Working with professors in the field and the lab led to these graduates’ careers.
In the fall of 1994, Dixie Henry ’96 was sifting through dirt at an excavation site near campus for her first day in the field as part of Professor Jordan Kerber’s Field Methods and Interpretation in Archaeology course. The group didn’t find much on that day’s dig, she says — maybe a few lithic flakes (“the bits and pieces that come off stone tools”) — but Henry was captivated by the way Kerber presented this exploration of the past. “I was hooked,” she says. When she hopped off the group’s van at the end of the day, Henry ran all the way to the fraternity house where her boyfriend (now husband), Steven Kopecky ’96, lived and burst into his room, declaring: “I am going to do archaeology for the rest of my life.”
Henry kept her word. She’s now a state archaeologist and preservation officer for the Maryland Historical Trust.
Before that defining moment, another anthropology professor, Gary Urton, had noticed Henry’s budding interests and asked if she wanted to be his research assistant. Her job was to compile an inventory of the Longyear Museum’s Iroquois materials, in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Most of the items were recovered from sites in the ’50s and ’60s, Henry says, and the University repatriated many of them to the Oneida Indian Nation in 1995. “The research that went into that, the back and forth with the Oneida Indian Nation, and the actual day of watching them accept [the items] back and explaining to me what was going to happen with them was really influential,” she remembers. “It made a huge impression on me and led me to start asking questions about the ethics of archaeology: How has it been done in the past, how should it be done in the future, what are the responsibilities of the archaeologists, and what are the concerns of Native communities?” This work would later become the basis of her senior thesis on repatriation.
“This is how we do it better. This is how we work together to protect these resources.”Dixie Henry ’96
During the summers of her junior and senior years, Henry participated in Kerber’s Oneida Indian Nation Archaeology Workshop, collaborating with the Nation to teach their youth field methods and lab procedures. “They were excavating sites that had been occupied by their ancestors, and that was really important to them,” Henry says. The group was accompanied by elders who would walk around the site and remind the youth, “This is your history, this is your heritage.” Henry says: “I was in awe, watching this relationship, and thought, ‘This is how we do it better. This is how we work together to protect these resources.’”
All of these experiences began to build a foundation for Henry. Then when she went on the Santa Fe Study Group led by Kerber and Professor Mary Moran, Henry met a New Mexico state archaeologist (who was also an instructor for the study group). “He was the one who introduced me to the ideas of public archaeology and cultural resources management,” she says.
Majoring in sociology and anthropology as well as Native American studies, Henry went on to earn her PhD at Cornell. At the same time, she was a TA for Kerber’s field methods class, and in the summers, she was an assistant field director. She supervised excavations and participated in consultations with the Oneida Nation’s Men’s Council regarding the treatment of the sites, the methodologies, and procedures to be followed.
After graduating from Cornell, Henry joined the government of Maryland on the state’s Commission on Indian Affairs, where she was responsible for promoting public awareness of American Indian history and culture. “My professors at Colgate encouraged me to never lose sight of our responsibility to craft the field of archaeology into a discipline that is more inclusive, more collaborative, and more relevant to its multiple constituencies,” she says. “That has stuck with me this entire time.”
In 2003, she became an archaeologist in the Project Review and Compliance unit at the Maryland Historical Trust, where she reviews state and federal projects that may have an impact on historic properties, in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act.
On her office bulletin board, she’s pinned a Syracuse Herald American article from 1994 in which she’s pictured smiling and looking at a piece of pottery in her field methods class. “I keep it there to remind me of the joy I was feeling at that moment and to remind me of where I’ve come from and who helped me pursue my dream.”
If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now
Train or automobile? That was the question Jacob Anderson ’07 pondered during his internships following his junior and senior years. One involved taking the train into Chicago for his work at a telecommunications company, and the other required driving into Boston to work for a real estate developer. “I was driving maybe a mile or so, but I realized how much I hated driving to this one office and how pleasant public transportation was,” he recalls. Those experiences, as well as Professor Bill Meyer’s class The American City, motivated Anderson to craft his geography honors thesis on access to transportation and housing preferences.
