Masks are required as the campus is at red status.

Brittany Fair: Hiking among the Hoodoos

I traveled to southern Utah during July 29th- August 5th as part of a Partners in the Parks program. Eleven honors students from around the country and two Southern Utah University (SUU) leaders met to “rough it” in Bryce Canyon National park. We camped in Cedar City at Three Peaks the first night. The second day we drove two hours to the park, set up camp, and hiked to the amphitheater rim. The view will forever be engraved in my memory. Neither words nor pictures do it justice. Bryce’s hoodoos, or spires of rock, develop after years of being chipped away by wind and weather. They are unusual and spectacular. At the end of each day, we told the group a rose, bud, and thorn. A rose was something you enjoyed, a bud something you looked forward to, and a thorn something that troubled you. That first view remained my true rose throughout the trip. On day three, artist Arlene Braithwaite inspired us to find a solitude location and use watercolor to paint a depiction of Bryce. I’m not ashamed to admit that a fourth grader could give me a run for my money in a painting contest. That afternoon included a beautiful, informative, and exhausting hike of Navajo Loop with Biologist Sam Wells from SUU. I already know I am out of shape, but hiking 8,000 feet above sea level is no joke! On the plus side, I can pick out some edible plants now and got great pictures. Sam also taught us about Utah’s native Ponderosa Pine and the effect of fire on the tree. The thick bark of older trees is relatively fire resistant and the base of a burnt pine puts off a vanilla fragrance. The fourth day marked the beginning of our backpacking adventure. We hiked with National Park Service employee Eric Vasquez to Riggs Spring Group Site in the back-country. As part of our service project, Eric asked us to recommend a better tent site at a campsite along the way. The original spot was beside a trail with high animal traffic. It was evident that a bear had been scratching on a tree about 10 feet away. Furthermore, the site was less than 20 feet from a lightning scarred tree. At our group site, Eric explained the negative effects of an invasive plant called Bull Thistle and provided us with tools to remove it. The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting on storms to pass and learning how to cook beans/rice and brownies on WhisperLite Stoves. Our excellent group leader Kelly Goonan taught us the importance of maintaining waste in the back-country. Bodily waste should be expelled about 200 feet from the campsite and any natural water source. You must dig a cat hole that is at least 4 inches deep, cover it up, and leave no paper behind. Before leaving the campsite, we searched for trash left behind by previous backpackers. Always leave a place better than you found it! Unfortunately, a campfire escaped several years ago at the site and killed much of the plant life in the area. It is actually against the rules to start a campfire in the back-country. We hiked back out the next morning. Once again, the high elevation gave me a reality check. It rained the rest of the day and we missed our scheduled astronomy program. The next highlight of my trip occurred on the sixth day. Moe the mule carried me several thousand feet to the bottom of the amphitheater. I’m very proud of Moe, but I’m not proud that he probably smelled better than I did. (Hey, don’t worry, I took my shower the next day at my hotel.) After the horseback ride, we traveled back to Cedar City and set up our tents for the last time. Before calling it a night we each shared our favorite part of the trip, what we would take away, and how we would share our experience with others. It was physically and mentally challenging. It rained each day. I did not shower all week. I developed blisters on my feet. I got much colder at night than I came prepared for. However, the number of thorns could not compare to the beauty of my roses. I gained knowledge about the outdoors. I’m more confident about hiking and backpacking. I developed friendships that I hope last a lifetime. It is a trip I will never forget. If you get the chance, take Dr. Allison Wallace’s National Parks seminar and then go hike among the hoodoos.

Allison Finneseth: Adventures Across Asia

This past semester, my sister and I had the opportunity to spend four months studying abroad in Thailand. While we were in Asia, we also got to spend some time experiencing the culture, customs, and chaos of India, Laos, Vietnam, and China. I previously assumed that the countries in Asia were fairly similar to one another; however, I quickly learned that each had its own unique flavor. Although it’s impossible to explain all of the differences in a short blog post, I wanted to give you a taste of my adventure abroad.

