When times grew dark in Middle-earth, Gandalf assembled a widely assorted company. Each was chosen for a reason, and each was crucial to the success of the group. While our project descriptions didn’t mention nearly as much dragon gold as Tolkien dropped into the mix, my heart is already overflowing with the way our band of nineteen is starting this journey.
I am pretty familiar with the LAKES REU project. As a Menomonie resident, I’ve been impressed by the research done previous years, charmed by the intelligence and enthusiasm of the incoming researchers, and gotten a peek behind the curtain to see how much time and energy the mentors pour into these eight-week projects. Going into it as a student, I already knew that I was stupidly lucky. Out of all the REU program sites in the country, the one I would choose above all others happens to be located right in my back yard. My expectations were high, not just personally, but because I understand the potential impact on the town I love.
And I do love Menomonie. I grew up near here, traveled awhile, and came home to discover how years away had changed the community and my space within it. My history is already woven into the land and the people that make up this tiny chunk of the world, and this week I had the humbling privilege of meeting twelve new people tying threads of their lives to my home. I was expecting smart, compassionate fellow researchers. I was expecting generous, brilliant mentors. I was expecting to see citizens involved and passionate about making positive change. I was expecting adventure… of the deep and nerdy research-y kind.
Week one, I got just that. Our mentors laid the groundwork, getting us acquainted with the programs we’ll be using while leaving room to develop a research focus that we can really dig our teeth into. We attended meetings that highlighted not only the individual interests of the stakeholders but the respectful way multiple groups are working together towards common goals. There was pizza.
I know this place isn’t the Shire- it’s not all music in the park, and homemade ice cream and pink sunsets over the lake. But sometimes, it is those things, and those things are worth fighting for. Whether the darkness creeping across the land is complacency, or environmental degradation, or socioeconomic divisions- no one can fight it alone. And we don't have to.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring