A shared passion for ideas


From top left, panelists Snehal Naik '03, Allison Hayes-Conroy '03, Liliane Ndong '03, Erin Schwamb '02, Sadie White '03, Trecia Pottinger '03, Melody Tulier '02, Zhanara Nauruzbayeva '02, Maria Soledad Sklate '03.

The feeling of belonging to the scientific community was "wonderfully enlightening" for Snehal Naik '03, of Bombay, when she co-presented research at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction in Baltimore last July with Assistant Professor of Biology Tamara Davis.

As a part of the October 5 launch of "Challenging Women," Naik, a candidate for the B.A. and M.A. in biology, described her experience during a panel discussion on the special opportunities at Bryn Mawr for independent research by undergraduates.

"Scientists from other countries were coming up to my poster and saying, 'I read your abstract and found it really fascinating. Why don't you tell me more about it?'," she said. "I realized that I want the anticipation of not knowing whether someone will completely tear apart my idea or say, 'I don't really believe this data.' I want to do molecular genetics, and I want to be back at those meetings as Dr. Naik someday!"

A fellow in Bryn Mawr's Dorothy Nepper Marshall Program, which encourages talented seniors to pursue teaching and research careers in higher education, Naik has worked with Davis on a two-year laboratory research project on genomic imprinting in mice.

Naik explained that imprinting is a form of gene regulation found in mammals. Cells can reset the preference for one of two alleles, or alternative forms of a specific gene from the mother and father, by chemically modifying DNA. "The only way for that imprint to be reset is for the cell to go through the natural process of male or female germ cell development from beginning to end," Naik said. "Defects in genomic imprinting can cause rare but very serious conditions in humans. Imprinting is also an example of one of the processes that could be misregulated in cells grown in tissue culture and stem cells."

Naik said her Marshall experience taught her that "Science is not a pretty picture. But no research is fruitless-it will have implications someday." She returned from winter break in 2001 to find a paper published on the topic she had chosen for her B.A. thesis: "I went to my advisor and said, 'What do we do?' She said, 'Well, we just find something they haven't done.' That's exactly what we did-read the paper and found what we wished they had done. Sure enough it worked. It wasn't easy to let go of something you'd been working on for six months, but if you are in a field that's constantly evolving, you have to be willing to pick up where others leave off."

For the teaching component of her Marshall fellowship, Naik is designing and teaching a biochemistry lab on nucleic acids. "This has also been eye-opening for me," she said. "You realize that professors don't just get up one morning and say, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do in lab.' There are months and months of preparation that go into prerunning the labs, because if you can't get the experiments to work, your students aren't going to either. And one of the most valuable things I've been learning in having to teach this lab is how to communicate specialized knowledge to people who have absolutely no background."

Naik, who is Hall Advisor in Rhoads, finds the position gives her opportunities to tell younger students about the Marshall Program, which is also advertised to all juniors by letter.

Land use and ecology
Allison Hayes-Conroy '02 considers that she began doing research for her Marshall project as a child growing up in southern New Jersey.

"Having grown up in a Quaker family and school where the value of land stewardship was instilled in me, I was really very distraught at how rapidly the forests and farmland in Burlington County were being turned into suburban developments and strip malls,"she said. "As a sixth grader, I wrote a letter to a local newspaper asking why this was happening, who was allowing it, and why no one else seem to share in my distress. Ten years later, I'm still searching for answers to these questions, but by now I've become more focused, more methodical, and perhaps more critical."

A Growth and Structure of Cities major with a concentration in environmental science, Hayes-Conroy is writing a book that synthesizes her academic learning at Bryn Mawr and is aimed at solving some of the environmental and regional planning problems she noticed a decade ago.

She said the most difficult part of her research to date has been on the degree to which farming is harmful to the natural ecology of the Pine Barrens. "Because the rift between farmers and environmentalists there is quite strong, I had to be careful not to slip unknowingly into environmental science jargon if I didn't want defensive replies from the farmers, or sometimes worse, no answer at all," she said. "Yet it was of one of the most rewarding experiences, as I began to learn the difficulties and delights of interviewing a very passionate group of people and became comfortable in general with how one goes about doing this kind of research."

