Students Stand up for the ‘Little Guys’ by Researching Land Snails

Student examines snails through a microscope
Emily Haigh ’24 examines land snails under a microscope at Dow Science Center.
Student goes through leaf litter samples to look for land snails
Georgios Gkolois ’24 said some people might think land snails are insignificant, which only inspires him to learn more about them.
Snails under a microscope
Haigh and Gkolois sifted through leaf litter samples to find snails like these.

The next time you visit Kalamazoo College’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum or the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve in Allegan, Michigan, think about what you might be stepping in—but not for the reasons you might think.

There are land snails in the area, as small as 2 mm in diameter, which are endangered thanks to deforestation and pollution. Fortunately, Georgios Gkolois ’24 and Emily Haigh ’24 teamed up this summer to collect and examine some of them as a part of their Senior Integrated Projects (SIPs) while researching what can be done to help the species in decline.

To the naked eye, the snails can appear to be the tiniest specs of dirt. Yet the snails are important to the ecosystem, aiding decomposition processes by eating fallen logs and leaves. They also glean calcium from their food, concentrate it in their shells, and pass it up the food chain as they are consumed by predators. Haigh warns that if the snails decline further, the impact eventually would affect humans, because as the environment suffers, so do we.

“I’m planning to go to med school one day, but I have always been passionate about the environment,” Haigh said. “I’ve always wanted to be outside, and I thought this would be a cool way to explore environmental biology before I put my life into medicine. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of even the smallest, tiniest, most microscopic creatures because the little guys can still have a big impact on everything.”

Leaf litter samples
Haigh and Gkolois examined leaf litter samples like this one to find land snails.
Magnified land snail in moss
Haigh and Gkolois said land snails could often be found in mossy areas.
Student collecting samples in forest area
Haigh collected leaf litter samples at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum and the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve to find land snails.

Gkolois was relegated to a lab role this summer after breaking his ankle a matter of days before their fieldwork was scheduled to start. However, the misfortune provided a clear method for the partners to share their workload with Haigh in the field and Gkolois in the lab. First, Haigh collected samples through leaf litter in the natural areas, especially near fallen trees, under living trees and near moss. Later, in the lab, the samples’ moisture was removed through heat before Gkolois sorted the snails by examining them through microscopes.

“It seems amazing that a piece of log could be such a diverse community where we could find microhabitats,” Gkolois said. “While we were sorting, we saw snails that were as small as a grain of sand. A lot of people would think they’re insignificant and ask why we care about them. That just got me thinking that I wanted to know more about them.”

Professor of Biology Binney Girdley, serving as their SIP adviser, and zoologist Ashley Cole-Wick, a Michigan Natural Features Inventory conservation associate, worked with the students to shape the project as Gkolois and Haigh developed their SIPs.

“I’m looking into relationships between the volume of decomposing wood and the state of decomposition to the amount of land snail abundance and diversity,” Gkolois said. “Basically, I’m looking at categories of freshly fallen wood and live trees, intermediately decomposed logs and completely decomposed mulch. I want to find out what the snails like most.”

Leaf litter samples in paper bags
Haigh and Gkolois cooked leaf litter samples before examining them under microscopes to look for land snails.
Hand holding vial containing a land snail
Haigh and Gkolois collected land snails including some that were no bigger than a grain of sand.
Haigh and Gkolois commonly found land snails in leaf litter samples taken from mossy areas.

Haigh’s project differs slightly. During her field work, she wasn’t looking for levels of decomposition as much as she was for similar plots of land on a slope within about 25 meters of the Kalamazoo River to compare natural communities and find the areas where snails are most likely to be.

“I’ve learned a lot about conservation as a whole, especially animal conservation,” Haigh said. “I’ve learned about the importance of even the tiniest, most-microscopic creatures because these tiny guys can still have a big impact on everything. It taught me a lot about the environment and the impact we have on it.”

Because of their research, Gkolois and Haigh have calls to action for people who want to learn more.

“A lot of times people will remove pieces of logs from land without realizing they’re habitats for a lot of organisms, and not just land snails, but other micro-invertebrates.” Gkolois said. “My advice, as a result, would be to maintain awareness of such situations when managing land.”

“On the topic of conservation, we’ve been writing literature reviews for our SIPs,” Haigh said. “In that, I’ve found a lot of information on the habitats and variables that impact the snails. I think understanding what goes into the land snail communities and their ability to survive is an important factor in better conserving them. We want to make sure these little guys are here to stay.”

Student Openly Shares Her Research to Tackle Chagas Disease

When scientists perform research, what they discover is often proprietary and kept in close confidence until results are published or patented. Erin Somsel ’24, however, would rather share her research with the world.

Somsel, a biochemistry major at Kalamazoo College, is working on her Senior Integrated Project with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dwight Williams and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, which engages top students from about 25 global institutions in research through the Open Synthesis Network. Their combined efforts provide shared, open-source information, allowing entire teams to look into the molecules and compounds that present the most promise for developing medicines that fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions that disproportionately infect women and children in impoverished communities with devastating health, social and economic consequences. Many are vector-borne with animal reservoirs and complex life cycles that complicate their public-health control. Plus, drug companies often don’t see the benefits of helping impoverished communities that are less profitable.

The open-source initiative, though, is more interested in cooperative work and says its participating researchers have developed 12 treatments for six deadly diseases, potentially saving millions of lives.

“That’s appealing to me because there are scientists from everywhere that work on this project,” Somsel said. “I think that’s a cool way of getting everyone involved in the scientific community to come up with a solution to a big problem.”

