Science Symposium Highlights Student Research
by Fred LeBlanc
importance of the sciences to education at Mount Holyoke—and
the broader societal impact that such instruction engenders—simply
cannot be overstated.
And encouraging young women to become a part of the global scientific community
and to make significant contributions in the areas of research and development
has been a goal of the College since its founding.
Those messages resonated clearly with the approximately 30 students who participated
in this year’s Howard Hughes Summer Program and presented their work at
a symposium in Kendade Hall on Friday, July 23.
The symposium served as a culmination of the eight-week program, during which
rising sophomores and rising seniors conduct research in concert with faculty
The program, now in its fourth year, is primarily funded by a $1 million grant
from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Other funding sources include
the National Science Foundation and Cascade Mentoring Program.
Participants in this summer’s program included students majoring in biology,
biochemistry, and mathematics. Students accepted into the program receive free
housing and a $3,600 stipend. Faculty members volunteer their time for the program.
“This program gives the students a great opportunity to do substantial
research and give a presentation on a very professional level in front of a friendly
but critical audience,” said Frank DeToma, Professor of Biological Sciences
on the Alumnae Foundation, director of the Science Center, and director of the
Howard Hughes Program Grant. “I think it’s incredibly important to
be able to prepare an abstract and present it. Any well-educated student should
be capable of doing this,” DeToma added.
Students at this year’s symposium gave presentations on work that ranged
from the study of steroid hormones in fruit flies and their effect on metamorphosis—specifically
cell death and morphogenesis; the effect of body size, limb posture, and muscle
function during terrestrial locomotion; and mathematical knot theory and its
application in biology.
“It showed me that I’m really interested in what I’m studying
and that I want to work in my field after I graduate,” said Alicja Bledzka ’06,
who conducted research on the effect of postnatal rearing environment on emotionality
According to Bledzka, her experience with the summer program was rewarding, and
the opportunity to challenge herself by doing prolonged, in-depth research was
“Working with Will Millard [associate professor of psychology and education]
was great. I’ve never had the chance to work so closely with the faculty
before. I think the main thing is that it’s given me a lot more confidence
in my abilities. It was really interesting,” said Bledzka, who is a neuroscience
major and intends to continue her studies on the graduate level.
“I was thinking how tickled Mary Lyon must be right now. She was the first
woman in the world who thought women should be learning and teaching science,” said
interim dean of faculty Penny Gill, in her opening remarks at the
“There could be a person in this room right now who discovers a cure for
AIDS or a new source of energy. Do science critically and ethically. Be aware
of the social, political, and cultural implications of your work. That is my
charge to you,” Gill said.
According to DeToma, the College has received a grant for an additional $1.2
million from HHMI that will allow the program to continue functioning over the
next four years.