December 2015: Thoughts on Intellectual Curiosity

2018cohort

by Abigail Sweetman, Marisa Egan and Shelley Donaldson
McNulty Scholars, Class of 2018

It’s the holiday season, and we’ve got one week to go before we’re back home with our friends and family, answering this one question countless times:

“What are you studying?”

This is usually a one-word answer, but as we use our learning to develop into multidisciplinary, curious, and impassioned adults, this answer has many limitations. As women of math and science, we embrace our intellectual curiosity as a method of learning more about ourselves, more about our fields, and, most importantly, more about the world around us.

Marisa Egan

eganblogMathematics and biology invigorate my intellectual curiosity on a daily basis. Courses such as Differential Equations and Organic Chemistry fuel my academic passions. However, they do not entirely encapsulate my intellectual interests. Prior to this semester, I felt as though I would forever be intellectually satisfied by my math and science courses. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised when I found yet another academic concentration that captivated my curiosity: philosophy.

Every Moral Foundations class this semester filled me with a sense of purpose. Our class discussions always carried a significance that extended beyond the classroom walls. No other class had ever felt so relevant to me before Moral Foundations. As we pondered topics ranging from daily moral choices to the gravity of absolute poverty, I became irrevocably fascinated by the study of philosophy. My Moral Foundations class changed me as a thinker, as a student, and as a human being. My professor taught me that approximately eleven children die a minute in absolute poverty from preventable causes. That is not a statistic that I am willing to live with; so now, I try to orient my life in a direction that prevents some form of absolute poverty. Currently, I am focusing on passionately raising awareness about the gravity of absolute poverty and urging others to contribute to worthy causes, such as the “Giving What We Can” movement. My philosophy class reminded me to always consider the true meaning of success, as summarized by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem entitled “Success.”  The last two lines resonate the most with me. They represent the magic of life, that is to change someone else’s world for the better. I intend to take as many Philosophy classes as I can, as a student at Saint Joseph’s University, because my intellectual curiosity does not merely begin and end in the realm of science and mathematics.

Success

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty,

To find the best in others,

to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,

A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

Abbie Sweetman

sweetmanblogI’ve never found myself a strict adherent to one intellectual pursuit. In some regards, I’m a bit of an academic infidel. But I’ve never really seen it as infidelity. STEM fields can sometimes be very stigmatized as disciplines that require certain ways of thinking or certain strengths. While development of specific practice is crucial to any STEM field, I reject any notion of exclusivity. Yes, it’s true that certain people are attracted to these jobs. But we’re so much more than people who hold pipettes and calculators. And, while I wholly support the idea that McNulty Scholars can rock lab coats and safety glasses better than just about anyone (maybe I’m biased), STEM field hopefuls benefit from other fields of study. We’re not just mathematicians. We’re not just scientists. We’re historians, writers, artists, political activists, and, most of all, thinkers. The element of multidisciplinary and creative thought is integral to success in math and science.  Revolutionary thought doesn’t emerge from people who just learn what other people teach. It comes from taking things learned and synthesizing them in different ways to find something new. Personally, you’ll find me absorbed in South Asian History or wielding a blowtorch or in the perpetual search of a perfect red lipstick. Intellectual curiosity doesn’t make us unfocused- it makes us more whole.

Shelley Donaldson

donaldsonblogAs a math major, I am rarely satisfied when a professor simply presents me with a formula and tells me which values to plug in to get the answer. I am always yearning to know more: how does one derive the given formula? What are the theories that support the use of this method in practice? For me, this constant desire for deeper understanding persists outside of the classroom and beyond my declared academic interests of math and computer science. At any point in time, any given thing might peak my intellectual curiosity, consuming my thoughts and preventing me from focusing on anything else until my curiosity has been satisfied.

A perfect example: just last night I was preparing shrimp scampi with rice, a gourmet meal for any college student. As I chopped up onion after onion for the scampi sauce, I became fascinated with the layers of the onions and began to wonder how exactly the layers formed. I couldn’t wait until after my meal to find out, so while the sauce simmered, I propped up my laptop on the edge of the counter and began Googling. A quick search of “how do onions grow?” yielded such unhelpful answers as “with lots of room and plenty of sunlight,” but I was not discouraged. Twenty minutes and many Google searches later I finally came across a post on Reddit that explained that the layers of an onion grow from the inside out, and described the biological reasons behind this process. Only after having found my answer could I move on with my evening and eat my dinner. Onion layers was yesterday’s spontaneous intellectual pursuit. It’s anyone’s best guess which of the world’s wonders will inspire my intellectual curiosity tomorrow.

November 2015: A Call to Action–If We Could Bring About a Change for Women, What Would It Be?