The chapter that is part of her thesis looks at the extent to which fairs and festivals overlook or use local history and landscape to promote ecological awareness. As a teaching assistant for Cities 185:Urban Culture and Society with her faculty mentor, Professor Gary McDonogh, and Assistant Professor Juan Arbona, Hayes-Conroy particularly values serving as a resource for sites in southern New Jersey and encouraging students who are interested in incorporating environmental science into the Cities major. She is looking for graduate programs that would allow her to continue the kind of interdisciplinary research she is doing at Bryn Mawr.

Agricultural policy in Senegal
Roasted peanuts were Liliane Ndong '03's favorite snack as a child growing up in Senegal, where she lived in a small village before moving to the capital city of Dakar to start primary school. She recalled helping with the planting of millet, sorghum and maize for her grandmother, but was surprised to learn the size of Senegal's annual peanut production-as much as one million tons-while researching topics on its economy for her Marshall proposal, and she determined to find out more.

Ndong explained that to cover the costs of making Senegal a colony in 1887, France forced farmers to reduce their production of local cereals and grow more peanuts. Peanuts remained the focus of Senegal's agricultural policy after it gained independence in 1960, and surpluses from their sale were used to subsidize cereal imports for the urban population.

After 1970, Senegal's peanut production declined sharply as a result of the oil crisis, severe droughts, and reduced subsidies and world market prices. In spite of a structural adjustment program from the International Monetary Fund to increase cereal self-sufficiency, it has declined 47 percent.

When Ndong's fellowship enabled her to visit Senegal last summer, she interviewed the minister of agriculture about the effectiveness of agricultural policy and ways to improve it. "I set up a survey and went in and told him: 'This is wrong, and this is wrong, and this is wrong, and you have to do this and that'," Ndong said. "He just looked at me and laughed. He told me that I was very young and very passionate, and someday I would learn. But after hearing his perspective, I became more critical of the articles I had been reading. To me the problem and solutions had been obvious, but he had knowledge of the political ramifications of implementing an agricultural plan.

"My project has made me really interested in the role agriculture can play in economic development in third world countries," said Ndong, who is applying to graduate programs in economics.

Understanding brain seizures
Physics major Erin Schwamb '02 chose to do research for her honors thesis that might in the future help control seizures, working with Marion Reilly Professor of Physics Al Albano on his project that uses chaos theory to analyze electrical signals in the human brain during an attack.

"One of my favorite and best teachers in high school, a brilliant man, has suffered from seizures for many years," she said. "I really liked the idea that my research, 20-30 years down the road, might contribute in some small part to understanding more about that kind of condition and maybe even have applications that make people's lives easier."

Schwamb had learned about chaos theory in a high school physics class and after asking Albano for more readings during her freshman year was thrilled to be placed with him for her senior work.

"I was really intrigued in high school by the idea that there is an underlying order to some apparently random processes if you look at them with the right analytical tools," she said. "When we find that order, what does this tell us about the world?"

For Albano's project, she combined two ideas: " 'Embedding' takes a single stream of data and manipulates it to create a much more complex picture of what's happening in the brain. 'Mutual information' describes the amount of information that is shared between two different sets of data," she said.

"For the bulk of my senior year, I worked on writing a computer program that would first embed two data sets and then calculate the mutual information between the two resulting complex operations, something that, as far as we find, has not been done in the research before. We tested the program by using two data sets generated from mathematical equations that we understand. The next step is to get some actual data from electrical signals from a brain, prior to, during, and after a seizure.

"If we can find out how two areas of the brain might be communicating, we may learn something about the order in which the seizure spreads through different areas of the brain with the eventual goal of being able to predict the onset of a seizure or where the seizure originated."

Schwamb, who is working as a systems support specialist at Bryn Mawr's Computing Center, grew increasingly interested in programming while doing her thesis and would like to pursue professional development in computing systems administration.

Creating a molecule
Sadie White '03 is working to complete the last of a series of three chemical reactions needed to create a y-butyrolactam serine protease inhibitor, a molecule with a five-membered ring at its center that breaks open and hooks into an enzyme. "We're the only lab making this particular kind of molecule," said White, a chemistry major with a concentration in biochemistry who works with Assistant Professor of Chemistry William Malachowski's group. "It's cool and exciting to be on the edge of biochemical research, but it's also difficult in that we can't turn to others doing analogous work."

"Proteases are enzymes in your body that act as biological catalysts and break up proteins," White explained. "Your body is in a constant state of flux; proteins that are no longer needed must be broken down. Inhibitors of proteases are organic or organometallic molecules that bind to proteases and stop them completely from working or slow them just enough from working to have a significant biological effect. Unchecked protease activity is associated with several disease states, such as AIDS, certain processes in the growth of cancer, and emphysema."

