Among HWS graduates who completed Honors projects in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) related fields since 2006, 80 percent have gone on to pursue post-graduate degrees — 30 percent in Ph.D. programs, 26 percent in master’s programs and 24 percent in professional training in medicine.
“The Honors program at HWS is the epitome of individualized education,” says Shannon Beston ’14, currently a Ph.D. candidate in quantitative biology at the University of Texas-Arlington. “It gives students a unique experience to study something they find truly interesting, all while fostering the skills that are needed for future success.”
Sarah Allen ’09, who is in her final year of a Ph.D. program in paleobotany at the University of Florida, notes that the average U.S. undergraduate STEM student graduates without “having spent any time doing independent (non-coursework related) research. If you have not done any independent research and don’t really understand what it entails, it is both hard to get into graduate school and even harder to succeed.”
But the research opportunities available at HWS — in campus labs, at off-campus field sites, through co-curricular and summer internships — ensure STEM students have not only the background to stand out when applying to graduate school, but the skills to succeed when they begin that next step of their education.
Allen began her HWS Honors project during a summer research appointment with Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens. That research, which included a two-week field excursion to Montana, gave Allen her first taste of paleobotanical fieldwork and “put my recently acquired geological knowledge to the test. Plus, who wouldn’t be excited to be the first one to find and see a 65-million-year-old fossil?”
The project also “led to my first publication — something that is [also] relatively unusual” for an undergraduate, she says.
At HWS, however, Allen’s experience is not so unusual. Beston says her Honors work under the guidance of Susan Cushman ’98, director of introductory biology laboratories at HWS, opened up not only “a career path, but my passion. I am lucky to say that research never feels like work — I wake up really excited to do what I do every day.”
Beston’s Honors project also began with summer research, which focused on the relationship between a parasite and minnow species in tributaries in the Seneca Lake watershed. Her current research scales up the ecological questions posed by her Honors research, to evolutionary questions in an ecological context, as she studies Trinidadian killifish in the island’s mountain streams.
Pamela Eck ’15, a master’s candidate in atmospheric sciences at SUNY Albany, forged her path to graduate school as a first-year, with a summer research opportunity under Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz. That experience in turn enabled her to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates through the National Science Foundation, the Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program and an independent study — not to mention her Honors project, which focused on the impact of extreme precipitation events on climatology.
Currently drafting her master’s thesis, which focuses on using lightning to predict severe weather in the northeastern United States, Eck says that once she “discovered how much I enjoyed doing research, the decision to go to graduate school was easy.”
For Alexander Kittelberger ’13, a software engineer at ESPN, Honors research is one more component of “the support system at HWS” that stays with students through their time at the Colleges and beyond.
“I fell in love with the subject of computer science through the passion of my professors at HWS,” says Kittelberger, whose Honors project under Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science David Eck paved the way for master’s research at Cornell University. “I was also able to get real world experience through an internship the summer following my junior year [with help from the Salisbury Center].
After finishing my master’s, Joshua Davis ’10 helped me secure my first professional job as a software engineer at Strategic Solutions Group. After a year of experience it allowed me to explore other opportunities, and again through the help of an HWS alum, Michael Rawlins ’80, I was put in contact with a recruiter who helped me land my current job at ESPN. HWS opened more opportunities in my life than I ever would have thought.”