Meet the class of 2021: Peyton Kim-LaTona

Name: Peyton Kim-LaTona ’21
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Academics: biology and architectural studies double major
Pronouns: she, her, hers

Peyton Kim-LaTona can’t quite believe she’s here.

“I remember reading the senior profiles when I was first looking at Mount Holyoke and thinking, these are such accomplished, multi-dimensional, talented people,” she says. “I thought, is this what I’m going to be like when I graduate college?” 

The answer is a definite yes.

 

Accomplished: With a passion for both STEM and the arts, Kim-LaTona has found exciting intellectual connections by studying across disciplines. She is drawn to both biology seminars and studio art courses. With little research experience, she asked Craig Woodard, Christianna Smith Professor of Biological Sciences, if she could do an independent study in his lab and he agreed. (Her research is on Drosophila melanogaster neurobiology during metamorphosis.)

Her Islamic art professor, Michael T. Davis, Professor of Art History and chair of architectural studies, was so impressed with her analysis of a miniature Persian painting that he asked if he could share it with the curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (she said yes). 

Multi-dimensional: Can you say biology and architectural studies double major, two quite different fields? She’s on the western riding club sports team — with no prior experience — and is involved with the Club Sports Council (she’s the chair this year). She sang in Chorale for three years (“Vespers is easily one of my favorite times each year”). She’s been increasingly involved in the Fimbel Maker & Innovation Lab over her four years, including serving as a makerspace consultant (see sidebar). 

Talented: clearly, and in a number of areas.  

Kim-LaTona came to Mount Holyoke focused on the pre-health track, and STEM in general. But then she took her first-year seminar, Writers, Politics and Power, with Stephen Jones, professor of Russian studies.

“We were just sitting around this gigantic wooden table in Skinner Hall, debating topics and really getting into the nitty gritty,” she says. “And he would challenge us with a question and we would all sit and look at each other like, we’ve never had someone ask us what we thought. It was always someone teaching you something directly. Having that freedom and the space to teach each other and learn about ourselves was a real paradigm shift.” 

The class inspired her to explore the arts and humanities, including ballet and studio art. She also took math and engineering — and that’s when things clicked. 

“I ended up finding the way these things intersected,” she says. “I was finding the math in my drawings and I was finding the music in my art. And the more I did that, the more I realized that there was something really special about an interchangeable relationship where there’s very careful balance. I really grew to love architecture, seeing where I could apply scientific principles to the arts.” 

Taking advanced calculus with Dylan Shepardson, associate professor and chair of the department, was another turning point for Kim-LaTona. 

“I was really, really nervous going into his class, college-level calculus,” she says. “I have never had a great relationship with math. It was a big challenge for me and the bane of my existence in high school. Dylan’s teaching completely changed the way I think about math.” 

That’s because when she went to his office hours and explained her struggles with the subject, he was very open and willing to help. 

“He really pushed me to believe in myself, “ she says. “I’ve developed that confidence and I definitely carried that with me going into my sophomore and junior years, as I took more difficult classes. Just knowing that I could reach out to a faculty member and that they would support me was really meaningful.” 

The same could be said about her fellow students, Kim-LaTona says. “An integral part of the Mount Holyoke community is that we’re all in this together and we rally around each other. We come from really different backgrounds and find ourselves on unexpected paths, diverse majors and new sports and clubs. 

“But at the same time, we’re still able to see past those differences and more toward the things that unite us, the humanity, the passion, the drive, the dedication. We’re able to really support one another in all the endeavors that we pursue — academic and extracurricular. I’ve gone to my teammates’ Senior Symposium presentations and I’ve had classmates come to my competitions and show up at my concerts. We all knit together in this really strong Mount Holyoke way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen or felt on any other college campus.”

How her majors knit together in the future remains to be seen, Kim-LaTona says. She likes them both so much she’s not sure what she will pursue in graduate school. For now she’s going to find a job in a lab — and possibly a curator internship. 

“I hope to continue to develop and nurture both interests and connections because they’re so different and so alike at the same time, in a strange way,” she says. “They spark a lot of joy.”

Fimbel Maker & Innovation Lab: “a world of endless opportunity” 

When Peyton Kim-LaTona took her first engineering class, Engineering for Everyone, as a first-year student, she “stepped into a world of endless opportunity and creative problem- solving,” as she puts it. 

Mount Holyoke’s makerspace, the Fimbel Maker & Innovation Lab, is an extraordinary space for students, faculty and staff to create things using their hands. The wood and metal-working shops are the two main work spaces. They’re equipped with traditional and high-tech tools, including lathes, a table saw, jointer, planer, 3D printers, soldering stations, sewing machines, laser and vinyl cutters, vacuum formers and much more. Two multi-purpose rooms serve as classroom and brainstorming space. There’s even a kitchen, designed to facilitate exploring the science of cooking. 

The Fimbel Lab staff and equipment are used widely by professors in their teaching. Courses ranging from robotics, costume-making, studio art, and also in anthropology, English, psychology, education and mathematics, have all used the Fimbel Lab facilities.

Almost on a whim, Kim-LaTona took a class with Kathy Aidala, physics professor and director of the Fimbel Lab, and Shani Mensing ’15, design mentor and technical specialist. 

“They pushed us to think outside the box — and also to look inward and outward, which was something that I’d never really done before — and the creative came together with the science,” LaTona says. “We did a lot of innovative problem solving and critical analysis.” 

First in the original makerspace, and then in the Fimbel Lab, which opened in 2019, Kim-LaTona took more classes. “It became a place where I could bring my STEAM interests to life, whether through software or hands-on projects,” she says.  

She became a makerspace consultant and helped set up and open the new space. She served as a teaching assistant in her original engineering class. 

”Since then, I’ve been working to recreate that experience for others, leading student workshops and growing and supporting our maker community,” she says. “Having the Fimbel Lab is a unique learning opportunity for students like me. We can experiment, push boundaries and explore those critical intersections between STEM and the arts. There truly is no place like MoHome.”

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