In the meantime, Somsel hopes her work will contribute to a treatment for a seventh affliction, Chagas disease. The inflammatory condition is most common in South America, Central America and Mexico with rare cases in the southern United States. It spreads through the feces of a parasite often called the kissing bug, as it damages the heart and other vital organs when the bug bites humans.

Open Source Research Targets Chagas Disease
Erin Somsel ’24, pictured with her host family in Costa Rica, first learned about neglected tropical diseases while she was on study abroad. Today, she’s researching molecules and compounds that could help discover medicines that fight Chagas disease.

“A lot of the work on the drugs for Chagas disease was done in the 1960s, so there’s an urgent need for new ones,” Somsel said. “Chagas has two phases, acute and chronic. The acute phase has common symptoms such as fever, headache and fatigue, but if it turns chronic, it can cause cardiomyopathy and serious gastrointestinal problems. The drugs only work in the acute phase, so if it’s not caught, it’s life-threatening. There’s also no vaccine against Chagas disease.”

In the lab, IC50 values represent the concentrations at which substances inhibit parasites through biological and biochemical processes. The hope is to find IC50 values through molecules and compounds that warrant further research.

“I’ve been working on optimizing our processes and I got the procedure down so that we could start generating some of the compounds that we wanted to,” Somsel said. “The next step is to continue building the library of the chemicals we want to make and send them into the Open Synthesis Network, where it will test them for the activity against the parasites.”

Somsel first was introduced to NTD research when she was on study abroad in Costa Rica. While there she studied Latin American health care systems, including Costa Rica’s, in an environment that challenged her to grow.

“I think K has a unique culture of pushing students beyond their comfort zone,” she said. “I don’t think that I would have had that experience at any other place.”

Now, with that experience—plus a K-Plan that involves student organizations such as the Health Professions Society and the Sisters in Science, athletics through the women’s soccer team, and academics as a teaching assistant for introductory chemistry—Somsel feels like she’s prepared to one day succeed in medical school, where she will continue pursuing lab research. Hopefully, that will involve further research involving NTDs.

“Success for me used to be going to class, getting A’s and stuff like that,” Somsel said. “Then, I started working in the lab. I found that there are many little things that build up to success. When I had a reaction that wasn’t successful, it was easy for me to say, ‘I was unsuccessful today.’ But Dr. Williams helped me put it in a different perspective. He could say, ‘No, you were unsuccessful in generating this compound, but you were successful in realizing this solvent didn’t work, so we can try something else and move forward.’ I think that has really shaped me as a student. It helped me understand that if at first something doesn’t work for me, I’m going to keep trying and persisting to find something that does.”

Biology Department Incorporates New Microscope into Research, Teaching

A microscope acquired in spring 2023 using grant funds is opening new opportunities for research and teaching in the Kalamazoo College biology department. 

The fluorescence dissecting microscope boasts several advantages over other microscopes in the department, said Michael Wollenberg, associate professor of biology and department chair, and Amanda Wollenberg, associate professor of biology. Its features include optics that allow clear views of individual cells, fluorescence to help differentiate between types of cells, space to manipulate a sample while viewing it, and a dedicated camera and software program. 

“We want to be able to look at single bacterial cells, and they’re one-millionth of a meter large, so they’re not visible to the naked eye,” Michael said. “What’s really important is that we have a microscope that has extremely good optics, and those optics resolve the sample very well—they magnify it to the point where we can see individual bacterial cells. Bacterial cells are clear and transparent, and having a set of fluorescent molecules inside the cell allows us to tag them with a glowing marker so we can say, ‘OK, that transparent cell that’s really tiny—that’s actually the bacterial cell we’re interested in, as opposed to schmutz or a eukaryotic cell or some other bacterial cell, and it’s located in X, Y or Z place, which gives us a three-dimensional resolution of the relationship that we’re looking at.’” 

While many microscopes use white light to illuminate samples, a fluorescence microscope can do more. 

“Bacteria might be too small to actually see just using white light,” Amanda said. “If you genetically manipulate those bacteria so that they glow fluorescent—and that’s a very common technique; people do it all the time, Michael can do it in his lab—if you have a microscope that can detect fluorescence, you can track those bacteria. You can see where they are because they’re glowing green.” 

The microscope also has a camera and software program that allows the user to take and analyze photos through the microscope as well as project to a computer screen—two key advantages in research and in teaching that are new to the biology department in terms of dissecting microscopes. 

“The camera and software are really important when it comes to trying to share the results of what we see with other scientists by publishing,” Amanda said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, trust us, we saw it.’ You must have a picture, and it’s got to be a high-quality picture. Ideally, you also try to quantify some of the information in that picture. That means you don’t just show a picture. You say, ‘We took 100 pictures, and we did this analysis of the intensity of the color, using the software program, and in 70 percent of the pictures, the intensity was higher than a certain threshold.’” 

The computer projection makes the microscope an excellent teaching tool. 

“A microscope has two eyepieces,” Michael said. “You look in the eyepieces, and you’re the only person who can see what you’re seeing. This camera is a great way to project what the microscope sees to a larger group of people, be it a small research laboratory, like our summer research with undergraduates, or a small class.” 

Biology major Allison Sokacz ’24 has worked in Michael Wollenberg’s lab for three summers. She recently started using the microscope in the summer research that will form the basis for her Senior Integrated Project. 

“The intensity that lets you see the entire fluorescence from this microscope, versus some of the other scopes we have, is really helpful,” Sokacz said. “It’s a lot easier to see what you have.” 

