Biology Students: It Takes a Village to Stop Invasive Species

If you’ve ever wondered whether invasive species of plants are a problem in Michigan, four Kalamazoo College biology students have your answer: Yes.

Fiorina Talaba and Fiona Summers mapping invasive species
Fiorina Talaba (left) and Fiona Summers are two of the four students mapping invasive species of plants this summer at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum and Kleinstuck Preserve.

Fiorina Talaba ’22 from California, Mathew Holmes-Hackerd ’20 from Massachusetts, Fiona Summers ’20 from Illinois and Kelson Perez ’21 from Michigan are mapping invasive species with Biology Professor Binney Girdler this summer at K’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum and Western Michigan University’s Kleinstuck Preserve.

The results show several types of the problematic plants are common and growing quickly locally with few natural predators or pests as they choke out native species. That could be causing interruptions to important ecological processes, and potentially, endangering some native plants to the point of extinction.

“In today’s climate, we need to focus on biodiversity and how we’re affecting the environment,” Talaba said. “It’s not just the gases we’re emitting into the atmosphere that present environmental issues. It’s also how invasive species have gotten here and changed our environment to a point where it’s hard to recognize it from what it used to be. We have an obligation to protect native species.”

Kelson Perez and an arboretum official map invasive species
Kelson Perez (right) is one of four Kalamazoo College biology students working on mapping invasive species of plants under Biology Professor Binney Girdler this summer.

Some of the invasive plants the four are commonly finding in Kalamazoo include:

  • Creeping myrtle, sometimes called periwinkle, which is a flowering plant.
  • Buckthorn, a hardy shrub known for its bright, glossy leaves.
  • Winged euonymus, a bush-like shrub that is sometimes called burning bush.
  • Honeysuckle, identifiable as an arching shrub or twining vine that can have a strong fragrance.
  • Oriental bittersweet, a vine that tends to suffocate trees and sap their nutrients, potentially creating hazards related to dead trees for arboretum visitors.
  • Japanese knotweed, which is a plant with bamboo-like stems and small white flowers.
  • Garlic mustard, a biennial flowering plant known for its medicinal and culinary uses, despite its invasive aspects in nature.

How did the invasive species get here?

It’s not always clear how these invasive species, mostly from Asia and some from Europe, arrive in Kalamazoo.

“It shows how interconnected our society has become,” Perez said. “We can transport things like invasive species over massive distances in ways that would’ve been impossible in any other age. It’s like another Pangea where continents are pressing up against each other.”

However, it generally can be said that people have been responsible for allowing them to spread. Some people might even be planting the invasive species in their own gardens and yards because the plants look pretty, or transporting seeds on their shoes as they walk through the arboretum.

“Dr. Girdler says a majority of people will just look at invasive species and see green,” Holmes-Hackerd said. “They will look at all the green plants and think how pretty they are. We want to take it a level deeper. If we look at invasive species within the ecosystem and how they affect the large preserve, it can open people’s eyes. It can be bizarre to see a tree completely covered in leaves when the tree is dead because an invasive plant killed it.”

Hope for the future

While invasive species are a formidable foe, the four K student researchers say the projects they’re completing have provided opportunities for community outreach and established baselines that one day will help other researchers measure whether their efforts have been effective.

Their own outreach has consisted of sharing their research with other students through social media, talking with neighbors of the arboretum about the problematic plants, and encouraging community involvement in planting more native species, pulling invasive plants and protecting natural spaces.

“A lot of times you think of a scientist as someone who is rigid and wears a white coat,” Summers said. “We want to be super approachable and make people enjoy learning about invasive species.”

A platform like social media, for example, “provides such an easy way for young people to feel the experience,” Summers added. “Another reason I like it is it makes it easy to communicate our science to the general public. A lot of scientists lack the ability of explaining what they do so that anyone can understand it.”

Get involved

Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your local nursery or gardening store about what you’re planting to ensure it’s not invasive, and plant more native species.
  • Volunteer to pull invasive plants at community events that target them.
  • Clean your shoes, hiking boots and pet’s paws after walking on nature trails to prevent the seeds of invasive plants from spreading.

Targeting invasive species “really is reliant on community involvement,” Holmes-Hackerd said. “The arboretum alone is 150 acres. It’s not something a handful of researchers can handle on their own. We’re hoping we can get the community to care and help out in any way.

