|Faculty Members Describe New Smith Scholar as a Talented, Professional Level Scientist
March 09, 2010
Though Karen Hasty ‘10 doesn't share their academic title, some faculty at Davidson believe Davidson's 2010 Smith Scholarship winner deserves as much as they to be called "a scientist."
|Davidson's Class of 2010 Smith Scholar, Karen Hasty
Hasty will use this prestigious award from the college to continue her study of virology for a year at Cambridge University in England.
Hasty has impressed Davidson faculty from her first semester in fall 2006, when she enrolled in an introductory biology course with Professor Dave Wessner.
"I got the impression right off the bat that she was special," testified Wessner.
That first course was an introduction for both of them to a research partnership that has lasted four years.
They have been studying the protein shell surrounding viruses, which has a bearing on the ability of viruses to replicate themselves. Learning to manipulate the protein could eventually help treat viral diseases. Hasty has presented their research at a national meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, and will in April present at a meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists.
What has impressed Wessner most is Hasty's innate ability to think like a scientist. "She always asked probing questions - ‘Is there another explanation for these results?' ‘What's the experimental evidence for this?' - that showed she understood the scientific method. I could give her a rudimentary introduction to what we were doing, and she would go off on her own, figure out what needed to be done, and develop protocols for experiments."
"Scientific method" is the process researchers follow when investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. Scientists propose hypotheses to explain the phenomena, then test their hypotheses by designing and conducting experiments to gather observable, empirical and measurable evidence.
Impressed at her understanding of science as a process, Wessner invited Hasty to work in his lab for the summer after her first year., Hasty applied for and received a fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology.
Their collaboration continued during the summer of 2008, financed this time by the Davidson Research Initiative. They have also worked together throughout the current academic year.
Hasty took a break from science by studying abroad with a Wells College program in Florence, Italy, during the fall semester of her junior year. She learned to speak a little Italian, and enjoyed a menu of light courses such as "The Anthropology of Fashion and Culture."
She was also off campus during the summer of 2009, when she received a research fellowship that allowed her to study at the National Institutes of Health. She broadened her knowledge base by working in an immunology lab, rather than on viruses. The experience provided a crash course in the acronyms, procedures and techniques of that discipline.
Hasty found it especially interesting because she sees virology and immunology as two sides of the same coin. "Whenever a virus or pathogen infects the body, you have an immune response," she said. "The purpose of most drugs is just to suppress the infection enough so that your own immune system can handle it."
This year's independent study work with Wessner hasn't been an unqualified success, but Hasty accepts setbacks as a necessary step in scientific progress. "Sometimes it feels like you're running up against a wall," she admitted. "But regardless of whether we get meaningful results, this is a jumping off point. Even if we don't get what we were hoping for, it's valuable as a learning exercise."
Daughter of Davidson alumnus Dr. Jeff Hasty '74 and his wife Janet of Marietta, Ga., Karen has always been a science-minded student. She attended a high school magnet program in science and math, where her capstone project involved working at a morgue to analyze homicide rates and drug use. Less gruesome than it may sound, the work focused on records rather than bodies. She found it a fascinating and challenging introduction to real world science.
She has been accepted into a lab at Cambridge that studies the Human papillomavirus (HPV). She said Cambridge has a reputation for good science, but noted that good science happens many places. "You only hear about a couple of big name places, but when you look at the number of papers published each year you'll be amazed at how many labs exist. Scientists have to specialize because there's no way to keep up with all the new literature."
Hasty is earning a minor in anthropology as well as her major in biology. That interest sprung in part from the distress she felt about her high school textbooks that were emblazoned with stickers that read "Evolution Is Just A Theory."
She appreciated the different perspective of Associate Professor of Anthropology Helen Cho, whose class began with the assertion that evolution is a fact. Cho also was impressed with Hasty's grasp of science, especially in a class experiment on decomposition. Cho said, "Right away I could tell she operated like a well-seasoned scientist. She read the literature, thought it through, and thoroughly designed her project. She made it look easy, but put in a lot of thought."
|Hasty and Professor Wessner in the lab.
In addition to her on-campus research with Wessner during the summer of 2008, Hasty took Davidson's annual "Study and Treatment of Disease" course, which includes five weeks in a hospital in Mwandi, Zambia, that primarily treats AIDS patients. Each of the nine students involved pursued a personal project, and Hasty chose to study the reason that some AIDS patients were not responding as well as expected to treatment with antiretroviral drugs. It was a difficult assignment, since record keeping at the facility was poor. Hasty found only 50 or so cases sufficiently documented to provide the data she needed.
Despite the less than ideal situation, trip leader Verna Case, Dolan Professor of Biology, noted that Hasty displayed the same meticulous, insightful approach to research that impressed Wessner and Cho so highly. Case said, "She was careful to process every file, and got all the information from each she could glean. She approached it very systematically, with really good scientific method."
The trip, financed through a Kemp Scholarship, turned into far more than another lab exercise. The pathos of the situation faced by patients and their families deeply affected Hasty. "It was an awful situation," she said. "Patients didn't come to the hospital until they were very sick, and by then the drug treatment was too late for most of them."
She had the troubling feeling that she was learning a lot from the experience, but not leaving much behind to help the patients she studied. Then one day the hospital lab manager asked about her post-college plans. She recalled, "I told him I wanted to study virology and he replied, ‘So you're going to find the cure for this AIDS?' I realized then that perhaps I could do something important. I had always just thought of myself as a student, and never really imagined myself as part of a real scientific community doing things to help humanity."
She is grateful to receive the Smith Scholarship and be able to take the next step in that pursuit. She has already been accepted into one Ph.D. program in virology in America for the following year, but won't make a decision about that until others of her applications have been decided.
It's a wonderful conclusion to a well-rounded Davidson career that turned out even better than she expected. Her academic record has been confirmed with induction into both the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society and the Beta Beta Beta biology honor society. She enjoyed an alternative break trip and worked on a Habitat project. She has enjoyed relaxing from her studies in the saddle on a horse, helping create a Davidson club-level equestrian team and serving as its president.
About the only thing she'll enjoy leaving behind at Davidson is her four-year work-study job in the animal lab, where she spent countless hours sweeping and mopping floors, changing animal bedding and scrubbing clean bins for frogs and other amphibians.
"It's been a great experience," she concluded. "My decision came down to Davidson or the University of Georgia, and I definitely made the right choice for me. I can't imagine better preparation for my future."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.