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Scholar Profile: Kyle Rhodehouse ’19

By Lizzy Moore on March 16, 2018

This interview was conducted with Kyle Rhodehouse, a junior in the Alumni Memorial Scholars Program majoring in Molecular Biology and minoring in English. Kyle has been researching the developmental biology of C. elegans with Professor Van Wynsberghe. 


Could you tell me a bit about your high school experience? What kinds of things were you involved in?

I was involved in a lot of science-related things- shocking, I know- and my main thing was Science Olympiads. I really loved that. I did more of the academic events, where you basically just take a test. I mostly did biology events, and honestly, I credit my ability to retain so much information to having studied the topic so many times, not just for class, but also for fun for Science Olympiads. I also did some building events, like engineering-type tasks. My school had a club that built Rube Goldberg machines for competitions. My definition of a Rube Goldberg machine would be “the most complicated and absurd way of doing a completely easy and banal task.” Doing that was really cool because I got a working knowledge of a decent number of tools and got to use my hands, but also practiced problem-solving using the scientific method, and I had a really fun time with it. We were okay at that- but we were really good at the Science Olympiads!

I was on my high school bowling team for a year, but I was in a bowling league from the time I was in second grade until my senior year of high school. That hasn’t been something I’ve been involved with at Colgate. I really wanted to go to the AMS bowling match, but I was busy that day. I hope I can go to the next one.

I was also in my high school’s band. I did marching band- everyone in our band did. My senior year, our band played Carnegie Hall, which was pretty cool. As an underclassmen, I was very much not a band person, I was sort of indifferent to it. It was more like “oh I’m a nerd, I have to complete the nerd stereotype and also play an instrument.” When we had out-of-class lessons, I wouldn’t go because I’d have a class like physics that I felt was more important than learning to play the trumpet. Then, senior year, it kind of hit me that, “Oh man, I’m a band person, I actually genuinely enjoy this.” I really enjoyed being in that setting of a talented, dedicated group of people. There was just something really magical about that.

I also did independent science research in high school. My school didn’t really have a very established science research program. To humble brag, I kind of pioneered that. All of my research involved insects in some way. I did two projects, one was with Red Harvester Ants, which are nasty because they bite and they hurt–I know from experience. The project had to do with their ability to sense magnetic fields, and so the container that they were in couldn’t have any metal. It was all wood and wood glue, which is not a good container for small animals. I ended up accidentally releasing around sixty harvester ants into the back of my physics classroom. Then, the year after that, I did a project with fruit flies, and they got out into my chemistry classroom. So it became this running joke that I was the “bug kid” that kept releasing insects into the school. There were three Kyles in my history class, and my teacher called me “science Kyle” to differentiate between the three of us.

I also tutored a lot my senior year, in a lot of different subjects, for middle schoolers and also fellow high schoolers. I tutored all of the sciences, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and a lot of Spanish.

I was a Boy Scout, and I am an Eagle Scout.


Oh, cool! what was your Eagle Scout Project?

Kyle and Chemistry Professor Jason Keith at the March for Science in Washington D.C. this past April

I built these signposts- they looked like lecterns, so you had this wide base and a post that came up, and then a box on the top with plexiglass so you could read through it. I designed them for a local natural history museum in a nature preserve.  They were opening up this outdoor exhibit of rescued and rehabilitated animals, so these posts sat outside and had the information like, “This is an owl- it got hit by a car, this is the kind of owl it is,” and that sort of thing. I made fifteen of those signs. It ended up being a couple thousand dollars worth of materials donated and it was over 200 hours of labor time to build them. I also worked at a Boy Scout camp for the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was very outdoorsy, living in the middle of nowhere for a month, in a tent. Because of that, I had a lot of friends, not just in my troop, but that worked in the council, so I was really involved in council-level things and fundraisers of that nature. I taught merit badge classes at camp and at the council office. The main things that I taught were the environmental science merit badge, the chemistry merit badge, and the geology merit badge. So, I was obviously very into science.

So is your love for nature and being in a remote setting part of the reason that you chose Colgate?

Yeah, absolutely, that is definitely a part of the reason that I picked Colgate. I was drawn to the setting and the aesthetic of it, which sounds silly, but it’s honestly so important.  


How has all of this translated into your involvement at Colgate?

The main thing I do now that directly springs off of what I did in high school is Pep Band. I just finished two years of being the drum major of Pep Band, which is the person who conducts. I ran our practices twice a week and conducted at all of the games we go to, mostly hockey and football. That was something I was actually very hesitant to do. Like I said before, I originally thought that band was a very superfluous activity. And then I came here and now it’s pretty much the only thing I do. Now that I’m an upperclassmen and a little busier, I’m back to playing trumpet, but I absolutely loved being drum major and I do miss it.

  • Kyle served as the drum major of the pep band for 2 years, starting his second semester on campus freshman year and culminating halfway through his junior year.

I also still tutor. I tutor for the two intro biology classes.  Also, for some of those classes there is something called PLTL, which stands for peer-led team learning, and I am the “team leader.” Basically, I’m overseeing a group study session, where people do activities and really engage in discussing the material in a very judgement-free setting, where people can bounce answers off of each other, and I try to guide that discussion.  It’s a lot of fun.


What kinds of classes have you taken? What has been your favorite thing to study?

I’m a molecular biology major and an English minor, so at this point, those are really the only departments I am taking classes in. I feel like people think that’s a weird combo, and what I would say to that is that scientists are generally pretty bad at communicating their ideas– they’re okay at communicating them to other scientists, but they’re especially bad at communicating them to people who aren’t scientists.  Especially in this day and age, I think that translation of more complex scientific ideas into everyday words that people can understand is the most important job that scientists have. I think that is the paramount issue of contemporary science in general.

