Sam Gary '17

Six Questions for Sam

Down to two choices for college, Sam chose the place with the people he would most want to be around, people who would “fill his bus.” We asked him to reflect on his college selection process and he had this to say.

Q: Like many high school seniors, you visited campuses to get a sense of the people and the place. When did you sense that you’d like to put the people here at Juniata on your bus?

A: I had that sense well before I decided to enroll. The people, students, and faculty alike, are unbelievably generous and supportive. Back during my senior year of high school, I narrowed my college choices to Juniata and one other university. I attended the Accepted Student Day at the university I was considering, specifically the event that was to feature a panel of professors to discuss their pre-med program. But none of the professors showed.

I left knowing something wasn’t right, so I called my admissions counselor at Juniata and told her I wanted to visit campus one last time before making my decision. My interactions with Juniata to this point were friendly, sincere, and supportive. I had received checkup calls from them, and even had a 30-minute conversation when I happened to see my admissions counselor at an Applebee’s. When I arrived for my visit, I had a full day in which I sat-in on the Dynamics of Biology class taught by Professor Jill Keeney, and afterwards I spent half an hour talking with her about my life goals, studying pre-med, and wanting to do research. Then I spent time with students at lunch and with the financial aid office. Before I left, I handed them my deposit.

Q: What went through your mind as you were traveling to and arriving at the campus for the very first time?

A: Pure jubilation. I was the first in my immediate family to attend a four-year college and (presumably) graduate from one. I was nervous to move to a new town, be independent, and leave the only home I knew, but I was very eager to start my college career.

  • At Lobsterfest

Q: Juniata College makes a promise to partner with its students and to magnify their interests and talents. Did that promise come through for you?

A: Definitely. From President Troha to the professors, students, and a custodian in my hall, everyone is invested in the campus and the well being of the students. And, through my relationship with Professor John Unger, who has served as my mentor— both in the lab, and in life in general—I have become a much more mature, patient, and meticulous student and person.

Q: It’s been said by some that Juniata, given its location – which is beautiful though not in a large urban center–might not have the same research and internship opportunities as a larger university. What would you say to those people?

A: I’d say that they are mis-informed!

Among my many opportunities for learning experiences beyond the classroom was the research program I attended in the summer of 2015 as an Amgen Scholar in the Song Laboratory in St. Louis, which strengthened my interest to pursue a career in research. My research was aimed at developing a novel neuroimaging technique capable of noninvasively tracking the progression of multiple sclerosis. I experienced the thrill of scientific discovery when my bench mentor and I created a novel experiment that enabled us to record the significant results we had been seeking all summer; it was a feeling that I have craved ever since. I returned to the Song Lab again this past summer.

Sam Presenting at The Liberal Arts Symposium. Liberal Arts Symposium (LAS) is a campus-wide research conference at which students present their capstone projects, displaying their deep knowledge of many subjects.
Sam Presenting at The Liberal Arts Symposium. Liberal Arts Symposium (LAS) is a campus-wide research conference at which students present their capstone projects, displaying their deep knowledge of many subjects. 

Q: If we were to ask you to name three people who made a difference to you at Juniata, could you answer that question?

A: No, I really can’t. There are many more people than that. Ready? Jeff Dixon – Some know him as the custodian in Sunderland Hall. I know him as the one who cares most about student well being and takes more pride in his work than anyone I know at Juniata. Professors Unger, Kirchhof-Glazier, Siglin, Dries, Borgardt, Keeney for reasons that range from how they challenged me to think about who I aspired to be, introduced new teaching methods to improve student success, partnered with me to create a Biomedical Research Seminar, and infused my days with positive energy when I needed it the most. President Troha – a student-first Prez who is the best in the country, and I’ll argue that with anyone.

Sam with his friends at 1000 steps a popular hiking trail in Huntingdon County.

And my friends – they know who they are – funny, gracious, caring people who accept me for who I am, challenge me to do better, and make me laugh. I can keep going…

Q: Final question: What’s with the bus?

A: I made my decision to enroll at Juniata the same way I make most of my life decisions, with advice given to me by my childhood idol, Mike Krzyzewski, famed collegiate basketball coach: “You see, you are only as successful as the people that you surround yourself with. You’re the driver of your own bus in life. Allow only good people on your bus, and get on buses filled with good people. If you do that, you will be successful.” When I handed in my enrollment deposit, it was clear to me that Juniata had the “good people” with whom I was looking to surround myself.

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