Thailand- Traveling up north to Chiang Mai, we visit the Karen Hill Tribe, one of the largest minority groups in Thailand. The Karen tribe is the only tribe that has grown up working with and caring for elephants on their land. We visited their village and not only had the chance to feed, bathe, and play with the elephants, but also learn about their heritage and way of life. The Karen people speak one of the Tibeto-Burman languages, which is completely unique from any other dialect spoken in Thailand. All of the Karen are completely self-sufficient and live off of the land around them. Their food comes from the rice they plant, the trees they grow, and the animals they raise. Clothes are woven and dyed using colors from the plants nearby, and their medicines are completely herbal. The village has its own school and Christian church, and many young children drive motorbikes wherever they please. Their houses looked like wooden shacks and the toys consisted of rocks and sticks, but the kids couldn’t have been happier. I’m still fascinated by their lifestyle and reminded of how much our culture shapes our definitions of “normal” and “abnormal.”

Laos- My sister and I had finally arrived after what seemed to be a never-ending overnight bus and needed to get our visas on arrival. We filled out our paperwork, handed over our passports, and were ready to get inside a minivan for another three hour drive to our destination for the weekend. A sweet lady showed us to the right van, but the driver wasn’t ready to take us quite yet. He was sitting around a table with some of his friends eating lunch with what looked like a pretty empty bowl of soup sitting in front of him. He said he needed to finish and let his soup settle, so we should come back in an hour and see if he’s ready by then. My sister and I walked to a café across the street and said, “One hour?! It looked like he was done with his lunch! I guess we’ll just wait here and hope he’s ready to go when we head back.” Luckily he was ready to take off shortly after we got in the van, and after some long and windy roads we arrived safely. Fast forward to late that afternoon and we were trying to figure out which tour to book for the next day. We were searching through a book at our hostel and asked the worker if he could arrange one of the hiking tours for us. He was more than happy to do so and called the company to get it arranged, but came back with some unfortunate news. He said, “The hike you want to do is a fairly long trek, and none of the guides want to walk that far tomorrow. Is there a different tour you’d like to do?” We couldn’t help but laugh and of course chose a shorter, less strenuous hike for the next day. Laos definitely tested my patience and desire for structure, but it also made me question the strain of our fast pace.

China- My family and I were walking around Tiananmen Square while our tour guide was filling our heads with facts about the late Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China. We were amazed by the vastness of the Square itself, as well as the two ancient gates on either side of it, but then something unusual caught our eyes. Three locals around 60 years old were staring at the four of us and whispering amongst each other. One of the men smiled and shouted in Mandarin to our tour guide, after which she told us they wanted a group picture with our family. We willingly obliged, and afterwards they thanked each of us personally before once again briefly talking with our guide. Before our tour continued, the guide informed us that the “locals” were actually rural farmers who had never seen foreigners before in their lives. That struck me because I immediately realized two things. First, these farmers had been surrounded by people who looked like them, talked like them, and acted like them their entire life. Second, I had always taken the beauty of diversity for granted. Diversity was something I grew up with and assumed everyone else did as well; however, it is such a sweet gift that I will continue to remind myself of and treasure forever.

I have countless more stories to share, but Asia has changed me in so many ways. I’m forever thankful for this opportunity to explore the vast world in which we live. I couldn’t agree more with Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Asia, I hope to see you again.

Jules Merguie:  Effects of Confidence on Visual Perception

This semester I traveled to Houston, Texas, to participate in the Southwestern Psychological Association conference from April 12th to the 15th. I have been working on research throughout the year in Dr. Ken Sobel’s lab, and my lab partner and I were accepted to give a talk at the conference. This was the first time I had gone to any sort of professional conference in my field, much less give a talk about our research in front of a group of people, so I was very nervous the Friday of our talk. I had no idea what to expect as we were traveling to Houston, but I was just thankful to be presenting with my lab partner.

