11 May

There are many exciting, new opportunities in college, and extracurricular experiences are certainly one of them. Whether you intend to join an on campus organization, a collegiate sport team, an academic club, student government, or delve into a more personal endeavor, extracurricular activities are always the best way to enjoy the student experience in college or university.

Not only will these opportunities open up new adventures, but will also bring lasting friendships and community, the ability to experience something new, and are a great way to fulfill the undergraduate years.

Hence, I had decided to join many clubs and organizations to become more involved on campus, to expand my growing network with friends and mentors, and to simply have fun while in college.

Although a relatively small school, Berea College still has one of the most diverse array of experiences and offerings to provide for its student body. Most, if not all, of these clubs and campus organizations can be viewed on Berea Engage (though it is important to note that, after the quarantine year 2020, some of the organizations listed here may no longer be in running).

Some examples of fun and unique student clubs at Berea College are the Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS; which comprises of many smaller clubs), the Cosmopolitan Club (which hosts an annual Cosmo Show in the spring), the African-Latin Percussion Ensemble, the Google Developer Student Club Berea (a coding club), the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and many, many more that cannot be mentioned or detailed here. 

However, I will share more detailed depictions of my extracurricular experiences in my freshman year of Berea College. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every experience and adventure I have been a part of.

The Extracurriculars I Participated In

During the first-year orientation week of Berea College, all the incoming students were introduced to the college’s curriculum, the labor program, the campus, and the many student activities available. I found myself interested in many clubs and organizations, and I would learn more about each and even join some as the academic year unfolded.

Sazon Latino: One of the first groups I decided to join was the Sazon Latino Dance Club. I have never danced before, nor ever participated in a performing art, for that matter, but I wanted to delve into a new experience. I particularly chose the Sazon Latino dance group because I was interested in exploring more of my cultural roots and learning Latin-style dance. 

Before becoming a member of the dance club, however, there was an organized try-out in which prospective dancers showcased their mobility, spontaneity, and excitement when learning new choreography. Everyone at tryouts danced together, and some of the experienced club officers would teach us a dance while others filmed our movements for judgement. Fortunately, I brought enough energy and charisma to impress the judges and make the team.

Afterward, our first dance practice came a couple of weeks later and we had introduced ourselves to one another; then, we covered the important upcoming performance dates for the semester and organized a schedule for future dance practices before learning our first choreography. 

For those practices leading into our first performance day, we had developed choreography from cultural songs as Bachata and Reggaeton. My first performance event was on Mountain Day—a day devoted to exploring the college Pinnacles and campus activities in October. Although I was particularly nervous, especially having never performed on stage like this before, the day ended up being one of my most memorable experiences in my freshman year.

After our first performance of the semester, we took a brief intermission week before our next practices. Other performances for the remainder of the year were Berea Dances in the first semester and Rep Your City and Cosmo Show in the spring Semester.

We also organized a bonding activity in the fall semester to reflect on our dancing experiences and to come closer together as a group of friends. This was also a very memorable night in my first year of college, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of such an amazing group of people.

Examples of songs we danced to were Promise - Romeo Santos ft. Usher; Que Calor - Major Lazer, J Balvin ft. El Alfa; Esta Rico - Marc Anthony, Will Smith, Bad Bunny; Stand by Me - Prince Royce; and Hips Don’t Lie - Shakira ft. Wyclef Jean amongst other great selections for choreography.

Pre-Health Professions Club: Another student group I joined early on in the first semester was the Pre-Health Professions club (PHP), which consists of students aspiring the career fields after pre-medicine, pre-dental, pre-veterinarian, and pre-pharmacy, amongst various other health disciplines.

As a chemistry student on the pre-medical track, this was certainly one of the extracurricular activities I wanted to participate in through the four-years. And so I joined.

The only entry requirement (to be considered an active member, that is) is a small ten dollar membership fee per term. It is only encouraged that group members are of the pre-health disciplines, but they can be from virtually any major or study. 

Examples of group activities provided by, or sponsored by, the PHP club are study sessions with provided snacks, tea, and coffee; distressing activities such as arts and crafts, hiking at the Pinnacles, walley-ball (like volleyball but in a racquetball court), and others; practice and review with poster presentations for undergraduate research; and, of course, clinical experiences like volunteering at the Richmond Care Center or organizing a shadowing opportunity (though, COVID-19 has made this a bit difficult). 

The PHP club also collaborates events with various other academic and student groups, such as an arts and craft distressing activity with the Espacio Cultural LatinX (ECL; the campus Latinx student community group) and a lounge/study session with the Biology club.

I have participated in many PHP club events during both semesters, and I have certainly appreciated the provided space for study, discussion, snacking, and hanging around students with similar career aspirations.