I study English because, well, what is English if not the study of the most effective communicators of all time and the media in which they communicate? So my personal saint would be Rachel Carson. When Silent Spring came out, she was derided pretty heavily by other scientists saying her writing was too artsy and flowery, and prose-like, not quantitative, cold, calculating, and filled with data. Of course, we know where that went, with the impact of that book and her life. It’s that fine line between the sciences and humanities that really interests me.

There’s this field called ecocriticism, which involves nature writing, and it sort of has its roots in the transcendentalist movement of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. In that field, there’s this whole idea of anthropocene literature, with the anthropocene being this proposed geologic time period that we are currently in, where man has usurped the laws of nature and can alter ecosystems to suit his will, versus holocene literature, which would involve the previous geologic time period where forces of the Earth still reigned supreme, and how we communicate ideas differently across these times. I took a class on this idea, called “Fugitive Mobilities: Migration and Environmental Imagination in 20th Century America.”

I’ve definitely found that, with this being a liberal arts college where we are forced to study a wide variety of topics and subjects across departments–and “forced” is a strong word, I enjoy doing it–I have been able to cater my studies to my interests and I have taken a bunch of classes that are intersectional in that regard. Those are my favorite kinds of classes. My first year, I took a class called “History of Nature and Capital in the United States,” which talked about the history of capitalism and its intersection with how we view nature and the question of if nature is a commodity or just something to be admired and respected, and how to strike the balance between that. We read an article about the question of if a whale is technically a fish–and that has legal ramifications, because back in the 1800s whaling times, there were taxes on fish products, but if a whale is a mammal, then you don’t have to pay that tax. So of course, the fish tax people were like, “A whale is a fish, it has a tail, it lives in the water, it’s a fish!” And as it turns out, in 1818 New York, whales are ruled to legally be fish. So I think topics like that are really interesting and cool.


Could you tell me what you researched at Colgate this summer?

Kyle and his poster detailing the findings of his research. The research has since been expanded on and is pending publication, for which Kyle is the first author.

Doing research is one of the main reasons that I came to Colgate and ended up applying early decision here. My second choice was Hopkins and the reason I basically decided against that was that biology is such a huge program there. So, I got the sense that it’s very competitive and there is a lot of stress in landing a research position. I felt that if I came here, I could do research more easily.

So, last summer, I conducted research in a biology lab with Professor Van Wynsberghe. The official name of our lab is the “Nematode Molecular Biology Lab” and what we do is study a species of worm called C. elegans, which is a species of primarily hermaphroditic, non-parasitic nematode, which is the fancy taxonomic term for a roundworm. They mature in about three days, and when they’re fully grown, they’re about a millimeter long, so you can actually see them with the naked eye. In the wild, they live in soil all over the place and eat rotting material. Obviously, that’s a weird thing to study. People are like, sarcastically, “You study worms?” But they’re incredible. They were the first multicellular eukaryote, which is an organism with nuclei in its cells–so more complicated, higher organisms (we are eukaryotes), to have their entire genome sequenced, meaning that we know all the base pairs of all of their DNA. You and I are made of trillions of cells, but these worms are made of exactly 959 cells, and we know the lineage of every single one, meaning we can trace its divisions back to when the worm was just a fertilized egg. An interesting fact about C. elegans is that a canister of C. elegans survived the Columbia disaster, so they have been to space and survived intense reentry. That resilience makes them easy to study.

Kyle uses a high-powered microscope in the biology department’s microscope room to analyze phenotypic abnormalities in the worms

What we study is something called a microRNA (miRNA). miRNAs, which exist in all kinds of organisms, including human, were actually first discovered in C. elegans, and this was pretty recently, in the 90s. They’re small, noncoding RNAs, meaning that they don’t produce protein like most RNA does. Instead, they serve a regulatory function, binding to the type of RNA that does make protein, and degrading it. So it’s another way that an organism can control what genes it expresses. What I do, specifically, is study the developmental biology of C. elegans, so what controls how they grow over time. I’m basically using my microscope to look at markers for development, like how puberty is a marker for development in a person–like men start growing facial hair, but obviously worms don’t have faces, so there are other signs that I look for. I’m looking at how certain genes, including miRNAs, control that development. Molecular biology is all about figuring out about gene pathways–which genes control which other genes. I’m trying to figure out, looking at a particular gene, where that gene fits in the established pathway of the genes that control how the worms develop, grow up, and change over time. In the worms, we call that the heterochronic pathway. Humans also have miRNAs, and, weirdly enough, we have a lot of genes in common with these worms. So down the road, understanding all of this by using a simple model system like a worm can help us better understand human biology and human health.


Kyle explains the results of his research to Colgate University President Brian Casey at the Summer Research Poster Session

So what made you want to conduct research?

Well, that’s what I want to do with my life. I have always wanted to be a scientist, since I could talk. The first thing I ever took out of the library was the Bill Nye tape on dinosaurs. I would like to go to grad school, get a PhD, and continue doing biomedical research.


Are you planning on going abroad?

No, I’m not, but I am studying off-campus with the Colgate NIH study group. That’s actually one of the reasons I decided to come to Colgate, because I knew that it had this program and I knew that was something I’d always wanted to do. It’s something I’ve always been working towards, so it feels really cool to finally be preparing to go. The NIH is in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C., so I will be living in D.C. and that will be really cool.

