When Catherine Dulac was named the Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences last year, she wanted to make a difference. She had learned that donors Kewsong Lee ’86, M.B.A. ’90, and Zita Ezpeleta ’88, J.D. ’91, had created the endowed position, which lasts for five years and comes with a monetary award, because Harvard had changed their lives.
“I thought, what is it we do that makes a difference?” Dulac recalled asking herself, during a conversation in her office in the BioLabs.
The answer, she realized, was to use the award not to fund her lab, but to create a fellowship for a deserving undergraduate and pay the experience forward.
The timing was perfect for then-rising junior Melonie Vaughn ’19. That summer, the neuroscience concentrator had received a Weissman International Internship, which had made it possible for her to do neurobiological and psychopharmacological research at the Universidad Miguel Hernandez de Elche in Alicante, Spain. The experience was transformative. “I knew after the short time I spent working in a lab that it was something really exciting for me and possibly what I wanted to do with my career,” said Vaughn, who came to Harvard from Lathrop, Calif.
“There’s something you learn when you’re actually experiencing research that is more powerful than just reading it out of a book or listening in lecture,” she said.
Because she had taught Vaughn, Dulac — the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator whose lab uses molecular, genetic, and optical techniques to explore the molecular and neuronal basis of innate social behaviors in the mouse — was already aware of the undergrad’s interest and promise. The challenge for Vaughn was finding the time required to continue her research.