Jenna Peng '18 Hi prospective students and mom! My name is Jenna Peng and I am from the small suburban town of Orefield, Pennsylvania. I am currently a sophomore and I am planning on pursuing an interdisciplinary major in Global Development. An interdisciplinary major is the create-your-own-major option that Amherst provides to students who are indecisive. For my interdisciplinary major, I would like to look at development both through economic and political models and through anthropological tools and postcolonial literature. 

In line with my interest in international development, I am involved with several environmental and human rights groups on campus. I am a member of Divest Amherst and the Green Athletics Committee. Divest Amherst is a student club whose mission is to persuade Amherst College to withdraw its investments from fossil fuel companies. To learn more, copy the following link: http://www.fossilfreeac.com/. Green Athletics Committee is dedicated towards working on projects to make the Athletics Department more sustainable. I am also a member of GlobeMed which focuses on public health issues and Amnesty International which participates in human rights campaigns. In addition, I am a member of Asian Students Association which creates a space for Asian and Asian-American students to hold candid conversations about identity and race. This year, I joined AC Voice which is a student-run, student-written blog that discusses issues at Amherst or outside through social commentary and personal experience. Last but not least, I am a member of the varsity tennis team. Tennis is a sport.

In my free time, I enjoy reading, journaling, and going on outdoor adventures. Also, responding to the questions of prospective students. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about what I post, questions about Amherst, or general concerns about college or the application process. Thanks for reading! Miss you mom. 

Jenna's Blog Entries

'Tis the (tennis) season

The end of winter marks not only the happier spirits of other students and myself, but also the beginning of spring sports season. In this post, I hope to convey my experience as a division III tennis player and in the my next post, I will elaborate on athletic culture at Amherst.

What are the academic and athletic expectations of student athletes?

My coach put it best when she said, “At a Division III school, academics are number one and athletics are number two whereas at a Division I school, academics and athletics share the number one spot.” Because of the prioritization of academic experience over athletic experience, academics are never compromised for sports. This is evident in my coach’s desire to schedule practices around my class schedule rather than the other way around. For instance, on Wednesdays, I have a class that ends at 4:30 even though practices begin at 4:00. As a result, my coach often schedules a practice for me in the morning instead, so I do not have to miss class or be late for practice.

How demanding is it to keep up with work while also being in season?

Even in the off-season, it can be difficult to balance schoolwork with activities and self-care. However, during season when faced with practices during the week and tournaments on weekend, one needs to manage time extremely effectively. Oddly enough, I find that I am a better student when I am in season compared to when I am not because I have to be focused and make sure I am sleeping enough. During the season, I find that I do not have to compromise my involvement in other clubs, but rather I just have to cut back the time I spend procrastinating. 

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Interterm

If you happened to wander in the section of this website that contains the academic calendar, you may be wondering why Amherst students get so much time off. Well, there is a name for this wonderful time that stretches from when most students return to school (January 4th) and when Amherst students do (January 25th.) This beloved three-week stretch is known as Interterm.

Students spend their interterms in different ways. Athletes who have winter seasons return to practice, compete, and bond with their teams. Many students, like I did in my first year, choose to come back and participate in some of the activities that Amherst offers and enjoy Amherst before classes begin. Last interterm, I took a variety of courses ranging from an accounting workshop to a clown class. I also enjoyed the extra non-class time to play tennis, spend time with friends, and explore the area.

Even for students who decide not to return to campus, interterm is a valuable time. This year, I spent my interterm going on a two-week road trip to explore a few interests that I picked up last semester. I went to Houston and LA, two cities with large Chinese American communities, to learn more about Asian American history. I also travelled to the Grand Canyon to learn more about the Save the Confluence movement and to understand the interaction between capitalism, tourism, and the marginalization of people and place.

Whether on campus or off, interterm provides a valuable time to relax, reflect, and recharge for the upcoming semester. 

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Exploring serious, academic interests in fun, non-academic ways. 

Finals :(

            It is mid-December and here at Amherst, finals season is upon us. I will keep this post short as I have a final exam, a final project, and three final papers due this week, but it is important to know how Amherst students cope with heaps of work or in my case, how I procrastinate and barely cope with even larger heaps of work. Some tips for surviving finals:

1)   Free food: Because Amherst College knows we are stressed and they feel bad for us, there are so many events put on by clubs that give out free food during finals week. Today, I will be getting wings from Amherst Women in Science and will head to the cafeteria at 10pm for a special midnight breakfast event.

