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From One-Room Schoolhouse in Montana to a Fulbright In Nepal

July 29, 2016

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    Lily Clarke examines some of the mushrooms she studies.
    Kurt Wilson, The Missoulian

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Lily Clarke’s (BA ’15, biology) hometown of Condon, Montana, boasts a population of 343. Now Clarke, who grew up studying in a one-room schoolhouse, is using the Fulbright grant she earned to research the environmental impact of morel mushrooms and their use in rural communities in Nepal. Clarke shared her inspirational story with the Missoulian newspaper earlier this month.

Clarke will study how people’s relationships with the morels they cultivate—a field known as ethnomycology—have changed as demand for the mushrooms has grown. She plans to learn enough Nepali to discuss local practices and collaborate with local experts, helping them get their own research funded and raising awareness about the possible role of mushrooms in supporting new plant growth.

“This is becoming a new frontier,” Clarke said in her interview with the Missoulian. “I want to inspire people to study the obscure—we’re finding that the obscure is becoming more and more important.”

Clarke deepened her passion for scientific inquiry during her time at Lewis & Clark: she received the President’s scholarship in 2013 for her work researching morels, mushrooms that thrive in areas ravaged by forest fires. She won a Miller Award the following year, which allowed her to pursue an internship with the Wilderness Society, an environmental conservation organization where she studied fire ecology and became more and more curious about the importance of mushrooms in damaged environments. This curiosity led her to work closely with Francois Buscot, a scientist who helped her apply for and receive a contract scientist position at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany after she completed her bachelor’s degree.

One of eleven Fulbright winners from Lewis & Clark this year, Clarke’s extensive research background made her proposal stand out, but so did her global awareness and continuous engagement with the world around her.

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