Hayley Palmore, a grad student in the School of Social Work and a shift supervisor at Amos Hall, said she used to love working for Starbucks, but recent changes have made it difficult for her to work for the store.
That’s why she’s choosing to unionize.
“’I’ve been working for Starbucks since like 2017, and I’ve just seen how all of the changes that have been made with the company have negatively impacted us as partners,” Palmore said. “I’ve seen how difficult it’s been to work for Starbucks. The working conditions have made it really hard to love the job, like I honestly used to really like it.”
The Amos Hall and Craig St. Starbucks locations formally petitioned to unionize on March 4. They are attempting to become the second location in Pittsburgh, and in the state, to unionize.
In a letter to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, workers at the locations noted issues they had with the company and were petitioning to unionize. The letter was signed by almost 60 employees — many of whom were students.
“We strongly feel as though corporate is not listening to us: they are cutting hours, failing to deal with concerns regarding upper management, and leaving us incredibly understaffed while we are facing unparalleled customer wait times,” the letter said.
According to The Pitt News, Sam Knapp, a shift supervisor at the Amos Hall Starbucks, saw that his employees’ wellness was deteriorating, so he decided to take action and sent a message to Workers United.
“There were just too many moments where I was definitely very fed up with Starbucks as a company and I had been seeing other stories and articles about other locations unionizing, and I just realized that it was time for us to do the same,” Knapp said.
“Partners who were considered to be full time were getting their hours cut from 40-to-35 to in the 20s. And that’s very stressful,” Palmore said.
Partners at both the Amos Hall and Craig Street locations are attempting to join Workers United, which represents 80,000 members in North America in the hospitality, manufacturing, apparel and textile industries. Workers United is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Many locations nationwide have unionized against the company, including stores in St. Paul, New York City, and even Pittsburgh. According to @SBWorkersUnited on twitter, Starbucks has run anti-union campaigns and has even gone to close stores attempting to unionize and fired a group of union partners called the “Mephesis Seven.”
“I started researching all that was happening with the first stores in Buffalo, they were unionizing and I really learned how important it is to use your voice,” Palmore said.
Workers at Amos Hall will decide if they want to unionize on May 6. Ballots were sent to eligible employees on Apr. 21 and will be collected and tallied on May 6.
According to Loribel Encarnacion, politics and philosophy ‘24, an employee at Starbucks said showing your support to the employees when you order is important. While Encarnacion works at the Starbucks on Forbes and Atwood, she sometimes is asked to work at the Amos Hall location.
“Even if people aren’t involved, I think they should try to support workers in any way possible to better support the system,” Encarnacion said. “The more voices who speak about these problems, the more helpful it becomes to those who are suffering the after effects of the pandemic.”
It’s important to note the unions are being formed by younger workers and predominantly women. More than 70% of Starbucks employees are women and 48.2% BIPOC.
Many labor experts attribute this growing number of female union workers to the growing rate of women in leadership roles in social justice movements.
“Who are the major grass-roots organizers right now? They’re women, nonbinary people, queer women, and people of color, particularly women of color, if you look at the social movements spectrum,” Eileen Boris, a professor studying feminism and labor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told the Washington Post.
I remember hearing about the kids at school who had ADHD. It was the kids who would bounce their legs and tap the desk, and it was the kids who were always in the principal’s office. Later on in life, I realized that I was a kid with ADHD, except I didn’t bounce my leg and tap the desk, and I was rarely in trouble. Instead, I had trouble finishing large projects I started, and an internal, constant sense of nervousness or anxiety, which are both still present today. I have issues thinking before speaking and extreme issues with organization, both physical belongings and my own thoughts.
But these weren’t and still aren’t the common behaviors associated with kids with ADHD, so it wasn’t as recognizable. There’s another problem, too: I’m a girl. Statistically, it is more likely for boys to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD than girls, at 12.5% and 5.6% diagnosed, respectively. Research shows that girls tend to present their symptoms in different ways, as was previously mentioned, therefore leaving many cases in girls and women to go undiagnosed.
“Being late to things was something I was notorious for last semester, and I’ve heard it’s a big thing for people with ADHD,” junior media and professional communications major Lexi Natale said when describing certain things she deals with on a daily basis because of her ADHD.
Natale also mentioned that adjusting to watching professors on Zoom presented difficulties. Because she had been used to speeding up a lecture video to 2x speed to account for her focus issues, listening to a lecture in real time posed issues, she said.
Personally, I remember being on the phone with my past therapist last February and describing some of the issues I was having at the time. I had semi-recently gone back to school to begin the Spring semester, which is always most difficult for me due to seasonal depression. I stopped and waited for a response, in which he simply smiled behind the phone and said, “has anyone ever told you that you have ADHD?” I obviously told him no, and my first thought was, “don’t only little kids have that?” This misconception is, of course, incorrect.
He proceeded to send me a self-evaluation called the Amen Screening, titled, “Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Checklist,” which went through 77 specific behaviors commonly associated with ADHD in adults. He said it was inclusive to women, as well, who usually exhibit different behaviors than men. A few of these behaviors include:
Lacks attention to detail, due to distractibility
Frequently misplaces things
Tendency to be easily bored (tunes out)
Has to be moving in order to think
“More than 20 items with a score of three or more indicates a strong tendency toward ADHD,” it says at the bottom of the document. When I calculated my score, it came to 37 having a score of three or more. Later, a doctor confirmed my past therapist had probably been right.
This was the first time I had thought about attributing any of my problems to having ADHD, or even experiencing behaviors of ADHD. I didn’t exactly have issues associated with hyperactivity, which was the main behavior I had commonly associated with ADHD. However, I quickly learned that “not being able to calm down” or “being crazy” were a few of the false assumptions I had about what ADHD was.
“I never realized I had it until a year ago whenever my friends would consistently ask me if I had it. Then I just started to notice it a lot more,” junior at Muskingum University Ryan McKee said in reference to his ADHD. “I used to think I was just a bad listener, or genuinely bad at learning.”
Over the past eight years, ADHD diagnoses are up more than 30%, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America report. This finding suggests that more than 10% of children in the U.S. likely suffer from ADHD, and that’s not considering those who go undiagnosed. According to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 9.4% of children in the U.S., or 6.1 million, have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Dana Fishkin, a junior urban studies major, wasn’t diagnosed until she was 15 years old.
“Time management is really difficult for me,” Fishkin said, “which also means I have a hard time with prioritizing tasks from anything like laundry and grocery shopping, to homework and self care.”
Fishkin continued to explain the other aspects of her daily life that are hindered due to her ADHD and how the pandemic has also affected her.
Although those with ADHD may suffer more often than others from a term earmarked during the pandemic as “Zoom fatigue,” there are ways to increase focus and concentration when it may be difficult. I often find myself fidgeting and unable to stay still, so fidget toys and stress balls are a great alternative that can be easily used when conducting meetings over Zoom.