National Moth Week Spotlights Winged Insects

National Moth Week blacklighting at Quad
Moth enthusiasts from around the world are likely to try blacklighting during National Moth Week.

If you ever see Kalamazoo College students hanging sheets by clotheslines suspended between trees on the Quad, they’re not doing laundry. They’re rounding up moths for their entomology class collections in a practice called “blacklighting.”

The process emits a black light into the UV spectrum to attract moths, and it’s one of many ways that citizen scientists are likely to celebrate National Moth Week, which is ongoing through Friday.

According to its website, National Moth Week celebrates the beauty, lifecycles and habitats of moths as the public is encouraged to learn about, observe and document moths in backyards, parks and neighborhoods. And don’t let the word “national” fool you. Since its founding in 2012, National Moth Week has gone global by expanding to all 50 states and 80 countries worldwide.

National Moth Week Luna Moth
Luna moths, known for their green wings, long tails and transparent eyespots, are common in southwest Michigan.

Although the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon likely is the more celebrated science-related event this week, moths are interesting to study because they make a “giant leap” of their own through metamorphosis. The process completely changes their bodies from wormlike caterpillars into winged adults during the cocoon stage. This abrupt change in body plan during development is found in only one-third of all insect groups, Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser said, but these groups account for the vast majority of insect species, suggesting this life cycle innovation was a highly successful one.

Furthermore, “many caterpillars of moths are a very important food source in the food chain,” and “some scientists use moths as indicators of bigger things going on in the environment,” Fraser said. “It’s easy to see trends with declines in their numbers as indicators of climate change or habitat loss.”

Moths definitively are insects because they have six legs and, as adults, they have three body regions consisting of the head, the thorax and the abdomen, Fraser said. Plus, they’re among the most diverse living creatures on Earth with more than 150,000 species including their day-roaming brethren: butterflies.

National Moth Week Hawk Moth
Hawk moths hover around plants and flowers so they commonly are mistaken for hummingbirds.

Some of the more eye-catching varieties of moths in southwest Michigan include hawk moths, which can be mistaken for hummingbirds because they’re about the same size as hummingbirds and hover around plants and flowers, Fraser said. Others include the luna moth known for its green wings, long tails and transparent eyespots. Plainer and more problematic varieties include gypsy moths, which are known as exfoliator pests because they strip trees and plants of their leaves.

“You can actually spot their poop on the sidewalk,” Fraser said of gypsy moth caterpillars. “Frass is the technical term for it. You see it on the ground, so you know something in the tree is feeding on the tree.”

Regardless, many hobbyists find collecting moths such as these and others to be fascinating and as easy as leaving a porch light on after dark. Fraser, for example, still remembers collecting a big moth for the first time when she was about 10 years old.

“It’s an experience that always stuck with me,” said Fraser, who curates the college’s insect collection that includes cases of pinned moths raised or collected by herself and her predecessor, Professor David Evans. “It’s always exciting to find the big colorful ones.”

For advice on how you can study moths, visit nationalmothweek.org or email info@nationalmothweek.org.

‘Ambassador of Science’ Earns NSF Graduate Fellowship

Each year, up to $100 billion worth of harvested food is lost worldwide to pests and microbes. A Kalamazoo College student’s research could hold part of the solution.

NSF Graduate Fellow uses a microscope at Dow Science Center
Marco Ponce ’19 examines insects through a microscope at Dow Science Center. He will attend Kansas State University with an NSF Graduate Fellowship beginning this fall.

Marco Ponce ’19, a biology major from San Diego, conducted his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) last summer under Rob Morrison, Ph.D., ’06, a research entomologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Science in Manhattan, Kansas. Their work targeted alternative methods for managing red flour and lesser grain beetles, which primarily attack stored grains.

“Prior research has found that these beetles release some pheromones that make them come together in groups, and others that trigger them to spread out,” Ponce said. As a result, “we wondered how their density affects their behavior when they look for food. We’ve found the beetles responded less to otherwise attractive food cues when they’re grouped in higher densities, so we’re trying to synthesize the signal that turns off their food-finding behavior and use it as a repellent. Our goal is to figure out how to use their biology against them.”

NSF Graduate Fellow Marco Ponce in a group of six
Marco Ponce ’19 (third from right) stands with Rob Morrison, Ph.D., ’06, (third from left) outside the Insect Zoo at Kansas State University. Ponce will attend Kansas State through an NSF Graduate Fellowship this fall.

