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Why does my math class have so few girls?

in Caps Not Crosby/Columns/Opinions by

Why does my math class have so few girls? Why did the engineering department here have only one female professor last year? These are the types of questions many girls in S.T.E.M. at Swat tend to ask ourselves. Issues of underrepresentation of women in S.T.E.M. fields don’t start at Swat. By the time students arrive here, they have already been influenced by these disciplines’ implicit and explicit biases. It is the presence of such biases, most of which begin to heighten during middle and high school, that is constantly deterring women from pursuing computational fields, and it is imperative that institutions begin to tackle these biases head on.

In high schools across the United States, boys are dominating the higher-level classes in fields of math and applied mathematics.  Approximately 2.1 million girls and only 1.75 million boys took A.P. exams in varying subjects in 2013; however, in A.P. exams in fields of math and applied mathematics, boys outnumbered girls by strikingly large margins. Despite the fact that girls take a significantly greater percentage of all A.P. exams, boys still take more exams in all S.T.E.M.-related fields. The fact that more boys are taking these exams indicates that boys outnumber girls by a large margin in A.P. classes — high school classes usually at the highest level in any given subject — concerning S.T.E.M.-related fields.

Taking these A.P. classes in a subject will naturally increase the likelihood that a student will major in that subject in college. While some math majors at Swat do start in Math 15, it is far easier to complete the major if they come in with A.P. credit, and a student will naturally gravitate towards subjects in which they feel they possess more confidence and ability.

One of the main reasons many of the speakers cited that is keeping women out of the profession are the implicit biases — negative mental attitudes towards a group that people hold at an unconscious level.  Teachers perpetuate these biases unconsciously while teaching, and they will often go unnoticed by all until they are brought to attention. A student’s subconscious will pick up things that they do not actually know they are internalizing.  

With both information and experience in mind, I have compiled a list of suggestions for improving the ways in which institutions treat women. All schools and universities should ensure that they have 50 percent female teachers in mathematics and fields such as physics and economics which require the application of mathematics. All standardized testing involving mathematics and fields of applied mathematics must not permit test-takers to bubble in their gender until after they have already taken the test.

All students should be told two statements at the beginning of their middle school careers. The first is that brains are as malleable as plastic, and anyone has the ability to learn anything regardless of their race, class, or gender. The second is that gender plays no role in the ability for a child to learn any subject, and that the stereotypes surrounding the idea that boys are naturally better at math are 100 percent false.  

For every famous male mathematician a teacher mentions in class, teachers must also mention a female mathematician. I have heard my math teachers for years go on and on about men such as Euler, Pythagoras, and Taylor.  I have never been in a math class where the teacher mentioned the name of a famous female mathematician. Though the discoveries of the men listed above may be more relevant to the lesson than the discoveries of Hypata or Maryam Mirzakhani — the first woman to win the Fields Medal — only mentioning male names sends the message to the subconscious of females that women are lacking something instrumental to the possession of a great mathematical mind.  Simply mentioning a brilliant female mathematician will help derail this implicit bias. Elementary, middle, and high schools should have posters up in their hallways and classrooms of brilliant women in mathematics as role models for students.

Teachers and school administrators in math and fields of applied mathematics must do the following: read literature on the implicit biases that work against girls in their fields.  They must be aware of these biases so as never to reproduce or ignite them. For example, a teacher should never make the statement, “girls think differently,” or “girls show their skills in different ways.”

A teacher or professor must never say the following statements to a girl studying math: “I do not understand why you are not getting this.” “You are not good at conceptual math.” “You just don’t have the intuition.” Math teachers must never attribute the success of one student to “natural ability” while attributing the success of another to “hard work,” as that distinction implicitly conveys a distinction between the two students even if they are performing at the same level.

Finally, I believe that it is critical for teachers and professors to emphasize that natural talent, whether or not male students have it inherently, is not necessary in order for a student to excel at mathematics.

Swat, for the most part, does a better job than my high school did at trying to defuse some of the already ingrained biases against women in S.T.E.M. fields. My Linear Algebra professor freshman year did an excellent job with this, emphasizing to the entire class from day one that just because people don’t look like you in this field doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. I am not arguing that female S.T.E.M. students need their hands held or to be told they can do it, I am simply advocating for the ability to work in a slightly less bias-ridden environment. As a Computer Science and English double major, I do not even know which field I would like to pursue after college.  I simply want the ability for girls to choose math to exist untainted by harmful societal perceptions, biases, and stereotypes.

