Click thumbnails to view enlarged images.
I was pleasantly surprised to be asked by Francisca to share my story for the December newsletter. Enjoy!
I was born in Meridian, Mississippi in April 1987. My younger brother, Patrick, and I were inseparable when we were kids. We mostly are today as well; except we live several states away from each other. Patrick and I loved being outdoors and could frequently be found collecting various insects or climbing trees. My family moved between Louisiana and Mississippi a few times while we were young and finally settled in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1997. I consider Vicksburg as my hometown. Vicksburg, a city on the Mississippi River, has a bit of history. During the American Civil War, the city surrendered to the Union Army and served as a critical turning point of the Civil War to the Union’s favor – it served as a “key to the South”. The Vicksburg National Military Park is an interesting place to visit (or bike/run like I did while living there). I played softball for the high school team from 7th grade until I was a junior. I also played clarinet in the marching and concert band. One of my influences was my high school chemistry teacher. She created engaging lab exercises for our class that really got me interested in science. I graduated high school in 2005 and moved away, but my parents still live in Vicksburg and my family usually visits once a year.
After graduating high school, I went to Mississippi State University. Go Dawgs! When discerning a college major, I knew right away it should be in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) field but I wasn’t quite sure which field. I thought about Biology, Chemistry, Pre-Vet and Pre-Med and ultimately chose Biochemistry with a Pre-Med influence. I intended to apply to medical school upon graduation. I was active in the marching band and the Catholic Student Association while at Mississippi State. When I was a sophomore, I applied for an undergraduate lab job in Susan Diehl’s research lab at the Forest Products Department. In the Diehl lab, I was able to learn basic laboratory techniques as well as work on various research projects (Sudden Oak Death Disease, fungal community analyses, secondary metabolite production, and copper-tolerance). I also got to work with Juliet Tang, Grant Kirker, Min Lee, and Beth Stokes during my time there. I completely abandoned my plan to go to medical school, because I really found a passion working on these research projects and knew that I wanted to continue to work in a research lab and pursue a master’s degree in Forest Products at Mississippi State. Dr Diehl worked in collaboration with Carol Clausen at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). I went to Madison, Wisconsin for a month long “interview” in 2009, where I met Carol, her unit (Rachel Arango, Stan Lebow, Bessie Woodward, Vina Yang, Rick Green), and worked on a few small lab projects. They offered me a spot in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Pathways program – a program where USDA would pay for my education and once complete, I would have a research scientist position with the USDA. The only catch was I would have to relocate to Madison once my master’s was complete. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. While I was nervous about leaving my family, friends, and home state, I was excited about working as a research scientist.
I officially started my job with USDA in December 2009 after graduating with my undergraduate degree. I relocated to Madison, Wisconsin in 2012 after finishing my master’s on oxalate synthesis in Fibroporia radiculosa at Mississippi State. I started working on my PhD in Glen Stanosz’s lab in the Forestry Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was also working as a “student trainee in biological sciences” for FPL. I finished my PhD on copper homeostasis genes in Fibroporia radiculosa in August 2019 (while 7 months pregnant) and was converted to a Research Biologist at FPL. Now, I work on a variety of research topics including mechanisms of fungal tolerance to in-service wood preservatives, understanding fungal degradation, durability and protection technologies of wood products including cross laminated timber, secondary metabolite production by wood decay fungi, and surface protectants for wood products. Feel free to check the following link out for more info
My first experience with IRG was in 2010 in Biarritz, France. I was a graduate student in Susan Diehl’s lab at Mississippi State. I got to present a poster at IRG41. I had never traveled outside the United States before. My extended family lives close to New Orleans, Louisiana – they are Cajun and speak Cajun/Creole French. So, traveling to Paris had always been a dream of mine since I was young. One of my lab mates (Leslie Parker) and I decided to fly into Paris a few days early so we could visit. We had a wonderful time. We then made our way to Biarritz. I was in awe. It was such a beautiful place. The conference was a lot of fun, but my favorite part was going on the excursion and getting to be immersed in the Basque culture. I’ve since had the pleasure to attend IRG45 in St. George, Utah – Zion was breathtaking; and IRG47 in Lisbon, Portugal – stunning country (my favorite international trip) and Sintra was incredible. Through IRG, I have been able to connect with several international research scientists. I’m grateful that IRG offers young scientists the opportunity to make connections with scientists all over the world. I’m eager to attend future meetings and bring my family along.
I met my husband, Michael, in 2005. A first meeting he does not remember! I was a very nervous freshman on my first day of band camp at Mississippi State. For those that don’t know, band camp is a week-long event that happens before classes start. I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t sure I was going to continue to stay in the band. While waiting in line to pick up my camp information, a nice trumpet section leader (Michael) struck up a conversation with me. It made me feel at ease and welcomed and gave me a bit of confidence. I ended up staying in the band for 4 years and was even one of 4 drum majors (band leaders) my last year. Even though Michael doesn’t remember meeting me that day I’ll always remember. He remembers meeting me at the Catholic Student Association’s Tuesday Night Dinner (a $2 home cooked meal every Tuesday evening during the semester) a few weeks later.
We became great friends and had quite a few classes together (he’s a Chemical Engineer). A few years later we began dating and in October 2014 we got married. We welcomed our first daughter, Audrey, in November 2017, and our second daughter, Evelyn, in November 2019. They are our greatest blessings! They are so curious and love learning. Audrey has taken an interest in entomology. Evelyn seems to be interested in mycology. It will be so much fun watching their interests develop and change over the next several years.
In my free time I enjoy running, cycling, reading, being outdoors, drinking wine (Michael is an amateur wine maker), and spending as much time with Audrey and Evelyn as I can.
This bio was written for the December 2021 IRG newsletter.