‘Research Is a Beautiful Thing for a Curious Mind’

April 26, 2019

The 14th annual Capstone Festival is set to bring the best in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity to campus on May 9.

Nominated by faculty members for the high quality and originality of their work, a select group of students will present their senior, honors, and special undergraduate research projects to the MBU community and the public. There were 40 nominees for Capstone this year.  

One of them is biology major Ascharya Balaji ’19. She studied levonorgestrel, a hormonal medication commonly known as Plan B, and its possible effect on the metastasis of breast cancer cells. During the course of her project under advisor and Assistant Professor of Biology Melissa Scheiber, Balaji successfully set up a new animal model for zebrafish, allowing future students to continue cancer research at MBU after she graduates.

Balaji was energized by the responsibility that she took on in her independent project.

“Research is a beautiful thing for a curious mind,” she said. “It has the ability to stretch your intellect without exhausting your imagination. It leaves you with a desire to discover more and answer every last question that you have.”

Hailing from New York, Balaji plans to continue stretching her intellect at a research institute in the fall of 2019, and then hopes to matriculate into medical school.

“Research is a beautiful thing for a curious mind. It has the ability to stretch your intellect without exhausting your imagination.”
— Biology major Ascharya Balaji

On the humanities side, psychology and history double major Zaakirah Fulani explored “The Invention of Race in Colonial Virginia.” After researching factors including Bacon’s Rebellion, the growing slave trade, slavery itself, colonial laws delineating race, and Western art and images, she makes the argument that the creation of race was primarily about defending the economic and political interests of the elite.

“When I first started, I was worried that my question was too broad and too vague to write a concise paper on,” she said. “But my professors, Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown and Dr. Mary Hill Cole, helped show me where to look and what to look for in my research. I realized that if you look in the right places, there’s no question in the world that can’t be answered, which I found really inspiring.”

Fulani, who is from Richmond, will continue asking and looking to answer complex questions in James Madison University’s school psychology MA/EdS program in the fall of 2020.

“I realized that if you look in the right places, there’s no question in the world that can’t be answered, which I found really inspiring.”
— Psychology and history double major Zaakirah Fulani

Giving students like Balaji and Fulani the chance to do research as undergraduates is a core value for Mary Baldwin. All students create a senior project in their major in order to graduate.

“We create opportunities for students to learn in high-impact ways on a scale that very few universities can rival,” said Provost Ty Buckman. “It’s a time-intensive, highly personalized approach that demands a lot from our faculty, but at our students’ 50th class reunion, it’s what they will remember, the experience that made the difference.”

The keynote speaker for Capstone and Mary Baldwin alumna Leigh A. Frame ’06 PhD, MHS knows all about the difference research can make to individual lives and society.

As the program director for integrative medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), she helps promote education and scholarship within integrative medicine, a field that brings conventional, complementary, and alternative medical approaches together to treat the whole patient.

Frame’s address is “Life Is a Journey: How Mary Baldwin Prepared Me to Take on the World,” and she has this advice for the student researchers who will hear her speak at the Capstone opening ceremony:

“Life is a journey, not a destination,” Frame said. “You need to get out there, make mistakes, and get messy. Some of the best turns in your career or life may be off the path you originally intended to follow.”

Participants in the 2018 Capstone Festival

On May 9, Capstone begins with the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. in Hunt West, followed by student presentations from 1 to 4:30 p.m. across campus and at the Woodrow Wilson Museum. It closes with a celebration reception and recognition ceremony, where top honors will be awarded, from 5 to 6:15 p.m., also in Hunt West.

Capstone is made possible through the support of the MBU Advisory Board of Visitors, the Office of Sponsored Programs and Undergraduate Research, and the Global Honors Scholars Program.

Top honors awards are accompanied by a cash prize provided through the generous sponsorship support of the MBU Advisory Board of Visitors: Ambassador Level — Augusta Health, ITA-International; Investor Level — Chuck Henck, Hershey’s Chocolate of Virginia, McKee Foods Corporation; Support Level — City of Staunton Economic Development and Tourism, Daikin Applied Americas, The Heifetz International Music Institute, Long & Foster Real Estate/Christie’s; Friend Level — Dr. Leigh Frame ’06, Linda Hershey, Marlene Jones ’80, Mark Journell, Lyle Moffett, Daniel Mowry, Glenda Western ’86, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum.

“Life is a journey, not a destination. You need to get out there, make mistakes, and get messy. Some of the best turns in your career or life may be off the path you originally intended to follow.”
Leigh A. Frame ’06 PhD, MHS, keynote speaker for Capstone