Daniel Valerio, '12
Hometown: Sutton, MA
Year of Graduation: 2012
Degree: Interdisciplinary, Biological Illustration (self-designed)
Why did you choose to attend WPI?
I’ve always had an affinity and passion for animals and the natural world. As I went through high school and started thinking about my future, my interests in biology and chemistry made WPI seem like the perfect fit. My mother works at WPI so I grew up frequently visiting the campus. For as long as I can remember, I’ve attended summer soccer camps at WPI. I’ve always loved the campus and WPI environment even before I knew I could be a part of it.
How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, been beneficial to you during your time here?
I think the idea of practice is crucial; most of the time reading a book just isn’t enough. The team work aspect at WPI is so compelling. If someone doesn’t understand a concept, you have peers all around you willing to explain and help. This supports both a constructive and competitive nature on campus. Everyone is striving to do their best, so groups and teams become stronger.
What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
One of my favorite parts about WPI is that professors on campus are always trying to find new, more effective ways to teach. The age old “Here, I’ll write this on the board and you copy it down and read it over tonight” is not an effective method of learning for a lot of people. In many instances I find myself remembering an important fact or concept because a professor introduced it to me in such a unique way. It’s cliché truth that everyone learns in different ways. Having the same information presented in different ways (notes, PowerPoint, video, blog, textbook) will help students learn and solidify understanding.
My appreciation for learning in new and unique ways is in part what has inspired me to pursue my major, Biological Illustration. I am a visual learner so diagrams and figures can teach me far more than a chapter in a textbook. I’d like to help create these educational and informative figures in whatever realms of biology and education they are needed.
What are your research projects?
The projects most pertinent to my major have been my practicum, an Independent Study Project and my Major Qualifying Project. My practicum in Humanities was Graphic Short Stories; we wrote our own short graphic novel and created all of the images for it. I loved being able to create something from start to finish. I had to conceptualize, illustrate, and piece everything together. This course also helped me learn more about physical water color painting and some tricks for illustrating in Photoshop.
I also completed an Interactive Qualifying Project for Professor Allison Hunter. My role in the project was essentially a contract artist, illustrating information from one of her case studies about her mule, Molly. It was a great experience to work with a professor in this sort of “client” based setting. I had to meet Professor Hunter’s expectations as an artist, but also be scientifically accurate as a biologist.
How have WPI's Biology and Biotechnology professors help impacted your studies and your life?
I would have never considered creating my own major without Professor Jill Rulfs. I remember taking her Cell Biology class and presenting a PowerPoint on telomerase. She noticed a figure in the PowerPoint that I had drawn for the presentation. After class we started talking about biology, art and the possibilities of combining the two. Shortly after, she became my advisor and motivator for creating my major.
The entire Biology and Biotechnology Department at WPI has been very excited by and interested in my major. I contacted the Biology department about my self-designed Major Qualifying Project and was overwhelmed with responses of interest and support from professors who wanted to work with me on the project.
What do you hope to do when you graduate? What would be your ideal job?
My ideal job would be to illustrate for a laboratory. I’d like to work in the lab as a researcher, but also illustrate our findings, results, data, and anything else that would need to be conveyed or represented visually. If not in a laboratory, then I think I would like to work as a consultant, working personally with clients, identifying their needs, and creating the images and figures they need.
Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:
Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity
Men’s Varsity Soccer
The inspiration for my MQP was to create a project that would give working experience doing what I would ultimately like to do in my career. We created a project giving me the opportunity to work very closely with Professors Joe Duffy and Glen Gaudette. I was present in their labs and research meetings, working alongside both professors to gain a better understanding of their work. This process helped me to better recognize and envision what I needed to do in order to create the best possible deliverables.
Have you had experience working with any outside organizations?
Two summers ago I was able to work in an “intern” type position with a professor at Boston University. His group had discovered a 2.5 million year old fossil of the left metatarsal of what is believed to be Australopithecus africanus. I worked to create comparative images of the fossil, comparing it to a human metatarsal and one of a chimpanzee. The fossil showed striking similarities to both species. This images are now published the in the Journal of Human Evolution. You can find them here.