Alexa Augustine '23 - Introduction

Alexa standing on Memorial Hill

Hi everyone! My name is Alexa and I’m a rising sophomore here at Amherst College.  I’m from New York City (born and raised, specifically in the Bronx). I’m on the pre-med track and I want to be a pediatrician. I haven’t decided on what I want to major in yet, but I am considering majoring in Biology, Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Psychology. 

At Amherst I am a Mieklejohn Fellow and am involved in the Black Student Union. I also learn how to ride horses with the Equestrian Club, connect with mentors and get support in my Chemistry courses through the Alliance of Women in Science, and advocate for global health with GlobeMed. Additionally, I love doing arts and crafts. During my free time at home, I do paint-by-numbers and diamond painting (which is placing small, colored beads onto sticky paper to create an image).  

If you want to know more about my Amherst experience or the college as a whole, please email me at aaugustine23@amherst.edu. I would love to speak with you! 

Eating Donuts and Having Fun on Campus

Hello Everyone! I hope you all are finding entertaining and creative ways to pass the time until school starts. One of the things I miss about Amherst College is the fun activities and events that happened on campus. 

One of my favorite programs on campus is AC After Dark. AC After Dark organizes fun events at night for students over the weekends, once most extracurriculars have ended. They’ve set up a variety of activities on and off campus. For one weekend, they took a group of students out to the Six Flags in Springfield. I was a part of the group that went and I had a great time. AC After Dark provided the tickets and the transportation to the park, so after a 45 minute drive on a bus, we arrived, went through ticketing, and were free to roam. I didn’t know that there was a Six Flags so close to campus, but after going with the program, my friends and I definitely plan on going to visit again. We went in October, during their Fright Fest event, where they make the park look extra spooky and have actors dressed up in costumes to scare people. I didn’t know this until I got there and I had never seen anything like it before, so that was a new experience. I loved going on the rides and then eating some nice amusement park food. 

For on campus activities, the program does a lot of arts and crafts workshops and movie nights. For Halloween, I went to the Keefe Campus Center, where they were showing Hocus Pocus. There were juice boxes and snacks outside of the movie theatre room and after the movie ended I walked back with other students who lived in my dorm. We talked about what our favorite halloween movies and traditions were and hung out in the common room until late at night. I also went to their arts-and-crafts activity at the end of the fall semester. Since the holidays were approaching, AC After Dark planned a series of small projects for students to do surrounding the winter/holiday theme. We made snow globes, stuffed snowmen using socks,stuffing, googly eyes and buttons, and created holiday cards. There was hot chocolate and insomnia cookies available and it was just a really chill environment to make some art and chat with people.

There are also a lot of fun annual festivals and events on campus. I enjoyed going to all the festivals, but I think  8 people standing in front of a purple, big, inflatable mammoth.
my favorite was WinterFest. It takes place down by the Athletic Complex in Coolidge Cage. Amherst invited a local acapella group to provide live music, and had local businesses cater the event. There were stands giving out dumplings, warm clam chowder, waffles with chocolate drizzled on them, pulled pork, and more. I have a sweet tooth, so my favorite stand was the “create your own donut” stall hosted by Glazed, the donut shop at Amherst town. You could choose the actual flavor of the donut, then you’d dipped it in your choice of glaze and then put on your own toppings. I had that with the hot white chocolate that I got from the hot chocolate stall. 
The food was all really good and there were also cool games to play, like skee ball and curling. They had a big, inflatable snow globe that people could get into and then take pictures. Someone came in and made ice sculptures using a chainsaw, and those sculptures were then placed throughout campus. Orr Rink was also open and the college was providing free skates to rent so that people could go ice skating. With so much stuff to do, I was one of the first people to arrive and the last ones to leave.  

Clubs are also a really great part of the social life on campus, with cool stuff to do outside of academics. Amherst has over 100 student run clubs and organizations. Clubs can sometimes host mixers where they join with other clubs and just have a party. Going to the regular club meetings are enjoyable too. As you may know from reading my previous posts, I love playing board games, so the Board Game Club really gives me the space to unwind and just have fun over the weekends. They meet at the Campus Center, where there are tons of board games and a switch available for students in the lounge. They also use their funding to update the games and get new ones for the club to play.  The Alliance of Women in Science (AWIS) is another club that I’m happy I joined. They had weekly study/work sessions at the Science Center, which was nice to get to know the other people and ask them for help with my science courses. Sometimes they would bring Thai food or pizza for us to snack on as we worked.