With the changes proposed above, girls will not have to walk into a math class and feel inhibited by their gender, and I believe that every student deserves to walk into a math class without feeling like they are at a disadvantage before they even begin to solve problems.  Removing implicit biases, stereotype threat, and media influences that keep girls out of mathematics will result in more girls in the higher level math classes in high schools, and subsequently, more girls with the ability to realize their potential in mathematics.

When constantly bombarded with the ubiquitous and pernicious images conveying a lack of intelligence surrounding their gender, young girls are socialized to believe that they are inferior intellectually, and thus incapable of tackling the hard problems.  We are severely limiting ourselves and our society based on perceptions created by the media and stereotypes perpetrated implicitly by teachers and institutions.

BEP phase one comes to a close

in News by

On the northwest corner of campus, construction for the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building persists as the fall semester comes to an end. Since enrollment has risen for the biology, engineering, and psychology departments, BEP is being built to provide these departments with more space.  

BEP is in part the result of Eugene Lang’s $50 million donation, the largest gift in the college’s history, and is to house the biology, engineering, and psychology departments. It is expected to be completed by fall of 2020 with the first stage opening up summer of 2019. BEP will be a five-story building with one floor below ground. The building is expected to have meeting spaces, lecture halls, classrooms, a greenhouse, and a solar lab.

According to Carr Everbach, head of the engineering department, after student protests for divestment in 2013, the college’s Board of Managers agreed to allot additional money to equip BEP with more environmentally sustainable features.

“This process of defining what BEP was going to be continued until the spring of 2013 in which Mountain Justice and other students asked the Board of Managers to divest from all fossil fuel stocks and the Board of Managers refused. There were subsequent protests and possibly as related consequence of those concerns the Board of Managers agreed to allocate an additional $12 million to make it [BEP] as environmentally sustainable as possible,” Everbach said.

According to Larry Warner, the BEP project manager with Skanska — the firm managing construction for the BEP project — the college was proactive about implementing these environmentally sustainable features.

“One thing the college has asked the design team and construction team to come up with is a way to monitor the energy savings of the building. A lot of the systems, like the mechanical and electrical systems, are designed in a way to be energy efficient. Each of these components was built with energy efficiency in mind,” Warner said.

Andrew Ward, head of the psychology department, looks forward to these characteristics of the new building.

The sustainable aspects of the new construction, including climate control provided by geothermal wells, is a boon to Swarthmore,” Ward said in an e-mail.

As a psychology professor, Ward has been involved in the planning process for the building for several years.

The psychology department was formerly housed in Papazian Hall. After the destruction of Papazian to make space for the BEP building, the department was, and currently is, housed in Whittier Hall. With the creation of a new shared space, Ward also looks forward to the potential collaborative work between the biology, engineering, and psychology departments in the new building.

“[Psychology, biology, engineering] department members will, for the first time in many decades, have offices on the same floor as one another, making it easier for us to engage in informal contact with each other,” Ward said. “At the same time, the sharing of a building with biology and engineering promises to enhance collaboration between our departments. With the growth of interdisciplinary initiatives in such fields as neuroscience and cognitive science, we believe that being in the same building with faculty and students in related fields will be a tremendous asset to us and to the college.”

Everbach echoes this sentiment about prospective cooperation between departments.

The biology, engineering, and psychology departments have all functioned very separately both curricularly and in different buildings. There are some connections between them but they have been remote, but by putting them in the same space there will be opportunities for collaboration, discussion, and possibly for co-teaching and co-projects. I think at the very least, students from these departments will be intermingling and interacting and there will be some effect on the faculty and the curriculum because of that,” Everbach said.

Everbach also notes the benefits that a new space will offer the engineering department.

“Biology and psychology have a space and a quality of space problem. Hicks Hall is a stone box with little opportunity for moving the walls around inside or adding on things,” Everbach said “BEP will offer more square feet, more high-quality square feet, and more flexible and reconfigurable square feet.”

Nick Kaplinsky, associate biology professor and the department’s representative for the BEP project, also noted the lack of space in Martin Hall, the building currently housing the biology department.

“Everyone in the department has deep historical attachments to Martin Hall. But Martin’s lack of space and age place limitations on what we’d like to do and so it is time for a new building,” Kaplinsky said in an email. “We will have more space and, in many cases, labs that are customized for the particular types of experiments that are being taught by individual faculty members. An example of this is that in our current building there is no classroom where we can have 12 students working with soil. BEP will have one.”

