MHC Students of 2010 Profiles

Posted: September 18, 2006

In the Driver's Seat
Katrina DeSimone '10
Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Katrina DeSimoneBefore she was even old enough to drive, Katrina DeSimone helped design and create a driverless car. Her high school biology teacher started the initiative in response to the Grand Challenge issued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the Department of Defense. The goal of the challenge was to get the public involved in research on autonomous ground vehicles that the military could use for driving into dangerous territory. "It fueled a huge fire in the high school and lots of students got involved," Katrina said. She became part of the fundraising team, which managed to get two MBX vehicles from Honda for the base of the car.

They attached sensors to the car to act as "eyes" and programmed a computer to help the car "see." Although the group's car had a perfect run on the school track, none of the entrants completed the Grand Challenge course, and DARPA issued a second challenge, which Stanford won. "We were competing against college students from some of the best schools like Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford. It was a great opportunity to connect with all of these people," said Katrina, who is from California. "I am most proud of being a girl and standing my ground as a legitimate member of a team in a 'boy's world' of technology. I earned the respect of peers, teachers, and professors from other colleges."

Katrina plans to study biology and business at Mount Holyoke and hopes to design her own major.

World Traveler
Hannah Shakartzi '10
Lexington, Massachusetts

Hannah ShakartziHannah Shakartzi has seen a lot in her 18 years. During her senior year of high school, while taking a history course on the Holocaust and other genocides, she traveled to Africa for ten days to witness the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The group stayed at the United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha, where they talked to African students about AIDS, drugs, and domestic abuse. "I realized they were actually very educated about these issues, and that we have very similar issues as they do. I found a lot of similarities in that experience," she said. Hannah was struck by the friendliness of the people there--so much so, that upon her return, she found herself waving to strangers on the street. "We visited a family who had a farm and grew their own food. They had so little compared to what we have, but are so happy. They live so simply."

This past summer, Hannah, who is from Lexington, Massachusetts, traveled to Israel for a program run by the Israeli army, where she went through a week of army training. "I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and what I'm capable of," she said of the program, which had students up at 3 am for exercise.

Hannah is thinking about majoring in biology at Mount Holyoke. "I would like to go to medical school, and I know that MHC is very strong in the sciences," she said. "When I visited, it felt like a home away from home." She also plans to play soccer at Mount Holyoke.

Making Waves
Shannon Faltak '10
Longmont, Colorado

Shannon Faltak

During her freshman year of high school, Shannon Faltak joined the canoe and kayak team, and shortly after, qualified for the Junior Olympics. The only woman competing in a canoe, she had to go up against the ten best men in the country. By her junior year, she had placed third in the category, and first among the women. While not many colleges offer paddling, Shannon will join the MHC crew team, and she's very interested in playing volleyball.

Shannon has also devoted an enormous amount of time volunteering in her community in Colorado. Through the organization Volunteer Connection, she's helped with the Boulder County AIDS Project, the I Have a Dream Foundation, the City of Los Angeles Health Department, Habitat for Humanity, and Community Food Share. "I started with the organization when I was five because my mom was also doing community service for them," she said. She did everything from taking out the trash to eventually helping to build an orphanage and school in Ecuador. Shannon most values her experience working with the local police department, because of her interest in forensic pathology. "They traded me 70 hours of community service for an autopsy opportunity, so that made it quite memorable."

Despite her successes in sports and dedication to service, Shannon says her greatest accomplishment is going to college. "My dad is from Croatia and my mom is from Peru. Neither of them had a formal education, so I feel very lucky to be going to college--never mind at a school like Mount Holyoke!" she said.

Something's Fishy
Ariel Markowitz-Shulman '10
Washington, DC

Ariel Markowitz-ShulmanAriel Markowitz-Shulman has become very familiar with zebra fish. For two years, she has studied their genomics, phylogeny, and nervous system development for her Twenty-First Century Biology Class, a student-directed elective that uses a hands-on research approach at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. Most recently, Ariel and her group have been using immunocytochemistry--a technique normally reserved for college labs--to stain for special cells called Mauthner neurons to see how physical defects affect the development of neurons. Through collaboration with scientists at National Institutes of Health and the University of Oregon, the school in the past has received donations of zebra fish, but once their supply was depleted, the students set about breeding their own fish. After three years of trying--including using in vitro fertilization--they now have their own fish colony. The students' research culminates in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, DC, where they are the only high school students. "My favorite part is coming up with questions you want to ask and figuring out how to go about answering them," Ariel said of her science research. "It's always so exciting when you figure out a new piece of the puzzle, because it offers up new questions to go and explore."

But for all the time she spent on science, she also managed to squeeze in dance, chorus, piano, acting, and writing--and is glad she didn't give any of it up. "I proved that you can do it all and still be happy at the end of it. I didn't have to give up any part of what defines me." That's also part of what attracted her to Mount Holyoke. "I'm most excited that I'm going to be in an environment that encourages me and allows me to pursue everything I'm interested in, from science to music to dance to literature," she said.

