There’s something about a women’s college, says Darby Dyar, who went to a women’s college as an undergraduate.
“Teaching at Mount Holyoke returns me to my intellectual womb,” she says. “I love the way the students buoy one another up. When someone’s having trouble articulating a thought, it’s often another student who jumps in and says, ‘So what you mean is this,’ and gets them going again. The empathy, the compassion, the cooperative and collaborative atmosphere is really special. Because astronomy is a Five College department, I see how students from the other colleges behave. Mount Holyoke is unique. It’s a great place to teach.”
Dyar, who is one of the world experts in spectroscopy of the terrestrial planets, takes pride in the department’s emphasis on offering its introductory course to non-majors. Almost half of all students use the class to satisfy their science distribution.
“I don’t expect everyone to be a science major or an astronomy major, but I do expect everyone to come out of Mount Holyoke with some kind of quantitative literacy,” Dyar says. “So we have a pretty big responsibility. Because of that, we treat the class very differently. One of our learning goals is understanding and critically evaluating representations of science in the media. We talk a lot about how you research the background behind what you read in The New York Times or in the National Enquirer. How you make informed-citizen decisions about science.”
Before she came to Mount Holyoke, Dyar says, she couldn’t have imagined how far her research program could progress by using undergraduates — and much of that progress is supported by her laboratory in Kendade Hall.
“I’m so grateful to the alum who funded that building, which has enabled my research program to grow and thrive. I wish sometimes that she could just come spend a day sitting on the couch in the lab, watching eight or nine women working in perfect harmony around the lab doing different things, each one very directed. The physical space we have in Kendade enables collaboration, and also it’s big enough that the students are able to be independent. The most amazing gift has been the physical facility of my lab in Kendade.”