Plants, Coral, and Welfare: Wellesley Students Present Their Summer Research Projects

Wide angle shot of the poster session on July 28.
Author  E.B. Bartels ’10
Published on 

Wellesley’s Summer Research Program is an annual chance for students to fully immerse themselves in a scientific research project. They can either dive more deeply into a topic they are already fascinated with, or take the time to explore something that might not normally fit in their regular academic schedule. Either way, judging by the presentations at the poster session on July 28, which took place in the newly renovated Science Complex, it seems the 106 students, who conducted research with 49 Wellesley faculty and staff members, had an enriching and fulfilling summer.

Students presented on their research projects from a large range of topics, including the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, astronomy, biochemistry, neuroscience), the social sciences (anthropology, psychology, sociology, women’s and gender studies), the natural world (environmental studies, biology, geosciences) and virtual reality (computer science). There were also students who interned at three of Wellesley’s specialized institutes: the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, Wellesley Centers for Women, and the Botanic Gardens.

Maeve Galvin ’25, Kayli Hattley ’22, and Kathryn Zaia ’25 were three students who spent their summer at the Botanic Gardens. Hattley, who was a biological sciences major and worked at the Botanic Gardens for all four years before graduating this past spring, said she loved how the group bonded by spending “hours outside together sweating.” Hattley initially was drawn to working at the Botanic Gardens because she thought she was “not smart enough for science,” but nature and botany felt like a way in for her. “I wanted to spend a full summer devoted to horticulture,” Hattley said. Zaia and Galvin are both rising sophomores, so they have not officially declared their majors, but both also worked at the Botanic Gardens during their first year and wanted to spend more time there over the summer. “I wanted to get a chance to really submerge myself,” said Galvin. They are a prospective psychology major, but already know that they want to work in the outdoors, finding ways that nature can support people’s mental health. Zaia, a prospective biology or environmental studies major, was excited to get the chance to “change the landscape and make it more welcoming to the Wellesley community.”

Jen Enriquez ’24, meanwhile, was drawn to the summer research program because she knew nothing about the process of doing scientific research and wanted to try it. Enriquez is a computer science major, but interested in the ways that biology intersects with technology. She worked with a team who explored two different projects: discovering the ways a virtual reality classroom can be used to teach subjects like marine science, and developing an app that will help citizen scientists take better photographs of coral when diving. Enriquez hopes that her work this summer is just the beginning, and plans to continue to develop and create the app this fall.

Political science major Jade “Aliyana” Young ’24 was excited to explore a new department through the summer research program. Young, who has been pursuing her own research in the political science department studying why Black women resist welfare, applied to work on a project with Smitha Radhakrishnan, Luella LaMer Professor of Women’s Studies and professor of sociology, about why welfare funds do not reach those who need it. “It’s harder to qualify for welfare funds in some states than it is to get accepted to MIT or Yale,” Young pointed out, as she explained her research. Young and Radhakrishnan studied how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds do not get into the hands of those who need them the most, and how states have actually been sitting on welfare funds throughout the pandemic. While Young will return to her work in the political science department in the fall, she said the things she learned through the sociology project will help inform and shape her research. “It all comes down to anti-Black and gendered assumptions about people who need welfare,” Young said.

After two years of the summer research program taking place on Zoom, based on the celebratory atmosphere of the poster session, students and faculty seemed excited to be able to work together in person again.