Rebecca Lippitt '19 majored in geology at Union, where her favorite class was “Natural Disasters” with Professor John Garver and her favorite experience was thesis fieldwork in the Three Sisters Wilderness near Bend, Ore., with Professor Holli Frey. Originally from Albany, N.Y., she lives in Newport, R.I., where she is a Ph.D. student in marine geology at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.
How did you find Union and why did you choose to attend?
Being from the Capital Region, Union was always right in my backyard. I had originally wanted to go away from the area for college, but my mom convinced me to apply to Union at, quite literally, the final hour because she was adamant it would be a good fit. I was accepted into the Scholars Program and attended an overnight visit where I fell in love with the campus. I knew that I wanted to spend my next four years at Union and the rest is history.
Who were your mentors and how important was their guidance?
Dr. Holli Frey of the Geology Department was instrumental in helping me grow as a scientist. As my thesis advisor, she pushed me to think critically and creatively about my research and crafted opportunities for me to hone my skills on the technical side of things (sample prep, microanalysis, clean lab work) as well as in areas like scientific writing. I really loved the experience of working on my thesis, and that ultimately led to my decision to pursue a graduate degree.
Students often feel pressure to do well in college. Did you feel any particular pressure?
I had always excelled in school and obviously wanted to continue that into college. It did, however, take time for me to adjust to the workload and realize that I didn’t have to be academically perfect. No one is. I was the one putting pressure on myself to succeed when my family, the people I wanted to impress the most, already viewed me as a success for getting to where I was and finding a topic of study that I was passionate about.
Where did you feel most seen on campus? Most invisible?
I felt very seen in the classroom at Union. My classes were usually on the smaller side and so the interactions I was able to have with my professors and peers felt more conversational and that style of learning really worked for me. I think it made it easier for professors to see where I, as well as my classmates, needed more help or clarification while also highlighting our strengths and interests. This information was often taken into consideration and helped to tailor the learning experience to the individual, and so I really feel like I was able to get the most out of my classes. I’m very fortunate in that I never really felt invisible at Union, and I know that’s not the case for everyone. To me it seemed hard to be invisible when you run into someone you know everywhere you go. I enjoyed that aspect of campus life because I was never lonely, there was always someone to grab a meal or study with.
Have you provided any mentorship yourself, academically or otherwise?
At Union, I served in a few different mentorship roles. The summer before my sophomore year, I volunteered with Writing Our Communities, a Davis Projects for Peace grant program. I mentored local high school students in a four-week summer program to help them improve their writing and strengthen their sense of identity through storytelling and connection to their community. A multi-workshop program during the school year was also held at the Schenectady Public Library, where I assisted in editing the same students’ college application essays. In my time at Union, I was also an appointed tutor for the geology department. I helped students in both introductory and upper-level geology courses by hosting weekly office hours, establishing individual and group study plans and skills, and peer-editing lab reports and final poster projects. I was also active in my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, where I served as a new member educator from 2018-2019. My partner and I were responsible for organizing and executing a safe and productive new member education program for about 40 women in collaboration with our executive board and international headquarters. My favorite part of this process was being able to get to know our new members on a more personal level and be someone they trusted and could come to with questions or for advice, or just be a friendly face around campus.
What made you click? Where did you find your niche? What experience made you feel like you belonged at Union?
I came into Union undecided about what I wanted to do with my future, like so many others, but was adamant that science was not my path. Spring semester of my first year, I took Professor John Garver’s “Natural Disasters” course to satisfy my science (with a lab) gen-ed requirement – in hopes to never set foot in a lab ever again. Much to my surprise, everything clicked in my mind from the scientific concepts to the fieldwork, and most importantly, to the societal implications of the research we were doing. At the end of the term, Garver asked if I’d be in his class the coming fall and followed up by saying he’d be happy to be my academic advisor. From that point on, I was a geology major. Finally feeling confident in the decision regarding my academic pursuits, I was able to settle into the department where everyone welcomed newcomers with open arms. The map room quickly became a second home.
Do you feel your Union experience differed from that of your peers? If so, how?
In general, I don’t think my Union experience differed all too much from other students. I will say though, my parents were always really excited by all the activity happening on campus and encouraged me to try new things and go to events as much as possible while I was there. You know, do the things they had never gotten a chance to do. And so, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity the campus handed to me, whether it was attending the Next Step Social Justice Retreat, going abroad, and anything in between. I always appreciated the variety of activities people organized and the hard work it took to plan those things out. In that respect, I think that I may have had a little more encouragement compared to other students to really explore and tap into all that the campus community had to offer.
Were there any particular programs or people at Union who really made a difference to you, either academically or personally?
As mentioned above, the Geology Department made my experience at Union incredible. I enjoyed every minute of it, from the fieldwork and camping trips to late night exam study sessions in the map room. I also want to shout out the dance community at Union. I took classes and participated in hip hop club throughout my time there. Every instructor and student leader that I came across cultivated a warm, positive environment where anyone could go to learn, be creative, and release any stress they were feeling in a fun, productive way. Lastly, I can’t express how much I value the friends I made at Union. Each of them has helped me grow in a tremendous way, all while showing unconditional love and support for me and my recent life decisions. These are the people that I can’t see my life without at this point and I’m so thankful to have met them at the U.