Airplane view Vancouver

Purdue Will Allow You To Visit Amazing Places!

The Globe

There are very few cities in the world where vibrancy, greenery, innovation, and economic vitality are combined in such a way like in Vancouver. For these reasons this city ranks among the top 10 most livable cities in the world. This less-than-a-million-people city, located in the Province of British Columbia, western Canada, was the host of the 64th Annual meeting of the North American Regional Science Council (NARSC) last November, to which I had the pleasure of attending.

Two other students and I attended this conference to present our research being conducted as part of the Sustainable Transportation Systems Research Group at Purdue, which focuses on transportation planning, energy, and economic development. During my presentation, I got very insightful feedback about my research on regional economic resilience and transportation accessibility. This presentation was also accompanied with an incredible view 22 stories above Vancouver’s downtown streets on a Friday afternoon.

CANA sign

 

I had also the chance to attend other sessions highly relevant to my dissertation. For example, one presentation discussed the role of transportation on the specialization and diversification of cities. At the same time, I had the chance to meet and chat with renowned scholars in my field during coffee breaks or while waiting for the sessions to start.

My friends and I also had the chance to visit some famous landmarks of Vancouver, explore restaurants, and interact with locals. All I can say is that we were sad to leave a city that we came to love in just a few days. I did not leave, however, without getting some bottles of Maple syrup.

Dinner

In summary, this conference’s vibrant and encouraging environment inspired me to continue applying my best efforts towards research and future professional goals. I am also very thankful to the College of Engineering and Purdue University for their support, which allow me to attend this awesome conference. We learned that the Purdue’s reputation and quality of research will not only open doors to academic and technical worlds, but also to an amazing array of experiences around the world.

Purdue Ag Alumni’s Graduate Student Industry Tour: An Eye Opening Experience

During the semester Fall break, Purdue College of Agriculture and Purdue Ag Alumni offered the first Graduate Student Industry tour which highlights some of the great companies in and around Indianapolis and learned about their core businesses, laboratory facilities, and work environments. Fifty graduate students under the College of Agriculture participated on the tour along with some of the faculty members and staffs, including Dr. Barbara L. Golden from Department of Biochemistry and Dr. Shawn S. Donkin from Department of Animal Sciences. The tour was managed by Ag Alumni Program Manager, Danica C. Kirkpatrick.

As an international graduate student, I was very excited to be selected for this tour because just like many students who participated on this tour, I still have a little idea about career opportunities and the day-to-day rhythms of the workplace. Providing students to tour a company helps gain a firsthand knowledge of the technologies and skills apply especially in STEM-related jobs.

The two days tour started on October 9th includes a visit to Dow AgroSciences headquarter, Eli Lily and Company corporate campus, Roche Diagnostics and Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI). I also attended a poster session and a networking reception at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit. In the networking event, I met with the members of the Indy Science Connect networking organization and industry professionals from companies like Eli Lily, Dow AgroSciences, and Labcyte Inc. I had the opportunity to engage with them in STEM research and think about how I might connect to tech-related jobs post graduation or participate in an internship program. 

With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit
With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit

This tour has been an eye-opening experience because I was impressed by the diversity of life science ecosystems in Indiana, especially in and around Indianapolis. It was also inspiring to learn from the Purdue alumni and other industry professionals about their journey to building a successful career after leaving the school. On a fun note, I also had the chance to meet new friends and explore the city together. I hope Purdue will keep on supporting such accessible interactive event that will enrich students experience during their graduate studies.

A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).
A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).

Due to company policy, taking a picture is not allowed most of the times during the tour but here is some information about the companies to share a bit of excitement about the tour:

Founded in the 1950s, Dow AgroSciences has been a part of Indiana’s agriculture heritage and is one of the biggest companies that develop sustainable chemical and biotechnology solutions for increasing crop productivity. Ely Lily is an American global pharmaceutical company that was founded by Colonel Eli Lily in 1876. They have developed and delivered trusted medicines includes treatments in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular, diabetes, critical care, neuroscience, men’s health and musculoskeletal fields. Roche Diagnostics is a part of the Roche company businesses, one of the largest biotechnologies company in the world. Roche Diagnostics focus on delivering diagnostic solutions to provide sustainable healthcare and improve people’s lives. Meanwhile, IBRI is a relatively new institute founded in 2012 that has a mission to bring world-class research talents to Indiana to enable discovery science and innovation, working in collaboration with academic and industry researcher.

