NSF Grant Aids Alumna’s Biology Research

Mount Holyoke was the first place Kelsey Lewis ’10 thought that a Ph.D. in biology was a distinct possibility. That seemed unlikely when she was growing up in the village (population 500) of Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

But Lewis is now a scientist, and one of several Mount Holyoke College alumnae who recently received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships to support their research. Lewis’s interests lie in developmental and evolutionary biology.

She works in a University of Florida laboratory focused on understanding the development and evolution of limbs and genitalia. In her own project, studying the development of vertebrate animals’ external genitals, she hopes to find answers that can be applied to medicine and to evolutionary studies.

Lewis was hooked on science the minute she sat in one of MHC biological sciences professor Stan Rachootin’s evolution classes during accepted students’ weekend. “I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing ever,’ ” she recalls.

Later, Rachootin became one of Lewis’s biggest influences, encouraging her to pursue a graduate career in biology even though she initially struggled in her MHC science courses. “One of his many strengths is that he can explain complex concepts without dumbing them down or misconstruing them,” she says.

Lewis persevered with both biology and Rachootin’s courses, noting that his “upper-level seminars push you to think about new things in new ways.”

When her NSF research is complete, Lewis plans to pursue a career in research and teaching at a university with extensive research activity.

—By Ronni Gordon