Graduates in the Spotlight

Shannon McFarland

Image of Shannon McFarlandHOmetown: Watertown, Connecticut

Major:  Biology – Ecology concentration

MINOR:  Chemistry

WCSU Degree:  Bachelor of Arts in Biology

Activities: Kathwari Honors program; Western Day of Service; Host for Western Accepted Students Days, Open Houses and Prospective Student Shadow Days; Western Research Day, Biology Club (Treasurer); Program Activities Council; Northwestern Regional Sigma Xi Research Conference 2015; Student presenter for public lecture series “Climate and Human Civilization”; Student debater at 2016 ISGP Socioeconomic Contexts of Sustainable Agriculture Conference; Teaching Assistant for BIO 312 Genetics; student member of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography; Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology and the Sigma Xi Research Honor Society. Summer employment at Daffodil Hill Growers in Southbury as a greenhouse, field and sales worker for a community-supported agriculture program. Paid tutor for the subjects of biology and genetics in the WCSU Tutoring Resource Center.

INTERNSHIPS: Summer 2015 intern at Connecticut Beardsley Zoo in the education department working with education animals and carrying out interactive programs for children. Participated in a 2016 National Science Foundation (NSF) funded summer Research Experience for Undergraduates in the Rubenstein Ecological Laboratory at University of Vermont researching the effects of mild versus cold winter conditions on freshwater zooplankton communities. Completed a Student Independent Study (sophomore-junior years) and Advanced Senior Research (senior year) in the laboratory of Dr. Michelle Monette at WCSU researching the mechanism of osmoregulation in fish to salinity changes in their environment.

Honors and Awards: Awarded full Presidential Academic Scholarship to the Kathwari Honors Program. Current GPA is 3.96. Dean’s list every semester. Received the following awards from the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences: General Chemistry Achievement Award (May 2015), Most Promising Biology Student Award (May 2016) and Outstanding Graduating Senior Biology Award (May 2018). Invited member of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Circle (2015-16). Recipient of the Provost Award for research poster presentation, “An examination of variance in the amino acid sequence of the Na-Cl cotransporter (NCC) in two divergent Threespine Stickleback populations” at Western Research Day 2016. Recipient of a 2018 Sigma Xi Grant in Research Award to support my student research in Dr. Michelle Monette’s laboratory. Granted funding to attend and present research posters at two national scientific meetings: 2017 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography in Honolulu and the 2018 Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in San Francisco.


Shannon McFarland says she visited many schools — both large and small, big names, private and public, during her college search. “I ultimately chose WestConn because of the Honors Program and science professors,” she says. “Each time I visited, I was always thoroughly impressed with the mindset of the professors and the students and staff in the Honors Program. The science professors were very genuine, approachable and excited about having their students recognize their potential for success. I liked the small science class sizes since I knew I did not want to sit in a large university amphitheater trying to do well in difficult subjects like organic chemistry and genetics. I knew I wanted to be able to make connections with my professors. I have not been disappointed in the least and leave WestConn with deep connections to my professors in the Biology and Chemistry departments who have championed me every step of the way. The same was true for the Honors Program. When I came to the Accepted Students Day Honor’s breakfast and I heard Honors Program Director Dr. Chris Kukk talk passionately about finding your potential both as a student and as a human being, I was sold. He focused on pushing yourself academically, but at the same time being a dolphin, not a shark, by striving to leave a positive and compassionate impact on people through your words and actions. I also loved the idea of being part of a subgroup as an honors student and that this experience would come with challenging classes, scholarship opportunities and numerous other benefits.

McFarland decided to major in biology because “As long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for nature, animals and the environment. Growing up, I was always the kid who was fascinated when my family visited science museums, zoos, nature centers and I loved being outdoors. I attended an AgriScience technology program at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, which further peaked my interest in conservation and the environment. I have always believed it is my responsibility to respect and protect our natural surroundings and through my education and career I hope to leave my own positive impact.”

At Western, McFarland says, “So many of my professors in the departments of biology and chemistry have been a significant part of my positive undergrad experience. My adviser, Dr. Rachel Prunier, recognized my hard work and focus by offering me a TA position in her genetics course senior year, which allowed me to experience the subject material from a whole new perspective. Dr. Mitch Wagener saw my genuine interest in climate change and challenged me make a presentation on the effects of this phenomenon on coral reefs at his public lecture series. So many other professors, including Dr. Dora Pinou , Dr. Neeta Connolly, Dr. Forest Robertson, Dr. Ed Wong, Dr. Rich Molinelli, and Dr. Nicholas Greco, gave me their time and encouraged me to do more. I will always be especially grateful to Dr. Monette, who approached me one day after an Animal Physiology class in my freshman year and asked if would be interested in conducting research in her lab. The rest is history as I have worked with Dr. Monette the past three years learning so much beyond my regular coursework in this formal research experience — from foundational lab skills, conducting literature searches, formulating research questions, designing experiments, molecular biology techniques and scientific communication skills — all of which can be carried with me to a grad school or the workplace. Dr. Monette allowed me to experience firsthand that scientific research is a process requiring patience, hard work, critical thinking, teamwork and a good sense of humor and flexibility.”

Asked what she will remember most about her Western experience, McFarland says, “I have had many wonderful experiences here at WestConn. One of my most memorable was attending a lecture on campus by Dr. Jane Goodall in September 2015 and getting to meet her. She has been a lifelong inspiration to me as a passionate conservationist and certainly someone I choose to emulate in my life and future career. The fact she came to speak on our campus was amazing. Traveling to Costa Rica on a weeklong trip with Dr. Pinou and other students gave me the opportunity to experience a new culture, work with scientists at a marine biology station and see volcanoes and native wildlife up close.”

McFarland has no plans to slow down after graduation. “In early June, I will be traveling to MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, with Dr. Monette and her summer group research class to assist students in learning molecular biology techniques as they study the effect of environmental stress on salmon. For the remainder of the summer, I will be employed at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, working in their education programs. My hard work begins in the fall as I begin to seriously research graduate assistantship programs to find a good fit and get my applications in for 2019. Before starting graduate school, I want to complete some short-term field study opportunities over the next year in the areas of conservation biology, climate change and evolutionary ecology so I can to broaden my experience and carry those with me to graduate school.”

Her advice to new students entering WCSU is: “You have to realize you are in charge of your own destiny. It is your responsibility from day one to be responsible for your educational experience and grateful you have the opportunity to be part of one. Stay focused and organized, work even harder when you think you have no more left in you, and above all, show your professors through your grades, attitude and passion you want to be here. In doing so, the right doors will open, opportunities will flow and you will have set yourself up for success.”