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Wendy Hill, Rappolt Professor and chair of neuroscience, is one of just four professors in the United States to receive a 2003 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship.

The prestigious grant will significantly enhance a major research project expected to provide insight into how physiological systems give rise to adaptive behaviors. It also will enhance courses and establish new opportunities for Lafayette students to conduct cutting-edge neuroscience research.

The other Cattell Fund recipients are from Princeton University, University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt University.

The fellowship will enable Hill to extend her sabbatical leave from six months to a full year, starting in August, when she will begin exploring the neurochemical basis of mating systems in birds through laboratory and field work. She will collaborate with Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, professor of psychology at Cornell University and an expert in avian behavioral endocrinology, and interact with other leading scientists in the fields of psychology, ornithology, and neuroscience.

“During my sabbatical, I will design and test methods to bring behavioral neuroscience into the wild,” says Hill, who has conducted related research with several Lafayette students on the neural and hormonal basis of behavior in zebra finches.

A former Pennsylvania Professor of the Year, Hill has spent extended periods in the field to research birds, canoeing the waterways of Washington State to observe the mating behaviors of monogamous American coots, traveling to the coast of the Swedish island Ă–land to study mate choice in ruffs (shorebirds), and wading the glacial potholes of eastern Oregon’s high-plateau deserts to investigate colonial breeding in eared grebes.

“A yearlong sabbatical will enable me to combine my laboratory work with my fieldwork and fuse my research programs into an exciting new investigation of how neurotransmitters influence the behavioral repertoires of birds breeding in the wild,” she says. “Uniting these perspectives will enhance the external validity of behavioral neuroscience research.”

After testing field research techniques as a Cattell Fellow, Hill will establish a field site at Lafayette.

“I see this sabbatical as more than a renewal period; I believe it will be career defining,” she says. “A yearlong sabbatical will enable me to develop a new research program to bring back to Lafayette and my students. This research, which I anticipate focusing on for at least the next ten years, will yield publications, serve as a basis of a National Science Foundation grant, and likely result in modifications to several of my courses (notably, Comparative Psychology, Physiological Psychology, and Advanced Neuroscience).”

Hill has served as a dedicated mentor for more than 70 Lafayette students pursuing many different majors in research projects covering a wide range of disciplines, both in and out of her own areas of specialization. Neuroscience major Alyssa Picchini ’04 (York, Pa.), for example, collaborated with Hill on two EXCEL Scholars research projects dealing with hormones and their effect on the behavior of both humans and animals (see related story). In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend.

“She is an amazing teacher and mentor,” says Picchini, recipient of a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. “I really like her approach to research and the freedom she gives me to explore the questions I have about the projects we are working on.”

Hill’s current mentoring relationships include supervising an honors thesis by Marquis Scholar Jill Krapf ’03 (Downingtown, Pa.) that could lead to a new model for testing anti-anxiety drugs (see related story).

“I chose to work with Dr. Hill because she is such an intelligent, caring, and enthusiastic professor,” says Krapf, a neuroscience major. “She has been very supportive of my thesis as well as the other students who are conducting research in her lab.”

“I believe that research makes science an adventure,” Hill says. “The students are colleagues. They are not here just to wash bottles and clean floors. We really are working together.” Many of her students have published articles in scholarly journals and presented papers at professional conferences

Hill has published numerous articles in her field’s leading scholarly journals and contributed two chapters to Exploring Animal Behavior in Laboratory and Field, a book published last year by Academic Press. She also has presented dozens of talks at national and international scientific meetings. Hill has received research awards from numerous organizations, including the National Science Foundation, the American Museum of Natural History, the American Ornithologists Union, the Fulbright Commission, and the Sigma Xi Research Society.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named her Pennsylvania’s Professor of the Year in 1999. The award salutes her extraordinary dedication to teaching and exceptional impact on and involvement with undergraduate students

A specialist in comparative and physiological psychology, Hill played the lead role in creating Lafayette’s neuroscience program. This increasingly popular, interdisciplinary area of study focuses on the ways in which humans and animals are affected by the activities of the nervous system.

“Largely because of Wendy Hill’s efforts, Lafayette College is poised to have one of the preeminent undergraduate neuroscience programs in the country,” says Julio J. Ramirez, the R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology at Davidson College, with whom Hill has collaborated in national efforts to advance undergraduate neuroscience education. “Her vision of education is one that will ensure Lafayette’s students will be among the best educated in neuroscience in the nation. Her contributions in promoting excellence in neuroscience education at the national level are already being felt.”

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1989, Hill has twice been honored with major campus-wide awards: the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Award for outstanding teaching and scholarship and the Marquis Distinguished Teaching Award for exceptional contributions to students, the curriculum, and the College.

Hill received a Ph.D. from the University of Washington through the department of psychology’s Animal Behavior program, with a minor area in zoology/ecology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with honors, from Douglass College, Rutgers University. Before coming to Lafayette, Hill conducted postdoctoral research and taught as an adjunct faculty member at Rutgers for five years.

The James McKeen Cattell Fund has provided support for the science and application of psychology for more than half a century. Fellowship recipients in the past two school years hailed from Carnegie Mellon University, Mt. Holyoke College, New York University, Duke University, University of California-Davis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Colorado, and University of Illinois.

Categorized in: Academic News