I’m hesitant to even introduce this interview, because much is revealed in the conversation that follows. I will say only that this is not as formal as the profiles I usually post, but as evident by the fact that the most accessible picture I have of this person is one of us together, it sort of seemed like the appropriate form for a discussion with a very good friend. This transcript, despite overtones of Oprah, speaks most clearly to the Alex I know and love, and reveals some new facets of Carleton life.
Rachel: So Alex, tell me about what you do at Carleton.
Alex: Well, I’m a chemistry major, so I do a lot of chemistry now. I started out doing some art stuff, like making posters for shows at The Cave. And then I started getting into some environmental stuff, doing some activism. I got really into this group called Food Truth, which looks at sustainable food and sustainable agriculture and local food, and just really likes food in general. And I’m still a part of that. That was a really important part of freshman year for me—finding people who cared about the same things on campus.
R: I’ve been to a Food Truth potluck, which was really fun. Can you explain what those are like?
A: We usually have two or three per term; two dinners and then a brunch during reading days, just before finals. They're really fun. They’re the most successful potlucks I’ve been to, I think. We get people to sign up, and there’s always a good dessert/entrée ratio. Sometimes we talk about Food Truth issues, whatever we’ve been discussing in meetings, but sometimes we just hang out and chat and eat delicious food.
R: I know you talked about art a little bit, there’s sustainability, but I know there’s more to both…
A: Right, so once I started getting interested in studying sustainable agriculture and local food freshman year, I took a couple of environmental studies classes, and my sophomore year I got a job as a Sustainability Assistant. It’s one of those jobs where you can really pursue any project that has to do with sustainability on campus. I worked on a trayless campaign for the dining halls, and also on getting composting for paper towels in bathrooms. Others have done more student-oriented stuff, like coming around to talk to different floors, some have worked with data from our wind turbine (we just got a second one, by the way).
R: No big deal…(be impressed)
A: It’s connected directly to our grid…(be very impressed).
So, being a STA is pretty much a fun vehicle to do things you wouldn’t otherwise have time to do and get paid for it, so that’s pretty great. And right now I’m helping to organize Green Wars, which is a dorm energy competition to see who can use the least electricity for two weeks in February.
R: And you take some environmental studies classes too, right? I mean, that’s not your major but you’re in…
A: I’m in Climate Science, which is really cool—it’s basically looking at the science behind climate change, like atmosphere, oceans, all that stuff which you can hear about but don’t understand why it happens. I’m still not sure I understand, but I’m closer!
When I was choosing my major last year, I was having a pretty hard time deciding between Chemistry and Environmental Studies, but I decided I liked the science side of things and I could always just keep taking Environmental Studies classes, which is what I’ve been doing! It’s been a good balance.
R: Yeah! So do you want to talk about chemistry a little bit?
A: Yeah, chemistry! So…when I talk to the chem majors, what I feel like most of them say, is that we agree that orgo (organic chemistry)’s the reason you become a chem major. If you’re one of those crazy people who actually likes orgo, you should probably become a chem major; do something with that! Of course, there are plenty of chem majors who don’t like orgo, and plenty of non-chem majors who actually do like it. But that’s what happened to me. I didn’t take a single chem class freshman year, but I took orgo at the beginning of sophomore year and…something clicked! It sounds cliché, but it was true. I hadn’t really felt that way about any of the biology or environmental studies or art classes I had taken before that, and I was like, “Well, I probably should major in this.” So I did! And organic is still my favorite, but I’m having fun with the rest of it.
Right now I’m in Quantum Chemistry, where the first half is us learning quantum mechanics, exactly the same as the physics majors (well, no, fewer differential equations…) and now we’re applying it to chemical bonds and simple chemical models and seeing how the models work. While I’m not very good at it, it’s pretty interesting—it’s really cool.
R: And what have you done with chemistry over the summer and stuff?
A: Oh, well….So I’ve spent both of my past two summers at Carleton. This past summer I did organic chemistry research with two of the three organic chemistry profs. Fun fact: two out of the three organic chemistry profs are married. To each other. (The other is married to a physical chemistry prof). There’s lots of marriage in the chem department…(laughter, disruptions).
So, the two who are married, a couple of years ago they started doing research together, so I worked with them along with another rising junior and rising senior. It was great because basically I was in the lab, all day long! Which was really fun, because it was a more in-depth “real” version of what class lab is like. It was cool—if I had a question, even if it was about running a machine or just looking at a sample, I would ask my professors. I certainly got to know them and the other people in our lab group really well, and it was just an interesting look at the scientific process and how everything takes longer than you think it will and is more complicated than you think it will be…but is also really rewarding. When you get a result you were hoping for, it’s the best feeling in the world.
R: That’s awesome. So what did you do the summer after freshman year?
