Evolutionary Biologist Beth Shapiro to Speak at Harvey Mudd Commencement

Evolutionary Biologist Beth Shapiro will address some of the nation’s most gifted engineering, science and mathematics graduates when she delivers the keynote address at Harvey Mudd College’s 56th Commencement ceremony Sunday, May 18.

Harvey Mudd senior Sidra Hussain met Shapiro and recommended her to classmates as someone they should consider for commencement speaker.  “I thought that Beth’s research interests would appeal to a wide audience, and it appealed to me in particular because she does work in computational biology,” said Hussain, a mathematical and computational biology major. This represents the second year that Harvey Mudd will graduate students in this major.

Shapiro specializes in the genetics of ice age animals and plants. A pioneer in the young field called “ancient DNA,” she travels extensively in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Siberia and Canada collecting bones and other remains of long-dead creatures including mammoths, giant bears, and extinct camels and horses. Using DNA sequences extracted from these remains, she hopes to better understand how the distribution and abundance of species changed in response to major climate changes in the past and why some species go extinct while others persist. The results could be used to help develop strategies for the conservation of species that are under threat from climate change.

Associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California, Santa Cruz, Shapiro has been widely honored for her research. She was recently named a Searle Scholar, Packard Fellow and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. In 2009, she received a MacArthur “genius” award.

The Harvey Mudd Commencement ceremony will be held on the Harvey S. Mudd Quadrangle at 1:30 p.m.