Experiences of the Purdue Study Abroad Program

I learned Spanish as my second language ten years ago. When I took the course, the instructor said that if you want to improve or even make a great progress of your Spanish, you must go to Spain or any other country speaking Spanish. Two years ago when I walked in the hallway in MSEE building, a professor asked me ”Are you interested in being TA in study abroad course next Maysemester? We will go to Spain for three weeks.” What? Going to Spain! Yes! Absolutely!

I went to Spain in May semester in the past two years. I have been to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. I spent three weeks each year in Spain and learned a lot of fun Spanish culture. The class was in the whole morning everyday and students might do their homework in the afternoon or visit attractions around the city. As TA in this class, my job was to take care of all the students not only on their homework but on their safeties as well. Most of the time, I roamed in the city with the students, having the must-eat paella, must-watch flamenco dance, and must-visit Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. We also found a bistro serving almost unlimited tapas. You ordered any kind of drinks and the bistro gave you all tapas they made. The tapa is one of famous cuisine in Spain. You may think tapa as appetizer. It may be cold or hot. In fact, a tapa is a small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine.

Since it costs less (three or four euros depending on the alcohol people order), students went there for their dinner several times. I did not drink and I don’t drink. So, I ordered orange juice. When I ordered orange juice, the server thought I wanted orange juice with alcohol. After 5 –minute explanation with my poor Spanish, he understood with his weird smile. I was glad that I ordered my pure orange juice andhe was also surprised that someone did not drink alcohol in the bistro. After three days, I went to the bistro again. The server recognized me and gave me orange juice right away. I thought to myself that “I want apple juice or just water.”

In the first year, five students and I decided to visit Rome at the last minute on the three-day long weekend. I made an absolutely wise decision to visit another country. I never forget what a colossal coliseum it is. When I went out of the subway, I was not ready yet to see the amphitheater. But, this tremendous building, one of seven wonders of the world, was right in the front of me. I couldn’t wait to visit inside. To my surprise, in the arena, I ran into a college friend who we have not met for more than ten years after the graduation. What a small world! It reminds me that all roads lead to Rome. So, next time if you really want to meet someone, go to coliseum!

This year, we had a cooking class. We learned to cook one of the famous Spanish food: tortilla (Spanish potato omelette). The chief told us the procedure. We peeled potatoes and cut them as diced potatoes. Then, we deep-fried the diced potatoes. After that, we put the fried potatoes into the eggs and slice onions. Mix and smear evenly before we pan-fry them. The difficulty was to flip the thick omelette and pan-fry again. I love this dish. Students and I were glad that we had a great opportunity to cook Spanish food taught by real Spanish people. The fun fact is the day after I came back to the U.S., I went to the supermarket and bought the ingredients to make the tortilla again.

At Sevilla, we had pre-talk of bullfight.We learned the history of bull fight and why Spanish people had bullfight. The bull fighter, called the matador, also wore his custom and told us the function of each part he had. Some students and I also went on stage experiencing how to trick the bull with their big and heavy red rag. Some students refused to watch bullfight in the beginning because they thought it was really cruel. However, after the pre-talk, they learned the custom/reason why Spanish people continue to have this event each year and how they were going to treat the bulls after they were killed. Some students changed their minds and would like to watch the game in live because they wanted to be more involved in Spanish culture not just listening the presentation but also watching the real show. They wanted to see what was going on and tried to deal with the cultural difference. Not always thinking from their own side, students wanted to pretend they are Spanish and figure it out why the bullfight event continues. This is also the spirit of Boiler Abroad.

I was glad that I had the chance to visit Spain and practice my Spanish. I also immersed myself into the local culture. It was a great experience to learn professional and cultural knowledge at the same time. This program provides me to gain global perspective and intercultural experience. If you have this chance, don’t miss it!

