Summer Centered: Velay Fellowship Supports Women in Science
This summer, 10 Haverford students received support from a new grant to conduct on- and off-campus research.
According to a recent report by the National Science Foundation, women earn roughly half of all science and engineering undergraduate degrees, but make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. In an effort to continue its support for female science students, the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC) was invited to participate in the newly established Frances Velay Womens' Science Research Fellowship Program, which provides summer research opportunities for the College’s women scientists. The fellowship, named for the late Frances Velay, is designed to encourage women's leadership in the sciences by supporting the summer work of female undergraduates, helping prepare them for graduate study and professional careers in scientific fields.
Velay earned a master's in chemistry in 1947 when few women pursued graduate training in the sciences. Before her death in 2007, she created a fellowship fund to help young women scientists access research opportunities. In the first year of the three-year grant, the KINSC Steering Committee awarded this fellowship to 10 students, providing them with stipends to conduct research full-time during the summer.
Six students—Sarah Betti ’17, Valentine Courouble ’17, Kristen Fiore ’17, Grace Thiele ’17, Zexi Geng ’18 and Caroline McKeon ’18—conducted their summer research on campus with Haverford faculty. Four students—Francesca Ciocco ’17, Rose Glass ’17, Keri Cronin ’18 and Katie Sullivan ’18—found research internships at other institutions. The Velay Fellowship supported a diverse slate of projects spanning cellular biology, astronomy, biogeochemistry, and more.
Sullivan flew cross-country to Stanford University, where she studied the relationship between the protein calreticulin and different cancer cell types. “My research hopes to create a better understanding of this complex interaction,” she says.
Cronin worked at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and her project concerned the interdisciplinary study of the cellular mechanisms underlying the development of epilepsy. “The primary aim of this [work] is to better understand the mechanistic links between significant central nervous system injury and the resulting development of epilepsy,” she says.
Betti, who worked on campus with Senior Postdoctoral Research Associate Alex Hill, measured the magnetic field of the Smith Cloud, a hydrogen cloud located below the plane of the Milky Way that has fallen through the Milky Way’s disk. From computer simulations, the Smith Cloud should have lost more hydrogen to the galactic disk than observed, but the magnetic field is one suggestion for the survival of the cloud. “By measuring the polarization of radio waves from sources located far behind the cloud, we can measure the strength and magnetic field of the cloud, which gives information about how the cloud survived intact through the Milky Way,” she says.
For Thiele, who worked with Haverford Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian, the fellowship allowed her to devote intensive time to research “that could shape my future academic interests.” This summer, she continued her work studying the interactions between proteins from polyketide and fatty acid synthases. “I feel like having a more independent and focused lab experience over the summer is really beneficial at building confidence as a chemist and helping develop more intellectual ownership for my project as I move toward thesis,” she says.
Geng, who was mentored by Haverford Associate Professor of Chemistry Helen K. White, examined how marine fungi degrade oil, and how the oil changes chemically when degraded. “I have always been interested in research that relates to environmental issues and I plan to continue this type of research when I graduate,” she says. “The Velay Summer fellowship is an amazing opportunity to allow me to work in the lab, develop skills and come up with ideas that might lead to new research directions.”
McKeon investigated the acyl carrier protein’s environment, shape, and function during lipid sequestration by incorporating non-canonical amino acids containing probe groups into the protein in Associate Professor of Chemistry Casey Londergan’s lab. “The amount of attention and work I put into the project dictates how successful I am,” she says. “My experiences working on my own project have taught me how to think independently of a protocol handed to me.”
She says that the role of the Velay Fellowship intensifies the honor of receiving the scholarship.
“Pursuing a career in science is a daunting task, especially for women,” McKeon says. “Encouragement in the form of support for research is unbelievably valuable as we push ahead into the science community.”
Fiore, who also worked in Londergan’s lab, used IR experiments to understand the binding mechanism and conformational dynamics of alpha-synuclein. “[It is] an honor to receive a fellowship in the honor of a woman who blazed the way for others in science,” she says, “and I can only hope to follow her by example and use the skills I learn with this opportunity, to help give back whatever I can to the larger community.”
Glass traveled to the University of California, San Diego, for her research, in which she helped to characterize the transcriptional profile of CASK, a transmembrane scaffolding protein linked to intellectual disabilities. “Along with being grateful for the opportunity to have a completely new research experience, I’m happy that I’m supported by a fellowship intended in help include more women in science,” she says. “As a Quest Scholar, I’ve represented low-income students before and am glad to have the opportunity to research active efforts to include more women in science.”
Ciocco, who studied a habituation deficient strain of zebrafish in the Granato Lab at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is also “very proud of the larger meaning” of the Velay fellowship.
“As a board member of Women in STEM at Haverford, I have seen the importance of support in networks among women in science fields and think this fellowship has a large impact,” Ciocco says.
Courouble, who also worked in the Charkoudian lab on campus this summer, is grateful to be carrying on Velay’s legacy with this fellowship and her research.
“As a woman in science, Frances Velay never backed down from a challenge or opposition,” she says, “and I can truly say that I [carried] that attitude with me while conducting research this summer.”
-Jamauri Bowles ’17
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.