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Mandy Cass ’04 Wins Fulbright to Study in Sydney, Australia

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

March 26 , 2004

Mandy Cass ’04 Wins Fulbright to Study in Sydney, Australia

Mandy Cass ’04 has received a Fulbright fellowship to spend next year in Sydney, Australia, working at the Australian National Museum. Cass will investigate the evolutionary biology of a diverse group of fish known as flatfish that includes flounder, sole, halibut, and other common food fish.

The research Cass plans to conduct in Australia grew out of studies she has pursued at Mount Holyoke; graduate classes at the University of Massachusetts with William Bemis, a highly acclaimed ichthyologist; and an internship last summer at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. At the Smithsonian, she learned how to prepare and interpret the pharyngeal arches—tiny bones that support the gills—a complex part of the anatomy that has not been systematically studied in flatfish. The internship was part of the NMNH Research Training Program, which MHC assistant biology professor Gary Gillis had recommended to her, having taken part in the same program back in 1989.
She applied for the Fulbright at the urging of one of her supervisors at the Smithsonian, who put her in contact with Dr. Jeff Leis at the Australian National Museum, which has one of the largest collections of larval fish in the world. Competition is steep for Fulbrights in Australia. According to Katya King, the College’s assistant director for fellowships and scholarships, last year there were 140 applications for 17 places. King explained that the application process is lengthy and that her office is available to assist students wishing to apply. Cass said she is “extremely excited” to have won the award.

Cass grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine, and came to Mount Holyoke planning to major in history and minor in biology. “Science has always been part of my life,” she said, explaining that her mother teaches high school biology and her father is a chemistry professor. While she was initially not inclined to follow too closely in their footsteps, two weeks into professor of biological sciences Stan Rachootin’s course on ecology and evolution spring semester of her second year, she was hooked. “I declared a double major in history and biology and asked Stan be my adviser,” she said. Cass has also worked as one of his lab instructors. “She helped students find clearly stated questions,” Rachootin said, “and she had a flair for leading lost students out of quagmires.”

Cass is as passionate about history as she is about biology. She has found that her history studies have complemented her scientific inquiries. “Both fields have the same way of thinking out problems,” Cass said. “You look at an organism the same way you look at a historical document or character. You look at how something or someone is formed by outside forces. You ask, what’s the world like around this thing or person? It’s dividing something down to its causes. It’s a weird way to look at things, but it works for me.” Rachootin is impressed with Cass’s ability to make connections between science and history. “Mandy is bringing a wide range of skills to her study of flatfish evolution, but fundamentally she is a historian of nature who reads between the lines of the fish bones,” Rachootin said.

After her year in Sydney, Cass plans to attend graduate school at Cornell University in ecology and evolutionary biology.

 

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