I hope you are taking the time to learn new skills or play games. I for one am very excited to reconnect with the groups on campus and just enjoy doing cool things together,  

My Top 3 Recommended Places to Visit in Town

Hello, everyone! A great benefit of Amherst College is the surrounding town of Amherst. The town is within walking distance of the campus (a few blocks away from Valentine Dining Hall), so the students frequently go for the fun activities and great restaurants. But the town also has a lot of practical shops and stores that are useful for students. This is a list of the places I visited the most while on campus: 

CVS

The CVS store is pretty big and has a wide selection of snacks, food, toiletries, soap, and all the other things that I frequently use up on campus. This store is really useful for replenishing your midnight snacks and daily necessities. I wasn’t the best of packers when I moved into college and forgot where I packed my extra bottle of toothpaste. The one I was currently using was about to run out. I knew I could order from Amazon and I’d just have to pick it up at the Post Office in Keefe Campus Center, right there on campus, but my friends were going to CVS and I decided to tag along with them. I went in for toothpaste and came out with toothpaste, chocolate covered pomegranates, milk, instant ramen, and crackers. Since then, I visit CVS every other week to buy more essential snacks and items. This year, Schwemm's in the Keefe Campus Center will have a small store that sells toiletries and snacks to students in order to minimize travel outside of campus.

Amherst Books

This bookstore has general stationery items and, unsurprisingly, many interesting books of different genres. However, it is also the go-to place for buying course-required texts, from literature books to textbooks. While the main floor has books for the general public, there is a downstairs floor that is organized specifically for academics and students in the Five Colleges. 

The bookshelves are sectioned off by college. Each bookshelf is labelled by department, and each shelf has labels designating the course and required books along with their prices. This makes finding a specific book and just buying books for a course very easy. For example, to find the books I needed for my first-year seminar course - Progress? - I went downstairs to the Amherst College section of the store. Then I went to the bookshelf labelled “FYSE”, found the “Progress?” shelf, and saw the list of books with their prices. This store is nice to get the books immediately and maybe at a better price than those available online. The other advantage is that, since it caters to college students, it allows students to return their books for a refund before the Add/Drop period ends. That way, you can be prepared for your course immediately, but still be able to return the books if you decide to drop it during the shopping period. 

Lone Wolf

This is a diner that I’m surprised doesn’t get a lot of attention. Part of the reason is that students highlight the places to go for dinner in town, since that's usually when they like to go out. However, this diner specilizes in breakfast and lunch. It’s a pretty small place, and is only open until 3pm, but it’s a really great place to go to if you have free time in the mornings or afternoons for a bite to eat. Over the weekends, my friends and I like to wake up late and sometimes don’t feel like eating breakfast at Val. To do something fun and treat ourselves, we head down to the Lone Wolf. I always order the Challah French Toast with the Western Omelette. We usually arrive by 11:30am for brunch and have always been seated right away. The service is quick, the staff is friendly, and the food is delicious. 

These are just the top three places I think are really useful for students, but the town of Amherst has so much to offer that I wouldn’t be able to list them all. AJ Hastings is where students get all of their official Amherst College Swag. From clothing, to magnets, to stickers, it has rows of purple items labelled with Amherst College or mammoths. I got a winter wool hat with an Amherst College logo to help show my Amherst Pride.  I went with a group of friends to see the movie Parasite at the Amherst Cinema. It’s a great place to go where students get discounts to see award-winning movies, documentaries, and independent films. There’s also the PVTA bus that is free for all Amherst students and can take you to the Hampshire Mall, with even more activities and stores. With the town nearby, students always have something fun to do and have easy access to the things they need.

Making a Dorm a Home

Hi, everyone! I’m starting to realize that Move-In Day is coming faster than I expected it. With the time to move in being a bit before classes start on August 24th, there’s a little over a month to prepare. Make sure to check the Amherst website for a general overview of what students are and aren’t allowed to bring.

I lived in South Hall as a first year and had a great time. However, there were a couple of things I wish someone told me to bring before I moved in. Here are some tips on some extra things to pack to make your room more homey.

