Kate Redmond '23 - Introduction

Hi folks! My name is Kate and I'm from Cape Cod, MA. Coming from the Cape, I practically grew up in the water. I learned how to steer a boat about a decade before I could drive a car. Luckily, I have been able to find a bit of home on Lake Arcadia with the sailing team. In additon to sailing, I'm on the ultimate frisbee team, I'm an advocate and activist for public health in the Public Health Collaborative and GlobeMed, and I try to stay politically active as a member of Amherst College Democrats. As a first-year, I am undeclared. However, I am thinking maybe psychology or English. Me and an iced coffee on the Cape I will let you know in a year! On weekends, I like to hang out with friends or walk into town and get an iced mocha at one of the myriad of coffee shops.

If you have any questions about life at Amherst, feel free to reach out to me at kredmond23@amherst.edu.

Being Undecided

Going into college undecided can be scary, but it is ultimately a blessing. Being undecided, you can take classes in so many different subjects and find out what really interests you. You have three or four semesters before you even need to declare a major. Thus, you can really explore different fields all over the place from humanities to social sciences to STEM. Or, if you find that you like a specific subject such as English, you could take a lot of different English classes before you have to decide that that’ll be your major. This allows you to avoid the hassle of switching majors like other colleges which leaves people worrying about requirements and if they’ll graduate on time. Also, other colleges will make you pay extra money to take additional classes, so if you did get behind from switching majors, you would have to pay more to catch up.

Additionally, Amherst does not have general education requirements. Many colleges have specific classes or specific requirements that students need to meet in order to graduate. This is in addition to the requirements for a major. Because of this, students are very worried with fulfilling requirements and are unable to simply take classes in order to enjoy them. At Amherst, you do not need to think about these general ed. requirements or even major requirements for the first few semesters which leaves you completely free to take whatever you want. This freedom of an open curriculum is one of the reasons I chose Amherst.

However, it is important to note that it can be stressful to not know your major when so many other college students do. Many adults, when they find out you attend college, will ask what you are studying. It can be uncomfortable to admit that you don’t know exactly what you want to go into yet. It makes it seem as though you are not commited and you are just going to college because that’s what everyone else does. The thing to note is that if you are even considering applying to Amherst College, you likely are a very good student and very intelligent. You need to recognize this and know that not everyone knows the beauty of an open curriculum. The people who do know how wonderful an open curriculum is are typically well-educated themselves and will understand that you are taking your time to explore your interests and curiosities. And, your major does not always define what you do in the future. Things, specifically technology, is always changing. So, what you might want to go into with your major now, might not even exist in the future. Your major does not necessarily define you. Remember that it is just a small part of you and your interests.

Semester in Review

As the semester wraps up and I reflect upon the year, I think of all the friends I made, the professors who taught me, and all the opportunities I’ve had. My classes this year have been informative and I’m so happy to have such a close group of friends.

This year, I got a two-room double on the 4th floor of Stearns (down the hall from Victoria!). Stearns is one of two mirror image dorms fondly called Jearns by students (James and Stearns). These dorms are outside the MEAD art museum and are very nice as they were built in 2005. While you cannot request your dorm, you can request a roommate if you know someone going into Amherst. I didn’t know anyone, so I went for a random assignment (like many people do). My roommate and I both happen to be Meiklejohn fellows which is very nice because we bond over our shared identity. She is from NYC, so it can be pretty cool to get her perspective about living in a city. Hopefully sometime we’re at college I can teach her how to drive!

In the mornings, I tend to get up first. Usually around 7:45am or sometimes as late 9:30am. I quietly go out, brush my teeth, and get ready for the day. Luckily, people on my hall are very quiet and respectful, so it’s never too loud in the morning or when I try to go to bed early.

This semester I had chemistry at 9 am Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then 8am chemistry lab on Tuesday morning. Thursdays, I slept in until 9:30 then got up to do work; however, I didn’t have class until 11:30am on Thursdays. Monday mornings my chemistry professors would hold breakfast in Val (the dining hall) before lecture and it was a great opportunity to get to know them better and for them to get to know me.

In between classes, I would often go to Frost to study. I am definitely the type of person who finds specific spots they like and stick to it. While Frost has 6 levels, I tend to stick to the main floor or go up to the third depend on how much quiet I need. The floors get progressively more quiet the further up or down you go from the main level, so you can choose what you need at that specific time. I like the main and third levels because they have nice windows with natural light as well as a pretty view.

