Who, What, When
Charted territory Computer data-mapping lets researchers see the whole picture
Seniors and citizens Cover story: ’05ers hit the ground running
Get together There's no telling what you'll see at Reunion
Seniority of every stripe
After four years of inquiry and practice—across the spectrum of arts, letters, and sciences—Skidmore seniors are champing at the bit, eager to cover some ground, and even lead the field, out in the real world.
Biochemistry, Horseback Riding
Chances are good, if you were looking for Jessica Rose last spring, you’d find her either in the lab or at the stables. But there’s nothing either/or about the two pursuits for Rose, a premed with a major in biochemistry and a flair for horsemanship. Both interests have been neatly intertwined since the day her childhood horse colicked and she decided to become a vet “to help horses in their time of need.” Over the years, her focus switched to human patients, including emergency-room clients at Saratoga Hospital, where she volunteered each week, and others at the Camp Medicine she attended last summer.
That impulse to heal also makes Rose unusually “dedicated to the horses,” says Skidmore riding coach Paige Faubel. “Jessica is always thinking about their welfare and taking the time to care for them.” Her more clinical virtues—she is quick to learn, imperturbable, and well organized, according to chemistry professor and mentor Vasantha Nasarimhan—come
in handy with horses, too.
Watch her at the Skidmore stables one morning, briskly grooming a favorite Skidmore mount, cleaning out the hooves, deftly fitting saddle and bridle—and it’s obvious this is “what I’ve done since I was seven,” says Rose. She started entering horse shows when she was ten, first competed at Skidmore’s Saratoga Classic at sixteen, and spent her summers showing on the A circuit and qualifying for the New England Equitation Championships. In this morning’s jumping lesson, Faubel coaches her through round after higher round. “Higher jumps are better,” says Rose. “The horses key in better, and I key in better.”
She likes her career ambitions high too. She aims to become a surgeon and will begin training this fall at the University of New England School of Osteopathic Medicine. She spent much of her senior year perched at a lab table, helping to further Nasarimhan’s ongoing exploration into the exact mechanisms by which antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—found in plant-based foods like blueberries, chocolate, and soybeans—help ward off cancer. First Rose set up a series of reactions to see if her four assigned soy-flavonoid compounds actually were binding to DNA. They were. Then she bombarded the flavonoid-bound DNA with hydroxyl free radicals that would ordinarily oxidize the DNA, making it vulnerable to tumor-cell growth. Turns out the flavonoid compounds did protect the DNA from oxidation—heartening results, and Rose enjoyed the painstaking trial-and-error methods that produced them. “It’s good doing independent research,” she says with her quick, rare smile. “When something goes wrong, there are no answers at the end of the chapter. You force yourself to take risks and figure it out yourself.” Good training no matter how high you plan to jump. —BAM
Social Work, Gay Pride
If you had to put a face on efficacious student leadership at Skidmore, Craig Hyland’s could be the one.
As chair of Speakers Bureau, co-president of the Social Work Club, president of Scribner Village, a key player in the Skidmore Pride Alliance (SPA), steering committee member for the Center for Sex and Gender Relations, and program presenter for SPARK (Students Promoting Action, Responsibility, and Knowledge—formerly Bacchus and Gamma), Hyland was voted one of the “five most influential students on campus” by the Skidmore News.
A social-work major, Hyland found much common ground between his academic and cocurricular activities at Skidmore—namely in being “an advocate for oppressed and discriminated populations.” His long involvement with SPA—as VP, president, and facilitator of a coming-out support group—culminated in his serving as its alumni affairs coordinator this year. Under Hyland’s leadership SPA has grown from “a small social group to a large, active club.” Skidmore “has become one of the most progressive colleges in the nation,” he adds, noting that its nondiscrimination policy now includes gender identity and expression. And it’s one of a handful of institutions to offer unisex bathrooms and a “gender-neutral” housing option—which Hyland says is “very important to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students and their straight allies.”
This year Hyland won the Rozendaal Award, which recognizes student citizenship. His citation noted his “vision, courage, passion, service, and sense of fair play.…He is a tireless and selfless leader who has worked to promote dialogue and encourage fellowship…who turns ‘private concerns into public issues,’ and then mobilizes people and resources in service of the common good.”
SPA faculty advisor Mason Stokes is impressed by Hyland’s effectiveness in a multitude of tasks, from advocating for a queer-studies program at Skidmore to organizing the first-ever LGBT alumni reunion, held on campus in April. “He does his work with generosity of spirit, sensitivity, and unrelenting determination,” Stokes says. “He’s a model for others, and his work with SPA will pay benefits long after he graduates.”