Biology Club: For the love of science, I decided to join the Biology club, which is a student group predominantly of Biology majors open to the campus community. 

Although I am a chemistry major, my concentration is in biochemistry (furthermore I am pre-med, as friendly reminder lol); hence I felt welcomed to join the club. Similar to the PHP club, the biology club also holds a ten dollar membership due per term.

In fact, the Biology club and PHP club are very similar in the events they host, but with more of a biology “theme” to it, so to speak. For example, the Pinnacles hike with the biology club are often an educational adventure, pointing out species of trees and plants and exploring wildlife, whereas the PHP hikes are more of a leisurely journey. Moreover, the Biology club and PHP club also share many collaborated events like study sessions. 

Altogether, I find the Biology club’s events and activities to be very fun and therapeutic—a restful escape from the day’s learnings. 

Diverse Scientist Mentorship Program: One of the very unique experiences I have been a part of is the Diverse Scientist Mentorship Program (from here on, referred to as the “mentorship program”). This experience is hosted by the Yahng Discovery Center and offers minority and underrepresented students the ability to learn and build a relationship with an experienced scientist in the student’s destined career field.

When I applied to be paired with a mentor, I was assessed about my prospective career path and my goals beyond Berea College. Having already established my desired career as an aspirant physician-scientist (MD/PhD), I was able to easily and explicitly state my needs for development through the mentorship program.

Appreciatively, I was paired with Dr. Aaron Fidler, a Berea College alum and medical writer with significant research experience (Google Scholar, Vanderbilt U. Profile), and we were able to develop a great mentor/mentee relationship.

From the mentorship experience, I gained some valuable insights into the process and novelty of biological research as Dr. Fidler shared his experiences with the evolutionary significance of the basement membrane and Collage IV (Fidler et all, 2017). As related to biomedical research, my mentor has indicated similarities in the longevity of biological and biomedical research. It took him seven years to conduct and publish the study.

My mentor has also encouraged me to apply for the Aspirnaut Program, stating that undergraduate research experiences are very valuable and transformative for prospective medical/science professionals. In an email, Dr. Fidler shared key advice about the program, detailing:

“Aspirnaut undergrad interns can attend any of the workshops or enrichments that [Vanderbilt U.] offers. Aspirnaut is definitely a little different in that its certainly more of a holistic approach. You get the deep experience of working at the bench in combination with very detailed career planning, scientific communication education (I still do that with the program!), mental health education, art in science training, and so much more. You're provided a more rigid but fulfilling experience I think--at the end of the day, when you're an undergraduate there is so much to still be exposed to and learn. Undergrads who come in with an attitude of feeling like they are qualified already always have the least long-term success. It's really coming into these experiences humble, eager, and working smart more than just hard!” ~ Dr. Aaron Fidler, in a courteous email.

This was an email sent late in the fall semester. I would then apply for Aspirnaut in the spring semester and I gratefully attained a position with the research program (see Accepted Into Aspirnaut blogpost). 

All in all, I am very thankful to have been connected with Dr. Aaron Fidler as I have learned many great insights from the distinguished Berea College alum. This was one of the most helpful extracurricular experiences I was involved in during my first year.

Quiz Bowl Club: I learned about the Quiz Bowl (QB) club before the academic year even began through an email. Since I was a member of the Science QB team in high school, I figured it would be fun to participate in this club as well. Though, it is important to note that this student club does not compete intercollegiately, but amongst ourselves.

Through the first semester, meetings were held on Tuesday’s from 7-9pm in a nice classroom in the basement of Hutchins Library. During the first meeting, we would introduce ourselves to one another and delve into some academic-like trivia questions from various subjects like science, history, pop culture, etc. Many people showed up for the first meeting.

In subsequent meetings, we would often divide into teams and get right into the academic-like trivia questions. Snacks would be provided and the evening occasion would always be very entertaining and fun as teams competed for “bragging rights” (lol). Unfortunately, anyhow, the number of participants would trickle down as the semester became more taxing on students in the wake of final projects and exam preparation.

It is also displeasing to note, furthermore, that I was unable to participate in the QB club during the second semester because meeting times, which were moved to Thursday evenings for the spring, interfered with my Sazon Latino Dance practices. While QB nights are certainly enjoyable, the need of my performance team was more bear, so I attending those practices.

Altogether, I found the QB club to be a very fun student extracurricular activity where we showcased our individual knowledge in various subject fields. I most certainly will be joining the QB team once again next year, if  no scheduling dilemmas exist.

Concluding Thoughts: Reflecting back on the extracurricular experiences I have had through my freshman year has brought back many exciting, cherished memories over the academic year. From learning a cultural style of dance to venturing revitalizing hiking trails to spending fun-filled evenings with new friends and community, I have enjoyed it all in my first year at Berea College, and I cannot wait for the next three years to come.

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