After classes, I usually have a mix of things going on. Sometimes there are specific events that I like to go to, like bonding for FLI students. Other times, I head to frisbee practice and get some tossing in. Afterwards, we go to Val for dinner as a team which is always nice. It’s a good time to grab some food and fuel up while also becoming closer as a team.

Later in the evenings, usually around 8pm, my clubs will meet and we will discuss upcoming events or learn more things particular to that group. UMass

Sometimes there are spontaneous days where I do things with friends I wasn’t expecting. For example, on the snow day earlier this month, I had lots of fun with my friends building snowmen and sledding. Other times, we might walk into town and do work in a coffee shop. This week we went to UMass Amherst to try one of their dining halls. Lets just say there’s a reason they are the number one ranked dining hall in the country. We filled many plates haha.

While daily life has changed a lot, I have found that I love the variety rather than the rigid schedule I had in high school. If you ever have questions about daily life at Amherst College, feel free to email me at kredmond23@amherst.edu!

Weekends!

What does one do on a weekend in Western Massachusetts? Lots!

The town of Amherst is very cute with lots of coffee shops and small stores. You can go into Amherst Books to look at new releases or go downstairs to explore used books. I adore the basement because there are books everywhere and it reminds me of being home. You can also go down to AJ Hastings to pick up some Amherst merch or get some holiday gifts for family members. My mom has been dying for an Amherst College sweatshirt since I got into the school. There are also loads of good restaurants like Pasta E Basta and Formosa. Or, you can explore my favorite part of Amherst, the myriad of coffee shops! The Black Sheep is a bit closer to campus and has really good Fair Trade coffee. Amherst Coffee and Share Coffee also is pretty good. Or if you like bubble tea, LimeRed and Vivi’s are two cute places with very good boba. These cafes and boba shops are all very good for doing work too. I have spent lots of time sitting there, sipping my (always iced) drink, and doing work. You just need to get there early because lots of people like to do work there too.

There are also lots of farms around Amherst that you can get fresh produce from. There’s a really good ice cream shop called Flavors that’s a bit of a drive, but it’s such a pretty area with farmland everywhere. You can even go out and pet the cows! I had never been close to a cow before coming to Amherst, so that was extremely exciting. Befriending a cow was the highlight of my semester.

NH On campus, you can easily find friends to hang out with. Since almost everyone lives on campus and freshman all live on the quad, it is so easy to walk to a friend’s room and hang out or go to the common room to watch a movie. There are also almost always some sort of activity going on on campus such as a movie showing or a fun spa night. These things are usually posted on the Daily Mammoth, an email that comes out weekday mornings at 8am that lists events for the upcoming days.

Cambridge Amherst is also very nice because it is in between NYC and Boston. In October I had the opportunity to take the bus into Boston and watch my high school teammates compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta. It was a lot of fun to see everyone in the city, but also to get out of rural MA. The nice thing too is that Boston is only about 2 hours away compared to a lot of other colleges (like a certain one in Williamstown, MA) that is much further. The close cities also means it is easier for those flying to get to airports and luckily, the student senate funds shuttles to airports for people traveling for break. I’m excited to spend the next few years exploring the surrounding area even more!

Choosing Classes at Amherst College

Choosing classes has always been important for me. I care about how interesting the class is, who the professor is, what time the class is, and where the class is. However, it is impossible to have all these things. Thus, I chose classes first based off of classes I needed to fulfill my pre-med requirements. You can look for classes in the course catalog. Schedule

Chemistry 161: This chemistry is the second introductory chemistry class after 151 or 155. It uses the same textbook, continues and expands upon material learned in the first class, and introduces even more lab techniques. The class meets for lecture three days a week with a smaller discussion section occuring on Fridays. You also needs to sign up for a lab that happens either in the morning or afternoon. While I’ve been told that the class is very difficult, I’m excited to continue with chemistry and try even more experiments.

Biology 191: This is another class I need to take as a pre-med requirement; however, I loved taking AP Biology in high school and I’m very excited to continue with biology in college. Biology 191 is more molecular biology rather ecology, focusing on the small things that help us function rather than larger ecosystems and species. This class needs to be taken after or simultaneous with chemistry 161. In high school, I never had the opportunity to do a lot of biology labs as we primarily focused on studying for the AP. Thus, this will be a nice change and an exciting opportunity to try doing biology experiments.

With pre-med classes taken care of, I can choose other classes specifically based off of my interests. With two lab classes, I wanted to have more of a balance with humanities. Thus, I decided to take an English class.

