Advanced Math/Science Research Update

by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program

January 15, 2013

Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students.  AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.

The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope.  This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years.  The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus. 

One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14.  Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.

Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!

California Dreamin'
Posted 08/12/2010 01:00AM

Visiting colleges is an essential part of any college counselor’s job. Seeing the campus in person, walking the paths and corridors and meeting with admissions officers gives a counselor a knowledge of a school that cannot be gleaned from a guide book or web site. With that in mind, I set out in early July to visit colleges in southern California. Over the past few years, several Berkshire graduates have enrolled in schools in this area and I wanted to see some of the campuses and get to know some of the people.

This was, however, no ordinary college tour: this was the Tour de California, a six day, 180-mile odyssey that took me from the high desert of the San Bernadino valley to the gritty urban neighborhoods of downtown L.A. to the spectacular hills of Malibu, high above the Pacific, all by bicycle. That’s right, our group of seventeen college counselors rode bikes, carrying all our clothing and supplies the entire distance.

The trip was organized by a couple of college counselors, one of whom, Bruce Hunter from Rowland Hall School in Salt Lake City, I had gotten to know last summer at a college counseling seminar I attended at Taft School. Bruce has been organizing these trips for seven or eight years, covering various regions of the country. Last summer, for instance, they visited schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. For this trip, there was no support vehicle, or “sag wagon,” so we carried what we needed for the week in panniers and handlebar bags. No support vehicle also meant we all rode all the way: no lift to the end if you got tired. Most days’ rides were in the 30-40 mile range, though, which isn’t far if you are with a group. Also, unlike the roads I trained on here in Berkshire County, there were no major hills on our route (except for the driveway up to Pepperdine), which made the riding less of a strain.

On July 4, we assembled at University of Redlands to begin our trek. That evening, as we met each other and studied the maps, we were treated to the largest fireworks show in the valley, launched a mere 200 yards away from our lodgings. It was a spectacular start to what turned out to be a spectacular week.

After a meeting with the admissions staff and a tour of Redlands’ campus on Monday morning (our tour guide sang for us to demonstrate the fine acoustics of their chapel), it was time to saddle up and head east about 45 miles to Claremont, home of the five Claremont colleges: Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Claremont McKenna and Harvey Mudd. After spending all day Tuesday touring the schools’ campuses (which are all right next to each other) and meeting with admissions officers, I realized that this was perhaps the perfect college situation: a beautiful physical setting (Scripps, where we stayed for two nights, has the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen), tremendous facilities, an impressively diverse student body (not just demographically, but also in terms of interests and abilities) and a lovely college-oriented town (though perhaps a bit upscale for students on a budget).

Wednesday morning it was back on the bikes. Our final destination was Occidental College, but we made a couple of stops along the way. First was an energetic greeting and a big breakfast at University of LaVerne, a small college just east of Claremont. At midday, we stopped at Caltech in Pasadena. This provided one of the highlights of the trip for me: the chance to meet up with Teresa Liu, ’09, who had finished a successful first year at Tech and was on campus participating in a summer research program. It was great to see Teresa (whom I taught in Modern World in ’07-’08), and great to see that she is flourishing in such a challenging environment. After a lunch on the lawn of the admissions office and a tour of the surprisingly lovely campus, it was off through the rush hour traffic of downtown Pasadena to Occidental.

Wednesday night, the Occidental admissions office arranged for our group to attend the Dodgers-Marlins game at Dodger stadium. For all you long-suffering Red Sox fans who are tired of having to pay scalpers (oh, I beg your pardon, “ticket resellers”) like Ace Ticket double the face value just to get into Fenway Park, check this out: at the Dodgers game, $30 gets you a seat in the right field bleachers about 10 rows up from the field PLUS all the hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, nachos and soda you can consume. Who cares that the Dodgers were losing? Pass me another Dodger Dog!

Thursday we toured the Oxy campus (yes, we saw the dorm that President Obama lived in during his two years at Oxy), then headed downtown for a visit to USC. After a meeting with the admissions office and a brief ride around campus, we headed back out into the urban jungle towards the greener pastures of UCLA. After passing through Koreatown, Hancock Park and West Hollywood, we entered Beverly Hills. We stopped for a photo at the sign and we saw several Bentley convertibles, but we did not see any celebrities.

After a delicious dinner in Westwood and a restful night at the UCLA guest house, we took a bicycle tour of campus with two bike-riding tour guides (who, like all tour guides, walked backwards, even when pushing their bikes). UCLA has a gorgeous campus and tremendous facilities, but the highlight was the large bronze bear statue they have outside their athletic center. We need one of those here.

Heading east from UCLA, we finally reached the Pacific, then turned north, riding up the Pacific Coast Highway about thirty miles to Malibu, home of Pepperdine University. Situated on a group of hills, Pepperdine’s campus has a breathtaking view out over the ocean. A swim in their Olympic-size outdoor pool and a soak in the adjacent Jacuzzi as the sun sank slowly in the west were just what the doctor ordered after a long week in the saddle.

Finally, on Saturday, it was time for the journey to end. We headed back down the PCH, along the beach, past the Santa Monica pier and through Venice. After a stop to swim in the ocean (I didn’t travel all that way to NOT jump in the Pacific), and a ride through the campus of Loyola Marymount University, we reached our final appointment of the trip: In-n-Out Burger. Yes, that icon of Southern California fast food was our final meal as a group. A Double-Double and a Dr. Pepper and I was ready to board my redeye flight back East.

While each school we visited had unique features that made it stand out from the rest, they (and many eastern schools) have certain things in common: a “blue light” campus security system, opportunities to study abroad, opportunities for undergraduates to do research and tour guides that walked backwards. In fact, by the time we reached Caltech, we insisted that our tour guide walk forward, which she found completely disorienting.

Throughout the trip, our group benefited from the generosity of many colleges and individuals. University of Redlands, Scripps, Occidental and Pepperdine all provided us with housing. The Dean of Admissions at Redlands picked us up at the airport, the Oxy admissions office provided us with drivers and vans for the Dodgers’ game, Caltech laid out a lovely picnic lunch for us, Pitzer’s admissions office treated some of us to lunch, Oxy and the Claremont schools provided breakfast meetings. Without this support, the trip would not have been possible.

This adventure was a terrific experience for me, both personally and professionally. I met some wonderful people, both admissions officers and other college counselors. I got a chance to visit some excellent schools that could be great fits for some Berkshire students and I was able to talk about Berkshire with admissions officers along the way.

Finally, our trip received coverage on college websites as well as in the online edition of the New York Times. Check out the links below for stories and some photos of our group:

New York Times
University of Redlands
University of LaVerne
Occidental College

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