I pretty recently found out which lab I’ll be working in at the NIH. Actually, when I was first accepted, I was really determined that I would be doing HIV research, and I kind of wanted to branch out of molecular developmental biology, but when I read about this guy’s work I was just like, “This is just so cool.” I’ll be working in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases or the NIDDK. I will be working in a lab that uses the same model organisms, C. elegans, and what they do is model rare genetic disorders using C. elegans. The types of disorders that they model are developmental craniofacial disorders. These are things that go wrong during human development, like with embryos, fetuses, all that jazz, that involve facial development. We’re talking rare diseases, things that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the US–but given the high number of rare diseases, 10% of the population can have one. There are about 7000 of these so called “orphan” diseases, but we only have treatments for like 1000 of them.

C. elegans under high-powered magnification. The mature adults are around 1 millimeter long and can just barely be seen with the naked eye.

The NIH has a clinic that these people come to–people from all over the world, who have been to a bunch of doctors, and nobody can tell them what’s wrong with them. What they do is a full genome sequence and they’ll catalogue that information. Then, many years later, someone else will come in with the same thing and they’ll realize that there’s a change in one base pair, somewhere in their genome, that matches up perfectly with this other person. Then you realize, “Ok we have a syndrome, we have a disease, we know what it is, we can name it, we can start doing research and characterizing it.” So, what my lab does is it takes that data and we use CRISPR, which you might have heard of as this new buzzword that just hit the public lexicon (like “Ooooh, CRISPR!”). Basically, it’s a way of really precisely editing a sequence of DNA, so it’s a super powerful tool. Think Jurassic Park, or GATTACA, but this technology is new, so not quite so apocalyptic…yet.  Anyway, we use CRISPR to try to create the same mutation the person has in the worm’s homologous gene, which is a gene that has an equivalent in another organism. The really cool thing is that we’re modeling rare craniofacial disorders, but worms don’t have faces, so what are we doing? We’re basically seeing if the mutation made using CRISPR shows some kind of weird phenotype in the worms. They have a variety of standard mutant phenotypes- they can get short and fat, we call that dumpy, they can be constipated, they can explode out of their vulvas. So, if something is wrong with the worms, then people can start doing drug trials, and seeing if it will alleviate that phenotype in the worm, and then maybe it could alleviate the symptoms in the people.

C. elegans as seen through a microscope. They leave squiggly trails as they eat their way through the E. coli on the petri dish.

And obviously, even though we’re talking about a rare disease that doesn’t affect that many people, to those few people it does affect, it means the world. And that is work that I am really excited to do. I’ve always thought that the purpose of science is to get a better understanding of the universe and our place in it, but the reason that I’m so attracted to it is that I see it as this agent of change, of good, and of helping people. That’s sort of why I don’t want to necessarily be a medical doctor, which is obviously a really rewarding job. But, I feel like practicing medicine, in the traditional sense, is helping a few people on a very personal level. But, to me, research is a way of doing that on a mass scale, making discoveries that can affect people for many people for many years to come.


How are you planning to use your AMS funding?

It is possible to use your AMS funding for the NIH summer program. If, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t have space in their lab or they’ve already hired some other person, then you could apply to use Colgate funding, such as the AMS grant. My position is subsidized because the director of the lab took me early enough that I could get that. He has actually never worked with a Colgate student before. We have a list of labs that we consistently go to and that take Colgate students frequently, and Colgate students go back for post-bacs and work in those labs. But, this is a new person, who has not done this before, who needed to learn about the program before he took me. But, obviously, I think was hired because of my experience at Colgate working with the same organism, which gave me the desired skill set to be able to do this research.  And I got into that lab, so I can use my AMS money for something else.

I am currently planning, so I’m still in the early stages, and who knows, things could fall though–I once planned a different project that ended up falling through. But, currently, my goal is to go to Madagascar and volunteer at an NGO that does some charity work with wildlife, specifically lemurs. Lemurs only live on Madagascar and some of the surrounding smaller islands. I think it’s a cool idea to use the AMS funding for a volunteering purpose. Obviously, I think it’s an absolutely wonderful opportunity to be given this large sum of money to use however I want. And when I started looking into Madagascar, I realized this was a less developed country that doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure, has had a lot of political turmoil, and so on. So, I think being able to spend my grant money to help out there, do some charity work, is a really cool idea.

The organization I’m currently looking into rescues and rehabilitates ring-tailed lemurs that were captured for the pet trade or for bush meat. I would be helping care for them, and doing some work on recently released animals, tracking them and learning about their ecology.  I would also like to do some travelling to some of the various national parks in Madagascar. I want to be able to see the wildlife, the biodiversity of this unique place. The cool thing about AMS is that you don’t have to use your funding on exactly the thing that you’re studying. I am in molecular biology–I’m looking at the stuff that makes cells go. This is broad, organismal biology. It’s getting me to explore this other side of my interests. I love zoos, I love animals and always have. I grew up on Zoboomafoo. I did a project on Madagascar in sixth grade. That’s the other cool part about AMS, that you can take something that you find interesting and turn it into an actual, real-life experience.


What are some of your favorite things about Colgate? What do you think could improve?

The thing that I like about Colgate is that it is truly a community of intellectuals, in the fullest sense. That’s one of those things that I don’t think I realize until I leave campus. There’s something nice about being able to have an intelligent conversation with someone about Nietzsche or whoever. I like that. I think it’s a really valuable thing to have students that are informed, deeply care about the world, and can have an intelligent debate or discussion about a topic. I think that happens a lot here and I really, really appreciate it. People take their class learning and apply it to life outside, then they take their life and apply it to class. I see that often.

