May 2012 Archways

Making Every Minute Count

A day in the life of Brie Stark ’12, Gates Scholar, athlete, and volunteer.

By Priya Ratneshwar

Brie Stark ’12. Photo by Jim Roese.

Brie Stark ’12. Photo by Jim Roese.

As colorful as a rainbow, senior Brie Stark’s Google Calendar includes a hue to reflect nearly every area of her life. Blue entries, for example, represent the more than 25 hours a week she devotes to classes and labs; purple ones remind her of the approximately 20 hours a week she spends on training and practicing as co-captain of Bryn Mawr’s rowing team.

The calendar is a crucial tool in maintaining a schedule Stark admits has been called “terrifying” by some who know her. In addition to studying and crew, this includes jobs as an admissions tour guide and in the dean’s office of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, and service on the American Red Cross National Youth Council. Stark, however, finds her schedule “invigorating,” an assessment likely shared by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded her a highly competitive 2012 Gates Cambridge Scholarship to complete graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Forty U.S. winners were chosen from a pool of around 750 applicants, based on outstanding academic merit, a strong sense of leadership, and a desire to better the lives of others.

After the email that notified finalists arrived in her inbox in late December, Stark traveled to San Francisco for an interview with a panel from the Foundation. “Paraphrasing a life into 25 minutes is a feat,” she says of the experience. Indeed, paraphrasing even one day in Stark’s life is a challenge, as the Bulletin found out when asking her to describe just how she fits it all in.

5:30–8:30 a.m.
On the River
Rain or shine, Stark and the rest of the team row on the Schuylkill River at least five times a week—usually in the pitch dark. Stark was a rower until a hip injury pushed her into the role of coxswain. Perched at the stern, she ensures that the rowers adhere to the race plan and stay safe.

“You have to be wary of things like giant tree branches that can fall in the river and other boats that forget to put lights on,” she says. “Oh, and you have to steer really straight, especially in races, where every second counts.”

This fall, Stark will navigate new obstacles on the River Cam, when she takes on the role of coxswain for Gonville and Caius, which, at press time, held the number one position among men’s rowing teams at Cambridge.

Brie Stark and the Bryn Mawr rowing team at early morning practice on the Schuylkill River. Photo by Jim Roese.

Brie Stark and the Bryn Mawr rowing team at early morning practice on the Schuylkill River. Photo by Jim Roese.

9:30–11:30 a.m.
Tour Guide Duty
Stark can often be found leading prospective students and parents through campus, sharing her expertise and enthusiasm on everything from classes at the College to what’s tastiest at Haffner Dining Hall.

12-1 p.m.
Captains’ Meeting at Athletics
Serving as captain of the rowing team can involve everything from organizing fundraising activities for this costly sport to making sure team members show up to practice or don’t compete when sick. “Your whole team has to be very good and very dedicated to do anything worth doing,” Stark says.

1–1:30 p.m.
A half-hour lunch is a luxury for Stark, who has endured days where she’s had to fit three meals into seven minutes. Nevertheless, she finds a way to get the requisite calories to keep going. “I usually get takeout from Haffner,” she says. “I eat while I walk; I’m good at that.” Luckily her penchant for vegetables and self-proclaimed “obsession with oatmeal” help her eat healthfully, even on the run.

1:30–4 p.m.
A psychology major with a concentration in neural and behavioral sciences, Stark’s four-class load includes a course on the Psychology of Terrorism and a capstone that covers current developments in the field, such as neuroengineering and the science of sleep.

Stark will build on her work at Bryn Mawr when she goes to Cambridge, where she will pursue her Ph.D. in clinical neurosciences. She’s especially interested in trauma recovery, specifically exploring new methods of language recovery and clinical neurorehabilitation following stroke.

4-6 p.m.
Thesis Lab
Stark is working with Associate Professor of Psychology Anjali Thapar on a thesis project exploring how subjective judgments of recognition memory appear in the brain. Nearly every weekday, she goes to Bettws-y-Coed to fit study participants with EEG caps and run memory tests on them.

This hands-on work with neuroimaging has prepared her nicely, she says, for the research she will be undertaking at Cambridge.

6:30-7:30 p.m.
Weight Training
Staying strong on the water entails an extra two hours of weight training at the gym every week.

8-9 p.m.
National Youth Council Conference Call
Stark has volunteered with the American Red Cross since she was a high school student in Ashley, Ohio, and continued her service at Bryn Mawr by acting as a student liaison for campus blood drives. Last year she joined its 13-member National Youth Council, which works with the organization’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C., to foster connections with youth leaders.

9-10:30 p.m.
Homework, emails, research, etc.

11 p.m.
Stark has never pulled an all-nighter in her college career. “I’ve never been to bed later than 11 p.m. on a rowing night,” she says, “because my job in the morning is safety and coherent commands.”

She’s managed this impressive feat by “being pretty good at delegating” and making sure to assess realistically how much time she needs for a task. But excluding regattas, she leaves her weekends pretty open “just in case things spiral out of control.”

Stark insists that she does find time to Skype with her parents and have fun with her friends.

“We’re pretty chill in terms of what we enjoy doing,” she says. This includes exploring Philly on Saturday nights, watching lots of movies, and cooking a “carbo-loading” dinner for teammates at her off-campus apartment on nights before a regatta.

“The fun,” she says, “happens in all the empty spaces of my calendar.”

Watch a video of Stark giving advice to high school students interested in starting Red Cross clubs.

Check out Stark’s blog, Brains and Blades.