Ponce learned last week that he earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to attend Kansas State University as a graduate student this fall, meaning he and Morrison will conduct more research beginning in July. The two will study how stored-product beetles and microbes interact to ruin harvested grains.

“Every year after harvest, we lose anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of our food commodities,” Morrison said. In addition to the U.S., “if you look at some developing countries, this means about $100 billion in commodities are lost every year. Marco’s project has global ramifications. If he can find some of the attractants useful for (pest) management, that will go a long way toward ensuring less pest damage and making agriculture more sustainable.”

Ponce is the second Kalamazoo College student in as many years to earn a prestigious NSF Graduate Fellowship.

“When he was selected, he was up against some students who already are in their graduate programs,” said Biology Professor Ann Fraser, Ponce’s academic adviser. “It’s always gratifying to see students take an interest in science, even if they just make a hobby out of it. But it’s especially rewarding for me to see students go into entomology. There are so many opportunities to get involved in entomology because insects affect our lives in so many ways.”

NSF Graduate Fellow Marco Ponce standing with thumbs up in a field
Marco Ponce ’19 will attend Kansas State University through an NSF Graduate Fellowship beginning this fall.

Ponce and Fraser got to know each other when Ponce was reconsidering his pre-med path. His classes helped him realize he could seek other opportunities in science, and he found the best opportunity in Fraser’s entomology lab.

“That was the transition for me,” Ponce said, admitting his first year at K was difficult, especially as English was his second language, having grown up primarily in Tijuana, Mexico. “I considered changing majors until I saw the email from Dr. Fraser inviting me into her lab. I was surprised because I wasn’t the best academically at the time. It’s one of the reasons why I’m still here: I found my passion.”

Ponce first performed research in Fraser’s lab with painted lady butterflies, a species common in all climates throughout the world. His work analyzed how their antennae responded to different odors produced by flowers compared to those produced by potential predators such as ants, and Fraser was thrilled with his work.

A college track, though, wasn’t always in Ponce’s view. At one point, Ponce expected to join the work force immediately after high school when Pablo Roncoroni, his high school teacher, took him under his wing and helped him navigate the college application process. As a result, not only did Ponce find K, but so did five other students from that high school who since have followed in his footsteps.

The support of teachers and mentors has led Ponce to a place where his research and passion can benefit others around the world including in his backyard. As co-founder of the College’s Entomology Club, he’ll soon start working with that group to inspire students at Kalamazoo’s El Sol Elementary, with a goal of introducing students to science in a different, more hands-on way.

“Marco is very creative,” Fraser said. “I invited him into my lab because he is such an original thinker and he has a great science mind. He is a real ambassador of science.”

Luce Fellowship Fuels K Student’s Health-Career Goals

Luce Fellowship Recipient Anthony Diep Rosas
Anthony Diep Rosas ’19 is Kalamazoo College’s first Luce Fellowship recipient.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Bensel.

Anthony Diep Rosas ’19 has accomplished an impressive first for a Kalamazoo College student, earning a prestigious Luce Fellowship that will enable him to live and work in Asia, furthering personal and professional aspirations to improve public health.

Launched by the Henry Luce Foundation, the nationally competitive Luce Scholars Program offers funds, language education and individualized professional placement in Asia for 15 to 18 scholars each year. The program is designed to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society.

This year, Diep Rosas was one of 18 students chosen from 162 applicants. The program attracts applications from college seniors, graduate students and young professionals in many fields who have had limited exposure to Asia. Diep Rosas will hear official word of where he will go as a Luce Scholar in the next couple of months and then spend a year abroad after an eight-day orientation in New York City, which is scheduled after graduation in June.

“For me, there’s beauty in not knowing what to expect,” Diep Rosas said of the uncertainty regarding his destination. “Coming from Los Angeles, especially Compton, to a place like Kalamazoo—it was such a huge shift. K taught me how to be uncomfortable and learn what it means to connect with a different environment. As a result, I appreciate and value difference as a way to catalyze change.”

The change Diep Rosas seeks involves better health outcomes for underserved communities in the U.S., especially communities of color. During his time abroad, he plans to explore how his assigned community in Asia engages its people in developing policies that serve their local needs, an experience he expects will strengthen his efforts at home. After his Luce year, he plans to study medicine and public policy in graduate school. There he hopes to holistically address health disparities by working with patients and community members to tackle the underlying systemic issues that contribute to patient health through equitable policy change.

