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Last year, Marquis Scholar and biology major Colleen Walsh ’06 (Manasquan, N.J.) conducted independent research guided by Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology, testing bacteria from mercury-polluted Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y., for resistance to mercury and eight different antibiotics.

This year, Walsh is continuing the work for her senior honors thesis, concentrating on the cell-to-cell transfer of mercury and antibiotic resistance from bacteria that possess the resistance to those that do not.

“Originally, I joined the Onondaga project to help provide an accurate profile of the bacterial lake environment and the effect the mercury pollution is having on these organisms, which in turn affects the entire lake ecosystem,” she says. “I am fascinated by the ability of these organisms to evolve mechanisms to ensure their survival, despite the hazards which we have created for them.”

Walsh says the antibiotics in the lake come primarily from METRO, the Syracuse wastewater treatment plant.

“In our findings last year we observed a very large percentage of organisms that exhibited resistances to three or more antibiotics,” she says. “I am interested in studying the ability of these organisms to transfer these resistances, because it allows for the potential for antibiotic resistance to be transferred from non-pathogenic bacteria to pathogenic bacteria, resulting in the formation of disease-causing bacteria which do not respond to antibiotics.”

Walsh credits Caslake as “an amazing resource.”

“I am very confident in her abilities as a professor, an adviser, and most especially a mentor,” Walsh says. “She allows these research projects to be truly what they are designed to be — an independent study developed and executed by the students themselves. She offers excellent guidance, but the projects are truly our own.”

Walsh adds that Caslake provides students with “a constant source of support not only for our research projects, but for our lives outside the laboratory.”

Walsh says many other Lafayette professors offer similar support and encouragement.

“Lafayette is an extremely supportive environment which encourages students to get involved outside the normal lecture hours and pursue their academic interests,” she says. “In my experience professors have always had numerous students researching and working with them, not for them, on various student-directed projects. It truly is a place where you can get as involved as you choose to be.”

Walsh, who hopes to study medicine and become a pediatrician, says she chose biology as her major “because I have always been drawn to and fascinated by the complexities of our scientific world. I have found the program at Lafayette to be very well run, and from my interview experiences, well respected in the professional school world.”

Last summer, she spent 10 weeks working in a diabetes-research laboratory in the endocrinology department at Yale Medical School through an internship arranged by the parent of another Lafayette student.

Walsh is president of Lafayette’s Panhellenic Council, past president and member of the Alpha Phi sorority, a student representative to the Lafayette Board of Trustees’ committees on educational policy and student social patterns, an associate representative for Student Government to the Faculty Committee on Teaching and Learning, and the 2006 Lafayette Leadership Education intern. In addition, she is a member of Alternative School Break Club and participated in a service trip to Washington, D.C., over the fall break, volunteering with Food and Friends, a non-profit organization that prepares meals and delivers groceries to the homes of HIV/AIDS patients and others terminally ill in the area.

She has volunteered at Easton Hospital and for Kids in the Community, an after-school program for children coordinated by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center. She was also a peer tutor in chemistry, a student intern on the Lafayette Leadership Education Committee, and a member of Crew Club.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 39 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Walsh receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded course abroad or in the United States during January’s interim session between semesters or the summer break. Marquis Scholars also participate in mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

Categorized in: Academic News