Dr. Mary Mulcahy
Associate Professor of Biology
Chair Division of Biological and Health Sciences
Ph. D. Biological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
B. A. The College of Wooster, OH
Dr. Mulcahy earned her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where her dissertation was titled "Alpine Plant-Ant Interactions." She also has a bachelor of arts from The College of Wooster, OH, where she did research on plant growth and its relation to evolution. Mulcahy specializes in evolution and plant and animal interactions.
Prior to joining Pitt-Bradford's faculty, Mulcahy served as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Kentucky in the Center for Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.
Why or how did you come to teach at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford?
I wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college, where I could know my students, and I could work one-on-one with students. I was certainly also eager to teach at a school located in a rural setting with ample opportunities to study nature.
What do you think the purpose or benefit of a higher education is?
I believe that learning improves ones quality of life both mentally and physically, and that higher education can show how much fun learning can be as well as making one better able to learn. While I think that facts are important, I definitely emphasize the importance of the process of learning. One becomes a better learner with practice, and good higher education gives students practice learning. In addition to this very esoteric reason, I keep a rather irreverent list of reasons for higher education just for fun. For example, higher education can teach you four-syllable words as well as four-letter words. (Does higher education improve your sense of humor? Maybe it only makes it more sophisticated. )
In your opinion, what are the benefits of working on a small campus?
I believe that you are more likely to have a meaningful relationship with someone if you know his/her name. Small campuses facilitate meaningful relationships.
What are the benefits, in your opinion, for students studying on a small campus setting rather than on a large/urban campus setting?
Small campuses offer many opportunities for real relationships with fellow students and teachers. It is much easier for a professor to write a genuinely good letter of recommendation for a job or for graduate school if the teacher knows the student well. Small campuses allow each student to get the attention that they need to succeed. Not all students learn in the same ways, and smaller campuses are usually easier places to tailor your education to the style that works best for you. Also, the urban environment is so full of temptations that can distract from the simple pleasures of life. Students at Pitt-Bradford could start every morning with a walk on a trail with bullfrogs and herons. Don’t believe the advertisements; pleasure does not have to be bought at a mall.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
I approach teaching as an opportunity for students to develop thinking skills. I enjoy encouraging students to be problem-solvers, and to see them take leadership in developing their own expertise. As a biologist, I like to encourage students to use their own creativity to design and complete experiments and research.
Within your field of teaching and research; what specific directions do you tend to channel your energy and why?
I tend to channel my energy in teaching toward creating activities that encourage self-motivated and self-initiated learning (where students design their own experiments). I tend to channel my energy in research toward plant-animal interactions that are really interesting but that are being overlooked by the casual observer (perhaps because the organisms are small or because they have drab colors that make them inconspicuous in the environment).
What is an interest or hobby of yours that is an extension of the teachings of your academic field?
At various times, I have had hobbies growing house plants (begonias & scented geraniums) that display extensive morphological variation and so beautifully demonstrate the wonderful diversity of life.
How might you respond to a student who enjoys the subject matter of your classes but isn’t necessarily strong in that field of study?
I think Edison hit the nail on the head when he spoke about genius being mostly hard work (“perspiration”) and only a little bit of true unique talent (“inspiration”).
What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching at Pitt-Bradford?
Pitt-Bradford has the nicest, most pleasant and easy-going students of any place that I have worked.
Are you currently working on any research, publication, or project? What does it consist of?
I am working on research on how to best teach students experimental design and biological statistics. I am studying the relationship between a small plant (a leafy liverwort) and the microscopic animals that live within it, and I am exploring a new project on seed-dispersal by ants.
Who do you admire? Why?
Here’s one of my final exam questions, “If you were to have a chance to invite three biologists to Pitt-Bradford for dinner and discussion, which three (alive or dead) would you choose? What contribution has each of these persons made that inspires you invite them?”
I would choose Lucy Braun (ecologist/botanist 1889-1971) who I admire for her amazing knowledge of forests, Aldo Leopold (ecologist 1887-1948) for foreseeing so much with regards to the relationship of humans with their environment, Sewall Wright (1889-1988) for inventing the adaptive landscape which is a way of viewing evolution in 3-D, and Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) for being able to think like maize. Oops that is four.
In a non-scientific sense, I admire many of the same people that others do for many of the same reasons: my parents for putting up with me, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for being true peacemakers, and Mother Teresa for caring for the disadvantaged.
As a former undergraduate student, was there a certain professor that stands out in mind as a favorite, someone who you really respected, or someone who really inspired you? Why?
I had a wonderful biology teacher at the College of Wooster, Dr. Lyn Loveless, who gave me lots of supportive attention, and told me that I could do many things that I didn’t think I could. She hired me one spring break to help her collect seeds of a wonderful flowering tree on an island in the Panama Canal. Life has never been the same since.