Though many are excited by the prospect of a new building, the construction process can be lengthy and disruptive for some.

“It’s a painful process getting those nice facilities and we’ve already suffered some this semester with construction, and we’ll have to endure two more years of it. We do understand that construction is dangerous, noisy, and messy and that we have to tough it,” Everbach said.

Warner says that certain precautions are being taken to ensure that the construction process is not overly disruptive to the students or faculty.

“One of the things we take into consideration is the disruptions to the community. A lot of the planning that occurs behind the scenes is about how we limit the disruptions to the community,” Warner said. “It starts with our deliveries: there are large signs that tell trucks where they can and cannot go. All of that was coordinated with the borough of Swarthmore and the college.”

Currently, the BEP building is in Phase One of construction. According to Janet Semler, the director of capital planning and project management at Swarthmore, Phase One involves constructing permanent foundation walls for the basement floor of the building.

In the next few weeks, however, the next phase of the process will begin: the erection of structural steel, the columns and beams that will form the skeleton of the building. This next stage in the construction process is expected to continue throughout the spring semester before decking and roofing is installed in the summer.

For the time being, the sounds of construction and the flying dust will continue even as the semester comes to a close.

2021 and what they’ll study

in Around Campus/News by

Today and tomorrow, many future members of the class of ’21 are visiting campus for the first time since they’ve been accepted or for the first time ever. During SwatStruck they’ll have the chance to meet current students, talk to academic departments, and encounter almost every single one of the college’s incredibly numerous student groups. They’ll be trying to figure out if Swarthmore is the best school for them or, if they already know, what they’ll be in for the next four years. But while they’re doing that, the current student body will be wondering something entirely different: who are these people?

A press release published by the college on March 21st contains the primary publicly available profile of the admitted class. It provides some basic statistics on the 960 newly admitted students; 25% of them are first generation college students, 60% come from public schools, and 94% were ranked in the top decile of their high school. The press release also contains an overview of the range of nations and U.S. states the admitted students represent, as well as a description of what the class of 2021 is interested in majoring in.

“Engineering is the most popular intended major among the admitted students. Next, in order, are political science, biology, economics, computer science, English literature, mathematics, psychology, biochemistry, and physics,” the admissions department wrote.

At first glance this may seem to indicate a significant shift in the student academic distribution; engineering is not, in fact, currently the most popular student major. In fact, engineering has not been in the top five majors of any of the graduating classes of the last 10 years, suggesting that typically less than 8% of Swarthmore students graduate as engineering majors. However, reviewing the new class admission press releases of previous years indicates that engineering is almost always the most popular intended major.

This means that this years’ ranking of intended majors probably doesn’t indicate that the college is about to experience a new wave of engineering majors. Maybe many students will arrive believing they want to be engineers, but the past trends indicate most of them will have moved to different fields by graduation.

Joshua Freier ’20 was one such first year this year. He was interested in pursuing an engineering major when he applied, but has since decided he would rather major in other departments.

“I applied here thinking that Engineering would allow me to study math, science and computer science without having to specify too much, but instead I felt like I was learning less and wasting more time than if I had just taken math, science and computer science classes,” said Freier.

Freier pointed to factors that separate the engineering department from other departments, like the significantly larger than average requirement of 12 engineering courses along with 8 non-engineering prerequisites.

“I am thinking of pursuing a music and computer science double major because those are the areas I have found to be most interesting to me so far, but I am also planning on taking more classes outside of those two disciplines next year, a luxury I couldn’t do as an engineering major,” said Freier.

Jim Bock ’90, Vice President and Dean of Admissions also noted that many students, not only engineering students, end up switching from their intended majors after they take courses in a variety of departments. He also noted that this year’s distribution of intended majors was largely consistent with previous years, which is supported by the above graph.

Following historic patterns, we anticipate that once on campus many of our admitted students will explore the Swarthmore curriculum, some landing on their original intended major, and others deciding to study in-depth in new fields. The distribution of academic interests in the admitted cohort is similar to years past, and we do not yet know the range of academic interests for the enrolling cohort,” said Bock.

After engineering, the most popular majors, both this year and in previous years, are economics, political science, and biology. This is also very consistent with the majors of graduating senior classes, as these three majors are perennially the most popular majors at Swarthmore.