Fishkin also mentioned a few things she does to increase her focus and attention at home. She said she uses reminders on her iPhone, as well as google calendar to remember her various responsibilities throughout the day. She also said she uses whiteboards “to make separate to-do lists in different colors. I also try to keep chores to a weekly schedule so that it’s almost second nature.”
Natale also mentioned that she’s been trying to improve her time management skills by getting ready “30 minutes to an hour before I actually have to be ready, that way I won’t be late.”
So what else can those who suffer from ADHD do to increase productivity and attention when it might be difficult? Using reminders and installing calendars on your phone/laptop to get alerts when something needs done is something that’s helped me a lot. These methods were also mentioned by both Fishkin and Natale as being helpful for them. For those with ADHD, as much organization as possible is key.
In our ever-changing and chronically-online world, it’s more important than ever for those who suffer from issues with inattention and/or hyperactivity to use advice such as this to improve daily struggles. Suffering from ADHD is something that a lot of people have to deal with. Getting a diagnosis can be a positive thing for many, and can mean gaining back that control we so desperately yearn for.
College is overwhelming. That’s an overused statement. But it is an overused statement because the feeling is true. Transitioning from a kid into a young adult, pleasing your professors, but trying to maintain a social life? It can feel as if your head is constantly up in the air.
My remedy for this phenomenon: visiting museums. Particularly the Carnegie Museum of Art on 4400 Forbes Avenue. The museum is nestled right in the middle of Pitt and Carnegie Mellon and welcomes you right in with a grand open entrance. Walking amongst pieces of work grounds me because I only have to focus on two things—myself and the thoughts that arise when I look at the pieces. However, when I speak to my friends about this meditative activity, the majority of them are turned off by the sheer thought of going to a museum. They presume that it will be a bore or that they just don’t have the capacity for deciphering a canvas painted abstractly.
I think what makes art museums daunting is how it allots you space to be alone in your thoughts. “How Looking at Art Can Help Your Brain” written by the University of Arizona staff reports that “each time you look at a piece of art, your brain is working to make sense of the visual information it’s receiving. From highly lifelike portraits to abstract collections of rectangles, looking at art stimulates the brain and puts our innate knack for organizing patterns and making sense of shapes to use.” (University of Arizona). Perhaps, the mind’s process of interpreting a piece of art contradicts with the million other responsibilities and deadlines running through people’s heads. This can be daunting. How do you make sense of an abstract canvas when you are also trying not to think of the eight page paper you have been putting off? I suggest looking towards a specific exhibit.
If you make your way to the end of the main art galleries, you can see a bonus one through the glass of the exit door. It is the exhibition in Bruce Galleries titled Extraordinary Ordinary Things. Walk across the marble stairs and into the exhibition. You are greeted with the smell of wood and a wall of chairs to your right. It is both fascinating and familiar. Extraordinary and ordinary.
The exhibit consists of more than 300 objects “spanning some of the most significant design developments of the past three centuries, the works on view offer boundless inspiration and endless possibilities for functional design for visitors to learn about, consider, and enjoy,” According to the Carnegie Museum of Art website.
If you make your way deeper into the room, objects you would find at your home are displayed like at a much-more-organized antique store. They range from a simple stool to extravagantly designed glass lamps. There is also a chronology to the exhibit as it shows the development of carpentry and design over the years. The museum website explains that “many people’s relationships to their homes and the objects within them take on increased relevance and deeper meaning, this timely and dynamic exhibition showcases all facets of material and product design.” (Carnegie Museum of Art).
When I revisited the exhibition to refresh my memory, I found this statement to be true. I happened to go during what seemed like a school’s “bring a parent to the art museum” day. There were more people than usual, and middle schoolers paired with a parent roamed the halls.
In the Extraordinary Ordinary Things exhibit, I observed something especially interesting. Visitors were spending more time investigating each piece. They would spend long moments at the displays, discussing and chuckling under their breath with each other.
Research from Art Critique shows that “the average person spends just over 27 seconds looking at a great work of art.” Only 27 seconds is still longer than what I have heard of typically 10 seconds. That day, people were mesmerized or having full on conversations about the work in front of them.I was fascinated with seeing how intrigued people were with these ordinary objects.
The wall of chairs is not some random collection of a 3-D shape we consider sittable. It is a curated attention grabber for visitors. It asks us to consider, what constitutes a chair? How do we know it is a chair? How were these chairs crafted? These questions that come up challenge our assumptions and allow us to understand how we perceive day to day life. Now what if we replaced the word “chair” with “art”? What constitutes art? How do we know it is art? How was this art crafted? It is the same concept, but with a more abstract medium.
I believe that the Extraordinary Ordinary Things is a space that allows people who may be initially turned off by art museums to warm up to the idea. Utilizing familiar objects, that also require skilled artistry, people can more readily see their reflection in the piece. Something that can calm the mind on any given day. From an avid museum goer to you, I highly recommend utilizing the free pass into the Carnegie Museum of Art (or any Pittsburgh museum) and experience the exhibit yourself. Just remember the museum does not open on Tuesday.
The exhibition is curated by Rachel Delphia, Alan G. and Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Jane A. Lehman alongside Alyssa Velazquez the Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design at the museum. More information can be found here.
Finals season is upon us. Students can be seen bustling from building to building through the blustery April weather, going from class to class. One individual steps out of their 4 p.m. physics class, their eyelids drooping over their bloodshot eyes. They shuffle through their bag for their notebook as they head toward the library to study for their upcoming final. This is their second day straight without sleep, and they have forgotten dinner again.
As we head into the most stressful point of the semester, so many things can be overlooked, especially mental health. Hobbies, physical activity, and other aspects that contribute to mental wellness are pushed to the side as students focus intensely on academics.
As a result of this ongoing, ever-increasing amount of work that is put on students, it’s almost inevitable that stress evolves into burnout. However, since everyone experiences life differently, how can we pinpoint what burnout truly is?
To try and answer this question, several University of Pittsburgh students shared what their experience with burnout was like. Not surprisingly, their experiences were further supported by outside research and surveys.
When asked to rank their level of burnout on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most burnt out, several students smiled and laughed nervously. Most students ranked their level over 5 with some students even going to 10. Their symptoms varied widely, but all the students I spoke with reported some form of harm or deterioration to their wellbeing.
Second-year psychology student Naomi said she can tell she is burnt out because of her motivation to do work. She completes it to “get it over with,” rather than because she actually wants to. She “doesn’t want to have to deal with it.”
First-year political science student Kelsey reported similar symptoms, with low motivation and high procrastination levels as the semester reaches its climax. Many students also reported that they do not have time to take care of themselves or their wellbeing, such as second-year Emergency Medicine student Adam claiming that his “sleep schedule is out of sync.” (To respect their privacy, all student names were kept anonymous.)
