Junior Michelle Sliwinski holds one of her research subjects, a leaf-tying caterpillar. Her work in the lab and field is supported by a Harlan Scholarship. (Photo by William Atkins)
Planting the Seeds
A former GW botany student’s bequest will fund construction of a new greenhouse and scholarships for biology students.
A generous gift from an alumnus will provide a world-class greenhouse for GW’s new Science and Engineering Hall and has created new scholarship opportunities for biology students, the university announced this month.
The funds come from a private foundation set up by the estate of Wilbur V. (Bill) Harlan, A.A. ’35, B.S. ’35, through a $9 million bequest. The new foundation will provide support to GW’s Department of Biological Sciences, with initial distributions totaling $1.35 million used to support scholarships and to create the greenhouse in the Science and Engineering Hall.
Future distributions from the foundation will be split evenly between scholarships and general departmental support.
Mr. Harlan, who studied botany at GW, died in 2006. His bequest was motivated by a life-long interest in science and strong belief in the power of education.
“We are deeply appreciative of the generous support provided to our Department of Biological Sciences through the Harlan Trust,” said Peg Barratt, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “Funding scholarships and a state-of-the-art greenhouse to advance the science of life, in all its varied forms, is a remarkable legacy and a testament to Bill Harlan’s deep commitment to GW.”
The 3,600-square-foot greenhouse will be one of several centerpiece facilities in the university’s Science and Engineering Hall, a building that will nearly double the space on campus allotted to several disciplines of study. The project will bring under one roof nine departments currently spread across a dozen buildings on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
The greenhouse will be named in honor of Mr. Harlan and will be used for teaching and research projects, with a focus on plant-herbivore interactions and the role of plants in developing a more sustainable economy.
The scholarships, which include research stipends and tuition assistance, are merit-based and will fund semester and summer research projects for undergraduate and graduate students as well as specialized workshops and courses.
This summer, 10 undergraduates and 16 graduate students from the biology department received financial support from the Harlan Trust. Their work has included examining how sea urchins battle bacteria, how cells move to heal wounds and the evolution of catfish in fresh and salt waters.
Junior Ariel Michelle Stein has been studying catfish since she was a freshman in high school. The Harlan scholarship allowed her to continue her research this summer alongside Guillermo Orti, the Louis Weintraub Associate Professor of Biology.
“I was extremely excited and honored to receive the Harlan Scholarship, especially since it was such a competitive applicant pool,” she said. “This scholarship gave me the opportunity to work with an amazing laboratory full of remarkable professors and researchers who have taught me so much in just a few short months.”
A summer highlight for Ms. Stein has been her experience working as a researcher for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where she had access to the institution’s Museum Support Center in Maryland and the largest collection of fish in the world.
“These types of opportunities are what make being a biology major at GW so incredible,” she said.
Junior Michelle Sliwinski is working with Associate Professor of Biology John Lill studying Lepidoptera, a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies. Her research focuses on the effects of forest fragmentation on the diversity of leaf-tying caterpillar species and on the arthropod community as a whole.
She said Dr. Lill encouraged her to apply for a Harlan scholarship, which now helps support her research and field work.
“I was thrilled when I learned that I had received the scholarship,” said Ms. Sliwinski. “I learned a great deal about valuable lab techniques in a Harlan workshop that will definitely benefit me in future lab courses, and my work in the field with Professor Lill and the other graduate students has been a lot of fun.”
After Bill Harlan received his bachelor’s degree in botany at GW, he served as a lab instructor at the university and later, in 1938, began a career teaching English in Kabul, Afghanistan at the advice of a former GW botany professor.
During World War II, Mr. Harlan served as an instructor and a medical officer in Asia. He was an agricultural specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at experimental stations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Turkey and Honduras. After retiring, Mr. Harlan traveled the world and lived in Europe for a decade, spending time in Spain, England and Ireland. In 2001, he published his memoirs, Looking Back at My Life.
(This story originally was published in GW Today.)
Science and Engineering Hall Location