  • Roommate Collaboration

So this isn’t exactly something to “pack”, but it’s definitely something good to have before you move in. Talk with your roommate (once you know who they are), about what they were  thinking about bringing and how they feel about sharing for the room. A couple of typical appliances that my roommate and I shared was a mini-fridge, water filter, and an electric kettle. The college will pair first-years with a roommate based on a questionaire asking each individuals living habits, for example, what time they go to bed, if they like loud music, going to parties, ect. The college will then notify each student about their living arrangements in early August. More information about the Housing Selection Process is available on our website. 

  • A fan

This is especially important since the school year is starting much earlier. There isn’t really air conditioning inside the dorms, so a small fan that you can put on your windowsill or table goes a long way. 

  • An electric kettle

Again, this may be extra useful for this semester due to the changes in dining services. Packing small, two-minute dinners like ramen, macaroni, or instant rice is handy to have, and a kettle makes it easy to boil water and prepare those meals. I’ve used my kettle to help make ramen and macaroni to eat for lunch if I didn’t have time to go to Val, or when I wanted a small, late-night meal.

  • Command Strips

There’s a lot of space for storage in the rooms, but Command strips are a must-have for me nonetheless. Want to hang up your robe and towel close by? Command Strip. Need to hang a picture frame or a string for decoration purposes? Command Strip. Have an extension cord that keeps sliding off of your desk or windowsill? Command Strip. They’re really convenient to have, easy to use, and easy to take off. Thumbtacks are also useful, as there are some rooms (like the ones in South Hall) that have boards to allow students to stick thumbtacks into. This makes hanging fairy lights or pictures much easier. 

  • A backrest pillow chair

I didn’t learn about how useful this item was until after I moved in. I saw my friend who lived on the same floor as me using it, and then I started borrowing it for my room. I like to do homework on my bed sometimes, so I use the seat to help me sit up comfortably. 

  • Games

These can be card games, board games, or video games. It’s really nice to have a variety on hand to play with your roommate, dormmates, or any of your friends. I’m a big board games and card games fan, and I find it’s a really simple way to reward myself after a hard day's work, or just as a way to unwind. Check the main common room in your dorm to see what board games are available as well. Ticket to Ride one of the board games that were in our common room. My friends and I played Bananagrams, different card games, and Ticket to Ride at the end of a school day or on the weekends. 

  • A seat cushion

The desk chairs in the rooms are wooden, and hard to sit on. My tush needed a pillow. 

  •  Decorations

This is meant to be vague because how you dress up your room is completely up to you! Some students have a particular theme or style, some have a more simple look. Some things that can jazz up a room include fairy lights, decorative throw pillows/blankets, and pictures.

 

Your room can be a great place to have fun get together with your friends, and/or a quiet, relaxing place to settle into once your day is done. Take a look at the floor plans for each dorm to see how the rooms are set up and where the common rooms are. The first-year dorms as a whole do a great job in facilitating a space to build community, from the RCs doing tea time, to the closeness of the First-Year Quad, keeping all of the first year friends close enough that we can visit each other easily. I was close with the people in the first and second floor of my dorm because we all had the same RC and would hang out in the same common rooms. We had birthday parties and game nights together in our rooms, and watched shows on our computers in the common room together. Even though how we interact may change due for safety, I have no doubt that students will still be able to build community and have a fun time in their dorms.

Answering Questions I Had As a Prospective Student

Hi Everyone! I hope you are all doing well. One of the common questions I get when I give my tours is why did I choose Amherst. The deciding experience that made me choose Amherst was when I went to Admitted Students Weekend and stayed overnight on campus with a host. This year, Amherst is offering an Access to Amherst (A2A) program to give students a similar, insiders view of the Amherst community virutally. By that point in my college application process, I had visited many colleges and needed to consider which one would be the best fit for me. A lot of them had great faculty, facilities, and opportunities, so I felt like the social environment and how colleges organized pre-med studies would be the deciding factor. I ultimately had three questions going into the Admitted Students Weekend. By talking with current students while experiencing a bit of what it would be like to be a part of the Amherst community, they were answered during my stay. By the end of the weekend, I thought that it was the best place for me to make great friends, have fun, and learn.  After getting enrolled and spending time as a student myself, I have an even better grasp of what the community is like and am confident that I made the right choice. Now that I’m a current student, I’d like to answer the questions my past-self had before I enrolled.  

  • What is the student body like and how’s the social scene?