The conference’s theme this year dealt with how psychology might be helpful when it comes to future challenges, such as climate change and geopolitical issues. The first lecture I attended featured one of the invited speakers and ended up being one of my favorite talks of the whole weekend. The speaker discussed engaged psychology and how paying attention to the element of human thought processes and behavior instead of focusing only involved numbers would be helpful in preventing things like the bubble pop in 2007 from happening again. The speaker incorporated how the field I am interested in could be used in multidisciplinary collaboration, and that was incredibly useful for me to hear. After that speaker’s talk, I went to look around the main floor to check out some of the research posters on display and some of the graduate schools that were there advertising to undergraduates. It was genuinely fun being able to talk to professionals about their different graduate schools, but I ended up camping out at the UCA booth a little more than I should have because my professors were there talking to potential grad students.

As the day progressed, it started to sink in that I was going to be presenting my research soon, so I was thankful that I had the opportunity to present in front of Dr. Sobel beforehand because I knew he would be upfront with me. After tweaking some my presentation and moving things around, my lab partner, Aisha, and I were about as ready as we could have been. The talk went so much better than I thought it would, not because it was free from errors, but because the tone I could have with the crowd was more conversational than I expected. We are researching a phenomenon that tends to be a little bit more comical than other concepts in psychology, so as we presented our audience seemed to be laughing with us. I think after noticing how fun and genuinely interested our crowd was, it allowed me to take a more casual tone with the people I was speaking to. This big, scary, formal presentation turned into something much more fun and memorable than I expected because of the audience participation. I was so touched to see that many of my professors that were at the conference had made it to our talk, and they had conversations with me about the research we were doing and added their own expertise to the conversation.

The rest of the conference continued without a hitch. I was excited to see a plethora of topics covered by talks or poster sessions throughout the conference. My favorite session was one of the clinical poster sessions because of the genuine curiosity and wonder it sparked within me. It was incredible considering the time and hard work that went into all that these people were doing, and it was inspiring for me to think about how this could definitely be my future.

Druid Wen: Religious Development in Ancient Egypt


As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with understanding the human mind, and it was this fascination that led me to Egypt. There’s a haunting beauty that echoes through the deepest parts of the mind, like a call from the forgotten past. These echoing depths are a realm of dreams, symbols, and dramatic representations. A realm where meaning is the fundamental reality, rather than matter. Civilizations have worked to represent and articulate these meanings across eras, gradually unifying them into complex models of reality. We often call this endeavor religion. My research attempts to explore the primordial dreamworld at the base of consciousness and to follow the development of higher consciousness from these ancient foundations.

There is a feeling of standing at a grand religious monument that goes beyond awe and cannot be ignored in any serious conversation on religion. My journey through the major religious sites of ancient Egypt provided a profound depth of experience that no amount of remote study could have generated. Egypt’s religious sites contain many of the world’s oldest surviving religious texts and artifacts. Many of these texts and artifacts, such as the pyramid writings, are built into the sites and lose much of their meaning when taken out of context. I had studied some Egyptian texts and artifacts before, but nothing could have prepared me for experiencing them firsthand. And as I continued exploring Egypt’s ancient past, I began to catch glimpses of patterns woven seamlessly through myths and monuments alike. Everything I saw was an embodiment of a deeper meaning, and each profound meaning was the lifeforce of something apparently mundane.

The ancient Egyptians did not worship objects or animals, but used them as symbols to represent dimensions of reality which were worthy of elevation and worship. Thoth—the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, language, and magic—is primarily associated with the ibis, a wading bird with long legs and beaks. Ibises use their long beaks to probe for food in places they cannot see, such as murky waters and narrow crevices. Because of the ibis’s ability to know without seeing, the ancient Egyptians used the ibis to represent wisdom in the face of the unknown and declared the ibis a sacred animal. This representation illustrates the relationship between symbolic embodiments and religious meanings as humans have attempted to act in a chaotic world of unknown dangers and opportunities. As we probe into the darkness beyond civilization, we eventually find what we need and bring it into the known world.

