Catalyst for Community
After a summer internship in Ecuador, during which she did lab research in computational chemistry while immersing fully in Spanish, Misbath Daouda ’15 will present her findings at an international conference in the Galapagos Islands.
It’s fair to say that a discipline as complex as chemistry doesn’t come easily to most people; even fewer would be willing to take on lab research in the subject using a second language. But, it is also fair to say that few people possess the poise, moxie, and worldview of Misbath Daouda ’15. For her, this was a challenge she deliberately sought.
In order to meet the requirements for her double major in chemistry and Hispanic studies, Daouda this summer participated in a 12-week research internship in computational chemistry at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. She also conducted research for her Hispanic studies senior thesis, which is focused on how cultural attitudes toward HIV can affect the spread of the disease. Living fulltime with a local family, she struggled at first to learn the procedures for the lab in Spanish, as well as to communicate clearly with her hosts, though it didn’t take her long to acclimate.
“I was missing a lot of vocabulary at the beginning, but then it got better,” Daouda says. “Sometimes we ended up using our hands to communicate because I didn’t know the terminology, so that was funny.”
This is not the first time Daouda has had to think on her feet, linguistically or otherwise. Originally from France and Benin, and having lived in Senegal and Washington, D.C., Daouda speaks French, English, Spanish, and Wolof—a language of Senegal. She knew she wanted to study chemistry when she came to Washington College, but she also chose Hispanic studies “because I feel like I’m not a regular science person. Sometimes I just need a break from equations and lab reports. I really enjoy literature and I like writing. That’s my bubble of air.”
Anne Marteel-Parrish, chair of the College’s Department of Chemistry and Daouda’s advisor in the major, says Daouda “is not afraid to be pushed out of her comfort zone. [Going to Ecuador] she was faced with many challenges: She did not have any background in computational modeling; she had to learn the scientific terminology in Spanish; and she had to acclimate herself to a completely different environment, a big research university versus a private liberal arts and sciences college.”
Clearly she succeeded, since she was invited to present the findings of her summer research project in November at the Theoretical Chemists of the Latin Expression (QUITEL) in the Galapagos Islands. Daouda is seeking a grant from the Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows to attend the conference; the Cater Society also helped fund her summer internship in Quito.
Daouda, who is applying to graduate school to do pharmaceutical research, rode with the College’s equestrian team for two years until her academic workload grew too busy. She was also a course mentor for biology last year and for organic chemistry this year. She’s a member of the International Relations Club and volunteers for Latino Community Outreach, through which she helps translate for Spanish speaking patients at the Chester River Hospital, and helps organize the annual Día de Fútbol. And in all her spare time, she’s also an RA. Each of these reflects her desire to help the College community as a whole. For instance, she says she likes being in the International Relations Club, “because I have been here awhile now and have gone through the ups and downs. It’s a good way for me to help new international students go through that too.”
“Misbath has passionate investment in her community and her beliefs, both on and off campus,” says Shawn Stein, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Daouda’s Hispanic studies advisor. “In classroom debates about literature, culture, and big ideas, Misbath’s has grown into one of the most conscientious and courageous voices in the room.”
Daouda, who has only lived in urban places and enrolled at WAC sight unseen, says there were a few times early on when she worried she had made the wrong decision to come to such a rural campus. But the primary reasons she came here—for the small classes and close-knit community, which were reassuring to her—quickly overcame any doubts.
“I could not have been happier with my four years here,” she says. “Your ideas are never shut down. People are really open to whatever you want to bring to the school.” She points to her summer internship, which was outside of the box in several ways—a summer rather than a semester abroad; the idea of coupling her requirements by studying chemistry in Quito. In both cases, the faculty supported her proposal. “The trust they put in me and the openness to my ideas is what I take from my experience here.”