2)   Final performances: These are probably an added stress for the talented people involved, but for me, a mere audience member, it provides much needed entertainment and relaxation. Last night, I went to the orchestra and choir’s performance of Les Misérables and this Wednesday, I will attend the end-of-semester show for Amherst Dance.

3)   Getting out: Getting off campus and not being surrounded by stressed out students is key in clearing your head of negative finals energy. Last weekend, I went on a mountaineering trip with the Outing Club where we spend the day hiking Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. This week, I have found myself getting off campus closer to campus. I have become a regular at our town’s bubble tea restaurant LimeRed. Hopefully, I get free tea for this promotion.

4)   You will survive. This one is more for me because I really need to hear it, but it is important to know. During finals week, it feels like you are in the eye of the storm in which the gusts of work are whipping across your face and the torrential downpours make it difficult to see one day ahead of you. Enough of that analogy, but realize that everyone survives finals week. 

Until next semester!

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Happier times mountaineering.

Activism at Amherst

Before Thursday November 12th of last week, I would have characterized Amherst College as having one of the most passive student bodies. Our mascot Lord Jeffery Amherst was the founder of our town and an infamous decimator of the local Native American population and despite efforts since 2014 to adopt a new mascot, the majority of the student body remained indifferent. The same can be said about the Black Student Union’s Black Lives Matter week last year in which black students tried to call the administration’s and student body’s attention to the unfair treatment of people of color on and off college grounds.

On Thursday November 12th, something remarkable happened. What had begun as a sit-in to show solidarity with the protesters at Yale and Mizzou became a fully fledged movement to give voice and action to all marginalized groups on campus. One black student rose to share her experiences with marginalization at Amherst, causing a domino effect in which more and more students rose to share their eloquent, painful, and heartrending stories. Three hours into the originally 1-hour long sit-in, more than half of the student body crowded into Frost Library and listened to the stories of their fellow students, stories that had for so long fell upon deaf ears. With more student calls for action and no signs of de-escalation, the college’s president Biddy Martin was forced to cancel her business trip to Japan and return to Amherst by that evening. When she arrived back to campus, she was greeted with a list of short-term demands that had been drafted by students from multiple marginalized groups on campus. The demands were to be met within the next week to begin a healing process. Following Martin’s statement on Sunday in which she addressed the concerns of the student body, the student’s occupation of the main library came to a close. This past Tuesday, a student poll successfully voted down the Lord Jeff as our mascot. Moving forward, there are plans to form committees in which students can work with the administration to implement structural programs and institutional safeguards.

Never before have I seen so many in the student body be so compassionate towards one other. Never before have I seen the strength of community that formed in those few days, a kind of bond that will hopefully have a long-lasting power. I encourage prospective students to not look at Amherst College through the damage that has been done, but by the efforts and passion of the student activists and the administration’s willingness to cooperate.

To get more information:

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Let's get to work!

            First, I would like to apologize to my bosses at the Admissions Office for this delayed post. There is undoubtedly a correlation between the amount of work I have and how late in the week I write my post, so the fact that I’m posting this on Friday is not a good sign. This week, appropriately, I would like to talk about one of the least interesting, but most pervasive topics at this school: course load.

            When I was visiting schools, I made sure to ask two questions on every tour: (1) how much work there was and (2) how much sleep students got. Every school’s tour guide, including Amherst College’s, gave me inconclusive responses. I am telling you now: I average about 8 hours of work (outside of class) and 5 hours of sleep per day.

            Don’t let those numbers startle you. First, every college you attend will have a heavy course load. Second, there is a way to make the work work for you. I will explore this second statement with a series of FAQs I usually get. Keep in mind that I am speaking from the experience of someone who takes courses mostly in the social sciences and humanities. 

What kind of work do you get?

            College professors structure assignments very differently than high school teachers. In high school, tests are biweekly and on 3-4 chapters worth of material at a time. In college, most classes just have a midterm and a final each encompassing copious amount of reading. In high school, your grade is buoyed by busy work you have to complete for every class. In college, your grade is determined by three, at most four, papers. Even though graded assignments are sparse, readings are heavy and necessary to participate in class. Sometimes the reading are enjoyable – a few chapters of a novel. Sometimes they are enjoyable in a different way – academic essays filled with inaccessible jargon.