One new trend that is clear in both the majors of graduating seniors and intended majors of admitted students is the growth of the computer science program. The college’s increased graduation and admission of computer science majors could reflect either a national trend towards greater interest in computer science or the growing reputation of the college’s computer science program. Although there is widespread concern that emphasis on STEM subjects such as computer science could decrease interest in the humanities, the most popular humanities major, English literature, is still garnering a consistent level of admitted intended majors. Additionally, many students studying STEM subjects may opt for a second major in the humanities.

“I do know for a few years that about a third of our admitted cohort expressed a first or second choice major interest in the humanities. In addition, “undecided” remains a popular option for many of our admitted students and continues to be a popular choice for enrolling students as well,” said Bock.

The above graph actually shows a very sharp drop in the popularity of the “undecided” major starting with the class of 2019, but this is actually a feature of how the college has decided to report their admitted students intended majors than “undecided” actually becoming a less popular intended major.

“We stopped including it in the public release at some point, because “undecided” is not technically a major, and we could add another department in,” said Bock. “I include it in my first-year welcome talk because it’s fun and not everyone has their life figured out during orientation, of course, and we’re a liberal arts college after all.”

As Bock noted, although the press release for intended majors for the class of 2019 did not include the “undecided” major, at first-year orientation programming, the class of 2019 was actually told that “undecided” was their most popular intended major. The disappearance of the “undecided” major from the annual press releases simply indicates that the college has opted to paint a clearer picture of the fields admitted students are interested in than remind the world that Swarthmore students are, as always, interested in a wide variety of subjects and don’t necessarily have everything figured out. The great news for the class of 2021 is that it’s completely alright if they don’t have everything figured out!

It is wonderful that at Swarthmore students are not locked into a choice based on what they entered into their Coalition, Common, or QuestBridge application.  We look forward to welcoming another amazing Class to Swarthmore,” said Bock.

Annual engineering prank is that everyone will go to sleep at 9:00 pm

in Satire by

In a shocking twist, the engineering students have announced that the annual engineering prank will be that all students will be going to bed at 9:00 pm on April 1st.

“For the last couple years we’ve come up with some really good pranks that poke fun at Swarthmore culture. The coffee-drilling oil rig outside Sci Center last year poked fun at our workaholic culture and that fake dorm on Mertz field the year before was a great way at making fun of how the school’s always building new buildings and no one ever really that thrilled about it. This year, though, we decide we really wanted to do something that would rattle the school to its core,” said engineering Major Andrew Anderson ’17.

The engineering students will be triggering a campus-wide blackout beginning at 9:00pm on April 1st. Wifi will be down and there will be no lights on campus. As Mary Lyons and Strath Haven are on a different electrical line from the main campus, engineering students will be travelling to ML and Strath Haven apartments occupied by students and manually destroying the electrical wiring. The students believe that in the absence of the light required to do any sort of meaningful work, students would just go to sleep.

“Most Swat students are only going to have an hour or so of laptop charge left when 9:00pm comes around and not much more charge on their phones, so by 10:00pm most students will be left in the dark. Once in the dark, there’s only two things to do: have sex or go to sleep. And let’s be honest, only 10-15% of us’ll be having sex. Our models pretty confidently predict upwards of 90% of students asleep by 10:30,” said Abby Teren ‘18, also an engineering student.

To those that may have safety concerns regarding the impending darkness, the engineering students have, of course, developed a contingency plan.

“We bought Pubsafe roughly 120 flashlights and and they’ll be randomly patrolling campus for the duration of the night. If anything goes wrong you should probably just scream. It’s not that big of a campus, someone will hear. Oh, I guess, the blue light beacons will still be functioning. But screaming’s probably easier anyways,” said Teren.

Although the engineering students will be causing the blackout, repairs will be left to workbox. The college is expected to be returned to fully functional status some time between mid-April and next October.

The department of engineering will also be hosting a reading of the children’s book Go the F*ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach at 8:30pm in Hicks Hall.

Annual prank brings campus engineers together

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

On April 1st Swarthmore revealed its newly formed geology department, surprising most students and faculty. The geology department made its first and last formal announcement that they would be drilling for “liquid gold”, which turned out to be free coffee for the student body, outside of the Science Center. The announcement was accompanied by a pumpjack outside of the Science Center. In the midst of the sea of work that continually berates students, engineers still come together and stay up until 4 a.m in order to execute the beloved prank.  With the combined effort of engineering majors and minors from all different class years the prank was built and set up in less than a day. While the rest of the campus was asleep, the engineers came together to give campus a laugh and some coffee to jumpstart their day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and while the engineering prank was slightly smaller than Rome, it also took quite a bit of preparation. Andrew Taylor ’16, who is the nominal head of the Swarthmore Society of Engineers, elaborated on the process and effort that went into planning and preparing the prank.