As a Luce scholar, “I will be able to learn what it means to listen to folks in the community,” said Diep Rosas, a biology major with a concentration in community and global health. “This will teach me to know what it means to build connections. That’s special about Luce. It will do an amazing job helping me learn what it means to champion vulnerability and listen.”

Diep Rosas first came to K as a Posse Scholar, one of 10 students to attend that year from Los Angeles through the Posse Foundation, which provides scholarships and support to outstanding student leaders from diverse backgrounds. Upon learning about Kalamazoo College as a Posse nominee, Diep Rosas was enamored with its name and intrigued by its small-school environment that nurtures community and offers study abroad opportunities.

In his time at K, Diep Rosas has amassed an impressive resume. Among his accomplishments, he works as an administrative assistant with Director of Faculty Grants and Institutional Research Anne Dueweke, Assistant Professor of Sociology Francisco Villegas and Director of Intercultural Student Life Natalia Carvalho-Pinto on beginning qualitative research regarding the racial climate on campus. He received the U.S. Gilman Scholarship to study abroad in Costa Rica. In the Kalamazoo community, he worked with Cradle Kalamazoo and Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE) to reduce Black infant mortality and promote respect for families, women and their children. Diep Rosas was one of the first research fellows at the Arcus Center for Social Justice and he co-founded the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students for students of color with pre-health majors. He served English Professor Bruce Mills as a teaching assistant and Residential Life as a resident assistant. He was also awarded the Jon L. Stryker Future Leaders scholarship, and was recently recognized at the annual Senior Leadership Recognition Awards.

Diep Rosas credits people and resources including Dueweke, his recommenders and mentors, the Intercultural Center, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, and the Center for International Programs for their work in helping him receive these opportunities, the Luce Fellowship in particular. These opportunities have “inspired me to have a vision for K after I graduate,” Diep Rosas said. “I think about my own story and where I would be had I not gone to K, because K has provided me with the support and resources I’ve needed. I would love to support others, and I would encourage them to reach out to me and [Dueweke] about the Luce Fellowship program especially, because I think it speaks loudly to how K nurtures a student’s education.”

Professor’s Project Promotes Pollinators, Begets Buzz

pollinators
Alexa Dulmage ’21 (left) is among the students who help Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser (right) support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser is hoping to create some buzz with her latest project at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

Part of her project aims to sustain more pollinators such as bees after a perceived decline in the state’s pollinator population since the 1990s. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation is providing support of $7,000 from the Love Where You Live Environment Fund toward Fraser’s project, which will help her and K students create:

  • a better food supply for pollinators by planting the wildflowers they desire;
  • an improved nesting habitat often consisting of clear ground; and
  • an information campaign that will encourage southwest Michigan residents to use fewer pesticides, especially in their yards and homes.
Pollinators
Erik Funke ’19 helps Biology Professor Ann Fraser support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

The rest of Fraser’s project, supported by Kalamazoo College, will develop protocols for bumble-bee monitoring that K students and local citizen scientists can use at nature preserves through collaborations with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. Fraser said about 465 types of bees are native to Michigan including nearly 100 at the arboretum.

“This will help us develop some long-term monitoring so we can record populations year after year to spot declines as they’re beginning to happen,” Fraser said, noting that these studies involve wild bees, not bees maintained in hives. That means it’s important to maintain food supplies and nesting areas rather than hives.

“There have been European studies that have shown significant declines in insect populations,” she added. “But without our own measurements, we can only ask, ‘is it true?’ Empirical evidence will call us to act.”

pollinators
Aya Abe ’16 was among the students who helped Biology Professor Ann Fraser support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

That action would be important assuming a population decline because “bees are the most important pollinators of plants,” Fraser said. “Without bees, plants don’t reproduce. Fruit crops rely on pollinators and losing pollinators will affect our food supply.”

As a result, “this support from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is a wonderful gift,” Fraser said. “It’s the catalyst we’ve needed to get it off the ground.”

Fraser has been a professor at K since 2003. She normally teaches introductory biology, entomology, animal behavior and chemical ecology courses, although she is taking a two-term sabbatical. With that time, she will study similar successful projects executed through schools such as the University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois.

