Exploring bioethics via independent research

With her Lynk-funded research and a special major in bioethics and psychology, Michaela Flanders ’22 probes the intersection of society and mental health.

Thanks to The Lynk Universal Application Funding program, Michaela Flanders ’22 was able to spend the summer of 2021 investigating the mental health philosophies held by religious leaders, community organizers and clinicians. As a senior, she was able to use her literature review and interview results in her classes. “I wanted to do an independent research project associated with my special major, which is bioethics, so I went through the full IRB process of getting approved,” she said. Michaela noted that for an undergraduate, such a research project is “an awesome opportunity.”

Michaela’s special major in bioethics, which combines anthropology and philosophy with elements of psychology, evolved as she worked with her professors.

“I would definitely say more than one professor made a difference at Mount Holyoke for me. They create an environment in which students want to succeed, and they are wonderful role models of who I aspire to be as a professional.”

Felicity Aulino, Five College assistant professor of anthropology, encouraged Michaela to explore medical anthropology, which helped shape her special major. Leveraging the Five College Consortium, Michaela also worked closely with philosophy professor Laura Sizer — a former Hampshire College professor — who also provided critical support and lent an additional layer of depth to the forming of her major. And in a testament to the interdisciplinary experience of Mount Holyoke, Entrepreneurship, Organizations, and Society (EOS) professor Rick Feldman supervised her summer research. Within her fields of bioethics and psychology, Michaela’s main focus is on the social aspects of mental health.

Also influential was Professor Emeritus Gail Hornstein, whose book Michaela spotted on a bookstore shelf. Reading “Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness,” Michaela found her understanding of psychology evolving. She was delighted to meet Professor Hornstein, who signed the book when she was visiting campus for a film screening.

Michaela interned at a therapeutic farm, where she coached adults with developmental disabilities. The role gave her the chance to learn more about nonprofit management as well as human services. Michaela is considering these fields, along with health policy, for future graduate work. Directly after graduation, she plans to serve for a year in AmeriCorps.

Campus leadership holds learning opportunities and a chance to grow through new challenges, as Michaela points out. She served on the board of Active Minds, where she learned about the financial aspects of managing an organization. She also served in residence hall governance.

Spiritual life is another area Michaela found intriguing at Mount Holyoke. Campus faith communities gave her the chance to explore Catholic and Unitarian Universalist programs and expand her knowledge of Judaism. Connecting with the clergy and singing at services sparked new connections.

Michaela also took advantage of the College’s performing arts opportunities. Mount Holyoke’s dance studio, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, was one of many features that drew her to the College nearly four years ago. Applying to Mount Holyoke was a leap of faith, as tuition was not affordable for her family.

“I am incredibly grateful to the donors who give so generously, year after year, on behalf of students they have never met,” she said.

As an alum, Michaela looks forward to volunteering in ways that connect her with students, “whether that is alum stay or internship program hosting. And also giving financially because I definitely do understand the power of that.”