White is confident that her third step will work. "But even if it's past my time, we'll continue to try to make the molecule," she said. "The great thing about organic chemistry is that it's so old. There is a huge body of research on different sorts of reactions, and even though peptide chemistry isn't as terribly well understood as other fields, there are still lots of different things we can draw on." She plans to compare her molecule's ability to bind at the enzyme's active site with a four-membered ring already created by researchers in Malachowski's group.

A Marshall Fellow, White works with Senior Lecturer in Chemistry Krynn Lukacs as a teaching apprentice. She was also an Alumnae Regional Scholar and is applying to graduate programs in oceanography.

Political spaces
Marshall Fellow Trecia Pottinger '03, a double major in German and the Growth and Structure of Cities, first began to explore issues of migration and ethnicity in a class on women's narratives taught by Azade Seyhan, Fairbank Professor in the Humanities, and professor of German and comparative literature. (see this issue's On Course section)

"I was really curious about the contradictions in a country that has been a country of immigrations yet has historically refused to acknowledge this," Pottinger said. Through a comparison of Afro-German and Turkish migrant populations, she found that skin color rather than citizenship functioned as a "passport" of acceptance into mainstream German society.

She wanted to explore this issue further while studying at the Humbolt University in Berlin during her junior year. "When I got to Germany, however, I became really interested in the dynamics of a neighborhood in Berlin called Kreuzberg, located on the periphery of former West Berlin, that attracted a lot of populations defined as oppositional to mainstream German society," she said.

Pottinger, whose faculty mentors are Seyhan and Gary McDonogh, also holds an Andrew W. Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship, awarded to African American, Latina and Native American students to encourage them to earn doctorates in disciplines in which minority groups have been traditionally underrepresented. She is applying to graduate schools.

In Kreuzberg, she studied spaces exemplary of three populations: Turkish migrant (a market); leftist (a demonstration); and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities(a nightclub), doing participant observation and interviews and gathering documents from organizations that do relevant work in each area.

Opportunities for undergraduate research at Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr faculty treasure the dimension that undergraduate research adds to scholarly life.

"Insofar as our mission is Socratic, we have a unique chance with each student in helping them to bring forth their ideas in a sustained and meaningful way," said Professor of English Carol Bernstein, one of three faculty members who each moderated a panel at the October 5 launch. "It allows both parties to have a sustained intellectual dialogue over a period of months, and sometimes even years, about their work. Very often the work of students actually changes our perspectives on our own work, so it's both a challenging and an exhilarating experience."

"It is a joy and a privilege to work with students like these, and there are lots more like them," said Associate Professor of Human Development Kimberly E. Cassidy. "They have developed a personal interest in a topic or come with a question, and the freshness they bring can breathe life into a research program that may only reside, at a small college, within one faculty member."

Every undergraduate has the opportunity to do independent research through supervised departmental or interdepartmental work and through Bryn Mawr's Praxis program, which integrates intensive academic study with rigorous fieldwork.

Each summer, the College provides 35-45 students with 10-week stipends to conduct independent research under the guidance of Bryn Mawr faculty in the sciences and mathematics. Specialized programs such as the Dorothy Nepper Marshall (with support from the Ford Foundation)and Mellon Minority Undergraduate fellowships fund students to do summer research with faculty members in the humanities and sciences as well.

Students say they find it easy to approach faculty with ideas and projects. "One of the advantages of being at a small college is that faculty see students who are doing advanced work as well as those in their first or second years," said Professor of Political Science, Steven Salkever. "When a certain point of interest comes up, it's very natural to say 'So and so is a senior or junior and working on this, too.' "

"The interviews were one of the most challenging parts of my research; not only did I have to overcome my fear of approaching and talking to someone, but I had to do it in a foreign language," she said. "The data that I got from talking to people and listening to them really helped me understand the way they perceive the spaces."

Pottinger sees a shift from politicization of the three spaces to interest in their commercial uses by outsiders. "I found, for example, that the people who come to the Turkish market are very diverse and included a mainstream group that exoticized the market and saw it as a multicultural experience, foreign to them but still in the boundaries of Germany," she said.

Citizenship in shantytowns
Inspired by slides she viewed as a freshman in Cities 185, Melody Tulier '02 compared the status as citizens of shantytown dwellers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, for her senior Cities thesis, for which she received the department's Elisha Bolton prize.