Barcelona Purdue Flag Biking in Seville Bullfight in Madrid Seville
Paris Madrid Palace Bullfight in Seville Host Family in Seville

 

 

 

Waiting for the Show

An Ordinary Atypical Day as a Graduate Student

Hellooooo World!!! I am David and in this post I am going to talk about one of the (special) days that I have lived and enjoyed here at Purdue University.

First of all, you would say… “this guy made a mistake in the title.” Well, that may be true, but read it again slowly… As a graduate student, everyday is different, everyday is atypical because you have the power to organize yourself, to build each day as a different day and not stick to the routine (or stick to it if it is what you need). That is why I call this piece of enjoyable reading “an ordinary atypical day as graduate student.”

The day I am going to talk about was a Cold Day in the Sun and it was special because I went to one of the best concerts I have ever been. It was one of These Days that you wake up and you say: “David, today you have to give The Best of You ” and you get up with energy because you know what is coming. The good thing of being in grad school is that you do not have imposed everyday schedules and the bad thing is that you have deadlines and meetings.

At the Show
David waiting for the show!

Two of them were scheduled for that morning. I always complain about meeting, I think I have too many, that distract me from doing research that is what I want to do All my Life. But I have to recognize that meetings in graduate school teach you as much as the research itself if one is able to see the big picture. Being a researcher is not only to spend time in the lab, but built confidence on yourself and your work and share it with the research community. This last part, in which a lot of us (young researchers) miserably fail is the Generator of future research. In meetings you can learn how to interact with people, how to express your ideas to different kind of public and how to motivate young researchers (also, sometimes you learn how you should not behave, but let’s stick to the positive things).

The two morning meetings were exhausting for My Poor Brain, so we decided to go have lunch around Lafayette. There are amazing places to eat here in Lafayette-West Lafayette. I think the multicultural environment around the university has brought the best of each place around the world to this town in Indiana. The food is one of them and I especially enjoy Asiatic food so we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant here in West Lafayette (I will not write names to avoid advertising buuuut if you need info about good food around here you can reach me).

After lunch, time to do research. This is something important that I have learned during my time at Purdue: even when you are Exhausted, you have to progress everyday in your research. You choose your pace and the way you do it, since normally supervisors leave you Enough Space to be your own boss the most part of the time, but the progress needs to be there. So that special and cold day, I spent four hours in the lab before hitting the road for that concert I waited Everlong. The concert, unfortunately, was not in West Lafayette, but if you (or one of your friends) have a car it is normal to drive one or two hours to see one amazing spectacle that normally you are not able to enjoy in the place you are from. Lafayette is one hour drive from Indianapolis where I have been in several concerts of all kind of music and sports spectacles as NBA games, NFL games and motor races in the famous Motor Speedway of Indianapolis. If one drives North for two hours, one arrives to the Windy City: Chicago. Obviously if in Indianapolis you can enjoy all the aforementioned shows, you cannot imagine in Chicago, but this will be for another post.

Coming back to our special day, we drove west to Urbana, Illinois. It is a place similar to Lafayette, maybe a bit bigger, but one of the best groups of the world (and history) was playing there. The concert was amazing. It was a three hours concert with the top hits of this group, which name for the moment I have not mentioned. When you go to a concert like that, it is difficult to put in a paper how you and the people around you feel, so if you are curious, you know… come to Purdue.


A nice moment during the concert.

 The concert finished around midnight, and we had to come back home. Moreover, when you pass from Illinois to Indiana you have to add one hour more, so at the end of the day (or the beginning of the next day) we were pretty much dead, and you feel even worse thinking that the next day I had another meeting. But I know that Times Like These are unforgettable in all the senses, for work and for leisure so I always enjoy the ride to Purdue and at Purdue, and I am ready to Learn to Fly thanks to the Boilermaker spirit!!

I hope you enjoy the reading and for future posts… I’ll Stick Around so you should too!

Best wishes to everyone!
David Gonzalez Cuadrado

P.S.: I did not say the name of the band…. If you are fans you should have guessed it in the second paragraph!! For the ones not into rock music, go to Youtube, look for the bold and cursive titles in the text and enjoy the music!!

Home Away from Home

Home Away from Home

When I moved to West Lafayette in August 2015, I did not expect to discover my new Home. Although I was floored by the hospitality of the local people, I yearned for something connected to India. I saw numerous Indian students in Purdue campus, but in the College of Education, I did not meet many.