Poetry with Friends: After scrolling down all the 100 and 200 level English class, I ultimately decided to take Poetry with Friends. I have always loved English and one of the main reasons I decided to take this class is that it meets for three hours on Wednesdays. When I start writing, specifically poetry, I love to get into it and lose track of time. While this can be difficult in a short, hour long class, I think it will be much easier to get lost in the poetry during a longer class. The class is also small, capped at 18 students, which will make it much easier to make connections with students, work together on poetry, and work more directly with the professor. This provides a nice balance compared to the 100 students in my chemistry class. Hopefully I will make friends in the class too because my friends either didn’t like poetry or the class did not fit in their schedule.

The next class, I wanted to take was a psychology class as I am considering being a psych major. I took AP Psych in high school and tested out of introductory psychology. I also took statistics this semester, so I completed that major requirement if I end up majoring in psych. I looked at the long list of the next level psychology class I can take and decided to take developmental psychology with my advisor, Prof. Palmquist. 

Developmental Psychology: This class is a lecture with 40 people. However, I’ve noticed that over time fewer and fewer students come to lectures, so the class will likely become smaller. The class will pick up on developmental psychology from where introductory psychology left off and will cover the psychology of people developing from babies to adults.

Activities at Amherst

When you go to college, I think most people worry about finding clubs and activities they enjoy. Luckily, at the beginning of the year, the school hosts a club fair that allows you to walk around tables and meet with club heads for every club. You can ask what they do, when they meet, what resources they have available. There are clubs all throughout the gym and you can sign up for however many you want. Most clubs encourage you to sign up for their email list if you are even a little bit interested.

When I went this year, it was overwhelming. Off to the sides, people practiced tossing volleyballs to encourage people to sign up for club volleyball. People called for your attention left and right and lured you in with offers of chocolate and candy. One club that focused on beauty was even giving out free face masks. In all, I probably signed up for over 20 clubs that seemed interesting to me. They ranged from sports like crew and skiing to clubs that focused on public health to specific interests such as psychology and politics. In the beginning of the year, I put myself out there, joined the mailing list for all these clubs, and tried to attend all the first meetings of the clubs.

I wanted to get an idea of when they met and how active the club was. This way, I could see if it fit in my schedule and if it was really worth joining the club -- in other words, if the club was active. I eventually narrowed down the clubs over time and found the ones that I enjoy and I have time for. Really, as long as you have good time management, you should be able to balance academics and your extracurriculars. For a list of activities at Amherst, check out the Hub.

Through joining clubs, you will meet lots of people and make new friends. Snow Day I think this is most important because then you will be able to hang out and do things that are not structured. For example, today was a snow day at Amherst (crazy right?!), so my friends from frisbee and I practiced throwing the frisbee in the snow. 


We also went sledding down Memorial Hill and met up with my friends from ACDemocrats to build a snowman. And while organized activities are so much fun and are great for finding friends with similar interests, I think its also important to have some unorganized fun and just hang out with these friends.

 

On weekends especially, it’s nice to just hang out with friends.
Before break, my friends and I went down to LimeRed to get bubble tea and just do some work. We then stopped at Antonio’s for lunch and looked around at Amherst Books. It’s great to just explore town and not have every second of your life scheduled.

If you have any questions about specific clubs on campus, feel free to reach out to me!

First Semester Classes

Amherst has so many classes to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming. Lucking, there is a course catalog that can help you see what's available.

The first class you find out that you’re taking at Amherst College is your first-year seminar. You rank 7 of your top choices for your seminar online in July and can check which class you were placed in online via ACData in August. Your classmates for your seminar are with you during orientation in what is called your orientation group. You meet to discuss what to expect in college with your orientation leader and play games to get to know each other.

Anthropology and Science Fiction:

I had never taken anthropology before and decided to take this class because I have always enjoyed science fiction. I figured drawing connections between anthropology and science fiction would be interesting too. In the class, we had frequent readings that ranged from ethnographies to science fiction short stories and books. We often drew connections between the two asking what characters from the books would do in anthropological texts and vise versa. We also looked at sociocultural factors that were prevalent in the ethnographies and applied them to science fiction to make the story more realistic. The class met twice a week where we would discuss what we had read for homework. We typically spent a few minutes talking with a partner about each question, then came together as a class. Everything we learned accumulated in a twenty page paper, either an ethnography or a science fiction short story, that had to combine texts that we read (both the scifi and anthropology).

