Spencer Caron

At Holy Cross, the “grace” period between arriving back on campus and being busy once again is as short as the winter break is long.  Many Holy Cross students joke about the lack of “syllabus week,” but many are ready to jump right back into their lives at HC after being on break for over a month.  Winter break, especially for sophomores, is a popular time for job shadows with HC alumni and service trips to underserved areas here and abroad.  Upon arriving back on campus, one hears chatter about every students unique break experience.

At the outset of the semester everyone is excited to take on their new classes and set a routine that will take them into the spring months. Last semester’s lunch and dinner schedule might not remain the same, but the fresh faces you see walking from class to class is a welcome change.  Familiar friends are eager to have another great semester considering many students have just sent their applications to the study abroad programs of which they hope to be a part their junior year.

Whereas the first semester of sophomore year felt a bit strange insofar as the “newness” of freshman year has worn off, the second semester of sophomore year brings with it a new sense of purpose.  One’s major needs to be chosen by the end of this year, and many students have either joined a new organization or become a well known part of one they were in last year.  Personally, I had a successful season as a part of the Moot Court team  (I encourage you to “meet the coaches” on the web page!) as my partner and I finished top 40 in the country at the National Tournament in Dallas, TX.  More importantly, the Moot Court team is something I have felt more connected to thus far this year.  Being involved on top of the workload can be a lot at times, but the personal rewards of staying with an activity year after year are invaluable.

After a very busy second semester, I was ready to enjoy a relaxing break in sleepy Belchertown, MA.  Just recently I cleaned out any messages pertaining to fall semester from my email inbox and cleaned out my backpack.  Until the New Year, I, and I believe most of my classmates, will be spending a majority of their time off relaxing with friends and family.  With this being said, Holy Cross students have a very generous break, meaning many choose to partake in something academic before classes resume.

A popular activity that I  and many other sophomores and juniors take part in is the Alumni Job Shadow Program sponsored by the Center for Career Development.  This program pairs you with a Holy Cross alumnus in a specified field of interest.  For example, I curated a short list of alumni that I would like to shadow in the field of law and I was recently matched with a woman who is the Presiding Justice over the Trial Court of the Commonwealth.  You contact the alumnus, set up a date and spend a full day witnessing what it is like to be in that field for a brief time.   I am very excited to meet my day host in early January.

Besides the Job Shadow Program, many students will be reaching out to professionals they know in their area for internships or just to ask career related questions.  Sophomore year is a strange time, for it is often times a bit too early to have decided precisely what field to which one would like to belong.  However, unlike freshman year, the winter break seems to long to simply relax for the entire month.  Therefore, it is suggested to do something career related no matter how “unofficial” since the semester is so busy that is renders career searching nearly impossible.  Holy Cross gives you a long break so use it both to recharge and hone in on your career aspirations!

Liberal arts students are good at adapting to changing times. Academic fields change and employers expect different skills now than they did just ten years ago. Holy Cross understands this, and allows students to design their own major if they so choose.  Offering the neuroscience minor is another way Holy Cross ensures that its liberal arts student body will be attractive job applicants.

Of course there are majors that seem to most naturally pair with a neuroscience minor, but having a working knowledge of the brain is indispensable for anyone as the field of neuroscience rapidly influences more and more disciplines.  Very few psychologists can avoid neuroscience altogether, and the average medical doctor need at least be in tune with neuroscience discoveries so as to be informed about mental health issues and treatments.

Personally, I have declared a philosophy major with a neuroscience minor.  While the pair may seem perplexing at first, there is no doubting the fact that both disciplines ask many of the same questions.  What can make us happy? To what extent do we have free will? and many other intriguing questions are posed and sometimes answered by both disciplines.  From a more practical standpoint, those who pair the neuroscience minor with a humanity or art will graduate with the ability to read and write critically and solve empirical problems.

The neuroscience minor is fulfilled if a student takes six approved courses from three different disciplines.   One can fulfill the minor in many different ways.  I plan on taking biology, psychology, chemistry and philosophy courses to fulfill the minor, but some of my classmates are including more physics and computer science in their course load. The decision is up to you, but something all neuroscience minors will have in common is an understanding of a rapidly expanding field that will prove to be an important input in many of society’s mental health and social problems.

Moot Court is relatively new to the undergraduate world, only being offered in a competitive setting starting in 2001.  Compared to Mock trial’s long legacy of being a popular prelaw activity at the undergraduate level, it is no wonder many do not know exactly what Moot Court is.  Put simply, Moot Court is simulated Supreme Court argumentation in which “advocates” use real United States Supreme Court case law to argue a position regarding a fictitious case.  The American Moot Court Association creates an engaging case every year, left intentionally controversial in order to foster robust debate come competition time.

Holy Cross prides itself on being the seventh strongest Moot Court team in the country.  This is due in large part to the bright students which the college attracts, but the team is lucky enough to have two HC alumni who are practicing attorneys as coaches.  Moreover, members of the Holy Cross moot court team have a track record of attending some of the nation’s top law schools such as Columbia and Notre Dame, to name a few.

