Honored Graduating Student: Kristina Cass (PWS)
In high school, Kristina Cass (’21) was part of a club that tracked box turtles in the woods. “We tagged them with transmitters, mapped their data, and we presented our findings at the state conference,” she says. “That experience just made me want to be a scientist.”
Graduating from the BYU Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Cass is living her dream as a scientist. She joined the environmental science program because she loves trees. “I like learning about how plants work,” she says. “If there was a botany major/emphasis I would have taken that.”
As a research assistant, Cass’s current project focuses on the effects of fire and rodents on native vegetation in the West and Mojave deserts. Part of her research includes restoration efforts to bring back Utah’s native vegetation by planting seeds in the burned desert—which can be a struggle because local rodents love the seeds.
Cass also studies invasive grasses—invasive species is one of her botanical interests—and how Utah deserts are primarily affected. “It’s called the invasive grass fire cycle,” she explains. “In a healthy desert, there are lots of shrubs and not a lot of grass in between. This way, they’re spaced out and desert fires can’t spread from shrub to shrub; but when invasive grasses fill in the inter-shrub base, it facilitates fires.” Invasive grasses are more successful at reestablishing in damaged ecosystems allowing them to overtake the desert and push out native vegetation after a fire.
Cass plans on turning her love of trees into a career. She would love to be a forester and is interested in working as an environmental researcher, or conducting restoration work anywhere in the U.S. With many options, she plans to work in her field for a few years before possibly returning to school for a botany degree. Though she is looking forward to the opportunities ahead of her, Cass will miss the environment she experienced in life sciences.
“The people are so great,” she says. “The professors are friendly and easy to get to know, my peers are great, and it’s a nice community. They all helped me enjoy my major, even outside of class.”