Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Pamela “Pam” Perkins Au ’81

Pamela “Pam” Perkins Au ’81

  • Director, information technology quality and compliance strategy
  • Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.

Pam Au didn’t expect to work in technology, but an opportunity to be a pioneer in the early ’80s changed her mind. After interning for Congresswoman Margaret Heckler, the government major was offered a position in business applications programming at Merrill Lynch.

“Wall Street was making a huge investment in technology. There were few women in IT in the brokerage industry, and it was an opportunity to learn, grow and develop,” she says.

She went through a 12-week training program, learning COBOL and other programming languages. “It was really technical,” she says. “To this day, I am so proud of making it through that training.”

Women in technology
In the spirit of the Sit With Me project, the Quarterly is showcasing several alumnae working in the industry. Coming from backgrounds that include a variety of majors and working in a wide range of jobs, from designing Navy destroyers to creating educational software, they illustrate the many opportunities available and the many paths into the field that a liberal arts education offers.

Now Au is responsible for the development and execution of Johnson & Johnson’s global IT quality and compliance strategy. She recently led a team to transform the way IT systems and services are delivered by streamlining the systems development life-cycle process and making it more user-friendly.

“As a liberal arts major, I learned to look at things holistically,” she says. “[Professor of Political Science] Darlene Boroviak taught me not to set boundaries.”

With more than 30 years in IT, Au enjoys serving as a mentor to young women and men interested in technology careers. “It’s what I love most about my job,” she says. “Everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve accomplished by working with people in teams.”

Global scholars

Four members of the Class of 2013 and one from the Class of 2012 have won Fulbright Scholarships this year. Wheaton consistently ranks among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the nation when it comes to preparing students to win Fulbright Scholarships for advanced study and work abroad, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Institute of International Education, which administers the Fulbright program. The college’s students have won 73 Fulbright awards since 2000.

Lucy Cayard 

Lucy Cayard '13From: Wellington, Maine

Major: German

Minor: Anthropology

Honors: Recipient of the Charles A. Dana Scholarship and the Anne Huber Tripp ’56 Trustee Scholarship

Fulbright: English teaching assistantship in Germany

Lucy Cayard arrived at Wheaton with an interest in German language and culture, but no plans to major in the subject. But one class led to another, then to a major, a semester spent studying in Regensburg and fluency in speaking the language.

Now, she will be putting her learning and experiences to work in Germany, living and teaching there for a year.

She traces her interest in the German language to her grandmother, Leonora Balla, who was born and raised in Marburg, Germany. After World War II, Balla emigrated to America to go to school. She actually won a Fulbright to the U.S. herself. Unfortunately, she passed away in December before she could learn of her granddaughter’s similar success.

“I think my grandma really wanted me to carry on the family relations with the German family after she died, because I am the only person in my family who speaks German somewhat fluently,” said Cayard. “I wish she could have known that I won the Fulbright.”

After graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, Cayard signed up to take German in order to fulfill the language requirement at Wheaton. Having visited Germany a couple of times, she ended up completing a semester there during her sophomore year—a year earlier than most college students pursue study abroad.

“Living in Germany was easily one of the best times of my life thus far,” she said.

Her experience as a German tutor to her fellow Wheaton students will come in handy in her role as a teaching assistant.

Upon her return to the U.S., Cayard will consider whether to apply to graduate school or to the Peace Corps, where she can support the mission of international aid and education.

Lindsay Cieslik 

Lindsay Cieslik '13From: Madison, Wis.

Major: Psychology

Minor: Education

Honor: Community Scholar

Fulbright: English teaching assistantship in Malaysia

Education, said the 19th century school reformer Horace Mann, is “the great equalizer.” Lindsay Cieslik believes in that equalizing power, and that’s why she wants to teach.

At the age of 21, she has already gained teaching experience in Tanzania, East Africa, and here in Norton, Mass., as a student teacher in a local school. Later this year, she will broaden that experience as she heads to Malaysia as an English language teaching assistant.

She realizes that public education in the U.S. is far from equitable. “I think that, so far, many education reforms have been Band-Aid fixes, meaning they are just covering up the problem instead of finding the root of it,” she said. “We need to find the root of the problem and fix it. One way I believe that can happen is by putting the right teachers in the right classrooms.”

