Mary Beth Day '07 set her course early. She grew up in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women's rights movement, became fascinated with dinosaurs while still a preschooler, and discovered while doing fieldwork in high school that geology and archaeology were a great fit.
With such a clear vision of who she was and where she was going, it's little wonder that Day arrived so quickly. The geoarchaeology major is the first Hamilton student to be named to USA Today's All-USA College Academic First Team.
The honor recognizes undergraduates who not only have excelled academically, but have extended their intellectual abilities beyond the classroom to serve others and benefit society. Day has built a remarkable record on both counts.
The recipient of a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an Emerson Grant and a National Science Foundation Grant, Day did fieldwork in Namibia last summer, joining Hamilton College Joel W. Johnson Family Professor in Environmental Studies Eugene Domack and Harvard University Professor of Geology Paul Hoffman in studying the record of the Neoproterozoic Era, roughly 1 billion to 540 million years ago. Their mission was to add to research on the Snowball Earth hypothesis, which posits that the Earth was completely covered by glacial ice during the latter part of that era.
Earlier, Day was a guest student at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and gave a lecture on her work there at the 2006 meeting of the Geological Society of America. Her senior thesis -- a key element in the USA Today honor -- explored "a new method for improving the accuracy of radiocarbon dates from Antarctic marine sediments." Better dating techniques, Day says, mean a clearer understanding of the critical role the Antarctic Ice Sheet plays in global climate and sea-level change.
But Day has also made time for a number of volunteer programs through the Hamilton Action Volunteer Outreach Coalition, including serving at a soup kitchen, working at the Underground Café -- a student-run café and gathering place for children in Utica -- and even teaching juggling at a local elementary school. Meanwhile, she has been principal flutist and piccolo player with the Hamilton College Orchestra and a member of the College's chamber music group.
"Music keeps me balanced," Day says. "My academic work exercises one part of my brain, and music challenges the other. If I were a neuroscience major, I would know which side was which."
As a female scientist from Seneca Falls, Day knows her way around the issue of women in the sciences. "Hamilton provides an academic environment that in my experience is welcoming to everyone," she says. And while there are still pockets of resistance in the larger scientific community, the more important issue now is institutional. "By necessity, the timing of advancing one's career and starting a family frequently overlap," she says. "A greater support system for women doing both would be an asset to the scientific community."
With graduation in sight, Day is busy choosing a graduate school -- a process not without its anxieties, she says. "I applied early-decision to Hamilton, so I've never gone through this before." But she's keeping her summer options open. "Ideally," she says, "it will involve geology, sunshine, beaches and/or mountains, and the occasional cold beer."