“We started brainstorming about 2 months before, this time. We had a series of public meetings that all engineers — even freshmen — were invited to,” Taylor shared.

What is even more impressive is that each year the prank is an entirely original project conceived of by the group of students. Engineers come together to brainstorm and collaborate for the yearly prank to create something new. Taylor said that the pranks used to follow the common theme of incorporating the big adirondack chair into the prank, but it hasn’t been incorporated for the past four years.

The chair, while not a product of the engineering students, was built by a Swarthmore student during his time here, and has a backstory just as quintessentially Swarthmore as the engineering prank. Jake Beckman ’05, a studio art major who went on to earn his Masters of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, built the chair as an installation art project in 2002. In 2008, after many seasons of wear, tear and repair, Beckman worked with Vice President of Facilities Stu Hain to build the more structurally sound, permanent version of the chair.

In addition to being an elaborate and time-consuming tradition, the engineering prank  strengthens the bonds of the engineers across class years, according to Taylor.

“[It’s] a chance for engineers of different years to spend time working on a fun project with each other, and to give people a chance to build something fun,” Taylor commented.

Taylor’s favorite aspect of the prank was its multifaceted nature and it’s humor.

“I’m proud that it is both funny and a little timely — as well as that it can be interacted with,” Taylor said.

An anonymous sophomore didn’t quite agree with what was chosen for the prank and felt like it didn’t really live up to what had been done in the past few years.

“I think it was too complicated an idea for a funny prank. I had to try to explain it to too many people,” he shared.

Taylor elaborated on pranks that happened in the past which were more overtly funny.

“When I was a sophomore, I helped plan and build an extension of a then-infamous sculpture — the Crum Creek Meander — into and through Sharples,” Taylor said.

For last year’s prank, the Engineering students constructed the shell of a fake dormitory in the middle of Mertz lawn.  Like this year, students worked through the night (to the dismay of some Mertz residents who were kept up by the sounds of construction) to erect “Anfänger Hall,” complete with a sign that announced its planned opening in 2017.

While the anonymous sophomore didn’t agree with the decision for the prank, he agreed that the tradition brings engineers together and allows them to socialize and meet people they wouldn’t otherwise interact with.

“As a physical object it was pretty cool and I’m pretty proud to have made it….  I think the department could really benefit from building projects like the prank since they help underclassmen meet older engineers,” he said.

Julius Miller ’19 participated in the prank for the first time and shared the feeling of excitement and enjoyment that came with coming together as a group and spending hours to complete the prank.

“Working on the engineering prank as a freshman was truly incredible. I’m always amazed by how when a group of people put their minds together they can get something done,” Miller said.

The prank also serves as a learning opportunity for engineers who haven’t yet worked on a large scale project that required a sizable group of people or used power tools.

“For me, it was especially valuable since it gave me the chance to learn how to properly use power tools and observe how crucial planning is in engineering, “ Miller  shared.

The engineering prank remains one of the many quirky and beloved traditions that many Swarthmore students look forward to. The prank creates a unique environment for engineers to come together and bond, while simultaneously challenging themselves and amusing the Swarthmore community.

In the lab with engineer Ascanio Guarini ’16

in Campus Journal/STEM Spotlight by

This week, I sat down with Ascanio Guarini ’16, an Honors engineering and economics major, to discuss biomedical research he did over the summer of 2014 at a lab affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital.

When Guarini joined the lab, the team was developing a new technology to combat esophageal lesions that are a precursor to throat cancer. These lesions, which result in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, are usually caused by acid reflux. If undetected or untreated, Barrett’s esophagus, which can be considered stage 0 esophageal cancer, will develop into adenocarcinoma (a nasty cancer). Once it has progressed past stage 0, esophageal cancer usually requires surgery, and still only has a 5-year survival rate of about 20%1. Fortunately, at the time Barrett’s esophagus is detected, the lesions are only growing on the mucosal lining of the esophagus. If the abnormal cells of the lining can be destroyed without causing damage to the rest of the esophageal wall, the progression to esophageal cancer can be halted. However, currently available technologies that do this are spotty: they burn away the mucosal tissue, but often are too superficial and leave some precancerous cells behind in deeper layers of the lining. On the flip side, they can also burn away too much tissue, causing serious damage to the healthy esophageal wall and requiring, as Guarini described it, “gruesome” surgery.