2017cohort2

by Jane Bukovec, Sarah Cooney, Courtney Hulbert, Valerie Jenkins, Karen Medina and Marissa Tremoglie
McNulty Scholars Program Class of 2017

Last week, the film Suffragette, depicting the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, was released.  The powerful film highlights the importance of the vote and the changes it allowed women to make in their lives, as well as the very real consequences suffered by those who chose to join the movement.  Besides being imprisoned, many were ostracized by their communities, lost their jobs, or lost their families.  Some even lost their lives.   However, without the enormous sacrifices of these women, our lives would look nothing like what they do today, and our opportunities would be incredibly limited.

One of the most wonderful aspects of the McNulty Program is the caring and supportive community of peers and mentors.  As a group, we are committed to building one another up and cheering each other’s success.  In this environment, we are able to thrive as women and scientists.  The number of opportunities we are given make the possibilities seem infinite.

Unfortunately, the real world hasn’t quite caught up.  The STEM fields are just a few of many parts of the world that are not always friendly to women.  According to data from the Half the Sky Movement, “Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land…They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but also from discrimination by their employers. The majority of women earn on average about three-fourths of the pay that men receive for doing the same work, outside of the agricultural sector, in both developed and developing countries.  Gender-based violence is both persistent and widespread, and ranks as the top public health crisis for women in the world today…women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.”

As future leaders, we need to be prepared not just for our individual careers, but to become agents of change for all women.  The suffragists won us the vote, but their battle isn’t really over.  It is up to us to use what they won and to continue the crusade for women’s rights.    The task may be daunting, but the results are worth it.  To inspire us to dream big and beyond ourselves, we asked ourselves if we could bring about a change for women today, what would it be?

Jane Bukovec 

BukovecI would give all women access to education and health care. I think these are extremely important prerequisites to economic and political involvement. We might take these for granted in the US, but women without these in other parts of the world don’t stand a chance. At SJU, we are lucky to be able to aid in these efforts, particularly in programs like PAGES (Philadelphia Area Girls Enjoying Science) and The Philadelphia Science Festival. Exposing young girls, particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, to the possibility of further education is incredibly important.

Valerie Jenkins

JenkinsI would change the way that women interact with one another by increasing support among women for each other’s accomplishments. I would want women to eliminate the competitive nature that separates us and instead practice supportive relationships that build us up.

Marissa Tremoglie

tremoglieblogI think that there’s this prevailing misperception in our generation that to make significant change we have to rebel and buck the system. Put simply, we sometimes forget that we have this incredible power in our society that so many others globally do not possess; we get to vote. We get to have a voice. If everyone in our generation felt empowered, felt as if their voices mattered, as though they were heard, imagine the change we could effect. Imagine the fair representation of women’s issues and women’s voices on all levels. Important and relevant issues like paid family leave, the monetization of women’s work globally and the right to health care could become a reality if we all went to the voting booth, even in local elections. We have an incredible gift in democracy and it’s up to us to use it, to make our voices and the voices of the disenfranchised heard. SJU does incredible social advocacy work, with programs like the Ignatian Family Teach-In, Service Immersion Abroad and Study Tours. The ability to expose students, many of whom come from privileged backgrounds, to the reality of life for so many people globally builds the kind of empathy that motivates lasting social action.

Courtney Hulbert 

hulbertblogI would change the sense of doubt placed on women when they are following their dreams. (That little voice that says “Are you sure you have thought that all the way through?”) Often times, women are faced with questions instead of support. The beautiful part of it is that we can begin the change–by encouraging and supporting one another, we allow for the change to begin.

Karen Medina

medinablogIf I could change something I would change how women are viewed, as in not being stereotyped or not being harshly judged for how we dress or what we decide to do when it comes to personal decisions. I get that there’s a time and place for everything and certain expectations for decorum, but the expectations for women are often too high and not the same for men. And while we’ve made progress here in the states, not everywhere in the world sees women the same way. Not every culture appreciates our contributions to society. Not every culture attempts equality. The McNulty Scholars Program has taught me that women have so much potential and there’s so much for us to do. We make a difference by learning how our Jesuit values apply to our lives. By living greater as women, we learn how to work alongside men as equals and to encourage other women to achieve their dreams, particularly through mentorship.

Sarah Cooney

cooneyblogI would give girls worldwide access to education, specifically targeting literacy and access to books. I’ve learned more than I can articulate just by reading. Books are windows into the world and experiences that you many never access any other way. I believe women are naturally capable, and access to knowledge is all they need to start dreaming of and realizing new ways of changing the world.