Chemistry 155:

When you first start taking chemistry at Amherst, you either take 155 or 151 depending on placement. Chemistry 155 is a slightly higher level intro class that requires some calculus. The class covers everything from gas laws to stoichiometry to basic quantum mechanics. We had three midterms and a final which ultimately ended up being far fewer exams than I was used to in high school. Thus, each test was a high proportion of our grade which was a bit stressful. However, Professor Marshall, who gives lectures three times a week, is very knowledgeable and is extremely outgoing and fun. He also taught my discussion section Monday afternoons which is a smaller group that meets once a week as opposed to the large lecture with 70 students. One of the best parts of the class was the laboratory in which we learned different lab techniques and how to organize a lab notebook. My favorite lab was one in which we all got a sample of coffee and tested the level of caffeine in different types of coffee and espresso around campus. The decaf from Val we tested turned out not to be decaf!

Statistics 135 with Modeling:

When first taking stats at Amherst, you get placed into either stats 111 or stats 135 depending on prior experience and achievement in math and stats classes. Stats 135 is a bit of a higher level class that includes using a coding program called R to make graphs. While I was not expecting nor completely understood that modeling included basic coding, I was happy that I was able to learn how to do it. Using R will likely be useful in the future too if I decide to become a psych major and do a senior thesis.

Finding Your Roots

Every freshman at Amherst is required to take a first-year seminar. It is the only class at Amherst you are required to take (well, until you declare a major and have to take all those classes). Luckily, the first-year seminars cover so many different topics, you are bound to find one that matches your interest. I have friends in seminars on olive oil, progress, French literature, and War and Peace. My seminar is called “Finding Your Roots” and I absolutely adore it.

The seminar is based off the hit TV show hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that explores celebrities' family roots and follow their story as they discover more about their roots. Our homework consists of watching videos from television shows like “Finding Your Roots,” reading articles related to genealogy and genetics as well as short stories or excerpts of novels that focus on culture and identity. The class has been fantastic in helping me explore my family’s origins and learning about all the diversity at Amherst that is reflected in my class.

We started the class by guessing our genetic make-up and taking a DNA test. Some people (like me) were fairly certain about our ancestry and our genetics ended up being pretty much what we expected. I found out that I was 73% Irish and British and 27% Scandinavian. While I was not surprised by this composition, I was surprised that my family traces back as strongly to London as we do to Cork, Ireland where I know my family came from. I was never told I was English, but apparently I am. We likely don’t talk about being English since the Irish and the English have always had a tense relationship. Other people had maps of DNA from across the world and their maps glowed with colors from almost every continent. This rainbow on the board just reminded me how Amherst tried to diversify its campus and how someone may appear a certain way, but can also have mixed heritage. It also just proved to me that we are moving towards a world with less segregation and more genetic diversity which hopefully will benefit humans in a multitude of ways.

Aside from the genetic route, we traced our genes through government documents like census records and immigration files in order to piece together family trees. I had no idea when my family had come to the States and just assumed we came around the start of the nation. After being introduced to immigration records that Amherst has access to, I was able to find that I am actually a 4th generation American with my family immigrating in the late 19th century. This led me to rethink my own view of my family, but ultimate did not change how I identify my nationality (American).

One of the best parts of the class was picking a family myth or story to use as the start of a research paper. The class has been working for this term paper for a month and it has given me the opportunity to hear so many stories of families’ struggles immigrating between nations and fighting in wars. It was also a wonderful opportunity for me to explore my grandparents involvement in World War II and learn about the benefits of female veterans like my grandmother received following World War II then compare this to post-Vietnam War to see if women were still being discriminated against in the military. Our class recently has just been discussion about our paper and has given us the chance to get feedback from peers and the professor about drafts. This is extremely helpful, especially since all first-year seminars are small with about 20 or fewer students. We can actually listen and have a conversation which just isn’t possible in a large lecture hall at large public universities.  Cooking in FYS

Ultimately, I am so thankful to have this first-year seminar as I’ve been able to foster my discussion and debate skills in a small class setting and have been able to talk to students and one-on-one with the professor about my writing which I believe has helped it tremendously. 

 

Low-Income at Amherst College

Amherst is one of the best schools in the nation in regard to financial aid. Not only is it need-blind, but the financial aid officers are always willing to talk to prospective students and current students alike. I have gone to the office of financial aid multiple times this year alone to simply ask a single question or get help filling out paperwork to get a job on campus. I was even able to meet with the Dean of Financial Aid to discuss my situation.

