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For Afghanistan-born Zahra Arabzada ’15, running isn’t just an outlet for exercise; it’s an outlet for activism.
As part of an effort to encourage other Muslim women to pursue a healthy lifestyle and to challenge misconceptions of Muslims by other groups, Zahra is spending her summer training for a 38-mile road race in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 16.
“One of the biggest realizations I have had in life was hearing and truly accepting that women are actually capable of running or having the same rights as men,” said Zahra, now a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Recently she joined the Afghanistan-based Free to Run (F2R) organization, whose mission is “to use running, physical fitness and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict.”
The idea to encourage other Hijabi women to exercise has been on Zahra’s mind ever since she started running as a sixth-former on the St. George’s cross-country team. A college fellowship is helping her realize her dream. This year Zahra was one of just two students to receive the Cohen Fellowship from the Centennial Leadership Center at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “The fellowship is basically a way for me to work on my own project, which I have been thinking about and designing since I started running at SG,” she said.
She has three objectives for the project: to maintain a blog about her training, to speak at various sports clubs and events, and to work with organizations within her hometown of Konduz in northern Afghanistan.
Zahra came to St. George’s after having attended the School of Leadership Afghanistan in Kabul, which was created to promote gender equality in the nation. Through the school she connected with Marian Smith ’76 and began to think about attending boarding school in the United States. Her early schooling was kept a secret from neighbors in her hometown – as well as many of her relatives because Afghan girls are discouraged from pursuing a formal education.
“Running is a means to address some of the topics that are hard to address — and will make the conversation easier,” she said.
Greetings from the Hilltop
Our highly regarded Merck-Horton Center for Teaching & Learning was the recipient of another notable accolade this week when the Harvard-based Research Schools International presented center Director Tom Callahan with a special award recognizing St. George’s “pioneering work in connecting research and practice in education.” The award was presented at a symposium that gathered together approximately 15 of RSI’s partner schools from around the world in Cambridge last week.
“I think this award means that the work we are doing as a team of faculty researchers is important,” said Dr. Callahan. “And it’s work that has been validated; now many other prestigious schools have embarked on similar initiatives, meaning the Merck-Horton Center is at the forefront of other leading schools.”
St. George’s is entering its eighth year of working with RSI, and is credited with creating the model by which the organization was founded. SG was the first high school to partner with RSI’s leaders when they were graduate students at Harvard years prior to RSI’s founding.
The Merck-Horton Center has a dual mission of assisting faculty members in their quest to continually bring improved and innovative teaching techniques to our classrooms, as well as working with students to manage and improve their learning and academic performance.
It’s a model that is now being replicated across the education sector.
“Research in education is vital to the process of continuous improvement,” Dr. Callahan said.
Much of the research in previous decades was not particularly useful to teachers, he added.
“It was not written by teachers, for teachers — or about questions that teachers may be interested in. That’s why it’s so important for us to engage in school-based research — and St. George’s seems to be leading the way in that regard.”
Six of our talented female science students were just the latest to benefit from St. George’s association with the world-renowned Curie Institute, the cancer research center established in 1909 by the noted physicist and chemist Marie Curie.
Since 2011, more than 30 SG students have studied in the labs at the Paris-based Curie as part of our Global Cultural Initiatives Program (GCIP), developed and overseen by Director of Signature Programs Allison de Horsey.
This year rising sixth-formers Lila Burns, Maia Lineberry, Beste Engin, Rose Cheng, Irem Tural and Sophie Coolidge (above) each had the chance to work in Curie’s research facilities, which focus on cell biology and oncology. (The institute also operates a hospital specializing in the treatment of cancer.)
Watch a video of Sophie Coolidge '18 and Maia Lineberry '18 talk about the research they are doing as interns.
St. George’s is the only U.S. high school with such a relationship with the Curie and working in the institute’s labs has certainly been a boon to our science-minded students. “Our students are immersed in the world of research — using techniques and performing experiments they’ve learned about in their science courses,” Ms. de Horsey said.
The program puts students side-by-side with professionals working on the cutting edge of cancer studies. For Beste, it provided invaluable learning opportunities.
“This two-week internship has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life,” she said. “The Curie Institute has provided me with substantial and beneficial skills for my future in the medical world.”
Irem said she learned not only new information, but also new skills at the Curie. “The researchers are not going to explain everything because they are so busy,” she said. “In order to understand the material in depth, you have to learn to not be afraid to ask questions. It is an important skill to have and I would not have learned so much if I hadn’t asked about as much as I did.”
Several of the girls also said the experience was a good test of their interest level in the field.
“I’ve been able to see the complexities of neuroscience up close,” Maia said. “I’ve always been interested in neurology and being able to see the building blocks of the field, as well as the research that goes into the neuroscience, has solidified my passion.”
