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Dillon Native An Ambassador
for Rodeo and Biotechnology


By Evelyn Boswell


MSU graduate and Montana rodeo queen Mandi Holland. (Photo by D&L Photography, Shelby.)
Mandi Holland of Dillon speaks easily about the joys of rodeo life.

As the reigning Miss Rodeo Montana, she first sat in the saddle when she was a month old. She started competing in rodeos at age 6 and did so well over the years that she attended Montana State University-Bozeman on a rodeo scholarship. She was chosen in January 2000 to be the state's rodeo queen.

"My job is to serve as ambassador for the sport of rodeo, mostly the professional rodeos throughout Montana and the Northwest," Holland said during a year of parades, rodeos and rodeo-related events.

But Holland has served as an ambassador of a different sort, too. During her final year in MSU's biotechnology program, she spoke to Montana lawmakers about the value of undergraduate research and what it meant to her. At the special session of the Montana Legislature last spring, she said, "Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to work in these settings. It was a great, great thing."

Mark Jutila, former head of MSU's Veterinary Molecular Biology (VMB) Department, said he wanted Holland to address the legislators because she was uniquely suited for the job. Not only is she a Montanan, but she had completed the relatively new biotechnology program at MSU and benefited from it.

"She had the whole story we are trying to tell the state--that a Montana student can come here, learn this fancy newfangled science, and it gets them somewhere," Jutila said.

MSU began its biotechnology program in 1995 with just three students. Last fall it had 59, making it one of the fastest growing programs at the university. Students in the four-year program all take a freshman-level course to introduce them to biotechnology. After two years of basic courses, they pursue plant, animal or microbial systems.

The biotechnology program and its emphasis on research "definitely" helped Holland get into veterinary school, Jutila said.

Holland is currently in her first year of vet school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Fittingly living on Tierra Lane, she said the biotechnology program made her unique among the students in her class. So did her experience with genome research. Most of the other students had majored in biology, animal science or zoology as undergraduates.

Holland's experience included an internship in Michele Hardy's VMB laboratory where she worked with rotavirus and the NSP3 gene. Rotavirus infects both animals and humans and causes diarrhea in young calves and young humans. Holland also rotated through the MSU laboratories of Jutila, C.A. Speer, and Michael White, receiving formal training in their lab techniques.

"We had a lot of hands-on experiences in different areas of research," Holland said. "... It was a great undergrad opportunity to get in there and work alongside (researchers) and learn these new techniques and things I might possibly face in the future."

As far as her immediate future goes, Holland plans to return to Montana for special events where she will appear as Miss Rodeo 2000. After veterinary school, she may use her training to perform surgery on horses.

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