Senior biology major Andrea Szegedy-Maszak came to Bard from Middletown, Connecticut, where both her parents are professors at Wesleyan. Bard was the first school she visited on her tour of colleges, and it immediately felt like “The One.” Although she applied to other schools, it was clear that Bard was the right place for her. The Language and Thinking program, held every August for incoming first-years, confirmed her feelings. “Everyone was talking in a way that I hadn’t seen young people talk before, even though we had all only known each other for six hours,” she recalls. “I was surrounded by people talking about interesting things and it felt really good.”
Intrigued by brain imaging techniques and neural anatomy, Andrea came to Bard intending to be a psychology major. It was in Citizen Science, the three-week science intensive for first-years during winter intersession, that she realized she wanted to study biology as a first step on the road to studying neuroscience. The following spring, she took Professor Brooke Jude’s microbiology course for majors and nonmajors and never looked back. Bard’s Biology Program is small and intimate; students are given a lot of individualized attention from professors and have top-notch facilities at their disposal. “That’s something that sets us apart,” she observes. “If you go to a big research university, you just don’t get that kind of attention or even facility access as an undergraduate.”
Citizen Science made a huge impression on Andrea. The civic outreach activities, such as going to a local middle school to run science experiments for the sixth grade class, encouraged her interest in education. Last year, Andrea became a teaching fellow. These students opt to stay on campus during Citizen Science, assisting first-years and visiting faculty in the lab. In some cases, her job is to make sure that all materials for the day’s assignment are prepped; in others, professors have their fellows lead the lab instruction, an opportunity a student at a larger research institution might not have until graduate school. Andrea loves to work with students who have never been in a lab before and to make science fun and accessible so that they might enjoy it the way she does. Working as a teaching fellow, she says, “is going to be my most potent, tangible Bard memory forever.”
Andrea also works with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), mentoring for the Rhinebeck Science Fair. Thanks to funding through CCE, Andrea and a friend were able to run a full-time science summer camp last summer at four different public libraries in the area: Red Hook, Germantown, Poughkeepsie, and High Plains. The weeklong camps ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and were free to attend.
Andrea is inspired by the multilayered intellectual, creative, and academic interests of Bard students. Distribution requirements ensure students try their hand at many different disciplines. This leads to a campus full of people with highly varied interests who have explored many areas of academic life. For instance, Andrea is currently taking a music class in psychoacoustics. A few of her classmates want to be music and art therapists and, encouraged by the Bard administration, are currently constructing their own majors using psychology, science, music, and dance.
After taking a high-level neuroscience course last semester, Andrea began thinking about the relationship between autism and pre- and postnatal serotonin exposure. She is now hoping to work independently with new neuroscience professor Arseny Khakhalin on a project that examines the neuroscience behind developmental effects of early serotonin exposure.
Andrea is looking forward to her Senior Project this year, which involves researching the mechanisms behind bacteria-powered fuel cells with Brooke Jude as her adviser. She has also been accepted into the Bard Master of Arts in Teaching 3+2 Program, which means she’ll be incorporating an educational element into the Senior Project, such as how to use the fuel cells as a teaching tool or how to best incorporate them into different curricula. As an MAT graduate student, she’ll spend a fifth year at Bard and graduate with a master’s degree and a New York State certification in teaching biology.
Bard has changed Andrea’s life. As a school, it sets high standards that students are encouraged—even expected—to go above and beyond. “I’ve learned to work really hard here,” she explains. “I’ve learned that I can meet the high standards that are set for me academically, but I can also make my own standards for what I am and what I need. It’s been unbelievable.”