Karen Hollis

Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Scholarship

"God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there's no turning back." This quote by Gloria Steinem beautifully sums up Karen Hollis and her research. Karen has always asked the right questions and then answered them by identifying the important details. She has studied learning in animals including dogs, fish, and most recently insects. Insects have brains so small and so different from our own, that we might think they cannot learn at all. But Karen has shown that these animals not only learn but can use what they’ve learned to thrive and produce more offspring. Her careful observations and cleverly designed experiments reveal that some insects are capable of surprisingly sophisticated learned behaviors. Ants, for example, particularly the older more experienced individuals, can rescue their fellow ants from traps and snares. Indeed, her research indicates that learning may not be a function of only the brainiest animals but may be a property of all nervous systems, from the very simple to the highly complex.

Karen got her start at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania where she majored in psychology and mathematics. She began her learning studies as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota where she earned her PhD in 1979. Since that time, she has authored 44 papers and book chapters, but her contributions to behavioral psychology do not stop there. Karen has been a member of the editorial board or a reviewer for 17 different journals, has reviewed grants for the National Science Foundation, has collaborated with scientists in Great Britain, Slovenia and France, and has served as president of two separate divisions of the American Psychological Association.

Since 1982, when Karen first arrived at Mount Holyoke, she has applied the same passion and commitment to her teaching as she has to her research. She has anchored the introductory psychology course and taught courses on animal behavior and learning. Her teaching evaluations are peppered with quotes such as “Karen Hollis is hands down the best professor I have had since coming to Mount Holyoke…her willingness to work with any student was only matched by her passion for the subject.” And, “she was everything you would hope an instructor would be.” Karen stands out in the number of students she has trained in the laboratory; she has published scientific papers with more than 20 of them.

Karen’s service to the college has been exceptional. Not only has she has chaired the Psychology and Education Department during three separate terms, but she has chaired the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience and Behavior twice. Given her groundbreaking research, devotion to teaching, and selfless service to the college, it is a “no brainer” for us to come together today to celebrate her outstanding contributions and achievements. Please join me in honoring Karen Hollis with the Meribeth E. Cameron Prize for Scholarship.