Dartmouth senior Megan S. Steven of Chatham, N.Y., has been named a 2002 Rhodes Scholar by the American Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust. She will study for a doctorate in medical sciences at the University of Oxford in England.
The prestigious and competitive Rhodes Scholarships, oldest of the international study awards available to American students, were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and colonial pioneer. This year's 32 scholars were chosen from 925 applicants who were nominated by their colleges and universities. Applicants were chosen on the basis of high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor.
The annual selection process includes extensive evaluation and personal interviews.
"Over the course of the interview process I had the opportunity to get to know the people with whom I was competing," said Steven. "They were outstanding individuals, and I consider it a great honor to be chosen."
Steven is a psychology major with a minor in neuroscience. She was inspired to study in this field by a close relative who is blind and has brain damage which makes the use of traditional aids, such as canes, difficult. During Steven's sophomore year at Dartmouth she developed an electronic device that uses infrared light to detect motion and warns of impending collision. The device works as a replacement for canes, and has proven to be useful for her relative.
"My goal is to create more than a prosthesis, however," said Steven. "I want to truly understand how the spatial and visual areas of the brain work."
Researching with Jeffrey Taube, Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, she studied the activity of individual neurons in the parietal cortex, which processes spatial information in the brain. Utilizing information gathered by electrophisiology, Steven measured the electric impulses generated by these cells to determine how the parietal cortex functions in non-sighted subjects. Surprisingly, the parietal cortex functions well, regardless of whether the subject can see or not.
While studying at Oxford Steven will work with Dr. Colin Blakemore, one of the world's leading vision sciences researchers. She will study neural plasticity in the visual cortex, an area of the brain that processes visual information. Neural plasticity is the brain's ability to process one type of information--like tactile information--in regions of the brain, which like the visual cortex are intended for processing another kind of information. She hopes to understand how the brain can "remap" from processing visual information in the visual cortex to processing other sensory information to compensate for the loss of vision.
"If we can understand how this 'remapping' occurs, than potentially we could teach brain areas to 'remap' on command, thus ameliorating brain damage" Steven said.
In addition to her scientific work, Steven is the founding president of the Dartmouth chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Steven is also the founding president of an outreach program for New Hampshire middle school students. Throughout her undergraduate career she has worked with the Women In Science Project (WISP), serving as an intern, a discussion panelist and as a mentor for other young women with an interest in science. She is also a member of the Dartmouth Boxing Team and played on the Junior Olympic volleyball team.
Steven is one of several Dartmouth national award winners this year, which have included a Marshall Scholar, two Truman Scholars, two Rockefeller Brothers Fellows and five Fulbright winners.