Many people do not know this about me, but I was admitted to Amherst off the waitlist. Yes, it does happen! Being waitlisted is not a complete no; there is hope! However, once you get admitted off the waitlist, you only have a week to decide and I was unable to make a decision because my financial aid package for Amherst did not match the other school I was going to go to. Amherst was about three times as much, which did not make sense since both schools I was looking at were needblind and tried to get students to graduate without debt. After multiple phone calls, I found that Amherst was missing additional documents I had submitted to the other college - hence the discrepancy. I submitted this file to FinAid and voila! Amherst’s financial aid actually ended up being better than any other school I could have gone to. It was cheaper than my state school would have been.

Amherst College has a commitment to creating diversity on campus and one way they do this is through a mix of socio-economic statuses. While the FinAid and admission departments are extremely helpful and have made me feel welcomed on this campus, there are still the occasional comments that are made about money (typically by wealthy students who don’t realize their privilege) that set me on edge. The good thing is that people are always willing to listen to me speak up and out about my experiences with money and why making a comment about “just take out a loan” can be hurtful. (You can only take out a loan if you have a good credit score and aren’t at high financial risk. Not everyone can take out large loans needed for houses and some colleges).

Another good thing is that people are willing to acknowledge the diversity of classes on campus and talk about inequity. I talked to an alumni near my house over Thanksgiving who said nobody talked about their family income back in the 1990s. Even Dean Lopez, my first-year seminar professor and Dean of New Students who has been under fire recently for signing a letter to stop low-income housing, has been happy that people are now talking about socio-economic inequity. Though, he is not thrilled that he is being portrayed by the media in a rather negative light. Dean Lopez is connected with the Meiklejohn Fellowship Program I am a part of that provides career and summer internship advising for high-achieving, low-income students on campus. Not only has this given me lots of resources and has helped me connect with alums in fields I am interested in, I also have a stipend for an unpaid summer internship that will likely allow me to work a lab this summer.

The fellowship is one example of the incredible resources available specifically for low-income students on campus. The  Center for Diversity and Student Leadership also helps low-income/first-generation students (FLI students). There are likely even more resources available to me that I just haven’t explored yet, but luckily, there are many people on this campus supporting me and willing to help me get the support I need to succeed.

Summertime in November??

Sometimes it is difficult to process all the amazing resources available at Amherst. I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out what resources are available to help me find an internship this summer. Yes, it does seem very early to be doing this. Thinking about summertime in November? Wack.

The thing is, many STEM internships start becoming available right around now, so I want to get a head start at look at what opportunities are available in order to narrow down the places I want to apply to. On Wednesday, I went to a program put on by the Charles Hamilton Houston Internship Program that was titled “Summer Internships 101.” This was very useful in simply defining what an internship is and informing me about the importance of setting criteria for the internship. I realized that location, skills I can learn, and the quality of work that I’m doing matter a lot to me. This also introduced me to the Houston Program that provides paid summer internships that have been verified by the college as good experiences. These summer internships are only accessible to Amherst students, so they are not as competitive to get as some largely publicized internships are. Then, if you are able to get the internship, you are guaranteed to be paid and it will likely be an informative experience.

I was also able to meet with Dean Aronson, the pre-health advisor, in the LOEB center to talk about finding internships this summer that could help prepare me for medical school. He suggested looking at the Amherst College Alumni directory, and boy, am I so grateful he did. First of all, the sheer number of people on that directory is wild for such a small school. Additionally, you can find alums by searching by name, region, or job description. I was literally able to narrow my search to those doing STEM research on Cape Cod. Then, I was able to find the email addresses and lots of other information about the alums that helped me reach out to them. Over Thanksgiving, I am going to be able to meet with two of them!

The alums I have reached out to have been so enthusiastic and excited to talk to me about their work and experiences; it is truly incredible. I remember being told how invested Amherst alums are to this school, but the fact that alums are willing to let me go to their work or grab coffee with them during their lunch break is amazing.  Johnson Chapel at Sunset

I know I am still not fully aware of all the resources Amherst has to offer, but I am sure I will learn more and more over time. I also know that there are plenty of people to reach out to when I have questions and everyone on campus is so helpful at directing me to the right person. At Amherst, you really just need to ask for help and you will receive it. It is pretty incredible. Tonight, I sat on the first-year quad looking at JChap and the sunset simply taking in how lucky I am to be at this school.