Psychology Today defines “burnout” as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” However, burnout is not the same as being overworked; symptoms characteristic of burnout include “physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of dread about work, and frequent feelings of cynicism, depression, anger, or irritability.”
In fact, a 2021 survey conducted by Ohio State University stated that the amount of college students who have experienced burnout rose from 40% in August 2020 to a concerning 71% in April 2021. Psychology Today also found that, if ignored for long enough, burnout can lead to a “mountain of mental and physical health problems…including headaches, fatigue, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as increased potential for alcohol, drug, or food misuse.”
The potential for more serious problems rears its ugly head with prolonged bouts of burnout. According to the same 2021 survey, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse levels have also increased from 2020 to 2021, albeit in smaller intervals:
Students who screened positive for anxiety rose from 39% to around 43%
Students who screened positive for depression rose from 24% to 28%
Eating unhealthily as a coping mechanism rose from 25% to 29%
Use of alcohol rose from 15.5% to 18%
Use of tobacco/vaping rose from 6% to 8%
Physical activity dropped from 35% to 28%
Another question still stands: how do we deal with burnout and prevent bigger issues from occurring? From interviews with students, it seems that self-care is essential.
All the students I spoke with reported physical activity and exercise as a favorite method of self-care. With the days getting warmer, spending time outside is a de-stressor that is becoming more available; one can see hundreds of students relaxing on the lawns and in the parks, as well as studying and working in the Schenley Quad and other public spaces.
Other students reported organization as an important tool to lower stress. Things such as making a schedule, making a to-do list, and working in small segments help students to manage their time and make time for taking care of themselves. Along with self-care, experts state that strengthened coping skills can help students fight against severe burnout and mental illness.
For Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State, she says that “it is crucial that we arm students with the resilience, cognitive-behavioral skills and coping skills that we know are protective against mental health disorders.”
In response to this survey, Ohio State University and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are using the data from the survey to create and integrate programs and resources into the curriculum to help students prioritize their mental health.
“Students are often overloaded with their regular coursework,” Melnyk said. “So when they’re offered these wonderful programs they sometimes just see them as one more thing to do…by making them part of their classes and campus life and ensuring students know exactly where to go for help as they need it, we can really impact a lot more lives and give these students skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”
How does the University of Pittsburgh shape up when it comes to advanced mental health resources? As a student who has been through the University Counseling Center on multiple occasions, my experiences with the Center have admittedly been mediocre.
The experiences with counselors are very hit-or-miss; for example, one counselor I had seen was very open-minded and available whenever necessary, but another counselor eventually ended sessions with me and told me to seek other resources.
The counseling experience also takes a lot of time, with little reward.
The most one can get is a single session either weekly or biweekly. There seems to be little variety when it comes to availability, especially for students who may be struggling with more serious issues. Even if one is referred to off campus resources, the resources are often overbooked or not flexible with students’ schedules. Overall, the UCC seems resourceful on the surface, but in reality is seemingly ill-prepared for students who may be suffering from more serious issues.
While I would like to recommend the UCC as a resource, I believe it shouldn’t be one’s primary resource. There are a plethora of mental health-based organizations on campus that are run by faculty and students alike, such as Active Minds and the National Alliance on Mental Illness at Pitt (NAMI).
Additionally, there exists plenty of off-campus resources in Oakland and in Pittsburgh, as well as tele-therapy services. The more resources at your disposal, the better. You can also find counseling resources online based on location, specific issues, and healthcare provider.
Burnout seems to be a universal experience among college students — something which is both comforting and somewhat concerning. However, it is important to remember to prioritize health and wellness, and that you’re not alone. There are local and virtual resources that can help. With the right amount of self-care and resources at our fingertips, burnout and other bigger issues can be dealt with and, in some cases, even prevented.
As the end of the 2021-2022 academic year looms at the University of Pittsburgh and final’s week quickly approaching, students at Pitt are studying on campus now more than ever.
The Spring 2022 semester is only the second semester since classes returned to in-person status since the campus’ initial shutdown from COVID-19, and many students are now taking advantage of on-campus spaces to get their work done.
In addition, with masks now being optional just enacted this semester, this means students who would previously have been uncomfortable spending hours in a mask can now pass more time inside campus buildings.
Caitlin Aloisio, a junior psychology major, said when interviewed while studying in Posvar that she felt more comfortable studying on campus this year than last year, and so she does it more often.
“Last year all my classes were virtual, so I would usually just stay in my room,” Aloisio said. “And this semester my schedule has just been more rigorous, I guess, so I’m out of the house a lot more, so I usually study on campus.”
Some of the most popular places to study on campus are Hillman Library, Wesley W. Posvar Hall, and, of course, the Cathedral of Learning. These three buildings are so popular, in fact, that finding a place to sit can oftentimes take some time, though not for lack of space. There’s plenty of room in each, but they can definitely get crowded — especially at the end of the semester.
Still, these buildings remain favorites. Bob Zhang, a student enrolled in the Public Health master’s program for human genetics, enjoys studying in the Cathedral (affectionately dubbed “Cathy” by Pitt students over the years) in between and after classes.
“I commute from the Friendship area, so whenever I’m here in class, I just stay here,” said Zhang. “Every time I’m here, [I study for] like an hour or so on campus.”
Zhang also stated that he studies in the Public Health building occasionally, but the general preference for Pitt students seems to be in favor of Cathy. One student in Hillman Library also mentioned the Cathedral of Learning as another favorite study location.
“I study on campus pretty much all the time because I live off campus,” said Duerre Mueller, a junior majoring in social work. “I would say I just like it because it’s good to have home/school balance, I guess.”
Mueller also said that they find studying on campus more convenient than going back home in between every class, as well as less distracting. Aloisio added that she studies on campus four days a week for these exact same reasons.
“In between classes I don’t have time to run home and go to my room and study,” Aloisio said. “I have a hard time studying in my room because I feel like there’s more distractions there, so I’m more likely to stay focused on my work when I’m in a school environment.”
However, some on-campus study locations are better for this purpose than others. Though there are plenty of places to go for food and drink both on campus and within campus buildings, they don’t make for ideal study spots.
What about campus buildings that are distracting?
Mueller mentioned Starbucks.
“I never study there, because it’s really crowded.”
Aloisio said that she mainly studies in Posvar and Cathy, but that she finds noise distracting when studying on campus.
“It’s been a while since I studied in those noisy places because now I know to avoid them,” Aloisio said. “I used to go down and eat lunch in the basement of Cathy, and that was always super distracting for me.”
If a student wants to avoid crowds altogether, though, even Cathy, Hillman, and Posvar may not be the best option.
Hillman has four floors all of varying noise level, with the fourth and final floor being completely silent. It’s a great study spot with no distractions, but I personally don’t enjoy everyone turning to look when I unzip my backpack.
