Dr. Ruth Fabian-Fine is a neuroscientist who spends her time with spiders investigating mechanosensory—the ability to sense pressure or vibrations. She joined the Biology Department at Saint Michael’s College in the fall of 2015. Dr. Declan McCabe, the chair of the Biology Department, is an ecologist who explores aquatic ecosystems, its inhabitants, and how they are influenced by pollutants. Fabian-Fine spends her days peering through a fluorescent microscope localizing neurotransmitters in dissected sensory organs while McCabe is often seen in urban and rural streams—net in hand—taking a census of invertebrates. At first glance, Fabian Fine’s and McCabe’s research does not appear to have much in common, but a closer look reveals that these two professors share a personality trait; they are both natural collaborators. McCabe has been an integral part of Vermont EPSCoR since 2008 and has worked closely with collaborators at UVM and throughout the state. Fabian-Fine is a team builder with vision. In her first year as a faculty member she developed a highly productive research program from scratch and by the closing bell of the school year, she had hired five research students and been awarded two grants from VGN. Given that both McCabe and Fabian-Fine have deep records of working productively with other scientists, perhaps it is not surprising that these two individuals came together last winter to successfully write a grant to the George I. Alden Trust, a non-profit that supports the development of undergraduate education.
The Biology Department at Saint Michael’s College has seen enormous growth in the last fifteen years by almost doubling the number of majors from 129 to 235 and by increasing the number of full time faculty from 9 to 14. With Fabian-Fine’s initiative and McCabe’s experience, this dynamic duo saw the potential in this expansion and set out to create opportunities for more collaborative learning and research by applying for a grant for shared equipment. The grant was successful and Saint Michael’s College was awarded $150,000 from the Alden Trust which Saint Michael’s College matched with an additional $150,000. To better image samples, these funds are being used to create a facility complete with microscopes, sample processing equipment, and computer workstations for analysis. The molecular fields are gaining a real-time PCR machine to study population genetics and to more accurately measure gene expression. The physiologists are expanding their measurement capacity with new equipment, a 3D scanner, and software. Fabian-Fine and McCabe saw an opportunity to collaborate on a grant and the net result is expanded research and teaching opportunities for almost the entire biology faculty.