From Harvard: Women in STEM – “‘There was just no way I was going to do what everyone else did’ ” Pamela Silver

Harvard University
Harvard University

May 16, 2017
Alvin Powell

Pamela Silver
Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

In 1960s Silicon Valley Pamela Silver came of age part math nerd, part rebel, absorbing the spirit of both time and place. Think space race. Think Grateful Dead.

She set out on her scientific career without a plan, propelled by an aptitude for math, an interest in science, and a love of the sometimes frenzied life of the laboratory. That love fueled groundbreaking work on how proteins make their way from the cytoplasm of a cell into the nucleus, a process called nuclear localization. Decades and many discoveries later, the same passion helped establish her as a leader in the fledgling field of synthetic biology.

Silver was recently named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology.

Q: Let’s start at the beginning. You grew up in Atherton, Calif., in Silicon Valley?

A: [My parents] were both psychotherapists, and it made for an interesting childhood. I think they must have met here [in Boston] and then they moved to the Bay Area probably right after the war, late ’40s, early ’50s. And my father became one of the founders of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic; it was one of the first group practices, sort of soup-to-nuts. [He] was also on the Stanford faculty. They moved to California right at the beginning of the rapid growth of Silicon Valley. We lived in Atherton before it was the richest town in the world. It was kind of cool, these old estates, built by James Flood and his children — big mansions and big land. They were just starting to subdivide it. Our house was one of the first ranch-style homes. It was already kind of upper class, but I didn’t realize that at the time; it was just where we lived.

Q: You never do when you’re a kid. You just grow up in your surroundings.

A: The roads were still dirt. The Flood granddaughters still lived there and had horses, so we could walk around and feed the horses. It all seemed very idyllic to me, I guess if I think back on it, which I do more and more. My parents were very high-level thinkers and very intelligent. That obviously set the tone in our household, maybe a little overdoing it. My sister was actually 10 years older, so it was more like I was an only child.

Q: Is your sister your only sibling?

A: Yes. My parents did get divorced. We were not a tightknit family but more highly dysfunctional. And in retrospect that was OK in terms of my own independence and things like that.

At that time in Silicon Valley, everything was very science-oriented. How do we promote science in schools — it was all about the space race and stuff like that. I apparently had precocious math ability. Some on my father’s side of the family had an inclination to mathematics. He nurtured this. He taught me how to play Go when I was 6. Chess, maybe, but Go? Really?

I won an IBM math contest when I was in junior high, but nobody was pushing me. My parents were so preoccupied with themselves, they just wanted to make sure that I didn’t do anything bad.

Q: I read that you got a slide rule as a prize?

A: Yeah, that was the prize. What a hoot. It wasn’t just any slide rule. My slide rule had a beveled edge, so the slider thing was here and you could still use it as a straight edge. What an amazing slide rule. I’ve never been able to find one like it. I also loved homework. I would beg the teachers in elementary school to give me homework, partly because I think it was a way to get lost from the family dysfunction and also it was just interesting.

Q: What about your early schools?

A: I went to the public high school, which was nearby, for a year. Then my parents sort of decided that I wasn’t getting the right education. They sent me to a local all-girls high school called Castilleja. It’s one of the few all-girls high schools left. It didn’t seem to emphasize science very much. The times were very disruptive. There was a lot of protest and the Vietnam War, and there you are in the all-girls school. It was a bit odd.

Q: You said it wasn’t heavy on science. Was your interest in —

A: My interest was independence. I have to say I was kind of a wild kid in high school. Let’s be honest, there was a fair amount of recreational drug-taking and going to the Fillmore Auditorium — I was heavily into the music of the times. The Grateful Dead were still kind of a local band and we were big fans — it was a big part of the local culture. Bob Weir grew up nearby, and they used to practice locally. Even when we were kids, we would go listen to them. They would play at local parks and pizza parlors.

The great thing about my school is that the teachers took a personal interest in me. I had one teacher that thought I was a good writer. No idea why. The Palo Alto Times — the school was in Palo Alto — would have a student from each school write columns, and so she assigned me to be the reporter for Castilleja. … So I really got into that. Then there was this whole culture around personal computers and electronic hacking. There were so many wacky things going on, and even as teenagers we were very much part of that. Not clear how the parents felt about it.

Q: What about college?

Castilleja was very much a college prep school. I applied to Stanford and Yale, but my real top choice was UC Santa Cruz, which is where I ended up going.

I knew from the start that I wanted to do science, so the other good thing was that there weren’t very many course requirements or grades. I took as many advanced placement tests as possible, so I wouldn’t have to take anything but science classes, which probably made my whole undergraduate experience very warped. I started as a math major, maybe, then went to physics, and then ended up in chemistry. One thing I wanted to do, which Santa Cruz was very big on, was independent research, and so as fast as possible I just wanted to get into that, and I did.

Q: Where did your initial interest in science come from?

A: I would say it’s a combination of this uber-intellectual family life and also the school system, for sure. There were science contests and endless science projects, and my father fed that a little bit. I remember, in first grade, he brought a dissected cat to the class, because he was an M.D. He’d take me to the hospital all the time. A lot of our family friends were somehow connected to either the medical or engineering [fields]. My father used to play poker with [Nobel Prize-winning chemist] Linus Pauling, and one of my first job interviews in high school was at his institute. Other fathers gave me early programmable personal calculators for homework.

Q: So, you’re in college, and you’re wending your way from math to physics to chemistry. How did that go?

A: The math part I don’t remember much about. Physics was transient also. What I realized about myself was that I wanted to do experiments. So I think I ended up in chemistry because of the opportunity to do experiments. I’m sure it was a product of people I met and knew and things like that — teachers — but also I always was kind of a rebel. Everyone was majoring in psychology, that was the thing. There was just no way I was going to do what everyone else did.

Q: No temptation, given your parents’ background?

A: Absolutely none. Zero. Med school — off the table. Forget it. College was meeting up with just crazily interesting people. And Santa Cruz was just idyllic. You’d go off in the woods and the trees and surfing — oh, and sailing. Big deal, sailing. Probably the one thing that I got out of that was being on the sailing team and having something organized in my life. So that was different and fun.

Q: Are you still a sailor?

A: Yeah, it’s [in the picture] (not shown) right behind you. That’s my boat.

Mostly I worked in the lab a lot. I liked the lab culture. I liked the all-night thing and feeling like you belonged and you were working on something. I really liked that part of it. I just characterize my life as not having a plan. And people say to me: “But you’re at Harvard, how’d that happen?” It just kind of happened. I’m not saying that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I do compare it to these kids now who start out so early with a plan. I am glad I had time to explore and be kind of a dreamer.

