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Dean of Faculty’s Report, September 2005

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, the Dean of Faculty presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from the September 2005 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty:


Donna Van Handle, senior lecturer in German studies and dean of international students, has received the Houghton Mifflin award from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The award is presented annually to recognize excellence in the integration and use of technology in foreign language instruction at the postsecondary level. Donna will receive this award at the ACTFL annual meeting this November in Baltimore.

Karen Hollis, professor of psychology and education, has just been elected president of the American Psychological Association’s Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Division. This is a large, important division of the main professional organization for psychologists in the country. Karen’s election is a testimonial both to her achievements and to the high regard in which she is held by her peers.

Some of you may remember that last March, Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education, received a $441,530 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to fund her study of how low-income urban youth study science and technology. Astonishingly, we have five individuals in addition to Becky (Sean Decatur, Marilyn Dawson Sarles, M.D. Professor of Life Sciences, professor of chemistry, and director of the science complex; Craig Woodard, associate professor of biological sciences; Janice Hudgings, associate professor of physics; and Jill Bubier, Marjorie Fisher Associate Professor of Environmental Studies) who have received CAREER awards and another two (Rachel Fink, professor of biological sciences, and Aaron Ellison, formerly Marjorie Fisher Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of biological sciences) who received earlier incarnations of them. It is easy to get blasé about them. However, it is well to remember that receiving a CAREER award is already enormously prestigious and enormously difficult. Fewer than 300 are awarded a year. This may sound like a lot. But they are spread over the 30 divisions in the National Science Foundation. So, there are about 10 such awards per division. A typical small division is mathematical sciences. There are about 1,000 new Ph.D.s in mathematics and statistics a year. One in 100 will receive a CAREER award. The odds are steeper still in fields like education, biology, and sociology where the number of doctorates is far higher. This summer Becky’s work received further recognition. She was one of only 20 of the 300 CAREER awardees to be selected to receive a Presidential Early Career Award. This is the highest honor that the U.S. bestows on a young scientist, and it is a stunning achievement. It signals the importance and promise to the nation of Becky’s work. What, Becky wants to know, are the career paths of low-income youth? What are the differential roles played by race, income, and class? What roles do mentors and career models play? Despite the critical importance of these questions to our national enterprise, the literature is dominated more by myth and belief. Good data and analysis are scarce. Happily, she is not the only one who wants to know. She received the award from President Bush on June 13. Since I have been at Mount Holyoke, this is only the second time that a young scientist at the College has been so honored. The award is first and foremost a testimonial to Becky, but it is sure fun and inspiring for the rest of us to bask in her reflected glory.


There are loads of new books and papers. I have dipped into a couple, but have not had a chance to finish any. On the subject of babies, I want to point you to a new book entitled Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career. The book is edited by Rachel Bassett and has just come out with Vanderbilt University Press. It is really good, but the best article by far is a short, beautifully written, highly moving article entitled Science Mom by Rachel Fink. The article reads as if it was dashed off in an inspired creative frenzy. It is brutally honest, more so perhaps than Rachel intended. But it really is a gift to the rest of us. It describes the joys, conflicts, and pain of mothering, partnering, and working at institutions like ours.


Simone Weil Davis, visiting associate professor of English, has received $1,915 from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities for Inside-Out at the Hamden County Correctional Center’s Women’s Unit: A Prison Education Project. She plans to create a course that combines literary analysis of prison fiction and memoirs with creative writing by students. The students will consist of 8-10 Mount Holyoke students and a similar number of female inmates in the Hamden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

Sean Decatur, Thorsteinn Adalsteinsson, postdoctoral fellow in chemistry, Wei Chen, associate professor of chemistry, and Darren Hamilton, associate professor of chemistry, received $171,973 from the National Science Foundation for their project Acquisition of Instrumentation for a Materials Characterization and Fabrication Facility. They plan to buy equipment that will allow their students and themselves to make and study nanoscale devices. From the point of view of chemistry, this amounts to making and studying devices made of fairly large molecules, but from the point of view of engineering, it represents extreme miniaturization unimaginable a few decades ago. One of the most exciting aspects of the proposed work is that the chemistry department will acquire facilities for ultraviolet lithography, which is perhaps the most common tool-making technique in nanotechnology. This will allow the department to continue its groundbreaking initiative of introducing nanotechnology into the curriculum.

