By Lauren Mar ’25 and Mirabella Miller ’24
This summer, biology major Elle Desmarteau ’26 had the opportunity to conduct mycology research at the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology’s reserve on the southwest coast of Costa Rica. Her observational study documenting various species of mushrooms and fungi on the reserve, supervised by Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Donald MacFarlane, identified more than 50 different species and added key information to the reserve’s ongoing biodiversity research.
“The research definitely strengthened my desire to be an environmental research biologist because it showed me the fun of doing fieldwork,” Desmarteau says. “Even the moments when I felt scared and confused made me even more curious to understand the environment around me.”
Outside of her research, Desmarteau spent her days immersed in the natural beauty of the reserve, hiking and observing wildlife. “One day, on our way down from the hike, we were surrounded by a troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys,” she says. “They were swinging in the trees all around us and it was such a cool experience.”
Although Desmarteau was only introduced to mycology, or the study of fungi and mushrooms, last year, the resources at the W.M. Keck Science Department quickly allowed her to pursue independent research on the topic. Every summer, the science department sponsors several funded summer research opportunities for undergraduate students at Scripps, Pitzer, and Claremont McKenna Colleges. Each research project focuses on biodiversity assessments and studies of the changing biotic and abiotic environment. Students are given the freedom to pursue their own research while contributing to broader institutional studies on biodiversity and environmental change.
Mycology is a smaller subfield of biology, but one that has garnered considerable scientific and popular interest in recent years. This was part of Desmarteau’s desire to pursue research opportunities within the subfield. “I really liked the idea of studying with people in a smaller field because it’s a community,” she says.
Community has been a defining theme of Desmarteau’s academic experience at Scripps thus far. She was drawn to Scripps not only because of the research experiences and opportunities offered by Keck, but also by her desire to participate in a robust and inclusive scientific community.
“My experience at Keck is my Scripps experience,” she says, adding that the department has been foundational in providing her with a collaborative network. “It’s really nice to have a lot of women in the community because it’s a male-dominated field. I know that after Scripps, I’ll have the network and the skills to continue to pursue STEM.”