Concord Academy Celebrates Science and CA Labs

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Overwhelming support from the Concord Academy community allowed the school to accelerate the construction and opening of CA Labs, which went from groundbreaking to daily use by CA's extraordinary faculty and students in just 11 months.


As the Concord Academy community gathered on campus on September 30 to celebrate the opening of CA Labs, the day was filled with festivities held in the flexible new science and interdisciplinary facility. A sense of accomplishment was abundant among attendees, as was pride in the new prominence of the sciences on campus, finally equal to the talents of CA’s students and educators.

Following regular morning classes, students lined up eagerly for food from a Roxy’s Grilled Cheese truck parked behind the new Makers Alley and taco bowls in the Stu-Fac. Parents, friends of the school, and alumnae/i from across generations joined them for a lineup of speakers — all alumnae/i or CA parents, themselves — who highlighted the incredible diversity of scientific pursuit and were generous in sharing their own paths to their current careers. At the “CA Innovators in the World” discussion in the Performing Arts Center, none of the young alumnae/i panelists could have predicted, as students at CA, that they’d hold their current jobs. (Watch the video above.)

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Nat Erb-Satullo ’03 majored in physics in college, but after a Latin class led to a summer-long archeological excavation in Italy he realized how much he loved field work, and he found a way to combine his interests as an archeologist at Harvard University. Specializing in pyrotechnology, or the control of fire by humans, he tells people he studies the high-temperature physics of the ancient world. Suz Tolwinski-Ward ’00, a statistical climatologist who models hurricane catastrophe risk at AIR Worldwide, didn’t know her field existed until she applied for the job. She studied physics in college, acquired a doctorate in applied math, and completed postdoctoral work in atmospheric science, but she didn’t think to pursue a career outside of academia until she was a new mom hoping to better balance work and family. Paul Quimby ’08, who works on unmanned aircraft systems and cofounded a startup called Converge Industries, is driven by building and delivering the right technology to professionals with specific needs. He couldn’t have predicted it, but he traced his approach back to a scheduling program he wrote as a CA student for Ms. Gray, which she uses to this day. Finally, Erin Hult ’00 said she’s still wondering what she’ll be doing 10 years from now. If someone had told her as a CA student that she’d work at Facebook one day, she’d have called it ridiculous. Moving from study of mechanical engineering to environmental fluid mechanics, she was motivated to work on more urgent environmental problems, such as studying energy efficiency and indoor air quality, but it was an unexpected side project that led her to her career in data science in the tech industry.

Hans Oettgen M.D., Ph.D., P’13, ’15 moderated this discussion, which ranged from advice on choosing mentors (be open to them in many guises and assertive in reaching out) to the value of higher education in science (yes, you can advance your field while you learn) to women’s experience in STEM careers. A physician-scientist at Children’s Hospital who spends one day of each week with patients and four in a research laboratory studying the mechanisms of food allergies, Oettgen remarked that the kinds of science that his daughters engaged in at CA — from calculating the blades of grass on the Quad to studying the effect of cortisol on sleep — truly prepared them for lives in science.

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Following the assembly, brief CATalks were held throughout CA Labs, engaging parents, alumnae/i, friends, and students in the work of CA community members in the sciences. Science faculty spoke, including Amy Kumpel, who gave many salient examples of design thinking at work in her classes; Max Hall, who touched on the student leadership and teamwork on display in the DEMONs (Dreamers, Engineers, Mechanics, and Overt Nerds) club; Ben Stumpf ’88, who helps students use technology to make software, art, and social change; and John Drew and Andrea Yañes-Taylor, who spoke about the importance of learning science by engaging with real-life narratives.

Among the alumnae/i and parent speakers, Matt Berlin ’98 and Jesse Gray ’98, experts in expressive human-robot interaction and cofounder of IF Robots, discussed their robotics research and testing. After their talk, they also reconnected with former CA faculty member Bill Adams, from whom they had first learned to code. Doug Cole M.D., P’ 18, described the revolution in biotechnology that had taken place over the past 30 years with advances “nothing short of miraculous” in the treatment of diseases such as AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, and coronary artery disease. Now at the beginning of the biological century, as he called it, for the first time in human history we have scientific tools powerful enough to understand and reverse what can go wrong. Massachusetts is recognized as a world epicenter for biotech, and opportunities for CA students to become involved in microbiology abound, as Nancy Simonian M.D., Ph.D, P’18 attested in her CATalk. She shared her experience as CEO of a biotech company, Syros Pharmaceuticals, that has reversed the standard process of medical research by starting not with development of drugs but instead with understanding the switch mechanisms that control the expression of particular diseases, then the subsets of patients affected by them. Just three weeks ago, her company dosed its first patient in a clinical trial for leukemia treatment.

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The CA Labs leadership celebration that evening gathered the large community of donors and volunteers who have stepped up to support the Centennial Campaign initiatives and the Annual Fund. Kim Williams P’08, ’14, president of the Board of Trustees, gathered CA supporters for a toast in the second-floor hallway of the new building, thanking her fellow trustees for their vision and leadership.

Head of School Rick Hardy remarked on the strength of the partnerships that had brought CA Labs from dream to reality in an astoundingly short period. When the Centennial Plan was approved in 2014, the board estimated it would take five years to raise $32 million for the initial phase, which included the construction of CA Labs. Just two years later, the tremendous community response has already raised more than $31 million — bringing the first phase of the Centennial Campaign for Concord Academy nearly to the finish line. So too, CA Labs had gone from groundbreaking ceremony to daily use in just 11 months. “It’s nothing short of amazing,” Hardy said. He presented Director of Operations Don Kingman a special gift in recognition of his stewardship of CA Labs: a Stanley level that had once belonged to his great-grandfather, Horace Kingman, who was superintendent for the Brockton Water Works in the late 19th century.

As the celebration came to a close, light from the many windows in CA Labs shone through the rain from across the Quad. As several speakers had remarked, now that science had this new home at the school, it was difficult to imagine CA without it.

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