Caitlin Orner '11

"I like to know exactly how something happens. Thanks to my Chemistry 2 final project, I can tell you how beta-lactam antibiotics (e.g., penicillin) work, down to the movement of every electron involved. I can also tell you how MRSA outsmarted the drug. Most importantly, I can tell you why it matters that MRSA outsmarted the drug. I will never be satisfied with 'penicillin kills bacteria.'

"In this study for Comparative Animal Physiology, I explored the indicators of cardiac fitness."

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Field Work Term

Movement Research, New York, NY—“A nonprofit dance organization, I got to take classes and work with some really amazing people.”

Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield, MA—“I shadowed two orthopedic surgeons in the office and operating room.”

Biomedical engineering lab, Tufts University, Boston, MA—“I worked with a graduate student who is working on designing artificial blood vessels using silk. I had my own project: quantifying and characterizing heparin, an anti-coagulant, within the silk.”

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“I guess the combination seems a little strange—dance and chemistry—but it makes a lot of sense for me. In high school I knew I wanted to dance and pursue a medical career, but as I was applying to colleges, most of them discouraged students from doing that kind of double major. I knew Bennington would support this. (Read Caitlin’s Plan Proposal Essay.)

“When I first came here, I was interested in orthopedics—studying the body dancing, and then studying its bones and systems—but now I think I might like to go into surgery, hopefully pediatric. I feel that I’m being well prepared for medical school: Science classes here are small and interactive; we have conversations with our professors. I love the research projects, the problem-solving. In high school science, there was only one way to do things, and if you did it differently, you got it wrong. But here, [chemistry faculty member] Janet [Foley] asks us: ‘If you had to do this experiment, what would you do? What do you think of these methods?’

“I wanted the opportunity not only to dance but to choreograph and improvise, and every term I’m making and performing new dances. I made a piece this term that I’m so happy with; I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever made. Sometimes modern dance can be hard to understand for people who don’t know the language, so one of my goals was to create a piece that my younger sisters—they’re 10 and 15 and have little dance training—would find fun to watch and easy to understand. I started with the idea of making something light-hearted, upbeat, with lots of movement.

“In this dance, I was exploring partnering, weight bearing and lifting, and I also wanted to know: What happens when you allow a dancer to show what they’re feeling on stage instead of controlling it? I worked with four dancers, and started out with two of them onstage, dancing but playing. I let them laugh when they wanted to laugh, smile when they wanted to smile. What I wanted, and ended up with, was surprise and excitement and intricacy—a dance that was more physical than conceptual. I think approaching it this way brought in a wider audience, and my dancers really had fun. They tell me they miss our rehearsals.

“Seventy-five percent of the way through the term, I often hit a point where I think: ‘Wow, is it even possible to get all my work done? Can I sleep and take care of myself and dance and write all of my papers and still be a functional person?’ And yeah, it turns out that it’s possible. I have several friends here who are also applying to medical school, so we’re going to study for the tests together and advise each other as we write applications. My advisors, Janet Foley and Susan Sgorbati, are also incredibly supportive. They help me plan out how I can best use my time at Bennington to prepare for both medical school and life. When work starts to pile up and time starts running out, I have learned to remind myself ‘Okay, a lot of us are overwhelmed, but I’ve done this before, and it’ll be fine’—that’s been a pretty important life skill. I’ve realized how much I can really do.”