A casual walk one day revealed a “little India” here. Just across the road from my apartment was the Indian cultural center. With my heart pounding within my rib cage, I entered the building which looked more like a huge shed. There was a little Hindu temple attached to a very big hall with a stage on one side. Bharatiya Temple & Cultural Center of Greater Lafayette or BTCCGL is the organization that runs all operations in the cultural center.

There were several flyers pinned neatly on a soft board which revealed that there existed a vibrant Indian community in this city. Few words exchanged with the lonely couple sitting there, threw more light on the center’s activities. On weekends, besides religious activities, the center offered Yoga, Sanskrit, Bal Vihar and Bagwad Gita classes. This was like any town or city in India. Little did I expect this here. I paid a visit on a Saturday and was amazed at the number of people attending the classes, both parents and little kids dressed in colorful Indian attire. If I was shocked by their numbers which was, say around 50, it was nothing compared to a bigger tremor that was coming.

Yummy dishes from India here in WL

 

On Diwali, an important festival of India, the hall attached to the temple was full to capacity. I walked into the hall, being drawn by the aroma of Indian food and was taken aback by the sheer numbers of people. There were nearly 400 people at any time and people kept leaving and coming continuously. I asked a friend, (yes, I made some friends) whether all the people were connected to Purdue. She replied that several Indians worked in companies like Caterpillar and in the many research laboratories in West Lafayette and Indianapolis. Parents worked in Indianapolis and preferred to have their homes in WL because of the good schools and safe environment. They did not mind commuting to Indy every day. This is a lot to say about any place.

In WL, all the Indian festivals were celebrated with great pomp and show. I enjoyed dressing in Indian attire, which I do rarely when in campus, and eating mouth-watering food from every state of India. There was always a grand spread of 7-8 dishes and soon I started looking forward to any celebration. I came to know that every festival was celebrated by the Indian community with great fanfare. Moreover, all these activities were organized by BTCCGL volunteers. Men and women and even children participated eagerly in organizing events, dancing, singing, putting up plays, maintaining a small library and what not.

Come November, I bought tickets to go to the Celebration of India event organized by the Indian Women’s Association or IWA. The Faith West community center was full. Now, were there a 1000 people or 1500? I never even thought in my wildest dreams that a little city like West Lafayette located in the United States, would have these many Indians. There were Purdue professors, Purdue students, their families, engineers from companies, doctors and people from every profession.

As is normal back home, there were numerous dance performances and bands belting out music from Indian movies of various languages. Performers traveled all the way from India to entertain the population here. Again, there was food, food, food……. from samosas to biriyani, all my fav food was there. My excitement was evident when I related my experiences to my mother that night. “Are there so many Indian families,” she wondered.

The story of the Indian community in WL will not be complete without me talking about the IWA. The small but efficient group of ladies organized several fun activities like summer picnics, Cricket matches and Holi celebrations. But, IWA was about something more. They used their funds to award a scholarship to a woman researcher at Purdue whose research focuses on women centric issues. They also collect money to donate towards rehabilitation efforts taking place in regions where nature unleashed its fury. In December 2015, my hometown, Chennai, was ravaged by floods and IWA immediately started arranging for help. Locally their services have been valuable to the Lafayette Food Bank, Asha Purdue Chapter, YWCA, and Lafayette Urban Ministry. They do not shirk from expressing solidarity with issues affecting the Indian community in the U.S. I know for a fact that public demonstrations were avoided even in the big cities regarding such issues.

Every year IWA publishes a magazine called Sanskriti which carries articles about global tourist attractions, critical issues, current events and also short stories. Sanskriti gives voice to many aspiring writers who live in WL. This year they published a beautiful cook book named, “Dash of Desi.” All the credit goes to the women behind IWA.

I was learning so many things about the WL Indian community and was baffled at the myriad activities they were involved in. Any big city in the U.S. houses a huge Indian population, I know, but for a small city like West Lafayette, it was amazing. The festivities, friendship and fun were reminiscent of the harmony among the Indian community. I am sure I’ll have a ton of stories to share when I visit home next summer after three long years. I can go on and on about my findings about this city, but let me keep some for my next blog post.

