The Best Summer I Ever Had

The Circle of Life

When Justin Snyder ’01 thinks about the best summer of his life, the soundtrack that comes to mind is the Kenyan song Wapi Wei Wei, which Snyder calls “terrible.” But he ended up buying the album, because it brings back the many bus rides (the cassette tape was played by the driver) around Kenya that led him to baboons, giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, monkeys and some of the most beautiful scenery he’s ever witnessed.

In 2001, fresh from studying in Australia, Snyder made the “no-brainer” decision to join faculty members Paul Weihe, Rex Shahriari and Dan Bruss (the latter two now retired) on the inaugural study abroad program in Kenya. Snyder had been dreaming of visiting the Great Rift Valley his entire life. When the group landed in Kenya, they encountered servants to carry their bags and hustlers to steal their money. “Besides the economic turmoil that was evident, the country was welcoming and beautiful,” says Snyder. “It definitely felt as though I was halfway across the world.”

The students were eager to explore the country. In the rainforest, guides from nearby Moi University gave them ecology lessons as they stared in awe at the creatures of the Great Rift, including a 20-foot-long crocodile. In the Maasai Mara National Reserve, two warriors, wearing khakis under their traditional dress, guarded their overnight camp from lions and hyenas and jump-roped with the students. On the savanna, they saw a migration of hundreds of zebras—all lined up in single file.

“The animals, the scenery, the serenity and the natural setting were everything I imagined Kenya to be,” says Snyder. “As an environmental scientist interested in flora and fauna, it was all a dream come true for me.”

Just after the group returned from Africa, tragedy struck on 9/11, and the Kenya program was cancelled for fear of terrorism in the country, which has a history of attacks by Al Qaeda. Despite the short tenure of the program, for a small group of students, including Snyder, it was the best—and the most educational—summer of their lives.

“I learned that the world as we know it is not the world as others know it,” says Snyder. “I saw children living in mud huts who thought the greatest gift in the world was a hat from Western society. To see them so happy despite having so little was something I will never allow myself to forget.”


The Hills Are Alive

Spending the summer in the rural Northeast with a bunch of middle-school kids might not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But Liz Dickson ’99 not only made it through once, she went back for more. During all three of her college summers, Dickson worked at the RCA-affiliated Camp Warwick in New York. She spent the first year as a camp counselor and the next two as the arts and crafts director.

Liz Dickson ’99  (center) sports Central shorts with her middle school campers.

As a freshman, Dickson saw a posting in the Chapel advertising for camp counselors, and she applied on a whim. After finals, she headed out to the green, rolling hills of the camp. “I’m from southwest Iowa—a really small town of 500 people, and I thought it would be neat to go work in New York in the summer,” says Dickson.

The peaceful and pristine atmosphere was not what she expected—so different from New York City—but she came to love it immediately. As a camp counselor, she alternated between the day camp and the longer overnight camp. For each group of elementary or middle school kids, she organized activities, played games and taught Bible lessons. During the overnight camp, she had to stay in the cabin with eight pre-teen girls, working out a showering schedule and trying to sleep over their giggles. But she felt she was helping them grow in their faith.

The next two summers, as arts and crafts director, Dickson had the kids come to her. She created art lessons for each group that coordinated with the Bible passage of the week. It was great practice running her own art classroom, which Dickson would do for seven years before becoming a school counselor in Omaha, Neb. Now, she spends all her working days with middle-school students. The atmosphere might not be as beautiful as the hills of southeast New York, but it’s just as fun.

“Camp Warwick helped me to understand students and to make relationships with young people,” says Dickson. “It helped me connect with kids, which is paramount to any successful teaching job.”
She may not have known it then, but those long nights in the cabin and that goofy fun with the campers made for the best summer of her life—and built a foundation for the rest of it.


The Ghost Particle

Senior Nate Herring spent his summer in Baton Rouge studying a massive, invisible force in the universe. Sounds pretty Star Trekkian, right? But neutrino particles are a key element in experimental particle physics—the study of the structure of matter, not to mention Leonard’s specialty on The Big Bang Theory.

Nate Herring ’13 hates debugging code. “The smallest error and the whole thing can fail.”

A physics and philosophy major, Herring was a student researcher at Louisiana State University as part of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a program of the National Science Foundation. This was Herring’s second summer in the lab; last year, he went through a tough application process, competing with students from well-known physics programs such as Harvard and MIT. His work was held in such high regard there that he was invited back this summer to continue studying the elusive particles.

“Neutrinos are sort of like ghost particles,” says Herring. “Trillions of them fly through your body every second, but because of their unique properties, one interacts with a particle in your body only about every 30 years.”
Herring was part of a team studying a newly discovered phenomenon called neutrino oscillation. Building an experiment to research it can cost millions of dollars and take 5-7 years. So Herring helped prepare the team for when the experiment is ready. He designed a computer program that can digitally simulate the experiment and another that can analyze the data gathered.

“Before I write a program, I have to know exactly what I want it to do,” says Herring. “This requires planning out the program on paper or in my head before I sit down to write it.”

After graduation, Herring hopes to return to LSU for one more year of research before going to graduate school, a stepping stone toward his dream of teaching physics at a large research university. The experience he gained this summer will be instrumental in reaching that goal.

“I really enjoy the brain exercise I got just from being there,” he says.


What was your best summer during your Central career?

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