Opportunities Abound

Helena Valvur

Helena Valvur ’18, current student

Major: astronomy and dance

Internship: University of Massachusetts, lab intern

When I entered my first year at Mount Holyoke, I had no idea what I wanted to study; I knew I liked biology, dance, the stars… The list goes on. As luck would have, it I had signed up for an Intro to Astronomy class and by the time I finished my first semester I knew that I had found my major.

From the beginning, the department supported me and helped me determine my course of study and provided me with exciting opportunities in the field. Right away the head of the department Darby Dyar, helped me figure out how arrange my schedule so I could fit both astronomy courses and dance classes, as I had decided to double major. She also helped me find an internship in astrobiology at a lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst the summer after my first year.

That internship gave me an excellent view into life as a researcher. I spent the summer working with a Mount Holyoke grad, who also happened to be working in the lab. My job in the lab was to grow microbes on various samples of iron in order to study the spectroscopic patterns of the iron. The ultimate goal of the project is to use spectroscopic data to determine if (microscopic) aliens live, or have lived, on Mars. After the summer, I was invited to keep working in the lab during the year, an opportunity I enthusiastically accepted.

The experience of working in a lab has taught me to be independent and confident in my own abilities as I often am trusted to work on my own. I have also become a more effective communicator, as learning how to explain my project to others and work with other lab members requires being able to relay information readily and in a comprehensive manner. Additionally, working at UMass lets me enjoy the full advantage of the Five College system, which provides access to innumerable resources and opportunities beyond the Mount Holyoke campus. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and I am so grateful to have the encouragement of the astronomy department to guide me through my Mount Holyoke Experience.