How do you do the work?

            Coming from a relatively easy public school, I found myself utterly unprepared for my first semester at Amherst. I did not know how to write academic papers. I was not used to how quickly classes moved. I did not know how to approach the sheer amount of readings that every class assigned. It was a sharp learning curve for sure and especially because I tried to muscle through it on my own. There are so many resources on campus that can help. First, the writing center. You have to make appointments at least a week in advance and prepare a rough draft, but the writing center gives you a valuable chance to hear a second opinion on your essay. They will not just mark your papers up and send you home feeling worse than you began. The writing associates will work with you to strengthen your argument, make your paper flow better, and help you resolve contradictions. For students taking math classes, there is the Q center. I discovered the Q center midway through my multivariable calculus course during my first fall and it saved me. Located in the science library building, the Q center has peer tutors available to help you with your homework and study for your midterms. No appointment is needed, you can just drop by. Third, professors are the best resources here and something you can hold over your friends who decide to attend large universities. Professors genuinely want to help and genuinely want to learn about you. Sometimes I will drop in during office hours to get help with a problem set or think through a paper idea. Other times I will drop by uninvited to talk about my life – what is bothering me and what is exciting to me. Again, professors are the best resources here – academic or otherwise.

Why do you do the work?

            This is the most important question and it is what I remind myself during late nights when I’m struggling through an especially dry reading or working through a nuanced argument for my paper. I do work because I love it. What is it exactly? It changes. It can be the subject matter. It can be learning itself. It can be how I use this work after school.

            In my experience, I have found it more valuable to spend my time involved in extracurricular clubs and activities, than to spend those hours sitting in the library. Whenever I go to a Divest Amherst meeting, I am reminded that I learn to become empowered. Whenever I write a post for AC Voice, I find myself confronted with questions that I can only begin to find answers for in essays or readings assigned in class. Every activity I do outside of academic work reminds me that course work is worthwhile and allows me to return to it motivated and passionate. 

Fear of Missing Out

At Amherst College, a concept that is frequently discussed is FOMO or the Fear Of Missing Out. One would think that by living in a relatively rural area with a cute, but by no means urban, college town, cases of FOMO would be relatively rare. That perception, however, is so wrong.

If time was not limited in the way it is in this universe, my list of activities this weekend would have been as follows: Amherst Art Walk (gallery walk in downtown Amherst), sunrise hike, trip to New York City, tennis match against Williams College, Rock the Block (a student-run festival on campus), inaugural Northampton Print and Book Fair, layout weekend for The Indicator (a student-run writing magazine), and finishing all my homework for the next week. This weekend (and every weekend), I fell embarrassingly short of my ambitious plans.

I am one of the few and fortunate Amherst students who has no class on Friday, so when a few weeks ago, I came across an opportunity to go see Toni Morrison speak at the annual New Yorker Festival on a Friday, I immediately made arrangements. Prior to her talk, I spent the day
 exploring Harlem’s museums and Southern soul food. When I went to see Toni Morrison speak, she shared her fascinating approach to writing and spun tales of her childhood that were punctuated with funny moments, but had the overall effect of leaving the audience spellbound. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I spent most of my Saturday at Williams for a tennis match. We left at 9:30 in the morning and did not return until 7:30 at night. Although the tennis team suffered a loss, it was a really important turning point for our fall season as it  reinvigorated our efforts and focus.

My Saturday night and most of my Sunday was spent working on a group project for my Development Economics class. The project is to propose a solution to some development issue in an assigned part of the world. It is a project that we will enhance all semester, by talking to professors, connecting with local NGOs, and learning new concepts in class. It culminates in the presentation of a written proposal to a panel of tenured professors and the group that does the best, receives a $10,000 grant from Amherst College’s Center for Community Engagement to carry out their project in the summer. Did I mention this is for a lower-level economics elective class?

Even though my workload and commitment to the tennis team prevented me from fully curing my FOMO, I would not trade those opportunities and experiences. There truly are limitless possibilities at Amherst for those who seek it and so, it is impossible to maximize on every single one of them. The work I do and the commitments I make matter to me and because of that, they are absolutely worth missing a festival or two (but not missing Toni Morrison.) 

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A previous Sunrise hike. The Outing Club hosts a hike every Friday until winter wins. 

 

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Stanley Whitney's exhibit Dance the Orange at The Studio Museum

 

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Harlem