So college is ending. I heard about this graduate school thing, and maybe I should apply. I’d heard of two chemistry programs that I thought would be, for some reason, good. One was Berkeley and one was Harvard. Those were my only two grad school applications. I remember somehow deciding that I didn’t want to go to grad school, though. I forget why. My father had died. I just didn’t feel right. I had no money, and so I decided, maybe I’ll just get a job. It was all complicated with boyfriends and husbands and lots of stuff. I did get a job at a startup chemical company, literally in Silicon Valley. It was across the street from Hewlett-Packard, really in the thick of it.

Q: So how did you end up going back to graduate school?

A: With my then-spouse, I moved to Los Angeles. The short story is that’s how I ended up going to UCLA for grad school.

I’d actually spent an extra year at Santa Cruz doing this protein structure work, so I bargained with UCLA. If I could pass the equivalent of their qualifying exam, could I not take any classes and therefore finish my Ph.D. as fast as possible? I passed it, and so I got my Ph.D. in three years. I had a very supportive adviser who said you should just get your Ph.D. really fast. It was a good experience.

Q: How was choosing Harvard for a postdoc different from not choosing it for grad school?

A: Maybe there was finally an element of careerism starting to emerge. All these guys at UCLA were super young hotshots, and they had all come from Stanford and Harvard. So there was probably an element of hey, I can do that.

At the same time, my adviser kept trying to push me, which just was perfect for me. He kept saying, try to do something where you set up your own research program. I did formulate a question in my mind of what I thought I wanted to solve. That was the question of how do things — proteins and RNAs — move between the nucleus and the cytoplasm? I had some hypotheses about this, so I approached a couple of faculty here.

One was well known for letting people come to do whatever they wanted, so I went there. But I spent the summer before at Cold Spring Harbor. I went there to take the yeast course, which was a big deal then. That was just a total eye-opener.

Q: Learning how to manage and use yeast as an experimental organism, essentially?

A: Yes, but it was also about learning how to think as a geneticist, and it was just transformative for me. In many ways being at Cold Spring Harbor was amazing. Being in this community of scientists where it had that kind of 24-hour science-is-the-big-thing, interesting people to talk to left and right. I’d never seen anything like it. You’re just kind of away from all your responsibilities. It was just very magical and crazy, and I thought, jeez, this is how it should be.

So when I got back to Boston, I started working in the lab I’d chosen. And I met people in Mark Ptashne’s lab, which was kind of a happening place. There was a lot of energy.

I realized that I was initially not in the right lab — nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t right for me. So I went to Mark, and I said, “I have this idea, and I’ve thought more about it. I think I could test it better using yeast.” And he was starting up this yeast group. So I joined Mark’s lab, and it was an amazing experience. The people there were just insanely smart. I mean, there were ups and downs, for sure, and some of those people could fight like dogs. It was either politics or science. It was just a crazily intense environment — and I solved my problem. I discovered how proteins have a sequence that targets them into the nucleus, and that was one of the first examples of that. And I really did it on my own.

[At the end of the postdoc] everyone else seemed to have a plan. I said, hey, if this whole nuclear localization thing doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else. I did not have the I’m-going-to-be-a-professor-for-sure mentality at all. I remember picking a couple schools that I thought I might actually go to if they offered me jobs, places that had openings. It was a very short list. One was Harvard. And one was Yale. One was Princeton. And one was Cornell.

I had interviews everywhere. … I did not think about gender bias back then. I really did not. There were times I realized in college I was the only woman in the class. I just never felt anything [sexist] until I went on those job interviews and there were almost no women faculty — mostly dinners with all guys. Then I had an offer at Princeton. And then at Yale. Princeton was sort of: “We’re growing, we’re new.” And I thought, well, that sounds interesting. And I went to Princeton but did not stay for long.

Q: You went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and were there for a while, right?


A: Yeah. I was hired in BCMP [Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology], and Chris Walsh was the chair. And he essentially saved my scientific life. I always say they took a risk on me. Many people said something like, “Oh my God, you’re going to go to Harvard? They’re so mean. It’s going to be horrible.” It was the antithesis of all those things — super-supportive and they wanted me.

Q: So you were here as an associate professor?

A: Based at Dana-Farber. My full appointment was in BCMP. It was back in the old days, when getting tenure took forever. The agreement was that when I was hired, they would “start the process.” And back then, the process sometimes took two to three years. So I had to sweat it a bit, but I had good friends there and good support. I’ve been blessed with regard to funding for my research, so far. I was worried being at Dana-Farber would be odd for me as a basic scientist, but it turned out it was fabulous. I was worried I wouldn’t get grad students. That turned out not to be true — got great students, great postdocs. And I continued to work on cell biology combined with molecular biology, and then it expanded into what you loosely might call systems biology.

And my work had some cancer overtones to it in that we did discover — we did a small molecule screen where we discovered small molecules where, in principle, we could decipher the mechanism by which they would revert cancer cells away from cancer.

Q: How did you transition from Dana-Farber to what was then the new Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School?


A: My own research was transitioning. I was taking a more systems-wide view of the cell biological problems I was working on. And also I was starting to feel like it was a time in my life where I was looking to change.

It was a really good time for Dana-Farber. They were starting to get a handle on making targeted drugs for cancer, the kinase inhibitors. And I felt good about Dana-Farber, that they were going in a good direction, that they were closer to real cancer cures. But I wasn’t sure that my work was still a good fit. It had been — so I mean that in a positive way.

The other thing that happened that was probably more consequential was that my now-husband, Jeff Way, who works here at the Wyss Institute, was helping a friend of ours start a new institute in Berkeley.

He met a young postdoc there named Drew Endy and they became good friends. Drew had come from civil engineering, I think, and [he was] thinking about where biology should go. And then he came here — this was in the early 2000s, late 1990s — and started this group at MIT. It was bioengineers, computer scientists, and included me as the token real biologist. And that became the Synthetic Biology Working Group.

It was nearby, so I could go over there a lot. I became pretty engaged in that. Then, simultaneously, Marc Kirschner [of Harvard] was starting this new department [of systems biology]. Marc asked me if I wanted to be part of this department.

Q: And this was in around 2004, right?

A: Right. It was fun to be around new people, new ideas, and also I was given the charge of starting the new grad program.

Q: Let’s talk about the grad program and your thoughts on graduate education.

A: I’ve had a ton of grad students, and I watched them matriculate and turn into scientists. I’d been thinking a lot about it and what that meant, and also this engagement with MIT was giving me a different perspective.

One idea was it shouldn’t be that you come to grad school and just take a bunch of classes. You come to grad school to do research. They should engage in research soon and they would get custom mentoring. Also, we tried to attract students from a diversity of areas. They could come from computer science or math. So they didn’t necessarily have to have a biology background.