Many students stick to these three buildings — and the areas surrounding them outdoors such as Cathy Lawn and Schenley Plaza, when the weather permits — as study spaces, but they may not know that within the University of Pittsburgh’s campus are several hidden-gem study spots.
Corie Bocien, a senior majoring in Natural Scienes who spends about 10 hours a week studying on campus, finds Hillman Library — arguably the most common study spot on campus — is the most distracting one.
“I think I used it too much freshman and sophomore year,” Bocien said. “And especially with the construction going on it’s really loud and a lot of people aren’t really doing work.”
In terms of hidden gems, however, Bocien said that while she was studying in the O’Hara Student Center, she was the only student there on the second floor. Much like the other students, she enjoys the minimal distractions involved in studying on campus, and she likes studying in O’Hara specifically.
“These seats are comfortable,” Bocien said. “I like that there’s a little bit of background noise, but not usually too much.”
O’Hara is definitely an underrated on-campus study spot. There are cushioned chairs and tables on all three levels, and there’s always plenty of space with peace and quiet. However, almost no one makes use of it.
Cathy, on the other hand, is a favorite study spot among students that people rarely use to its fullest potential. If you’d rather not walk around aimlessly in search of a seat for a while and you’re willing to wait for the elevators, you might find more space and seclusion on the upper floors.
Floor 23 is a personal favorite of mine, and the seats there are much more comfortable than those on floors 1-3. Pitt students’ days of awkardly walking into full classrooms are over.
Bocien mentioned the William Pitt Union as her personal favorite ‘secret study spot.’ “The first or second floor of the Union has these comfortable seats with desks outside these random rooms,” Bocien said.
Outdoor study locations such as Cathy Lawn and Schenley Plaza almost always have space available, though this can depend on the weather. However, these locations can provide distraction, since students also use green spaces on campus to play sports and picnic as well as study.
One of my other personal favorite places to study is the plaza between Posvar and Hillman, but the limited number of tables and benches means that it can be tough to snag one at certain points in the day.
However, the tables behind Posvar — though a little more out of the way — provide a much more spacious and quiet study location. The benches located outside of the Foster Memorial on the Forbes side of Cathy are also a great space for students, especially on sunny days.
Whether you live in a dorm or not, campus buildings may very well be much less distracting than staying at home, but there are also plenty of more private on-campus study spaces you can take advantage of if you’re just willing to look.
Humanity—it’s a word we use to describe our innate ability for love, compassion, and the arts—but when did humans actually develop these characteristics? Did it begin with our logical, rational brains, developed once the gift of our opposable thumbs helped our ancestors to make spearheads? Travel back in time to the Paleolithic era, where we see the first instance of what we would recognize as art made by our ancient human ancestors on cave walls. Paleontologists and ancient anthropologists alike argue over the theory of what sparked modern human behavior. What was the start of humanity as we know it, and why does our perception of humanity seem to be changing?
When I began college, I knew where my passions lied. I loved writing, and I also loved chemistry and biological sciences. When it became time to choose my major, I mixed both of my interests. I became a writing major with a chemistry minor, and if I had a dollar for every time someone commented that my choice was “surprising,” I would be able to pay off my tuition by now. I placated myself by saying that I had mixed interests, and I was planning on becoming a medical or scientific writer, yet I knew in the back of my mind that it shouldn’t have been surprising. Why are we forced to cooperate in a limited scope of passions? Why is it so surprising to be studying both sciences and humanities? Why should we have to choose one?
We’re seeing a pattern in American society where people are becoming less compassionate, and will strive for their own personal gain. It’s not inherently bad to care about your future, but a social hierarchy in employment and careers can create disparities between jobs that are considered more “valuable” and “important,” leading to bias and putting others down for a chosen career path. People complain that we are just cogs in a never-ceasing machine. Our lives are filled with the humdrum of routine work. School and work are both just a means to an end, but to what end? College students everywhere may be realizing that hard work, determination, and this embedded strive for success may not be all that it seems.
But this pattern doesn’t just start in college.
From a young age, we’re told to have favorites, we’re told we’re either “good” at something or we’re not. We’re taught in early education that we have to pick a career. This mindset follows us through middle school, where we’re pressured to do well for high school. In high school, we’re forced to do well for college. In college, it gets more complicated. We’re obsessed with the idea of majors, yet we’re burdened by the financial responsibility of becoming adults. We’re told that every action and decision we make matters, and usually young adults have no choice but to choose financial stability and practicality while what truly makes them happy is forced to take a back seat. This pressure forces college students to believe they must choose science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers to achieve higher paying salaries in comparison to other career paths. In turn, choosing a major that is not of full interest can create an unhappy lifestyle. Others choose a job that may get them a high-paying salary, but is it what they truly want? The pressure to live the American Dream is embedded in all of us, but the reality is it might not be worth it. In fact, some college students are realizing the American Dream may not even exist. Instead of chasing after a false and idealized reality of their own future success defined by society, college students need to realize there is freedom to choose a custom path instead of a cookie-cutter mold.
In recent years, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has taken priority over humanities courses. STEM classes are valued highly in society, include more difficult technical application and content, and yield better job security after college as well as a higher paying salary. Although the world revolves around money, that does not mean money has to be the sole purpose of our lives. Humanities—such as literature, writing, history, philosophy, and music—earn the stigma of being useless and unproductive. This stigma has been growing for years and does not seem to be shifting, even though the humanities are vital parts of human nature, culture, health, and individuality. Participating in and de-stigmatizing the humanities does not require a whole career change, but can be supplemented and mixed with other passions for an overall more meaningful lifestyle.
Not all college students are forced to give up their creative passions for STEM. Some have found that combining both gives them an outlet to grow not only as individuals but as professionals. Biological sciences major Saikeerthana Chodavarapu is a 2022 senior at Pitt who is also earning Creative writing and Theater minors. After college, she will attend medical school. Chodavarapu said that her love for creative writing and theater have helped bridge the gap between healthcare and understanding.
“I got excited about the humanities, specifically in writing and theater, and what I like most about those both is that they force me to take on different perspectives,” Chodavararupa said. “I think it’s a really visceral way to get into the mind of someone else, especially going into healthcare. It’s really important because you will be interacting with so many different patients from different backgrounds.”
Chodavararupa also said that creative work helps her to better understand the intersectionality of a person’s life, which in turn can help her to provide thoughtful healthcare.
“It’s important to understand that their background is just as important to their treatment plan as are the symptoms that they’re showing. It [a person’s background] influences a lot of the types of treatments people can afford or what they’re allowed based on cultural values, whether it’s accessible to them. Understanding a person’s background is very important to healthcare.”
Not only is understanding different perspectives invaluable for patient understanding and empathy, but Chodavararupa also said that her love for the arts has helped her personal growth and communication with patients.