Research methodology: Using a survey that included both quantitative and qualitative measures, Anderson distributed it to listservs of people working in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Adviser: Professor Jessica Graybill. “She encouraged me to look beyond just the quantitative information and pull insights out of the qualitative aspects of the research.”
Conclusions: “Life cycle factors are the most prominent influence in housing preference. Transportation was important, but it was more so that people wanted to have the most convenient, shortest commute, and that their kids had a house with a yard to play in.”
Post-Colgate: “I followed up my honors thesis as part of my capstone project for the real estate certificate program at the University of Michigan. For that, instead of looking at people’s preferences, I tried to correlate housing values based off of proximity to transit.”
Current role as assistant vice president at Heitman: “I work in the research department for a real estate investment manager, and my job is to figure out trends that might inform how we invest in real estate. I’m analyzing and synthesizing a range of demographic, economic, and capital markets data to create a house view on property fundamentals and frame investment strategies.”
A Closer Look at College Recruitment
In the Taos, N.M., high school Hannah Gunther ’19 attended, there was only a 50% graduation rate. “Most of my peers were not going to college,” she says. When Gunther arrived at Colgate and met students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, she wondered what resources and support they had in getting to college. For her senior honors thesis, the sociology major chose to study access to selective colleges for high-achieving, low-income students.
Thesis title: “Divergent Approaches to Access: How Selective College Admissions Offices Recruit Lower-Income, First-Generation, and Working-Class Students”
Published in: the Journal of Working Class Studies
Authors: Hannah Gunther and Professor Janel Benson (sociology)
Background: “A lot of the previous research had focused on the students’ experiences and what barriers they faced, which obviously is important, but less research had looked at the admissions side and what colleges were actually doing to recruit those students who come from low-income backgrounds and what challenges they faced in the process.”
Methodology: Interviewed seven admissions officers from selective campuses with both relatively strong and weak records of recruiting lower-income, first-generation, and/or working-class (LIFGWC) students.
Findings: “Institutions with stronger records of recruiting LIFGWC students actively sought out new initiatives to make their college more accessible, and these actions were motivated by a shared focus on improving larger societal inequality. Although campuses with weaker records also expanded their recruitment strategies, their efforts were often piecemeal and motivated by competition for students and institutional rankings rather than a larger mission to improve diversity and equity. These findings suggest that institutional missions and philosophies are central to increasing access.”
How this influenced her work today: Gunther is now a senior college access and preparedness counselor at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts–Manhattan. The public school’s profile includes 98% students of color, 75% first-generation college students, and more than 75% from low-income families. Gunther and her colleagues aim to provide the level of college advising students would receive at an elite private high school. The high school opened in 2014, and 100% of its graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges, with 72% of seniors accepted to selective colleges this year — two are heading to Colgate, in fact.
Keeping in touch: Gunther has relied on Benson, her senior adviser at Colgate, as not only a professional resource but also a supporter. “I call her and text her updates,” Gunther says. “She is still my cheerleader, even after I’ve graduated.”
‘A Vexing Environmental Problem’
The minute Michael Paul ’91 could walk, he was “perilously heading into streams and lakes,” his mom told him. “I was drawn to water,” he says. Growing up in Connecticut near the Salmon Brook watershed, Paul spent hours playing in streams, catching snakes and fish to observe, and wearing a snorkel to get a closer look at the aquatic treasures.
Coming to Colgate, Paul loved biology, but when he started taking courses that were more medically oriented, he thought, “Boy, I got it wrong.” Enter Professor Randy Fuller, who was his biology adviser and suggested, “Why don’t you take my freshwater ecology course?” Within a week of taking the class, Paul realized, “It’s ecology; that’s what I was meant to study. That’s the biology I love.”