The process of travelling through Egypt was its own adventure, as nothing works quite the way an American thinks it should. Egypt is still recovering from the turmoil of the 2011 revolution and many Egyptians find themselves socially and economically displaced. However, the confusion and desperation cannot overpower Egypt’s rich and vibrant culture, with its unique flavor of resilient hope. Though the country is chaotic, it is not particularly dangerous, at least not along the Nile. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and would highly recommend it to confident travelers.

I’ve learned so much from this trip, and I hope to carry these experiences forward as I continue my research and my life. It’s as though the ancient gods still watch over the Egyptian sands, and I had the honor of walking amongst them, however briefly. While I did not have the fantastic epiphany which I might have hoped for on this trip, I have gained an inexplicable sense that the answers I’ve been hunting for are now just beyond my view. I am thankful to have had this opportunity and more determined than ever to finish the work I have started.

Tracy Blakley: UCA in the Bahamas: Physical Therapy Learn and Serve

This was my first time to travel to a different country, to fly on a plane, or to go overseas, so before this trip, I had no clue what it would be like to experience different people and cultures. My entire life I have been stuck in this primarily ethnocentric American society, and I really had no clue how to break that mold. However, when I went to the Bahamas, I learned so much about the people and the culture there that there was no way I could return home with the same mindset that I had before.

One of my favorite experiences while in the Bahamas was visiting the Straw Market. It was so cool to watch people take advantage of their country’s biggest industry, tourism. But it was even cooler to actually understand why it was that they did what they did. They didn’t sell souvenirs in the straw market because they wanted to, nor because it was fun. They did it because that was the way that they best knew how  to make it in their society. And that was eye-opening for me. I had never seen people benefit from something the way that Bahamian people benefit from tourism. This caused me to develop a certain empathy and respect for their people because of their intelligent, opportunistic use of their country’s strongest industry.

On a larger scale, this experience taught me that people do not always have resources readily available like we do in the United States, but they do everything that they can with what they do have. Since the Bahamas is a collection of islands, most of the goods that they need and use have to be imported from somewhere else. However, at the same time, they have an abundance of natural resources that they take full advantage of. They grow, catch, eat, and sell plants and wildlife that live there, and they use the natural beauty around them to appeal to consumers. This taught me that they aren’t all that different from we Americans. We grow, catch, eat and sell our own natural resources just like they do. We sell the beauty of our land just like they do. We milk our resources for all that they are worth just like they do. Our societal beliefs, ideas, and culture may be different, but we all have that natural human intuition to use what’s around us to survive and thrive.

What taught me most about the Bahamas was the daily, informal interaction with the people of the island. Each and every person that I met was nice to me, and I could tell that they valued me as a human being. That made me wonder to myself, “Why is it that we dehumanize foreign people when they treat us with so much kindness?” We are no more human than they are. We are no more important than they are. We are no more loved than they are. And the fact that they could treat us with so much respect as we waltz in and enjoy their homeland tells me that we are absolutely failing as global citizens when we cannot do the same. They accept our differences and even use them as an opportunity for growth, and we should do the same.

Because of this trip, I now have a special respect, love, and passion for the people of the Bahamas, as they helped me become less culturally ignorant and more open-minded. Bahamian culture has instilled in me a desire to learn more about the world and the billions of people who inhabit it. Not only do I want to travel more, but now I want to learn more. Because of this trip, I will never be the same.

