Sharon Fuller '08 really likes working with ticks.
Gordon Scholar Sharon Fuller '08 sets up a polymerase chain reaction on samples of tick DNA as part of her research with Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Stacey Lance. The test will help to determine whether Fuller and Lance have found a new tick-borne disease.
Photo by Brian Speer
Photo by Brian Speer
Well, not the ticks themselves, which Fuller and her research advisor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Stacey Lance, gather by sweeping blankets through fields, but the analysis of the diseases that the ticks carry. In fact, when the Colby researchers analyzed the DNA of disease-carrying mechanisms in dog ticks they collected, they were surprised by the result.
"When we sequenced it, we saw something completely different," Fuller said. "What I'm working on this fall is to see whether it's a new strain or a new disease."
Or, if viewed with the characteristic skepticism of a scientist, neither of the above. In any case, the research is significant and potentially important work for an undergraduate, Lance said. The study is examining four different tick-borne diseases that affect humans. Fuller is trying to determine whether the diseases are spreading and, if so, where. Lance is clearly impressed with her research assistant, whom she called "very organized, very diligent, motivated."
Fuller, who is from Old Town, Maine, could have ended up doing her science somewhere else"had Colby not offered her sufficient financial aid to bring her to Mayflower Hill.
This year Fuller is one of the College's new Gordon Scholars"Colby students with high scholastic ability and financial need, with the need being met by a major new scholarship fund endowed last year.
The Michael L. '66 and Sally Gordon Financial Aid Fund provided awards to four Colby students this fall. The awards are the result of a $5-million gift from trustee Michael Gordon '66 and his wife. Gordon, an economics major at Colby who earned a law degree at Boston University, is a founding partner and chief operating officer of Angelo, Gordon & Co., a leading New York firm specializing in nontraditional assets and investments.
As a new trustee, Gordon's re-exposure to liberal arts education and to Colby in particular refocused his philanthropic priorities. "There are a lot of good causes," he said, "but people should consider higher education." Looking at things that were important to him, he concluded that remaining competitive as a nation in the increasingly global environment needs to be a priority. Eager to make sure that as many students as possible get the best education they can, the Gordons settled on financial aid, specifically the new Gordon Scholarships at Colby, as the best way to have an impact, to make a statement, and to participate in Colby's Reaching the World capital campaign.
Vice President for College Relations Richard Ammons explained that that emphasis"giving academically talented and motivated students equitable access to one of the best liberal arts colleges"is one of the cornerstones of the College's strategic plan and a high priority in the ongoing campaign. "I think we're all concerned about the cost of a high quality education, and a residential liberal arts college is a particularly expensive education," Ammons said. "But Colby has always believed it should be accessible to the best students."
Increasingly, colleges that, like Colby, do not offer merit aid, are losing prospective students to colleges and universities that offer significant financial assistance to students with varying degrees of financial need. Many state universities now give automatic full scholarships to high school valedictorians, for example.
Colby has no intention of offering merit aid. As Gordon put it in a recent interview, "Giving money to students who don't need it is a misapplication of resources."
But Colby does want to be able to continue to attract students who show academic promise and who have demonstrable financial need. Colby must be able to compete for the best students, Ammons said, citing President Williams Adams's emphasis on excellence, opportunity, and competition.
The Gordons' gift for financial aid "speaks to all of these," Ammons said.
Among the four students named Gordon Scholars is Tim Concannon '10 of Norwood, Mass., who arrived on Mayflower Hill this fall with interests in math and in continuing his study of Japanese, in which he already is conversationally fluent. Concannon, who also intends to play basketball, said he narrowed his search to three NESCAC colleges before choosing Colby. "Everything seemed to work out for Colby," he said. "By the end of April it was a pretty clear choice."
Fuller, a National Merit Finalist, said she was contacted in high school by colleges that offered her full scholarships based solely on her academic accomplishments. "When I saw Colby didn't offer that, I wasn't so sure [about coming] because that would have been a great opportunity," she said. "But with the financial aid that Colby gave me, it made up for that."
Now in her junior year, Fuller runs cross country and is active in the Colby Christian Fellowship in addition to her work in biochemistry. When she goes home to Old Town, she tries to spread the word, she said. "My friends at home say, 'I can't afford to go to Colby,'" Fuller said. "I say, 'Just try.'"