From that day on, Paul says, he was inseparable from Fuller. The professor suggested Paul become his summer research assistant for a National Science Foundation–funded project studying grazers, which are insects that eat algae in streams. Before Fuller even finished the sentence, Paul responded, “Yes! Where’s the application?”
To expand Paul’s experience, Fuller helped him enroll in the marine ecology program at Queen Mary University of London as a visiting student for his junior year. Paul took invertebrate zoology, marine microbial ecology, aquatic plants — “You name it. I couldn’t get enough.”
Then, Fuller suggested that in the summer after Paul’s junior year, he participate in a Colgate program at Flathead Lake Biological Station in Montana. There, Paul met Virginia Tech Professor Jack Webster, who taught him about ecosystem ecology, “studying the organisms that live in a place and their interactions with the physical chemical environment in which they live and each other,” Paul explains. “It was like Randy taught me that I loved ice cream, and Jack Webster taught me my favorite flavor,” he says.
In his senior year, Paul was awarded the Christopher Oberheim Memorial Award for biology research. Not expecting to win, he didn’t attend the ceremony — he was in the lab instead. That summer he received a grant to continue the research he’d been conducting with Fuller for the past two years.
After Colgate, based on Webster’s suggestion and Fuller’s help with preparation, Paul started his master’s (and later his PhD) at the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology. Grad school was a cakewalk, he says, “because I had spent so much time in a lab, I’d been taught how to design and implement an experiment, I learned how to write and think critically.”
Paul spent the last 20 years of his career in nutrient criteria development, primarily for an environmental consulting company. “That was helping the U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] support more than 40 states in figuring out the limits on nutrient concentrations in different types of water to keep them in balance, to keep the organisms that live there healthy, to keep these systems from turning green with excess algae.” That’s the focus of his new position as the U.S. EPA’s national harmful algal bloom lead. “Globally, we’re facing an increase in the magnitude, frequency, and extent of harmful algal blooms,” he explains. Paul cites the 2014 algal bloom in Toledo, Ohio, which caused toxins to enter the city’s drinking water system, as well as the Gulf of Mexico’s seasonal hypoxic zone that threatens marine life every year in late summer. “This is a vexing environmental problem, so there’s a need for the agency to understand the science on monitoring and forecasting where these events are going to happen and how to prevent, treat, and control them,” he says. Paul’s role is to coordinate the agency’s nationwide efforts.
Annually, Paul gathers with Fuller and other alumni ecologists at the Society for Freshwater Science’s conference. “There’s a core group of freshwater ecologists whom Randy trained and inspired to stay in research,” Paul says. “We’ve all become really good friends, even though we’re many generations across Colgate.”
In 2022 Paul was honored with the Society for Freshwater Science’s Distinguished Service Award, which Fuller won in 2019.
Going With the Flow
Brittany Hanrahan ’11 is another biology major who credits Professor Randy Fuller for helping her find her direction. She had declared her major, but was struggling to determine how she wanted to pursue that path. During the Manchester Study Group in the fall of Hanrahan’s junior year, Fuller suggested, “Why don’t you work in my lab over the summer to get a better idea of research and see if you enjoy it?” She’d never done anything like it when she joined him in the Adirondacks to examine streams that were acidified. “It was something that was super interesting and relevant to the effects that humans are having on our environment, and I loved it,” she says. “The thing that had the biggest impact on me was thinking about how humans had modified our environment in such a way that was strongly impacting the resources around us.”
Fuller taught her everything from learning how to take water samples to formulating a hypothesis. Most importantly, she says, he coached her on being prepared but also flexible. “Because sometimes [being in the field] doesn’t always go the way you want it to, and that’s OK,” she says. “That really helped because he has this wonderful energy about him. He’s so happy and enthusiastic, and he teaches you to go with the flow, which I really needed as a first-time researcher.”
In the Adirondacks with Fuller, Hanrahan examined how leaves were decomposing in the stream. Later, as an extension of that project, she worked with Professor Cat Cardelús to test those leaves for calcium and nitrogen to see if they had different rates of decomposition. “It was great working with them and getting both of their perspectives — Randy’s perspective from the aquatic area and Cat’s from the terrestrial area — and that drove my later choices for my PhD.”