The camera is essential to her project, as she is working with two different forms of a bacteria and will be able to compare their locations using saved images. She also appreciates the benefits of the screen projection. 

“Microscopy is hard, because only one person can see,” Sokacz said. “I just took microbiology with Dr. [Michael] Wollenberg this spring, and I really struggled with microscopy, because it’s different for everyone. My lab partner might say, put the zoom to this, but then I might not be able to see it. With this microscope, I can say what I see, and they can also see it, instead of, ‘Well, I saw this but then it moved off the screen,’ or, ‘I can’t get it in focus.’ Being able to show a whole room what you’re seeing is definitely helpful.” 

In addition, the microscope has a wheel that allows for different filters that can detect different colors of fluorescence, which expands the future possibilities for use. 

“You could label one type of bacteria with green and one with red, and now you can look at the dynamics,” Amanda said. “Are the green ones in one place, are the red ones in another place? Another thing researchers will do sometimes is to stain the host with one color and the bacteria with a different color, and that can help resolve some of the questions of what you are seeing.”

Student looks through microscope that projects image on to a computer screen
Garrick Hohm ’25 looks into the fluorescence dissecting microscope purchased for the biology department in spring 2023 using National Science Foundation grant funds.
Student points to an image projected onto a computer screen
Biology major Allison Sokacz ’24 demonstrates how the biology department’s new, grant-purchased microscope can be connected to a computer monitor for research and teaching. 
New Biology Microscope 5
Garrick Hohm ’25 looks into the fluorescence dissecting microscope
Student looking into a microscope
Allison Sokacz ’24 checks for the presence and location of bacteria in nematodes using a grant-purchased microscope that is opening up new research and teaching opportunities in the biology department.

The microscope was purchased using funds from a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant, awarded to the Wollenbergs in June 2018 to study mechanisms of specificity and tolerance in a nematode-bacterial symbiosis. About 9 percent of that budget was for the microscope, which cost about $35,000. The rest of the total includes about 12.5 percent for other materials and small equipment, 5 percent for travel, 26 percent for indirect costs like building infrastructure, and slightly less than half for student pay, summer salary and benefits. 

“Science uses very condensed writing, where each word means so much,” Amanda said. “In the title of our research, ‘mechanisms’ tell you that we’re looking at the molecular side of things: not just that this happens, but how does it happen? ‘Specificity’ is getting at this idea that when two organisms are trying to have a relationship with each other, it’s not like just any bacteria can come in and live with any animal. ‘Tolerance’ is, even once they’ve found each other and formed that partnership, they have to keep getting along with each other. From the animal perspective, it can’t start killing off that bacteria like it does to other, more pathogenic bacteria. The specific relationship we’re looking at is a nematode-bacterial symbiosis. This is telling us that the animal is the nematode–that’s a roundworm that lives in the soil–and the partner it has is bacteria. Symbiosis is saying they’re in partnership, they both benefit each other. We’re trying to understand how they find each other and get along with each other within that system.” 

The duo is well-suited to the research, with Michael bringing a microbiology perspective while Amanda has an immunology focus.  

“The big picture is that we live in a microbial world where there’s lots and lots of microorganisms that are in and on our bodies and all animal bodies,” Michael said. “Basically, they facilitate everything that animals do; we can’t survive without them. Understanding how animals tolerate beneficial microorganisms is a big open scientific question. How do we train our immune systems, or how are our immune systems calibrated, so that the friendly bacteria get into association with organisms and maintain those associations that are beneficial?” 

That’s not very well understood, Michael notes, “especially not in really complicated organisms like humans, where there are myriad different species of microorganisms that are associated with us. If you think about our gut, it’s like its own ecosystem. We do research with simple models to try to understand detailed answers to bigger biology questions, in the hopes that other scientists can apply that research to things that are more relevant for human health or other animals that have more complicated associations in their health.” 

The new microscope is an invaluable tool in the Wollenbergs’ research, and they also look forward to the whole biology department finding ways to use it in the classroom. 

“That was part of the reason we wanted to get this piece of equipment as well, is to integrate it with teaching and use it as a teaching tool,” Michael said. “As we’re coming online with the things we’ve wanted to do with the grant, it’s giving us ideas of how we can translate this into the classroom.” 

Heyl Scholarship, K Empower Student’s Mix of Science, Art

As an aficionado of science, biochemistry major Jordyn Wilson ’24 is drawn to Kalamazoo College and its student research.

“I’ve always been a ‘Why is this? Why is that?’ kind of person,” she said. “My mom has said that about me, too. I just want to know more about how things work. Science gives me an avenue to do that.”

That means the Parchment (Michigan) High School graduate was thrilled three years ago when she received word that she had earned a Heyl scholarship to attend K.

“It was right before COVID happened,” Wilson said. “I remember we all had our interviews and I was waiting and hoping. Then one day I was walking downstairs to my room when I got a call from an unknown number. I wasn’t sure I should answer it, but I did. They said, ‘Congrats! You’ve received the Heyl scholarship.’ I was very excited, feeling very grateful and very blessed.”

The scholarship’s fund was established in 1971 through the will of Dr. Frederick Heyl and Mrs. Elsie Heyl. Frederick Heyl was the first chemist at The Upjohn Company, later becoming a vice president and the company’s first director of research. Since then, Heyl scholarships have enabled hundreds of high school graduates from Kalamazoo County, including Wilson, to attend Kalamazoo College for STEM-focused majors or Western Michigan University for nursing, with renewable benefits for up to four years that cover tuition, fees, housing and a book allowance.