Fraser said other projects have also grown locally, including one last year along Drake Road in Oshtemo Township. Part of Fraser’s research will examine whether the Lillian Anderson Arboretum project benefits pollinators by continuing to survey bee populations pre- and post-habitat enrichment. Her own teams will start preparing areas at the arboretum for planting this spring and summer before planting begins in fall.

Community members and students looking to contribute to educational, awareness and research efforts should stay tuned for more information on how to volunteer as plans develop.

Grant Empowers Alzheimer’s Research at K

Kalamazoo College Professor of Biology Blaine Moore and Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences Jim Langeland ’86 have secured a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant worth more than $440,000 over three years to help K students research the origin and evolution of key proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

The research will examine the evolutionary origins of two interacting protein molecules, the beta-secretase enzyme (BACE1) and the amyloid beta (A-beta) sequence within the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). The findings will further the general understanding of key Alzheimer’s proteins, specifically how and when they evolved their pathogenic interaction.

Student Prepares for Alzheimer's Research
Nkatha Mwenda ’19, a biology major from Grand Rapids, Michigan, performs research in Professor of Biology Blaine Moore’s lab. Moore and Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences Jim Langeland have secured a National Science Foundation grant worth more than $440,000 that will empower students to perform Alzheimer’s research regarding the degenerative brain disease’s key proteins.

Langeland said such work will have no direct therapeutic application and won’t offer a specific cure for the degenerative brain disease. It could, however, lead to future research toward such outcomes. The immediate impact of the grant is the recruitment of underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students to work on the project.

Bright and motivated K students generally are recruited by word of mouth for such projects, which can inspire their senior individualized projects (SIPs). Such a setup provides students with hands-on experience and independent scholarship, which are two of the four key tenets to the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College’s distinctive approach to an education in the liberal arts and sciences.

The grant, worth a total of $444,941, also represents a rare opportunity for students to participate in research with, and benefit from, two professors with varied expertise. Langeland works with molecular genetics, developmental biology and evolution, and Moore is a neurobiologist who examines neurodegeneration and cell death in particular diseases.

Moore said, “This grant is unique in its interdisciplinary approach to a neurodegenerative disorder. Most scientists in the Alzheimer’s field are focused on molecular mechanisms, not evolutionary context. It’s only at a liberal arts college that you can you find professors with such disparate backgrounds working together with students on a project like this. It’s a perfect confluence of skillsets.”

Both professors said the grant represents the culmination of about 10 years of partnering to secure such funds and opportunities for students, providing a satisfaction unsurpassed in their careers. The fact that the two are friends as well as colleagues makes this research particularly satisfying. It also continues a notable year for K’s Biology Department, which has been involved with:

NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science and advance national health, prosperity and welfare, making such research and developing future scientists a priority. For more information on NSF, visit its website.

Endowed Chairs Reflect K’s Continued Teaching Excellence

Kalamazoo College recently appointed five faculty members as endowed chairs, recognizing their achievements as professors. Endowed chairs are positions funded through the annual earnings from an endowed gift or gifts to the College, and reflect:

  • the value donors attribute to the excellent teaching and mentorship that occurs at K; and
  • how much donors want to see that excellence continue.

The honorees are:

  • Christina Carroll, the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of History;
  • Santiago Salinas, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Biology;
  • Dwight Williams, the Roger F. And Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Chemistry;
  • Siu-Lan Tan, the James A. B. Stone College Professor; and
  • Laura Lowe Furge, the Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry.

“Being given a named endowed chair is an honor for both assistant and full professors,” said Furge, K’s interim provost. “In the former case (Carroll, Salinas and Williams), it signals promise and affirmation of their early contributions to teaching, scholarship and service that will be the foundation for carrying the mission of K well in to the 21st century. In the latter case (Tan and Furge), it provides recognition for a lengthy record of outstanding contributions to scholarship, teaching and service that bring national attention to our programs and institutional outcomes. All faculty at the College bring strengths to their respective programs. It is one of the joys of joint endeavor to celebrate achievements by giving a faculty member an endowed chair.”

Christina Carroll

Christina Carroll, one of five endowed chairs, sits in her office
Christina Carroll is among five Kalamazoo College faculty members recently named endowed chairs.