Before starting grad school, Hanrahan spent a summer interning with the Illinois EPA on Clean Water Act projects that applied to the landscape, specifically agriculture. “In the Adirondacks, we were thinking about acid rain, but where I’m from, which is Illinois, we think a lot more about agriculture. That’s the primary way humans are modifying the landscape and impacting all of the resources around us.”
When she wrapped up the internship and was ready for grad school, Hanrahan received from Fuller a list of advisers at universities to consider. “That’s really important; you have to have an adviser who is going to support you and guide you as a student,” she says. Hanrahan landed at Notre Dame with a professor doing “exactly what I wanted to do — looking at how agriculture was impacting stream ecosystem functions.”
Her time there “was this wonderful full-circle moment,” Hanrahan says. “I started working in the streams, and then we realized that you have to also understand what’s going on in the landscape because agricultural fields and agricultural management so strongly influence what’s going on in the streams that are adjacent to them. We had to start to bridge that gap, which was exactly what I was trying to do with Cat and Randy.”
Hanrahan’s first professional position was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a research biologist, thinking about nutrient loss from agricultural fields as well as nutrient transport from streams that are adjacent to these fields to places like Lake Erie or the Mississippi River Basin. “These small-scale problems aggregate to create dramatic effects in places like Lake Erie or the Gulf of Mexico,” she says.
Recently, she started a new position as a physical scientist at the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Center for the U.S. Geological Survey, working on similar issues. Hydraulic technicians provide data that she analyzes using skills she learned in her Colgate biostatistics class. The persuasive writing class she took also is important to her current work because a large part of her job is writing academic papers to share with scientists, farmers, and conservation groups. “The audience is often variable, so I have to be able to communicate our message effectively.”
Last November, Hanrahan, Michael Paul ’91, and several other former students of Fuller’s returned to campus to celebrate his imminent retirement. As part of the celebratory weekend, his former students met with current students. “It was really cool to talk to those students and say, ‘What you’re doing is valuable, especially the research.’ We focused a lot on how transformative it had been for all of us. You can’t always get that at a large university because you may not have that experience with someone. My individual relationship with Randy changed my life.”
Data Analysis for Advocacy
Cyierra Roldan ’16 also uses her data analysis and writing skills she learned at Colgate in her daily work. Roldan is deputy director of the Immigration Research Initiative in New York City, where she is responsible for creating reports to influence policy change. “We work with a lot of grassroots organizations that use our data to go to legislators and say, ‘This is why we need to do this program, this is how it would impact people, this is what it would do for the state.’” For example, during the pandemic, Roldan’s work supported the Fund Excluded Workers campaign that set out to help workers who didn’t receive financial relief like unemployment insurance and stimulus checks due to immigration status and/or the type of work they did.
At Colgate, Roldan’s research projects focused on intergroup dialogue and intersectionality. She explains how she uses both in her role at the Immigration Research Initiative as well as her volunteer position as a commissioner with the Human Rights Commission for Schenectady County:
“[Intergroup dialogue] is a form of pedagogy so that people who are different from each other can learn how to dialogue across differences. It’s a way of building connection, getting to know people, and having those difficult conversations about race, gender, and sexuality.
“A lot of the work I do has a lens that looks at status: what positions and occupations people are working, their immigration status, their race, their ethnicity. It’s really an intersectionality. And the research projects I did at Colgate have helped me to think about how to do my research in my career in the immigration field, because people aren’t just an immigrant; they come here with a race, a gender, and a socioeconomic status. That all plays a role in their experiences in the United States.
“[The Human Rights Commission for Schenectady County addresses] issues when people are experiencing discrimination. Those conversations are hard, hearing people’s experience about something that was done to them within the community. We are the first to determine if it’s a human rights violation and then we send it to the necessary people who handle these violations and investigate further and take action to remedy the situation.