If there was a downside to her honor, it was the timing. She started college during the pandemic and most of her classes were virtual at the time. One exception, though, was her spring Chemistry 120 lab led by Laboratory Instructor Yit-Yian Lua.

“I remember talking to Dr. Y-Y about how much I missed research,” Wilson said. “I missed being in the lab, which was always a lot of fun for me.”

Portrait of Heyl Scholarship Recipient Jordyn Wilson
Jordyn Wilson ’24 was thrilled three years ago when she received word that she had earned a Heyl scholarship to attend Kalamazoo College.

The very next day, Wilson received an email from Dorothy Heyl Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Regina Stevens-Truss, asking Wilson if she wanted join her lab’s research. Three years later, Wilson and Stevens-Truss are still working together, examining antibiotics.

“She’s very supportive of me and the ideas I have,” Wilson said of Stevens-Truss. “If there’s something I want to learn or something I think we can do, she says ‘Yes, we totally could do that.’ She’s letting me explore which is one thing I love about her.”

Today, Wilson is studying molecular hybrids, which are made by hybridizing two different molecules with some antimicrobial activity to create a molecule with elevated activity. She also studies antimicrobial peptides, which are short chains of amino acids found in the immune systems of many living organisms.

Her student activities draw her to intramural volleyball; a TA position in organic chemistry; a leadership role in Sukuma, which provides a fellowship for students of color; and membership in Kalama-Africa, a community to celebrate and engage with African cultures and experiences on campus. She’s also a member of the Kalamazoo College Dance Team and pursues art and the game of billiards in her free time. She has even created a student organization called Art and Soul, which centers on using art to promote self-care and self-expression. The club explores a new art form each week, allowing members to discover art they enjoy while building community.

“I’ve always leaned on art as a way to destress and just express myself as an act of self-care,” Wilson said. “It’s never just one thing that I’m doing. I’m always doing multiple projects. I’ve grown up with art and it’s a big thing for me and my family. I definitely think it balances the science part of me if I need to back off from STEM or I need a break from school.”

One day, she hopes to attend grad school and seek a Ph.D. in biochemistry as research is so much a part of her life. In the meantime, she’ll just celebrate her life at K.

“One of the main reasons I picked K is its size,” she said. “I liked how small it was and that it could help me connect with my professors and other students. I think I get more opportunities here than I would at a big school. It feels like we’re a close-knit community.”

New Star Wars Religion Class Fills with Hyperspace-Like Speed

Sohini Pillai standing in her office with some Star Wars merchandise
Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai displays some of the personal Star Wars merchandise she has in her office including a painting of Grogu gifted to her by a student.
Star Wars-related pictures in Sohini Pillai's office
Pillai’s office leaves no doubt of her status as a Star Wars fan. The picture at left shows her likeness as a Jedi with her dog, Leia, dressed as Chewbacca. The picture at right is the dog’s face imposed on an image of Princess Leia’s clothing in the franchise’s first movie, “A New Hope.”
Student wearing Jedi robes and carries a lightsaber
The Force is strong with the Star Wars community at K. Paige Anderson ’25, for example, wore Jedi robes and wielded a lightsaber for an Epic Epics presentation on the Star Wars film “Revenge of the Sith.”

Some Kalamazoo College students will learn the ways of the Force this fall in a new Star Wars-themed class that examines religion’s role in the franchise.

Students in Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians: Religion and Star Wars, taught by Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai, will watch seven of the films along with The Mandalorian Disney+ series, and read from books such as The Tao of Yoda, The Gospel According to Star Wars: Faith, Hope and the Force, and The Myth Awakens before writing a research paper in which they analyze a Star Wars film or show not discussed in class.

Their goals are to gain a better understanding of religious, cultural and historical contexts related to Star Wars while investigating key concepts in the study of religion such as canonization, myth, invented vs. traditional religions, cultural appropriation, colonization, indigenous cultures, orientalism and racism.

“There are so many themes in the Star Wars universe that are applicable to the study of religion,” Pillai said. “Just in the first week, for example, we’re going to be talking about orientalism and the exoticization of the Eastern world. The world of Tatooine was filmed in Tunisia and the whole planet is essentially based on the Middle East, the Ewoks speak in highspeed Tibetan, and many of the characters have names based on Sanskrit words. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The idea for the course developed not so long ago, in a classroom not so far away, when—in 2021—Pillai began teaching a First-Year Seminar, Epic Epics. The class used The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem, along with nine other narratives about a variety of heroic warriors and colossal battles, to examine how such stories have changed over time and influenced cultures.

Revenge of the Sith, a Star Wars prequel released in 2005, took center stage in final presentations that term with two students reflecting on the film through themes found in the epics. One of the students, Paige Anderson ’25, even offered her presentation while wearing Jedi robes and wielding a lightsaber. The conversations from those presentations and throughout the term pleased Pillai, who also is K’s director of film and media studies.

“Those students are hardcore Star Wars fans,” she said. “I was especially surprised by how much they loved the prequel trilogy. The story, if you haven’t seen the original Star Wars movies, is compelling and exciting. It’s a story about Anakin Skywalker turning to the Dark Side to become Darth Vader. But my students would have been in high school and middle school when the sequel trilogy came out. I thought they would’ve liked those more.”

