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Summer Science & Engineering Program

Our Faculty

Meg Thacher

Academic Director

Meg Lysaght Thacher has worked as a laboratory instructor in the astronomy department at Smith since 1999. She has also taught physics and writing at Smith. She received her bachelor's degree in physics from Carleton College and her master's in astrophysics from Iowa State University. Thacher taught astronomy for five years in Smith's Summer Science and Engineering Program before becoming its academic director. Her science articles for kids have been published in Odyssey and Ask magazines.

Lou Ann Bierwert

Lou Ann Bierwert is the instruments and techniques instructor and technical director of the Center for Molecular Biology at Smith College. She received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Smith and was a research associate for more than two decades at Smith in molecular-based projects in parasitology and biomechanical engineering. She enjoys passing on her expertise in molecular techniques during SSEP, where she has taught Your Genes, Your Chromosomes for 10 years.

Jessica Grant

Jessica Grant has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Washington and a master's in biology from Smith College. She has worked at Smith since 2005 as a research associate in evolutionary biology, and, more recently, as a lab instructor in computer science. She is a self-taught programmer and loves solving puzzles and problems through coding. When she isn't in front of her computer, Jessica raises goats and chickens in her suburban backyard.

Leslie Jaffe

Leslie Jaffe is the director of Health Services and the college physician at Smith. In addition to providing care to students, he also teaches two courses: one looks broadly at women's health and the other focuses on women in India, including Tibetan women living there in exile. The latter is a small seminar of five students who travel to India with Jaffe for a month to learn experientially what they have already studied. Previously, Jaffe served as director of the Adolescent Health Center of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the largest clinic for teens in the country. He is a board-certified pediatrician and did his fellowship training in adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai. Continuing his work and interest with adolescents, Jaffe has taught in the Smith Summer Science and Engineering program for many years.

Mona Kulp

Mohini (Mona) Kulp has bachelor's degrees in biochemistry and mathematics from Mount Holyoke College. Her doctorate is in biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco. She has worked at Smith in the Center for Proteomics and currently teaches in the chemistry department. Her teaching and research interests have focused on the use of analytical chemistry to answer questions that are of interest to biologists. For the precollege program, Kulp teaches The Chemistry of Herbal Medicine: A Complex Molecular Story. SSEP students who take the course look at some examples of historical and modern practices in the use of herbal medicine. In this laboratory-based course, students study the molecular makeup of these complex plant samples and understand the process by which active ingredients are isolated. Students learn to communicate effectively as scientists through science writing assignments and oral presentations.

Denise Lello

Denise Lello has a bachelor's degree in geography from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor's and doctorate in botany from the University of Washington. She has taught plant ecology and plant biology at Smith and is currently the coordinator of the Four College Biomathematics Consortium and the HHMI-funded experiment in inquiry-based learning. Her current research focuses on plant vascular tissue patterning during phyllotaxis transitions. She also co-leads the Smith Coral Reef Ed-ventures program in Belize.

Katlin OkamotoKaitlin Okamoto

Katlin Okamoto has been teaching in the Smith College Exercise and Sport Studies Department since 2009. She teaches and assists with courses, including Applied Exercise Science, Introduction to Exercise and Sport Studies, Exercise Physiology, and Biomechanics for both undergraduate and graduate students. Okamoto received her master of science in exercise and sport studies from Smith and her bachelor's in biology from Colorado College. In addition to her teaching role, she is an assistant women's soccer coach at Amherst College and is involved in youth development research, particularly in the sport for development field. In 2013, Katlin was hired as the assistant women's soccer coach for the University of Maine.

Joyce Palmer Fortune

Joyce Palmer Fortune has taught physics at Smith since 2003, and has led the transition in the introductory physics classes at Smith from the traditional lecture/lab format to the current integrated "2-Cool" format. Prior to joining Smith, Fortune worked as a consultant on a wide variety of microelectronic and optoelectronic device technologies, as well as energy production and sensor systems. She earned a bachelor's from the University of Texas at Austin, and a master's and doctorate from MIT. She lived in Japan for five years while working in NTT's optoelectronics labs in Tokai and the national consortium optoelectronics research lab in Tsukuba.

Lori Saunders

Lori Saunders is a lecturer and laboratory instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Smith. She earned a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Massachusetts. Her research and teaching interests include biotechnology and using molecular techniques in the field of diagnostics. In addition to her teaching responsibilities at Smith, she is currently a faculty member and laboratory director for the Molecular Biology Summer Workshops sponsored by New England Biolabs and held at Smith College each summer. This biotechnology workshop trains science and medical professionals in basic and advanced molecular techniques through hands-on laboratories and accompanying lectures.

Doreen Weinberger

Doreen Weinberger received her bachelor's in physics and astronomy from Mount Holyoke College and her doctorate in optical sciences from the University of Arizona. Before arriving at Smith, she was a faculty member in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, where she was instrumental in helping to develop a graduate program in optics and did research studying nonlinear effects in optical fibers. Since 1991 she has been a professor in the physics department at Smith, where her ongoing research has focused on using lasers to study a variety of physical systems, from ultra-cold atomic gases to microcrystals in minerals. She has been an instructor in SSEP for almost her entire time at Smith, which proves that playing with LEGOs never gets old.