“I think I’ve always just loved people in general. I think the coolest thing about human existence is how common everyone’s experiences can be,” Chodavararupa said. “We all have these shared threads of emotion even if we don’t experience the same exact things, we all know what incandescent joy is, we all know what anxiety is like. Connecting with people based on those shared threads is the solution to so many things wrong with the world. Just trying to see more of yourself in other people and more of other people in yourself can solve a lot of problems.”
Another Pitt student, Gayatri Gupta-Casale, is a 2022 junior earning a Neuroscience major and Gender studies minor. Although she has a love for STEM, she also finds passion in the arts, specifically through dance. Gupta-Casale said that her path to public health would not be the same without her intersectionality with the humanities. By studying the humanities, she intends to gain a broader view of science and public health overall.
Gupta-Casale also emphasized that the humanities are inescapable when talking about policy, healthcare, and public health. She notes the importance of well-rounded interests in both humanities and STEM to improve communication.
“With public health, it’s broader and you get a lot of disciplines, so you get a lot more viewpoints. You can create more equitable policies in healthcare,” Gupta-Casale said. “I’m also doing a Global health certificate because it’s a good combination of health and humanities. We have writing and papers that are also health based, and it’s important to have a background in both so that you’re easily able to communicate with everyone.”
Gupta-Casale and Chadavararupa both exemplify what it means to break boundaries between STEM and the humanities. We, as humans, are able to compete with dual interests in our minds. Neither should we place emphasis on scientific brains or creative brains. There’s no such thing. There is only being human.
Although some people may be more adept at one subject, that does not equate to a lack of knowledge in the other. Science and writing are considered polar opposites, yet they have a lot in common. Both require analytical skills, complex concepts, attention to detail, application processes, as well as creativity and empathy. Science—healthcare especially—is dependent on writing because of the importance of written and verbal communication. In fact, the healthcare field has just as much writing and communication as any humanities class. Proper communication can be to explain concepts to patients, students, or the public. Having scientific knowledge is half of the battle, and the other half is translating this information in different mediums of communication and expression.
To communicate effectively, a strong degree of empathy and compassion is required. The people who cling to sciences and neglect humanities often have lower levels of compassion and empathy. In a medical setting, this lack of compassion can lead to a sterile, unwelcoming environment. However, the humanities can be helpful in strengthening communication skills and consequently our ability to be empathetic and compassionate. Furthermore, the humanities encourage us to practice creativity, which equates to better problem-solving skills.
The humanity debate has been tainted by the way society functions. We are encouraged to pick one desire and to follow it, but people forget that humans are not meant to pursue one goal, or one passion. Despite society’s growing trend to shame the humanities in favor of STEM, the world we live in will never truly be able to take the humanity out of individuals.
This article poses the question: where’s the humanity in STEM?
The answer, I believe, is in the current generation, and the future generations who help to break the barrier between STEM and humanities.
You’ve heard the debates about which fast food chain has the best fries, which gas station is better: Sheetz or Wawa, or even where to get the best pizza , but have you ever heard of the Oakland restaurant debate? Where are the best places to eat in Oakland, the home of the University of Pittsburgh, and what makes them so special?
Students from far and near at the University of Pittsburgh, depending on their own perspectives and opinions, had a lot to say about what restaurants were top-tier.
Restaurants in Oakland come in all different shapes and sizes. Take Bao, which is located on Atwood St., for example. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with amazing food, as described by Phoebe Appel, a junior majoring in legal studies.
“It’s like a secret little gift I forgot to open,” Appel laughed. “It’s so unsuspecting, but you go in and there’s tables, nice lighting, and a really great staff, too.”
Appel has studied at Pitt since August 2019, and only lived a short fifteen minutes from campus in Carnegie for the first 18 years of her life. However it was only by accident that she discovered her “new favorite restaurant,” as she described, when her mom chose it from a list on Google and said, “let’s go here.”
Ocha Thai, Appel said, is another hidden gem she recently discovered. Located beside Phat’s Bar on Semple St., Ocha Thai is the ideal destination after any night out, she said.
“I highly recommend the Pad See Ew and the Crab Rangoon. It’s my go-to order,” she said, smiling.
For other students, Roots is a top pick for those in a hurry. It’s also a top choice for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet, said first-year engineering major Isaac Ellis. After a rough week of demanding coursework as an engineering student, Ellis claims that Roots is his favorite place to chow down.
One of their signature bowls, called “The Apollo,” is made with brown rice and spinach as the base, and is topped with chickpeas, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, pita chips, feta cheese, chicken, and lemon za’atar dressing. A perfect combination of healthy ingredients, the Apollo is Ellis’ favorite bowl to get when he visits Roots.
Katelyn Osman, a junior education major, opts for the create-your-own feature at Roots, where she chooses a brown rice and spinach base and customizes it with chicken, corn, pita chips, and cheese.
“It’s definitely a staple for Pitt students,” Osman said. “People love it, and a few of my sorority sisters even work there.”
For others, there are a few more deciding factors that come into play when deciding where to eat on campus. For freshman psychology major, Maeve Sheehan, having a wide range of items on the menu and a reasonable price is important. Atarashi, she says, checks all the boxes for a customizable meal. However, when asked where she would take a friend who is visiting from out of town, she changed her answer.
Sheehan said Stack’d Burgers has the “quintessential Oakland vibe, and they have really good food. I’d probably go either there or Fuel and Fuddle.” Fuel and Fuddle is a restaurant just a few doors down from Stack’d on Oakland Ave. It’s also a popular pick, but among an older generation of students, particularly those who are old enough to enjoy a beer from their extensive draft list.
However, arguably the most famous and popular place to get food in Oakland is Frenchi’s Deli & Market, located on the 400 block of Atwood. Frenchi’s attests on multiple signs in their store that “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” There you can find a small market with items similar to those in a small grocery store such as assorted snacks, drinks, and pantry goods. And better yet, when you walk in and turn to your left, you’re met with a large deli counter where chefs create both off-the-menu and custom-made orders for students. Sometimes they cook as late as 3:00 a.m.
“Frenchi’s is definitely my go-to because it really just hits the spot after a night out,” said junior engineering major Lizzy Borchick. “If you don’t get ‘Le Frenchi’ when you go, then you’re just wrong. I love to add jalapenos to mine.”
Frenchi’s loyal following is evident through their Instagram, which has over 5,000 followers and almost 4,000 posts. Students are eager to stay up to date on their new items in stock and their famous wraps.
Another popular choice among Pitt students is Antoon’s Pizza, which is also located on the 200 block of Atwood St.
“[Antoon’s] is definitely the best. You can get a large pizza there for only $6. To me, you just can’t beat that,” junior media and professional communication major Brayden Tinney affirmed. Several other students also listed Antoon’s as the best place to go after a stressful day.
As far as Oakland restaurants, you truly can’t go wrong. Between amazing Asian cuisine restaurants such as Bao and Ocha Thai, sit-down and order-in restaurants like Stack’d and Fuel and Fuddle, and quick, on-the-go choices like Roots, there is something that satisfies everyone.