Another reason I came here is the small class size. I think it’s really interesting, when I talk to people I know who go to a much bigger school, they say that I seem to have more work than they–I actually have to do all of my readings. Because when you’re in a giant lecture class with 700 people, it doesn’t matter if you did the reading. But, here, you’d better know what you’re talking about because you’re in a class with fifteen people. The biggest classes I’ve had were my intro bio classes, which were about 80 people, which is still a lot smaller than a lot of the giant classes at other places. By extension of the small class size, I have professors that I would consider my friends. I absolutely adore the professors here–people whose office hours I can go to and just spitball about my life, or elaborate on a point that I thought was interesting in class and really hone in on my interests. The professors here are so responsive to that. They work at a small, liberal arts college because they want that just as much as you do.  And they’re obviously incredibly brilliant. It’s great to go in and talk to somebody who just oozes knowledge, who is just casually brilliant–that’s really wonderful.

I think my number one issue with Colgate, that stems into a lot of aspects of campus life, is the lack of economic diversity. I get it–I understand why this, as an institution, as a product of its history, is the way it is, but I think we can improve. The New York Times did a report on economic diversity and student outcomes at Colgate, and it says that Colgate students have the second highest median family incomes of the elite colleges in the U.S.  And in another New York Times article that came out last year, Colgate is number seven on the list of percentage of students from the top 1% versus the bottom 60%. Colgate is very proud of the high earnings of its graduates, people landing lucrative professions and amazing jobs–and that’s great–good for them. But, you look at these stats and realize that it’s not people coming into Colgate from the bottom income bracket that become the high earners that Colgate is so proud of. It’s people who already come from that background. And maybe that’s not so much a Colgate problem as it is an elite college problem and a United States as a whole problem. But, that issue definitely manifests on campus. Beyond that though, I think income is a bad way of judging student success, I really do–there’s so much more to life. I do think we’ve made some good strides though, like they aren’t asking for official test score reports anymore, so you don’t have to pay to have your SAT/ACT reports sent to Colgate before you’re accepted. It’s small, but it helps. We’re currently not need-blind, which makes me annoyed, especially since that makes the idea of meeting 100% of demonstrated aid moot, but I know we’re taking steps in the right direction.

In very implicit ways, I think that this lack of economic diversity leads to a homogenous student body. I think we like to pride ourselves on diversity, but we know the ways that economic diversity relates to racial diversity, and I think you can see that here. By extension, I think we have a very exclusive social scene, which has its own problems. Because we have the delayed rush system, statistics about the percentage of students in Greek life can be deflated by counting all first years as non-greek, but they aren’t eligible in the first place. That being said, if you go by the statistic of Greek Life as a ratio of the student body, it is a minority. But, it is a vocal minority. It’s a force, it’s a presence, it’s the dominant social scene. By its nature, Greek life is exclusive. I think that’s an issue.

I also think that we have a problem with stress culture. I think the student body prides itself on the philosophy of “Work hard, play hard,” and that works–to a point. But you’re going to crash and burn at some point. I think that because of that mantra, there is a pressure to constantly go out and there is a pressure to constantly achieve. That’s the downside of being a part of community of intellectuals. It’s not competitive in the sense that you’re trying to be better than other people, but it’s a social expectation to be like other people. With that, this is a hard school, there’s no sugar coating it. Is this a high-caliber, elite school that prides itself on the difficulty and rigor of its academic curriculum? Absolutely. Is it harder than other schools of the same caliber? Probably not. Do I enjoy academic rigor, and is that a reason I came here? Absolutely! It’s just useful to keep in mind that there are consequences to that.

Also, not many people go to sporting events–I think we can lack school spirit–Colgate just isn’t the kind of place that is particularly enthused by sports. People don’t go to things that they’re not directly involved in, and I think there could be a thousand reasons as to why, but I think a big part of it is the drinking culture. It’s college, people drink, obviously. But, I think there’s often this idea that if there isn’t going to be alcohol there, well, people aren’t going. Of course, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because now I won’t go to that party because I don’t think anyone else will be there.  People don’t go to the dry events, even on Spring Party Weekend. It’s a little weird, a little disappointing, and I definitely think that’s unique to Colgate.

That being said, I will definitely look back on my time here with fondness. I guess I’m so critical because I care about this place so much. I have really, truly enjoyed my Colgate career so far, and I’m so excited to see what senior year brings!


Rachel Weinstein ’18 & Angelica (Geli) Greco ’18: Climate Change in Canada

By Lizzy Moore on February 17, 2018

The following post was contributed by Alumni Memorial Scholars seniors Rachel Weinstein and Geli Greco, who recently completed an independent research project, using their AMS grant funds, studying the effects of climate change in the Yukon and Vancouver. 

From Hamilton, New York, climate change can seem like a distant problem. We count our blessings on January days when it’s warm enough to walk outside without coats. We try to forget last year’s record hurricane season and the trillion-ton iceberg that broke off Antarctica.

Yet other places around the world are already experiencing serious impacts of climate change. For our AMS project, we decided to learn firsthand about the effects of climate change on two very different places in Canada: Whitehorse (capital city of the Yukon) and Vancouver. Whitehorse, in Canada’s far north, would give us a picture of the rural dimensions of climate change in a high latitude region. Vancouver, a bustling coastal city, would give us the chance to look at climate change from an urban perspective.

While in the Yukon, we visited a wilderness ranch that specializes in dog sledding trips. We talked with wilderness guides about how they saw climate change impacting their futures. They shared with us that for the past couple of years they have not been getting enough snowfall, causing sledding trails in certain areas to become exposed. Very soon they will not be able to access cabins in extremely remote areas due to lack of snow on the tracks. Many of these remote cabins are only accessible in the winter because you have to cross several frozen lakes to reach them. Over the course of the ten days we were at the ranch, the weather fluctuated dramatically from 0C to -45C and the area received 25 centimeters of snow. In the past, temperatures in January were consistently around -30C, making it too cold to snow. These odd weather patterns are already affecting rural Yukon communities. Rising temperatures and decreasing snowfall leave the future of dog sledding in the territory uncertain.

