Once again, Mount David Summit is a peak experience

Christopher Calahan '12 describes his neuroscience research based on pond snails. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Mount David Summit presenter Christopher Calahan ’12 describes his neuroscience research. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Do you believe that a person’s emotional state leaves a presence, a sort of residue, in the places she or he has been? And that such a residue can influence, in turn, the feelings of people who come to those spaces next?

If you do, you’re not alone. That belief is so common, in fact, that it inspired psychology major MacKenzie Vile ’12 of Wallingford, Conn., to base a research project on it, expanding the existing data with a survey that she conducted in Japan last fall.

Video and photos from the Summit.
Creative writers read from their thesis projects during the summit. Erica Long ’12 reports.

Imagine, then, the emotional essences permeating Pettengill Hall by the time the 11th annual Mount David Summit rolled around on March 30: pride in accomplishment, the gratification in sharing new knowledge, the sheer exuberance of playing to an eager audience — all multiplied by more than 2,800 students and countless visitors since the inaugural event in 2002.

Wherever you stand on the emotional residue question, the joint was jumping for Friday’s event, for which 333 students, representing 26 disciplines and advised by 65 faculty, gave panel and poster presentations in three concurrent sessions. Those were followed in the evening by the first of the weekend’s four dance concerts. Musical performances, including the spring concert of the Bates Gamelan Orchestra, also took place over the weekend.

Welcomes and shout-outs

A visiting parent listens to a Mount David Summit panel presentation on public health. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Standing in a second-story gallery of Perry Atrium, three trombonists — Israel Piedra ’12, politics professor James Richter and music and arts librarian Chris Schiff — opened the summit with a fanfare, an excerpt from 16th-century composer Alessandro Costantini’s “Confitemini Domino.”

From a stairway landing overlooking the poster-filled atrium, Interim President Nancy Cable welcomed the summit. “Our students, with the academic guidance of our truly extraordinary and dedicated faculty, journey daily into the life of the mind, sometimes nightly into the life of the mind,” Cable said.

Ranging across the disciplines, the aim of this effort is “frankly not to find all the answers, but to do what educated people do, which is to find a better set of questions” — the ultimate results being “integrity, critical thinking, historical consciousness, ethical development and a deep and abiding commitment to the value of the life of the mind.

“What you see before you today is the result of that dedicated faculty and student work.”

Cable’s welcome included shout-outs to Bates President-elect Clayton Spencer, attending her first Mount David Summit, and to Ralph Perry ’51 and Mary Louise Seldenfleur, who originally proposed the summit to then-Dean of the Faculty Jill Reich. Reich’s successor as dean of the faculty, Pam Baker ’70 offered her own thanks to Perry and Seldenfleur for launching what she called “the annual gathering in which our students become our teachers — and for the teachers, that’s quite a thrill.

“As a biology professor who has worked with many student researchers over the years, I can attest to their immense commitment, their intellectual curiosity and the delight they take in making discoveries and owning their ideas.”


“Delight” described Vile’s attitude about her psychology poster, which, like many MDS posters, was based on her senior thesis. Existing research has found that while in India, believers in
emotional residues will explicitly discuss that belief, Americans deny
it when asked — but actively demonstrate that they do believe in the
notion if it’s presented to them as part of a narrative, such as in a
story or movie.

Flanked by Senior Lecturer in Theater Kati Vecsey and theatrical technical director Michael Reidy, Travis Jones ’13 discusses his work as a set designer during the Mount David Summit. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Surveying 95 students at a Japanese school, Vile found that Japanese believers, like Indians, believed explicitly in emotional residues, a tendency she chalks up to religious and historical traditions in those cultures.

Preparing for the summit, Vile said, has “actually been helpful for me in terms of organizing my own thoughts. I know it sounds crazy, but when you’re doing thesis, it’s really easy to get lost in all the details and information that you have in front of you.

“Mount David makes you get everything down in a way that you can make understandable. That’s priceless when you’re writing a thesis.”

In fact, for the summit visitor pleasantly overwhelmed by posters about African perspectives on white saviors in cinema, Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, growth rates of surf clams and purification of omega-alkane hydroxylase, or something, it’s easy to lose sight of a crucial reality. “It’s hard to even imagine how much time a thesis student and a thesis adviser spend on the student’s work,” said Assistant Dean of the Faculty Kerry of O’Brien.

“Presenting a poster is for an hour and 15 minutes here, but it represents hundreds of hours’ worth of work.”

Fellows well-met

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the poster sessions in Perry, the panels elsewhere in Pettengill offered a quieter, more relaxed view of student work. Offerings ranged from a 15-person exploration of ocean governance to a presentation by student poets and translators.

In one panel, the Harward Center for Community Partnerships presented this year’s Community-Based Research Fellows. The program, funded by a grant from the Christian A. Johnson Foundation, supports students in their research and also brings them together for a non-credit seminar led by Georgia Nigro, interim director of the center and professor of psychology.

With poet and writing adviser Rob Farnsworth looking on, Karen Nicoletti '12 reads from her novel during the 2012 Mount David Summit. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

With poet and writing adviser Rob Farnsworth looking on, Karen Nicoletti ’12 reads from her novel during the 2012 Mount David Summit. Photograph by Rene Minnis.

Much of the fellows’ research involved Lewiston’s Somali immigrant community, ranging from an examination of parents’ involvement in their children’s schooling to the use of pictograms to help women, unaccustomed to both the English language and Western healthcare, manage their prescription medicines.

Other fellows assessed resources aimed specifically at GLBT seniors in Maine; worked with a local nonprofit to help it develop a narrative that would publically frame its work; and created an activities guide for a local youth program. The diverse talents and interests of the presenters were revealed unintentionally, too: One, a ceramicist who is double-majoring in studio art and politics (she also plays violin), had to take a break so she could go check a kiln.

Most interesting was a discussion of dilemmas, and their lessons, that the fellows encountered in their work. A key takeaway was the hard but simple truth that while a Lewiston-Auburn community partner may deeply, truly, really value a student’s research contribution, “the work of an organization doesn’t start and stop when the student starts and stops,” said Catherine Elliott, the woman with the kiln. Especially in social services, a nonprofit may have other, much more pressing items on its agenda than its work with student researchers.

“It all comes down to the relationship that you have with that community partner. It’s all about being active and engaged, and aware of a different set of realities than you face in other kinds of courses.”

That’s a voice of maturity, a concept also on the minds of parents Lynne and Neal Manchester. They came from Rehoboth, Mass., to see their daughter, Haley Manchester ’12, present research into the genetic impacts of low doses of arsenic on mice. (They also have a son at Bates, Gunnar ’15.)

“She’s doing a very sophisticated project, and her knowledge of the subject is incredible,” said Neal.

“What she’s learned with her research, I believe, has been pretty instrumental in her securing a job already. So that’s wonderful too,” Lynne laughed.

“We feel that now, going off into the working world, she’s really poised to do fantastically in the next step in her life,” Neal added. “I think a lot of what she’s gained here has just been the maturity to know what’s involved in being successful. That, I think, Bates has really helped her with.”