Regardless of their favorite movies in the franchise, it was evident that student interest, not to mention her own fandom, could help Pillai develop Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians: Religion and Star Wars. Pillai said she remembers first being interested in the Star Wars universe when she was in kindergarten and her parents introduced her to the first three films after she heard about the films from a classmate. When she was 9, The Phantom Menace, the original prequel, was the first Star Wars movie she saw in theaters. Today, her fandom continues with a variety of merchandise in her office, the Disney+ streaming shows, and an Instagram-famous Yorkshire terrier, Leia, named after the princess who is Pillai’s favorite character in the franchise.

“I distinctly remember growing up and seeing movies like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty where these princesses are basically sitting there and doing nothing,” she said. “And then in kindergarten, seeing Princess Leia with a blaster and defending herself while also being a diplomat and speaking so eloquently, I was impressed by her. I think she’s one of the most incredible female characters in cinema. I liked the idea of Padmé being a queen at the age of 14, and I enjoyed Rey’s character in the new trilogy as well. And speaking of the new Ahsoka show, I love that three women including two Women of Color are leading it.”

If you were concerned that some in and around K would question the value of a Star Wars class in the curriculum, Darth Vader—and Pillai, for that matter—might say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“I remember in the faculty meeting when we were voting on new classes that about 10 people all at once seconded the motion to adopt the course,” Pillai said. “I’ve had a lot of people—like Director of Athletics Becky Hall—say, ‘Send me the syllabus! I want to sit in on the class.’ I think there’s a lot of excitement for this. K has a solid Star Wars community.”

Pillai dresses her dog, Leia, as a Jedi while she dresses as R2-D2.
Sohini Pillai wears a sweatshirt that says Yoda Akbar
Pillai wears one of her favorite sweatshirts, which combines Star Wars with the film “Jodhaa Akbar,” which she covers in her Religion, Bollywood, and Beyond class.

The broader K community, from staff to alumni and beyond, has been equally supportive. One recent Twitter/X post said, “As a @kcollege alum, I am stone cold jealous of the students taking this class.” Another said, “The fact that I graduated from @kcollege 30 years too late to take this class is a big disappointment to me as a #StarWars fanatic!”

Then there are the junior and senior K students who didn’t exactly have to be scruffy-looking nerf-herders to realize that the course would be fun, entertaining, and educational as they filled the last seats in it during the second day of fall registration.

Pillai can’t be certain that Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians: Religion and Star Wars will be offered again. As Yoda would state, it’s “difficult to say; always in motion is the future.” She hopes, however, that first-year students, sophomores, and students on study abroad this term will have opportunities to register for it, too.

“Even if I got horrible course ratings, I’ll probably want to teach it again because I imagine it’s going to be super fun for me,” Pillai said. “In the future, I think I’m going to have to reserve spots for underclassmen because I feel bad that they weren’t able to take it this time around. But it’s great we have so much interest in it. I think that Star Wars can be used as an important teaching tool, especially in the world that we live in.”

Student-Athlete Takes Flag Football to Kenya

With another year of Kalamazoo College football camp beginning, student-athlete Adam Stapleton ’25 is proudly reflecting on a summer that included some international volunteerism through his sport.

Stapleton, a business major in his academic life and a linebacker for the Hornets in athletics, introduced children in Kenya to flag football by visiting a rural, ministry-based school in the town of Nyahururu through the Pan African Christian Exchange (PACE).

The idea was to help the children experience some diversity in their physical education classes in coordination with a two-week service trip he shared with his family, including his dad—who works as a pastor—his mom and his brother.

“Usually, the students would only be playing soccer, and the school wanted them to have a more enriching experience in general,” Stapleton said. “I feel like football as a game teaches a lot of life skills outside of just athleticism. There’s teamwork because you have to be on the same page, and there’s strategy, which helped them learn to think while contributing to their growing experiences in school as a whole.”

The children, he said, were somewhat familiar with rugby, which provided some parallels along with some challenges because of slightly different rules. They had to learn, for example, that football has four downs and varied guidance as to how teams can sub players in and out of a game.

Regardless, the classes embraced the experience, making Stapleton’s job feel less like a Hail Mary and more like an inevitable run to pay dirt.

“I could just see their joy, especially when I told them we would leave all the materials there so they could play on their own,” Stapleton said. “They don’t have a lot of what we do, but they were so much happier than we usually are. The whole experience helped me see that attitude is what makes you happy.”

Stapleton added that he and his brother also taught chess to the students. In fact, some of the children picked it up so quickly that they nearly beat the duo by the time they left. The whole experience leaves Stapleton with no doubt that he would like to return to Kenya one day, in addition to studying abroad in Madrid or Costa Rica before he leaves K.

“This wasn’t so much about my K-Plan, but it definitely fit with the K experience,” Stapleton said. “It was about putting myself out there to try new things. It also fit for me as a business major. I sat in on one of their business classes and tried to contribute some things about my classes. I want to go back again, and in my professional life, I think this experience will help me interact more with diverse people and reach others different from me. I’m glad I went because I didn’t expect it to be anything like it was. Going there and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces while teaching them something new and experiencing a new place was an awesome opportunity.”

Adam Stapleton Teaching Flag Football in Kenya
Student-athlete Adam Stapleton introduced children in Kenya to flag football this summer, diversifying their physical education classes.

Student’s Neuroscience Research Fights ALS

When progress is made in the fight against neurological afflictions such as ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, students such as Vivian Schmidt ’25 often are on the frontlines of research.

