Erskine hosts Emory professors

Posted on June 13, 2016

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Dr. Sean Stowell, third from left, poses with Dr. Anna Blenda and several Erskine students.

Two professors from Emory University visited the Erskine campus during the spring semester at the invitation of Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Anna Blenda, who spent her recent sabbatical doing research in an Emory laboratory. Both professors were well received and hope to come back to the Due West campus.

Dr. Sean Stowell, an assistant professor in pathology and laboratory medicine and principal investigator of the lab in which Blenda worked last year, visited Erskine April 26 and spoke to students and faculty about “The Serendipity of Science—An Unexpected Career of a Physician-Scientist.”

Dr. Guy Benian, a professor in pathology and laboratory medicine, came to campus May 3. His visit was co-sponsored by the biology and music departments. He spoke about his career path and his biomedical research using the model organism C. elegans (roundworm) and offered a piano performance as well.

Claire Mueller, a graduating senior biology major, said the Emory professors’ remarks were “interesting and relevant to my time here as a student of Erskine College.”

Professor Emerita of Biology Dr. Janice Haldeman attended both presentations. “Faculty from larger institutions bring a valuable perspective to our campus,” she said.

Haldeman noted that hosting faculty from large schools can benefit students considering graduate school as well as those interested in undergraduate research opportunities.

“Visits like this often provide valuable contacts for our students to experience undergraduate research at visiting faculty members’ schools,” she said. “It also gives our prospective graduate students a chance to know of the many programs available in their areas of interest.”

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Dr. Guy Benian

A key benefit, Haldeman said, is “hearing firsthand from a faculty visitor who has taken time to come and have personal interaction with our faculty and students.”

Erskine students who attended the spring presentations would probably agree with Haldeman’s assessment.

Mueller called Stowell’s speech “inspiring and comforting, encouraging me to pursue what I love and have faith that everything will work out in the end.”

Benian’s talk and musical performance, Mueller said, provided “an excellent reminder about the liberal arts aspect of Erskine and how the sciences can be well combined with the fine arts to make a well-rounded and balanced individual.”

Rising junior Zach Bowens, also a biology major, cited “joy” as Stowell’s theme. Stowell “looked for joy in everything he did, often leaving comfortable situations in order to pursue something that he would enjoy,” Bowens said.

“His words were honest and true to real life; oftentimes, the path to one’s goals isn’t always a straight one,” he added. “Often, adaptability and adjustability are imperative for a success or reaching goals.”

Professor of Music Dr. Brooks Kuykendall said of Benian’s visit, “It was refreshing to see someone demonstrating what it means to be an amateur: to do something because you love it, even when it takes a lot of work and a lot of time.”

Kuykendall noted that Benian “was playing very challenging literature, and he offered it to us precisely because he wanted to share his enthusiasm.”

Biology major and rising senior Michael Byrd, president of the Student Government Association, attended Stowell’s lecture and found it encouraging. “Dr. Stowell described life as serendipitous, and reminded us not to think linearly when contemplating life,” Byrd said.

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Dr. Sean Stowell on the Erskine campus with Dr. Anna Blenda

“As college students, we often feel we need to have our lives planned out: careers, where we will live, the type of person we will marry—we must have it all figured out. However, this is exactly the trap Dr. Stowell warned against. He expressed the importance of listening to the intuitive feeling you have inside of you, and following your intuition to your true passion.”

Both Emory professors were enthusiastic about Erskine.

“The campus is absolutely beautiful and is only matched by the kindness of the students and faculty,” Stowell said.

Benian, who became acquainted with both the science and music facilities during his visit, remarked on the beauty of the campus and praised the “excellent teaching space and spacious faculty offices” in the science center and the “superb acoustics and excellent Steinway concert grand piano with a particularly wonderful bass” in Memorial Hall.

“As I walked around campus, I couldn’t help but think of what a tremendous experience it would be to learn in such a great environment,” Stowell said. “Having worked with one of Erskine’s graduates and with a faculty member, Anna Blenda, I can say firsthand that the education and overall experience students receive at Erskine is truly impressive.”

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Dr. Anna Blenda with Justin Van Riper in the lab at Emory

Blenda, who had hoped for continued collaboration with the lab at Emory after her sabbatical, was delighted when some of her students showed an interest in pursuing research opportunities there. She reports that she and Justin Van Riper, a rising junior from Sandy Springs, Ga., are doing research in Stowell’s lab this summer. “Justin is enjoying it tremendously and is hoping to get his own small research project accomplished this summer!” she says.