Coming from a family with a medical and science background, Dennen knew she wanted to pursue a similar profession. She was impressed with the research opportunities on and off campus and the small classes Hood offered.
“Hood was one of the few institutions where students can work one-on-one with professors,” she said. “You don’t find that at too many colleges.”
It did not take long for Dennen to take advantage of those research opportunities. During the two summers after her freshman and sophomore years she assisted biology professor Craig Laufer with his biofuels-related research, conducted through Hood College’s grant-supported Summer Research Institute. By opting to do an independent study each semester, she was able to continue the research for credit during the school year.
“My time in the research laboratory has helped me mature as an analytical, critical and independent thinker,” she remarked. “I was able to conduct research directly relating to the use and development of biofuels, which is a topic about which I have been very passionate since high school.”
In addition, beginning with the fall 2012 semester, she assisted psychology professor Shannon Kundey in the comparative cognition labs. There her experiments centered on learning what dogs know of the physical world and how they respond to it; ants’ abilities to use memory to navigate mazes; serial pattern learning in humans; and squirrels’ abilities to use memory to locate food and other objects even when those objects aren’t visible.
“This research sharpened my problem-solving skills and gave me a better appreciation of the scientific method and scientific literature,” she said. “In addition, I gained a newfound curiosity for the intelligence of wildlife.”
Based on her grade point average, Dennen was invited by the biology and psychology department faculty to write research papers. To write one paper is major undertaking; to write two in one year is remarkable. No slouch when it comes to hard work, Dennen was more than open to the challenge and honored by the prestigious invitation. She presented both research topics, “Directed Evolution of a Thermostabilized Pectin Methylesterase by Error-Prone PCR to Develop a More Active Enzyme” and “Piagetian Object Permanence in Sciurus carolinensis,” at a special program in April.
Her academic acumen has not go unrewarded. She was inducted into Beta Beta Beta, a national honor society; Psi Chi, a national psychology honor society; Mortar Board and Phi Kappa Phi, national honor societies; and Alpha Lambda Delta, an honor society that recognizes first-year achievement.
Dennen’s time at Hood was spent not just in the labs and sitting behind a computer. She also found time to serve on the Campus Activities Board, which organizes social and other programming for students; was a member of her residence hall governing board, a campus service association and other student organizations; and was a founding member of Sisters Aspiring to Success, the college’s first all-female leadership club that focuses on service and enhancing leadership skills. For fun she volunteers in the emergency room at Frederick Memorial Hospital and at the local animal shelter.
The future is wide open for such an aspiring student. This year she plans to pursue an associate degree in chemistry at Burlington County College and apply to medical schools.