MHC Students Shine at 2008 Senior Symposium

Posted: April 10, 2008

Updated: April 24, 2008 - Video

As people gathered in the Kendade Science Center before the opening of Mount Holyoke's third annual Senior Symposium, Lois Brown, associate professor of English and director of the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, expressed great delight with the enthusiasm of the many younger students in attendance. Brown, who oversaw the Weissman Center's organization of the all-day event at which seniors presented their yearlong research projects, said, "This event is an invaluable teaching moment. It's an opportunity for seniors to mentor other students and to lead by scholarly example. It reflects the College's great legacy of learning."

At a table nearby, four students sipped coffee as they pored over the schedule of speakers, deciding which of the 118 students they would watch. "We've been working with them and want to support them," Maryanne Mack '10 said. Tenaya Vallery '10 added, "I want to see what the biochem students are doing, because that's my major. My professors suggested we check out what other students are doing so we can decide what we might do for our research projects."

The senior symposium highlights not only student achievement, but also the multiple layers of support woven through the College community. When Charisse Pickron '08 concluded her presentation on the salience of ethnic and racial identities among monoracial and multiracial college students, she was thronged by friends and well-wishers offering hugs, congratulations, and praise for a job well done. Pickron's audience included her thesis advisor Amber Douglas, assistant professor of psychology and education; roommates; academic peers; fellow members of the track team; and Laurie Priest, director of athletics department. "Charisse is the epitome of the scholar-athlete in Division III," Priest said. "The leadership and confidence she shows as a runner on the track carries over into her success in the classroom. Her research presentation was an example of how far self-assured, smart women can go."

Students presented their work in six lecture halls throughout the Science Center, many to standing-room-only crowds. This year, the symposium had a slightly different format, with student presenters organized in small groups according to subject matter, introduced by a single professor. Each student fielded questions after her presentation and then, after all the students' individual presentations, the audience addressed questions to the group as a whole. This gave a sense of unity to the widely diverse subject matter, which ranged from proton conductor pathways and Nigerian health care, to preadolescent prophetesses and needle exchange programs.

One group presenting on international relations topics included talks by Mitchelle Farirai Ajida '08 on Zimbabwe's economic development, Marcia Schenck '08 on land rights claims among the Khomani San in South Africa, Abigail Avoryie '08 on contemporary Sino-African relations, and Katherine Gordon '08 on the impact of Chinese trade on economic development in Peru. After their individual presentations, the four students fielded questions from the audience, referencing each other's research and sharing insights about the complex relationships between global superpowers such as China and developing nations in Latin America and Africa.

Professors from many disciplines enjoyed the opportunity to learn about research in fields far from their own. "It's great to have this event every year," said Karen Hollis, professor of psychology and education and chair of neuroscience and behavior. "The College is celebrating academic accomplishment all across the curriculum. I like to hear different presentations, not just in the sciences. I'm impressed by the range of topics. The students are very articulate. They have taken this event and shaped it to make it their own. We should be proud of them." Hollis added that her student Heather Cogswell '08 did a "spectacular job" presenting her research on the effect of associative learning on antlion feeding behavior and fitness.

The senior symposium also drew quite a number of alumnae. Charles Haight, vice-president for development, said, "Alumnae love to return to campus and are especially proud of the College when they see the terrific work students are doing. The Senior Symposium is the perfect venue for that."

A particularly avid pair of alumnae, Arax Simsarian '43 and Susan Geller Ettenheim '75, came from New York City to see Ettenheim's daughter Mattie present her research on making art museums more accessible and interesting for children. "It's wonderful. I'm really impressed by the breadth of exploration and the students' personal relationships to their work," Ettenheim said. She first met Simsarian several years ago through Mount Holyoke's New York alumnae club and they have since become good friends. "I'm Mattie's alumna grandmother," said Simsarian proudly.

Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton expressed profound admiration for the students who participated in this year's symposium. "It was truly Mount Holyoke at its quintessential best. I've never been prouder of the students and never more honored to serve as president of the College."

Meet 9 MHC students who participated in the Senior Symposium.

Related Links:

Photo Gallery

2008 Senior Symposium

Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts