Discovering an academic path

March 29, 2021

Grad students Dorah Mkabili Mwangola and Leticia Dourado Clemente share their journey to CFANS

Although University of Minnesota CFANS graduate students Dorah Mkabili Mwangola and Letícia Dourado Clemente are engaged in different fields of study, they have something in common—both women discovered a passion for their respective fields almost by accident. As we commemorate Graduate Professional Student Appreciation Week from March 29 through April 2 this year, we celebrate their accomplishments and look forward to seeing their contributions to the scientific community, along with those of our many CFANS graduate students.

Mwangola is a PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology, and Dourado Clemente is a master’s student in the Department of Animal Science. Here they share a bit about what inspires them.

Dorah Mkabili Mwangola

Dorah Mwangola at a park with fallen leaves.

Born in the Coast Province of Kenya, Mwangola later moved to Nairobi for her parents’ professional careers. She described the culture and vibe of Kenya’s capital city as fast-paced and chaotic and incredibly stimulating—characteristics she appreciates.

Mwangola completed her microbiology and biochemistry bachelor’s degree with honors, and after working as an intern on a project to assess malaria prevalence in the same province where she was born, she completed a master’s degree in genetics. “I never thought I would work with insects, ever,” she said. During her master’s program, Mwangola participated in a required field project focused on studying tree-feeding weevils. “I found this very interesting and asked questions about insects incessantly,” she said. “From that point on, I was committed to learning more about insects.”

As a current PhD candidate in entomology professor Brian Aukema’s lab, Mwangola studies the associational protection and potential non-target effects of systemic insecticide treatments against emerald ash borer. “I am interested in keeping trees/plants healthy and insects are a major threat to many forests and plants,” she said. “I wanted to get a better understanding of insects so I could learn how to protect trees and plants against insect pests or how to eradicate them. I am fascinated by how insect pests interact with their environment and all the cool adaptations they have for surviving and thriving in their surroundings.”

Letícia Dourado Clemente

Leticia Dourado Clemente bottle feeding a calf.

Animal science master’s student Clemente grew up in São Paulo, Brazil—a city with more than 12 million residents whose name means St. Paul in Portuguese—a serendipitous detail that she couldn’t predict when landing here.

Clemente explained that she could count on one hand the number of times she had visited a farm during her childhood, which meant that animal production was unfamiliar to her. Because she had always loved animals, she decided to begin college with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and experienced her first encounter with large animals there, like sheep and dairy cows. “I started studying and learning about animals and agronomy. With everything that I studied, animal nutrition got my attention,” Clemente said. 

After graduating from college in 2018, she came to the U.S. through CFANS’ MAST International program, which led her to work at a dairy farm in South Dakota and then support research on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul with the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. In the final year of Clemente’s program, she met animal science associate professor Bradley Heins, PhD, who encouraged her to apply for the department’s master’s program and offered her a position as a research assistant.

As Clemente wraps up her first semester of graduate school, she’s focused on organic dairy nutrition. “My main research is about balancing milk and forage quality tradeoffs in organic dairies that feed high-legume diets,” she said. “It has been a huge challenge for me, and I am extremely excited each day.”


Because the University will be on spring break during the national GPSA Week, we decided to celebrate our students one week earlier. We are CFANS proud of each graduate student in the College and continue to be inspired by the incredible contributions they’ve made and continue to make. Our community, state, and the world all benefit from their exceptional research and innovation.