Joining Moot Court at HC has many benefits, but two particularly compelling reasons are the fun you will have travelling and competing with the team, and the acquisition of a deeper understanding of what life in law school might be like.  To comment on the former, I have found my trip to Colorado for an invitational tournament hosted by Colorado Christian University to be one of the most fun experiences of my time at HC thus far.  To be able to compete against other great schools as see another part of the country free of charge was truly remarkable.

Lastly, law school tuition costs an exorbitant amount of money per year, and one would rationally want to ensure that it is something one wants to embark upon before taking on this debt.  With this being said, Moot Court at the undergraduate level is perhaps the best litmus test for whether one should apply to law school since the exact activity is something in which many law schools require students participate throughout their post graduate education.   Thus, joining the Moot Court team is a win-win; if one enjoys their time immensely, then they can apply to law school with a more settled mind.  If the activity is not appealing, then one has ample time to deliberate applying to law school and investigate other fields.

 

 

All students at Holy Cross are bright and academically motivated. These two criteria are prerequisites for being accepted to the College. With this being said, Holy Cross offers a College Honors Program for a select group of especially curious students aimed at offering  more chances to further explore their academic interests. The program includes two seminars and a handful of honors colloquia. The culminating aspect of the program is a self-selected senior thesis project completed with the guidance of a Holy Cross professor.

Being invited to the Honors Program is something that comes as a surprise to many second year students.  One comes into the college excited to do well and find classes about which they are passionate.  Even without knowing that the Honors Program exists, some rising sophomores will be pleasantly surprised to find an invitation to apply to the program in their email inbox.  One should work hard and become involved in the community regardless, but knowing that an invitation to an exclusive program comes as early as the beginning of sophomore year is one more reason to immediately invest one’s self in the Holy Cross community

If one is fortunate enough to get accepted to the program, one is able to work towards completing a graduate school level thesis concerning a topic of their choosing.  The thesis can be related to their major if one so chooses, but this is not mandatory.  Important to note is the fact that the Honors Program does not award one many “perks”.  In other words, there is not necessarily a palpable reward for being a part of the program.  Instead, one is able to explore one’s academic interests more rigorously and in more depth.  That particular question that has been raised in many classes, or a difficult topic one is struggling to form an opinion about can serve as fodder for a thesis.  One is hard pressed to think of a more rewarding undergraduate academic experience than producing a thesis one has worked on for a full year.  Thus, first year students have more than enough reason to dive head first into their studies and fully explore the questions they may have.

 

How good is the food? Is a common question asked on all of the tours and overnight stays that Holy Cross offers. While food may not be one of the first things that comes to mind when considering which school to attend, once one has curated a short list of viable college options, food becomes a potential deciding factor.  With this being said, Holy Cross’s dining has consistently been getting better over the last few years.

As a freshman, I asked a senior student in my Chinese class how the current dining experience compares to when he was a freshman.  He said that the difference is massive.  He highlighted specifically the large increase in the number of choices one has on a daily basis.  I only have two years to use for comparison’s sake, but I too, have witnessed an improvement in selection and quality of food. 

Kimball, the main dining hall, has to represent the overall dining experience at Holy Cross since that is where a majority of students eat the most meals.  Over just one year, Kimball has significantly increased the vegetarian and vegan options, cut down on their use of sodium, added many great options to the salad bar and started offering new, unique entrees.  Moreover, Kimball is using ingredients normally found in expensive health food store such as tempeh, farro and quinoa.   A healthy option that has been improved is the salad bar.   This year the salad bar has regularly offered avocado and hummus, two very popular options. 

Of course, Kimball is still offering the crowd favorites such chicken parm, steak and cheese and improved grilled chicken.  No matter what type of food to which one is referring, Kimball has committed itself to a healthy and sustainable initiative that looks to source more local ingredients, use more whole foods and less oil and salt.  This is great news for Holy Cross as an institution, and those students considering attending. Holy Cross’s academics set it apart from other schools, but the food is in no way a weakness.

Many Holy Cross students joke about how they erase a large mass of emails before reading them just to keep their inbox somewhat organized.  However, Holy Cross students are more likely to be interested by a great majority of emails, especially in the first few weeks on campus.  Sure, there is the type of email that simply never pertains to your particular interests, but from personal experience, checking my email has been one of the most important parts of my day.

For Sophomores, the emails often times will contain new information. Maybe they had never heard of a club or activity as a freshman on campus, but now feel excited to join right away. The more common sentiment among sophomores is that deadlines for a litany of exciting programs are quickly approaching, be it the Honors Program, SPUD, or the widely popular study abroad program.  

While freshman students should surely be thinking of these programs and opportunities, the sophomore class is in the midst of completing the paper work and thinking long and hard about what programs are right for them.  The freshman class is finding out that every hour that passes, brings with it at least five emails.  Within those emails is an almost endless list of programs, clubs, activities to be a part of, and resources to make use of.  There seems to be a few main mantras on campus.  One being that it is best to take part in a lot of things freshman year in order to explore interests, both old and new.   Others say that freshman year is a time to get into a routine and that joining extracurricular activities brings unnecessary stress.  While there may be merits to both schools of thoughts in isolated cases, I have found that common sense and introspection lead to a healthy balance.