Before coming to Saratoga Springs, Hyland (from Canandaigua, N.Y.) had checked out colleges in and around New York City. But “Skidmore and I were meant to be,” he says. He fell in love with the campus immediately, but the truly deciding moment came later in the campus tour: “We were walking past the art building, and a poster caught my eye.
It read, ‘Hate is not a Skidmore value!’—and I knew I was going to school here.
“My expectations have been exceeded,” he concludes.
“I have learned so much both in and out of the classroom. Skidmore has given me the tools I need to grow academically and personally. I could not dream of a better college experience.”
Having interned at the New York State Assembly in Albany last semester, Hyland is going on to grad school to earn a master’s in social work. Beyond that, he says he’d like to “work for a macro-level advocacy and/or lobbying organization, similar to the Human Rights Campaign. Eventually I may go into politics at the state or national level”—someplace where he can affect a wider community.
Pat Oles, Skidmore’s dean of student affairs, says Hyland “takes his responsibility to the community seriously. He recognizes the value of a liberal arts education, the power of ideas, and the value of service to others.” Skidmore, he adds, is better for it. —MTS
Environmental Studies, World Travel
Conor Taff is getting revved about being out in the Real World, where “there are so many opportunities, so many exciting things to do—if you look for them.” That’s not to imply he hasn’t done exciting things at Skidmore. “But I look forward to seeing things from different viewpoints,” he explains.
An environmental studies major, Taff spent a couple of semesters doing research with faculty mentor Karen Kellogg. He and Jon DeCoste ’05 studied “the effects of river turbidity on foraging rates of juvenile and adult bluegill sunfish and on tessellated darters.” Kellogg describes Taff as “passionate, creative, and attentive—whether conducting experiments in the lab, knitting a sweater, or giving advice to his peers.” (Even Kellogg’s six-year old daughter, Colby, adores Taff:
“He takes me to collect tadpoles, fish, and salamanders.”)
Likewise, Kim Marsella, another ES faculty member who engaged Taff in studying the Kayaderosseras Creek, marvels at his “incredible work ethic.” Taff was involved in two independent studies of the creek, part of a five-year project to study local water. In one, he worked with Marsella to create a database of maps to show geology and land-use patterns of the watershed. In the other, he and DeCoste researched the watershed’s environmental history, including “who has lived in this area over the past 300 years and what effects they’ve had on the land.” Taff and DeCoste, in their forest-green chest-waders were “a sight to behold,” notes Marsella. She also recalls “a cold day in March when they were out in the Kayaderosseras, just as the ice was breaking up, surfing downstream on chunks of ice.”
Being nimble on his feet perhaps comes naturally to Taff, who led Skidmore’s Rock and River preorientation trips each of the last two years. And he did considerable camping, hiking, and climbing with the Outing Club—including a memorable three-week climbing venture last winter, in the high desert of Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas.
Taff also studied abroad—twice. In fall 2003 he was in East Africa (Zanzibar, Tanzania, to be exact) with the School for International Training. “I took an intensive Swahili class and studied coastal ecology. Every week or so we would go to a different island and visit small fishing villages, seaweed farms, etc. I did a two-week home-stay with a local family and spent the last month of the semester on a small uninhabited island with some fishermen and four park rangers, studying coral reef health.” In spring 2004 Taff went to the Caribbean to research juvenile coral mortality on South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands with the School for Field Studies.
Although Skidmore seemed like the best choice among the schools he was accepted to, Taff (who hails from Woodbury, Conn.) admits a certain disdain for “college life in general—and the lack of responsibility” that seems prevalent among his peers. But being abroad for a year allowed “time to sort out a lot of my views,” he says. “I came back more able to focus on things I enjoy.” In fact, the work he did his senior year was the most rewarding yet. The best class of all, he says, was ornithology, taught by Corey Freeman-Gallant. This summer he’s following up as the professor’s research assistant, studying the mating ecology of common yellowthroats around Saratoga Springs. —MTS
Spanish, Math, Teaching
Stacy Aguirre is petite and retiring, but there’s more to her than meets the eye; her convictions and determination are formidable.
The daughter of Ecuadoran parents, Aguirre was naturally bilingual during her youth in America. “Then I lived in Ecuador for four years,” she recalls, “and I forgot a lot of English, so when I returned to the US, my high school started me in a bilingual program. I found it very harsh and rigid. The teachers wanted me to block out my Spanish in order to learn only English.” She soon joined the English-speaking track, but the difficult experience stayed with her.