The other thing I encouraged was collaborative projects, so you could have, for example, two advisers. A lot of students took us up on that. That would increase collaboration amongst the faculty through the students.

It goes to the idea that the students are empowered and they’re helping define their education. It was about getting a mix of faculty across the University from different disciplines, not just the Medical School. Have a big umbrella. I liked that component of it. We got a significant number of applicants, and they were just amazing; they were some of the top students in the country. And then it stayed that way, and we got these interesting, quirky students. I’m not running it anymore. It’s still a great program.

Q: During this period, you were starting to focus more on synthetic biology, right?

A: Right.

Q: So tell me a little bit about that. You were at the meetings at MIT. Were you coming to understand the potential of looking at biology as modular, that it could be engineered in a rational way once you figured it all out?

A: The modularity of biology was something that resonated for me, because it was the essence of much of my work in molecular biology. I had done things like take parts of proteins and fuse them to other proteins and show they could move to the nucleus in the cell. So that’s one essence of modularity. I was primed to think about it that way. I don’t know if I called it synthetic biology or anything, but it was very much in my wheelhouse.

Q: Let’s talk about your lab. What do you consider milestones?

A: Well, the first one was programming yeast to sense radiation. You can build sensors, but we wanted to build cells that not only sensed, but remembered. That was one of our first successes: building predictable circuits in yeast.

Q: How do you get a cell to remember?

A: There are a lot of different ways. Our way was to use transcriptional control, which is regulating how genes are made. One theme of our research is to draw from what we know about nature and try to apply that to practical problems. What nature tends to do with transcription is to use different kinds of feedback control that can either be positive or negative. So we took advantage of that. If you have a signal, instead of just having one burst, [we engineered it to] keep itself going, so it has this continuous feedback control. That’s a process used by nature that we deployed in our work.

Q: So exposure to radiation would trigger a process that —

A: Yes. Imagine it triggers a pulse and something happens, and then that promotes a more sustained response over time.

Q: And that sustained response is the memory?

A: We call that the memory, yes. Memory of course means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in neurobiology. So we’re using the term memory in a loose way here.

Q: And without this, the cell would respond and then stop?

A: And stop, yes.

Q: So you’d be able to look at it and say, since this process is ongoing, something happened in —

A: That it happened sometime in the past. My overall dream, which I think we’re close to achieving, is not only would something happen in the past, but a cell then could count and tell you when it happened, so it would be a true computer. And it would tell you when it happened and then ultimately do something. That doing of something, hopefully, could be something practical, like emit a signal that tells you there are poisonous chemicals somewhere or that there’s a pathogen, or produce a therapeutic on-demand at the right time. We haven’t gotten there, but, at the time of me getting involved in synthetic biology, that was the overarching dream. Now we’ve taken a lot of different side paths.

We have this paper coming out in a few weeks about sensing inflammation in the gut. That, of course, is a huge problem in general. There’s no good treatment and it’s a chronic disease. Many people suffer from it. So we can create intestinal bacteria that will report on inflammation. Now the question is, can we get them to make a therapeutic for it? That’s one of the examples of the dream getting close to reality.

Q: Another project you’ve worked on is the bionic leaf.


A: It’s super exciting. There are just so many opportunities here at Harvard, sometimes you look back and you say, oh my God, this thing happened. I was working on cyanobacteria, which are one of the simplest organisms that do photosynthesis, and we had engineered them to make hydrogen.


We were believers in the hydrogen economy, which kind of didn’t turn out so well. It might come back someday.

I got invited to be part of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and Dan Schrag, the director, introduced me to Dan Nocera at the holiday party. Dan Nocera — he had just moved [to Harvard], and he said something like, “I’ve been trying to meet you. I’ve got this artificial leaf. It makes hydrogen.” And I responded with, “I’ve got these bacteria, and they’ll eat hydrogen and fix CO2.” It was like two synergistic personalities; it just clicked.

Q: Looking ahead in synthetic biology — 10 years from now — what do you think will be most important?

A: In the perfect world, I would say on-demand drugs would be a big deal, whether that be protein-based drugs, cell-based drugs, or chemicals. For example, a friend of mine who is a professor at Stanford has made yeast that will make opiates. Think about the consequences of that. One is economic and the other is to make “designer opiates” that get rid of some of the bad things about them. I think that’s just an example of the power of biology to make things we’ve never seen before.

We are at a tipping point around DNA synthesis. It’s not yet cheap enough where a grad student could say, “I’m going to build a whole new organism.” We need another kind of technological leap.

Our whole goal was to make the engineering of biology faster, cheaper, and more predictable. Let’s say we succeed. So then what? Do we have the perfect planet? Is everything wonderful? Is there misuse? I’m thinking about things I don’t know the answer to. How do you find the genetically engineered organisms [released into the environment]? How do you respond quickly to a pandemic? These are things I think we are poised to do well. Can we make a vaccine in a day? Can we figure out what a pandemic is in a few hours? That really fits the bill of faster, cheaper.

How do we marry the coming firestorm of AI with synthetic biology? There was a time when young people wanted to work on molecular biology. That was the cool thing. AI is the cool thing now. Hundreds of undergrads at MIT want to take Intro AI. So we have to capture that imagination and meld it with synthetic biology.

Q: Do you look at young women in science today and think about how things are either different or the same as when you were coming up?

A: There are still a lot of males in charge and, as you get higher up the food chain, you start to notice different things. There are still times I’m the only woman in the room. I have my one activism thing, where if I see meetings with no women speakers, I write a letter. I have some things that I call out, like science advisory boards with no women. So I make a pest of myself every now and then, but so do a lot of other people.

But about the trainees — that is something I think we’re all worried about. It’s a complicated problem. It feels like it’s harder to get women applicants and have them stick with it. I try to encourage the women in my own group. But at the same time, they have to make choices that make them happy. There just still aren’t a lot of women at the top. How much impact does it have if you’re a younger woman and you don’t see women in [leadership]?

If Harvard holds a symposium, it should never be all male. Any topic — there’s no reason. These, to me, are cheap, simple fixes. You should never have posters for conferences that have all males. That costs you almost no money. So I think there are lots of things you can do that don’t require major investments that send signals that are positive.

Q: They say that science is at least partly about failure and learning from failure. Do you have advice on how you deal with failure?

A: It’s very hard to say to someone, “Look, it’s just not working.” So I try to do it early and then say, “Let’s move on. Why don’t you work on this thing that is working for a while so you can feel what it’s like to have something work, and then maybe that’ll get you a paper or chapter in your thesis. Then you can go back to something riskier.”

But at the same time, I like to encourage people to be risk takers, because if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to get anywhere. So there has to be some balance. I will say it’s the thing I most lose sleep over. Forget not getting grants and all that. It’s the people you worry about — you want everyone to succeed. At my stage, this is not about me anymore. It’s about them.

