MHC Student Wins Churchill Fellowship

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - 11:30
Viviane Callier '06 has won a prestigious Churchill Fellowship, one of only ten awarded this year, and Mount Holyoke's first ever. The fellowship will allow Callier to study at Cambridge University's Churchill College in England next year. She plans to return to the U.S. the following year for graduate school in biology.

Callier is, by all accounts, an extraordinary student with strengths in many areas. A biology major and math minor, she has a 3.94 GPA. She has impressed her professors in a range of subjects, including English and politics, with her exemplary class work. For her senior thesis she is analyzing patterns of morphological variation in four closely related species of snails that she collected in Central Africa's Lake Tanganyika last summer. Her adviser, biology professor Stan Rachootin, described her thesis work as "exceptional for the amount of data she is willing to deal with, the willingness to rework it from another angle (having measured each of hundreds of snails for many traits, she turned to measuring the hundreds of baby snails that many of them were carrying), her mathematical sophistication, and her command of a broad literature." Beyond these qualities, Rachootin said he found most intriguing "the way that she combines her interests across the disciplines. She studies biological forms as measured objects in multidimensional space, but she is more interested in the role of metaphor in biological thought. She glides from one to the other with the effortlessness that only acute attention can produce."

Not only is Callier an academic powerhouse, she is a talented athlete. She swam breaststroke for the swim team her first and second year and was part of a record-setting medley team in spring 2004. She is also an accomplished dressage rider and rode on the spring 2003 dressage team.

Callier expressed gratitude to the MHC community and particularly to her adviser, Rachootin, who she described as "a phenomenal mentor and wonderful, inspiring teacher." She added, "The best thing about MHC is the opportunity to interact with supportive and challenging mentors--this is something very special about MHC. I feel I have grown and changed a lot from being in this environment for four years."

With guidance from Katya King at the CDC, Callier began working on her Churchill application months before it was due. She also did weekly practice sessions with King for her telephone interview, which took place in January. Callier is grateful to King for her help and support. "I would never have gotten this fellowship--or dreamed of getting it, for that matter--without Katya King," she said.

According to King, the Churchill Fellowship is extremely prestigious and competitive. It is awarded to only ten or 11 American students each year, from a group of approximately 75 highly selective participating colleges and universities. King explained that she applied for MHC to be added to the Churchill list in 2002 on the suggestion of Janice Hudgings, associate professor of physics. "I contacted the foundation in early 2002, and was asked to 'make the case' why MHC should be included in the participating institutions," King recalled. "I pulled together all the evidence I could to show how strong we are and have been historically in the sciences. A few weeks later I received the good news that we were 'in.' In the years since, I've come to appreciate how fortunate we were. Many of my colleagues at other colleges make yearly pleas to the Churchill Foundation to be included, but I have not heard of anyone who has been successful."

Related Links:

The Winston Churchill Foundation