Next we went on to Vancouver to get an idea of how climate change will affect a populous coastal city. Vancouverites are already conscious of how rising sea levels will threaten their city. While in Vancouver, we saw an art installation called A False Creek beneath a bridge. Colored bands on the supports of the bridge depict the heights sea levels are expected to reach in the coming years. It visually drove home the point that parts of Vancouver will eventually be underwater.

In Vancouver, we had the chance to talk with a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) about climate change activism in Vancouver. He confirmed our observation that Vancouver is a particularly environmentally conscious city; community gardens, bike paths, and parks dot the urban landscape. We also discussed recent developments in the climate policy field. Right now, CCL is pushing a modified version of a carbon tax. The policy, called Carbon Fee and Dividend, would tax carbon-based fuels to incentivize the use of renewable energy and then distribute much of that tax revenue back to households.

According to the activist, one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of progress on climate change is that politicians do not hear enough about it from their constituents. If you’re concerned about climate change, write a letter to your legislators. Tell them to take action on before it’s too late. Check out CCL’s template for ideas: https://citizensclimatelobby.org/writing-letters-to-editors-and-congress/.

Linh Le ’18: A Study of Vikings

By Lizzy Moore on February 3, 2018


The following post was contributed by Alumni Memorial Scholar Linh Le ’18, who recently completed an independent research project, using his AMS grant funds, studying Vikings in the UK, Denmark, and Norway. 

During my Spring 2017 Wales Study Group, I got to know more about the history of the United Kingdom and how different groups of people influenced the nation. I was eager to learn about the Viking invasion, because ever since I was nine or ten years old, I have always been fascinated by Norse mythology and Scandinavian culture. I can never forget the excitement of reading the Prose and Poetic Edda, or the heroic quests of Sigurd in the Volsunga Saga, a story which later inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. Over ten years later, with funding from the AMS program, I finally had a chance to study their legacy in the United Kingdom and compare it with the portrayal of Vikings in their home nations of Denmark and Norway.


My first stop was York, a small city in northeast England, where the Danish Vikings established a territory covering most of eastern England called the Danelaw in the 9th century. York’s renowned attraction, the Jorvik Viking Center, doubles both as a museum and educational center about the Viking history of England. Experts even painstakingly recreated a Viking village to illustrate how they lived in the past, alongside a traditional display of archeological artifacts. Though the Scandinavian influence has been supplanted by later English communities, the Scandinavian past still remains in parts of York and surrounding areas. Most street names in the city end with ‘-gate’, such as ‘Coppergate’, as they were derived from the Norwegian/Danish word for ‘street’. Many place names in Yorkshire also contain the word ‘-thorpe’ or ‘-by’, which mean ‘settlement’ and ‘village’ respectively in Old Norse, further emphasizing their Scandinavian legacy.


A Viking outside the Jorvik Viking Center

The history of Scotland is much more intertwined with the Viking kingdoms. I visited the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, both of which contain sizeable exhibits on the Scottish Vikings. Norsemen conquered most of the northern and western Scottish Isles, and slowly extended their influence into mainland Scotland in the 11th century. Unlike in England where most of the Norse culture only remains in the form of names, the Vikings introduced their practices to the native Scottish Gaels, as evident in some unique Norse-Gael artifacts. The Govan Church in Glasgow houses a series of hogback stones resembling the Viking longhouses, which were used to make Viking tombs look like mighty Norse buildings. These stones are not found in Scandinavia, but are unique to the British Isles. The hogback monuments reflect the Vikings’ adaptations to life in Scotland, thereby creating a new culture for themselves.

Hogback monuments at the Govan Church in Glasgow, Scotland

I also wandered to the small coastal town of Largs on a sunny summer day, where the Scottish won the final battle against the Norwegians in the 13th century, marking the end the Viking era in Scotland. One of Largs’ attractions is the Vikingar! Experience, which contains a Viking exhibit and an excellent video presentation about the historic Battle of Largs. Through the video, I could see the Scottish pride in their Viking heritage, because many who fought against the Norwegians were descendants of earlier Vikings who had integrated into the Scottish community. The interaction between the Norsemen and the Scottish Gaels contributed to the Scottish culture. It is not a surprise that the Scottish National Party has been pointing to Scotland’s Nordic connections to further emphasize a separate Scottish identity, thus pushing for the country’s recent independence movement from the United Kingdom.

Largs, Scotland, with the Pencil Monument commemorating the last Scottish battle against the Vikings

The Viking-occupied Scottish islands together formed the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, whose seat of power lay on the Isle of Man between Ireland and Great Britain. On this small island, now a self-governing community under the United Kingdom, the Viking influence still flows in everyday life, for it forms an integral part of the Manx identity. On the beaches of Peel, I enjoyed a cup of pickled herring, a Scandinavian delicacy inherited from the Viking age. The Viking government still survives until today, and is called Tynwald as derived from the Old Norse word for ‘the place of assembly’. The Manx people even paid tribute to their Viking roots by building the Viking long ship Odin’s Raven in the traditional way, sailing all the way from the Isle of Man to Trondheim in Norway. Strolling on the streets, one can find a Viking ship sculpture, or a Viking-inspired restaurant, illustrating the modern Manx people’s honor of their Viking past.