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#harvard, #pamela-silver, #women-in-stem

From Harvard: “Moving the needle” Arcade Fire’s Will Butler graduates from HKS

Harvard University
Harvard University

May 15, 2017
Jill Radsken

William Butler, multi-instrumentalist for Arcade Fire, enrolled in the Kennedy School’s midcareer master’s program in public administration to broaden and enhance the band’s award-winning humanitarian efforts. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

It took Will Butler a few years to find the time, but where to continue his education was never in question.

“Part of why I’m at a policy school and not an art school is because I care about context, and the context of the humanity enriches the art,” said Butler, a multi-instrumentalist in the indie rock band Arcade Fire who graduates from Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) midcareer master’s program in public administration. “I don’t think historicizing art has to cheapen it. I think you can be of two minds [on] things.”

Butler first applied to HKS in 2012 but band commitments intervened. After deferring a second acceptance, he began his studies in fall 2016 and found it valuable to be in an academic environment during and after the election.

“It’s nice to be in a space hearing how government works, and foreign policy works, from the horse’s mouth,” said Butler, whose areas of interest are international development and the state of America. “It feels very apropos to be plugged into that world.”

He said Arcade Fire’s music making has never been simply about the music.

“You try to be a human and then it’s a bit of a mystery how the art is produced. We’ve always had to take time off and live just on a human level. That’s always been our method — engaging with the community and then questioning ourselves and then making art,” he said.

The band’s efforts to affect change helped point Will toward HKS. His older brother, Win, founded Arcade Fire with Régine Chassagne, whose family had fled Haiti for Canada during the Duvalier dictatorship. In 2007, the band began giving $1 from every concert ticket sold to Partners In Health. After a decade of sales (and engaging other musical groups to do the same through the nonprofit Plus 1) and having trained thousands of outreach volunteers, Arcade Fire helped raise more than $4 million, earning the band the 2016 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award in Canada.

“I came here to figure out how to help them better and, in a general sense, how to move this mission [forward], of caring for people who have less power,” Butler said. “It’s part of the same conversation that Haitians are having and Rwandans are having, and I’ll be doing it in a slightly more informed manner than just going around playing shows.”

The band, which will release an album this year and has scheduled a European tour this summer, typically plays to crowds of 10,000, a size Butler said makes him think about the way he interacts with them “that is real and human.” That may be why History and Literature lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy’s course “The Art of Communication” offered him so much insight.

“After the election, I felt like I need to talk to everybody,” Butler said. “It’s a rare resource to have (such a big stage). An artistic experience is not nothing, but maybe there is more to be done.”

He plugged into the School’s diverse cohort, connecting with students from Nigeria and Azerbaijan and hearing freedom of speech arguments from a range of voices that included a student from Singapore and former Obama administration officials.

“Part of what has been great about being here and being a little older,” said Butler, who is 35, “is not caring terribly much about formal constraints or hierarchy. I really see everyone as my peer. That’s how I approach music and performance as well. It’s communicating with as opposed to performing for.”

Butler will return to the stage with a deeper appreciation of how music is so closely tied to issues of race, equality, and social justice. In his fall course “Political Revolutions” with Leah Wright Rigueur, assistant professor of public policy, he studied Detroit, learning about the black struggle for civil rights, the White Citizens’ Councils, and the 1967 riots in that city.

“Motown is three-quarters of a mile from where the riots started. It’s not an ahistorical force. Marvin Gaye was recording ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.’ ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ also happened. You can look at those songs from a policy lens and a political lens,” Butler said, “but you can also divorce them from that and hear them as an aesthetic event. I vote for engaging on all levels.”
‘Where the Roads All End’ is where story begins
View all posts in Arts & Culture

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#arcade-fires-will-butler-graduates-from-hks, #harvard, #not-science-just-a-great-story

From Harvard: Women in STEM – “Drawing from experience” Julia Grotto

Harvard University
Harvard University

May 12, 2017
Stephanie Schorow

This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.

Eager to take advantage of the resources she wouldn’t have access to in her native Zimbabwe, Julia Grotto ’17 took every opportunity to explore her interests, becoming the program leader for Dreamporte, a campus kindness ambassador of Harvard College Faith in Action, and a research assistant with a graduate student’s project developing 3-D printed lithium-ion batteries. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

On the walls of Mather House hangs a painting by one of its residents. Julia Grotto ’17 has layered acrylic paint onto paper, transforming the exterior of the House’s Brutalism architecture in an intricate play of light and shadow.

The painting’s mix of light and dark also reflects peaks of achievement and valleys of struggle in its creator’s life. A talented painter who majored in physics, Grotto brought with her to Harvard a deep curiosity about the nature of reality along with a dedication to service. “My experience here has had wonderful highs and also some very low lows,” she said. “I needed to go through stages like that to gain the perspective I have now.”

Grotto wears a medallion of glass from Venice — on a necklace given to her by her sister — that reflects her Italian heritage. Born and raised in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, Grotto is one of three children, her father an electronic engineer who managed the family business, a shoe factory, and her mother an art teacher who filled the house with paintings.

“Ever since I was very, very small, I was curious about things,” she said. “I’d build things out of Legos and ask my parents why things were a certain way. When I was in high school, physics was the subject that seemed to let me delve into that, to figure out why.”

She arrived in the United States for the first time just before her first week of class. Adjustment created a few issues, not only the cold but also the extreme humidity in summer, so different from the dry heat in Zimbabwe. Back home, it could be difficult getting power and water. “My dad dug a well, and we collected water from the roof gutters in rainy season. It was just a normal part of life,” she said. And remembering shortages of food gave Grotto a perspective on what the developed world can take for granted. “In the dining room, I always eat everything that I have on my plate,” she said. “Not everybody does that.”

Her course load was a blend of physical sciences, engineering, design, and the arts. Physics was enthralling — and challenging. “I learned a lot, but you also realize there are so many more ‘why’ questions,” she said. “It has opened up my understanding of the world, maybe opened up more questions than answers.”

In Professor Jennifer Lewis’ lab, Grotto worked as a research assistant with Teng-Sing Sean Wei, a graduate student, on his project for developing technologies for 3-D printing lithium-ion batteries. A course she took at MIT focused on fabrication methods, laser cutting, and 3-D printing. “We milled our own circuit boards,” she said. “That opened so many doors; communities can begin to design and manufacture specifically to their needs.”

Which touches on another aspect of Grotto’s Harvard education that connected with a concept emphasized in her high school: “servant leadership.” “I work better when I know I’m able to do something that is beneficial to someone,” she said.

She was one of the organizers for “Mob-Malaria” as part of the Defeating Malaria Initiative in 2014; with a team of friends in Zimbabwe, she put together a malaria-education event in a Harare stadium. As a Program Leader for Dreamporte, Grotto helped develop materials and teaching tools (and taught classes) that would bring virtual reality adventures to students who might not have the means to travel to other countries.

