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Sydney Owada

Class Year: 2019
Hometown: Fresno, California
Major: English
Minor: Dance
Extracurriculars: Pioneer Log opinions editor, LC Dance Company president, Dance X and Y participant/choreographer
Overseas study: London, England

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Tight-knit, engaging, unique

What’s your favorite class? How has it expanded your knowledge?

My favorite class was Medieval Manuscripts with Karen Gross, in which we studied the history of manuscript production and paleography. Not only were we able to access a survey of famous manuscripts by learning to navigate various databases that provide bibliographic descriptions and images, but we also worked closely with Watzek Library’s special collections to study the objects housed on-campus (including decorated Bible leaves from 1450 and a sixteenth century illuminated Book of Hours. We also took trips to the county library and University of Portland’s archives to view their manuscripts. The practical aspect of this class stands out in my mind as a unique aspect of the type of education Lewis & Clark facilitates: unconventional and widely applicable. The experience of working with medieval texts, handling them according to standard archival procedure, transcribing texts written in various hands, and creating a bibliographic description for a manuscript has ultimately allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the physical type of texts medieval readers were engaging with. This class further prepared me for my work in special collections, especially in processing older objects whose care requires the protocol covered in Medieval Manuscripts as well as providing bibliographic descriptions for medieval and early modern objects.

“The practical aspect of this class stands out in my mind as a unique aspect of the type of education Lewis & Clark facilitates: unconventional and widely applicable.”
What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

I came to Lewis & Clark because it had the promise of facilitating personal exploration, intimate classroom environments, and development of intellectual consciousness. The campus seemed to house a close community of students committed to their fields of study, values, and general interests, and I was drawn to the idea that I too could become a part of this community. I knew that it would provide unique opportunities, but initially had no idea what those opportunities would be. The ability to work extensively with professors who care about their students and students who are equally invested in learning was a very attractive attribute of the college.

“As an academic, it is extremely satisfying to claim a spot within a specialized field of study.”
You were able to pursue your academic interests in both dance and English while on your overseas program in London. Tell me about that! What has your overseas study added to your L&C experience so far?

In spending a semester abroad on the London Humanities trip, I was able to delve deeply into my English studies as well as pursue my interests in dance by joining the Queen Mary Dance Company.

Because the trip was geared toward the humanities, I was able to tailor my course load towards satisfying requirements for the English major. I enrolled in courses on the Renaissance, the representation of madness in literature, and beginners’ medieval Latin. Taking English courses in England was particularly interesting, for being located at the cultural epicenter where most of the works were produced enhanced my feeling of connection to the texts as the historical contexts and ramifications are still apparent. Karen Gross, our trip leader, taught a course on Ricardian literature, which allowed our location in London to supplement her class. We would go on “scavenger hunts” to the city’s museums and libraries to find medieval manuscripts or artifacts that helped contextualize the period and texts we were studying. The stage for fourteenth-century literature became real and palpable — it was no longer a foreign culture for which we had no reference. We even hiked through the Midlands’ Peak District to find a cave believed to be the setting of the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, making the legend more real.

I was also able to gain extensive dance experience by joining the competitive Queen Mary Dance Company. This was an entirely student-run society and I was able to re-enter a dance world that was physically challenging as the skill level of these students allowed them to create advanced choreography that is more demanding than that at LC. Our rehearsal process was based entirely on learning choreography and performing it at a competitive level, whereas we focus more on improvisation and learning to choreograph at LC. Not only was this a great way to experience a caliber of dance that I had not been able to participate in after high school, but it also provided the opportunity to become friends with the other students within the society. We became a close-knit team and I am still in touch with many of the members. This was an experience that I did not expect to gain from my abroad experience, for I did not anticipate making friends outside of the group from LC nor did I expect that I would be able to dance competitively at the university level.

Tell me about your work in special collections.

I have been working in special collections for the past two years. Initially, I began working in archives my sophomore year as an extra hand to be used wherever needed — I was eager to gain whatever experience possible. I was approached by Professor Mike Mirabile, whom I had for Exploration and Discovery in the spring of my freshman year, who asked if I would be interested in researching the Katherine Dunn literary archive at Watzek; this became a year-long project that culminated in curating the exhibit The Horror of Normalcy: Katherine Dunn, Geek Love, and Cult Literature. This past summer, I processed our Geneva Bible as a part of a research assistantship with Karen Gross. I was tasked with writing a bibliographic description for the bible. This semester, I have been working with two other students on a practicum focused on curating an exhibit for our Bible collection, which will be installed at the end of the summer.

