the World a Better Place
less than a month, Margaret Mongare ’10 would graduate
from Smith with a major in biochemistry and a minor in economics.
In July, she would step into the laboratory of Dr. Todd Golum
at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where she has
landed a two-year appointment as a researcher with his highly
regarded cancer program.
It was late April. For now,
as she munched a turkey sandwich, Mongare wasn’t
yet focused on the meticulous journey she had mapped out for herself: completing
two years of laboratory research focusing on applying genomic tools to the classification
and study of cancer; enrolling in medical school in fall 2012, perhaps earning
her doctorate from Harvard; returning home to Kenya as a practicing physician,
possibly working with the World Health Organization in Africa creating self-sustaining,
reliable and accessible health-care systems.
She was concerned with the text
messages flying back and forth between her mobile phone and
that of her honors thesis adviser, Steve Williams, Gates
Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, one of the world's
leading experts on filarial parasites.
She was asking for
his help troubleshooting a problem she was having with her
lab project. Williams responded almost immediately and offered,
via text message, possible times to meet that afternoon.
“He really believes in his students, he’s always there to help,” she says of
Williams, whose laboratory focuses on research designed to elucidate the molecular
biology of the parasites that cause elephantiasis and African river blindness. “In
the lab, he always makes you feel as if you knew the answer all along, there
was just one missing part to figure out. Working with him has enabled me to do
a lot of independent research on my own.”
Mongare is no stranger to research.
Last summer she was selected for a summer fellowship at the
Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, where she investigated the
role of light chain amyloidosis in causing major organ dysfunction
in the school’s
molecular biology research lab. During her senior year, she was a student fellow
with the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute researching “Wellness and Disease” in a
multidisciplinary setting. Collaborating with Smith professors from a variety
of departments, including psychology, anthropology, philosophy and biological
sciences, she focused on the ethics of future genetic medicine.
“I’ve come to realize that to gain so much experience with research and to build
these multiple skills is not always possible in a liberal arts college environment,” she
notes. “But at Smith, it certainly was possible, and I’ve not limited myself
to science. I’ve come to be able to look at the big picture and different ways
of thinking about social issues.”
An international student from
Nairobi, Mongare has been home only once in the four years
she has attended Smith. The first two summers she stayed
on campus. One summer she joined a research project led by
professors in the biology and neuroscience departments. The
next, she assisted Williams, who directs the prestigious
summer workshops of the New England Biolabs Molecular Biology
and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) program at Smith.
soon she will return to Nairobi, for six weeks. In June she
and Marguerite Davenport ’10 plan to establish a learning
and mentorship center at the Babo Doga Primary School. The two Smith seniors
were among 100 undergraduates from 90 colleges and universities—including Brown,
Cornell, Harvard and Yale universities—who won the monetary awards to execute
their own public service projects, with $10,000 in funding through the Kathryn
Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace national competition.
“Smith women are changing the world,” says Mongare. “And like them, I want to
be the one who is reaching out, trying to make the world a better place.”