2021, Honors College
“Who cares what you do? People care who you are.”
— Marie Tessier, Honors College junior and Biology major
“Life is an adventure,” says junior Biology major, Marie Tessier, who learned that even the most thought-through plans cannot account for all that will happen in the future.
Before coming to George Mason University, Tessier already thought she had her perfect future planned out, and she worried that straying from the plan would be a sign of failing. “It wasn’t until the summer after freshman year that I was able to say to myself, ‘If I don’t [follow the plan], I’m not a failure,” Tessier explains, and she could never have predicted all the opportunities and accomplishments she would have opened up to herself during the next few years.
Tessier always knew she wanted a career path that would allow her to work with animals. Starting on a pre-vet track, Tessier used her first freshman honors class, Honors 110: Principles of Research and Inquiry, as an opportunity to look specifically into how animals communicate. Her final project, “The Dimensionality of Interspecies Vocal Communication Among Nonhuman Vertebrates,” explored ways scientists attempt to understand how animals convey meaning to other species.
“By looking at the different types of studies, we might be able to better understand how interspecies communication actually works, and it’s very complex,” Tessier explains. “The more I learned, the more there was to learn... I loved that discovery of Honors 110.”
Seeking another opportunity for research, Tessier investigated research grants offered through Mason’s OSCAR Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, which funds individually-designed research and creative projects undertaken with the supervision of a faculty mentor. Using the Honors College’s Multidisciplinary Research and Creative Projects seminar to support her work, she crafted a proposal and applied.
In this initial project, Tessier planned to study the “founder effect” among captive populations of red siskin birds, an endangered species that was once common to Venezuela. Though her initial project was accepted, things did not entirely go according to plan and her mentor had to withdraw from the project. With persistence, Tessier was able to find a new project before the summer began.
“[The project was] spermatogenesis in vitro protein expression through immunohistochemistry,” says Tessier, which explores how sperm can be produced from testicular tissue cells. While this has previously been done in mice and rats, Tessier’s research focused on lambs.
“It’s very hard; as soon as you start culturing tissues outside the body, in a lab setting, they start to die,” continues Tessier. “We needed to figure out the right concentrations of different solutions in the culture systems to allow [the tissue] to mature before it dies.”
In the summer of 2019, Tessier pursued this research with her mentor, Dr. Budhan Pukazhenthi, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). At the institute, Tessier received a hands-on learning experience and guidance from experts in her field, as well as a chance to utilize tools, like Microtomes, and practice performing immunohistochemistry procedures.
Learning at the Smithsonian Biology Institute provided “a really fulfilling experience that let me test the waters of research,” Tessier says, grateful for such an opportunity.
In addition to her love for research, Tessier has grown up with a passion for giving back to her community. “During the holiday season, [my family and I] go to nursing homes and assisted living places and put on Christmas shows,” Tessier tells, describing musical performances she and her eight siblings provide. “I love it so much- seeing [the residents] happy means so much to me.”
Tessier is further involved in the Mason community as both a choir section leader and Bible study leader through the Catholic Ministry near George Mason.
Through her experiences at Mason and in her community, Tessier developed more trust in both herself and her faith. She no longer felt she needed to stick to a rigid plan for her future. “I was using a dream to define who I am,” Tessier explains, reflecting on her research and time with her community and church. “Who cares what you do? People care who you are. I learned to allow myself to be free in knowing that… I could take each moment and do my best.”
In her future, Tessier looks to attend vet school and continue to make an impact through service and her faith. “I don’t know what’s coming next, but I’m excited for it,” she says. “I want to take each day as a blessing and live not for the future, but for the present.”
By Audrey Butler