For Some Students, Summer Means More Swarthmore

by Abby Holtzman '16

Swarthmore's campus may be bustling during the academic year, but even over the summer, activity continues to a degree that some may find surprising. In addition to the multiple athletic and language camps living in dormitories and using facilities, a large number of Swarthmore students choose to stay in the area during the long, warm months of June, July, and August. Many sublet apartments in "the Ville", while others stay in the Barn on Chester Road or Mary Lyon Hall, which is filled to capacity.

Others live at home but come to campus to do research for a department or work. Employment opportunities over the summer include working in Lang Performing Arts Center, McCabe Libray, or the Admissions Office, among others. In addition to students who work, others, especially those funded by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, have internships in nearby towns or Philadelphia.

Christopher Magnano '14
Christopher Magnano '14 is working on a computer program that helps predict Alzheimer's disease.

Working on research projects is also one of the most popular ways to spend the summertime at Swat, as student endeavors span the spectrum from the sciences to the arts.

Christopher Magnano '14, a biology and computer science major from Wilton, Conn., stayed on campus this summer to work on a computer program that facilitates brain MRI segmentation. He is collaborating on this project with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Ameet Soni. The program aims to help predict Alzheimer's disease five or six years in advance and currently has been proven to be approximately 60 to 70 percent accurate. It determines whether a person's brain is normal, has active Alzheimer's disease, or shows the mild cognitive impairment that occurs between five and 20 years before the onset of Alzheimer's.

Mangano says the project provides a fascinating intersection of his interests. "It's right up my alley doing machine learning on neurobiology," he says, referring to the process by which machines are programmed to automatically improve, or "learn," with experience to maximize their capabilities.

Not that the experience hasn't been without its challenges. "I spent three days thinking [the program] wasn't working, but it just turned out I was using the wrong color scheme that turned everything pink," he says, describing one stand-out mishap. 

Although Magnano has worked to develop programs that improve computer efficiency, he feels as if his summer project has a more direct impact on improving the lives of others. "This is much more concrete, direct helping people," he says.

Miranda Stewart '15
Miranda Stewart '15 is contributing to a documentary about the College, led by a group of alumni filmmakers.

Miranda Stewart '15 is working on a documentary film project about Swarthmore, led by alumni filmmakers Shayne Lightner '87, Andrea Meller '99, and Emily Topper '99. Although she is not sure whether or not she wants to become involved in film as a profession, the linguistics major and film and media studies minor from Marlton, N.J., was thrilled to receive the hands-on experience.

Stewart, along with Joshua Asante '14, worked with the film's production team as they shot scenes of the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater, Crum Woods, and other scenic spots and conducted a variety of campus interviews. "Our main goal is authenticity," she explains, "and representing what it was like to be a student here [during different eras]."

As she was "schlepping equipment" and generally engaging in the everyday realities of the film world, including the 10-hour workdays, Stewart could not have been more excited. "That's what it's like to make a film," she says. 

For the rest of the summer, Stewart is conducting research in Friends Historical Library, searching through archival photos for the documentary. "I love it here," she says. "I wanted to stay on campus because of the community and wanted to see if that would extend over the summer." So far, her experience has confirmed her query.

David Ding '16
David Ding '16 says his summer research project has helped him determine a future career path.

David Ding '16, an Edmond, Okla. native and chemical physics prospective special major, is working with Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Josh Newby on a project that involves jet-cooled laser spectroscopy of chemical substances. He is conducting experiments to determine the ways in which molecules interact with themselves and with space, searching for abnormalities in the collected data. Ding is working with the organic compound Cis-Anethole, found in the licorice-flavored anise.

For Ding, the lab work has helped him identify a possible career path. "The most rewarding part of it is just learning about a topic I see myself working on in the future," he says. He envisions obtaining a Ph.D. that would allow him to work on renewable energy projects and sees his current lab work as a "priceless opportunity" to do work relating to physical chemistry. "I think I found something that I could do as a career that would both challenge and reward me," he says.

Swarthmore students often engage in exciting summer ventures, and their opportunities span the globe. Staying on campus, however, has its own, distinct pleasures. As temperatures climb, flowers continue to bloom and students are able, as they pursue their passions, to combine their usual energy with a gentler pace.