Senior Snapshot, Sylvia Mutua ’22: “[Wellesley] feels like a family.”

Sylvia Matua poses for a photo outside.
Author  Josh Idaszak
Published on 

When Sylvia Mutua ’22 arrived on Wellesley’s campus in fall 2018, she was sure of one thing: She was never going to major in a STEM field. “I remember telling my parents, ‘The last thing I’ll ever major in is neuroscience,’” Mutua said.

A year later, Mutua declared her neuroscience major. “It’s been quite a ride,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed all of the opportunities I’ve been able to have, in science, but just as much in public health.”

Mutua’s change of heart happened in the spring of her sophomore year, when she took NEUR 100: Brain, Behavior, and Cognition with Sharon Gobes, associate professor of neuroscience. “When we got to the unit about the brain, and understanding what was happening in lobes, and the sort of experiments you could do neuroscience—that was really interesting to me,” Mutua said. “I absolutely loved the class. It didn’t feel like a STEM course to me. I always say that neuroscience feels like the humanities of the sciences because there’s a lot of reading. I think that’s what really drew me in.”

Mutua views the study of neuroscience as a collaborative puzzle. “When you’re reading about neuroscience in textbooks, there are a lot of missing pieces,” she said. “It’s interesting, when we start to read more current literature, we can kind of see how things are fitting together, even if we don’t have the full story yet. And I think that has always been the most exciting part about neuroscience to me. There’s just so much we don’t know, and there are so many different people asking questions, and just putting those pieces together.”

That kind of collaborative, communal spirit was what made her choose Wellesley. Her host during open campus weekend seemed to know everyone. “We could not walk anywhere without her stopping for five minutes just to have a conversation with pretty much every person we met,” Mutua said. “That’s when I realized that this was a place where people have really deep friendships and relationships, where it feels like a family.”

When the campus closed in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, Mutua moved home to Connecticut but made sure to maintain her ties to the College. “With my Wellesley friends who live in Connecticut, we tried to do little meetups or go on walks,” Mutua said. “We went hiking whenever it was warm enough. We tried to keep up some sort of Wellesley connection, even when it wasn’t the easiest.”

While she was home, Mutua joined her town’s Democratic committee and became its secretary. “I wanted to learn more about what was happening at the town level, and I wanted to get involved as much as possible,” she said. Mutua also volunteered to help direct social media strategy for Jaime Foster’s successful campaign for state representative for the 57th district of Connecticut. Those experiences, she said, “really just shaped the way my life could be in a new way. I was very strictly STEM up to that point, and I kind of had this interest in politics, but it wasn’t until that remote semester, and being away from everything, that I could kind of focus a little bit more on it.”

Mutua’s work with local politics inspired her to apply to the Wellesley in Washington Summer Internship Program and move to Washington for a legislative internship in Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy’s office. “It was one of the best summers of my life,” Mutua said. “I learned so much from Sen. Murphy, and made a lot of really great friends through that experience.”

Mutua has also interned with the FDA’s Standards and Conformity Assessment Program and with Access Health International. There, she worked with William Haseltine, the organization's chair and president, to help draft stories about breaking scientific discoveries. “A lot of what I wrote about was related to COVID and what’s happening not just in the bodies of those who become infected, but in society, and how the pandemic is affecting everything,” she said.

In June, Mutua will begin working as a clinical research coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and she plans to apply to medical school eventually.

As commencement approaches, she is enjoying her final days on campus and reflecting on the relationships she has developed at Wellesley. “It’s bittersweet to think about,” Mutua said. “I’m really proud of my friends, and the things that they are all doing, but at the same time it’s sad to think about how once we all graduate, we’re going to be in different parts of the country, and the world, and that it’s going to be a little more difficult to keep in touch. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to professors I’ve talked to over the years, and who’ve been mentors and written recommendation letters. But I also know that those relationships don’t have to end with commencement.”