Fighting for Her Love of Her Country
Tenzin Dolkar '10
Dharamsala, India

Tenzin DolkarTenzin Dolkar, whose family is Tibetan and lives in Dharamsala, India, has devoted herself to human rights work, especially on issues relating to Tibet. In 2004, she attended the International Youth Workshop on Human Rights in Asia, where students researched and presented talks on countries like India, Tibet, Nepal, and Pakistan. Each student created a plan for continuing to help those in their own communities, and Tenzin made a pact to be an active member of Students for a Free Tibet, which she will continue at Mount Holyoke. "Being a student, it gives me more pleasure that I am able to do something for my country," she said. "It is great to get together, share our creative ideas, and discuss strategies and campaigns to create awareness about issues related to Tibet in a nonviolent way. It also keeps me aware of my country's stateless status and all the problems associated with that as I get busy with my studies and personal pursuits."

Before coming to Mount Holyoke, Tenzin spent two years at Pestalozzi International Village, an educational charity in England that brings students from developing countries for the International Baccalaureate diploma program. "Living with students from other countries became hard at times, but mostly it was great fun to be able to share our different perspectives, knowledge, food, dance, and so on."

Tenzin also spent a summer volunteering at a medical camp organized by a Tibetan hospital in the Indian villages around Dharamsala. She acted as an interpreter between the foreign doctors and the Hindi- and Tibetan-speaking patients and studied tuberculosis, AIDS, and maternity-related problems.

Tenzin plans to study biochemistry at Mount Holyoke. "Since I have already stayed away from home for two years and lived with students from other countries, I think I will feel very much at home at MHC," she said.

Super Skater
Sarah Merhar '10
Brookline, Massachusetts

Sarah MerharWhile watching the Olympics at age 14, Sarah Merhar and her best friend thought speed skating would be fun and decided to try it. Sarah loved it. Before long, she was competing at junior nationals. "I had not been skating for too long, so where I finished was very impressive," she said. This winter, she went to nationals in Madison, Wisconsin, and did fairly well. "It's a huge competition, and it was remarkable to see how widespread the sport was. There were people there from age 14 to age 60," she said. Since speed skating is still a relatively small sport, Sarah has met some of the top skaters in the country.

Sarah sometimes trained six days a week for one to two hours a day during high school in Brookline, Massachusetts. She has also started coaching with her local speed skating program.

"I will try to skate as much as possible while I am at Mount Holyoke and at home. Speed skating is the type of sport I can do for the rest of my life," she said. "Most important, skating got me interested in other sports like cycling. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 16. Now I like to take long bike rides with my friends."

She hopes to study something science-related while at Mount Holyoke--probably biology--and is also excited to explore theatre, something she's been involved with for the past few years at her high school.

Role Playing
Rebecca Tarnas '10
Mill Valley, California

Rebecca TarnasAs a junior in high school, Rebecca Tarnas, from the San Francisco Bay Area, was lucky enough to work with actor John Cleese, of Monty Python and Fawlty Towersfame. Her passion for acting started when she was in first grade and continued through high school, where she was in "every play and performance offered" and took classes outside of school. Through a family connection to Cleese, she worked as his assistant and helped edit a PBS special and wrote and conducted a filmed interview with Cleese. "I'd have to remind myself that I was working with a famous British actor, not just another acquaintance of my father's," she said. "The highlight for me was how seriously he took me as a young actor, even though I am only in the beginning stages of my career."

Rebecca will continue studying drama at Mount Holyoke while exploring other areas, possibly including English literature and--after working on a biodynamic farm in Northern California this past summer--environmental studies. "Mount Holyoke can offer me the education in drama that I want while also giving me a much broader education. At this stage in my life I am not quite ready to focus only on drama. I think the most important part of my decision in coming to Mount Holyoke was how comfortable I felt on campus and with the students I talked to. I knew it was a place I could live happily for four years."

Putting Out Fires
Yunchao Lou '10
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Yunchao LouAfter Yunchao Lou walked into a friend's house and found a fire burning in the kitchen, she was determined to come up with a better safety solution--her friend had failed to hear the smoke alarm going off--and she wanted especially to find a solution for the hearing impaired and elderly. She started doing research and even took an online electrical engineering class. She created a device that when plugged into an electrical outlet and stove will in effect shut off the stove if the smoke alarm goes off. She has patented the device, which United Technologies has shown interest in. She's also working with her local fire department in West Bloomfield, Michigan, to write a grant to get the device into homes of the elderly. "The ability to persevere in this project has been a big accomplishment. I am more proud of the process that got me to the invention than the invention itself," Yunchao said.

Her involvement in Amnesty International and debate furthered her interest in social justice, and she hopes to study politics, English, and science at Mount Holyoke. "What I really want to achieve is for students to be more aware of how their everyday actions impact others around the world. I don't want people to be interested for a week or so, and then lose interest just because some awareness week is over. From what I have already seen, Mount Holyoke students are like me, interested in working toward a broader and deeper sense of the injustices committed each day."

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