Schmidt, a biology and psychology double major with a concentration in neuroscience at Kalamazoo College, is having a cutting-edge experience this summer at the University of Michigan. She is working for 10 weeks in the institution’s Summer Intensive Research Experience in Neuroscience (SIREN) program, a highly desirable opportunity that accepts only about 20 applicants each year out of hundreds. As a bonus, she’s directly working with Michigan faculty such as K alumna Elizabeth Tank ’03, an assistant research scientist in neurology.

The initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which also provides Schmidt with a stipend and on-campus housing.

“It’s surreal to think that everything I did in high school and my first two years at K led to this opportunity,” Schmidt said. “I’ve met a lot of incredibly witty, smart and established professionals in their field, who have done phenomenal things. It definitely has solidified my desire to come here for graduate school, as well. It’s been amazing to get to know the faculty members and the culture of the program here.”

SIREN research this summer involves a range of topics within neuroscience. Schmidt’s specific project is investigating what goes wrong with a protein that has ties to ALS and dementia to understand the underlying causes of the conditions. The hope is that the science will one day reveal therapeutic options that assist treatment.

“Even the failures are exciting now because I’ve realized they tell me this one thing didn’t work,” Schmidt said. “I ask, ‘Why didn’t this work?’ as opposed to getting down on myself. The daily successes have involved my mental attitude and keeping up my enthusiasm, especially in such a long program, and ultimately, the overall goal is presenting my research.”

In a way, such an opportunity for Schmidt could have been predicted. She’s been interested in studying how people think since high school, and her biology and chemistry classes helped her develop a passion for biological-based research rather than clinical approaches to psychology.

“I wanted to be the one getting my hands dirty in the lab,” she said. “I wanted to be the one who tries to figure out why something failed and then try it again. I’ve known since my first year in high school that I wanted a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and it’s something I’ve been gunning for since.”

Schmidt has received a lot of encouragement from K faculty and staff such as Professor of Biology Blaine Moore, Director of Biology Labs Anne Engh and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Arias-Rotondo. Moore, however, was the one Schmidt conversed with even before she arrived at K. He, Arias-Rotondo, and Engh have written countless letters of recommendation on her behalf.

Vivian Schmidt presenting her neuroscience research poster to five people at the University of Michigan
Vivian Schmidt ’25, a biology and psychology double major with a concentration in neuroscience, presents her summer research at the University of Michigan.
Vivian Schmidt 2_showcase

“I did my apprenticeship with Dr. Moore in the spring after he was phenomenally supportive throughout my first year, so I made him my official academic advisor,” she said. “He’s been great at guiding me with which classes to take and pushing me to do what he knows I’m capable of. I might not 100% believe in myself all the time, but I know he believes in me. Kalamazoo College is better for him being there.”

Study abroad opportunities and a wide range of subjects within her reach were big reasons why she chose K.

“The fact that I could do a double major and still have room to take classes that had absolutely nothing to do with neuroscience was a huge draw,” she said. “My first year I took jazz explorations and Hindu traditions and they were some of my favorites. I don’t think I would have been able to do that at another school.”

Thanks to a well-rounded K-Plan, Schmidt also plays on the women’s lacrosse team, participates in an astrophotography- and astronomy-focused student organization she co-founded called Konstellation, and plans programming for first-generation students like herself through the Intercultural Center. But research will always be her focus at K, throughout graduate school, and hopefully, in her professional life.

“I’ve been tossing around a few ideas, because with a Ph.D., I could go an industrial route or go into teaching, or I could work somewhere like the Van Andel Institute, where I could just be a research scientist,” she said. “I’ve always had a bit of an interest in teaching, mentorship and explaining things to people, too. At this moment, I’m thinking I would love to be a professor at an institution where I can teach and do research. That would be ideal, but no matter what, as long as research is involved, I’m going to be happy.”

Computer Science Internship Pairs Sports with Technology

When Jordan Doyle ’26 thinks about what prompted her love for computer science, she remembers a turtle from her childhood. The half-shelled protagonist was the star of a block-coding application that challenged her and children like her to send it across a screen in a number of moves.

“I got into it when I was little because it felt like a puzzle to me,” Doyle said. “I loved puzzles and coding was just a puzzle to solve.”

Since, she has continued seeking puzzles through computer science. Doyle built her interest and knowledge in classes throughout high school, while specialties such as cybersecurity piqued her interest even more. And now, Doyle is anticipating that she will declare a computer science major in the upcoming academic year at Kalamazoo College, where she also plays women’s lacrosse and participates in the Computer Science Society and the Eco Club.

This summer, she is building more technology experience away from Kalamazoo while working alongside a network of cohorts and professionals, thanks to a Women in Sports Technology (WiST) fellowship.

WiST is a non-profit organization that seeks to drive transformative growth opportunities for women in fields ranging from athletics biotechnology to sports gambling. The organization chose 22 fellows this year from 21 schools across the country, such as Duke University, Stanford University and—with Doyle’s fellowship—Kalamazoo College.  All of them serve in internships of up to eight weeks with a sports technology enterprise or innovative startup while receiving a grant of up to $5,000, plus travel stipends, if necessary.

Computer science major Jordan Doyle wearing a women's lacrosse jersey
Jordan Doyle ’26, a midfielder on the Kalamazoo College women’s lacrosse team, is interning this summer with through Women in Sports Technology.

As a rising sophomore, Doyle is interning remotely from her home in Troy, Michigan, on a software engineering team with, a group of sites that provides statistics and sabermetrics to sports fans.

“They look to democratize data,” she said. “If you look on any of their websites, you’ll see tables full of data for football, soccer, baseball—it’s a bunch of reference sites that can help you find the stats from almost any game. I focus mostly on finding and resolving bugs on the website, as well as doing some testing work and adding a couple of features on my own.”