By the way, did I mention the word HOME, in my previous paragraph? Isn’t this like home? When I wrote that sentence, I got my title to these ramblings, “Home Away from Home.”

Teach graphic

Building the future of Purdue: Life of a Teaching Assistant

Grad School may resonate with research and most likely research will be the main source of funding for most of Grad Students. However, it is often forgotten how many Grad Students are Teaching Assistants (TA) and we ourselves forget how important the TA position is. Of my 5+ years at Purdue I served the last 3 years as a TA for a undergraduate class teaching two introductory courses of engineering design to the incoming First-Year engineering students.

With around 240 First-Year students under the umbrella of my responsibility, I have the great task of primarily aid the faculty members in conveying the courses’ learning objectives. I see this with different lenses, I believe that my work is beyond entering grades and from times to times give a lecture or two, I see my job as mentoring the future generations that will someday (and not so many days later) be where I am. I teach concepts of engineering design, engineering innovation and some basic notions of computer coding, but more than that, I bring my experiences from the world of Aerospace Engineering particularly the rocket science to awaken the students into a world of possibilities with their careers and (secretly) recruit some to the school of aeronautics.

Perhaps the biggest realization of the TA job is that of all the students in the classroom setting I am the one that learns the most! There are countless occasions on which I shared some of the challenges that I face either in research or in classes that I take that seem to have no way out and a fantastic out-of-the-box solution came out from some of the ideas that my students came up with.

These lenses are given to me by Purdue University with their never-ending pursue of excellence in the teaching core. Not a day has past that I “TAed” (and yes, we use TA as a verb!) and felt that the job was a mere source of funding, I see my job as an opportunity to mentor the next great engineer and being greeted by a former student who thank me for inspiring them makes the whole teaching experience worthwhile.

At Rent Intermission Club

What do you do outside Lab?

What do you do outside Lab?

This is not how I normally look in the Lab
My Lab Face

That’s the most frequent question I got whenever I met new person once standard questions like name (Irma), occupation (Grad student), major (Food Science) answered. I think it’s a fair question since the stereotype of scientist promoted by the oh-so-famous-with-never-ending-season TV show is working in a Lab (which I do).

To answer that, let’s do some background first. I am a big Opera/Symphony fan that used to be a racer (this is a story for another day), so, I tried to find things to do in West Lafayette-Lafayette area related to my passions. Luckily, there is Purdue Convocations that sometimes host classical music and musicals. However, the tickets price for those shows are a little bit much when tallied, with student budget, I have to be creative.

This is our most Formal Shot, usually we're just being caught unaware
“Official” Group Photo before Ushering Duty (Photo Credit: Rodrigo A Rodriguez-Fuentes)

Lo and behold, I found CVN, a student organization of volunteer usher for Purdue Convocations show. I registered and started signing up for shows. There is point system, so the more frequent you signed up, the more chance you got selected for ushering. Perks of this student organization is seeing shows for free after ushering duty is done. That, plus free food (Pizza or Donuts) and coffee (or no coffee if the food is Pizza). Also, Volunteer can sign up for pre-show, usually consist of talks (sometimes recorded for WBAA radio) and Intermission Club. Intermission club is for honoring donor patrons of Purdue Convocations, light refreshments like non alcoholic beverages (for alcoholic beverages donor patrons have to pay)and finger foods (cheese cubes, vegetable dips) are provided. Volunteer usher can also have some of those afterwards.

CVN Instagram once show my smiley face
I’m featured in CVN Instagram Page! well, it’s MK and I, but still 😀

I remember my first show, it’s Calmus Ensemble. The ECHO-Klassik award winning group of They were singing Shakespeare inspired a capella. Needless to point out they are the best first experience for me. One Soprano, Two Tenors, Two Baritones. I am in heaven.

However, free show is not the best experience I gained from CVN. It’s meeting people with similar music taste and more. I met my tribe, people I can rely on for fun (Hey, let’s go to Chicago for Chicago Symphonic Orchestra College Night) and be there for me when I’m stressed out by academic burdens (the Lab, don’t forget the Lab).