“[We also] look at changes within the community that would impact people based on their race, gender, things like that. For example, one of our hospitals where a lot of women have their children is closing down, and it’s directly impacting a community that is heavily Guyanese and Black. People who don’t have access to a car to make trips [to farther-away hospitals] have to consider, how do they have their children if the hospital is being moved?”
Roldan’s exploration of intersectionality began with herself, in her sociology classes with Professor Janel Benson. “She pushed me to think about questions I never thought about before: who I am and why I am the way I am. My life experiences are because of many different factors, and again, the intersectionality of my identity. I really got to explore who I was.”
Roldan obtained her master’s of public administration with a concentration in homeland security from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.
Get to know Kevin Gardinier ’94, vice president of discovery research at Karuna Therapeutics:
“I joined Professor Ernie Nolen’s [chemistry] lab, and he introduced me to an ongoing project he had in collaboration with a lab at the University of Louis Pasteur with Professor Jean-Marie Lehn, a Nobel laureate from 1987. Professor Nolen’s lab was making a Janus molecule (a molecule that has two hydrogen bond faces), and that molecule would interact with the molecule that was being made by the lab at University of Louis Pasteur. The whole concept was that the information encoded within each molecule would help make a super molecule array when put together.
“My undergraduate research was published during my senior year. This was a very energizing result of the Colgate research experience and inspired me to continue pursuing my chemistry graduate degree.
“This research laid the foundation for the rest of my career. I learned how to form a hypothesis, test it, and redesign it if needed or move on to the next step if the data was supportive. That whole process is essentially everything I have experienced throughout the rest of my career.
“I did my PhD at UC Berkeley, in synthetic organic chemistry, and then went to do a postdoc in Jean-Marie Lehn’s lab from 1998–2000.
“I started my career at Eli Lilly and Company in 2000, in the medicinal chemistry department. I worked in the neuroscience division and rose through the ranks for 17 years. At the end of 2016, I joined the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and was director of medicinal chemistry for about five years.
“At Karuna, I lead a department of chemists, biologists, and representatives from all functions associated with drug discovery. Karuna is focused on psychiatric and neurological diseases, and we currently have a molecule in phase three development for schizophrenia. My department’s job is to come up with the next generation therapeutics for the neuroscience space for psychiatric and neurological diseases.”
Becoming a Well-Rounded Scientist
Matthew Feeney ’14 describes the summer after his junior year as “intense” research in Wynn Hall with Professor Ernie Nolen. “I’d had the lab class experience, but it’s a whole new beast when you’re starting a project under the direct supervision of a tenured professor,” Feeney says. “I was still learning the tools of the trade and in some ways proving that I was sure with my hands, but I really credit that summer with kick-starting my career.”
He continued the work his senior year, with Nolen publishing his senior thesis afterward. “That was a really cool aspect of my undergraduate research experience — being able to do work that not only was important for a project but also was able to get me authorship on a manuscript in an actual scientific paper.”
In graduate school at Tufts University, Feeney’s chemistry knowledge evolved into learning how to make coatings that respond to light in different ways. “I took the baseline knowledge and skills I learned doing organic chemistry and put them into an applied setting to make physical materials for various applications.”
“Not only do you need to develop the chemistry, but you also have to do it in the confines of what is realistic and commercially viable.”Matthew Feeney ’14
This preparation relates to Feeney’s work today as a scientist at Akita Innovations. A small chemical company, Akita handles projects for government and nongovernment clients, with the goal of finding chemical solutions for institutions’ problems. One of the main projects Feeney has been working on is developing new coatings and paint for U.S. Army vehicles that resist chemical warfare agents. “It is the scientific method: We have a hypothesis, we make molecules that address the hypothesis, and then we test to see if we had good ideas or if we were way off track.”