Carroll, an assistant professor of history, focuses her work on modern Europe and more specifically on the history of modern French colonialism. She’s interested in observing how the memory of the Napoleonic empire affected popular and political ideas regarding colonial empires in the second half of the 19th century. She teaches a variety of classes on modern Europe and its empires along with a class on the modern Middle East.

The 2018-19 academic year is Carroll’s third at K. Before arriving, she had a one-year visiting position at Colgate. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She will hold the title of the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of History, which recognizes an entry-level scholar with demonstrated achievement and exceptional promise, for three years.

“It was a great honor to be named the Marlene Crandell Francis Chair,” Carroll said. “The research funds associated with the position will enable me to return to France and continue to pursue my research. I can then, in turn, bring that research into the classroom by incorporating new primary sources that I have found or new insights from scholars that I have met while abroad. The chair thus will help me continue to develop as both a scholar and as an educator.”

Santiago Salinas

Santiago Salinas, one of five endowed chairs, kneels in a river
Santiago Salinas is among five Kalamazoo College faculty members recently named endowed chairs.

Salinas, an assistant professor of biology, teaches classes such as vertebrate biology and human physiology. His research interests include his work in the K Fish Lab, where he and his student collaborators study the ways fish populations cope with changes in the environment.

Salinas was born in Argentina and attended the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific. He earned his bachelor’s degree from College of the Atlantic and a Ph.D. from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. Salinas then was a post-doc at the University of California-Santa Cruz and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. He was a visiting assistant professor at the University of the Pacific.

“I’m thrilled to receive this honor,” Salinas said. “It will undoubtedly help me engage more young biologists in research and continue to try to innovate in the classroom.”

The Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Biology title is awarded on a rotating basis to faculty in the natural sciences to recognize teaching, scholarship and service. Salinas will hold the title for three years.

Dwight Williams

Dwight Williams, one of five endowed chairs, holds a molecule model in his office
Dwight Williams is among five Kalamazoo College faculty members recently named endowed chairs.

Williams, an assistant professor of chemistry, teaches classes such as organic chemistry at K. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Coastal Carolina University in 2001 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 while researching immunosensor design.

He spent a year as a lecturer at Longwood University before becoming an assistant professor at Lynchburg College, finding a passion for the synthesis and structural characterization of natural products as potential neuroprotectants. He extended his knowledge in those subjects after accepting a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral research fellowship at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College of Virginia Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. During that fellowship, he worked in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, where his work was published in six peer-reviewed journals.

“Receiving this honor has provided me with the motivation to continue to explore and implement innovative ways to connect with our students both inside and outside the classroom to build lifelong relationships that last beyond their four years.”

The Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Chemistry title is awarded on a rotating basis to faculty in the natural sciences to recognize teaching, scholarship and service. Williams will hold the title for three years.

Siu-Lan Tan

Siu-Lan Tan, one of five endowed chairs, stands under the Quad archway
Siu-Lan Tan is among five Kalamazoo College faculty members recently named endowed chairs.

Tan earned undergraduate degrees in music and piano pedagogy at Pacific Union College before completing a Ph.D. in psychology at Georgetown University. She has taught psychology courses at K since 1998, receiving a Michigan Campus Compact award for civic engagement pedagogy in 2007 and the Lucasse Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012.

Tan has published more than 25 journal articles and chapters, and two books titled “Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance” (from Routledge) and “The Psychology of Music in Multimedia” (from Oxford University Press). She is currently working on “The Oxford Handbook of Music and Advertising.”

At K, she has served as a chair for the College’s 2013 reaccreditation, chair of the faculty development committee, and social science representative on the faculty executive committee. In her field, Tan serves on the board of directors of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition, and she is active in bringing music psychology across disciplines and to the public through activities such as her role in “Score: A Film Music Documentary” and its related podcast.

The James A. B. Stone College Professor title recognizes a senior faculty member for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service to the institution. Tan will hold the title for seven years.

“I was surprised and speechless when I was given the good news about this endowed chair,” Tan said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time, as my work focuses on the role of music in film, and I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to research in this area. The James A. B. Stone endowment will provide the resources needed to collaborate with a great team of colleagues from several disciplines to pursue this exciting work on a more comprehensive scale, and I am very grateful for this gift.”

Laura Lowe Furge

Laura Lowe Furge, one of five endowed chairs, stands outside Stetson Chapel
Laura Lowe Furge is among five Kalamazoo College faculty members recently named endowed chairs.

