“Nature is an amazing resource, but can be fragile and too often destroyed by human effects. Understanding the way organisms function, interact and evolve allows us to apply the appropriate methods of protection. I hope that in my career I can discover some of this information and do my little bit to help the world.”
So says Dr. Michelle Tipton, assistant professor and biotechnology program coordinator at MxCC, who has dedicated her academic career to finding some of these answers through the study of the early fish of New England.
How early? Well, you have to go back in time 20,000 years ago (to the end of the last official ice age) when glacier ice started to leave New England. That, according to Michelle, is when life started to get really interesting.
That is when many freshwater rivers were created, and fish were able to return to the area. She has been closely studying those fish for years, making them – specifically the Blacknose Dace – the focus of her Ph.D. thesis at Wesleyan University (for which she received the Barry Kiefer Prize for outstanding 2013 thesis in biology). By using phylogenetic analyses, along with molecular and morphological techniques on the dace, Michelle believes we can better understand the evolutionary processes of the past and today.
In her quest to expand the knowledge of fish evolution (with the ultimate goal of modeling and applying our findings to the future), Michelle has uncovered some answers to questions about these early fish. They have been the topic of her written articles and presentations at industry events.
Prior to joining the full-time teaching staff at MxCC, Michelle served as research fellow of the College of the Environment at Wesleyan University, and was a visiting assistant professor of biology at the University. She held several positions at MxCC including interim recruitment and placement coordinator, interim curriculum innovation coordinator, and adjunct professor. She also has taught biology and science courses at Quinnipiac University.
Michelle first acquired her appreciation for and the ability to identify fish while quahogging and fishing with her dad on Narragansett Bay, and later in more detail when she stocked fish in Connecticut rivers and lakes for the Department of Environmental Protection (now DEEP). She also worked with the EPA in Narragansett, RI, to study the micro-habitats of winter waterfowl and aquatic surveys for the EPA’s National Coastal Assessment program (for which she received the EPA’s Superior Accomplishment Award).
As part of her commitment to support future scientists, Michelle regularly contributes time and talent to many community events including MxCC’s Math Academy, the DNA Discovery Center Research Interactive exhibit at The Field Museum in Chicago, the 5th Grade Science Experience of Wesleyan University Labs, National Geographic’s Bioblitz event in Middletown, and as a science fair judge at the Moody School in Middletown.
She is a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, American Fisheries Society, and American Women in Science, and holds a small watercraft boating license from Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Michelle earned her Ph.D. in biology from Wesleyan University, and her master’s of arts degree in ecology and environmental sciences from Central Connecticut State University. She earned her bachelor’s of science degree in marine biology from the University of Rhode Island.
In her spare time, Michelle enjoys all types of music especially folk and bluegrass, hiking, swimming, running, yard work, and time with her two cats.