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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 Muse, Faces, 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.

Alexandra Burgess

Alexandra Burgess Alexandra Burgess is a Smithie (class of 2008) who completed her doctoral work at the University of Hawaii in Child Clinical Psychology. Alex has taught at Smith College for several years in the Psychology Department, and will be an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Worcester State University starting this fall. Alex's research focuses on anxiety, depression, and perfectionism in children, as well as cross-cultural topics in mental health. SSEP students in Alex's classes learn how clinical psychologists approach the study of human behavior, and gain insights into the development, maintenance, and presentation of clinical symptoms. During lab time, students use clinical data sets to explore research strategies and data analysis techniques in SPSS.

John Caris

Alexandra BurgessJon Caris is the GIS Specialist and Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) at Smith College. Primarily trained as a geographer and environmental planner, he received a M.S. in GeoEnvironmental Studies from Shippensburg University and a B.A. in Geography from the State University of New York at Geneseo. Jon's initiatives are diverse and include building capacity for the Spatial Analysis Lab to operating UAVs (drones) to embracing and promoting Digital Humanities as an opportunity to extend and enrich Spatial Thinking within the Smith Community. All of his initiatives build upon the idea of making the invisible, visible. He enjoys creating conditions that afford opportunity to see through a spatial lens which prompts new questions and discussion. Some of Jon's research interests address questions concerning decisions made in the political economy that manifest themselves upon the landscape. He is particularly interested in visualizing partitioned, regulated space that unintentionally marginalizes individuals and communities. This area of interest now extends into the vertical to include airspace and takes on contested issues such as who owns the sky and new forms of surveillance.

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, Grant raises goats and chickens in her suburban backyard.

Adam Hall

Adam Hall earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and his doctorate in biochemistry from the Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London. His laboratory research investigates the molecular mechanisms of anesthetic action in the mammalian nervous system. For Smith's precollege program, Hall teaches the neurobiology course Making Connections: An Exploration of the Nervous System. Using sophisticated microscopes, SSEP students get to examine the cells of the nervous system and the neuroanatomy of the brain. Through laboratory experiments, they explore how neurons function at multiple levels: molecular, cellular and in living organisms. Hall is Smith's director of the neuroscience program and an associate professor of biological sciences.

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.

Ethan Myers

Ethan MyersEthan teaches literature and composition at several colleges and universities in Massachusetts. He has worked in the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning at Smith since 2014. Before coming to Smith, he worked as a whitewater river guide and outdoor educator and published in the fields of environmental policy and English. Myers earned a bachelor's degree from Guilford College, where he studied geology and environmental studies, and a master's in English and American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. When he's not in the classroom or reading student essays, Myers is most likely wandering the forests of western Massachusetts.

Katlin OkamotoKaitlin Okamoto

Katlin Okamoto has a master's degree in Exercise and Sport Studies from Smith College and a bachelor's in Biology from Colorado College. She has taught for several years in the Smith College Exercise and Sport Studies Department and has 20+ years of experience coaching soccer at the collegiate and youth levels. Okamoto is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota where she focuses on sports-based youth development in the School of Social Work. Okamoto works with all ages of youth in the club soccer community in Minneapolis and is a research intern at the Search Institute, where she focuses on developmental relationships between youth and non-parent adults. She enjoys sports, exercise, and the outdoors and loves working with SSEP students to discover their passion for physical activity through the Body in Motion course.

Dana Parsons

Kaitlin Okamoto

Dana Parsons received a master's degree in applied physics from Northern Arizona University. His research focused on thermal vapor deposition chambers and the properties (electrical, chemical and surface features) of materials produced. Before coming to Smith, he was the physics laboratory equipment manager, laboratory instructor and the manager of the Atomic Force Microscopy Lab at the Northern Arizona University Department of Physics. Secondary scientific interests include computer interfaced machine control and material spectroscopy. As the laboratory supervisor at Smith, Dana wears many hats. He builds, maintains and presents physics demonstrations and lab activities; teaches laboratory physics classes; coordinates safety in the department; and supervises student workers. To perform these duties he calls upon his experience in woodworking, machining, welding, electronics repair and sound engineering.

 

Narendra Pathak

Narendra Pathak

Naren is a lecturer and laboratory instructor in the Biological Sciences Department. Naren obtained his Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and has worked with diverse animal models including rat snakes, chicks, and zebrafish. As a cell biologist and molecular geneticist, he uses zebrafish to model how genes linked to human diseases perturb organ development and physiology. Expanding on his expertise in cilia biology and CRISPR technology, Naren has created mutants in novel genes linked to autism spectrum disorders to define their roles in neuroglial development.

Samuel Ruhmkorff

Samuel Ruhmkorff's research focuses on scientific realism and antirealism, probabilistic epistemology, the problem of evil, and the religious pluralism debate. He has published in Philosophy of Science, Philosophical Studies, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, and Philosophy Compass, as well as in several anthologies. His most recent publications concern religious pluralism, the problem of unconceived alternatives and the pessimistic induction. He has taught at the University of Michigan, where he received the John Dewey Prize for Excellence in Teaching and an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, as well as at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Smith College, and Bard College at Simon's Rock, where he served as academic dean from 2005 to 2010. He graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis and earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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.

Chris Vriezen

De J.A.C. Vriezen goes by Chris. He has a Master’s degree in Biology from the University of Wageningen, Netherlands, and a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His main interest is the stress response of bacteria—physical/chemical stresses as well as biological. He has been studying the response of soil-borne bacteria to salt and desiccation. More recently he is studying the environmental and culture conditions that lead to the production of antimicrobials by these organisms. In his teaching he isolates bacteria that produce antibiotics in an attempt to pursue solutions to emerging antibiotic resistance in medically relevant microorganisms.

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.