The Amherst student body is diverse in many ways, with students coming from all over the country, about 15% coming internationally, and 45% of the students identify as students of color, and 10% being first generation.  But having a diverse student body is just as important as how they interact. The students are so supportive of each other, whether it be forming study groups, peer mentoring, or helping out in athletics. While academics and athletics are important, the students really connect outside of the classroom as well through clubs or just hanging out in the dorms.

Although Amherst doesn’t have Greek life, there is themed housing that students can live in if they wish to enjoy living in a certain community while doing programs pertaining to the theme. I think Amherst has a good balance of students organizing and going to their own parties, while also having students that would rather avoid them. I personally am not very interested in partying, and I’ve never felt pressured to spend more time at parties. However, I still like the option to go to one with my friends and enjoy the ones student clubs throw. 

  •  What is being a pre-med student like?

I was really excited about all the options and freedom I had at Amherst even though I was on the pre-med track. There are tons of resources online showing the different academic paths students can take for their four years at Amherst to complete their prerequisites. I could study abroad for a semester, do my premed courses, have a non-STEM major, and still have space in my course selection to take a few courses outside of my major, just for fun. I didn’t feel like being a pre-med student at Amherst limited me or made me miss any opportunities outside of STEM. The support and information that I got from my Health Professions Advisor, Dean Aronson for planning my academics and finding internships was also really helpful. The other pre-med students also helped support me in following the track. I never saw any cutthroat competition. We made study groups and helped each other do our Chemistry labs and homework. It felt like a collaborative community, where each student genuinely wanted to see each other succeed and be a part of that success.  

  • What is something Amherst College can offer me that I might not be able to experience any place else? 

The social environment combined with how Amherst organizes courses really makes it a unique experience. There are rigorous courses, but it felt like the work was there with a purpose, not just for the sake of saying there are rigorous courses. To support students’ education on a topic, but also to develop their intellectual skills as a whole. The students themselves are very curious and drive to exploring their horizons outside of their immediate interests. The way that the diversity enhances the student’s learning is also pretty special to Amherst.  For example, in my Progress? course (my First Year Seminar), we could have a productive conversation with people voicing different opinions. It was a great course to build understanding about myself and my views and get to know other prospectives. Then after class still be friends and get together for lunch, even if no one changed their views. Altogether, I feel like it’s a great, fun environment for me to grow intellectually, as a student, but also as a person. 

    Registering for Classes in 4 Easy Steps

    Hello everyone! Today I would like to talk about how I take advantage of the Open Curriculum at Amherst and the process of choosing courses. Entering Amherst as a student on the premed track, I was concerned about how much time I would have to spend on courses outside of the required premed ones. Amherst’s Open Curriculum gave me the freedom to explore my interests outside of STEM, and made me feel secure that I would have options if I decided to stop following the premed track. 

     

    Step 1: Meeting With My Advisor

    Before students register for their courses, they meet with their advisor to discuss their interests, plan for the semester, as well as concerns for future years. Advisors are chosen based on what prospective majors you have as a first-year. I remember how comfortable I felt meeting with my advisor, and how helpful he was in planning my course schedule. My advisor read my application essay before we met, so he already knew a little bit about me right off the bat. I told him that I was a bit worried with how many courses premed required, so he helped me outline a “four year plan”. It showed when I’d have to take the courses during my college experience and how much freedom I still had in choosing courses I wanted to take. He helped guide my course load for the Fall semester, and made sure I had a well balanced schedule.

    Step 2: Pre-Registration

    During this step, I can register for the courses that have been approved by my advisor after our meeting. For the fall semester, I was already registered for my First Year Seminar (Progress?), and I took Introductory Chemistry (CHEM-151) to get started on my premed requirements. I wanted to take Advanced Spanish Language and Culture (SPAN-202) and Second-Year Chinese (CHIN-201) because I took Chinese and Spanish in highschool. I was interested in exploring whether either would be a possible major for me.

    The actual window for registration lasts about a week, but it’s better to sign up for classes sooner rather than later. Otherwise, you could be in a position that I was in, where I wanted to register for SPAN-202, but wasn’t able to because the class was already full. However, not all hope is lost! The shopping period is a great opportunity to explore classes and try to get into classes that were already full during pre-registration. 

