Seeing Green

When Cassie Majetic was a child, she wanted to be a writer or a book editor. Yet somewhere along the way she rewrote her own story, becoming an award-winning biologist. “When I entered middle school, I started to learn more about the environment and became fascinated by biology,” explains Majetic, an assistant professor in biology. “By the time I was a junior in high school, I knew I wanted to study life on Earth and how organisms interact.”

Majetic teaches courses in environmental science/biology, evolution, and botany. Her research focuses on the evolution of floral odor, biochemical connections between floral odor and floral color, and pollination biology. Majetic was recently awarded the 2009 Haldane Prize for the best paper by a young author in the journal, Functional Ecology for her paper, The sweet smell of success: Floral scent affects pollinator attraction and seed fitness in Hesperis matronalis. “I am very honored and humbled to receive the Haldane Prize from the British Ecological Society,” says Majetic. “Their recognition of my work is very exciting. The prize is named for a well-known British biologist, and to be associated in any way with his legacy is truly thrilling.”

Majetic's fascination with biology has helped to guide her philosophy as a professor. “My goal is to show my students how amazing, exciting, and enjoyable learning science can be. It’s not just rote memorization, it’s about really learning how the natural world works.” In addition to her previous teaching experience at other colleges, Majetic says a two-year teaching fellowship in graduate school enhanced her teaching ability. Of her experience in working with Kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers in developing a curriculum, she says, “Learning how to talk with first-graders about physics will definitely help you understand how to teach. I also believe that my research has helped my teaching abilities—presenting scientific concepts at conferences and to non-scientists is great training for the classroom.”

Majetic is also an advisor, and she and biology professor Doris Watts are co-sponsors of Saint Mary's Environmental Action Coalition (SMEAC). The student-run club plans and participates in activities that raise awareness about environmental issues or that benefit the environment. In addition to managing the Free Store, the group has planned such activities as the campus wide Earth Day celebration, the Weigh Your Waste event, and a beach clean-up.

Even though Majetic still has a passion for literature, she found her calling in biology. For students who might be interested in her field she says, “If you enjoy learning about how organisms interact with one another, and what makes the natural world work, ecology and evolution are definitely fields you should explore. The work requires a lot of patience, time, and analytical thinking, but the results are extremely rewarding. Plus you get to travel and be outdoors.”