Hannah Parks: A study of Glyphosate-resistant Amaranthus palmeri

I have spent the last 18 months studying the growth of glyphosate-resistant Amaranthus palmeri (pigweed) in response to increased temperature and drought stress. I was eager to start my project when I received seeds from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. I bugged my thesis mentor until he met with me, and we set up the seeds for germination. I showed up every day to check on and water the seeds, and a month later only one out of forty seeds would germinate – then die. My project was full of setbacks, but in those moments of frustration, I learned the most.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup®, a common herbicide. Since 1996, farmers have relied on glyphosate as a sole form of weed management because the introduction of genetically-modified, glyphosate-resistant crops made weed management convenient and lowered labor costs and demands. Glyphosate-resistance threatens current industrial agricultural systems because the weeds do not die upon glyphosate application, so the weeds stay in the fields, compete with crop species, and reduce crop yields. Farmers lose profit from reduced yields and the added labor cost of manual weed-pulling.

My project is important not only because glyphosate resistance is an intriguing case of evolution that has occurred in our lifetimes but also managing glyphosate-resistant weeds impacts agricultural sustainability and, therefore, the world at large. When I was down in the trenches, planting hundreds of tiny seeds with forceps, cutting thousands of leaf discs, watering and measuring hundreds of plants, and pipetting solution for hours straight, I did not feel that the work I was doing was important. I could really only feel proud of my work when I was looking at it in retrospect, talking about it with other professors or people, and presenting it in the last months of my undergraduate career.

My findings will not make a big impact on the scientific community, but completing this project helped me. The years I spent on this project taught me the true meaning of perseverance and dedication because I spent several hours in the lab each week, and I constantly had to overcome problems and redirect my project. My project gave me the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Most importantly, my project gave me direction and helped reaffirm my decision to attend graduate school and become a scientist and professor. It taught me that I was capable of completing scientific work independently, and when I talked about my project with others, I knew that I really loved what I was doing. Despite all of the setbacks I had, I would recommend an independent research experience to anyone. The frustration I felt was growing-pain, and in the end, I am better as a result of it.

E Jones: Civil Rights Trip to Montgomery and Washington, DC

In the summer of 2018, along with two other students, I was invited on a week-long civil rights era themed trip. I was filled with anticipation and excitement at the opportunity to experience my ancestors’ history firsthand. Throughout my high school career, I had buried myself in civil rights research and history in an earnest attempt to understand the plight of our nation.

The trip would consist of us visiting Atlanta, GA, Montgomery, AL, and Washington D.C. These cities were incredible, and driving through them, it was easy to see how the civil rights era had impacted them. Our first civil rights location in Atlanta was the Museum of Civil and Human Rights. It was an incredible sight. The beautiful interior had a masterful layout that took the viewer from an outsider perspective to a very intimate one. The museum also hosted an immersion audio experience in which you could see what it would have been/felt like to be an activist during a sit in. In the experience, you would sit on automated bar stools and place your hands flat on the counter in front of you. The headphones you were supposed to put on would play audio recorded specifically for your experience. The sound was such high quality that it felt as if I were sitting at a real lunch counter. It is recommended to keep your eyes closed during the experience to make it feel more personal. It was incredibly difficult not to cry during and after the experience. The audio experiment is such a unique way to deliver an impactful, historical lesson that I believe everyone should experience it at some point. It was a means of making our history feel real and too close for comfort.

Afterward, we journeyed to Montgomery, AL. We visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s memorial site and museum and were profoundly touched. As I was recording a documentary for my junior seminar course, I was not allowed to film in certain locations and had no desire to film in such sensitive areas. As we slowly made our way through the lynching memorial, it was haunting and truly disturbing to view the thousands of names written into stone of those who were murdered in the worst way possible. A haunting phrase that followed me through the site was that we would never know the thousands of names of those who were lost to racial hate crimes. These deaths were not only hundreds of years ago, but also frighteningly close to our modern day. Justice is a resource that is much too valuable and necessary to daily life and sadly it is only reserved for a few. Justice will never be given to those whose names are lost in time.