As the interim provost in the 2018-19 academic year, Furge is the College’s chief academic officer. She oversees all educational affairs and activities including academic personnel and programs. She also oversees academic support and co-curricular areas such as Athletics, the Center for Career and Professional Development, Information Services, Institutional Assessment and Faculty Grants, the Center for International Programs, the Mary Jane Stryker Center for Civic Engagement and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Furge joined Kalamazoo College in September 1999 and has taught courses in biochemistry, advanced biochemistry, organic chemistry, general chemistry, toxicology and carcinogenesis, and a first-year seminar regarding cancer origins, stories and legacies. Furge’s research centers on the enzyme catalysts known as cytochrome P450 enzymes that catalyze drug metabolism reactions. Her research seeks to understand variations in the activity of cytochrome P450 that can lead to unfavorable drug-induced events.

Furge earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1998, and then completed a post-doctoral fellowship with Nobel Laureate Stanley Cohen. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with a minor in history from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1993.

The Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry title recognizes Furge’s teaching, scholarship and service record. She will hold the title through the duration of her career at K.

Career Exploration Takes K Students to Windy City

11 K to the Windy City participants at the el train
A K to the Windy City trip drew rave reviews from students who got to participate in panels, site visits, tours and conversations with alumni offering insight into their working environments and careers. Photo credit: Madi Triplett ’19

Five Kalamazoo College juniors and eight sophomores are back from Chicago after a three-day trip to learn firsthand from alumni about their careers. Known as K to the Windy City, the exploratory career trek, or K-Trek, focused on careers in law, sustainability and nonprofit administration.

Coordinated by the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD), K-Treks are multi-day immersive discussions with leaders in various industries. They’re also just one example of the experiential education opportunities available within the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts and sciences.

Other K-Treks, inspired by tech entrepreneur and alumnus Brad O’Neill ’93, visit cities such as San Francisco, where the focus is on entrepreneurship; and New York City, where students explore finance- and business-related careers.

Through K-Treks, students “are able to network and obtain an inside perspective about industries,” said Keri L. Bol, who works in operations support with CCPD. “It also gives students the ability to travel outside of Kalamazoo to explore different cities and see how professionals may function in that city. Our hope is that they come back from a K-Trek with a better understanding of their field of interest and how to embark on their intended career path after they graduate.”

Four alumni with a scenic view of downtown Chicago during K to the Windy City
Avery Allman ’16, Will Sheehan ’17, Nora Stagner ’17 and Anja Xheka ’17 were among the alumni who welcomed Kalamazoo College students to Chicago through an alumni networking reception for K to the Windy City. Photo credit: Madi Triplett ’19

K to the Windy City participants researched in advance the alumni they would meet and the organizations they worked for and prepared a list of questions for the interaction.

CCPD staff used student cover letters and résumés to customize the students’ individual itineraries, providing the most educational impact. More than 30 alumni served on panels or met with students to share advice. Nearly 30 other alumni from other industries attended a networking reception to provide further advice.

The trip drew rave reviews from students who got to participate in panels, site visits, tours and conversations with alumni offering insight into their working environments and careers. It also helped students—who represented 13 majors such as anthropology/sociology, psychology, biology and chemistry—develop skills in self-presentation and business etiquette, and cultivate professional relationships in Chicago.

“My experience on the trek was one that will stick with me for the rest of my life because of how informative and useful it was to the shaping of my post-grad career,” said Emma Eisenbeis ’19, a German and political science double major, after participating in the law track. “I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to speak with people in your desired career before making any large, life-changing decisions.”

Amelia Davis ’20, a biology and chemistry major participating in the sustainability track, offered a similar review.

“It was fascinating to hear about the different paths that alumni took to get to where they are and it is inspiring to think about the opportunities available to me after I graduate from K,” Davis said.

Other participants included Isabella Haney ’19, Neelam Lal ’20, Rosella LoChirco ’20, Sarah Gerendasy ’20 and Erin Smith ’19 in the law track; Mara Hazen ’19, Sage Benner ’20 and Yansong Pan ’20 in the nonprofit administration track; and Maya Gurfinkel ’20, Rose Maylen ’19 and Yasamin Shaker ’20 in the sustainability track.

Learn more at our website about how offerings such as K-Treks through the CCPD can benefit students’ employment outcomes.