Grotto also has been a Campus Kindness Ambassador of Harvard College Faith in Action, a reflection of how her faith helped her at Harvard when she felt overwhelmed and joyless, like she was running on an endless treadmill. “My faith has grown over the past couple years, but the challenges with faith and the questions with faith are going to be a lifelong struggle,” she said.

This spring, she is a teaching fellow for an electricity and magnetism class; meanwhile, she looks into graduate programs that focus on engineering design. She hopes to combine science, art, and service in a career and perhaps return to her beloved Zimbabwe someday.

“I was extremely fortunate to be able to come here,” she said of Harvard. “Everyone should be able to have that accessibility to effective education.”

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#applied-research-technology, #basic-research, #harvard, #physics, #women-in-stem

From Harvard: “Probe of Alzheimer’s follows paths of infection”

Harvard University
Harvard University


Harvard Medical School

May 11, 2017
Alvin Powell

Photographic Services, Resources for Journalists, HPAC

Starting with microbes, Harvard-MGH researchers outline a devastating chain of events

What if the bad-boy protein of Alzheimer’s disease — amyloid beta — isn’t so bad after all?

Harvard researchers found themselves asking that question several years ago after noticing remarkable similarities between amyloid beta, thought to be a major player in the disease’s progression, and proteins active in the body’s immune system.

That discovery has blossomed into a new avenue of investigation against the nation’s leading cause of dementia, sixth-deadliest illness, and — according to a 2011 survey — the runner-up to cancer in health fears among the public.

Led by Robert Moir, an assistant professor in neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Rudolph Tanzi, Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation at HMS and MGH, the work is focused on whether the development of amyloid beta plaques in the brain — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and the target of several recent drug candidates — might in many cases be a response to infection.

Proven correct, the explanation would fill a significant blank in our framework for the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, create a new understanding of amyloid beta’s role in the body, and possibly open new fronts for treating or preventing the condition by attacking infection before plaques begin to form.

It also has the potential to lump Alzheimer’s with diabetes and other autoimmune diseases in which a revved-up immune system goes too far and turns on the body. Scientists have already noted enough similarities between Alzheimer’s and diabetes that some have wondered whether Alzheimer’s should be thought of as “type 3 diabetes.”

Though knowledge about Alzheimer’s has advanced in recent decades, its causes are only partially understood. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tanzi played a role in discovering a trio of genes that cause early onset Alzheimer’s, which runs in a small number of families and can strike before age 50. That condition, also called familial Alzheimer’s, accounts for only about 5 percent of cases.

Rotating 3-D image of a slice of a brain amyloid plaque that formed in a genetically modified mouse in response to bacterial encephalitis. Credit: Robert Moir

The remaining cases, called sporadic Alzheimer’s, typically occur later in life, in a person’s mid-60s or beyond. Advancing age is the biggest risk factor — scientists don’t know exactly why — and genetics also plays a role, though less so than in early onset Alzheimer’s.

A variant of the gene APOE, or alipoprotein E, has been identified as a risk factor in sporadic Alzheimer’s. But having the variant doesn’t make the disease inevitable, and not having it doesn’t rule it out. Which has left scientists wondering what other non-genetic factors are at play.

A significant roadblock to discovery has been a lack of clarity on the role of amyloid beta in the body. The Alzheimer’s community has largely viewed it as an aberrant byproduct that serves no useful purpose in the brain — “metabolic garbage,” as Tanzi once put it.

That view has persisted even as understanding of other aspects of Alzheimer’s has advanced. The prevailing hypothesis today is that amyloid beta aggregates to form plaques in the brain. Those plaques then cause the development of tangles made up of the protein tau within nerve cells. This triggers inflammation — a natural immune response that in this case compounds the damage. Connections between nerve cells are severed and the cells die. Cognitive ability inexorably declines, producing the disease’s most feared outcome.

The idea that Alzheimer’s disease might be caused by infection isn’t new, Moir noted. In fact, in the 1970s and 1980s, some scientists considered it the strongest hypothesis. That changed in 1984 with the discovery of amyloid beta, which came to dominate subsequent research.

Though support for what came to be called the “pathogen hypothesis” has endured, Tanzi, director of MGH’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit, said that the disease outline he and Moir are developing differs in important ways. While the pathogen hypothesis is most often offered as an alternative to the amyloid beta hypothesis, Moir and Tanzi’s model is not an alternative, but rather fits within the amyloid beta-tau-inflammation paradigm. It fills in blanks, offering an explanation for how the process starts and for the true nature of amyloid beta.

Circumstantial evidence for the importance of amyloid beta is significant, Moir said. It appears to have developed some 400 million years ago and has not only survived evolutionary pressures to appear in humans today, but is present in 60 percent of vertebrates, including fish, reptiles, and birds.

Further, when Moir started to look more closely at the protein, he noticed similarities to key infection-fighting proteins called antimicrobial peptides in the innate immune system — the body’s first and most ancient line of defense.

“It tells you, first, it’s doing something important,” Moir said. “When we started to look at amyloid beta we realized this thing looked similar to antimicrobial peptides.”

Moir compared amyloid beta with LL-37, a potent part of the immune arsenal without which we’d all die from raging infections before reaching our terrible twos. That investigation, supported by a grant from the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, led to a 2010 paper in which Moir’s team proposed that amyloid beta was an antimicrobial peptide, one that demonstrated infection-fighting abilities comparable to, and in some cases better than, penicillin.

A paper published last year in Science Translational Medicine took the work further, showing that amyloid beta protected against fungal and bacterial infection in nematode worms, laboratory mice, and cell cultures of human neuronal tissue. The work also showed that infecting the brains of lab mice with salmonella resulted in plaque formation 48 hours later, and that those mice lived longer than mice that didn’t develop the plaques.

When the researchers looked even closer, Moir said, at the center of each plaque was a single microbe.

Those findings, backed by the National Institutes of Health, the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, suggest a model of Alzheimer’s disease initiation that takes into account both infectious and genetic causes, Tanzi said. The process begins with amyloid beta plaques in the brain. In the case of an infection, the culprit is a single microbe — a virus, bacterium, or fungal spore. In the case of genetic disease, seeding relies on a higher-than-normal proportion of extra-long amyloid beta proteins. Amyloid beta, Tanzi explained, comes in two predominant forms. One is a chain of 40 amino acids, which tends to remain in solution, and the other 42 amino acids, which is the predominant form in plaques.

Tanzi compared the plaque formation — whether through amyloid beta’s 42 amino acid form or due to a microbe — to lighting a match. That leads to the development of tau protein tangles in nerve cells, which Tanzi compared to a brush fire. Then comes inflammation, a raging forest fire which Tanzi believes does much of the damage that leads to cognitive decline.

