Who, What, When
Malamud meets Kesey…and Guggenheim Professor Steve Stern a born storyteller
Twining upward Skidmore is a new ivy
Creature research Studying microbes, ants, rats
Science appreciation Teenagers go from mud to microscopes
Lean, mean research machine Student wins federal grant for diabetes research
Hearts of fire Determined donors fund firefighter-safety research
Trailblazers North Woods stewards serve as guardians
Commonalities Finishing touch on Northwoods Village
Books Faculty and alumni authors
Professoriat What the faculty are up to
Sportswrap Summer sports highlights
It’s a quagmire all right: muggy and buggy, and a band of young teenage girls thigh-high in a sloppy marsh, trying to get out. From a dry path in the woods, faculty member Kim Marsella
coaxes them. “Rock one foot back and forth first. Just move slow. If you move fast, that’s a good way to go down!”
After a few minutes, the girls bushwhack their way onto the dirt path. One sits down and pulls
off her hip-waders, dumping out quarts of mud and water. Others compare welling bug bites.
More than a few are a tad cranky, having spent an hour or so pulling up and bagging purple loosestrife, an invasive plant.
“I seriously need water,” says one.
“I seriously hurt my ankle,” announces another.
“I got, like, ten blisters.”
“I got, like, five, and they’re bleeding.”
“My legs are completely scratched.”
“I so need a shower.”
“It was fun, but it was hard. And I don’t like hard.”
Carrying twelve-foot planks into the muck, toting shovels, and schlepping around in adult-sized waders on a steamy summer afternoon? “They’ll complain about it now,” Marsella says. “But afterward? That’s all they’ll talk about—how much they loved it.” Skidmore’s Summer Science Institute for Girls is definitely not for geeks.
Established in 1987 and formerly run by biologists David and Cathy Domozych, SSI was originally a two-week program for boys and girls entering grades 7–9. It became an all-girls institute in 1997, and the format is now two one-week sessions. Eighteen girls are accepted for each session (there’s always a waiting list), and this summer, nearly half were daughters of Skidmore alumni. Participants are kept busy from 9 to 5 daily, splitting their time between outdoor field studies and indoor labs, all led by Skidmore science professors.
Since taking over the directorship in 2002, Marsella has transitioned to an all-female faculty,
to really encourage the idea of women scientists being role models and mentors. It’s good for
girls to work with such “dynamic faculty,” she says. “These are pretty cool women.”
The SSI program has included labs in chemistry, biology, geology, neuroscience, physics, and exercise science, plus field trips to a stream, a cave, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s advanced manufacturing lab (where participants made a candy box for chocolates). “A lot of the girls are into biology,” Marsella says, but the program purposely explores a variety of sciences.
That way, if someone doesn’t like dissecting a sheep brain, she knows at least that the next day
she can study the landscape of Mars or examine stalactites. “I love witnessing those moments when they overcome some fear or preconceived notion,” Marsella says proudly.
After spending a week at Skidmore, eighth-grader Sophie Breitbart gave the program “seven out
of five stars. I was fascinated by how much ground science covers and by facts I will remember forever,” she said.
Former camper Abbe Labella (daughter of art professor Kate Leavitt) was biochemist Pat Hilleren’s lab assistant this summer. “When I was in seventh grade, my friends thought I was the biggest dork for going to ‘science camp,’” she recalls. But the SSI had “girls who thought DNA was the coolest thing ever—and could still be considered ‘cool’ themselves. It helped me not be ashamed
of my ‘geekiness.’”
Primatologist and biological anthropologist Christina Grassi says she’s “impressed with how engaged the students are.” Along with a good dollop of enthusiasm, “they have great insights
“I have seen some true flashes of brilliance,” Marsella adds, “and it gives me so much hope for the future. I think I’ll be checking out the Nobel Prize winners in a few years and recognize one of my girls.” —MTS
Five good reasons
Girls this age are learning so much about themselves and the world around them. At the SSI they can meet women who have chosen careers in the natural sciences and connect with a network of peers who are equally excited about science. Karen Kellogg, environmental scientist (Kayaderosseras Creek field trip)
The institute instills confidence in these girls as they do things they thought were impossible. And it’s rewarding to hear how some of them took something they cherished from the camp and turned that into a career path.
Sue Van Hook, botanist (on-campus marsh outing)
I really enjoy teaching “hands-on” science. I also feel a sense of responsibility for encouraging them to get excited about science; I hope my enthusiasm is contagious. Denise McQuade, biologist (sheep-brain dissection)
I was thirteen when I decided I wanted to be a geologist. The science institute girls are full of dreams and energy, and I’m glad to be able to infuse those dreams even more. Audi Matias, geologist (geology of Mars class)
I tell the girls, “I’m a pretty good scientist. And that’s because I made mistakes. So you should never be embarrassed about that. You’ll be a better scientist if you make mistakes.” Pat Hilleren, biochemist (DNA mutation lab)