Alumni Profile: Hilary Smith ’07

Hilary Smith ’07 serves and contributes through biology

Hilary SmithWhen Hilary Smith ’07 of Mishawaka, Ind., started at Ripon College, she was a communications major thinking about going into law. But an “Introduction to Biology” class with Prof. Bob Wallace changed the course of her life.

“I constantly had questions, and when I’d go up after class, he’d give me a mini-lecture,” Smith says. “That helped feed my curiosity, as did a Maymester program in oceanography. I wanted to find a way to serve and contribute (to society), and I find biology a great way to do so.”

As an undergraduate, Smith did research with Wallace and continues to do so today. She and Wallace recently were published with an online paper, “Rotifera.”

This early collaboration helped her as she moved forward in her career, she says. “For me, it’s opened doors for the future. It also was something that expanded my understanding of what it means to do research. I was immensely pleased at the opportunity to coauthor a chapter with (Wallace) as an undergraduate and present at a conference. I was very grateful for the opportunity to do the research. Dr. Wallace is an amazing mentor.”

In the spring of 2012, Smith hit the ground running when she received her Ph.D. in biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. “I defended my thesis April 30, turned in the Ph.D. on May 2, and started at the University of Notre Dame on May 21,” she says.

As a post-doctoral research associate at Notre Dame, she is working in Dr. Nora Besansky’s Lab,, studying mosquitos and their spread of malaria and other diseases around the world.

“There are many aspects of the mosquito’s biology that remain undiscovered,” Smith says. She is studying the genetic basis of saltwater tolerance in mosquito larvae that can live in brackish waters.

“We need to broaden our understanding of the basic biology of the mosquito – how organisms can adapt and how quickly,” Smith says. “You can’t always foresee the direct results of your research. We can’t even imagine yet how this research could lead to better control of the mosquitoes. We are laying the basic foundation of knowledge, and someone else can lay some of the next layer.

“Maybe someday someone could apply this knowledge to controlling the disease, knowing what factors allow the mosquitoes to be better able to thrive in different environments.”

The liberal arts and sciences education Smith obtained at Ripon College has had practical, direct and broad applications to her work, Smith says.

“Even though my major was in science, I participated in forensics and general communication classes, helping my ability in public speaking,” she says. “A good portion of disseminating your research findings is in public presentations and conferences, writing manuscripts, submitting them and editing manuscripts for others. It’s been an important area of my work.”

Down the road, Smith says, she would like to become a professor and guide students in the laboratory, training them in specific skill sets and mentoring them in making decisions about graduate school.

“The liberal arts offer a broader understanding and appreciation of the world,” she says. “They can both enhance one’s personal well-being and enjoyment. The liberal arts can stimulate and broaden one’s perspective and foster interactions. If you want to serve and contribute, it’s helpful if you know about more than just one thing. Our world isn’t limited to one discipline. The liberal arts education is good to help one appreciate those different spheres and just be a better informed citizen of the world.”

To read about other accomplished Ripon College alumni, visit our Alumni News blog: HERE.


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