Cieslik, who wants to work with low-income urban students, has long drawn inspiration from the teachers in her own life—first in her early years, then at Wheaton, and then in a township outside of Grahamstown, South Africa, where she studied abroad during her junior year.

She had her first international teaching experience in Tanzania, during the Wheaton summer course, “Tanzania: Education and Development,” taught by Professor Donna Kerner. Then, during her semester in South Africa, Cieslik volunteered at the Little Flower Preschool, which had been started by four local women on their own initiative.

After her year in Malaysia, Cieslik wants to return to the States and teach in an urban school for a few years, then pursue a master’s degree in education. It’s all part of her quest to be the best teacher she can for the students with the greatest needs.

Rasheeda Abdul-Musawwir  

Seniors who get jobsFrom: Boston

Major: Women’s studies

Minor: Psychology

Honor: Gilman Scholar

Fulbright: English teaching assistantship in Bangladesh

Rasheeda Abdul-Musawwir grew up as a minority within a minority. Her family, American Muslims among Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia, immersed themselves in a diverse community.

That background, she said, prepared her to take intellectual risks in college.

She plans to continue her educational journey next year in Bangladesh, where she will be teaching English as a Fulbright Scholar.

“Teaching English in Bangladesh will allow me the chance to do two things I long for: teach young people English and become part of a community of people I want to learn more about,” she said.

A native of Boston, Abdul-Musawwir identifies her decision to major in women’s studies as a turning point.

“Prior to Wheaton, I found myself often questioning gender stereotypes; however, I was too shy to be expressive about my opinions,” she said. “Women’s studies challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and learn to be an active feminist.”

Having taken courses in education, she finds welcome challenge in teaching. She has built up a résumé of teaching experience with volunteer opportunities on campus and having spent several summers as a teacher with the nonprofit Breakthrough Collaborative program in Cambridge, Mass.

“Teaching provides you with constant feedback, which is determined by how receptive students are to your performance,” she said. “This requires a teacher to constantly look back on his or her work and re-evaluate.”

When she heads to Bangladesh, it will not be her first trip abroad. She won an award from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which enabled her to spend the spring semester of her junior year in Morocco.

Lindsay Powell 

Lindsay Powell ’13From: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Major: Sociology

Minors: Political science and development studies

Honor: Wheaton Posse Scholar

Fulbright: English teaching assistantship in Malaysia

A new world opened for Lindsay Powell after she first learned to read and speak Spanish in high school.

“I remember reading every Spanish-language advertisement on the New York City subway, and listening to every conversation in Spanish that I overheard,” Powell said. “I began to learn about Latino culture, food, music and dance.”

Next year, she hopes to share the transforming power of language by teaching English to schoolchildren as a Fulbright Scholar to Malaysia.

“I want to be able to work with young people especially and share with them the transformative experience I had when I began to learn Spanish,” she said. “I also believe learning English is a vital skill to have in our globalized world.”

She’s looking forward to learning about Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and culturally diverse society by living there for a year.

“After studying abroad in Vietnam, I became fascinated with Southeast Asia, and was particularly interested in doing more travel in the diverse region,” she said. “I chose Malaysia because I was intrigued by the mixing of cultures and ethnicities, and how these realities increasingly play a role in the politics of the nation.”

A Wheaton Posse Scholar, Powell served as president of the Student Government Association. She also was active in a number of other campus organizations, from the Roosevelt Institute to the Trybe dance group.

She is an experienced world traveler, too. In addition to her semester abroad in Vietnam, she also has spent a summer volunteering as a tutor in Rivas, Nicaragua, and she worked with youth in Cape Town, South Africa, last summer as one of Wheaton’s International Davis Fellows.

Through those experiences, she said, “I have seen the devastating effects that inequality and poverty have on children and young adults. I understand now how it damages one’s self-esteem and self-worth.”

Issues of social justice and equality have formed the core of Powell’s studies at Wheaton, she said, noting that inequality can serve as a spark to achieving real and substantive change.

Melissa Grove ’07

  • 650_Melissa Grove 07Director of outreach, affinity groups
  • Assistant director of student activities and leadership, Babson College, Wellesley, Mass.

Involvement: Class president, 2010–17; co-vice president, 2010; Filene center volunteer, 2011–13

Connection: “The faculty, staff, alumnae/i and many others affiliated with Wheaton gave so much of their time and effort to help make my four years engaging and enriching. It is important to me to do the same for current and future students whenever possible so they can enjoy their time and then give back after they graduate.”