Students at Pitt, no matter their background or dietary restrictions, almost always find a place that they can rely on for a delicious meal. It turns out there isn’t just one place that outweighs the rest—dining in Oakland can be molded to you depending on the day you’re having, who’s in town, and how fast you need to be out the door.
You can all of the mentioned restaurants at the addresses listed below:
March 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, nearly 30 million people in the United States have contracted the virus and over half a million people have died from the virus, which is by far the most per country across the world.
However, as businesses begin to open and people begin spending their second batch of stimulus checks, I wanted to reflect on the past 365 days and see what we college students have learned.
I decided to talk to a few college students from different universities around the country and get their thoughts on how well their school is handling students on campus in flux, and what they can do better as a whole.
Although there were many people who dealt with the difficulties of the pandemic, it appears as though college students continue to get the raw end of the deal. With many of them returning to campus this past fall full of uncertainty — but teased with the prospect of in-person classes — they all will come flooding back to campuses across the country to put their school’s protocols to the test.
By and large, the University of Pittsburgh has mitigated the spread of the virus well, with random testing and capacity limits put into place all across campus. However, the decisions being made by the school during the pandemic appear to be a one-way street.
College students are often overlooked by administrators when it comes time to change the landscape around the school. At a time like this, it is not only important to keep students safe, but also to take their advice on how to make the college experience easier for them.
Sports have been able to get the rest of the American people through a very tough time during the summer and fall months; and ake our minds off the real world with an entertaining spectacle as such has been a huge relief to millions of people.
However, what I did do was reach out to an athlete to see how their experience during COVID may differ from a regular college student.
Jake Tyndale is a former high school friend and current Track & Field athlete at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina. I spoke to him about his thoughts on how smaller schools can be better at handling the ebb and flow of keeping their students safe on a daily basis.
Part of the luxury of attending a smaller school during the pandemic is the ability for in-person classes to start ramping up, and Tyndale, along with other students, was able to get back to a sense of normality in the classroom even when larger lectures still took place over Zoom.
He also is one of the lucky ones who was tested every Tuesday, but that jumped to three times during the week of a track meet. Jake was unlucky to have his roommate test positive, which led to both of them being quarantined.
When asked if he had to be tested after the conclusion of his 14-day quarantine period, the shocked look on his face soon transferred over to me.
“I thought so,” he said. “But they just told me I could go back to resuming normal activities.”
Although I am not a doctor, I certainly would not have recommended a school take this approach. When I asked what the school can do better, he gave the answer that every great student would.
“I would say sanitizing a lot of the stuff in the library,” he said.
I immediately followed up and wondered if it was the student’s responsibility to do.
“That’s what [the administration states],” he said. “But I also don’t see any wipes or anything to use.”
From what I gathered overall, though, it seems like Jake was fairly happy with the job Wingate had done with handling the pandemic, whether that be with capacity limits and mask-wearing.
After talking to Jake, I tried to get a differing perspective from my former high school track teammate and University of Tampa ROTC student, Hunter Kramer.
As Hunter wakes up every day in a state with arguably the loosest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, I thought he would be someone that could provide a bunch of insight on how a school handles the pandemic.
University of Tampa students were not required to supply a negative test before returning to campus for the fall semester. The school did require that the ROTC program space out the PT sessions across the week, so instead of the entire group meeting three times a week, they had hybrid sessions where half of the group would train every other day in the week in order to lower capacity, leading up to a Friday session where the entire group finally meets.
Hunter also provided very positive feedback when talking about the quarantine housing offered by the university, with a dorm room or an off-campus hotel to house those who had tested positive or came into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
I asked about what the school can do better in terms of making him more comfortable.
“I don’t know, because personally, I think the school has done everything right,” he told me. “And we’ve been getting praise for it.”
Not a shocking answer from someone who has been able to live relatively freely in a state that relies mostly on individual responsibility to combat the pandemic.
It’s always a weird situation when you’re approached with the different protocols that are put into place at a school other than the University of Pittsburgh. And with the numerous shifting of positions, I’ve heard that Thomas Soekinto, a junior here at Pitt, has called for a more open line of communication between students and board members.
“I think more transparency will be much appreciated, like how they decide on their positions [guarded or elevated],” he said. “I know it’s nice that they give us the emails with COVID updates and everything, but then to some people raw data doesn’t mean anything.”
This statement seems all the more relevant with the news that the University would be moving back to elevated risk as of 9 pm on March 31 because of the presence of the U.K. variant of the virus on campus.
And unlike many other students, Soekinto lives with his family nearby and is able to commute to campus without any hitches. However, he’s still a college student who would like to live a college experience without having to worry about his safety being a priority.
Regardless, I think many Pitt students share Thomas’ sentiments about the need for the University to be more open with its students. Perhaps if school administrators listened more actively to the experiences of their students, students would be more likely to believe that their college experience is being made safer and more comfortable.
Improved communication would also build bridges between students across the country. All of these benefits and more can be gained just by listening to students.
Dr. Kevin J. Slonka is a Professor of Information Technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. He previously taught at multiple universities in Western Pennsylvania and agreed to join us today to give an opinion and some insight on robotics and computer science in the local area. I spoke with him over Zoom about the incorporation of robots into everyday life, beginning steps with programming and robotics, and additional fields that could be taken into consideration.
Jared Gessler: So I’m with Dr. Kevin J. Slonka. What do you teach here at the school specifically?
Dr. Kevin J. Slonka: I’m an IT professor and my specialty is cybersecurity.
Gessler: Alright, sounds good. So, I have an interest in robotics and computer science. And for this class instead of writing a journal, I was given permission to do an interview. Just a quick one. And I figured I would just ask around for similar fields, such as IT, or maybe programming and just get some opinions on some of the questions we have today. So, to start off, have you had any previous experiences with robotics, either through your line of work or previous education?
Dr. Slonka: Personally, no, I’ve done nothing with robotics. The companies that I’ve worked for all have done it, but you know, being in cybersecurity, I was never involved in any other robotics work.
Gessler: Gotcha. Has any of it ever interested you? Or have you ever thought of getting into it?
Dr. Slonka: It’s interested me, yes. One of the companies that I work with right now, they were actually involved in getting the most recent Mars rover that just landed. They were involved in that. But knowing what it takes to get into robotics and how in-depth it is, it would be a complete shift in what I do for a living. I kind of decided, you know what, I’ll stay away from that.
Gessler: I could imagine. I mean it’s fun to see, but it’s a lot to really pick apart and yeah, get all the background, I get that. But lately, cities like Pittsburgh, and actually back in Fairfax, Virginia, they were starting to incorporate robotics into everyday lives. So, it’s becoming a more and more common thing. Often you see the Boston Dynamics Spots running around.
