Caitlin Andrews and Emma Glennon
"I am advocating for 'rewilding,' or the benefits of reintroducing [the hihi] species. ... I am hoping to show that by helping a species, we are helping the entire New Zealand ecosystem."
Service Through Ecology: Two Alumnae Named 2016 Gates Cambridge Scholars
For approximately of each of the next three years, Caitlin Andrews ’12 will live in a bunkhouse on Tiritiri Matangi, a remote island off of New Zealand’s Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Accessible only by ferry, the island is home to hihi, a species of native birds that went extinct on the New Zealand mainland during the 1800s. On the mainland, hihi faced challenges, including disease and predators, that are not present in their offshore habitat.
Andrews will study the behaviors of individual birds, assessing their personalities, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Based on her research, Andrews will identify those members of the hihi population that would be most likely to overcome the challenges of thriving on the mainland. She will then be part of a team that seeks to reintroduce hihi to New Zealand.
Andrews is undertaking this work as a Gates Cambridge Scholar; she is one of two Exonians, along with Emma Glennon ’10, who were awarded this prestigious scholarship in 2016. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship, established by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2000, is given annually to 40 Americans and 55 people from other countries.
Gates Cambridge Scholars are selected on the basis of four criteria: academic excellence, leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others and a good academic fit with the University of Cambridge. Applicants are ranked by Cambridge professors on academic ability. Those who pass that hurdle are then evaluated by shortlisting committees that consider the candidates’ full applications. Finally, those who are shortlisted are interviewed.
The Scholars receive full funding for their graduate work and also benefit from special programs throughout their studies. Both Andrews and Glennon are pursuing doctorates, typically awarded in three or four years, compared with six or more in the United States. Andrews’ degree will be in zoology, while Glennon’s field of study is veterinary medicine. Glennon is undertaking her work as part of Churchill College at Cambridge, which has a focus on science, engineering and technology, and was established in 1958 to honor Winston Churchill. Andrews is affiliated with King’s College, which was founded in Cambridge in 1441 by King Henry VI.
Andrews has had a lifelong interest in animal behavior, beginning with observing the backyard activities of her family dogs, pit bulls Astro, Comet and Jupiter. A native of West Newbury, Massachusetts, she was a four-year day student at Exeter. While at the Academy, she doubled up on science classes when her schedule permitted, taking electives in animal behavior and marine biology.
Andrews went to Harvard, graduating summa cum laude in 2016, and majoring in organismic and evolutionary biology. Andrews’ focus was on animal behavior and ecology. To gather data for her undergraduate thesis, she lived in a tent in Mexico for the summer before her senior year, researching sex differences in the ranging behavior of Yucatan spider monkeys in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. She has also studied parrot cognition at Harvard, dogs’ perceptions of morality at Yale, primate-human interactions in Rwanda and gorilla behavior at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo.
While Andrews’ current work focuses on the hihi population, it has broad implications. “Hihi eat nectar and are important pollinators,” Andrews explains. “Through my project, I am advocating for ‘rewilding,’ or the benefits of reintroducing a species.” The goal is to use hihi reintroductions not only to help hihi, but also to promote the health and sustainability of their environment. Andrews says, “I am hoping to show that by helping a species, we are helping the entire New Zealand ecosystem.”
Glennon’s work also analyzes a specific animal as a means to improving conditions more broadly. She explores infectious diseases from an ecological perspective, looking at ways that human actions affect the population dynamics of fruit bats and thereby drive spillover of bat-borne viruses, including Ebola, rabies and others. Specifically, Glennon uses mathematical models to study ways diseases move through populations.
Unlike Andrews, who knew from a young age that she was fascinated by animal behavior, Glennon didn’t find her passion until college. At Exeter, Glennon was a three-year day student from Portsmouth. She did “a bit of everything” throughout her years at PEA. “I really loved languages, painting,” she says. “I did an exchange program in Germany. I had no idea — I loved everything!” She enrolled at Princeton, uncertain of what academic path she would pursue.
A combination of circumstances and experiences led Glennon to her current field. Her father became ill and passed away during her college years, planting the seeds for her interest in health and its determinants. Then a class in disease ecology during Glennon’s junior year opened her eyes to a new area of study that married many of her interests. She says, “Disease ecology combined my existing interest in public health with the kinds of field work and analytical problem-solving I love.”
For her undergraduate thesis, Glennon modeled the links between long-term climate variation, human behavior and cholera in Bangladesh, which she visited before her senior year at Princeton. She graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her next step was a Fulbright Research Grant. Glennon traveled to Delhi, India, to study antibiotic-resistant infections, under the auspices of two separate but collaborating organizations: the Public Health Foundation of India and the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. “I was looking at drivers of resistance on a global scale,” she says.
Now Glennon is crunching data on fruit bats. At some point in her graduate studies, she plans to travel to Ghana and/or Australia, where data on the fruit bat populations are gathered. Glennon notes that being present as data come in can provide insights and valuable information. She says, “When I spent a summer in Bangladesh, where the cholera data came from, I could ask questions such as, ‘What do you wish you had better answers to?’ that guided my research.”
In pursuit of their degrees, neither Glennon nor Andrews takes classes or has a set schedule. “It is straight research,” Glennon says. They both appreciate the opportunity to focus on their area of interest. “It’s really great to be able to choose a problem and hone in on it,” Glennon says. “The nerd in me gets really excited about that!”
While their work is independent, both Andrews and Glennon enjoy being part of a larger program. As Glennon says, “With Gates, being part of such an interdisciplinary group is a unique and incredible opportunity.”
Andrews particularly appreciates the exposure to those with different interests and talents. “I’ve already made amazing friends,” she says.
And while each of them has a different area of study and a different plan for fulfilling their scholarship, all of the Gates Cambridge Scholars have a commitment to service to others. Glennon says, “Everyone here is passionate about some problem. There’s a very cool energy.”
As Andrews concludes, “We all have a similar passion to help improve the world.”
– Lynn Horowitch '81; P '19
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2017 edition of The Exeter Bulletin.