Balancing Act follows four Knox students to discover how they deal with the stresses of academic and extracurricular life at Knox.
One would not expect freshman Marcus McGee, an International Relations major who cannot wait for a Model U.N. debate on Palestinian statehood, to be interested in fashion. Yet McGee will spend the next two weekends in Chicago and Milwaukee at modeling gigs.
For McGee, the combination of politics and modeling is a natural one, combining two of his passions: power and beauty.
“I devote a significant amount of time to … power studies: knowing the world around me and being able to manipulate it,” he said. “The fashion world has kind of occurred in a vacuum outside of sociopolitical discourse.”
McGee began modeling in high school when his best friend, a digital editor, introduced him to ModelMayhem, which he described as “LinkedIn for models.”
“I generally just built up my own little network of designers and photographers,” he said. “One photographer who really got me started was Aza Azunia … she really respects the models she works with and asks for their input.”
McGee has appeared on several websites and in a couple magazine ads, but he is not interested in pursuing modeling as a career. This summer, he hopes to secure an internship at an embassy in Latin America or at CHB International, which provides outsourcing services for organizations such as Amnesty International.
For now, modeling remains a hobby and a good source of income.
“I paid for my [text]books with that money, and it helps with living expenses,” he said.
McGee’s modeling income also helps defray the cost of tuition, which he partially pays for himself.
“Loans were a change of paradigm for me because it really meant this was my debt,” he said. “It’s for my sake that I do or don’t do well.”
This approach has worked well for McGee, who enjoys taking initiative in his classes.
“I detest busy work,” he said. “I took my midterm for Existentialism and it was basically just knowing the material and writing about it. That’s the kind of class I like.”
Taking initiative sometimes means spending many hours in the Gizmo, but McGee prefers this to holing himself up in the library.
“I cannot bear to sit still when I’m studying,” he said. “The Gizmo’s a great place because you can take a break and have a nice conversation … and then go back to work. It’s a more organic way of doing things.”
Overall, McGee puts his current stress level at a five on a scale of one to 10.
“I have a process I undergo every…term,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing horribly because there are no tests or other work to gauge how you’re doing. Then midterms come, and I do nominally well and feel better about my classes. Then finals come, and I pull 20-hour days in the Gizmo.”
McGee’s focus on academics has made him fit in well to the student culture at Knox, he said.
“I had an epiphany when I looked at the Dean’s List and saw 200-300 names,” he said. “There’s a dedicated student body here.”
Six weeks into the term, sophomore Mackenzie Steward-Snook is still recovering from the pneumonia she caught on her second day back from spring break. However, she keeps a positive outlook.
“For a while there, it was a little rocky, but now I feel that my workload has lessened even though we’re going into midterms,” she said. “I’m able to enjoy my classes more.”
Steward-Snook’s Creative Nonfiction Workshop has quickly turned from terrifying into her favorite class.
“You’d think that a class from 7:30 to midnight would be, oh my God, I have to go to class, but … the people are awesome and it’s a great environment to work in,” she said.
Steward-Snook is currently working on a story drawing on her own life experiences that will be workshopped in a few weeks.
“While having a class like this, I have so much more to write about,” she said.
In the coming weeks, Steward-Snook will continue to develop her portfolio in addition to preparing for exams in BIO 210: Introduction to Research and BIO 130: Molecular Biology and Genetics, elevating her stress level to a seven.
“This term is a little bit harder than I expected and I think it’s mostly due to being sick and also BIO 210 being a little more time-consuming and intense than I thought it would be,” she said.
BIO 210, an introductory research course, is designed to expose biology students to experimental methods used to conduct scientific research. The class requires several experiments, research projects and presentations, which Steward-Snook says are not her forte.
“I have anxiety about the presentations,” she said. “My midterm [for BIO 210] is on statistics and … stuff I don’t understand very well.”
Steward-Snook is also putting in extra work for Alpha Sigma Alpha, choreographing the sorority’s dance for the Greek Week Talent Show along with fellow sophomore Megan Lee. She also serves on the sorority’s committee for their formal, which is this Saturday. These commitments, she said, have taken precedence over her position as Vice President of Alumnae and Heritage.
“I anticipate in the next week or so, my position will become more … prominent in my everyday life,” she said.
Still, as she recovers from her illness, Steward-Snook is finding time to perform well academically while enjoying free time with her friends.