When Guarini arrived for the summer, the lab was in the development phase for an ingenious device that took advantage of the elastic characteristic of the mucosal lining, which is stretchy like skin. As Guarini explained, the device “[uses] a vacuum to suck the lesioned tissue away, isolate it, and then burn that tissue away specifically.” Picture putting your skin up against a vacuum. The vacuum pulls your skin out, but your muscles, bones, and everything else stay in place. That’s what the device does to the mucosal lining. Another useful thing about the device is that it’s shaped like a cylinder, with the vacuum going 360º around it, and can be moved up and down to ablate the entire esophageal lining as it goes. “Imagine you’re shaving away a layer of tissue. You put this catheter in, have this device set up, and you can go up the esophagus and ablate away,” explained Guarini. Because the device can so specifically target the tissue, it would theoretically only require one treatment, as opposed to current methods that require up to three sessions over nine months, with healing periods in between.

What was Guarini’s role in all of this? “Before we go into in vitro studies on animals, we want to know if we need to change anything about the design,” he clarified. “So I had to develop, essentially, a computer model of this device from scratch. I started from, OK, I have the dimensions of this device, and I have this package in MatLab …  where you can do a lot of really good modeling.” Guarini essentially needed to figure out the numbers behind the design — how much heat did it need to emit to destroy all the lining tissue of the mucosal lining, but not cause extraneous damage? How fast could the device be moved up the esophagus while still destroying all the targeted tissue and leaving no lesions behind? How much electrical power would this all take, and was that a realistic amount?

“The results were pretty cool,” said Guarini. They modeled the device with varying speeds (between 1 mm/sec at the slowest and 26 mm/sec at the fastest) and at varying temperatures, and found that above 70º Celsius (158º Fahrenheit), speed had little effect on the efficacy of tissue destruction. That is, they could move the device very quickly, and it would still be hot enough to destroy all of the targeted tissue. At 70º Celsius or below, the model predicted that the device would need to move more slowly to effectively kill all of the lining.

“It was kind of surprising how perfect it was, right, and that’s kind of a concern in the sense that… is that actually the device, or is that the model? And that’s something I couldn’t actually test,” Guarini expanded. They would need to experiment on cadaver tissue in order to ascertain exactly how accurate the model is, he said, which is what the lab is currently working on.

“It looks like we need a pretty high temperature, probably like 80º,” Guarini said. The model predicted no danger to deeper tissues even at 90º, but Guarini thinks it’s possible that the model may not be fully accurate in predicting the level of damage. “90º is pretty hot, and you may actually go deeper and do more damage than the model is predicting,” he explained.

Guarini also found the power requirements were realistic — at high temperatures, about 18 watts. That’s less than the power that a typical light bulb uses.

Ultimately, Guarini said, the lab would also apply imaging techniques to the device, so that they could monitor the ablation of the tissue in real time and make sure everything was working the way they wanted it to.

Guarini found it fascinating to see the way the lab, which is based in academia rather than for profit, worked from bench to patient. “This is maybe my romantic view of it, but [they] make something that can make a difference, achieve a solution to a significant problem that’s better than what’s available, and then have those that have the resources and the marketing power, business power, bring it to the patient. It was definitely cool to see the process in general,” he said.

Guarini said he feels a pull toward understanding systems on all levels, from “a small scale engineering system like this device to an incredibly large complex system like healthcare.”  Being part of this project was exciting for him, he said, but he also wants to expand his horizons to a more macroscopic systems view. Guarini knows that next year, he’ll be at Stanford, doing big data applications in health policy research. Guarini believes this research will enable him to apply his majors in economics and engineering, as it is at the intersection of health economics and policy evaluation. He hopes that next year will give him an idea of a larger scale system that he might be interested in, and beyond that, he’s not sure what he will do. For Guarini, his education has taught him to find his interests, and it’s been a long searching process: “What are the kind of problems I want to solve, and what kinds of problems match my skills, and at what scale do I want to solve them?”