A Viking ship sculpture on the streets of Douglas, Isle of Man

Following the steps of the Viking, I continued my journey to Denmark and Norway, where I learned more about the Vikings’ way of life in their homeland. There, I could live my dream since my childhood and immersed myself in the world of the Norse gods and heroes. I was in awe to see the tales depicted in paintings on the walls of the Oslo City Hall in Norway. I stepped on a replica of a Viking longship at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, and marveled at the craftsmanship in building such immense boats. I tasted the mead drink inspired by the gods’ beverage on the streets of Copenhagen. Though Denmark and Norway have long moved away from their pagan roots, the Viking legacy is still alive and it is a celebration of the two countries’ shared history.

Reconstructed Viking ships at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark


Oslo, Norway at dusk


Thanks to the AMS program, I could embark on this unforgettable trip to learn about a subject that had interested me for over a decade. Every place I visited was different, but they were all tied by the cultural link to the Viking past. Though the influence on the modern society varies to a large extent, the Viking culture is never completely wiped out in any location, but it is integrated into the communities in one way or another. Furthermore, I would never though that I, a student majoring in Chemistry and Physics, would be able to study a historical topic completely unrelated to my academic track. In this way, the AMS program is certainly the culmination of my liberal arts education at Colgate.

Scholar Profile: Ryan Rios ’20

By Lizzy Moore on November 26, 2017

Ryan Rios, holding his Baritone Saxophone, in Starr Rink, where the Raider Pep Band rehearses. Ryan is the secretary for the band.


This interview was conducted with Ryan Rios, a sophomore in the Alumni Memorial Scholars Program intending to double major in Japanese and Computer Science. This past summer, Ryan researched how websites determine what language to display their content in.


Could you tell me a bit about your high school experience? What kinds of things were you involved in? How has that translated into your involvement at Colgate?

I went to a small all-male Lasallian school known as Cathedral High School in the heart of Los Angeles, right by Dodger Stadium. The school didn’t really have any clubs to speak of, but I was involved in my high school’s pep band- where I learned to play the sax- concert band, drum line, and jazz band- where I started playing bass publicly and not just in my room. Jazz band was my favorite extracurricular activity because it’s how I came to love jazz music, and there aren’t many more things that I like more than playing bass in a jazz setting. I’m still in pep band and jazz band at Colgate, and I honestly think that if it weren’t for joining pep band last year, my experience here would be very different.

My love for jazz music has also turned into me hosting two different radio shows with WRCU this semester after having done only one show last year. One show I host by myself and try to play a mix of jazz and rock (Wednesdays 10-11 AM EST), and the other show I host with a really good friend and we try to play jazz from a variety of eras while throwing in a few non-jazz songs here and there (Thursdays 3-4 PM EST). Like a lot of other people here, I took a lot of AP classes in high school and I think that helped prepare me for the rigor of some the classes here at Colgate.

Ryan plays his bass during Jazz Band rehearsal. The group rehearses twice a week.

What are you involved in at Colgate? What kinds of classes have you taken? What has been your favorite thing to study?

At Colgate, I’m involved with pep band, jazz band, the student wind ensemble, Smash Club, WRCU, and ballroom. Pep Band definitely takes up most of my time, but I’m happy being in it because it’s where I’ve met some of my closest friends—not just at Colgate, but in general.

Aside from the core classes, I’ve taken computer science and Japanese classes, and not much else because I took two core classes my first two semesters and two computer science classes this semester. My FSEM was Cities of the Silk Road, which was a history class on civilizations that were along the Silk Road. I thought it was interesting because it the class was on a part of the world I hadn’t really taken a class on, and being able to make food from that part of the world for class was a fun experience.

I also really like my Japanese classes because they’re smaller than the already small classes at Colgate and most of my friends that I didn’t meet through pep band I met through my Japanese classes. Computer science can be stressful, but I don’t mind most of the time because it’s a subject I’m genuinely interested in. My Japanese classes have by far been my favorite though. The professors in the department are all very approachable, and learning a language that is so different from English can be hard but it’s rewarding, especially when you pick up something like a children’s book or watch a children’s show and can get a general idea of what’s going on.

Ryan hosts his radio show with WRCU


What made you decide to work at Colgate this summer? Could you tell me what kind of work you did?

I wanted to work at Colgate this summer because I didn’t have anything else planned for the summer and I figured that getting research experience as a rising sophomore would be a good thing to do. The research I did was with the computer science department. I had genuine interest in the project I ended up working on, which was led by Professor Sommers.

I learned how to do things that I didn’t learn in the classroom. When someone uses the internet, whatever website is being visited has multiple ways to choose what language to display the content of the page in. It isn’t always clear which websites use which methods though. Some websites use the geographical location of the user, others base it off what language the user has indicated they would prefer to see content in through the settings in their browsers, and others still might base it off of what the user has said they preferred during a past visit to the website. It could also be none of these things, but it’s difficult to say definitively one way or another.

My research partner and I had to write a program that would visit websites ranked by popularity according to alexa, and tell us what language the content was displayed in taking into account what languages we said we wanted to see and whether or not we were using a proxy- and if so, from where. Professor Sommers is still doing research, as we were doing a lot of the preliminary work, but a lot of websites seem to not follow the general guidelines web developers agree should be followed.

How are you planning on using your AMS funding? Are you planning on studying abroad?

Admittedly, it’s not something I’ve given much thought, but I might be using my AMS funding to go to Japan roughly a year from now. I’ll be studying abroad there next semester, which I’m definitely excited for- although I’m not exactly sure what I would want to do in Japan with my AMS funding. I might go to a language school, but I haven’t decided that that’s what I want to do. One of the focuses of my study abroad group is sustainability in more rural areas of Japan, so I might try to investigate how technology has impacted and continues to impact rural Japan. However, I don’t know how feasible that would be with such a great language barrier, as Japanese as it is spoken in urban Japan is very different from Japanese as it is spoken in rural Japan. Regardless, I hope I get to do something related to that!