“It’s inflammation that really throws you down the slippery slope,” he said.

The brain was once thought of as kept relatively sterile by the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that selectively admits key molecules such as glucose and amino acids while blocking potentially harmful invaders.

Some notable diseases have long been known to slip through, including syphilis and rabies. But recently it’s become apparent that there’s a lot more life in there than scientists had understood, Moir said. “The things creeping around in the brain will scare the heebie-jeebies out of you.”

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition


The Harvard Medical School community is dedicated to excellence and leadership in medicine, education, research and clinical care. To achieve our highest aspirations, and to ensure the success of all members of our community, we value and promote common ideals that center on collaboration and service, diversity, respect, integrity and accountability, lifelong learning, and wellness and balance. To be a citizen of this community means embracing a collegial spirit that fosters inclusion and promotes achievement.

Harvard University campus

Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#harvard, #medicine, #probe-of-alzheimers-follows-paths-of-infection

From Harvard: “Making sense of climate costs”

Harvard University
Harvard University

April 28, 2017
Colin Durrant

PhD Candidate in Economics
Department of Economics
Harvard University
1805 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138

Video by Joe Sherman & Kai-Jae Wang

Growing up between Lawrence, Kan., and Seoul, South Korea, gave Jisung Park different and distinct insights into how humans and nature intersect. Park recalls as a young boy spending every waking hour exploring the Kansas outdoors. Still a youngster when he moved to Seoul, living in its dense, urban environment revealed the toll that industrialization exacts on air and water quality.

“I was always acutely aware of how human beings and society both affect and are affected by the natural environment,” said Park, who will graduate in May with a Ph.D. in economics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “Through experiencing the diversity of living in such different places, I grew to appreciate how much commonality there is in the basic humanity that we share.”

His introductory economics class in high school gave him an entirely new lens with which to view the world — and think about studying it. In his undergraduate coursework at Columbia University, Park recognized that economics could be a tool for generating a greater understanding of the intersection of humans and nature.

After his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, Park joined the environmental economics program at Harvard to focus specifically on how the impacts of climate change will affect human productivity and economic health.

“He has broken new ground with his research on weather, climate, and human capital, and will soon be moving on to a great career as an innovative scholar,” said Robert Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business & Government at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

Park says the motivation for his research is the fundamental disconnect in the public’s mind between recognizing climate change as a problem in the abstract sense but not being able to relate to the immediate impacts that may already be affecting the local community or region.

“I was frustrated by this phenomenon that climate change was becoming an issue that, unless you are an ardent environmentalist, you weren’t allowed to comment about or care about,” said Park. “I wanted to use language and tools of economics to try and quantify the more direct impacts of climate change on human beings and human economy, to try and make it a little more real.”

At a time when much attention is on rising sea levels and extreme weather events, Park eagerly took on the challenge of developing a greater understanding of the correlation between long-term economic vitality and rising temperatures due to global warming. As one of the first grantees of the President’s Climate Change Solutions Fund, Park explored the affect heat stress will have on labor productivity. According to Park, a year with 10 or more 90-degree-plus days in the United States could reduce income or output per capita by 3 percent. For context, he points to the fact that the Great Recession led to a percentage drop in GDP of that magnitude.

Park says the grant opened doors and allowed him to engage with a wide variety of research institutions inside and outside of Harvard, including presenting his research to the World Bank and New York City government agencies.

“It’s good to know there is institutional support for interdisciplinary research like this and that the support comes close to the top,” Park said. “It speaks to the direction in which the university wants to move in terms of priorities.”

While at Harvard, Park presented what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called a “clever new working paper” exploring the impact of hotter temperatures on student test scores and academic performance in New York City schools. He found that students taking a test on a 90-degree day relative to a 72-degree day have a 12 percent higher likelihood of failing. “You may not have seen a polar bear but you’ve definitely been in a classroom that was hot,” said Park.

Park brought with him from Oxford a podcast project called Sense & Sustainability that started as a series of conversations with fellow students on topics related to sustainability. At Harvard, the organization took off, receiving a Student Sustainability Grant from the Harvard Office for Sustainability and expanding to a lively blog and weekly meetings of undergraduate and graduate fellows to share ideas.

“It’s hard to have conversations across disciplines but also very rewarding, because it forces you to think outside your disciplinary focus or bias,” said Park. “It’s amazing how different our conceptions are of what sustainability is, and it opened me up to the diversity of ways one can conceptualize sustainability.”

Park will complete a postdoc at Harvard Kennedy School on climate policy, then join the faculty at UCLA as part of a joint public policy and public health program, where he will continue his research into the environmental determinants of economic mobility.

“The more you look at direct economic impacts of climate change, the more it begins to become clear it will be disadvantaged segments of society — both within countries but also across the world — that are going to be disproportionately affected,” said Park. “Climate change is the ultimate global public good problem, and that certainly is a motivation for me.”

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#applied-research-technology, #climate-change, #earth-observation, #harvard, #jisung-park

From Harvard: Undocumented – “Ask the undocumented”

Harvard University
Harvard University

May 4, 2017
By Liz Mineo
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

When Jin Park ’18 was growing up in New York City, his family always told him to be mindful of his surroundings, to keep quiet about being undocumented, and to avoid busy streets where he might encounter immigration agents.

Park can relax somewhat now because he can remain in the United States under President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Trump, a vocal critic of illegal immigration, nonetheless has affirmed the policy that keeps such students here and in school.

Still, Park worries about family members and friends who aren’t covered by such a policy and may face the threat of deportation down the road. The Trump administration has promised to toughen enforcement strictures on U.S. immigration policies and to tighten the nation’s borders.

Park is one of four undocumented Harvard undergraduates who spoke with the Gazette about their challenges, their concerns, and their hopes under the new administration. Here are their everyday lives, in their own words.

Jin Park ’18
Molecular and cellular biology concentrator with a secondary in ethnicity, migration, and rights

Jin Park ’18 is an undocumented immigrant from South Korea and New York. He discovered his legal status after being rejected for an internship. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

My story

“I was born in South Korea. I came to this country, brought by my parents, when I was 7 years old. I grew up in New York. Since early on, I loved learning. I never hated going to school. And since early on, I also knew that there were some aspects of our lives that were out of bounds. I knew that my family couldn’t get a car, that we didn’t have health care, and that we should avoid busy streets, where immigration raids often take place. I remember feeling all of that was strange, but I didn’t quite understand it. Feelings of exclusion have always been part of my childhood. I found out my legal status when, after applying for an internship at a hospital in Manhattan, the person who interviewed me said, ‘Sorry, Jin. We don’t allow illegal aliens to take part in the program.’