October 2015: A Review of Photograph 51 by the Lantern Theater Company, Philadelphia PA

2019cohort

By Ashley Frankenfield, Elise Brutschea, Lakshmi Narayanam, Kaleigh Williams and Jamilyn Mooteb
McNulty Program, Class of 2019

Photograph 51 is a play written by Anna Ziegler and directed by Kathryn MacMillan. The play follows Rosalind Franklin, a hardworking female scientist, who is overshadowed by the men of her time as she tries to determine one of life’s greatest mysteries: DNA.

Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins took a photograph of a DNA sample taken from a human calf tissue which showed an ‘x’ image to the naked eye. To Franklin and her partner, Wilkins, and their colleagues, Drs. Watson and Crick, this was a breakthrough. The photograph, named Photograph 51, confirmed the scientists’ theories that the DNA was a double helix.

The double helix shape or corkscrew shape helped answer some of the questions that scientists of the time had. How does the ‘gene’ get copied and passed with few mistakes? What would be the ideal shape for the gene to copy? What is the makeup of the DNA? The genes that make up a person’s characteristics had to be copied easily and exactly with few problems. They also had to be arranged in a certain way. The corkscrew shape shows a winding ladder with the genes on one side of the ladder connecting to the genes on the other side. When they are to be copied, they simply unzip and split into two strands.

With this new information on how DNA is shaped, biologists and other scientists have a better understanding of how life forms and evolves. This finding helped people understand why people have certain genes and why certain genes die out. Understanding the structure of DNA helps biologists and chemists find ways to develop better medications and it furthers their understanding of life’s smallest structures.

In plays it is the actors who either make or break a story. Through the use of emotion, different elements of a person’s life are exposed and a play becomes more engaging. During Photograph 51, the cast expertly put emotions into their dialogue. They were able to make the audience laugh and be serious at the same time. After seeing this play, we can say that without this cast, the play would not have had as powerful of an impact. Genevieve Perrier, who played Rosalind Franklin, perfectly captured what it was like to be a woman in science at this time. Women have in the past and continue to be viewed as incapable of solving problems. Perrier was able to show how Franklin felt being constantly questioned about her work. Also, Perrier was able to demonstrate Franklin’s wit when talking to other characters. In a laboratory scene, Perrier was able to put on a hard front and focused only on the work Franklin would have been doing; however, while on a date she was able to show how Franklin wasn’t just a cold-hearted woman. Without Genevieve Perrier, Franklin’s life would not have been communicated so well to the audience.

When people hear about the story of Rosalind Franklin, they do not fully comprehend her circumstances, and the play was able to portray all of it.  It showed how Rosalind was wrongfully cheated of getting credit for discovering the structure of DNA. Since her reaction to being cheated is unknown, the play fictionalized Rosalind’s reaction choosing to make her not mad at Watson and Crick for stealing her picture but disappointed in herself for not seeing it first.  In addition, it was very interesting to learn about the love triangle between Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and Raymond Gosling, which is never metioned in Biology textbooks.  The play Photograph 51 added context and emotion to the story.

Rosalind was known to be indifferent and cold, but this was simply a defense mechanism against the men who believed that her gender made her inferior.  Her passion for science and discovery is emotionally compelling.  Rosalind Franklin should be remembered as a courageous and independent woman who had to be brave and stubborn to get as far as she did in her scientific career.  Photograph 51 was a great play to watch to learn about the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA; it was historically accurate, but also had humor, emotion, and character.

September 2015: Our Senior Year Bucket List

2016cohort

By Kathleen Logan, Christina Freeman and Heidi Kurn
McNulty Scholars, Class of 2016

As the McNulty Scholars Program Class of 2016, we cannot believe that we are seniors already!  It seems like just yesterday we were moving into our freshman dorms, getting lost in Barbelin, and trying our first hawk wrap.

With the start of our last year on Hawk Hill, there are still so many things that we want to do before we graduate. So here is our “SJU Bucketlist” to help us keep track of all the things we have to do this year.

  1. Climb to the top of the bell tower
  2. Go on the roof of the Science Center
  3. Watch the sunset from the top of Hawk’s Landing
  4. Eat a hawk wrap for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  5. Have a picnic on the St. Mary’s lawn
  6. Hold a face sign of a basketball player during a game
  7. Attend a basketball tournament
  8. Play wiffle ball under the lights of Sweeney Field
  9. Run from SJU to Manayunk and back
  10. Swim in the O’Pake pool
  11. Win Quizzo at Landmark
  12. Go to Christmas dinner at the dining hall
  13. Drink milk, eat cookies, and watch movies with the Milk, Cookies, and Movies club
  14. Read every edition of the Hawk
  15. Go sledding by Sweeney Field
  16. Take a nap in the Science Center
  17. Go to a conference to present research
  18. Attend the spring concert
  19. Go to the Holy War
  20. Join a new club

Our last year is going to be a busy year!