WiST places interns like Doyle in positions that touch on both technology and sports because women are drastically underrepresented in sports-related and STEM professions, and in STEM majors in higher education. Women comprise only 28% of the workforce in STEM-related careers and just 19% of computer and information science majors in higher education, according to the American Association for University Women. That makes Doyle’s experience with even more valuable to her.

“It’s empowering to know that I’m getting opportunities to move forward in this career path,” Doyle said. “As women we are one of the underrepresented groups and I love having this opportunity to connect with other women who have similar interests so I can see their successes throughout their careers. I love the idea of having opportunities that create change in the world through technology.”

Her Future is so Bright, She Invented Shades

Jordan Doyle’s experience with technology and innovation doesn’t stop at computers.

Doyle was participating in a lacrosse match on a sunny fall day in seventh grade when she grew frustrated with EyeBlack, a substance that rolls on under an athlete’s eyes to reduce glare. The negative experience led her to research visors for her protective goggle, while only finding products for sports such as football and softball.

With necessity being the mother of invention, Doyle made her own visor, designing it with the plastic of a salad container and a clinging shade shield that is commonly put on cars. She worked more in high school innovation classes that helped her design it further, and a meeting with a patent attorney later yielded sketch drawings and a patent.

Since her high school graduation, she’s finalized her initial prototype for Sun Goggles, a project she continues pursuing. Hear more from Doyle in the video here.

‘We Have Stars in Our Eyes:’ International Student Reflects on Year at K

International student Claudia Klos studies on the Quad in fall
Claudia Klos prepares French labs in front of DeWaters Hall in October 2022. She said Kalamazoo had the most beautiful autumn colors she had ever seen.
International student Claudia Klos in an inflatable pretzel
Claudia Klos (right) with international student and German TA Olivia Machnik at a German department event in May 2023.
International student Claudia Klos surrounded by snow at Kalamazoo College
“I adored the snow,” said Claudia Klos, a student at Sciences Po Strasbourg who spent the 2022-23 academic year at Kalamazoo College.

When Claudia Klos left France for Kalamazoo College in fall 2022, she was afraid she would be homesick for her parents. 

Now, in summer 2023, she has the opposite problem. 

“Life got so busy at K, that this void which is created when we leave our home is immediately filled with new discoveries, new people, new friendships, new places and new activities,” Klos said. “Kalamazoo was a great place for me to fill this void from home, so much that now that I’m back home, I feel this void again—a new kind of void that was created when I left K.” 

Klos came to Kalamazoo via Sciences Po Strasbourg, which she chose for the same reasons many students choose K: an emphasis on multidisciplinary studies and spending time abroad—a mandatory experience for Sciences Po Strasbourg students. 

Born and raised in the western suburbs of Paris with Polish heritage, Klos had never thought she would study in the U.S. due to the distance and expense. When she learned about the opportunity to study at K and work as a French teaching assistant, however, she immediately wanted to go. 

“I’ve always loved languages and I really thought it would be a great experience for me,” Klos said. “I think that giving myself some responsibilities would do me only good. I wanted to challenge myself. The financial benefits of being a TA were obviously part of the decision, too.” 

Along with two other students from France who worked as TAs at K over the past academic year, Klos had the opportunity before coming to Kalamazoo to meet with Asia Bennett, assistant director and exchange student advisor with the Center for International Programs (CIP), as well as K students who were studying abroad in Strasbourg. 

“It was very nice meeting them and knowing that we would see each other on the other side of the Earth a little bit later,” Klos said. “The CIP does amazing work. I felt very listened to, they have very fast answers to your questions, and every step was made clear.” 

Before she arrived in Kalamazoo on her 21st birthday in September 2022, Klos was hoping that the French classes for which she was a TA would go smoothly. 

“I was also hoping for a year of discoveries,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure so we better not waste it. Those discoveries came with traveling, meeting people and sharing the lives of people we encounter on the other side of the planet, and discovering the life of the student in America to be able to compare it to the life of European students. I was hoping to live this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to the fullest.” 

Three students giving thumbs up on campus
Visiting international students and French TAs Gabin Wagner, Louis Landreau and Claudia Klos enjoy some sunshine while studying in May 2023.
International students make hearts with hand gestures at Hicks Student Center
Visiting international students and language TAs Lena Horl, Gabin Wagner and Claudia Klos commemorate the November 11, 1918, signing of the armistice between the Allies of World War I and Germany. Horl is from Germany, while Wagner is from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, which was controlled by Germany during World War I, and Klos is from France with family roots in Poland, which observes National Independence Day on November 11.
Students dressed up for Monte Carlo
Dressed up for Monte Carlo in May 2023 are (from left) Lorena Velasco Navarro, Louis Landreau, Gabriela Perez Chapado, Gabin Wagner, Clara Salomon, Laura Reinaux and Claudia Klos.

Her first impressions were that K was charming and very green. She loved the beauty, comfort, common spaces and fireplaces in her dorm, Harmon Hall, and in the library. 

Klos appreciated the chance to speak English in everyday life and experience American student life, which she found different in many ways. She was surprised by how students were encouraged to participate in sports and the arts. In addition to attending concerts and shows, Klos participated in intramural volleyball. 

“This year made me want to engage myself in some team sports,” she said. “The energy it had at K was amazing and that is something I will remember.” 

The residential campus offered another difference from Klos’ life as a student in France, where she had attended a rigorous prep school that demanded the majority of her time and energy. 