Montgomery was also amazing to me in that this museum and memorial were funded and supported by the Equal Justice Initiative. A legal group comprised of attorneys and other social servants who wish to serve those that our justice system has abandoned. While many, many men of color and not given a fair trial and unreasonably given the death penalty, these lawyers will help at no charge to the people in question or their families. This was amazing to me as it coincides exactly with the reason I want to go to law school for. As an attorney I hope to specialize in indigent criminal law and immigration law, helping families who may not be able to afford legal help at no cost. I am trying to intern at the Equal Justice Initiative next Summer, in the hopes to work under Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who founded the organization.

Our final destination was Washington D.C.. We visited the newest Smithsonian and were so lucky to have even been able to get in, the museum was booked out 6 months in advance! The experience was amazing and well worth the long wait in line. The Museum of African American History was truly revelatory in telling the history of blackness in America. If you tour the museum in chronological order, you will go from the sugar trade all the way to Outkast and Kendrick Lamar. What made the museum so amazing was that it not only celebrated our history, but our culture that was manifested from such history. It is a very surreal feeling to look in the display glass at artist’s clothes and records that you still listen to today.

Overall, the entire trip made me feel incredibly thankful to have been born black and Hispanic. While our history is almost unbearably painful and marred with the anguish of those we have lost on our way to get to where we are now, we must always realize that our work is never done. Instead of feeling a bit hopeless as I did before I went on this trip, I know feel hopeful for the social future of America. It is up to the youth to maintain the passion and vigor our social activist forefathers did, and to never take things for granted. When we become comfortable where we are, we start going backwards and that is something we can never allow. This trip put me back into contact with what we can do every day to ensure change. We must be rational, strategic, loyal, and energized in our fight for complete equality. Most importantly, we must never forget to love one another, and it is through love that the most hardened of hearts are touched.

Sofiya Stasiv: Learning to Become a Model in New York City


I imagined my journey to New York to become a model for MONTHS. I was inspired by some bold friends who had been “discovered” in New York. I mainly chose to venture to New York because of their validating words claiming that I had the right “look” to be a model.

Prior to arrival, I dedicated much time to collecting addresses, finding contact information, sending emails, and filling out modeling applications. Anxiously, I was ready to be brave and see if this Arkansas girl had the potential to be noticed.

Needless to say, the premeditated scenarios I had created in my head were nothing like the reality of the city of Manhattan, where all of the modeling agencies are located. Manhattan overwhelmed me. I became nervous, questioning every aspect of myself, wondering if I was worthy of grabbing the attention of these well-known agencies. The fear was building up rapidly. I felt as if I was over my head trying to make my far-fetched dream come true.

My adventures began with attending my first open model call.  After searching Google maps for the location, I noticed a mysterious door that had no label. I opened the door to a single hallway with two elevators. Luckily, there was a little bulletin board that displayed the studios within the building and my modeling agency was on the 4th floor. Entering the agency, I was shocked. The room was the size of the Honors College Forum (a little bigger than a standard classroom), but split into three sections. A studio, a conference room, and a miscellaneous room made up this entire space. All the rooms were about the size of your average honors dorm room.

Next came the open call. First, models of different shapes, sizes, genders, and ages took turns being interviewed in front of everyone. Then, standard full length, waist up, and side profile photos were taken of each model. And lastly, models would then get silently graded on their modeling talents based on the portfolio photos that they would present to the casting director. The casting director was full of energy and seemed interested in what everyone had to share, but in the end, he was very stern in terms of how we would be contacted if we sparked an interest. He put emphasis on not calling the agency. No call back meant we hadn’t made it, with no explanation why. I went through this whole process twice more with other agencies. Sadly, I did not get any callbacks. I wish I had been able to attend more open calls, but many agencies do not host open calls because so many people want to become models in New York.