Winning this plus Cabaret tickets
My Semester Bounty

This semester is special for me. I won the raffle for Chamber Tickets from Purdue Convocations, yes, all six shows on Classical music. It means I (plus one) get to go to those shows for free, no need to work for it. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic. When CVN other volunteer (a.k.a semiofficial photographer) asked me whether I will still be volunteering or not since I now get free tickets I said yes, for the shows I don’t have tickets for but mostly for fun and the people. Since that is one of the thing I do outside my Lab.

 

Runners

My Thoughts on Running (Or My Love-Hate Relationship with My Calves)

Running in all weather 😉

My “hate” for my calves. I think I have always been genetically predisposed to run. I have really muscular calves. (Thanks Pops!). In elementary school and high school, my calves were a source of great insecurity for me. Let me say this, high school boys can be cruel. I remember vividly how a bunch of 9th-grade boys would loiter by the stairs looking at girls’ legs and I overheard this particular group talking about my muscular calves. Now for an 8th- grader, this was particularly distressing. I put on a brave face and ignored it but I can never forget the fact that my calves were a topic of conversation.

Despite being a source of insecurity,  my legs (calves, included) helped me with my gymnastics. My coach would tell me I had “great legs”.  By great,  he meant that my legs could take me to the nationals. And they did and even won me a silver medal.Yet, for all the “nice things” my legs brought me, I was always insecure about them. I remember freshman year in college, the girls in Silliman University were required to wear — of all things — bloomers. I would run as fast as I can from my dorm to the field and back again so I can spend as little time in public wearing those despicable excuse for shorts. I think I left an impression on my classmates when I would remove my shorts underwater rather than before going into the water for our swimming classes. I was THAT insecure.For the longest time, I think I avoided wearing shorts, skirts or any piece of clothing that would bare my legs. But these days, I now wear a lot of running shorts. Because I rediscovered a love for running.

Running in the Philippines. I think I have always loved to run. In the University of San Carlos where I did my undergrad, I was almost always rushing from one place to the other. However, I was told it was “unladylike” to run. So I stopped. I now regret listening to that advice — because I would realize later on that once our bodies get used to inactivity, it will remain at rest. (Newton’s law, right? LOL). I would run here and there but never really made it a habit.

Running in Texas. This is now an absolutely horrific memory but in TAMU where I did my masters, in the first not-so-fun run I ever joined, I only bested 2 pregnant women and a woman with her baby in a stroller. If that’s not embarrassing, I do not know what is. Those women were running for 2. I wasn’t.

How running helped me overcome depression. In 2012, I hit a really low point in my life. I was depressed. I hit rock bottom. My self-esteem was zilch. I was overweight. I was ugly. Everything in my life was falling apart. I can hardly recognize myself in the mirror. And now, I wish to confess that I had thought of ending it all. But as I was too cowardly (or maybe brave), I sought help. I went to the doctor. I went to group therapy. I sought counselling. I eventually went home to the Philippines to heal myself. And I decided I needed to make changes

When I went back to Texas, I knew I needed to fix my health issues. I started with the small things. I decided to eat healthy. I started to avoid all meat and I started cooking all my meals. I would portion them and made sure I only ate within my caloric allowance. I went to the gym. I tried the treadmill.

My running journey. Running on the treadmill, I would get bored and would focus on the time or distance and when I get tired I just hit that STOP button and workout is over. So one day I decided I was going to run outdoors. Running outdoors forces you to run till a certain point then run back to where you started. Now, at this point, I was really horrifically unfit. I was slow. So I decided I was just going to do timed runs. I got a Couch to 5K app. My first run consisted of a 20-minute run/walk combination. I hated every second of it. I can barely breathe. But I finished it and that gave me a bit of confidence to do it again. So I did. Eventually, I was running 30 minutes a day, then 45 minutes. I got better at it and I would run a minimum of 3 miles on average every day during the work week. I would then run 6 miles on average on Saturdays and/or Sundays. I wasn’t fast or anything. I just kept at it.

Running in Flagstaff. I would eventually move to Flagstaff and I thought I can run as easily as I was able to in Texas. Wrong! At 7500 ft above sea level, I was back to square one. The first time I ran in Flagstaff, I once again felt like my heart was in my throat and that I can hardly breathe at all. I only ran 1 mile that day. Now this put me off from running for a while. I was severely discouraged.

