This Sunday, I spent my entire afternoon in the Saybrook courtyard enjoying the sunshine with friends. A friend of a friend joined my roommates and me, and our conversation naturally turned to the topical subject of senior theses. She, a humanities major, told me about her paper on women nature writers in modern America. She reciprocated my interest and let me drag her through the valley of my biomedical engineering research project. As always, I became animated, so happy to have a listening, nonscience major interested in my studies.
There are not enough conversations like this.
During senior year, most of us do some sort of capstone project — a written thesis, a project in a lab, a culminating artistic performance or gallery show. After submitting our papers and presenting to our advisors, the hours of work, of reflection, of effort, all comes screeching to a halt. But knowledge is not meant to be processed like this. While I won’t try to tackle the Shelly Kagan-esque question of the purpose and value of learning, I can say with certainty that we do not learn simply for the sake of generating a finite output. The value of learning becomes apparent when we share our knowledge.
Last week, I attended my first Mellon Forum. I went to support one of my best friends, a fellow biomedical engineering major in Calhoun. I was expecting a serious evening of academic presentations; I left completely overwhelmed by the experience.
The vast majority of us here love to learn. We spend so much of our time here learning and reflecting on our materials, yet there are so few opportunities for us to share our knowledge in an organic setting. We don’t get excited about writing a paper for the sake of turning it in and getting a grade; we don’t get amped up firing off a reading response before heading to Toad’s on a Wednesday night; we don’t get satisfaction from feigning interest in forced pseudo-intellectual discourse in section.
As I saw that night at the Mellon Forum, we are desperate to share our knowledge with each other. I was almost moved to tears as the third speaker finished his presentation. His friends, smiling and eager, asked engaging questions and clapped enthusiastically. My own friend was still glowing more than thirty minutes after her talk (perhaps partially due to the red wine served during the evening). I learned more from the three seniors presenting tonight than I did in my four classes today.
The Mellon Forum program is somewhat of a hidden gem, tucked away in boring language in emails from our administrators. While different in each residential college, its main structure and purpose is consistent: As explained by the Pierson Master, “Designed to foster stimulating intellectual exchange and participation in a community of scholars, the Mellon Forums take the form of meetings over dinner and dessert where participating seniors have the opportunity to present the results of their research projects.” My experience in Calhoun was just this: several friends sharing their biggest projects and ideas in a collegial, fun and social setting.
Unfortunately, Mellon Forums are not part of the typical senior’s experience. In certain colleges, you must apply at the beginning of your senior year to even attend the forums. Going into senior year, I thought you had to be a Mellon Grant recipient to present; once I realized my mistake, all the spots in Pierson were filled.
For the underclassmen reading this, I strongly encourage you to pursue the opportunity to present at a Mellon Forum your senior year. For the rest of the seniors, next Sunday, do as I did today: Grab a six-pack, your sunglasses and a few friends, head to the nearest courtyard, backyard, sculpture garden or park, and just talk about your theses. Ask each other questions, pay attention, and soak up the incredible wisdom of your peers. After four years of classes and papers and research and exams, we are practically exploding with knowledge that is much better shared. Let yours out and absorb all that comes back.
Kimberly Goldstein is a senior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.