Senior Symposium '07 Students

Posted: April 17, 2007

Lauren BonviniLauren Bonvini
Major: Biology
Hometown: Stratford, Connecticut

When asked as a fifth grader to write about her career plans, Lauren Bonvini '07 immediately began describing her intentions to be a herpetologist; that is, a person who studies reptiles and amphibians. In high school, she shifted her sights to veterinary medicine and chose Mount Holyoke over MIT because of its "fantastic biology department."

The summer after her first year, Bonvini began assisting Gary Gillis, assistant professor of biological sciences, with his biomechanics research and has continued to work with him throughout her time at MHC. However, while taking a herpetology class during her junior year abroad at Montreal's McGill University, she fell in love all over again with reptiles and amphibians. That led to a thesis project developed in collaboration with Gillis and Duncan Irschick, an assistant professor at UMass, who studies a species of lizards commonly known as green anoles.

Bonvini has done part of her research in Irshick's lab, working alongside graduate students. The experience, she said, has provided a great segue to graduate school. Starting in the fall, she'll be studying anoles in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Dartmouth. "Long ago I said I wanted to be a herpetologist. And here I am."

Ramona ChoudhuryRamona Choudhury
Major: Asian studies and economics

As an Asian studies and economics double major, Ramona Choudhury '07 has explored many facets of Asian culture in her studies at Mount Holyoke. Contrasting depictions of the forest by two South Asian artists inspired her to study the role of the forest in the two great epics of ancient India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Working with Indira Peterson, David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies and chair of Asian studies, Choudhury examined how the kings at the center of both epics fared during their time of exile in the forest. As she explained, the forest has traditionally been viewed as uncivilized, harboring dangerous and menacing forces. But her research yielded a more complex interpretation; she concluded that the forest helped the exiled kings to cultivate their kingship by shedding materialism, coming into closer contact with nature, and acquiring the knowledge and strength necessary to return as ideal kings to their kingdoms.

"This project has been an extremely rewarding experience," Choudhury said. "Moving through various stages has been challenging, but my advisor, Professor Indira Peterson, has been extremely supportive and encouraging right from the start. I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I finish this year-long project. I will definitely cherish the moments of frustration and joy that accompanied it."

"Ramona's honors independent research is a finely crafted project in cultural history," Peterson said. "Her work is a wonderful example of the unique, creative ways in which students shape their adventure in the liberal arts at Mount Holyoke."

Choudhury was born in Calcutta, India, and raised in Oman. She is planning to work as a corporate finance analyst at JP Morgan in New York City following graduation.

Corinne EspinozaCorinne Espinoza FP
Major: Economics
Hometown:Crowley, Colorado

Corinne Espinoza '07 has long been interested in economics. "I've always cared about questions like, Why did we pass that law? Why did that war start? And it seems that economics is always at the root. Economics is a useful way to study important questions."

Working with Michael Robinson, professor and chair of economics, Espinoza researched the effects of capital gains tax cuts on economic growth, hoping to get at the truth of competing claims that lowering the capital gains tax either helps or hinders overall economic growth. After examining many variables, she came to a simple conclusion: "We can't tell if there's a relationship. Econometrics cannot yet model it. So, if you hear someone on the news say that we knowa capital gains tax cut will increase growth, or decrease growth, it's patently false."

A Frances Perkins Scholar, Espinoza was raised in a small town in southeastern Colorado. She moved to Los Angeles, California, and worked at, an automotive information company, as assistant to the CFO and as staff accountant. She considered going to school to earn a CPA, but had the opportunity instead to come to MHC to study economics. "I am grateful for the College's commitment to financial aid, which allowed me to come here."

After graduation, Espinoza is planning to work as a research assistant to Dr. Roland Fryer, principal investigator of the American Inequality Lab at Harvard University's Du Bois Institute. "I'm very excited about the work. Professor Fryer is a prolific economist, a hard worker, and a hard thinker."

Emily GrothEmily Groth
Major: Studio Art
Hometown: Franklin, Massachusetts

Since being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age three and a half, Emily Groth '07 has spent much of her life trying to reconcile her passion for athletics with her physical pain and infirmity. Despite debilitating hip and knee problems, she has played varsity basketball and volleyball at MHC. "I was supposed to be in a wheelchair by age 11," she said.

It was her deteriorating physical condition that gave Groth, an art major, the idea for her senior thesis: construction of various artificial joints, leg braces, and wheelchairs out of scrap metal and other found objects. "At a certain point pain started controlling my life," she said. "The project helped me open up and talk about my fears about my body falling apart."

Groth's sculpture professor Joe Smith, assistant professor and cochair of art and art history, has been very supportive of her art and athletic life. "Emily's final project comes from a personal knowledge of the physical world and what it means to walk around in a body that may betray her," he said.

After graduation, Groth hopes to work at WGBH, the Boston PBS station, where she has had previous internships working on the production staff of several children's television shows. "It's a good atmosphere," she said. "I like working with and for kids."

Emily JohnsonEmily L. Johnson
Majors: Chemistry and German
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Combining her love of art and art history with her passion for chemistry, Emily Johnson '07 has been exploring the use of near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to examine works of art. She got the idea from a January Term course taught by Maria Gomez, assistant professor of chemistry, in 2005 using NIR spectroscopy to analyze The Holy Family by sixteenth-century Netherlandish painter Joos van Cleve, owned by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Johnson explained that NIR light penetrates the first layer of pigments on the canvas but stops at the drawings or sketches underneath, illuminating these "hidden" images for the viewer. The technique, which causes no damage to the work of art, reveals how a painting was changed by the artist (or artists) in the course of its creation, and also gives valuable clues about how a painting was damaged, amended, and restored over time.

