Holly Boettger-Tong

Faculty Holly L Boettger Tong in lab

Bringing the Wesleyan Experience to India

February 5, 2020

Imagine transporting a battery-operated microscope, human tissue specimens, and a variety of water samples through several airports, a range of vehicles, and finally into the foothills of the Himalayas. That's exactly what Biology Professor and Department Chair Dr. Holly Boettger-Tong did during her spring semester sabbatical. With her current research directed towards understanding barriers that disadvantaged people face in accessing a healthy environment, she insisted on visiting an environmentally challenged locale. After deciding on India, based on its struggles with poor air and water quality, she looked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that focused on education, women and children, and the environment. She found Pyunli.

Based in Gaucher, India, Pyunli, founded in 2015, sets out to help every child gain a quality education regardless of their economic or social standing. The name "Pyunli" comes from a very popular flower in Garhwal, India’s, culture and symbolizes a beautiful woman. Inspired by the noble tradition of ‘service before self’, Pyunli "believes in the process of social change through women empowerment and child education."

Knowing that part of the key to understanding and solving environmental issues is providing all young people with access to the tools of science, Dr. Boettger-Tong set out to bring the necessary equipment to the small school Sanskar in Gaucher, India. With the College's blessing, Dr. Boettger-Tong gifted the school a microscope on behalf of Wesleyan.

In a school with no heat and very little resources, Dr. Boettger-Tong designed simple experiments for testing water and facilitated a class for 13- to15-year-old students who had never seen or used a microscope before.

"Girls in India (and many countries) struggle to receive an education equal to their male counterparts, so it is especially important for colleges like Wesleyan, who are willing to share resources with less privileged educational institutions, to help level the educational playing field to make science more accessible for everyone," said Dr. Boettger-Tong. 

Dr. Boettger-Tong is in her twentieth year at Wesleyan. Her primary research interest is reproductive biology. She has supported 18 undergraduate honors theses in her lab at Wesleyan and helped to secure grants including an NSF S-STEM award designed to support the Student Preparation and Retention Collaborative (SPARC) Scholars Program, which aims to improve STEM retention and graduate outcomes for socioeconomically disadvantaged, high-achieving, undergraduate students. Dr. Boettger-Tong has worked with a diversity of colleges and k-12 partners in the context of Math Science Partnership (MSP) and GEAR UP funded collaborations. She has received many awards for teaching excellence at Wesleyan, including the Vulcan Materials Exemplary Teaching Award, the Quillian Distinguished Teaching Award, the Storza Chair of Excellence in Teaching award, and the Ann Munck Excellence in Teaching Award. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

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