Madison Fernandez, ‘17
There is a new element in the science office this semester, and her name is Dr. Maria TerMikaelian. Substituting for Dr. Kennedy after her pregnancy, Dr. Ter-Mikaelian is at BHSEC from February to the beginning of April. She studies auditory neuroscience and animal behavior, including animal communication through sounds and varying processes, which makes her a good fit for teaching the college program’s biology course.
Dr. Ter-Mikaelian has come a long way before ending up at BHSEC. She was born in Russia and moved to Canada when she was 12, where she later completed her undergraduate degree. She then received her PhD from New York University (NYU) and stayed in New York ever since then. Dr. Ter-Mikaelian did her post-doctorate at Columbia University. In fact, she was at Columbia at the same time as Dr. Kennedy, but they never crossed paths.
Some of Dr. Ter-Mikaelian’s research has centered on monkeys, which she described as challenging and fun. “I would teach the monkeys how to do a task in a sound proof room,” she explained. She did this as a way to test their auditory sensitivity and study their brain processes. She also learned how to make realistic monkey calls from working with them so intimately. Other than working with animals, Dr. Ter-Mikaelian has eight years of previous teaching experience; she was recently a visiting term professor at Barnard College. Having taught college students, she was excited to teach at BHSEC. “I never taught in this environment before, with younger students but advanced material,” she said. However, she is happy to see how well BHSEC students accept, question, and think about the college-level concepts.
As for Dr. Kennedy, she gave birth to her baby daughter Lucy on February 1, 2016. Dr. Kennedy describes baby time as “precious time,” despite the fact that “her nights and days are reversed, so sleep is very disrupted right now.” Of course, Dr. Kennedy misses her biology classes’ great discussions and is excited to come back to hear about what they have learned and have been captivated by. While at home, Dr. Kennedy has also been reading What is Life? by Erwin Schrodinger. She says that being a mother and “creating new life” has shifted her understanding and appreciation of the text and has gotten her thinking about what kind of elective to offer next semester. Dr. Kennedy also mentions the connection she sees between motherhood and teaching, saying, “I think genuine care is the foundation of any real relationship. Mostly I have been thinking about how we all are here today because we have had a succession of people, some of them teachers, who cared for us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves, and I have been finding that to be a thing of beauty, that we never did it alone…I studied an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory at Columbia, so this has given me a new appreciation for early life and has me wondering about what ‘inputs’ are needed for the first memory to form. “Dr. Kennedy’s caring demeanor is obvious to her students as well, which made them want to organize a gift for her and baby Lucy. Fiona Brackley, Y1, one of the organizers, explained, “Dr. Kennedy is so nice, understanding, and has really secured a space inside all of our hearts. We love her presence and her classroom energy.”
While Dr. Kennedy enjoys her time at home with Lucy, Dr. Ter-Mikaelian is enjoying her time at BHSEC. “I’m excited to get to know the students, but that will make it hard to leave,” Dr. Ter-Mikaelian explains. She says that she will be sad to leave because two months is a very short amount of time, just enough to get to form connections with students. BHSEC students will be sad to see her go as well, but look forward to getting to know her while she is here.