“After that, I wanted to keep things quiet, but I continued to study hard. When Obama announced DACA in 2012, he singlehandedly changed my life. Without DACA, I’m vulnerable. DACA helped me walk without fear because I was protected from deportation. I applied to 34 schools. I knew that some schools were not going to accept me because I was undocumented. When I was accepted to Harvard, my parents felt it was a validation of our lives here. For them, it was like, ‘This is why we came here; this is why we went through all the things we went through.’ Every day, they tell me how proud they are of me.
My hope

“I hope the administration doesn’t pull families apart, and people will be more willing to understand the complexity of immigration. It’s not only a security issue or a Mexican issue. No one talks about Asian undocumented students. I don’t expect people to know. If I weren’t undocumented, I wouldn’t know how broken the immigration system is. I hope that people understand that a wall is not the solution.

“My other hope is to become a doctor to work on policies to help the most vulnerable. When I was 11, I had to search online how to treat a burn at home because my father had been burned at work and couldn’t go to the hospital. I want to help people have access to health care. And finally, my hope is to live and die here. I’m an American. This is my home.”

Laura Veira-Ramirez ’20
Chemistry concentrator with a secondary on ethnicity, migration, and rights

Laura Veira-Ramirez ’20 came out about her illegal status when she delivered her valedictorian speech at her high school graduation. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

My story

“I was born in Colombia. I came here when I was 3 years old. I grew up in Connecticut. I knew I was undocumented while growing up. My parents didn’t drive because they didn’t have a license and couldn’t afford a car. My first memory of being undocumented was when I was in first grade. It was a rainy day, and I had to attend a school concert. We walked to school, and I was late and drenched. I was supposed to be in the front row, but because I was late I was put in the back. It was a horrible experience.

“I was not supposed to talk about our status. I couldn’t even tell my best friend about it. Many people assumed that I was documented. When I was a freshman in high school, someone asked me if green cards (given to U.S. permanent residents) were green. I didn’t know, but I said yes, they were green. I lied and felt bad. When DACA came out, I was in my last year of middle school. It opened a lot of doors and offered me protection from deportation. I felt invincible. I felt that no one could touch me because I was lawfully here.

“After my status was legal, I felt comfortable engaging in activism, and I got involved with Connecticut Students for a Dream. I went to a meeting and shared my story. It was empowering. At my high school graduation last year, I was the valedictorian and gave a speech about my being undocumented, because I wanted to show how much you could accomplish even though you may be undocumented. I had the highest GPA in my class, and because of my grades, I thought they were enough to overcome the barrier of being undocumented. But the difference between applying for college as an undocumented person and a documented person is huge.

“Because of DACA, I thought we were moving in the right direction. Now it seems that we’re going backwards. Now I’m O.K. because I can get through college, but I can’t study abroad, which is really sad. I’m hopeful that an opportunity will come along, that I can figure out a way. I may get a work visa after graduation. But I’m not sure about my life.
My hope

“Immigration reform would be great, but now I just hope that everything continues the same. I know it’s a low bar, but given the circumstances, I don’t know what to expect. I would like to see the government pass something that benefits others, not only the Dreamers, because it’s dividing the community. Dreamers are portrayed as the good ones, and what about the rest? Immigrants in general commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. And yet they continue criminalizing our community.”

Bruno Villegas McCubbin ’19
Social studies concentrator with a secondary on Romance languages

Bruno Villegas McCubbin ’19 is from Peru and California. “It’s hurtful being undocumented because you have to hide an integral part of your identity.” Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

My story

“I was born in Peru. I came here at age 6. I grew up in California. My uncle lived there, and when the economy got bad in Peru, he persuaded my dad to move there. Growing up, I felt I had two lives. School was a very good place where I felt really happy, and everything was stable. Then I’d come home, and there was always insecurity about work and finances. When I was little, I thought the problem was money, but when I asked my parents why they couldn’t get a job that paid more, they told me we why. They told me we had to be cautious.

“It’s hurtful being undocumented because you have to hide an integral part of your identity. I had the feeling of being stuck. I was excelling at school, but I didn’t see any pathways for me. I did well there because I liked it, but also because I didn’t want to cause more anguish to my parents, who were already struggling. In 2008, when the recession hit, my dad lost his job, and we went through hard times. That’s when I truly realized my life was different from others. I had to make up excuses to my friends because I couldn’t do things with them, either because I had no money or I had to take care of my little sister. My father worked at anything he could; my mom was a helper in a nursing home. When my parents kept losing their jobs due to the recession, we started moving from place to place.

“Growing up was hard. I felt I couldn’t win no matter what I did. You go through your life hearing about immigration reform, year after year, and you go through disappointment after disappointment. When the Dream Act initially failed in 2010, it was a huge letdown. When DACA came out, I was a sophomore in high school. It was a huge deal, surreal. I couldn’t believe it. It was at last an opening. When the news came out, my mom asked me to explain it to her. It was big, at least for us, the kids, if not for the parents. My mom was happy to see that her children’s lives could improve. My dad encouraged me to apply to Harvard. He said, ‘I have faith in you.’ And when I was accepted to Harvard, he freaked out, and so did I. With my coming to Harvard, both my parents felt their sacrifice had paid off, but they had never come to campus.
My hope

“At this point, I hope for anything that can help alleviate the situation. I feel that it’s really difficult for comprehensive immigration reform to happen right now. The topic of immigration is so toxic. I do hope that DACA remains as it is. I hope that Dreamers like myself will continue to have the opportunity to go to school and become productive members of society, and hopefully in the future there will be a program to help our family members. I hope to finish my degree and become an immigration lawyer to help my family and my community because I’m someone who understands the issue at a very personal level.”

Brenda Esqueda Morales ’20
Concentration undeclared

Brenda Esqueda Morales ’20 is from Mexico and Nebraska. Her father has been in deportation proceedings since before her high school graduation. “It’s hard to be hopeful now. I’m in survival mode.” Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

My story

“I was born in Mexico. They brought me in a truck when I was 6 years old. My parents crossed the desert later, and we moved to Nebraska, where we put down roots. I was always aware of our legal status because my parents told us to be cautious and stay out of trouble and avoid drawing attention. I’ve always loved school. I’ve always wanted to go to college, even though people said I didn’t have any chance because I didn’t have papers. My dad works as a landscaper, and my mother cleans houses, and they’ve always encouraged me to go to college. I had amazing teachers in middle and high school who knew about my status and encouraged me to keep thinking about college.

“As I got older, I realized the odds were against me. The system wasn’t designed for people like me. But that little, brown, undocumented kid inside me kept saying, ‘You should apply for college.’ In high school, I had an amazing counselor, Antonio Perez, who changed my life. He helped me realize what I needed to do to go to college. I had to work 100 times more than the other kids. So I did.