Goal: “I believe that there are a lot of talented alumnae/i who loved their time at Wheaton and want to give back, but may not be sure how they can use their passions and talents to benefit the students or the college. I’m hoping that by connecting alumnae/i through the affinity groups they loved while at Wheaton that we can make strong ties between current students and alumnae/i who share many of the same passions and goals.”

Surprise: “I want to go to a game in every Major League Baseball stadium in the country (I’ve been to four of 30 so far).”

Back to Candidates List

Focusing on fruit flies

Students seek insights into behavior, memory

For most people, fruit flies are just annoying visitors in the kitchen. We don’t usually think about fruit flies learning or fighting over mates, but Michaela Superson ’13, a neuroscience major, and Jeffrey Paer ’15, a biology major, are looking at these complex behaviors in fruit flies to study brain chemistry and memory.

Superson, who has been working on a senior honors thesis project for the past two semesters, is interested in neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay messages between different cells in the brain. Specially, she is working with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

“My senior thesis has provided an excellent introduction to medical research I may conduct in the future,” says Superson, who plans to go to medical school after she graduates from Wheaton. “It has solidified my love of neuroscience and my desire to pursue medicine.”

Paer, who is also interested in a medical career, started out as an assistant for Superson’s thesis project and was soon inspired to start his own research testing memory in fruit flies.

Fruit flies may seem far removed from the ‘people’ that these students want to help, but research on these creatures has broader implications for the workings of the human brain. “Fruit flies are recognized as excellent model organisms for understanding dopamine in general, including its activities in mammals,” explains Professor of Biology Betsey Dyer, advisor to both Superson and Paer. “And flies are, of course, fascinating in their own right.”

Superson’s experimental fruit flies are mutants that produce either too little or too much dopamine. She observes the effects that changes in dopamine can have on courtship behavior, compared to the courtship behavior of ‘normal’ flies. Then, she ‘rescues’ the mutant flies, by adding dopamine or a dopamine inhibitor to restore their dopamine levels to normal.

In the summer before her junior year, Superson studied medicine abroad. The Trustee Scholar traveled to Kunming, China, with Professor Edmund Tong for Wheaton’s “Traditional Chinese Medicine” summer program. She also spent a semester of her junior year at the University of Edinburgh, where she took courses in medical microbiology and the history of medicine.

“Spending those few weeks immersed in the study of Chinese medicinal practices really inspired me to explore the treatment of illnesses from other perspectives,” she says. “It was also really fun to explore medicine in Edinburgh, where so many essential medical developments occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Paer became interested in working with fruit flies as a freshman in Professor Dyer’s “Genetics” class. “He was so focused and persistent that I would often see him still working in the fly lab long after everyone else had gone to dinner,” Dyer recalls. His work with Superson and a combination of different interests soon inspired him to start his own research.

“Music is my passion,” says Paer, who started playing piano at age four, and since then has played cello, trumpet and several genres of guitar. “My background in music initially inspired me to investigate the effects of music or sound on fruit fly memory.” When he learned that fruit flies can only hear a very limited range of sound—100 to 900 Hertz (a unit of frequency)—he constructed a tiny speaker system with the help of professors John Collins and Jason Goodman, and Physics Department Teaching Assistant Anthony Houser.

Paer had read a published study in which male fruit flies were paired in a small, enclosed ‘fighting arena.’ When paired, one male would assume a dominant role and the other would be subordinate. When paired again 30 minutes later, the flies would assume the same roles, indicating that they had retained a memory of their relationship. But after more than 30 minutes, the roles were often switched, indicating that the flies had forgotten their established dominance relationship. Paer constructed his own tiny, enclosed fighting arena, and plays a sound when pairing up aggressive males, to see if playing the sound later can help flies to recall their status for longer than 30 minutes.

“So far Jeff is getting significant data suggesting that sound indeed is helping the flies to recall their status,” says Dyer. He has found that sound can help fruit flies retain a memory for 40 minutes, and he plans to keep pushing that limit.

Paer’s research provides insight into the learning and behavior in animals, using a creature that could hardly seem more different from us—and yet shares sixty percent of the same genes as humans. He plans to build upon his research for a thesis project in his senior year.

“I love coming up with unique questions based off the literature and pursuing those ideas,” he says.  “The excitement lies in not knowing exactly what will happen.”—Elizabeth Meyer ’14