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From Lab to Adventure: Biology Professor’s Translation of Life Experience

Western New Mexico University’s biology professor, Manda Jost, proudly displays a selection of specimens in her campus office, reflecting her unique blend of art and science. The office is a testament to her diverse background and experiences, featuring glass jars with specimens, antique natural history texts, and vibrant artworks from her travels.

Raised in Houston, Texas, amidst a mix of cultural influences, Jost’s upbringing was a tapestry of Ukrainian, Belorussian, Chilean, and Mennonite heritage. Surrounded by art, music, and avant-garde influences, she developed a deep appreciation for creativity and exploration.

Jost’s multicultural heritage, including her Chilean roots, has profoundly shaped her worldview and academic pursuits. She attributes her passion for discovery to her family’s rich tapestry of traditions and experiences.

Despite her artistic inclination early on, Jost’s fascination with the natural world was sparked during childhood trips to Costa Rica, where she marveled at the diverse tropical ecosystems teeming with life.

Transitioning from the urban landscape of Houston to the rural setting of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, during her teenage years was a transformative experience for Jost. This shift, coupled with her year as an exchange student in Germany, broadened her perspective and instilled a love for international travel and cultural immersion.

Throughout her academic journey, from New Mexico State University to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Jost explored diverse subjects ranging from literature to anthropology before settling on zoology and anthropology for her undergraduate studies.

As a graduate student at Harvard University, Jost delved into the evolutionary biology of crickets and katydids, conducting fieldwork in locations like Madagascar and the Amazon. Her research combined anatomical studies, DNA analysis, and evolutionary tree mapping to unravel the mysteries of acoustic communication in these insects.

After completing her Ph.D., Jost continued her research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, before joining Western New Mexico University as the institution’s first female biology professor.

Passionate about hands-on learning, Jost actively involves her students in field research, emphasizing the importance of direct observation and exploration. She leads expeditions to diverse locations, such as Mexico and California, where students engage with marine life and intertidal ecosystems, fostering a deep appreciation for biodiversity and ecological beauty.

For Jost, the visual allure of biology, from the intricate structures of plants and insects to the vibrant colors of feathers and exoskeletons, continues to inspire her scientific pursuits. Her career as a biologist is driven by a profound aesthetic appreciation for the diversity and complexity of the natural world.