But Pittsburgh, and as I said, Fairfax, they started incorporating the little food delivery robots. Have you seen these?
Dr. Slonka: No, I haven’t seen those.
Gessler: Okay, so they’re little rovers. They’re white, and maybe only like two feet long. And they drive around the city. And when you order food, specifically at the schools, it delivers food to the dorms.
Dr. Slonka: Nice.
Gessler: Yeah, they’re pretty interesting. What’s your opinion on bringing ideas like this to the cities or to local areas and start incorporating more? Like friendly, worker robots?
Dr. Slonka: I definitely think it’s cool. You’re always going to have the people who might think, Oh, that’s taking away jobs from humans, you know, they could be delivering food. But I mean, it’s still really cool to see these things happening.
I’m sure everybody has seen the Amazon delivery drones, the ones that fly through the air in California. I’ve never seen the ones that are like on ground in Pittsburgh or Fairfax.
Gessler: I could send you a picture of them. They’re pretty interesting. Delivery drones. I’ve actually seen a few of those. They’re very interesting. I can’t imagine making a drone that can lift that kind of weight.
Dr. Slonka: Right!
Gessler: I mean through high school I worked with a lot of drones. And that’s kind of what got me going on this path. But nothing, nothing on that scale. Nothing big. They’re pretty big. So do you think branch campuses like UPG, or maybe even Johnstown or Bradford? Do you think they could introduce more robotics or like, physical hands-on, Computer Science-building classes?
Dr. Slonka: I mean, they definitely could. So, this was one of the interesting things. You know, I mentioned earlier once I realized what it takes to get into this field, I realized it really wasn’t for me. Because a lot of people see robotics, especially if you see if you’re introduced to it in high school. And it’s more of just a fun thing, right? You get these cool drones, you get to write a little bit of Python code, and wow, everything works.
Whenever you do it in the real world, you realize it’s not that easy. And it actually encompasses understanding hardware to build your own robots. It’s more of like a computer engineering, hardware engineering-type degree, not just a straight computer science degree. So as far as the Greensburg campus, we don’t have a computer engineering degree at this campus. It would be difficult to have courses that are more intense than just the simple high school level, make-a-rover-fly type class.
Dr. Slonka: But I know Johnstown does have a bunch of engineering degrees; Oakland does. It would be more possible for those two campuses to do that.
Gessler: Yeah, I definitely like to see them start opening up possibilities. And I realized that Greensburg is a bit of a smaller campus, but it still would be nice to see some a little more things pointed in that direction?
So you might know better than I do. But if a student is interested in maybe one of these, do you have any what’s the best place to like, start? What do you think?
Dr. Slonka: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of places you can start, right? Buying your own drone kit, the ones that let you write some code in Python. Obviously, start the simple level just, you know, doing computer science type things, making sure you understand the programming aspect behind it.
But then once you get good with that, you’ll realize there’s not much more you can do. So, then you have to move on to find those kits that let you actually build the robots, put in servos, understand how to control things at the hardware level. And those kits exist that are out there, too. But it would be very, probably disheartening is the right word, if you bought one of those more intense kits first, only to realize, wow, I don’t know what I’m doing. So start small.
Gessler: Yeah, definitely
Dr. Slonka: Start small. And then, if you’re looking for this path, as a college degree, I would definitely recommend going somewhere that has a computer engineering degree, because that’s most likely where you’re going to find classes that deal with that stuff. And then if they also have computer science degrees, and electrical engineering degrees, those three degrees generally work together on robotics courses.
Gessler: You said you worked with organizations or companies in the past that actually might do some work with robotics. What are some local examples of this?
Dr. Slonka: So, one of the companies that I worked for is based out of Johnstown Concurrent Technologies Corporation. And the other one, they have offices everywhere. Northrop Grumman, you may have heard of them, they’re both government contractors. They both have contracts with different aspects of the military and the government to do things so many other things, you know, classified don’t know what they do.
But I know that they do robotics works. And like I said, I was never involved in the robotics works with them. But if anybody’s interested in that, and they don’t mind the government type work, you can pretty much find a lot of government contractors that do robotics.
Gessler: So that’s maybe a good direction to point some of these people who may not know where to start or get something under their belt.
Dr. Slonka: Right. And they all take interns, so I’m sure you could find an internship doing that.
Gessler: That’s very good information that’ll that can help a lot of people. Because I always felt like Northrop Grumman, and some of these larger places, will be one of the harder companies to get into.
Dr. Slonka: I’m not going to say they’re easy to get into, you know; there’s a lot of competition. I’m checking into those internships.
Gessler: Security clearances, a lot.
Dr. Slonka: Yeah. So, a lot of times with interns, you won’t have to worry about that. Because security clearances cost a lot of money. And the company isn’t going to pay for that for somebody who’s only going to be around a couple months.
Gessler: Exactly. But you can definitely learn and maybe make some good connections through some of these agencies.
Dr. Slonka: Absolutely. Almost everybody I know has gotten hired at the places that they interned in college. So, it’s definitely a good stepping stone. Look into that first.
Gessler: So, besides robotics, what topics, jobs, or maybe even hobbies do you think would interest people in similar fields? I’m sticking to more programming and tech-based jobs, just keeping in line with the general basis. Do you have a list that you think would be good?
Dr. Slonka: I mean, my personal field cybersecurity. That’s what I tell everybody. You know, there are 3.5 million unfilled cyber jobs out there. So, if you want to be guaranteed a job, learn cybersecurity. But to be a cybersecurity person, you also kind of have to be a computer science person and understand programming and how to code and how things like that work.
Gessler: Understand the background of it.
Dr. Slonka: Yeah. So, if any of that interests you, I mean, the jobs are out there. You will not have trouble finding a job.
Gessler: You know, I’ve looked at cybersecurity multiple times, I’ve got a Raspberry Pi, sitting right here that’s got some form of Linux on it. I need to get into it a little bit more.
Dr. Slonka: Learning Linux is another thing. Hey, you want to be a cyber person, learn Linux.
Gessler: I know. It’s just I need to take that time set aside and really get into it.
Dr. Slonka: Well, if you’re still at [UPitt Greensburg], in a year or two, the next time the Linux course runs, you can take it from me.
Gessler: Well, I probably will be doing that. I actually heard about it through one of my roommates not long ago. So I’ll definitely get into that.
So Pitt? Personally, they’ve been doing computer science and programming stuff for a long time now, probably since the 1970s. But just recently, in 2017, they set aside a school for computer science. Do you think they’re up to date, like in competition-wise, with other local schools, such as like Carnegie Mellon?
Dr. Slonka: So, comparing anybody to Carnegie Mellon is difficult because, you know, they’re kind of at the top of everything. But as far as being up to date, being a good program? Absolutely. Like you said, they’ve been doing it forever, even though they haven’t had a school dedicated for just that one major, they’ve been doing it forever. So, they know their stuff, the program is a great program. But now that they have their own separate school, it allows them the ability to go after other grant funds and gain a little more freedom from the other projects.
