Dr. Cassandra Miller-Butterworth: All in for science
Biology professor's love for animals has led to a life-long study of little brown bats and a concerted effort to help her students love animals, too
When Cassandra Miller-Butterworth was a teenager, she spent the summer laboring alongside a veterinarian from her hometown in South Africa. She had always loved animals and wanted to test her dream of working with wildlife.
The vet, a small and farm animal specialist, was impressed with her knowledge, her work ethic and her passion. But, still, as the summer came to its inevitable close, he offered Miller-Butterworth a kind warning.
“I think you’d be an excellent vet, but you’re going to struggle because you’re a woman,” he told her. Her petite frame didn’t help. The farmers, he predicted, would never trust her to wrestle with a horse or cow.
“The farmers will laugh at you,” he said.
“He was right,” Miller-Butterworth said. “I didn’t take offense at all. He was being very realistic.”
So when Miller-Butterworth went off to study at the University of Cape Town, she chose zoology as her major.
Three decades later, South Africa has changed. Women now outnumber men in veterinary schools and many have taken jobs in large animal or wildlife medicine.
And Miller-Butterworth is not only an associate professor of biology at Penn State Beaver, but she’s a respected researcher whose wildlife expertise has made her a leader in the field and a coveted research partner.
Her best-known project is the study of little brown bats and the White Nose Syndrome that is killing them in alarming numbers. Her study began in Pennsylvania but has since expanded as far as the Rocky Mountains.
For the past five years, she’s also collected blood and tissue samples of African painted dogs – one of the most endangered canines in southern Africa – for DNA fingerprinting and worked with researchers at University Park to study chronic wasting disease in white tailed deer.
And she’s part of a team that’s examining two species on Cumberland Island in Georgia. One species – the bobcat – is a natural predator reintroduced to the isolated island. The other – the coyote – is an invasive species that’s threatening nesting birds and turtles.
“We don’t know how they got there,” Miller-Butterworth said. “Our job is to figure out how they were introduced.”
Miller-Butterworth’s work has been chronicled in her many publications, including in the prestigious journal Nature.
Ph.D. in Zoology University of Cape Town, South Africa
Bachelor of Science Honours in Zoology (Post-Graduate) University of Cape Town, South Africa
Bachelor of Science in Zoology University of Cape Town, South Africa