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What's in your backpack?: A day in the life of an environmental and field biology major

The contents of Bragg's backpack unpacked. These items help him stay prepared for anything that arises during his busy schedule. (Northern Review photo/Emily Richards)

What do zip-close bags, a map of ONU, and a checkbook have in common? They are all in the backpack of junior environmental and field biology student Zach Bragg, and they all contribute to his busy life as a student, university employee, and active member of several organizations.

Bragg takes 19-credit hours, works 15 hours a week, and devotes a lot of his time to various campus organizations. He is involved in Habitat for Humanity as an officer on the executive board and a delegate for the 30-hour famine. He is also the president of Phi Mu Delta and works both as a tutor for the Writing Center and a tour guide for the admissions office.

All of this involvement keeps him on a tight schedule. “I go from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without coming back to my room, so I have to pack my backpack for the entire day,” Bragg said.

An Eagle Scout, Bragg knows the importance of thinking ahead. He lives by the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”

That’s why he carries zip-close bags, a campus map, and his checkbook.

Zip-close bags might not seem like an essential academic tool, but Bragg has an important use for them. As a student in a forensic entomology class, he is always on the lookout for insects to add to his insect collections. “The bags are there because I hate seeing a really cool insect and not being able to catch it,” he said.

Forensic entomology is his favorite class because it aligns with his career aspirations. “I want to get my Ph.D. in entomology, which is the study of insects, and there are no classes at ONU specifically for insect study because it’s really minor,” Bragg said.

He carries his entomology textbook with him in his bag along with his class folder, which holds detailed drawings of insect anatomies.  

Other items that Bragg carries to help him be successful in the classroom include: a scientific and non-scientific calculator, a multi-subject notebook for class notes, a notebook for taking preliminary notes to later be copied in the multi-subject notebook, a blank notebook with extra paper, four class folders, a whole pocket of miscellaneous writing utensils in all different colors, a tablet for drawing graphs and figures in labs, and an academic planner to keep track of all the ways these items need to be utilized throughout the week.

Third year ONU students don’t frequently carry campus maps around with them, but Bragg won’t go anywhere without his.

That’s because he uses it during tours when he needs to answer a question or explain to a prospective student how they can navigate to a certain part of campus. “I have to remember to take it on my tour with me,” he said. Bragg’s campus map covers the inside of an ONU Motor Vehicle Regulations pamphlet that was given to him when he purchased his parking pass.

Though his classmates often tease him for it, Bragg always carries his checkbook with him. He uses it like most college students use cash. “When I buy things for fundraisers, like when I buy something at the Mac tables, I just write a check,” Bragg said. “I hate carrying cash.” His checkbook is also a convenient way for him to pay dues for the organizations that he is involved in.

Holding a leadership position in those organizations prompts Bragg to carry his laptop with him as well. “I get upwards of 30-50 emails a day,” he said. “Most of the emails I get are important ones because I’m the president of so many executive boards. I hate emailing on my phone, so i always use my laptop.” His fraternity business cards also stay in his backpack in case he needs to hand out his information.

Bragg carries several other “just-in-case” items like cough drops, various chargers for electronics, snacks, and a pocket knife, each item presentation proceeded with a “because you just never know” explanation.

Other miscellaneous items include: lip balm, his favorite water bottle, his e-reader for leisurely reading, his headphones for listening to podcasts between classes, gum, his glasses case, his wallet, a to-do notebook, an “important notes” notepad, and allergy medication.

He admits that he is a bit of a hoarder when it comes to his backpack, but each item serves an essential purpose in his busy college life. “I like having a bunch of different things,” Bragg said. “I like having one thing that does it’s job really well. I’d rather have 10 things that do one job really well than one thing that does 5 things kind of okay.”

The contents of Bragg’s backpack may span 19 credits of classes, two jobs, many campus organizations, as well as an entire table when laid out, but when they all fit back into their pocket niches, his backpack is the force that unites the aspects of his hectic college life into a single, reliable package.