share:


Meteors and helices promote community

By

Margaret Coulombe

Turning the pages of her weekly planner, long dark hair framing her face, Ellen Dupont flips backward from one ink-covered page to the next – the past scripted, with no white space left.

Dupont looks for reference to the Leonid meteor shower that took place in the early Tuesday morning of Nov. 17. Why this is important relates to why everything in this planner is important.

Each hash-marked entry, day and hour represents an adventure, a learning experience, a success or something more – something unexpected.

“ASU has been an unexpectedly amazing experience for me,” said Dupont, a National Merit Scholar and Barrett Honors College senior majoring in biology and society, with a minor in psychology.

“I originally came here based on a scholarship,” she said. “What I found was the Center for Biology and Society.”

ASU’s Center for Biology and Society, or CBS as it is fondly called, was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in 2004. It is the brainchild of Jane Maienschein, a Regents’ and President’s Professor of history and philosophy of science in the School of Life Sciences. Dupont discovered the group her sophomore year, after taking a “Science and Society” course with Andrew Hamilton, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences. She loved Hamilton’s teaching and the topics. 

“I talk about the center [Center for Biology and Society] like it’s the center of the universe,” Dupont said. “But it really is the center of my universe. Some of my best friends are the graduate students there. It simply feels like home.”

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ center has become a nexus for Dupont’s mentorship, rounds of thesis decisions and a jumping-off point for adventure. Dupont pursued a summer project in southern India teaching AIDS awareness in slums, orphanages and high schools with the International Alliance for Prevention of AIDS (IAPA). The following year, supported by Maienschein, Hamilton and funding from the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research program (SOLUR), Dupont pursued an internship in Washington, D.C., at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the Science and Human Rights Program. While there, she conducted database searches and country reports, and developed reference documents for a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Though Dupont’s first interests in science came from wanting to be Sydney Bristow in the “Alias” television show, her ASU studies have focused on institutionalized discrimination and how “we view the ‘other.’” 

Her thesis research examines a period when scientists invested in sciences, such as phrenology, which equated physical characters and racial difference to estimations of intelligence. Dupont believes such sciences subtly legitimized Europeans’ views on paternalism, the rending of the African continent and the degradation of its peoples.

She presented a poster on this topic at the AAAS meeting in San Diego, Calif., Feb. 20 titled “Quantifying the Dark Continent: 19th  Century Colonialism and the Science of Race.”

“It’s a fascinating story about a period in time and speaks to how science and policy inform each other,” Dupont said. “The relationship between society, culture, science and policy is tangled and complex. I’m having a lot of fun.”

Dupont will do another poster session March 26 for the School of Life Sciences’ 17th annual undergraduate research poster symposium, where Peter J. Bruns, vice president for grants and special programs with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will speak about “what’s special about studying biology now?”

What’s special to Dupont, she tries to pass along. She duct-tapes favorite candies to the office doors of biology and society master’s students Katherine Liu and Cera Lawrence and doctoral student Mark Ulett, as “thank-yous” for critiquing her honors thesis. She serves as student ambassador in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, working on the one-day “Devils in Disguise” event that puts 650 students into the community.

Dupont also tutors at the Writing Center at ASU.

“Writing is critical to everything,” she said. “I geek out really hard when I see another student’s well-crafted thesis statement.”

A feeling which clearly explains her activity, as a board member, writer, associate editor and podcaster, with ASU’s chapter of The Triple Helix, an international non-profit that promotes undergraduate journalism around policy, business, law and science in society.

“Finding the Center for Biology and Society is probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” Said Dupont, who graduates this May. “The rhetoric meets reality at ASU. There are so many opportunities here to choose from. This experience has helped guide me toward something that I’m really passionate about.”

Next time the Leonid meteors plummet to earth, the community will have new stars rising in the West. Let’s call them Dupont, Lawrence, Ulett, Liu...