FRESHMAN FOCUS: Colby Conner, ‘16, begins year running around bonfire, ends year with cancer research internship

(Photo used by permission of Conner)
Colby Conner, ’16, (fourth from the left) stands with a group of friends after completing the tradition of running laps around a bonfire on “The Green” during Homecoming Weekend.

Colby Conner, ‘16, attends Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He has not decided on a major yet but is considering neuroscience.

Q: What classes are you taking?
A: I’m taking the second half of the General Chemistry sequence, the lab that accompanies it, my first-year seminar, Theater For Social Change, and an economics course called The Price System: Analysis, Problems and Policies.

Q: How big are your classes?
A: My largest class is my chemistry class with around 140 students. My smallest is my seminar with 16.

Q: Do you like the sizes?
A: It depends on how comfortable I am with the subject. In smaller classes with fewer than 20 students, it’s pretty obvious if you don’t know what’s going on versus in larger classes, where you’re not expected to make a comment or participate in discussions.  

One thing that’s nice about smaller classes is that the professor knows who you are and is more likely to make accommodations if you need them.  

Larger classes at Dartmouth are typically lectures, which can be uncomfortable due to the tight space.  

Overall, I prefer taking classes with around 30-40 students.

Q: What’s your favorite class?
A: My favorite class so far was Introduction to Human Geography, which I took during my first quarter.  It exposed me to different health-related issues that people face around the world and explored some of the reasons why people in those environments are put at a disadvantage.

Q: Least favorite?
A: I took a biology class that was designed for first-year students called Major Events in the History of Life and the Human Genome. There wasn’t a textbook assigned for the class, and many of the assignments (were) reading five or six scientific journal articles a week, consisting of contradicting theories that would appear on exams.  

On the tests, the professor picked one of the readings and asked very specific questions about it. It was either you got it or you didn’t get it, and there weren’t many points overall, so those questions had an obvious impact on the final grade. Luckily, the class was curved, but it wasn’t enjoyable.

Q: You qualified for an internship at Dartmouth; what’s it about?

A: I was admitted to the Dartmouth Opportunities for Oncology Research program that takes place over the next two summers, followed by an invitation to the INBRE (IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence) Conference.

The research covers molecular and cell biology, immunology, clinical trials and behavioral cancer control. It’s actually located at Dartmouth’s Medical Center, which is very convenient for me since I’ll be able to stay on campus for free and use the college’s meal plan and campus transportation.

(Photo used by permission of Conner)
Colby Conner, ’16, (back row, left) and some friends stand in front of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, where freshmen convene for two days before heading back to campus.

Q: Have you participated in any traditions?
A: The main one I participated in was Homecoming. Every year, there’s a giant bonfire in the center of “The Green.” The tradition is to run around it as many times as your class year.  So, because I’m a ‘20, my class ran 20 laps around the fire. They’re pretty long laps, the fire’s really hot, and it’s pretty chilly in October, so it was a little uncomfortable, but still fun. Another part of that tradition is for someone to touch the fire, which is really dangerous. But if someone doesn’t, the ‘17s, ’18s and ‘19s chant “Worst class ever!” We had a ton of people run and touch it.

We also have first-year trips, where incoming freshmen camp out all around the Hanover area for three or four days, and, depending on the trip, fish, kayak, hike, do yoga or just wander throughout the woods. I was in a section called Adventure Quest, where we went on a ropes course, treasure hunted, hiked and did other outdoor activities. It really broke the ice before orientation actually started.

Q: Have you participated in clubs?
A: I’m part of a group, GlobeMed, that discusses humanitarian issues involving medicine around the world. We raise money for organizations that directly help individuals and spread awareness on campus.  

I’m also part of a group called College Democrats, where we volunteer, phone bank, canvass and organize events for speakers to come on campus. I was actually able to meet Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders when they came to campus.  

This current term, I joined a Piano Ensemble group, where we play duets with other members of the group.

Q: What is the overall attitude of the student body?
A: It’s very “work hard, play hard.”  Many people work hard throughout the week, party and chill on Fridays and Saturdays, then spend their entire Sunday in the library. With 10-week quarters, you have to work hard when you work, and play hard when you play.

Q: How do you get around?
A: I walk everywhere. The campus isn’t spread out too far, so it’s manageable unless you have to travel across the entire campus in the 15-minute passing period between classes. Luckily I haven’t had to do that, but I know some people have, and they just get a bike and cut the time in half.

Q: What is Hanover like?
A: Hanover has about 11,000 people including the college, which is about 6,300 students, so the college is the biggest thing here. We’re really integrated with the town, and the main street bleeds into the campus.

The next town over, Lebanon, is more interesting because it’s much larger and has a small mall, a larger movie theater and more commonly known stores like Walmart, Staples and Sears. It’s typically where concerts and special events are held.

Dartmouth is also really close to the mountains, so going skiing and snowboarding is very popular in the winter.

Q: What is your dorm like?
A: My dorm is pretty below average, but I’ve gotten used to it over the year.  (It’s) part of a cluster that was built in the early 1950s with the only intention of being temporary living. Nothing’s really changed since then, so everything feels and looks old – especially the common room’s kitchen. But we do have glass pathways that connect the dorms in the cluster, which is really nice in the winter months when the snow goes up to your knees.  But, overall, I like my dorm because the atmosphere is homey.

(Photo used by permission of Conner)
Colby Conner, ’16, (back row, second from left) takes a group photo with his floor on Matriculation Day in front of Dartmouth Hall. The banners hanging from the building represent the houses in the housing system.

Q: How are your roommates?
A: I actually live in a single. I initially requested a double, but there’s a house system that was brand new this year, and the house I got placed into doesn’t have very many doubles.

Q: Has Dartmouth lived up to your expectations so far?
A: I think it exceeded my expectations.  I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people who share as many common interests or like to have as much fun as I do.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your school?
A: My favorite thing is the attitude of the student body.  Everyone is aware of where they are and, because of it, love to work with other students since they all have similar end goals. I was expecting a more competitive environment, but it leans more toward collaborative.

Q: What don’t you like about Dartmouth?
A: Besides the weather in the winter term, the way professors like to test – especially in the physical sciences departments.

The tests are overwhelmingly concept-based, and it’s almost impossible to know what to expect.  It’s a bit discouraging after finishing the exam because the departments like the medians to be around 60 percent – so typically students don’t feel like they’re learning very much in the course.

Q: What makes Dartmouth unique?
A: Dartmouth was the first university to begin the student-run meme groups.  Student-run meme groups are Facebook groups where students post memes about their classes, their schools and their administrations, usually poking fun at them.

Because we’re really close to the mountains, and get a lot of snow, a lot of skiers attend and a lot of others start skiing. In WWII, Dartmouth was the largest contributor of manpower to the U.S. skiing troops.

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?
A: More than I can count. I honestly still don’t know what time of day buildings on campus close, so I’ll walk across campus to the coffee shop, and it’ll be closed.  

Also, the normal amount of classes per quarter is three, with a few special exceptions of four. It may not seem like a lot, but it is. During the winter term, I took three really challenging classes at the same time, which wasn’t completely intentional, but I didn’t know there was a website that lists course difficulty with reviews. So halfway through the term, I checked, and all three had reviews saying they were tough, time-consuming, and fast-paced.

Q: What is your advice for the class of 2017?
A: Don’t be someone that you’re not.  I know that’s a cliché, but college is a time to reinvent yourself in whatever way you want to. It’s good to push yourself and try new things, but I’ve seen too many people take it to the extreme. It usually doesn’t turn out as well as they’d planned.

By David Situ

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