The Wellesley-CHOP Fellowship Provides a Summer of Research in Clinical Setting for Wellesley Students

February 4, 2014

Starting this summer, Wellesley students will have a unique opportunity to get hands-on medical experience through a partnership with the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), in the Inflammatory Brain Program, funded by the Calliope Joy Foundation in partnership with the Class of 1989.

“While the Wellesley College science departments, and the neuroscience program in particular, offer many exciting summer research experiences in faculty labs, there are very few sponsored off-campus opportunities,” said Barbara Beltz, Allene Lummis Russell Professor of Neuroscience and director of the program. “Further, science faculty at Wellesley are focused primarily on basic research, while many of our students are interested in careers in the medical profession. Therefore, the Wellesley-CHOP program is particularly exciting because this is the first funded summer opportunity that will specifically address the clinical interests of our students. Maria Kefalas ’89, co-founder with Patrick Carr of the Calliope Joy Foundation, has shown great foresight in establishing this program for Wellesley students, and in partnering with the Class of 1989 to fund the experience at CHOP.”

Maria Kefalas ’89 is a professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s University, and a nationally recognized expert on changing American families and communities. In 2012, Kefalas’ youngest child, two-year-old Calliope Joy (“Cal”), was diagnosed with metachromatic leukodystrophy, a rare and terminal neurological disorder. Together with her husband, sociologist Patrick Carr, Kefalas established the Calliope Joy Foundation to “raise awareness of pediatric neurologic disease, work to attract the best of the best researchers and physicians to the field, and support families in giving children with these illnesses the best quality of life possible,” as the Foundation describes it. Kefalas writes about her experiences on her blog, Excruciating Joy, and has penned pieces for Slate and The Huffington Post.

Kefalas was inspired to create a summer internship by a former student, who remarked that the best way to get more young scientists interested in clinical medicine is to expose them to the field earlier, during the undergraduate years. Kefalas knew pediatric neurology often struggles to recruit medical students, and thought that her student’s suggestion could help. She had a close relationship with the doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who were responsible for Cal’s care. And then there was her alma mater, which has produced incredible scientists, and already had a thriving undergraduate neuroscience program. “Why not bring someone from the premiere women’s college to work with the world’s finest children’s hospital?” Kefalas said. “Maybe you can inspire them to join the field.”

The Wellesley student who is awarded the summer fellowship will work with Dr. Amy Waldman, M.D., M.S.C.E., clinical director of the Inflammatory Brain Program at CHOP. The student will focus on collecting and analyzing “non-typical” pediatric neurological cases, for example, those classified as leukodystrophy but with atypical symptoms.

“I found out I was pregnant with Cal at my 20th reunion,” Kefalas said. “Like many alumnae, I always dreamed that my daughters would go to Wellesley. This fellowship is a way for Cal to go to Wellesley.”

The fellowship comes with a $5,000 stipend to cover lodging, living, and travel expenses. To fund the fellowship, the Calliope Joy Foundation is partnering with Kefalas’ classmates in the Class of 1989. Interested students should contact the neuroscience department for more information, and apply by February 21.