“Seeing my coworkers and getting a taste for what they do on a day-to-day basis — the time commitment and small steps forward — it was truly a unique and engaging experience that was amazing to be a part of,” Sophie said.
One of the experiments Lila took part in involved sequencing DNA from frogs, mice, rabbits and humans. “This opportunity has allowed me to deepen my love for science and my passion to learn more about the biology world,” she said.
In turn, having American students in their labs has offered unique opportunities to the Curie’s researchers. “Working with our students gives them the opportunity to explain their work in English, share their passion and inspire the next generation of scientists,” Ms. de Horsey said.
Jacqueline Legras, the Curie’s program coordinator of the training unit and hospital training group said our students have earned her respect and admiration. “Once more it was a pleasure to welcome these six young girls motivated by science,” Ms. Legras said. “We are glad to hear that they learned a lot within our institution and that they lived a new experience in our labs.”
This year SG’s relationship with the Curie continues to grow and expand.
Our first graduate returned to the Curie for further study. Lilly Scheibe ’15, now a student at Yale University, spent two months working in the labs at the Curie earlier this summer.
And on June 27, more than 20 Young Principal Investigators from the institute arrived on the Hilltop from Paris for a retreat at St. George’s. Four SG science teachers and three recent graduates took part in the program, which took place in the new SG Academic Center.
Plans are to continue to nurture this valuable relationship.
“Spending time at the Curie is truly inspiring,” said Ms. de Horsey. “The students and I marveled at the researchers’ extraordinary dedication for science and for pushing the bounds to find new cures for all of us.”
Rose said interning at the Curie makes her feel hopeful for the future.
“I love science because of its ability to change the world,” she said.
Biology teacher Dr. Sarah Matarese has a unique opportunity to perform research this summer with Dr. Robert Ballard, the famed oceanographer best known for his 1985 discovery of the wreck of the Titanic.
As part of a Science Communication Fellowship run by the Ocean Exploration Trust, Dr. Matarese will be traveling to the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California from July 23-29, where she’ll board the 64-meter research vessel, Nautilus.
The goal of the Channel Island Expedition is to explore underwater caves that are known to be in the region. “Some of these caves are 400 meters deep and they remain unexplored,” noted Dr. Matarese.
Dr. Ballard, now a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, founded The Ocean Exploration Trust in 2008 to conduct scientific research in areas of the ocean floor that have yet to be investigated and to “seek out new discoveries in the fields of geology, biology, maritime history, archaeology and chemistry.”
(Note: Dr. Ballard delivered St. George’s 2017 Annual Burnett Lecture on May 5. The video is posted on our Vimeo channel.)
To ready for the trip, Dr. Matarese took part in a four-day workshop at URI’s Bay campus during the March spring break. “I met educators from all over the country who will be traveling on the boat at some point during the exploration season,” she said.
What Dr. Matarese is most looking forward to is “working with Dr. Ballard and his team of scientists and exploring a part of the ocean that has never been explored,” she said. “I’m so excited to have this opportunity.”
Dr. Ballard hopes educators who participate in the program will be inspired to share “the excitement of exploration and research with students and public audiences in their communities and around the world.”
All are invited to follow Dr. Matarese and the team’s research online, live, in July. “Anyone can log in to nautiluslive.org and follow me while I’m on the boat,” Dr. Matarese said.
(Editorial warning: If you are fascinated by underwater creatures such as octopuses and spider crabs, this live feed can be very addicting.)
Ed Roberts ’01, now chief of staff for the City of Columbus City Council in Ohio, was on campus May 10 to support an initiative close to his heart: creating educational opportunities for the city’s youth. Joining Ed on campus were two men hoping to establish a new boarding school for African-American boys in Columbus.
Dr. Robert Murphy, founder of the Masters Preparatory Academy, and his chief advancement officer, James Ragland, met with several St. George’s administrators to discuss all aspects of boarding education, tour the Hilltop and visit classes. “I am behind these guys 100 percent,” Ed said. In his previous job as Central Ohio Director in the Office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Ed said he worked hard to support the SEED Foundation, a network of schools providing a college prep education to underprivileged students. “Ultimately, our efforts came up short so I’m glad that someone else is moving it forward,” he added. When the Masters Prep founders approached the mayor’s office for support, Ed said he was “ecstatic.”
Still in the fundraising stage, Masters Prep is planning to open sometime between 2018-2021 — and for the city that’s a very positive development.
“Columbus is growing and thriving, but the disparities are real,” said Ed, himself a native of Dayton, Ohio. “The lack of opportunities for African-American men in our community result in strained community relations with the police, high unemployment rates among minorities and low morale. A public boarding school will go a long way in trying to address [these issues].”
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