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By Jan McCoy Ebbets   Date: 5/12/10 Bookmark and Share

Making the World a Better Place

In 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.

But 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.”

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