Grua/O’Connell Awardees Describe Research Adventures

 Mary O’Connell ’76 speaks at a recent lunch honoring the 2014 recipients of the Grua/O'Connell award

Mary O’Connell ’76 speaks at a recent lunch honoring the 2014 recipients of the Grua/O’Connell award

With her Grua/O’Connell Research Award, Margaret Bryan ’15 will visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam over winter break. Arhea Marshall ’15 plans to travel to Germany to dig into film archives. Caroline Martinez ’16 will go to Ecuador’s Andean region next summer. And still others in this year’s group of grant winners will visit San Francisco, Denver or Spain this coming year.

Bowdoin’s Grua/O’Connell awards support faculty-mentored student research. Given out in both smaller and larger amounts (but typically not more than $2,000), the grants are used by students to cover research expenses, such as the cost of travel or lab equipment.

This year’s group of grantees recently lunched on campus with their faculty mentors and the two donors of the unique award program, Peter Grua ’76 and Mary O’Connell ’76. Each student spoke briefly about their research project. (See short descriptions of their projects below).

Since 2007 — when Grua and O’Connell created the endowed fund — the program has grown considerably. In the first year, Bowdoin had just two recipients, according to the Office of Student Fellowships and Research. This year, there are 15 students with bigger grants doing research in nine fields. “The beauty of the Grua/O’Connell Award is it is not tied to one discipline or class year,” said Cindy Stocks, the office’s director.

At the lunch, Grua and O’Connell explained why they established the fund. After spending his career in venture capital, Grua said he is now focused on “giving back.” He then praised the students for their innovation. “The fact that people have been creative with little amounts of money has been wonderful to watch,” he noted.

Grua credited his wife with coming up with idea behind the fund. O’Connell worked in the executive recruiting field “for 30 years helping people get jobs.” From her experience, she knows that a job candidate’s real-world experience was critical in getting hired.

While many students gain research experience during their school breaks, O’Connell observed that students on financial aid cannot always afford the same opportunities that help build an impressive resume. “They can’t do the extra things like take trips to see Van Goghs or go to California to present at a conference,” she said.

Both Grua and O’Connell said that the award program had exceeded their expectations. “It helps students bridge the gap from college to the working world,” O’Connell observed. She added, “Based on results — so far, so good.”

2014 Student Recipients of Grua/O’Connell Research Awards

Leigh Andrews ’15, neuroscience: Andrews is working on a project to understand the neural mechanisms behind attention and memory and how they are connected. He will use the award to cover lab supplies and subject payments, as well as to travel to the springtime Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in San Francisco to present his research.

Isaiah Bolden ’15, earth and oceanographic science: For his honors project, Bolden is investigating coral reefs in the southeast Florida coast to reconstruct past ocean conditions. He will use his funding to pay for lab supplies.

Noah Bragg ’15, English: Bragg is working on a year-long study of Samuel Beckett’s late dramas. This spring he’ll produce an innovative production of these works at Bowdoin. Bragg used his funding to go to New York City over fall break to do research at the Lincoln Center and to see three of Beckett’s later plays.

Margaret Bryan ’15, art history: Bryan’s honors project focuses on the influence of Japanese art on painters in France, specifically on Van Gogh and Monet. She will visit the Van Gogh Museum and its library in Amsterdam over winter break to see the collections and do archival research.

Zachary Burton ’14, earth and oceanographic science: Burton is researching the evolution of ultra-high pressure rocks in the Appalachian Mountains to glean insight into their mechanics and movements. His award will help pay for data analysis at a University of Santa Barbara facility.

Emily Clark ’15, chemistry and biology: Clark is working on discovering novel therapeutic agents that can supplant antibiotics made obsolete by resistant bacteria or which target too broad a spectrum of bacteria. Her award will fund her trip to Denver, Colo., for the American Chemical Society Conference.

Caitlin Greenwood ’15, German: Greenwood is investigating modern-day retellings of German fairytales in books, film and on television, focusing particularly on “anti-fairytales” that portray immoral values and unhappy endings. She will use her grant to travel to a Grimm museum in Kassal, Germany, to visit a fairytale exhibit.

Andrew Gustafson ’15, earth and oceanographic science: Gustafson is studying the formation of ocean layers that have high photosynthetic productivity. He will use his grant to present at the 2015 meeting in Granada, Spain, of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

Nora Hefner ’16, visual art: Following her spring semester abroad in Queensland, Australia, Hefner will use her grant to support an exploratory bicycle trip along the country’s East Coast to collect field data. This will become the basis of Hefner’s independent study in art next fall.

Laura Keller ’15, neuroscience: Keller’s honors project is looking at how lobster’s nervous systems function. One aspect of her work is to discover the composition of connective tissue sheaths in the crustacean nervous system. She will use her grant to travel to Hawaii to study tissue samples under an electron microscope.

Arhea Marshall ’15, German: Marshall is working on an honors project that examines the identities of black Germans in the larger context of the German identity, and in the historical contexts of German colonies and National Socialism. Over winter break, she will travel to Germany to visit film archives and to interview researchers, curators, filmmakers and others.

Caroline Martinez ’16, sociology: Martinez will travel to Ecuador next summer to interview contemporary female indigenous political leaders in the Andean region. She aims to understand the factors that have enabled them to “become empowered agents of change despite being marginalized because of their race and gender.”

Courtney Payne ’15, earth and oceanographic science: Payne’s award will fund her trip to the ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Granada, Spain, to present her research on how phytoplankton distribution is impacted by plumes formed by meltwater and sediment flow underneath glaciers.

Amy Spens ’15, biology: Spens will use her funding to defray research costs for her epigenetics project. Studying clonal plants, Spens is looking at how the environment shapes gene expression, and at the plasticity of plants in changing environmental conditions.

Dana White ’15, earth and oceanographic science: White will use her funding to present her research on the Gulf of Maine’s coastal water carbon cycle at the annual American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

2014 Grua/O’Connell Mini-Grant Recipients
Kelsey Berger ’15, earth and oceanographic science
Justin Dury-Agri ’15, English
William Dean ’16, physics
Thomas Gawarkiewicz ’15, economics
Courtney Payne ’15, earth and oceanographic science
Dunia Gonzalez ’17, history
Tracey Faber ’16, biology

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