Noting that senior thesis presentations have long been required of chemistry majors, Johnson said that she viewed the symposium as a rite of passage. "It's fun to see all these people, including my professors, in the audience. Not a lot of people know about art and art restoration, so I get to educate and inform them."

Grace June KimGrace June Kim
Major: Psychology and French
Hometown: Bronx, New York

As a first-generation college student, Grace June Kim '07 has written a senior thesis with a strong personal dimension. She is researching the relationship between adolescents' socioeconomic backgrounds and their savvy about careers and how to pursue them. She has looked at two groups of students--those whose parents are college educated and those whose parents did not attend college. Her research will shed light on how best to provide high school students with information about careers.

Kim's thesis advisor, Becky Packard, associate professor of psychology and education, said, "Grace is serious about her work and has served as a model for other students on our team. She has taught me so much about the role of social capital by reading widely and sharing her new knowledge with me. I know that this is just the beginning for Grace in terms of her contributions to the research community and to society more broadly."

Kim plans to work for a couple of years in a psychological or research institution before pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. "The study is applicable to my own life," she said. "It has contributed to my knowledge about the field and how to prepare for the graduate school application process."

Phyllis M. KodiPhyllis M. Kodi
Major: Economics
Hometown: Accra, Ghana

Though Phyllis Kodi '07 grew up in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, she's always been fascinated by her country's rural areas. In high school she recognized that economics offers a strong foundation for understanding rural development within the context of how an economy works. "I decided to major in economics and pursue independent research on issues affecting rural areas," Kodi said.

In her sophomore year, she began research that would become the foundation of a senior thesis on the role of decentralization and integrated rural development in Ghana. As a junior, Kodi interned with Ghana's Ministry of Rural Government and Local Development. "That was so valuable. It's one thing to read about the issues but something else to go into the field and experience what's going on," she explained.

As she worked on her thesis, Kodi decided to actually make policy recommendations since, as she said, there's always room for improvement. She'll be sending her thesis to the officials she met during her internship and hopes that it will spark a dialogue. Her ultimate goal is to establish a group of companies with a social enterprise model committed to improving the lives of rural people in Ghana.

Gina KonstantopoulosGina Konstantopoulos
Majors: Asian Studies
Hometown: New York City, New York

When she arrived on campus, Gina Konstantopoulos '07 intended to double major in Asian studies and biology. Then, halfway through her sophomore year, she realized that biology wasn't the right fit. So, with Asian studies in mind, Konstantopoulos enrolled in a 300-level history seminar on the Meiji Revolution taught by Professor Jonathan Lipman. "That's when I fell in love with the field. History really is the stories of people's lives and the choices they make, both good and bad," she said.

A student of Japanese, Konstantopoulos spent her junior year in Kyoto. There, a class on folklore and mythology inspired her to revisit research she'd done on the samarai mystique in Lipman's seminar. In particular, she wanted to examine the integration of the samurai spirit into Japan's kamikaze pilot corps during World War II. Her thesis evolved into a study of the reality of the kamikaze in comparison to its media image. One of the most fascinating parts of her research was reading the pilots' diaries; she even did some translation of primary sources. After graduation, Konstantopoulos will teach high school in New York City but plans to eventually earn a Ph.D. in history. "I know I'm not done with this topic yet."

LIndsey WhitmoreLindsey Whitmore
Major: English
Hometown:Hadley, Massachusetts

During her first two years at Mount Holyoke, Lindsey Whitmore '07 resisted the urge to major in English. She tried a range of alternatives: psychology, education, Buddhist studies. In the end, English won out but Whitmore struggled with how to link her commitment to social justice with her major. That changed when she was one of ten students accepted into "Inside-Out: Prison Literature and Creative Writing," a community-based learning course offered by visiting associate professor of English Simone Davis.

One morning a week, the class met at the Day Reporting Center in Springfield. There, they were joined by ten women who either were currently incarcerated or transitioning out of prison. "We did creative writing exercises and discussed prison memoirs. Through writing in community, any perceived divisions among us just crumbled. We came together on equal terms," Whitmore explained.

The class was, she said, her most incredible Mount Holyoke experience. When Whitmore found she couldn't stop thinking about it, she embarked upon a thesis examining the power and possibilities of creativity for women who are incarcerated. This project, likewise, has been "acute and intense. I now find myself relating differently to so many things that I encounter in my course work and my life."

Shuting YouShuting You
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Hefei Anhui, China

Growing up in China, Shuting You '07 enjoyed puzzles and card games. In high school she was drawn to math because of the logical thinking involved. "The challenge math offered was really motivating," she said.

Still, You didn't plan to be a math major at Mount Holyoke. Though she took a calculus class her first semester she admits that she didn't expect to particularly enjoy it. What changed her mind was Professor Margaret Robinson. "Her style of presenting and explaining was so clear and interesting. The class turned out to be amazing," she recalled.

You then took a math class each semester during her first two years. As a sophomore, she also did an independent study with Robinson on number theory. After taking a class on number theory as a junior, she began a thesis advised by Robinson. "We chose the topic of primality testing partly because in 2002 there had been a groundbreaking primality proving algorithmn. We wanted to investigate that," You explained.

After graduation You will work as an investment banking analyst for JP Morgan in New York City. Though her duties won't involve number theory she knows that she'll benefit from the way her studies have trained her to think.

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Photo Gallery (photos: Ben Barnhart)