Life then happened, but I was happy. I was happy with my job, with my coworkers, with my students. I felt appreciated and I regained my self-confidence. I was happy once again after a very long time. And winter hit. Now, I can run okay in Texas winters but Flagstaff is a different story. So I took a break.. a really long break.

Let me just say that when summer came, I took out my running shoes again.. and once again went back to square one. I started again. Eventually, in the Fall, I kept running because I had coworkers who were patient with me. They would easily chat while running while I struggled to keep up. Yet they were always patient with me.

I would then join Team Run Flagstaff’s Step Into Running Program. I met some wonderful people there. I felt comfortable running with people from different walks of life and different stages of fitness. I was very impressed and a little bit intimidated at the marathon runners. They were very inspiring. I put in the work and I was happy to have survived a 5k at 7500 ft above sea level. I didn’t care much for my time but I thought I finished strong.

Running in Flagstaff was easy logistically. I miss that about the city I lived in for two years. I can just walk out my apartment and explore some urban trails. I am sad I didn’t run more when I lived there.

Running in Indiana. When I moved to Indiana to attend Purdue University, I was very determined to keep running. My friends thought I was crazy when I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get a 3-mile or a 6-mile run. That was in the Fall. But Winter was another story. Winters in Indiana are something else. But of course after the winter comes the Spring. I started running again – back to square one, then to being comfortable at 3-miles, then 6-miles and eventually 10-miles. That was the longest I have ran.

I would eventually join Fleet Feet’s running program. Fleet Feet in West Lafayette is awesome. I met amazing people from different walks of life with different running goals. Since I am not fast at all, I ran with the BOP – or the Back-of-the-Pack. We may not be the fastest but we sure did have a lot of fun.

I sought to run a half marathon. And I did! My first half marathon was the Purdue Half 🙂

Running with Fleet Feet friends. My first half marathon. The Purdue Half.

I was super proud of myself after I finished. Training for it was a 12-week commitment and I made it! I would run another half marathon after the Purdue Half in the Spring. I did the Indy Mini. I was super proud of myself.

Indy Mini. My second half marathon!

Injury. I kept running in the summer because I had signed up for another race. But alas, I injured myself, had a couple of health issues and well, life got busy.These days I am trying again.

Why do I run? I run to exercise and feel healthy and strong. I run to enjoy my running music. I run so I can make full use of expensive running gear (On a grad student’s salary – running clothes and shoes are pricy!)

Light on my feet. Literally.

I run to exorcise all my demons. I run to find peace. I run to talk to friend. I run so I don’t have to talk. I run to think. I run to stop thinking. I run so I can forgive others. I run so I can forgive myself. I run to run away from all the stresses that plague me.  I run to fight with my enemies in my head (I sometimes imagine myself as Manny Pacquiao, the boxer).  I run when I have things weighing me down.  I run when I need to make a decision. I may not always get an answer but I always feel much better after a good run.

How do I run? I try to run in good form. I run till the only thing I can focus on is taking my next breath and putting one foot in front of the other. I wonder if my eyes sweat as well or I am actually crying. But I run till all my sadness, all my heartbreak, all my frustrations, all my desperations, all my anger go away. I run until I feel myself becoming whole again. I run like it is a form of meditation or prayer. I run despite my whole body rebelling until it feels right. I run in order to be happy. I run so I can live.

My “love” for my calves. These days, I am really proud of my calves. Because they are strong. Quite strong that even after the killer workout,  I hardly feel any soreness. Because I am vain. I get compliments on how muscular they are. But most of all because I have always had them and they are strong and they are mine and they take me places. Maybe it isn’t even too far-fetched to say that my calves saved my life.

And to celebrate them, here’s a photo of me running away from my insecurities and running towards my happiness.

Happy running! (Photo by Babelyn Cabalar)

Bye for now, gotta run! 😉

Food

My path to a plant-based lifestyle

Back in February 2016, I had been experimenting with a couple of dietary changes. I am a coffee drinker but I challenged myself to stop drinking coffee for a whole week. Good thing I survived lol and I learned that I can probably get away with a good night sleep and no caffeine intake during the day. However, I found that with a restful sleep the night before, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning actually enhances my productivity and who doesn’t love to smell the coffee first thing in the morning!