“My senior year in high school was hard because my dad was placed in deportation proceedings. One day, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents came to our house looking for a relative who was living with us. They arrested him and they also took my dad, who opened the door. Around that time, I became a DACA recipient, but it was scary. I had to go to the same ICE office that was going to take my dad away. I was worried about giving all my information to the government. I also wondered what the catch was, and why it was that I could be protected from deportation but not my parents. It didn’t feel safe, but now I realize I’m in a much better position as a DACA recipient.

“Around that time, I also got involved with activism. With a group of Dreamers, we lobbied against a bill in Nebraska that prevented young undocumented immigrants with college degrees from obtaining professional and commercial licenses. We wrote to senators, worked with the community, and we got the bill changed.

“My dad was supposed to be deported in my senior year, but his hearing kept being delayed, and he was able to be at my high school graduation. It was one of the happiest days of my life. When I was accepted to Harvard, I was flabbergasted. My parents were very proud. We didn’t have money to fly, but my dad wanted to see his kid off to college. He said, ‘It’s a memory we have to have.’ We rented a car and drove from Omaha. It took us two days.

“My dad’s legal situation still worries me. He had a hearing on March 1, but he’s safe for now. I’ve always wanted to go back home after graduating from college, but if my dad were deported, I might not have anything to go back to. Since President Trump was elected, I’ve been dealing with so much pain, frustration, and helplessness. It was hard to focus on homework when my family could have been taken away. I kept asking, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ And more importantly, ‘How are they going to get through this? My father’s hearing keeps being delayed. I don’t know if he’s going to be deported.
My hope

“It’s hard to be hopeful now. I’m in survival mode. Even though I’ve been trying to prepare myself for it, it’s never something you can prepare for. It feels like something is circling on you, and at any moment it could be at your doorstep. I feel very privileged to be here. Back home, they don’t have the Harvard name; they don’t have the prestige or the connections. It worries me more that whatever is closing in, it’s going to home in on my family first, and then me. I hope they let my dad stay here. I wish my parents would be at my siblings’ high school graduations. I wish I could take mom to Disney World. In an ideal world, we’d all stay together. I’d get married and have kids, and my kids would be able to meet their grandparents.”

These interviews were edited for content, clarity, and length.

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#applied-research-technology, #basic-research, #harvard, #undocumented

From Harvard: “Harvard launches data science initiative”

Harvard University
Harvard University

March 28, 2017

Francesca Dominici and David Parkes named co-directors

The new Harvard Data Science Initiative, led by co-directors David C. Parkes (left), George F. Colony Professor of Computer Science, and Francesca Dominici, senior associate dean for research at the Harvard Chan School, will unite efforts across the University to enable the development of cross-disciplinary methodologies and discovery of new applications. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

A statistician and a computer scientist have been named co-leaders of Harvard’s new Data Science Initiative, the Harvard University Office of the Vice Provost for Research announced today.

A University-wide program that will aid cross-disciplinary collaboration, the initiative will be led by Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and David C. Parkes, George F. Colony Professor and area dean for computer science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“With its diversity of disciplines, Harvard has access to large data sets that record a staggering array of phenomena,” said Provost Alan Garber. “Researchers in our Schools of medicine, public health, business, law, arts and sciences, government, education, and engineering are already gaining deep insights from their analyses of large data sets. This initiative will connect research efforts across the University in this emerging field. It will facilitate cross-fertilization in both teaching and research, paving the way to methodological innovations and to applications of these new tools to a wide range of societal and scientific challenges.”

As massive amounts of data are generated from science, engineering, social sciences, and medicine — and even from digitally augmented daily lives — researchers are grappling with how to make sense of all this information, and how to use it to benefit people. Data science applies the theory and practice of statistics and computer science to extract useful knowledge from complex and often messy information sources. Applications span health care, the environment, commerce, government services, urban planning, and finance. The initiative will make it possible to take methodology and tools from one domain to another and discover new applications.

Until now, Harvard’s growth in data science has been organic, occurring in distinct domains and an increasing array of applications. The initiative will unite efforts. A steering committee led the planning, involving 55 faculty members and many of Harvard’s data science leaders.

The initiative already has launched the Harvard Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship program, which will support up to seven scholars over two years, whose interests are in data science, broadly construed, and include researchers with a methodological and applications focus.

The first cohort of fellows will arrive in the fall; they will direct their own research while forging collaborations around the University. The program will offer numerous opportunities to engage with the broader data science community through events such as seminar series, informal lunches, mentoring, and fellow-led and other networking opportunities.

The initiative has also launched the Harvard Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund, which invites innovative ideas from those with interests that span data science, including methodological foundations and the development of quantitative methods and tools motivated by application challenges.

In addition, three master’s degree programs have been approved. The Medical School offers a master’s degree in biomedical informatics, and the Harvard Chan School has a master’s of science in health data science. A master’s in data science (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and jointly offered by Computer Science and Statistics is planned for the fall of 2018.

“The ability to apply the power of new analytics and new methodologies in revolutionary ways makes this the era of data science, and Harvard faculty have been at the forefront of this emerging field,” said Vice Provost for Research Rick McCullough. “Our researchers not only develop new methodologies, but also apply those methodologies to incredible effect. I am delighted that Francesca Dominici and David Parkes will be co-directing this new effort. They are both extraordinary scientists and exemplary colleagues.”

Dominici specializes in developing statistical methods to analyze large and complex data sets. She leads multiple interdisciplinary groups of scientists addressing questions in environmental health science, climate change, and health policy.

“Harvard’s Data Science Initiative will build on the collaborations that already exist across the University to foster a rich and cohesive data science community that brings together scholars from across disciplines and schools,” Dominici said. “I am delighted to be a part of an effort that pushes the frontiers of this important discipline and extends our ability to use data science for the good of people everywhere.”

Parkes leads research at the interface between economics and computer science, with a focus on multi-agent systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

“The Data Science Initiative will strengthen the fabric of connections among departments to create an integrated data science community,” Parkes said. “Through these efforts, we seek to empower research progress and education across the University, and work toward solutions for the world’s most important challenges. I look forward to being a part of this exciting work.”

The Data Science Steering Committee, in addition to Dominici and Parkes, includes:

Alyssa Goodman, professor of applied astronomy, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Gary King, director, Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science;
Zak Kohane, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School;
Xihong Lin, chair of the Department of Biostatistics, Harvard Chan School;
Anne Margulies, University chief information officer;
Hanspeter Pfister, professor of computer science, Harvard Paulson School;
Neil Shephard, chair of the Department of Economics and of Statistics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

For more information about the initiative, visit

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Harvard University campus
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

#applied-research, #basic-research, #data-science, #harvard