Finding a path back to WashU with science communication

Drawing from her experiences as a WashU Pathfinder, microbiology researcher, and science journalist, Crystal Gammon now serves as the director of communications for Arts & Sciences.

When she applied to WashU, Crystal Gammon, AB 2005, knew she wanted to explore her enthusiasm for environmental science as part of an interdisciplinary, close-knit community. Fortunately, Ray Arvidson’s Pathfinder program was a perfect fit. Through the Pathfinder program, Gammon and her cohort learned to conduct environmental field projects within local and global communities.

Crystal and Ray at Brookings
Crystal Gammon with her former mentor, Ray Arvidson, at the 2022 Pathfinder reunion.

“We first went on field trips to central Missouri, camping and exploring the Missouri River ecosystem together. That was really formative,” Gammon recalled. “It helped these fifteen kids who had come from very different parts of the country get to know each other and rely on each other as a team.”

The Pathfinder trip that Gammon remembers best is the one her cohort took to Molokai, Hawaii, right before their senior year. This experience was especially impactful because “by that point, we had all differentiated into various majors, so we were looking at the individual projects we undertook through different disciplinary lenses.”

After WashU, Gammon entered a graduate program at Caltech to study microbial carbon and sulfur cycling. Even in this context, she was most excited about the interdisciplinary and community-based aspects of scientific research. “Where I really felt science come alive was in settings like conferences and seminars. Hearing about other people’s research got my mind sparking. I wanted to know why they were doing it, how they were doing it, and how it fit into what I already knew,” Gammon said. “It was that big-picture view of science that really brought me to life and became something I wanted to pursue as a career.”

Eventually, Gammon discovered that science communication was the ticket to combining her enthusiasm for science with the “big picture” she thrived on. After earning her Master of Science in geobiology from Caltech, Gammon earned a Master of Arts in journalism from New York University, then returned to WashU as a science writer. She is now the director of communications for Arts & Sciences, where she uses her interdisciplinary background to communicate the impact of A&S research.

Now, for the second time, Gammon finds herself exploring research with a close-knit, interdisciplinary cohort at WashU. “I have an amazing team that’s multifaceted and multitalented. We take on not only editorial work, but also digital, creative, and multimedia work,” Gammon said. “I spend a lot of my time meeting with the team, guiding and reviewing their work, and connecting them with the right people.”

“One of our goals is to show that WashU is a true member of the St. Louis community, and that we’re committed to working with and positively impacting the people who make up the community around us,” Gammon added. “Through storytelling, we help show that the research Arts & Sciences is investing in truly has an impact on the world — how we understand our planet, our societies, our universe, and our history.”