Guarini described his participation in the project as fulfilling. “In 5 to 10 years, if this device ever comes to market, I can say, OK, I worked on that, I had a piece in that project,” he said. “And obviously I take next to no credit for it because relative to the work that they do I hardly did anything. But I did have a piece, a small contribution, and that was an amazing aspect of being a part of that.”

For more information, check out the Vakoc lab website: http://vakoclab.mgh.harvard.edu/


  1. http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/hematology-oncology/esophageal-cancer/

College moves forward with plans for new BEP building

in News by
Papazian Hall is one of several buildings that will be demolished by the construction of the planned BEP building.

In its largest grounds project to date, the college has slated its new $120 million biology, engineering, and psychology (BEP) building to be constructed in the spring of 2017, with an expected completion date of August 2020. Serving as an extension to the Science Center, the building will replace older facilities like Martin Biology Lab, which will be re-purposed for other academic needs. Papazian and Hicks Halls will also be demolished as a part of the project.

Stuart Hain, Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects, explained that the project is part of the college’s long-term sustainability goals.

Hain said The College’s Environmental Sustainability Framework is being applied to the project with some elements of the framework equivalent to the Platinum level in the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED is a certification program of buildings that meet various environmental sustainability construction standards. There are different levels of certification based on a pre-requisite point system.

The LEED Platinum Standard is the highest level of construction sustainability in the program.Other elements of the project, however, will exceed the LEED Platinum Standard.

Post-construction, Hain noted, the building will continue to meet the college’s environmental sustainability goals, since the LEED guidelines only pertain to construction itself.

“The design of the project will include energy modeling to help identify the most energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable means of operation,” he said. This includes a planned geothermal well-field to provide renewable energy to the building.

The project has become a necessity to departments whose current facilities meet neither current nor future needs like expanded space and updated facilities.

Nick Kaplinsky, associate professor of biology, explained that the Martin Biology Lab lacks many of the features of other modern research facilities. The department has even expanded into closets, converting them into growth chambers. He noted that the current needs of the department will only increase in the coming years.

“We will continue to cram things into every nook and cranny in Martin and we will share existing spaces using creative scheduling. Things will continue to be very tight until we move into the new building, a day we look forward to,” Kaplinsky said.

Likewise, Papazian Hall has made accomplishing the psychology department’s goals more difficult. In its most recent departmental review, extreme concerns were raised regarding the limitations of the hall’s capacity. Professor Frank Durgin, the psychology department’s representative for planning the BEP building, shared his concerns about Papazian’s reliability.

“Papazian has long been a challenging building for a number of reasons,” he said. “Although Facilities and the administration have sought to ameliorate some of the more pressing problems, they can only do so much; the current building severely limits our ability to teach and serve students effectively. This is a very urgent need for our department.

The school plans to construct a new building, the Whittier Place Academic Building, which will be constructed behind the Lang Center to temporarily house the psychology and engineering departments between the demolition of Papazian and Hicks and the construction of the BEP building.

“This building will provide more modern facilities to us than Papazian. Although the amount of space in the swing space [Whittier Place] is quite insufficient for the long-term needs of the department, we are able to accommodate this “double move” in order to achieve a better long-term result for the College,” Durgin said.

All of the college’s goals will not be accomplished without significant cost, however. The entire project has an expected total budget of $120 million that will be financed through both philanthropy and loans. In addition, the Whittier Academic Building will have an expected cost of $10 million.

Various alumni have already donated significant sums of money. Eugene Lang ’38, frequent donor to the college, has donated $50 million toward the project. His donation is the largest in the college’s history. During the fall of 2016, the college will officially launch its fundraising campaign, though the goals of that campaign have yet to be determined.

A few major aspects of the BEP project have not been totally determined yet.There is no formal name for it yet, though Hain says it is likely one will emerge in the coming years. The extremely noisy parts of construction, like the demolition of Papazian and Hicks, have been scheduled for the summer months, though a formal construction schedule has not yet been finalized.

College’s ambitious construction plans underway

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The psychology department will move out of Papazian hall, above, upon the completion of the school’s new biology, engineering, and psychology building.
Photo by Sadie Rittman

This summer marked the beginning of a number of construction projects on and around campus. These plans include improvements and extensions to Willets Hall, the softball field, and the Dana and Hallowell dorms. Additionally, three entirely new buildings are being built: the “Matchbox,” Town Center West- which will house a campus bookstore, pub and inn- and the new biology, engineering and psychology building (BEP).