Maria Gomez, assistant professor of chemistry, and eight colleagues from Hamilton, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Westminister, and Wooster Colleges and Truman State received a $100,000 award from the National Science Foundation for their project Acquisition of a Linux Cluster for the Molecular Education and Research Consortium in Undergraduate Computational Chemistry (MERCURY). The actual high-speed computing cluster will be built and located at Hamilton College, and will be accessed by undergraduates in Maria’s lab working on mathematically modeling various mechanisms of ion transport.

James Morrow, codirector of SummerMath and lecturer in mathematics, has received $89,998 from NASA for the SummerMath NASA Scholars Program. This grant allows the SummerMath Program to offer scholarships to SummerMath students.

Megan Nùñez, Clare Booth Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and two colleagues from Occidental College have received $160,134 from the National Science Foundation for their project Interfacial Chemistry of the Bacterial Predator Bdellovibrio. Bdellovibrium is a bacterium that preys on other bacteria (including E. coli) by attaching itself to their surface, suffocating them, and living in the dead cell. Megan and her colleagues want to figure out how the predator squeezes inside the membrane of the prey bacterium and how it feeds on its molecules. Their students will use atomic force microscopy to get images of attacks in progress.

Sami Rollins, assistant professor of computer science, has received a three-year grant of $212,246 from the National Science Foundation for her project Cooperative Prefetching for Mobile Devices. The grant will support the development of algorithms for mobile devices such as PDAs and laptops to prioritize, synchronize, and download data from a master computer. The goal of the algorithms will be to download data when within the range of wireless connections so that the mobile devices can be used for data handling even when temporarily disconnected from the Internet. What makes the problem complicated is the unpredictability of connections, the need to conserve power on the mobile devices, and the possibility of having a number of devices.

Together with collaborators at Amherst College and UMass, Sami Rollins received another $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation for the project Acquisition of a Laboratory Testbed for Networked Embedded Systems and Sensor Research. They are going to build a test network of sensors and mobile devices that will span three of the five colleges, and they are going to involve graduate and undergraduate students in experimenting with the network and studying issues such as data and memory management. The proposed work is highly cross-disciplinary and involves most of the main areas of computer science: networking, operating systems and architecture, and distributed and mobile systems.

Sharon Stranford, assistant professor of biological sciences, has been awarded $227,613 by the National Institutes of Health for her project CD8+ Cell Antiviral Response against Murine Leukemia Virus. The grant will allow Sharon and her students to investigate and compare differential gene expression in healthy mice and mice with AIDS. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the proposed work, she is using cutting-edge analytic techniques both to gather data and to analyze it. On the one hand, she is using microarray techniques developed in concert with collaborators from Stony Brook, Smith, and Harvard. On the other, she is working with George Cobb, Robert L. Rooke Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, to deploy recently discovered mathematical techniques for novel statistical design of her proposed experiments.

Sharon Stranford, Amy Frary, assistant professor of biological sciences, Sarah Bacon, associate professor of biological sciences, Megan Nunez, and Lilian Hsu, Elizabeth Page Greenawalt Professor of Biochemistry and chair of biochemistry, have received $186,375 from the National Science Foundation for their project Acquisition of Genomics Instrumentation at Mount Holyoke College. The grant will enable them to purchase a suite of high-tech instrumentation for analysis of nucleic acids. The instruments include a phosphorimager, a very fast PCR fluorescence detector that will allow detection of even single copies of a specific gene sequence, a microarray scanner, and a spectrophotometer capable of measuring super small, super dilute samples.

Al Werner, professor of geology, received an additional $13,495 supplement from the National Science Foundation for Holocene and Modern Climate Change in the High Arctic: Establishing an REU site on Svalbard, Norway.

The NSF proposal An Integrative Curriculum in Planetary Science of Darby Dyar, associate professor of astronomy and geology and chair of astronomy, Tom Burbine, visiting assistant professor of astronomy and Five College postdoctoral research associate, and Catrina Hamilton, Five College teaching fellow in astronomy, has been recommended for funding. We don’t know yet whether it will be for the full $198,554 requested.

Don O’Shea
September 2005

Dean of Faculty's Reports Index

Copyright © 2006 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on June 13, 2006.