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!

What We're Doing: Tracing Our Family's Roots for Pro Vita
Posted 02/26/2014 06:16PM

Patrick Flaherty came to America sometime during the mid-1850s, presumably to escape the Irish potato famine that ravaged his homeland just years earlier.

Flaherty’s story is one of many being uncovered by students in Berkshire’s Pro Vita class, “Who Am I?”, a week-long genealogical voyage connecting students with their family lineages. 

“You’re not really sure that what your parents are telling you is actually true,” says Molly Coleman ’16, one of more than a dozen students in the popular class. “You believe it, but until you see the actual evidence… then it’s like, ‘Wow!’” 

Coleman’s ancestors came from Ireland and Hungary. Researching the past, she says, is so interesting that she’s considering majoring in Genealogy in college.

“I was always very interested in learning about my family, where they came from, their roots,” says Jay Bolton ’16. “I’m very proud of my roots so I felt like it was a good fit.”

It turns out, Bolton has a lot to be proud of. One of his ancestors, on his father’s side — Richard Karl Van Zandt — fought in the Revolutionary War. Another was in business with oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.

“It really fascinates me,” he says of the quest to retrace the steps of his ancestors. “I would like to share this with my family, my grandparents and my kids.”

“Pro Vita is all about finding a lifelong passion,” says Bebe Bullock, who typically spends her days teaching English to Berkshire’s students. This week, she’s partnered with AP Government teacher Jason Gappa to offer a class they both agree fits the school’s motto — Pro Vita, or “For life.”

“I’m hoping that it does lead to some kind of spark, that they share it with their families and that brings their families closer together,” says Gappa, who led a similar class about four years ago just as websites like and were becoming popular. 

Gappa and Bullock also agree that while the search can unearth exciting new details about family lineage, the historical perspective is equally important.

“We’re trying to get them to trace it back to the person who came over to the United States and to think about that moment, where they just left everything,” says Gappa. “To think about how bold of a move that was.”

“I think it’s amazing for some kids to realize that some great-grand parent came over and really started from nothing and here they are three generations later, in a boarding school,” says Bullock.

Earlier this week, McKelden Smith, a former advertising executive who was so inspired to connect to his past that he changed careers and now serves as President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, visited students during one classroom session.

Using the research tools Smith shared, students have been able to track down precise details. In one case, a student discovered that a female ancestor lived in Yonkers, New York, in a predominately Irish neighborhood, paying $90 a year for rent while working as a laundress and raising four children by herself.

“It’s not just a class for a week, it’s going to make an impact on me for a while. I’ve been talking to my grandma and she’s so excited about it,” says Savanna Fortgang ’16, who discovered that several of her Austrian ancestors were dentists.

“You figure out where your roots come from and a lot of where you come from makes up who you are. It’s really cool," she says.

Berkshire School

245 North Undermountain Road
 |  Sheffield, MA 01257
 |  T: 413 229 8511

Berkshire School is a co-ed, New England college preparatory boarding and day school offering a rigorous academic course of study in the northeast United States. Our campus, located in Massachusetts, has state-of-the-art academic, artistic and athletic facilities on a stunning 400-acre campus in the Berkshires.

Berkshire School received 5 out of 5 stars from over 3 Google reviews.

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