Changing the Trajectory

The experience of holding a tarantula in the Arizona desert was a critical point in Lacie Newton’s career trajectory.

So was the experience of studying with Dr. Brent Hendrixson, professor of biology at Millsaps College.

“His passion for research, teaching and scientific outreach inspired me to change my career trajectory from a medical doctor to an evolutionary biology professor,” said Newton, now a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis.

Newton recently co-authored an article about her research on folding-door spiders in the journal Molecular Ecology. Hendrixson was a member of the research team.

“My research focuses on classifying and describing the Earth’s increasingly threatened biodiversity, specifically cryptic species in the trapdoor spider genus Aptostichus, using genomic-scale data and various bioinformatic tools,” said Newton.

A 2016 graduate of Millsaps with a degree in biology, Newton grew up in the small Mississippi town of Eupora.

“One of my older friends from high school went to Millsaps, and she told me about how kind the people (students, faculty, and staff) were,” Newton said. “So, I decided to visit the campus and found out she was right. The kindness and passion for learning really resonated with me, which was something I didn’t really feel at any of the state schools I visited.”

Newton notes other Millsaps faculty who were influential on her career path, including associate professor of biology Dr. Beth Hussa and Dr. Katie Hahn, former associate professor of psychology.

Hussa inspired Newton with her passion for teaching and dedication to her students, and offered guidance on the process of applying to graduate school. Lessons learned in Hahn’s psychology classes have helped Newton in her work “mentoring UC Davis undergraduates from underrepresented groups and contributing action items for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at the UC Davis Department of Entomology & Nematology.”

Like so many Millsaps graduates, Newton says her success in her chosen field wasn’t built just on the work she completed for her major.

“My liberal arts education at Millsaps significantly broadened my horizons beyond just biology, which has made me a more well-rounded scholar and considerably aided in my writing and communication skills.”

Newton also points to her first day on campus as a key Millsaps moment.

“At Millsaps Welcome Weekend my freshman year I ended up meeting my lifelong best friends in Bacot Hall,” she said. “They were there to support me every step of my Millsaps journey and continue to do so for my UC Davis one.”

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