Gessler: I’m here locally at UPG. So, there are students both from the main campus and from UPG. Are there any Pittsburgh clubs or programs that you know of that could get people into this kind of field?
Dr. Slonka: As far as Pittsburgh? I’m not sure. I know, our campus has our IT club. And a lot of people in the IT club are doing I think they got a bunch of Raspberry Pi’s or drones or something, and they’re starting to play with those.
Gessler: Okay, so similar to what we’ve talked about before.
Dr. Slonka: Yeah. But if you’re looking for anything Pittsburgh-based, there’s a website, you can look at the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. And they have links to all the companies around that do robotics, and they basically allow you to make those connections. And I’m sure you can find lots of different individual groups of people who like to get together to do that stuff.
Gessler: That’s perfect. Thank you. All right. Well, that’s all I have today. I really appreciate you doing this.
Dr. Slonka: Thank you. No problem.
Gessler: You actually opened my eyes on a few things. I hope you have a great rest of your day.
Dr. Slonka: Thanks, you too. Good luck with your assignment.
According to Chinese legend, in 5732 B.C., Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when a leaf landed in his pot of boiling water. The pleasant scent it created made the Emperor curious enough to try drinking this hot leaf juice. It gave the emperor a warm feeling that inspired his further study of the drink and influenced his conclusion in its medicinal abilities.
While not a recommendable replacement for modern-day medicines, tea can offer a wide range of benefits from stimulation to stress relief, reducing the risk of heart disease to supporting the immune system. In order to find the right tea for the right objective, a little knowledge of the different types of teas can be a great help. As a former barista and avid tea drinker and brewer, I know a few things that can help point people in the right direction.
Black & White & Green Teas
The leaf that landed in Shen Nung’s pot would have been that of the Camellia sinensis shrub, a plant native to China and India. To tea purists, only tea made from this shrub counts as real tea. As these teas are all made from the same plant, they all offer the same benefits but to differing degrees depending on how the leaves are handled, both by the brewer and picker.
The longer a tea is steeped, the stronger and more bitter the taste becomes. Hotter water temperatures also cause tea to steep faster. You can brew white and green teas at hotter than recommended temperatures or let them steep for longer than the few minutes typically recommended, and the only thing it will affect is the strength of the tea’s flavor. But if it’s your first time trying a specific tea, it would be best to follow the brewing instructions that come with it, then use that as a baseline to decide how you want to brew it the next time.
A unique feature of Camellia sinensis leaves is the massive amount of antioxidants they contain. But the amount of antioxidants that will make it into the tea vary by type. White teas contain the most, followed by green, then oolong and black teas. These differences come from the different practices used for processing and fermenting the tea leaves for each type.
The less oxidized and processed the tea is, the stronger the concentration of these antioxidants and their benefits will be, putting unfermented, uncured white teas at the top, followed by the quickly processed to prevent fermentation green teas. Oolong and black teas possess lower but still high antioxidizing abilities due to their fermentation, but these teas are more often associated with the benefits of another component of Camellia sinensis leaves: good old caffeine.
Black teas are often stated to have the highest caffeine content of all teas but this comes down more to the recommended brewing method than black tea itself. The more fermented or processed a tea is, the longer the recommended steeping time and higher the recommended water temperature for that tea is. But this isn’t because white teas are too delicate for the fully boiled water recommended for black tea, but because these are the conditions that complement each type of tea’s general flavor profile.
White teas are made from young Camellia sinensis leaves, giving them a sweeter, lighter flavor than other teas. Their flavors will shine the most when brewed with lower temperature water for shorter amounts of time. Black teas, on the other hand, are known for their strong, bold flavors that need hotter water and longer steeping times to reach their potential.
Green teas are usually the most flexible in their brewing methods, but there is an exception to this. The most popular tea in Japan, sencha, differs from Chinese green tea in how the tea leaves are processed to prevent fermentation. The Chinese pan fire their leaves while the Japanese steam them before rolling the leaves to create their signature pine needle shape. These few simple changes lead to a greener color to the tea and a slightly more bitter flavor, which will become more prominent if steeped for longer. To keep the balance of the natural sweetness of green tea and the slight bitterness from the Japanese steaming method, brewing the tea as recommended is the best way to approach sencha.
Another Japanese green tea, gyokuro, goes through a similar processing procedure as sencha but is shielded from the sun for at least twenty days while growing. This results in gyokuro tea having a paler color and distinct aroma compared to sencha but most importantly, increases the amount of caffeine in the leaves. When these leaves aren’t used to make gyokuro, they’re used to create one of the highest caffeine teas, matcha.
Matcha & Herbal Teas
Matcha’s high caffeine content comes not only from the shaded growing process but from being made of entire tea leaves carefully ground into a fine powder. One teaspoon of matcha powder, the recommended amount for one eight-ounce cup, contains 70 milligrams of caffeine compared to the typical cup of green tea’s 28. A typical 8-ounce cup of coffee contains between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine and a single shot of espresso averages around 63 milligrams. It may not be as strong as a cup of coffee, but it comes very close while also containing the antioxidant benefits of green tea and a smooth sweetness.
There’s one more benefit to green tea that I’d argue makes it the better choice for which drink to get your caffeine fix from. Another aspect of Camellia sinensis leaves increased by the shaded growing method is the amino acid l-theanine. L-theanine slows the body’s absorption of caffeine and is believed to have an overall calming effect on the body. This means, with matcha, you get caffeine’s mental alertness benefit without the drawback of a crash that comes with coffee.
While all traditional teas will contain some level of caffeine, non-traditional teas, called herbal teas, have none at all. Any tea made from a root, herb, flower, seed, or other plant that isn’t a Camellia sinensis leaf is considered an herbal tea. This wider spectrum makes it harder to describe the benefits herbal teas give but also means the potential benefits of herbal teas are just as varied.
Like traditional teas, herbal teas offer benefits beyond pleasant scents and tastes, many of which correlate with their medicinal uses in the past. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks used chamomile to speed up wound recovery, which it has shown signs of doing, along with its more well-known sedative abilities.
Ginger tea has been used to relieve nausea, cold symptoms, and joint pain for thousands of years and scientists are finding evidence of these abilities in tests today. They may not be cures or permanent solutions but the people of ancient times knew how to use tea.
Tea started out as a medicinal drink before becoming the common drink it is today. But even if it’s not the healing drink it was once believed to be, it still has benefits to offer, some of which are relevant in our current pandemic. In times as stressful and uncertain as this past year has been, taking care of yourself is important, mentally and physically.
So, next time you feel stressed, try brewing a cup of peppermint or lavender tea. Or just take a moment with whichever tea you like and enjoy the pleasant scent and warm feeling of your hot leaf juice.