The Gender Factor
Women Taking the Sciences by Storm
Ashley Shade ’04
Ashley Shade’s passion for microbiology can be traced back to an underground mine fire that’s been burning since 1962 beneath Centralia, a former Pennsylvania coal town.
When she was an undergraduate student at Susquehanna, Shade had her first research experience under the direction of biology professor Tammy Tobin, who studies bacteria living in the hot soils of the abandoned town.
“She mentored me in microbiology research to understand the effects of the underground mine fire on soil microorganisms,” recalls Shade, a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation postdoctoral fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation at Yale University. “It was a fascinating system, and I’ve been addicted to microbial ecology ever since.”
As a microbial ecologist, Shade asks questions about microorganisms in nature and the role they play in the Earth’s cycles. For example, she recently finished analyzing data from an experiment she conducted in an apple orchard. Shade wanted to figure out what microorganisms inhabited apple flowers and whether their composition was altered when farmers sprayed a common antibiotic on apple trees.
“As I was interpreting the results, I became quite giddy because as far as I knew, I was the first person who had this information,” says Shade, 29. “It was exciting to discover something new about a system that is so seemingly common—apple trees. Microbial ecology is full of exciting first-time discoveries like this.”
Coming from a small town in rural Pennsylvania, Shade didn’t know any scientists when she chose her biology major at Susquehanna. She credits much of her success to the mentors she had while studying here, including Tobin and fellow biology professors Jack Holt and David Richard, who guided Shade through study experiences abroad in Russia and Australia.
“My liberal arts background from SU is an asset for research, teaching and collaboration, as broad-ranging perspectives enhance these pursuits,” says Shade. “There are so many examples of how Susquehanna helped me to grow as a scientist, and I am extremely grateful.”
By Nick DiUlio, a contributing writer from Medford, N.J.