The rest of my days consisted of entering over 12 different modeling agencies to gain additional information about becoming a model. I had hoped by entering unannounced I’d grab somebody’s attention. However, I was never able to get past reception. Some of the receptionists were very kind and took pictures of me, asked me to write down my information on a post-it note, told me agents would call if interested, then would give me a list of other agencies to go see in the city. Other receptionists were very straight with me. Needless to say, I was discouraged.

The trip to New York taught me to persevere in my actions. I learned that having connections in New York is everything. I learned that rejection is part of life. Nothing in life happens by only trying once, but for some reason, I thought it would for me. I learned about the person I can be when outside of my comfort zone. I learned that the city is not for the weak. I learned that time and patience is everything. I was disappointed that things did not go my way while in the massive city, but, honestly, what was I expecting? I will continue to find inspiration within myself as far as where I wish to get with my modeling career. Until then I will be flashing my face in your local Arkansas magazines, commercials, and Instagram feed.

Sophia Ordaz: Summer in the City – Exploring Publishing and Testing My Limits in the Big Apple

After hearing all my life that a liberal arts education is wholly un-lucrative, I felt pretty dubious about majoring in English in my freshman year. My father, an electrical engineer, had tried persuading me on countless occasions to pursue a STEM profession—which is only natural, I think, because as a parent, and especially as an immigrant who traversed miles and borders in search of greater opportunity, you want your child to prosper as much as, if not more, than you.

My attitude shifted after I got involved with student media and interned at the Oxford American, a national literary magazine based in Little Rock. The skills I was developing as an English major—the writing, the reading, the editing—were essential to a multitude of careers in journalism, publishing, communications, nonprofit work, and academia. Instead of feeling stranded when faced with my career prospects, I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities, and because of that, I felt compelled to explore as many of those possibilities as I can through internships and opportunities on campus.

In August 2017, I set my sights on an internship at the Feminist Press, an activist-minded indie publisher with a backlist of books that resonated strongly with me. My plan was laid early on: First, apply for an ELF (Experiential Learning Fund) grant to help fund the expense of living in New York City as an unpaid intern, and second, get the internship, somehow. The stars were aligned for me because everything fell into place, and thank goodness for that.

As much as I tried to suppress it, the idea of abandoning my family and friends to live in a place where I knew virtually no one scared me out of my mind. There were the more practical obstacles—like learning how to ride the subway—but also the more high-stakes trepidations: Would being so alone make me unbearably lonely? Looking back on my apprehensions, I can readily discern how dramatically the summer has developed my character, in the enthusiasm I feel when I meet new people, in the liberating effortlessness of being alone with myself, in the unearthing of a level of confidence I never knew I possessed.

Throughout the summer, I worked closely with the small FP staff, which gave me invaluable insight into the management of nonprofit work and independent publishing. Some of my responsibilities included proofreading forthcoming titles and grant applications, drafting metadata, live-Tweeting FP events, evaluating agented and unsolicited manuscript subscriptions, volunteering at the Harlem Book Fair, and mailing out orders and review copies. That’s not to mention some of the perks of interning, which included meeting FP authors, free tickets to an off-Broadway show, and, to my great pleasure, a lot of books.

I’m coming away from this experience with the knowledge that I could thrive in a publishing career. But I’m also keeping in mind a piece of advice from the executive director and publisher Jamia Wilson. Over tea in her office, she told me that if I’m feeling like I’m being pulled in multiple directions when it comes to a career path, to keep doing what I love and keep doing it well. It’s okay to not have honed in on a single vocation and to expand the experiences you undertake. In my free time, I’ve been giving my all to writing album reviews, and if next summer I have the opportunity to explore that further, I will gladly take it.

Reflecting on this past summer, a huge part of why it is so unforgettable is just the fact that I got to live in New York City. I met some of the most imaginative and driven individuals there, and it felt like I got to reinvent myself because I was in a setting where no one knew me. At the risk of adding to the endless romanticization of NYC, getting to live in Lower Manhattan made me feel as if anything were possible in the city: live music on street corners, rap cyphers in parks, break dancing on subway trains—being surrounded by that kind of purposeful, creative life constantly energized me. Before I left for NYC, I was so scared of leaving my friends and family. I’m stronger now, because I realized that in order to grow, I have to keep putting myself in situations that make me uncomfortable.