An education course at Skidmore rekindled her interest in bilingual teaching, and this spring she capped her Spanish major with a senior thesis comparing several approaches to bilingual education in American schools. She found that “total immersion” methods—which may devalue true bilingualism and pressure students to reject their native language and heritage—can lead to poor academic performance later. “It may sound contradictory, but it’s better if you let students use their first language as a tool in learning a second language,” Aguirre asserts. Her paper, “written in impeccable Spanish,” according to thesis advisor Dora Ramirez, “accurately and realistically describes the benefits of maintaining the first language.” Faculty advisor Viviana Rangil adds, “It’s a passionate study because the research is informed by her personal experience.”
When she started at Skidmore (attracted by the “success rate and amazing staff” of the Higher Education Opportunity Program), Aguirre enrolled in MB 107, the introductory business course that requires a formal presentation before a panel of executives. But she confesses, “I’m so shy that it really scared me. I dropped the course after a week or two.” Instead she pursued mathematics, and “then I got interested in my native language—the history, literature, grammar.” She combined a Spanish major with a math minor.
Between classes she held a work-study job, most recently as Rangil’s research assistant, and tutored individual students. She also led once-weekly drilling classes for intro-level Spanish courses. Another confession: “The usual style of drilling is pointing at students and calling on them to speak immediately, but that’s just not me. I don’t like to point, and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. So my drilling was a little slower and more forgiving. That’s not the ‘official’ way, but that’s how I did it.”
Aguirre is keeping her intellect to the grindstone this summer: she enrolled in a graduate program with a June starting date. She’ll earn a master of arts degree in teaching from Hunter College, with Teacher Opportunity Program funding in return for a commitment to work in New York City schools. “Since I have to teach while studying, it may take me an extra year to get the degree,” she says. “But that’s OK: I wanted to teach in New York anyway.”
For Aguirre, getting what she wants, however slowly or quietly, is a pretty sure bet. —SR
Music, Spanish, Latin American Studies
Professor Gordon Thompson is struck by how quiet Margo Valiante is—considering she has “a voice that can stop a room.” He is speaking of her singing voice. “It’s not operatic, but it has a clarity and sincerity that is at once fresh and, in my mind, a picture-perfect representation of her personality.”
Thompson is Valiante’s thesis advisor. For her music major and double minor in Spanish and Latin American studies, her interdisciplinary thesis discusses Chilean music, culture, and language in the context of Nobel laureate Gabriela Mistral’s poetry. “Mistral is the most influential poet in Chilean song,” Valiante notes. “Over forty Chilean composers have set her poetry to music, resulting in about 200 works.” (As part of her work, Valiante too composed an original tune for one of Mistral’s poems.)
Valiante spent three months in Chile last spring—studying indigenous music and visiting, among other places, Mistral’s hometowns of Vicuña and Montegrande in the Elqui Valley. “The landscape is quite striking,” says Chilean-born professor Patricia Rubio, who is a Mistral scholar. “Margo got to experience first-hand Mistral’s poetic imagery: the stark contrast between the barren mountains of various colors and the lushness of the vegetation in the valley.”
Rubio too worked with Valiante on her thesis, examining both the meaning and aural characteristics of Mistral’s poems. When it came to analyzing their melodic structure
—the sounds, vowels, alliteration; the rhythm and meter—Rubio was impressed by Valiante’s interest. “Usually students get impatient with detailed formal analyses. But Margo understood their importance and was able to see and appreciate how intertwined this aspect of the poems is with their meaning.”
Valiante came to Saratoga Springs from Jackson Hole, Wyo. “I wanted to experience the East Coast but not be overwhelmed by a large city or school,” she says. “Skidmore fit my needs academically, and the location is perfect to experience New York City as well as the Adirondacks” (she likes to ski and hike). Her music ventures included co-directing the Skidmore Sonneteers and performing at Skidmore’s Folk Fest, Lively Lucy’s Coffeehouse, and Beatlemania concerts. In the spring her band opened for Dar Williams at an Earth Day benefit on campus.
Eager to “get out and start helping in every way I can,” Valiante admits, “sometimes I feel useless to the world, sitting in a class or typing a paper when I could be acting.” Back home in Wyoming this summer, Valiante is acting—for La Puerta Abierta, a program that helps integrate Hispanic families into the community. In September she’ll head to San Francisco, “to be a folk musician and to volunteer at a battered Hispanic women’s shelter.” She also plans to apply for a Fulbright research grant, “to continue studying the music of indigenous cultures, and to help them record their past by transcribing their songs before their culture disappears.” Eventually, she’d like to live and work in Latin America.
Thompson says Valiante is “an eager and adventurous learner who has the hallmarks of a successful ethnomusicologist. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to work together; but that is the fate of Skidmore professors. Every spring, as the plants burst into color, we see our students leave just as they are about to bloom and do wonderful things elsewhere. Margo has already started to blossom in what I presume will be a long flowering season.” —MTS