There are new challenges in this applied world, Feeney says — number one being cost. “When you’re making carbohydrates in a lab at a small scale, you don’t necessarily need a ton of material to work with, so cost is less of a concern. But when you’re working with the Army and you’re potentially developing a paint that they are going to use for tons of their vehicles, they can’t be spending $50,000 per gallon of paint,” he says. “So not only do you need to develop the chemistry, but you also have to do it in the confines of what is realistic and commercially viable.”
Problem-solving as well as learning how to write and communicate are Feeney’s biggest takeaways from his Colgate experience. Beyond the importance of learning lab skills, he says, “I really feel like I was a well-rounded scientist coming out of Colgate.”
Feeney met his wife, Jenna (Glat) ’14, in chemistry class when they sat next to each other in their first-year CHEM 101 lecture. They started dating that summer and married in September 2021.
Participating in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study Group as a Colgate student, Jamie Timmons ’04 worked in a cancer biology lab, researching how cells normally work and what goes wrong in cancers — “cells that are growing that shouldn’t be, and they’re not dying when they should be,” she summarizes. Today, Timmons works at Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, where scientists study neurodegenerative disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s). “It’s almost the exact opposite,” she notes. In these diseases, “cells are dying when you don’t want them to be. A lot of the pathways that are implicated in cancer, they’re also messed up in neurodegenerative diseases, but for the opposite reason.”
Timmons’ current role as global head of medical strategy and communications at Amylyx is a twist on her intended career. She was a pre-med student at Colgate and went on to work at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (taking over a job left by another alumna). She then attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and did her residency in internal medicine. Afterward, Timmons was feeling burned out and wanted to try something different, so she started working for a medical communications agency. Amylyx was one of their clients, and she was “drawn to their mission.”
There, she works with physicians and patient advocacy groups to gain an understanding of the science, develop publications and presentations, train her internal team to be experts in the disease state, and work with the clinical development team on how to communicate the results of clinical trials to a variety of audiences, including the FDA. “The work I did at the NIH was especially helpful in understanding how to quickly review data, understand it, compile it, and then make it presentable to different audiences,” she says.
“This was not my planned career path — I didn’t even know this job existed during college — but I think those are the best careers, the ones where you end up seeing different opportunities and following them.”
Origin story: Colgate’s NIH-based study group
Don Court ’65 built his own physical science major out of math, physics, chemistry, and geology at Colgate. In Court’s senior year, Professor Fred Weyter arrived on campus with the goal of introducing students to more advanced courses in genetics and molecular biology. Soon to come: biology major Bruce Citron ’76. The three would together envision Colgate’s study group at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is now called the Bethesda Biomedical Research Study Group.
Court provides the backstory: “In 1972, I joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the NIH. I accepted several students in the ensuing years, including Bruce Citron, who joined my laboratory in 1974 and became the first Colgate student to gain college credit working at the NIH. In the 1990s, Bruce, Fred, and I started the program, giving students the opportunity to spend a semester at the NIH. It not only provided an active research environment for the students but also provided a chance for my postdoctoral fellows to gain valuable experience as mentors to these younger colleagues.”
Court retired from the NIH in 2020 after nearly 50 years in molecular biology and genetics research. His research was dedicated to understanding how a gene or set of genes can be turned on and off during cell growth.
“In the 1970s, it was known that cancers were rogue cells that had lost normal control over the functioning of their genes, and this loss of control could lead to uncontrolled growth and cancer. At the time, human cells were difficult to study, so I used a simpler system to understand how genes turned on and off. This system used the laboratory strain of E. coli and lambda, a virus that infects this bacterium. Through the years, I developed new technology using these simple organisms that allowed us to rearrange their genes and chromosomes by using special techniques of recombination, which we named recombineering. This technology was patented by the NIH and is now used by many laboratories to engineer and modify the chromosomes of simple bacteria and complex organisms.”
Court is still active at the NCI through an NIH emeritus position. “Recently, I have been advising researchers to better understand the coronavirus, and the NIH has just patented our new technology for vaccine development.”
Read about current students’ experiences at colgate.edu/summer-research-2023.