“Now that I’m caught up, I’m finding I have more time to sit and watch a movie with a suitemate, so that’s really nice,” she said. “My life is busy but not ridiculous or super stressful.”
For junior Sam Lewis, spring term has flown by.
“Is it week six already?” he asked. “Wow. Adulthood is coming up so fast.”
Lewis has kept busy with both classes and rehearsals for the many ensembles in which he participates. This weekend, two bands to which he belongs—The Funky Funky Freaks and Prem—will be performing at Knox’s Lincoln Fest Music Festival. Next weekend, the Knox Jazz Ensemble will present its spring concert. And every Thursday night, the Cherry Street Combo brings jazz to McGillacuddy’s Restaurant.
Despite the amount of preparation Lewis has done for these events, he supports even more rehearsal time.
“I feel like with some groups, we don’t have enough rehearsal time,” he said. “[That] would take up even more of my time, though. I don’t know if I have the time to give.”
The success of the Cherry Street Combo, Lewis said, illustrates how more rehearsal time pays off.
“Even if you do the bare minimum, it’s like five hours a week,” he said. “We continually raise the bar for ourselves and we either fail to meet it or meet it and just jack it up. It can be stressful when everybody has such high standards, but it’s still rewarding.”
Lewis is more stressed about the Knox Jazz Ensemble, which has had about a month and a half to put together its spring concert from scratch.
“There are a lot of new people in the band,” he said. “It’s not a really familiar dynamic yet and I feel it’s affected our performance as a group the entire year. We haven’t held ourselves to the standards that we’re capable of.”
Outside of ensembles, Lewis spends little time practicing on his own aside from doing hand techniques for drumming in his room. Mostly, he spends time on academics.
“This weekend, I was sick … Today, I’m trying to catch up on all the reading I’ve gotten behind on,” he said. “I have a midterm for Baroque Art and Architecture coming up this Wednesday that I need to catch up on a bunch of readings for.”
Jazz History continues to be relatively easy for Lewis and Music History II, while challenging, is a challenge he welcomes.
“It’s so interesting that I’m okay with it,” he said.
Right now, Lewis’ stress level is at about a six, he said.
“This term is a little harder than I expected,” he said. “I guess when I was thinking about what kind of challenge to prepare for, I was thinking in terms of my classes and forgot to account for other ensembles sucking up my time.”
Despite all that he has to do, he is excited for Flunk Day, which will provide a welcome interruption to his busy schedule.
“For the past couple years, I haven’t gotten up until noon,” he said. “I’ll get up this year, but I’m still not going in the f-cking mud pit.”
Even though she only has a month left at Knox, senior Ari Timko is still going strong.
“I have my cap and gown hanging up on the inside of my closet door,” she said. “Every morning when I wake up and get dressed, they stare me in the face.”
Lately, Timko’s activities have been winding down. Officer transitions for the Student Health Advocacy Group (SHAG) and training a team of new presenters for the BE Active workshops mean that her extracurricular responsibilities are lessening, but she remains busy with her academics.
“When I work at the switchboard, all I do [between calls] is homework,” she said.
Timko’s classes remain demanding, yet she enjoys her work. Last week, her Developmental Psychopathology class put what they had learned into action, observing developmentally disabled adults at the Knox County Center for the Developmentally Disabled.
“Instead of just learning the symptomatology of disorders, we’re applying it to case studies and research examples,” Timko said.
Although Timko has not had any midterms, she knows her work is far from lightening up.
“Not having midterms is lucky now, but when the final’s cumulative for the entire term, I may regret saying that,” she said.
When asked where her stress level was on a scale of one to 10, Timko said she was at about a six.
“I think a six to a seven is where I operate most efficiently,” she said. “I need a motivational amount of good stress. I need to be structured with my time.”
Compared to last term, Timko’s stress level is much more manageable, she said.
“My senior research is done and I was doing that in addition to having three courses each term,” she said. “Not having that hanging over my head is very relieving.”
This weekend, Timko will be presenting her research, which explored the effect of someone’s peak sexual experience on his or her capacity for person-based (as opposed to sex-based) attraction, at the ILLOWA Undergraduate Psychology Conference at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill.
“Finishing it was more stressful than presenting it [will be],” Timko said.
With the end of her senior research and Flunk Day coming up, the end of Timko’s time at Knox is approaching fast. It may take a while to sink in, though.
“What do you mean I’m not coming back?” she said. “It’s mind-boggling.”