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Following her Instincts
When Melisa Lindsay ’96 boarded a plane to then-Bombay in 1996, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was deeply interested in the fate of endangered wolves in her home state of Oregon. Now, with the help of a Cater Society grant, the psychology major was launching a life-changing adventure studying wolves in the backcountry of India.
“When I say ‘out in the field,’ we really were,” Lindsay says. “We were picked up by a jeep in Bombay and headed out into the desert. I’d read a little about [research leader] Dr. Y.V. Jhala, and I thought, what an opportunity to go study with this man, who seemed like the real-life Indiana Jones. Being in his presence was amazing.”
Lindsay was the only American among other college students from India and Africa on the team. They tracked tagged wolves from den to desert, night and day, watching them hunt and kill prey. They also talked with villagers about the wolves’ effect on their own food sources, particularly the blackbuck antelope. They researched habitat and documented vegetation and grasses, counting blade by blade.
“The wolves were the most frightening, startling, beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen,” Lindsay says. “It really gives you reverence for them, seeing them in their wild habitat and thinking, I’m the one who’s foreign here.”
But as striking as they were, it’s the people Lindsay remembers best. “This experience helped hone all the skills that are absent from a résumé. Life skills. The chance to work with and interact with people not from your culture. It’s not about your being American, or what college you go to; it’s about how much work you’re willing to put in. It’s definitely part of how I’ve learned to be a good leader and work with a team of people.”
The psychology major with a love of wolves went on to a career in finance; she’s now an investment manager with a community credit union in Portland. Her versatility reflects the Cater ethic.
“No one ever said I had to choose something in my field of study. It was really about having the opportunity—the gift—for some self-exploration. I can’t tell you how many corporate networking events I’ve been to where you’re asked to share something about yourself that no one knows, and I get to say ‘I tracked wolves in the desert night of India.’”