More specifically, a freshman student may find out quickly that four classes do take a lot of time out of the day.  One may also find that their roommate is their new best friend and love the hour or so before bed when the day is discussed.  This means that there may not be enough time in the day to accommodate a laundry list of extracurriculars.  So, a simple way to go about getting involved and attending the information sessions sent via email is to think critically about what one really wants to be involved with, and how many hours of expendable time they have in a given day.  If this means a freshman student can join one extracurricular, then that is perfectly fine!  Many Holy Cross students are very busy.  But a more defining feature of a Crusader is how meaningfully they are engaged in their activities, whether they belong to one extracurricular or many.

 

As the second semester of my freshman year was coming to an end, I began thinking about summer employment. Beyond the desire to earn a bit of money during the summer months, I knew an unstructured summer would be far too much of a change of pace compared to the academic year.

As I was sending applications to chain stores and local restaurants, I received a call from the Holy Cross Moot Court coach offering me a paid summer research position on campus, funded by the Prelaw program.  Without hesitation I kindly accepted the offer, as it presented me with the opportunity to acquire work experience as well as becoming familiar with research at the college level.  Currently, I am working on two projects.  First, I am preparing briefs for the upcoming Moot Court season.  Second, I am working with Professor Sandstrom from the economics department on a paper analyzing President Trump’s executive order to rid the IRS tax code of a law banning churches and other tax exempt organizations from endorsing a political candidate.

As I became acquainted with my life on campus during the summer (during which I, and all of the other researchers, live in the exceedingly nice Williams Hall), I was thoroughly impressed with how many students were partaking in research spanning across the disciplines.  My roommate for the summer would return to the room with stories about the mice which he and other neuroscience students were observing.  A fellow member of the Moot Court team is conducting self guided English research that will undoubtedly be of graduate school level quality.

All of this is to say that the summer research program is composed of highly dedicated students who have interests that extend beyond the normal school year.  These opportunities are open to all students regardless of major and with no minimum GPA for consideration.  Many of these students simply inquired as to their favorite professor’s research or showed a particular proclivity towards a section of the class.  Holy Cross’s ethos is centered around free inquiry and exploration of all kinds, and the summer is no exception.  As a solely undergraduate institution, the professors have no choice but to select students from their small classes for research assistance.  As such, my advice is to be unafraid about building a rapport with professors.  Ask them what they’re working on (they love to tell you) and if they need assistance, you’ll be the first student they ask.

 

An overused cliché is that time seems to fly by.  I try to use the saying sparingly, but it is perfectly applicable to how I, and many of my friends, feel about the speed with which freshman year has passed.  As I moved all of my things out of my room on the second floor of Hanselman, I naturally remembered the much warmer day on which my parents and fumbled through my many belongings and began to organize what would be my home for the coming year.

Moving out, however, was a different in a few regards.  First, I had my good friends to help expedite the process.  It is baffling how one manages to accumulate more things to bring back home throughout the course of the year.   Second, I had the strange feeling of being anxious to leave Holy Cross, rather than the natural anxiety I felt arriving on campus in the fall.  Being home is wonderful, but it will take time to decompress, start a new schedule and attempt to get used to not being able to see my best friends each and every day.

I feel grateful to have had such a rewarding freshman year.  One of the most notable  advantages of being at Holy Cross is how quickly one can become a part of the enriching community.  Beyond the good fortune I had of making friends with the people two doors down from me, I have met people from all grades through Moot Court and the process of becoming an RA .  The workload will leave you feeling ready for a break, but I am already looking forward to my Sophomore year at Holy Cross.

 

When applying to Holy Cross, it was relatively easy to gather information on the academics, class size and types of majors and extracurricular activities. These are the things that can be broken down into figures and printed in the fliers that all visitors receive in the admissions office. These figures undoubtedly helped me and nearly all prospective students decide if Holy Cross is a good fit.

However, one crucial aspect of being at a college that cannot be quantified is the living environment. Once you’ve moved your belongings into the room and the first hectic day ends, you quickly realize that Holy Cross will be your home for the next four years. This was the aspect of coming to Holy Cross that made me the most uneasy; it was simply something I could not know anything about until I was actually living on campus.

With this being said, Holy Cross has numerous ways in which they acclimate students to residence life as quickly as possible. First, prospective students can stay a night with a current student to see what a HC student’s typical day and night may look like .  Then, once a student has decided to attend Holy Cross, the orientation program coupled with the Montserrat program, in which all freshman take part, ensure that freshman do not feel like they are left to their own devices to become acquainted with their new home before classes begin.

Lastly, the Residence Assistants present in all freshman dorms have allowed me and my friends to more smoothly transition into living away from home.  Their frequent office hours and willingness to answer questions at any time provided an accessible point of contact right away.  The first few weeks, most of the people on the freshman floors leave their doors open so as to allow for people to get to know one another.  Be sure to do the same since your best friends could be right across the hall!