“My social life had never been as rich as at K, where we were always around people,” Klos said. “We were with people in class and out every day, and actually, I didn’t get tired of it. People talk about social batteries lowering down, which I understand, but I was surprised with not having this problem and being happy to always be around people.” 

The close relationships engendered by the residential campus helped Klos learn about herself, grow personally, and develop a more balanced approach to school, rest and life.  

“Since I knew that my time at K was limited, the fact that the experience was evanescent made it precious,” she said. “I learned to find a balance because I never thought about doing so before in my life. Before, the academic part always dominated, whereas here, the social dimension of the experience dominated, too, so I needed to manage both. We would have study sessions in the DeWaters Hall basement, and nobody would really advance in book work. Everybody would chat and laugh, and we would say, ‘No, we’re not studying, we’re creating memories!’ This is something we would say ironically, but it was still accurate, and that’s something important I learned from this year thanks to friendships.” 

When interpersonal conflicts or difficulties arose, Klos reminded herself that they wouldn’t last long. 

“I would think about how lucky I am to be finding myself so far away from home with amazing people in an amazing place,” she said. “In January, I was feeling down, so I started making a list of things I am grateful for. Before sleeping, I would write down something nice that happened each day, even if it was something little. It contributed to making me remember how amazing this experience was despite having troubles.” 

Three students attending a tennis match
Visiting international student Claudia Klos (left), who came to K from France and whose family is Polish, watches Hornet tennis in April 2023 with Kinga Fraczkiewicz ’26, who is from Scotland and Poland, and visiting international student Olivia Machnik, who is from Germany and Poland.

One of those concerns was the consumption of resources she saw in the U.S. 

“I had a problem with the air conditioning,” Klos said. “I thought that it was a waste of energy, of CO2 emissions. Also, the fact that the lights were on all the time stuck with me. I noticed contrasting details of everyday life between the U.S. and Europe; for example, there is so much water in the bowl of the toilets. They still give plastic bags everywhere. I’m trying to understand all the differences and I see how American culture assures abundance and emphasizes comfort rather than resources.” 

While Klos enjoyed all her classes, especially political science, she was initially caught off guard by the differences between college courses in France and Kalamazoo. 

“In the fall term, I was there with my computer ready to be tapping and tapping and tapping, because that is how we do that in European universities,” Klos said. “That was not the case at all. We had a teacher that asked us questions, we’re doing exercises together; it’s not just the teacher giving us this material and us absorbing it. I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to do all these readings for every class, I didn’t even know that there was a syllabus, it was very confusing. But then in spring, I was prepared, and I knew how things worked. Then I really liked this approach of us doing readings, so accumulating some knowledge, and then being able to reflect over that with the professor making the lecture but also having class discussions with us.” 

She particularly appreciated how language classes are taught at K (Klos took German in addition to being a TA for French), and the relationships between students and professors. Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies Aurélie Chatton provided support, openness and a listening ear for all the French TAs. While she initially did not want to take the economics classes Sciences Po Strasbourg required, Klos found encouragement and positive challenge from Department Co-Chair and Edward and Virginia Van Dalson Professor of Economics Patrik Hultberg and Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie.  

“I really liked the concept of office hours and the relationship between students and professors,” Klos said. “In France, we don’t feel close at all to our teachers. I used office hours a lot and I’m grateful to every professor for making them. Thanks to these relationships, I could navigate classes more easily. It feels good when professors are demanding because it brings us up.” 

Claudia Klos poses in front of Stetson Chapel
International student Claudia Klos poses in front of Stetson Chapel on the way to lunch in November 2022.
Four female students watching a baseball game
International student Claudia Klos (right) attends a K baseball game in April 2023 with Spanish international student and TA Clara Salomon, Laura Reinaux ’25 and Spanish international student and TA Lorena Velasco-Navarro.
Three female students bundled up to watch a football game
International student Claudia Klos (right) braves the cold to attend the Hornets’ last home football game in November 2022 with Spanish international student and TA Clara Salomon and Laura Reinaux ’25.

That balance of challenge and support was evident for Klos in her relationship with Political Science Professor and William Weber Chair of Social Science Amy Elman. 

“All of the challenge was rewarded since she got to know us and know our center of interest,” Klos said. “The professors were a big part of my experience.” 

Knowing Klos’ interests, Elman recommended her for EP-JMN Summer School, a June program at the University of Salamanca in Spain, where Klos met students from different parts of Europe and learned more about the European Union and various cultures. 

This fall, her travels will continue with a September program in eastern France that includes educational seminars followed by opportunities to teach the topics to school children.  

“I know that I got into that program thanks to my experiences at K, because I told them, ‘Listen, I’ve been teaching French in the U.S. for one year. I know how to present subjects and to deal with a class.’” 

Then, in October, Klos will begin a year of study in Krakow, where she looks forward to living for the first time in the country of her family’s heritage.  

“It’s going to be another amazing experience away from France that waits for me,” Klos said. “When one is abroad, everything is an amazement—the most boring streets, the most boring cars and houses for a local person—it is an amazement for a foreigner. I liked taking walks in the cemetery near campus, and it looks nothing like a cemetery in Europe. Just walking in Kalamazoo streets, the houses are so American. The most basic thing is so specific to this country I’m in, and so different from home, even though it’s the same thing. I think that we go back to childhood when we study abroad because we discover new things all the time. The most boring things become amazing, and we have stars in our eyes every time we see the most random thing, the most basic thing. That happens when we go abroad, so I would encourage anyone who is thinking about studying abroad to go for it.”