A graduate student in urban studies and planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tulier was a Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellow and spent two summers doing fieldwork in Lima and Buenos Aires. She later returned to both cities to work with community organizations.

"The shantytowns are peripheral communities with precarious housing structures and limited access to basic services such as water and electricity for the people who come to live there from rural regions and bordering countries," Tulier said.

"In Argentina, government policy has been tailored towards the middle class, often of European ancestry, living in the urban core." She found much more tolerance in Lima than in Buenos Aires, however, for shantytown dwellers from indigenous cultures and languages.

Governments have used communal kitchens and other efforts by women in shantytowns as an easy way to avoid connecting organizers with other non-governmental organizations at a higher level or with foundations, Tulier noted.

Revision of Kazakh history
At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, Marshall Fellow Zhanara Nauruzbayeva '02 was attending Russian grade school in Kazakhstan. "Two years later, my parents decided to move me back to Kazakh school, a choice many families made based on their fear that their children would grow up with no memory of their cultural heritage," she said.

Nauruzbayeva, who majored in Peace and Conflict Studies, was an ARS Scholar and received a Carnegie Endowment International Peace Fellowship for 2002-2003. She is working at the Endowment in Washington, D.C. Mentored by Professor of Political Science Marc Ross, she decided to investigate the revision of Kazakh history for her honors thesis.

"I conducted my research over three months in Kazakhstan and interviewed both people who were schooled during the Soviet regime and who studied history after its breakup," Nauruzbayeva said. "I also studied the portrayal of four events in school history textbooks published prior to and after 1991.

"Soviet textbooks treated the emergence of the Kazakh nation only beginning in the 15th century, with the political unit called the Kazakh khanate; post-Soviet textbooks treated the Kazakhs as originating in the 7th and 4th century B.C.E. Soviet textbooks referred to the voluntary joining of Kazakhstan to Russia, but Kazakh textbooks directly termed it a Russian conquest.

"The uprising of 1916 was interpreted by the Soviet textbooks as predecessor to the October Revolution of 1917; Kazakh textbooks, however, treated it as national liberation work against Russia. Last but not least, Soviet textbooks referred to the period of the Soviet Union as a victory, the final culmination of Communism, but the Kazakh textbooks refer to it as years of totalitarian regime."

Self-analysis and democracy
Maria Soledad Sklate '03 became so engaged in the 3 a.m. writing of a final paper on Plato's Republic for a political philosophy class with Professor of Political Science Steven Salkever that she knew she wanted to defend the democratic principles of Plato's political ideas for her senior thesis.

"In the tradition of political philosophy, Plato has always been accused of being anti-democratic, especially because of the idea he presents in the Republic of establishing a rule of philosophers," said Sklate, a candidate for the B.A. in political science and B.A. and M.A. in French. "Plato argues, through Socrates, that you must have not only practical knowledge of politics but also understand its form, what politics is in itself," she said.

"Many have argued this is elitist because a majority of people are not going to have access to that philosophical degree of thought.

"Socrates charged that the Athenian model of democracy was involved in a self-glorification process and lacked the capability for self-analysis because it demanded passive obedience of its citizens. One of the first concepts Socrates introduces is that of questioning, debating and inquiring. Without this, democracy can't improve or evolve and fails to respond to the needs of citizens, who themselves change during the process.

"It's especially important to look back at the model proposed by Plato at this time in the United States, after the events of 9/11, when the people's right to question is being challenged, paradoxically, in the name of democracy," she said. Sklate, who studied at Bryn Mawr's Institut d'╔tudes Franšaises in Avignon, France, in the summer of 2001, would like to work in an international organization.

The future of Bryn Mawr
In order to meet their ambitions, Bryn Mawr students like these need access to teacher-scholars of the first rank, world class labs and libraries, and learning and research opportunities outside traditional settings on campus.

Salkever argued that "one of the most exciting things faculty get to do at Bryn Mawr, and perhaps the most important, is the chance to transmit to students how to learn on their own."

"Before doing my fieldwork, I had never known what it was to be in a Latin American city by myself, without the help of professors, trying to get interviews with heads of foundations and government officials," said Melody Tulier. "Without this research, I would not have gotten into MIT, and I would not be studying urban poverty in Latin America. It really was the ticket to exploring other realms."

-JAN T. TREMBLEY '75

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