Despite their prominence at the University of Delaware, super cool lab goggles, and the fact that everyone “oohs” and “ahs” when they say their major, I have never envied those students pursuing a degree along the lines of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, or Biochemistry.
That is, until one day, while I was slowly dying in the silent study lounge, a tall and distinguished-looking gentleman poked his head in the room.
“You know,” he opened with, “Sugar sharpens the brain. And as there is a lot of food out there; I hope you will do your duty in not letting it go to waste.”
Attention captivated, the other inhabitants of the room and I immediately abandoned our studies and followed this man into the main lounge. We were curious to see what he was referring to.
What awaited us was a literal feast for the eyes. Spread out on several tables we found a display that could cure any physical or emotional weariness we may have been experiencing. Oreos, Tostitos, salsa, potato chips, vegetable dip, candy corn, and more formed a spectacle of beauty. It was a gratifying sight for eyes that had been yearning for something more satisfying than the light of a laptop screen.
Malnourished college students that we are, we needed no further encouragement. We ravished the banquet, pausing in our chewing only long enough to murmur an expression of profound thanks to the man who had filled our stomachs and lifted our spirits.
The man was Dr. Burnaby Munson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and that would be my first encounter with what have been affectionately named, “Dr. Munson’s study breaks.” A tradition that began in 1979, these deliveries of edible encouragement on nights before big exams have become a staple of life in Russell.
“They’re the best part of the week at Russell, they give you something to look forward to, “ confirmed Honors student Claire Gollegly.
“They were first held on Friday nights in Dickinson, which was then the Honors Dorm,” Dr. Munson described in recalling the origins of this ritual. “They were meant to provide a social alternative to more common Friday night activities, so no actual studying was originally involved.”
After bemusedly remarking that Friday nights had predictably low turnouts, Dr. Munson explained that they were then moved to Tuesday nights, where they became more of the “study break” they are known as today.
Dr. Munson remembered the awkward hesitancy with which these breaks were first received, saying the dynamics were “amusing to watch.”
“None of the students wanted to be the first ones there,” he recollected.
Of course, this hesitancy has vanished entirely. Today, Honors students welcome the event with open arms.
“They make Wednesdays not so bad,” explained one such Honors student, Elizabeth Viersma. “They help get you through the week.”
The professor further elaborated that these study breaks essentially began as an extension of the sustenance he would provide during actual exams. “Exams were always in the evening and guaranteed to be long, the kids needed something to eat,” he reasoned.
When asked if providing food for tired test-takers is a common practice in his departments, Dr. Munson admitted he is one of the few that do.
He also opens this banquet to all of Russell, not just those students who will be taking his test the next day. For people like me, to whom talk of “optical properties of chiral nematic of liquid crystals” resembles an alien language, this has been a gift.
And so I issue a sincere thanks to Dr. Munson, whose visits to the lounges of Russell are much like visits from Santa Clause at Christmas time, and who always manages to cheer up study-weary Honors students with his sumptuous snacks.
Suddenly, majoring in a chemical science doesn’t sound so unappealing.