A: For the summer after freshman year, I was thinking, “Well, what am I interested in? Sustainable agriculture. Maybe I can farm!” So I ended up staying on campus. We have a small campus farm and basically I was an intern there. And along with two other interns, I ran the farm! This was especially interesting because I had no farming experience whatsoever and hardly any gardening experience! It was a learning experience. I loved and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I want to be a farmer.
R: So what did you grow?
A: Let’s see…we grew some herbs. We grew a lot of basil. We attempted to grow tomatoes-it was a bad tomato year. We grew cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, a few melons…flowers, kind of, green beans. Oh, and we grew some lettuce greens. And peppers. And eggplant.
So one of the things that admissions told me prospective students are curious about is the food at Carleton. You definitely are passionate about food and have a lot of engagement with food issues on campus. Do you want to say anything about food here or Bon Appétit?
A: OK, first, I would love to say, Bon Appétit is bashed more than it deserves! Rachel, you can reframe that…
R: No, no, it’s fine! We’re kind of a critical bunch! It’s good!
A: Anyways, so Bon Appétit, I think, is pretty great. Like any other food service, they have to repeat things. So when you’re eating three meals a day in a dining hall, in one dining hall, sometimes the same dining hall, out of two on campus, it can get a little repetitive. I admit that by the end of sophomore year, I was getting tired of dining hall food. But that said, I’ve been mostly vegetarian for my time here, and I’ve found that there’s a pretty good variety, and I think it’s usually pretty healthy. They have a nice salad bar---
R: Yeah, you make really good salads.
A: There are people who make good salads and I notice them and then I copy them.
R: It’s very inspiring.
A: But yeah, I think it’s good. One of the cool things is that they’ve been pretty receptive to student groups. I’ve worked with them as a STA doing trayless, and through Food Truth. Food Truth organized a campaign to work with Macalester and St. Olaf to get Fair Trade bananas in the dining hall and it worked! Of course, not all of our campaigns have worked, but that was really exciting and it was a big breakthrough. And now we’re starting to get local chicken now…. So I think they’re not perfect, of course, but they are really receptive to kids working with them, and they really care about student comments.
R: So, the final thing I wanted to talk about was…I met you in French class in the fall of freshman year. Can you talk about what you’ve been doing with French lately? You came to Talking About Traveling last night for a reason, Alex.
A: So, like a lot of freshmen, I started a new language: French. I had never spoken a word of it before. I don’t think I really appreciated how much I could learn the French language until I went there this fall. I did an art program in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. When I describe it to people, it sounds like a dream, and it kind of was. I did oil painting every day, talked about art history and philosophy, spoke some French with my host mom, ate a lot of baguettes, drank some espresso. It was pretty great, although I certainly did have culture shock and some challenges. And my French has really improved.
R: And now you’re back and living at Farm House…
A: Farm House is great. It’s an interest house for sustainable living. We cook our own meals for the whole house, family-style, Sunday through Thursday. And it’s been really fun! First of all, you never know who will be playing guitar, or fiddle, or building a fort when you come home, at 4:00 in the afternoon or 1 AM! Plus, it’s definitely an interesting experience living and cooking in a kitchen that’s shared by 17 people—it’s been fun, there are always surprises!
R: OK, so I think you’re supposed to be somewhere and I don’t want to take up all of your time. I definitely just ambushed you in the library…But I’ll mention just a few final Alex keywords: Your earrings are very expressive…
A: That’s true. I’m an earring girl.
R: And you take a bunch of PE classes, which I find really impressive.
R: Yes. I feel like last year when we were living together, you were always running off for some awesome PE thing.
A: Well, I guess I have taken some cool PE classes. I attempted to take ice hockey, which would have been cool, had I been good at team sports. I took Ballet I, I took Modern Dance I, I’ve taken Yoga twice, I took…what was it called? Outdoor Wildrness Survival Skills…?
R: What…? Oh my gosh, yes, and you like climbed trees!
A: Yeah, that was the best PE class ever. We made fires and learned to navigate the Arb, and it was just very funny. What else? I took Step Aerobics…
R: You’ve also appeared as the bachelorette on Holly French Finds Love; that was last year, that was also exciting.
A: Oh yeah, so my boss found out!
A: I’m the TA for a chemistry lab this term, and the professor teaching the lab asked me about it after a meeting once! He found out from one of the DJs – so, you know, it’s a small campus!
R: That’s really funny.
You’re involved in so much--is there anything else you want to talk about briefly that you do on campus? Or, why Carleton is so great?
A: Why Carleton is so great…
R: So many answers.
A: Oh man. I think one of my favorite things is that I see the people that I know, or that I don’t know very well, in so many different places or situations. I think making friends here is a lot easier than I expected—I would just run into them in Sayles, or after class, or at lunch. And we’d talk. And it wouldn’t feel pressured.
R: Yeah, that’s really nice.
A: It’s still great. It still lets me meet new people and have friendships I wouldn’t necessarily make otherwise.