MHC Moment: August 2012

Mission to Mars

This month, my Mount Holyoke moment occurred when I was attending the Triennial Council meetings of Phi Beta Kappa in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sitting next to my colleague, biology professor Stan Rachootin, at the opening of the event, I was eager to hear the first plenary address by Indiana University astrobiologist Lisa Pratt. Professor Pratt, who is one of the scientists working on the latest Mars mission, detailed spectacularly the events that needed to be pulled off in order for a successful landing of Curiosity on the red planet. By the time she was finished, everyone in the audience understood exactly why the NASA team referred to the final stages of the touchdown as “seven minutes of terror.”

Amidst the excitement of the talk, I was filled with pride, knowing that our own astronomy professor, Darby Dyar, is a key member of NASA’s panel of scientists. Over the next several months, as Darby and her students from the Five Colleges receive and analyze data from the rover, their work has the potential not only to expand our scientific knowledge, but to raise fundamental questions about the origins of life. In fact, I had the pleasure of working with Darby, and faculty throughout the Valley, this past academic year in exploring curricula that would confront the ethical, religious, and social implications of discovering life on other plants.

The capacity for students to engage in groundbreaking research with internationally renowned professors, who are equally devoted to teaching, is one of Mount Holyoke’s hallmarks. Another point of distinction is the commitment of our professors to engaging in truly multidisciplinary work and to sharing their vast expertise with others beyond departmental boundaries and the College gates. Darby is one of approximately 240 professors who, through their willingness to serve as life-long mentors, provide a transformative experience for our students. As the new academic year approaches, I want to express my gratitude to each and every one of them. Mount Holyoke alumnae are the lasting beneficiaries of their wisdom, guidance, and support in our personal quests to reach for the stars!

–President Pasquerella ’80

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