What are some of your favorite things about studying at Colgate? What do you think can improve? Do you see yourself playing a role in that improvement over the next three years?
I really like that the classes at Colgate tend to be small, so it’s easy to find people to befriend and study with. Also, if anything, most of the people here seem to really take their studies seriously which I will admit was a pleasant surprise. So many people in my classes are also just really approachable, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I haven’t had anyone to interact with in a particular class while at Colgate. We’re all willing to help each other for the most part, and while there’s friendly competition between people I’ve never gotten the sense that someone thinks they’re too good to help other people when asked to or anything like that. The upperclass people also seem more than willing to help the underclass people, and it’s really nice to have people, who’ve been through what you’re struggling with, take a genuine interest in helping you.

I think that the core curriculum could definitely be approved. A lot of the reading assigned for Legacies of the Ancient World, specifically, is by European white men. I think the texts we read in that class were definitely worth the read, but it feels as if the class doesn’t embody the concept of “the ancient world” when most of the readings generally don’t reflect the entire world. I would appreciate if more of the readings came from different parts of the world, which my professor definitely tried to do. I don’t know exactly how I would go about enacting that change, but it would be nice to help with that change.

Have you thought about what you’d like to do after college?

I’m not too sure what I want to do after college. I know that I definitely want to major in computer science and Japanese, but I’m just not sure what I want to do with those degrees because there’s a lot I can do. If possible, I’d like to get into a field that somehow incorporates both.

The research I did this summer left me interested in how people who are either multilingual or come from a non-English speaking area use the internet and how the internet can be made more accessible for them. In general, I think that making technology more accessible for people that don’t speak English is interesting because we tend to forget that not all of the world speaks English, and it’d be cool if technological innovations weren’t always held back by a language barrier from spreading into more parts of the world. This obviously shouldn’t be an issue with huge companies, but at the same time you run into issues where if you purchase something in the United States you might be forced into using that product in English. It’s not an issue for most people, but many people in the US don’t speak English either, so it’d be interesting to see how we can help knock down language barriers in our world more and more.

Scholar Profile: Jacob Pilawa ’20

By Lizzy Moore on September 24, 2017

This interview was conducted with Jacob Pilawa, a sophomore in the Alumni Memorial Scholars Program intending to major in Astronomy/Physics. This past summer, Jacob researched quasars with Professor Balonek at Foggy Bottom Observatory. 

Could you tell me a bit about your high school experience?

I went to a high school in Cleveland called Saint Ignatius High School. It’s an all-male Jesuit school, so it was pretty unique in that sense. I spent most of my time in high school doing Science Olympiad, robotics, those kinds of STEM extracurricular activities. I was also a diver for a little bit, on the swimming and diving team. I think it was like the high school experience of most students at Colgate, where you’re taking as many AP classes as you can, trying to get college credit, and things like that. I pushed myself pretty hard in high school.

Was there anything in particular that motivated you to work hard?

It was really that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do things. Probably the most important teacher I ever had was named Father Lawrence Ober. He taught my art history class, and you wouldn’t think that would be something that an astronomy/physics major would want to study. But it was the most inspiring class because he really gave me this love of learning and not just love of school. He was very motivational and would always say things like “Charge on,” or “You’ve got this, you know everything.” He taught me a love of learning, not a love of good grades. That is what kept me going during really tough classes. I would tell myself, “Hey, I’m taking this class because I love learning it, I just have to keep going.”

I really found learning fun and looked forward to learning new things, so when I came to Colgate, I decided I wasn’t going to do anything halfway, I would go all out. I would do it, do it well, and love what I’m doing. That’s not to say that I always enjoy hard weeks or finals time, but it’s always in the back of my mind that I’m doing this because I love it. There’s that expression, “Do what you love, love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” So that love for what I’m learning is what really keeps me going.

Jacob adjusts the telescope in Foggy Bottom Observatory

Can you tell me what kinds of things you’re involved in at Colgate outside of class?

I did research here over this past summer, and now I’m continuing it into the academic year. I’m in Star ‘Gate, which is the astronomy and astrophotography club. I’m in running club- I like running, so why not? And I’m in physics club, of course.

Of the classes you’ve taken, what have been your favorites?

My favorite class so far has been Introduction to Mechanics with Professor Levine in the physics department. In high school physics, you talk about a ball rolling down a hill or something. But, in that class, we took those same concepts and applied them to the movements of the stars and things like that. In a typical problem, instead of a ball going in a circle, we’d have a planet orbiting the sun. Having that real application to things that I love talking about was really great. So that was far and away my favorite class.

What made you decide to conduct research at Colgate this summer?

The computer where Jacob and Professor Balonek collected their data this summer

This comes back to what I was saying earlier about a love of learning and a desire to learn more. Last year, it came time to apply and I was thinking about what I was going to be doing with my summer. I saw that summer research positions opened up at Colgate and I thought that I might as well give it a shot. I was a first-year, so I wasn’t expecting to get anything because there were probably way more qualified people.

I applied to this and a couple others, but this was my top choice. I wrote an essay about why I wanted to do this research and what my future interests are. And then I got the email in February that I’d been selected and I freaked out in the library. I was doing a physics problem set and I was like, “This has to be a joke. I’m going to make money doing things that I love doing in the summer and learn more from it.” I guess I just gave it a shot- it’s better than an office job.

Could you tell me a bit more about what you researched?