Throughout the curation process, there is a constant feeling of progress that makes it seem as though the momentum of the project never stops. There is a large amount of work that goes into creating an exhibition and each task is crucial in sustaining the momentum of the project. I find immense value in each step of the process, for there is always material to be considered, edits to be made, and themes to clarify. I enjoy feeling that I have an expert level of knowledge of the material I am working with; as an academic, it is extremely satisfying to claim a spot within a specialized field of study. Working in special collections has given me the fantastic opportunity to participate in a unique undergraduate experience that could provide insight into potential graduate school work.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

Do not be discouraged if the ideal college experience does not pan out immediately — it takes time to find your niche, but when you do, it will be worth the wait. Pursue your passions and put yourself in a space where you can do what you love with people who feel the same way; allow yourself to be overwhelmed with the experience of exploration.

Have you had the opportunity to do research with a professor? If so, please describe the project and the experience.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to do research with English professor Karen Gross over a five-week period. The project initially focused on apocalypse texts and imagery, specifically the influence of these on Middle English texts. However, the particular set of images for Revelations that we thought were included in a Tyndale Bible (c. 1547) did not seem to exist; in hitting a dead end, we were forced to alter our focus. As my advisor and mentor, Karen recognized the importance of helping me develop research skills related to my field (a medieval focus on English literature) and used the period as crash-course on navigating the various databases and research methods that would benefit me later in graduate school. To apply this new information, I was tasked with processing the Geneva Bible (c. 1638) housed in special collections; this became a detective-like search for clues of its provenance as well as intensive period of research on the overall context of the Geneva Bible within the history of the bible in English. This experience has allowed me to gain a better understanding of research within my field of interest as well as early publication practices, the politics of the bible, and the influence of apocalypse on texts such as Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene; this information has overlapped with information covered in my coursework numerous times—it is exciting to see how interconnected it all is.

Where do you find community on campus?

I have found multiple pockets of community on campus, particularly with the Pioneer Log newspaper and the LC dance community. I began working as a writer for PioLog the fall semester of my freshman year and was swept into becoming opinions editor in the spring; I have since stayed on as opinions editor. The office is a landing spot for many of us and there never seems to be a lack of sassy comments or endearing, sarcastic jabs. PioLog feels family-like as the editorial staff bonds over long hours of editing and laying out content for publication and develops lasting relationships with our writers. It is always exciting when writers stay on for multiple semesters, for we are able to not only get to know them through their writing, but also know them better as people; they even become more comfortable with creating their own pitches, which helps us create a publication that is truly a reflection of the student voice.

Prior to coming to LC, I had no idea that there was a dance department, let alone a minor. I came to realize that there was a fervent dance community on campus, although it was little-known: a core group of minors and enthusiasts form the foundation for the fall and spring productions, Dance X and Y, while two professors manage to run the department and its courses. Because of the hours spent in rehearsal and the intimate nature of dance in general, I became close with those who were in the same pieces as me as well as found mentor-like figures in the older dancers. The immense amount of support that dancers have for each other in our shows, workshops, classes, etc. is fantastic and refreshing; everyone’s individual artistry is encouraged and praised, which allows the creative process to be a positive experience for all involved. This past year, the dance community became more cohesive as we created LC Dance Company, which finally allows us to have funding for workshops, guest artists, and support for Dance Y as well as become a larger, inclusive presence on campus.

How has Lewis & Clark has changed you?

LC has allowed me to become more outgoing, more grounded in my beliefs and values, and more open to new experiences. I have had the opportunity to pursue my interests and become an active member of various communities, which allowed me to step into leadership positions I never expected I would be able to take on. I feel as though I have found a new sense of confidence, both in my perception of self and in my abilities; this might just be the byproduct of a college experience, but I do believe that it is largely due to the friends and mentors I have had the privilege of knowing. The opportunity of working closely with faculty from the English department, conducting research, and working in special collections has allowed me to discover my interests and has led me to aim for a doctorate in graduate school. In dance, the LC dance department has facilitated my growth as a choreographer and has allowed me to explore my individual movement quality, which is, in a way, an exploration of the self.

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