Madiz Gomez had a painting, a paper and an animation project to finish by today, the last day of classes at Maryland Institute College of Art. She also was practically broke.
So when three people from MICA's Office of Student Affairs stopped by late at night with baskets of snacks and tangerines, Gomez gratefully accepted some chips and fruit. "Just what I need," she said.
Welcome to the frenetic world of finals, where students engage in the tradition of skipping sustenance, sleep and showers while frantically trying to get projects done and kicking themselves for not starting earlier. The "food fairy" program is part of MICA's attempt to help out.
Megan Miller, associate director of student affairs, and other MICA staff members go to several buildings each night, holding baskets of snacks as they knock on doors and call out "free food!" (Nevertheless, perhaps reflecting the draining nature of finals, students invariably ask, "Is it free?")
"We want them to come out just for a minute and take a break," Miller said of the program, which her office has been running for several years.
Virtually every college tries to help students relax during finals. Volunteers at the Johns Hopkins University offer massages in the library. The University of Maryland shows Christmas cartoons. Goucher College holds a "free hug" on which students gather in a quad to dole out embraces.
At MICA, students are notorious for hiding away to finish art projects. Couches with rumpled sheets are a common sight at studios overlooking the Jones Falls Expressway.
It is Miller's job to encourage students to have contact with others, if only briefly. She encounters plenty of despondency and stress, especially from underclassmen who haven't learned to plan for finals.
Freshman Jennifer Noll said she had one paper, four drawings, two paintings and a self-portrait to finish. "OK, so I should've started earlier," she said as she worked at an easel. "It's not like high school, where you can do it all at once."
Noll said she has been sleeping a few hours a night. "It helps with the creative process," she said, a hint of desperation in her voice. "Your subconscious comes to the surface."
"That's called hallucination," said freshman Aleks Samoylov, who was at a nearby easel painting a chessboard. He declined to say how long he had gone without rest - "I don't think my parents would be real happy with that," he said - but his scratchy voice and chin gave him away.
"Let's just say it's been a while," he said before turning back to his still life.
Seniors aren't immune. Coralie Reiter took time out from creating sand swirls on her studio floor to take a tangerine. Finals "get easier the more you do it, but it's still stressful," she said.
In the photo lab, students took turns giving each other back rubs while they waited for their prints to dry. Nobody touched junior Aram Asarian, who after several days without a bath was pungent even in a room that smelled overpoweringly of harsh chemicals.
"Hygiene? Gone," Asarian said.
Many students, like Noll, have used up their dining hall money and are skipping meals. Noll said she had two jars of peanut butter, bread and five cans of tuna to sustain her during finals. "Oh, and some grapefruit juice," she added.
Cally Edwards, MICA's director of student activities, generally allows students to take only two or three items from the food baskets, but she suddenly looked concerned. "Do you want some more?" Edwards asked, extending a basket toward Noll.
"That's OK. I think I can make it," Noll said. Then she got back to work.