Carla Archer: Making Magic for the Mouse

Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Since my first visit to Walt Disney World at five years old, I have dreamt of being a Disney cast member. I discovered the Disney College Program on a social media site when I was in high school, and I knew I would have to apply when the time came. To be eligible, you only need to have one semester of college completed, but I waited until the fall of my sophomore year to apply for the first time. I made it all the way to the last round of interviews, when I informed the recruiter that I had recently made my college dance team and would not be able to attend in the spring. I applied a second time that spring for a fall program, and I was never asked for an initial interview. I even went to a character performer audition in Dallas and got cut during the first round. I learned a lot about dealing with rejection and the importance of perseverance. I guess the third time really is the charm because within a week of applying in the fall of my junior year, I was accepted into the program as a merchandise cast member for the spring semester!

I put my scholarships and basically my whole life on hold and packed my bags for a four month stay in Orlando, Florida. The first week there, everyone had to attend Traditions, which is the orientation for working at Disney. They taught us about the four keys by which Walt Disney wanted the company to operate: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. No matter your role at the park, those are the priorities, in that order. In my work location, we were constantly encouraged to practice these keys. The Traditions teachers showed us several videos of guests having their vacations greatly impacted by cast members, effectively brainwashing us to strive to be dedicated to creating happiness and making magic (and of course, money). We got to explore the tunnels under Magic Kingdom. This is where cast members take breaks and how they get around without entering a land that does not match the theming of their costumes. It is also the reason Magic Kingdom is not overflowing with trash. The coolest part of Traditions was getting our official cast member nametags from our new boss, Mickey Mouse.

The first couple of days of training for merchandise college program participants were at Disney University. We practiced using the registers, which was helpful for someone like me who had never worked in retail. We learned how to count change back to guests the “Disney way.” We also learned about “merchantainment,” which is essentially playing with the merchandise to entertain the guests and to sell more product. My home park was Hollywood Studios, so my first day of on location training was called “On with the Show.” I got paid to go on a tour of my favorite park and learn fun facts about its history and future. I could hardly believe it.

I worked in the Theater District, which includes Star Wars, Muppets, Indiana Jones, Frozen, and Christmas themed shops. I spent most of my time in Tatooine Traders, which is where hundreds of people dump out every few minutes from riding Star Tours. My favorite assignment was walking guests step-by-step through building custom lightsabers. No other merchandise location on property had anything that interactive, so it was perfect for me as a future elementary teacher. The best day in Tatooine was when I got to give Magical Moment certificates to two young sisters named Lucy and Grace. They came back to visit me during my last shift, and I cried tears of joy.

Even at the most magical place on earth, working an average of forty hours a week is exhausting and not always easy. To break up the monotony, I traded to work in other locations. I ended up working in every park at least once. Some nights I did not get off work until after two o’clock in the morning. Sometimes guests would yell at me for ruining their vacations because I asked to see their annual passes in order to give them a discount. One woman told my manager I needed to take more “earning my ears” classes and that I should just sell balloons on the street to children. My manager told me I was doing the right thing, and we smiled and told the guest to have a magical day, as is custom. The biggest, but most rewarding, challenge was learning to communicate with people despite language barriers. Guests and cast members come from all over the world, and it is so beautiful to see the diversity, especially in Epcot’s World Showcase, featuring food, entertainment, and cast members from eleven countries.

Overall, the Disney College Program was the greatest opportunity of my life thus far. I gained independence and valuable life skills. I had a blast riding rides, watching shows, meeting characters, and eating sweets. I already miss living minutes from Cinderella’s castle and saying, “May the force be with you,” but Mickey said he’ll see me real soon.