This summer we worked on these objects called quasars. Basically, at the centers of super far-away galaxies, there are supermassive black holes: black holes with a mass hundreds of thousands to millions of times our sun. So, these are incredibly big objects, the most massive things we’ve ever discovered in the universe. And in super distant galaxies, around some of them there is this gas and plasma that’s falling into these black holes. Because of things that Einstein did with special and general relativity, this actually shoots out two beams of light from the black hole. We study how that light changes over time. Basically, we’re looking at the centers of galaxies and seeing how their brightness changes.

Jacob: “This is a photo of the object NGC 6946, also called the Fireworks Galaxy. It’s a spiral galaxy 22 million light-years away and is called the Fireworks Galaxy because of how frequently stars undergo a supernova. Over the last 100 years, we’ve observed 10 stars explode in this galaxy. The photo was taken with Foggy Bottom Observatory’s 16″ Cassegrain telescope and FLI CCD camera.”


So, most of my nights this summer, I worked from about 10pm to 5am at this computer. We’d focus on about six objects a night and take pictures of them. We’d get our data from these images and we’d generate curves of their brightness over time. I’m continuing to research that during the academic year. When I find time, I come up here at nights and work. Hopefully, we’re going to write a paper about our findings of a specific object called OJ 287 and then I’ll be presenting at the KNAC (Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium) Conference in October. That’s at Colgate, so that’ll be pretty cool. This is the research that Professor Balonek has been researching here for the past thirty years, so I’m just carrying on the torch.


Have you thought about how you’re planning on using your AMS research grant?

I have. One of the reasons that I got into astronomy in particular is that I used to be really into photography. I’d see those cool pictures that NASA or the Hubble Space Telescope would take of these cool galaxies and nebulae and things like that. So I did some research about how to do shots of the Milky Way

Jacob: “This is an image I took of Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System. It was taken by attaching my camera to the back of our 12” telescope, taking 350+ “frames” of the image, and then “stacking” them together to produce a more refined image. It was my first attempt at something like it.”

or shots of the sky with my camera and I found out that I love that and the concept of being able to look at these things. So what I really want to do is some kind of trip to Europe or the West Coast of the United States- someplace cool- and do a bunch of astrophotography and compile it all into a presentation of some kind. It would help my own skills in producing good images, which we do here. But, it would also just be a really cool thing to do and I’d have something to show for it like, “Hey, look at this really cool picture I took.”

I’m also thinking about maybe doing an observatory tour of Europe because there are really cool observatories there. I’d like to go, look at these observatories, and find out what it is that they specifically do, what they research there, and the kind of technology that goes into it, in case I ever want to go into telescope design. So, it’s either astrophotography or an observatory tour.

Are you planning on studying abroad while you’re at Colgate?

I do want to study abroad. I’m actually trying to see if I can do an astronomy/physics and French double major. Next year, I’m trying to plan out going to an approved program in Paris. I’d like to live in Paris and continue my physics work while immersing myself in that culture and language to improve my skills.

What are some of your favorite things about being a student at Colgate?

Speaking for the physics and math departments specifically, we do almost all of our work together. Most of the learning that I did wasn’t in class, but in tutoring sessions with juniors and seniors or just meeting with my friends to go over a problem set. The way in which people work together here is great, and it’s great to be around people who are as driven as you are. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to learn this material and become experts in it. So, it’s not hyper-competitive and people will help you.

There have been times when I’ve asked a friend, “Hey, will you sit down with me and go over this problem set?” and then we’ll sit and talk for two hours about some cool problem that we did. I really like how the students here are willing to work together and want each other to succeed.

I also really like how accessible the professors are. That’s something that I can’t stress enough. Every day, I’ll see Professor Crotty doing research on the fourth floor of Ho, and I’ll stop in to say hi or to ask him about a problem, and he’s more than happy to drop everything that he’s doing and talk to me. I literally just did that earlier today. The accessibility of the professors and the eagerness of the students to work together, that’s what I love about studying at Colgate. And also, it’s pretty.

  • Summer astronomy researchers gathered around Foggy Bottom Observatory's 16-inch telescope

Are there any things about Colgate that you think could improve?

I wish we’d change the Core Curriculum around a bit. For example, I’m a STEM major, but I still have to take a Scientific Perspectives class. I think we should reshape our Core Curriculum and have it not be as much of a requirement as encouraged. I think Challenges, Legacies, and Communities and Identities are good to keep, but I’m not sure if STEM students are going to get anything out of a Scientific Perspectives class.

I also think we need to diversify our Core, in the sense that most of the authors that we’re reading are from Europe, they’re white men, things like that. That’s such a limiting scope of perspectives that we’re getting. Of course, that trend is broken in some classes, but for the most part I feel like we’re reading Eurocentric literature. Our claim is that we’re preparing our students for the global world, but how can we do that if we’re only reading from Europe?

I’m also not a fan of the Global Engagements requirement. I think if you study abroad, you should be able to get the Global Engagements requirement, but that’s not always the case. I think if you take a foreign language for an extended period of time, you should be able to get the Global Engagements requirement. I don’t think we have to have this separate class because that means if I take a Core every semester, into my junior year I’ll be taking a Core. My junior year, I want to be focusing on my major, what I’m interested in.

Have you thought about what you’d like to do after Colgate?

I think I like talking to people too much to not teach. I’d like to teach at some level in physics and astronomy. But on the same token, as evidenced by this summer, I also really like researching. So, I think my heart does belong in academia, but I’d like to do it at a small college. I like teaching people, I like being taught, I like the college environment. Everybody is here to learn- I really like that and I’m really inspired by that.

Jacob: “This is an image of the galactic core of the Milky Way, our own galaxy, taken near the Foggy Bottom Observatory. The structure is actually a spiral arm of our own galaxy and the tan region is a combination of dust and a high-density region of stars.”