Another experimentation I did was I gave myself a week to be a “vegan.” My inspiration came up from the curiosity to see how eating diet coming purely from plant sources would make me feel. Prior to the start, I expected that I would feel really hungry quickly after a meal and lack of energy. To my surprise, I noticed that I felt more awake and fresh even when I just stopped eating meats and dairy for two days. Of course, I felt like I need to eat more in order to feel satiated because plant-based diet, in general, is less energy-dense than meat-containing diet. By the end of my one-week challenge, I told myself that if it doesn’t hurt and I can make it a sustainable lifestyle, why not give it a try.

One of my easy go-to dish is this sun dried tomato basil pesto pasta!

I did a lot of research on vegan recipes and meal plan. First few things that came up were chickpea-based menus like soup, hummus, falafel or salad. Even though I do like these foods, it’s not what I enjoy to eat all the time. After a couple of weeks in, I realized that key to a sustainable dietary change is to find what I like to eat so I went back to my ground. I came from Thailand and if you’ve ever tried Thai food, you know cooked rice is our food staple. In addition to rice, I like to add quinoa or some beans into my rice cooker. This way I add some more protein to my diet. I then started to look up for vegan Thai recipes which were actually easy to find. Sometimes, I would simply cook the same dishes as when I was eating meat but substitute meat with tofu. As I progress, I expanded my cooking repertoire to Korean, Chinese and Mexican foods.

Thai noodle 

The message I wanted to convey here is not to convert you to be a vegan but to persuade you to step out of your comfort zone or from what you think things should be. Try it for yourself and make a decision from there. You might discover a more pleasant path in your life. This applies to different aspects of life, not just about your food choices. I had been told my whole life that I need to eat meat and dairy in order to stay healthy. This statement is true but it is not the only absolute way to stay healthy. I have been living on plant-based food sources for almost two years, feel stronger than ever and am also training for my first marathon which would be on November 4th.

If you want to follow my journey on plant-based lifestyle, health, and grad student life, find me on Instagram @poomponyo.

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Jessica Eisma photo

PhD student Jessica Eisma impacts African dams

PhD student Jessica Eisma has completed a one-year project studying sand dams in Tanzania.

In 2016, Eisma was awarded a pair of prestigious research grants — totaling more than $45,000 — from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and the U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program to study the ecological impact of sand dams in Tanzania. She flew to Africa in August 2016 to begin her study, which is the basis for her doctoral thesis.

Eisma, whose focus is in hydrology, investigated the ecological impacts of three sand dams in collaboration with researchers from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology.

In semi-arid regions of the world, sand dams are useful for capturing and storing rainwater into the dry season. The water is used for domestic or agricultural purposes, saving women and children up to three hours each day normally spent collecting the family’s water.

Her research aims to develop an understanding of how sand dams influence both the physical and biological changes that occur after a sand dam is constructed. Preliminary results indicate that a typical sand dam actually has a much smaller impact on groundwater levels than previously believed. Studies thus far have largely been performed on the “ideal” sand dam, when in reality up to 60% of sand dams are silted and therefore non-functioning. Furthermore, Eisma has found little to no trace of macroinvertebrate life in sand dams, hinting that sand dams do not create a suitable habitat.

This research is particularly important, because NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly building sand dams, yet few field studies have been conducted to understand the greater impacts of these structures. Eisma says, “As civil engineers, we are constantly addressing the consequences of decisions made when certain concepts were still largely misunderstood. In a similar vein, I hope my research helps illuminate both the positives and negatives of sand dams before over-development occurs.”

Eisma also worked closely with local community water groups to achieve her research objectives. Volunteers from the community were trained by Eisma to take daily measurements of climate data and water table depth as well as bi-weekly erosion measurements. The volunteers will continue collecting data until Eisma returns to Tanzania in December 2017 for a two week data validation trip.

About her year in Tanzania, Eisma says, “The challenges were definitely greater and different from what I was expecting, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and conduct research in Tanzania. This experience has been irreplaceable in terms of developing cross-cultural competence and refining my scientific communication skills.”

Eisma plans to pursue a professorship at a research university after completing her PhD at Purdue.