Of the projects planned by the college, the new BEP building is the most ambitious and least finalized. With construction slated to begin in 2016, the college has left plenty of time to discuss plans with the student body, alumni, staff and faculty. The building should be finished by the fall of 2018. The BEP building, when completed, will be the largest building on campus and is being implemented to match the increasing spatial demands of a growing student body.

“From biology’s point of view, we’re crammed to the gills in our current building, and even though we love it, we’ve literally taken over closets and other spaces that were never designed to be research facilities,” said Nick Kaplinsky, associate professor of biology and the department’s point person for the building. “The new building will solve our space issues, solve our mechanical issues and allow the department to expand and serve future biology majors.”

Each of the three departments that will occupy the BEP building will upgrade the amount of space they have on campus, and their old buildings will be reutilized for other departments.

In addition to the BEP building, the college is looking to build more student housing. Plans on this new dorm, or set of dorms, are still in flux, but it is likely that the new housing will be built near the PPR dorms on the south side of campus.

The school has already begun the process of renovating student housing. Over the summer, Willets underwent a series of construction projects. Most parts of the plumbing, insulation and electrical systems were entirely replaced. The bathrooms and lounges were also renovated.

“They were the original rooms, 50 years old, and the original plumbing, 50 years old. So we got to replace all that,” said Stuart Hain, vice president of facilities and capital projects.

In addition, Willets was taken off of the campus’ central steam system and given new boilers. The buildings furthest from the central steam system suffer the most from energy loss in using heat and hot water. In combination with improvements to the building’s insulation, the new boilers are supposed to significantly increase Willets’ energy efficiency.

While Willets was being revamped, construction on the new Matchbox building continued across campus. Nestled above the field house on the far side of Fieldhouse Lane, the Matchbox is the result of a funding campaign led by two married alumni, Salem Shuchman and Barbara Klock.

When completed, the Matchbox will be a student wellness and fitness center, as well as a space for the theater community. Construction on the Matchbox began last winter and was scheduled to be completed by the beginning of this semester, but the severity of last winter pushed that plan back. As of now, construction on the building should be finished by late September. The expected opening day is October 20.

As residents of the two dorms will attest, construction at Dana and Hallowell is underway. The final goal is a new five-story building connecting Dana and Hallowell. This building will replace the Danawell trailer, which previously served as a communal social space for the two dorms. In addition, the new structure will contain 68 new beds, designed to accommodate the college’s enrollment increases. The plan is for the building’s framework and foundation to be finished this fall, before the ground freezes.

Hain believes they will finish construction on Dana and Hallowell on schedule.

“We really believe we’ve built enough time into this schedule to make it work,” he said. “It could get so mean here that we get slowed down significantly, but there are some options about how we can accelerate that by working longer hours or longer weeks.”

Down the road from Dana and Hallowell is the softball field, which is being replaced. As of now, there are two fields. The old field is ready for fall play while the new field is being finished. The new field will have an adjustable netting system, as well as a new locker room attached to the home dugout.

“The outfield is pretty much in place, we’re installing an irrigation system and a drainage system to augment the system that’s there, [and] we’re building the dugouts,” said Jan Semler, director of capital planning and construction.

Town Center West is due to be finished by the end of the 2016 spring semester. It will contain an inn, a restaurant and retail spaces. The administration hopes that Town Center West will encourage a greater student presence in the ville, as well as support visitors and alumni. The bookstore will also be moved to the location.

“What we’re starting do now is actively think about what a bookstore, or a college and community store as we’re now calling it, of the future will look like. [Town Center West will] give us the opportunity to start thinking about how to repurpose the space that’s the current bookstore, since Clothier really is supposed to be a student center […] getting the bookstore out of there is going to be a huge help in terms of spaces that are available for students,” said Gregory Brown, vice president for finance and administration.

In addition, a new parking lot and a roundabout are being constructed by the Palmer, Pittenger, and Roberts dorms and Fieldhouse Lane. The parking lot will replace student parking in lot C and faculty parking by the train station. The parking lot will be finished and in use by the end of fall break. The roundabout is still in its beginning stages. Until September 12th, construction on Chester Road will operate at night from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. After that point, construction will shift to the daytime, but at least one lane of traffic will be available throughout the day. The administration is planning for two further periods of nighttime construction, but the dates for these are not yet in place. The asphalt work on the roundabout is due to end before winter in accordance with PennDOT guidelines, and the roundabout will be complete by the end of the school year.

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