Throughout Homecoming, encounters on the periphery of the festivities stood out the most: alumni excitedly greeting their former professors; catching up on new research and other developments; and recreating, if only for a few minutes, that very special, unique bond that students and teachers have with each other. Alumni of the William & Mary Biology Department studied the links intertwining molecular mechanisms and ecological webs, but their own close links brought them home.
Homecoming from Thursday to Saturday (October 16 to 18) kicked off with a seminar given by Dr. Laura Romano (W&M ’93) of Denison University, who discussed her evolutionary development research with a packed audience in Andrews 101. Dr. Romano attributed her start in research to the mentorship of Professor Norm Fashing, and pointed out her entire career focus changed with a developmental biology course that she took during her senior year.
“Before college, I had no idea what a biologist actually did, and so the opportunity to work in Dr. Fashing’s lab gave me a lot of insight into that process,” she recalled.
Following the seminar, Friday presented a new addition to the department’s homecoming program- individual lab tours offered by respective faculty members, who saw potential for them to become a signature part of the homecoming experience.
“I took Jeff Crisci ('94), two of his sons, and Katherine Spradlin Hopkins ('84) on a tour of the aviaries. They enjoyed learning about the student research projects, and the kids of course loved seeing the baby birds… I think the tours will grow and become and favorite tradition if we can get more people to participate and have some students doing demos along the way,” Professor Dan Cristol said.
On Saturday excitement continued with biology faculty greeting former students who dropped by the third floor of the Integrated Science Center. Dr. Jon Allen set out tanks featuring many invertebrates that attracted seven year olds and seniors alike, while current student Kimi Zamuda ’16, Spencer Millen ’15, Dallas Banks ’15, and masters’ student Stephanie Chin ‘15 shared their research with interested alumni.
“It’s all very fascinating to see what people are working on and see how that fits into my work.” said Harry Haverkos, father of Katie (neé Haverkos) Clark ’03.
Down the hall, alumni gave advice to undergraduate phage lab teaching assistants for after graduation.
“Start making connections,” advised Eric Yttri ’04, noting that current Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. William Buchser worked in Yttri’s best friend’s lab for his post-doctoral research. He gave tips and tricks to the phage lab TAs on networking for grad school, reminiscing how he met his own graduate school advisor at a conference.
“It’s something that’s important for these guys to know.” observed Dr. Oli Kerscher (current Associate Professor), watching the scene from afar.
Yttri’s wife, Jenny (neé Lynch) Yttri ’05, added that opportunities she had at William & Mary, such as attending conferences with faculty, had great value. A particularly valuable skill she took away from William & Mary was how to consider and think about new concepts.
“In the long run, there’s much more thinking on your own- and you get that from day one here,” she said, noting how her classes led her to be “…questioning and engaging with science.”
Despite the many changes over the years (“Millington was the state of the art building for us…” Lou Burnett ‘72 and Karen Burnett ’73 said, wryly), all former students commented on the open and engaging professors they had and the how their education led them to consider science as a way of looking at the world.