it. We get to actually see what we are learning in the field instead of in a powerpoint slide or a textbook. This is also one of the reasons I decided not to go abroad–as a geology major, we get to travel a lot anyway!

Last weekend was the invertebrate paleobiology field trip. My class went to Calvert Beach in Maryland to stay the night and look at Miocene-aged cliffs and poke around looking for fossils. Even though it was a bit wet and rainy, we had a lot of fun.

Above are some of my classmates looking at the fossils, and below is a close-up of what they are looking at! The first is an internal mold of a bivalve (not the actual shell, but an impression of the shell in the sediment), and the second are really tiny gastropod shells.

We also spent some time looking for shark’s teeth on the beach. Here’s one tiny one that I found.

The next step was to take the samples we collected back to the lab to clean them and identify them. Then the class will compile their work so we can use them to help us with our individual research papers which we will be working on for the rest of the semester.

Here’s some pictures from back in the lab.


My cleaned samples that I collected while on the trip.

This is Erin, another geology major. She is a junior. Holly, a senior physics major/geology minor cleaning her samples!

Beach cows… or, my senior thesis.

Choosing a senior thesis topic had been something I was trying to push to the back of my mind, but as the year began and I received an email saying that it was finally time to choose an advisor and a project topic, I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I brought my list of potential topics in for review, and my advisor really liked one of the ideas I had. Just like that, I had a topic and an advisor.

The topic I choose came out of my summer research I did after my sophomore year when I was funded through the College to work with a faculty member on a science research project. I went to Cedear Island off the coast of North Carolina and collected sediment core samples from a marsh in an attempt to study the shoreline change (you can read my abstract here

That summer on Cedar Island I had also helped collect data for a smaller side-project my advisor had been collecting for a number of years, but never compiled. We used a GPS to map the vegetation line along the coast of a particular beach that had cows and horses from a nearby farm grazing on it. The idea is that these animals eat the vegetation, which is helping to keep the dunes in place. These dunes are helping protect the beach from erosion. Essentially, the data would help us see if the grazing animals were exacerbating the problem of shoreline erosion.

I was especially interested in this project, so I proposed that I would pursue this as my senior thesis project, and my advisor was more than willing to pass on his data for me to look through and use for my project. Although my thesis is in the very nascent stages so far, the main questions I am trying to answer is whether these animals affect the coastal geomorphology. It’s a bit complicated because of course there is natural erosion occurring as well, as well as erosion caused by big storms like Irene and other anthropogenic factors, like a jetty that was constructed right next to my field site. To do this I will have to compile past mapping data and historical images of the site, along with a whole lot of reading and researching! It might also expand to include other barrier islands with grazing animals, like Assateague in Virginia. My thesis is not due until the end of the year, so I have lots of time to sort this out and come up with a conclusion!

So, to start off my project, Anna (a fellow geology major), my advisor, and I headed back down to Cedar Island to continue collecting data for our projects (Anna is working on another project which you can read about here We braved high temperatures, mosquitoes, mud, particularly sharp marsh grass, and even quicksand, but it was all worth it to get all of the data we needed. Plus, my advisor’s parents’ graciously hosted us, cooked for us, and let us test out their new swimming pool, so we had some relaxation time as well!

It’s only the start of a long project, but my recent field work has me really excited to start looking at the data and get going with my thesis!

Here’s some photos from the trip.

Looking at the creek in the marsh. The backpack Anna is wearing is actually a GPS satellite receiver.

Anna and Don collecting samples and GPS points in the marsh. It was really buggy out.

Anna helping me collect GPS data at my study site. You can see some of the vegetation on the beach in this photo.

Anna's study site is only accessible by boat.

This is my study site--the southeastern-side beach on the North Bay of Cedar Island, NC.

A beautiful sunset after a long day of collecting data.