W&L’s Kathryn Hensler ’21 Earns Fulbright to Spain Her project, “Age and Growth of Fan Mussel (Pinna nobilis) in Mar Menor,” will take her to Calpe, in Spain this fall.
Washington and Lee University senior Kathryn “KT” Hensler ’21 has received a Fulbright to complete an independent research project in Spain. Hensler is majoring in environmental studies with a conservation biology track, and she is minoring in creative writing.
This fall, her project, “Age and Growth of Fan Mussel (Pinna nobilis) in Mar Menor,” will take her to Calpe in the province of Alicante, Spain, where she hopes to assist in conservation efforts for the fan mussel, a species of mollusk that has been decimated in recent years by a deadly parasite.
“This means the world to me, my family and all of the people who have supported me since I was a young girl with dreams of becoming a marine biologist,” Hensler said. “This opportunity will give me unparalleled experience in the marine biology field that I can bring back to the U.S. and apply on our own precious mollusks.”
Hensler will leave this September for Spain and be abroad through June 2022. She credits her time at W&L for helping prepare her for this experience.
“Without the Environmental Studies Program and all I’ve learned from my time here, I would never have applied for this award,” she said. “I was encouraged by my adviser to take a chance on an internship while I was studying abroad during fall 2019, and that internship’s location is where I will be returning in the fall.”
Matthew Loar, director of fellowships at W&L, introduced Hensler to the Fulbright Program during Hensler’s time as a Summer Research Scholar in 2020.
“I had so much fun working with KT on this application,” Loar said. “Not only did I learn a ton about fan mussels, but I also discovered KT has a deep and abiding passion for marine conservation efforts. She has the perfect Fulbright project, and I’m so glad the Fulbright selection committees agreed.”
Robert Humston, the John Kyle Spencer Director of Environmental Studies and professor of biology at W&L, also worked with Hensler on her Fulbright application and research.
“KT’s proposal for this research is well thought-out and presents a clear plan for leveraging her skillset to contribute important, new knowledge toward the conservation of the critically endangered Pinna nobilis,” Humston said. “This award comes at the ideal moment in KT’s academic and professional development. I have no doubt she will be highly successful in this research, and that success in turn will illuminate her pathway toward advanced studies and a productive career contributing to the field of marine conservation.”
In addition to her studies at W&L, Hensler is on the University Sustainability Committee, participates in Delta Society and founded the W&L Club Triathlon Team this academic year. After W&L, she plans to earn a doctorate in marine science.
“Ultimately, I hope to perform research on mollusks for the Environmental Protection Agency to provide valuable data, insights and information for policymakers, specifically regarding the Chesapeake Bay, whose own mollusk population, after being remediated in the last decade, enriched the quality of the bay’s ecosystem,” Hensler said.
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