Smitten by Science
An immunologist wants kids to get excited about research

Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version

If Julie Mangada '99 had been a cat lover—or even a cat liker—she wouldn't be where she is today. "Dogs are always happy to see you," she explains, "but cats are just, like, 'You again. Whatever!'" When she got accepted to veterinary school, she had a crisis of conscience about "the whole cat thing," and she knew she couldn't be a good vet.

Genevieve Shiffrar

Fortunately, she had other options. As a participant in the CREAM program at UNH, she had helped manage a small herd of dairy cattle. "I was amazed by how much hard science is involved in dairy farming," she says. "Cows depend on the billions of microorganisms in their rumen to digest grass and hay." That experience drew her to a major in microbiology.

Mangada also performed research on the bacterium Yersinia pestis with UNH microbiologist Robert Zsigray. But it was her mother's experience with a potentially devastating autoimmune disease that ultimately drew her to a career in scientific research—and education. In its worst form, scleroderma can cause hardening of the skin and internal organs. "Everything becomes cement," says Mangada.

During her years at UNH, scleroderma research advanced rapidly. "I would sit down with Mom and her support group," says Mangada, "and explain the research in real people's language." Instead of going to veterinary school, she decided to earn a doctorate in immunology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Today, Mangada performs immunological research at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif., where she also coordinates outreach programs, including a molecular biology "boot camp" for high school students, and a science program for first-generation college students. It takes only one example to understand why this is the most gratifying part of her work.

Last summer, Mangada helped lead an "algebra academy" designed to prepare at-risk students for ninth-grade algebra, in part by showing them how scientists, engineers, financial experts and others use math at work. She introduced the students to powerful $30,000 microscopes, and one student was so enthralled with the microorganisms he saw that he couldn't even tear himself away for the class pizza party. "You could see something click with him," says Mangada. As a result, he was invited to sign up for an AP biology class, and he has done very well there.

"My mission is to get people excited about science," she says, "and to get kids excited so they can be the future investigators we need." For the students she works with, it is very fortunate indeed that Julie Mangada doesn't like cats.

 Easy to print version

Return to Alumni Profiles

blog comments powered by Disqus