    Step 3: Add/Drop Period Spanish class, students in front of blackboard

    During this time, students are free to visit other classes that they didn’t register for, and see if it's a course they’d be
     interested in taking. It’s a good trial period to see if they like the courses they already registered for. It’s also the time to visit classes and try to get a spot, even if students were unable to register. Professors may allow you to stay in the
    course, even if it’s over enrolled, if you show up since it’s a sign of interest. Of course, this all depends on how many people are interested in the course and are enrolled. Luckily, only a couple of students other than myself wanted to enter the course, so my professor allowed us all to stay!

    Step 4: Enjoy

    Each of my courses were fun in different ways. In my Spanish course, I liked how we learned by reading modern literature and watching movies. Then, we applied our language skills by having discussions about what we had just read or watched. The course taught me more about the cultures and histories of different Spanish speaking countries. It also made me realize that Spanish may not be the major for me. My Chinese course helped solidify my interest in Chinese culture and language. It gave me the idea that Asian Languages and Civilizations (ASLC) could be a major I’d enjoy. I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of the Open Curriculum in the future, starting with taking Chinese Diaspora History to explore the ASLC major.

    College Chemistry Course: Lecture, Lab, and Discussion

    I had never been in a lecture class before and didn’t really do any Chemistry labs before arriving at Amherst. I definitely felt nervous going into my Chemistry 151 lecture, both because it was my first college class ever and because I knew that it had the heaviest coursework out of all my courses. I came prepared to sit down in the back of the class, listen to the professor lecture for an hour, and then leave trying to figure out how to learn in a lecture and manage the work. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of needing to rely on just myself the professors provided me with helpful advice, and one-on-one assistance, and tons of support.  

    Lecture

    One of the first things I received was a thick packet of paper, already making me doubt if selecting this course was a good decision. However, the packet was filled with lecture notes, as well as studying advice, note taking tips, guideline pages for notes and questions, and extra resources like Youtube videos and textbook pages to supplement the lecture topic. As Professor Burkett explained, the reason why she wanted to place these support systems was because she understood that it could be a tough transition from highschool to college. She wanted to give us the tools to do well not just in this particular course, but in our future courses inside and outside the area of Chemistry.

    Even though there were over 100 students, I still felt like I was getting cared for as an individual student. Professor Amphia-Bonney and Professor Rotondi were two other professors in the lecture who sat amongst the students, each on opposite sides of the classroom. Whenever I had a question or needed help understanding a topic and felt nervous about raising my hand, I (literally) turned to them and they’d help me. 

    Lab

                                      The inside of the Science Center, with laboratories encased in glass walls, and tables and chairs with students working.

    The lab class carried the same attentiveness to supporting the students, no matter if they had previous lab experience
    or not. We spent a lot of time going through how to use the lab equipment, as well as doing fun getting-to-know-you activities. Each lab Professor Jeswal would randomly hand out cards so that students could have different partners than they had before. We would spend a couple of minutes getting to know each other and share any extracurricular activities we were in. It was really great to build that sense of community and then be able to meet up and do work together outside of class. 
     Caption: My lab class was in one of the labs along the right side of the hall. During tours it's fun to see what other lab courses are doing through the glass. The tables in front of the lab rooms are also a great spot where I do my written lab work.

    Discussion

    Discussion class was another way I got to know the rest of my peers in Chemistry 151. I would work with about 3 or 4 other students and try to complete a packet of questions and activities related to the topic we were studying. Each Blue sticky-notes on a whiteboard, with black lines connecting them to make a web. class I went to I had a different group to work with, but doing the problems together with other students helped me have a better grasp of the material. Students in the group could build off of each other’s understanding and answer each other's questions to get through the packet. The actual space of the classroom was also amazing because all of the walls from ceiling to floor were whiteboards. We drew graphs, diagrams, and showed our work all with dry erase markers. This was also useful for learning from what the other groups were doing as well.                                        Caption:An idea/topic web a group made during discussion. This activity is to outline topics that would be covered on the upcoming exam, and how they were related to each other.

    Chemistry did require a lot of time, both in and out of the classroom, but the support from the teachers and my classmates made the whole experience a lot less stressful. I felt like I could manage the work and learn the material by using all the resources around me. The work itself improved my understanding of the topic well, and I always understood how it linked back to what we were doing in lecture. With the support from my teachers and the collaboration with my classmates, my first Chemistry course turned out fun and educational.