Mara MacMahon has been selected to receive the 2012 Harrison D. Stalker Award from the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
The award is named in honor of the late Harrison D. Stalker, PhD, who was a member of the biology faculty from 1942-1982, a world-renowned evolutionary biologist, an inspired teacher, and an enthusiastic supporter of the fine arts.
The award is given annually to a graduating biology major whose undergraduate career has been marked by outstanding scientific scholarship and contributions to the university in the areas of artistic expression or community service.
MacMahon exemplifies the spirit of the Stalker Award exceptionally well: as a five-year, combined-degree candidate, she is earning both a bachelor of arts in biology (with an emphasis on human and comparative anatomy) and a bachelor of fine arts in communication design (with an emphasis on 3D computer animation). Throughout her course of study, she has been a fixture on the Sam Fox School's dean's list.
She also has combined her scientific and artistic skills in creative ways on her own initiative. In an independent study with Jane Phillips-Conroy, PhD, professor of physical anthropology in the Department of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences and of anatomy and neurobiology in the School of Medicine, she shadowed medical students in the human anatomy lab, observing and sketching during dissections, paying particular attention to the bones and muscles that move limbs.
MacMahon went on to serve as a teaching assistant in the vertebrate structure course in the biology department, supplementing the students' study guides with her own sketches.
Meanwhile, she also served as a teaching assistant in the Sam Fox School for students studying 3D animation at both the introductory level and as advanced, independent-study participants.
Her unusual combination of scientific and artistic skills won her two exceptionally competitive summer internships: one at Pixar Animation Studios in 2010, and the other at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2011. In these internships, she was able to use her knowledge of anatomy to "rig" characters to move in realistic ways.
For her senior seminar in art, she produced a short film illustrating one of the classic tales of Greek mythology: the hunt for the fearsome Caledonian boar.
In addition to English (her native tongue), MacMahon is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, conversational Italian, and elementary Spanish. And throughout her time at WUSTL, she has been associated with Women's Club Soccer, the university's women's club soccer team, serving as an assistant manager, student trainer, and treasurer. Soccer, she says, has been a welcome release from her studies. She also worked with varsity athletes as a student trainer.
Following graduation, MacMahon hopes to establish a career in the film industry, either in computer animation or in special effects.