Far from frivolous, St. Mary's College prepared me for a rigorous career in the sciences

As a 2010 graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland, I was quite disappointed by way the school was portrayed recently by commentator Anne D. Neal ("Cautionary campus tale," May 30). Her attack on St. Mary's educational standards was off-base and a poor representation of the St. Mary's experience.

My four years as an undergraduate at St. Mary's prepared me for the rigorous and academically challenging career path I have chosen for myself. At St. Mary's, I had the opportunity to complete my senior thesis in biology on a self-designed laboratory research project, and I worked as a member of the leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa introducing Girl Scouts to river ecology.


At 24, I am currently a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the interdisciplinary molecular and cellular biology graduate program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Today, I continue to participate with outreach programs aimed at promoting science as a career option for girls. I also write a scientific blog aimed at explaining cutting-edge research to the public, and I volunteer at a local outpatient cancer treatment facility.

I hope to combine my interests in cancer research and public outreach one day by working for a nonprofit research organization. As I reflect back on my St. Mary's experience, I can guarantee that I would not be prepared to tackle such an interdisciplinary career without the education and training I received as a St. Mary's student.

Nor am I an exception to the rule. In fact, my graduating class has given rise to lawyers, authors, nurses, environmental activists, historians, medical students, neuroscientists and Peace Corps volunteers — just to name a few. We came into St. Mary's unfocused high school graduates but left prepared to tackle the world and take an interdisciplinary approach to our careers and futures.

Ms. Neal highlighted eccentric freshmen seminar topics as examples of the lack of importance placed on a liberal arts education at St. Mary's. However, as a biology major, my transcript reflected a wide range of courses outside of my discipline, including world history, French, calculus, environmental sociology, economics and world cinema.

Freshman year in college is a scary time. Living away from your parents and getting adjusted to the rigor of college-level courses can be overwhelming and intimidating. I applaud St. Mary's for offering more light-hearted seminar courses to help new students adjust to college standards and develop relationships with both fellow students and professors.

Personally, I believe that my success as a scientist is due in part to the ability to view the natural world from many different perspectives. My St. Mary's education is the reason that I am able to have such a multifaceted approach to science and to life in general.

While I understand that the shortfall in newly enrolled students is of concern to the St. Mary's community, the article incorrectly blamed the shortfall on a decline in the quality of a St. Mary's education.

Alumni Weekend at St. Mary's starts a week from tomorrow. I will be flying the 3,000 miles from Seattle to visit the school that has shaped my life and left me with countless and irreplaceable memories. Over a thousand other alumni will be joining me at our small school on the river. I see this alumni participation as a great testament to the positive impact St. Mary's has had on countless students and the great impact it will have on future generations.

Emily Fawcett, Seattle, Wash.