For many students, an important part of their Mount education will take place out of the classroom. All of the Mount’s science majors participate in one-on-one research with a faculty mentor in their junior and/or senior years.
Michelle Duennes graduated in 2004 from a Catholic high school when she was 16. “I wanted to attend a school that was true to the Catholic values of social justice, specifically environmental responsibility,” Michelle says. “I also wanted to attend a liberal arts college. I knew a liberal arts education would be perfect for someone like me, who wanted to go to college for the excitement of learning, not just to better my chances in the job market. It turned out the Mount was an exceptional place for that, too. In addition, I was very impressed with the biology faculty at the Mount and what they had accomplished.”
She was happy with her choice, calling her educational experience outstanding. “Across every discipline, I found that every professor I had was passionate about what they were teaching and because of small class sizes, I got to know almost all of them personally,” Michelle says.
One of those professors was Gene Kritsky, Ph.D. “He is the reason I have a master’s in entomology and I’m pursuing a Ph.D. in the same field,” Michelle says. “Before I even took an entomology course from Dr. Kritsky, I had decided I wanted to be an entomologist. When I was a freshman, Dr. Kritsky let me tag along on an Entomology course collecting trip behind the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse. I immediately fell in love with insect collecting and started my own insect collection.
I used the money I made as a biology lab assistant to buy my own microscope. I became a biology major and later worked with Dr. Kritsky on a museum beetle DNA degradation project and a survey of the endangered tiger beetle species.”
Michelle says the intensity of her undergraduate classes, including the research she conducted, ignited her passion for evolution and evolution education and prepared her for graduate school.
“My undergraduate research project and the survey I conducted with Dr. Kritsky was really the stepping stone that led me to pursue a graduate degree involving research,” she says. “That experience taught me how to practically use the scientific method to answer questions as well as generate them, and how to communicate my research to the public.”
Michelle graduated from the Mount in 2008. She went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2010, and remains there, pursuing her Ph.D. Her current research focuses on the evolution of montane bumblebees in Mexico and Central America.