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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

September 10, 2004

Summer Science Symposium Highlights Student Research

Photo by Fred LeBlanc

The 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 members.

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 in mice.

According to Bledzka, her experience with the summer program was rewarding, and the opportunity to challenge herself by doing prolonged, in-depth research was invaluable.

“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 symposium.

“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.


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