Profile of a New Professor: Meet Dr. Caroline Fortunato


The Beacon / Anthony D’Amico

Dr. Caroline Fortunato

Maddie Davis, Staff Writer

Dr. Caroline Fortunato, one of the new additions to Wilkes University’s biology department, accompanies the other 24 newest professors who joined wilkes this semester.

“I’m an environmental microbiologist,” Dr. Fortunato exclaimed. As an environmental microbiologist, she had traveled across the United States for her research. Dr. Fortunato looked at microbes, specifically in rivers and oceans, and how they affect the environment.

“Microbes are the drivers of a lot of processes that happen in the environment,” Dr. Fortunato said as she specifically showed her interest in her past research with microbes.

Dr. Fortunato received her BA in Environmental Science and her Masters in Biology both at American University in Washington D.C, which kept her close to her hometown in Philadelphia where she was born and raised.

During her undergraduate, Dr. Fortunato found herself interested in fieldwork specifically when she joined an REU program, which funds research opportunities for undergraduates, where collected samples and looked at nutrients in stormwater.

“Microbes mediate a lot of  the important chemical cycles in the environment.” Her research was overall driven by her interest in fieldwork and microbiology. She stressed the importance of microbes in the environment which her research has been driven by.

After she attained her PhD from the University of Maryland, Dr. Fortunato traveled to the west coast and focused on the microbes in the Columbia River that dumped out into estuaries and the Pacific Ocean. She studied how types of microbes from river to ocean gradient on the river on the west coast.

Her research career continued in Massachusetts at the Marine Biological Laboratory where she started her postdoctoral apprenticeship. She went with a vast array of different scientist into deep Atlantic Ocean to look at the functions of microbes at hydrothermal vents.

After she finished her post-doc research in Massachusetts, Dr. Fortunato taught microbiology labs and biology for non majors at Bridgewater states which got her in the path of a more teacher driven career.

“I was looking for a small liberal arts college to teach at,” said Dr. Fortunato when she was on the “hunt” for a new job.

“I like to have that balance of doing research with undergraduates and teaching undergraduates,” Dr. Fortunato said when reflecting back to her thoughts on Wilkes University as a potential career.

Research was one of the deciding factors when she looked for a new job. Dr. Fortunato praised the “strong research program for undergraduates” which attracted her to Wilkes University.

Dr. Fortunato took the place of a retired professor this semester where she is currently teaching medical microbiology as well as Biology 121 labs. Next semester she is teaching microbiology for nursing students.

“I would like to develop some courses that are more on the environment microbiology side” said Dr. Fortunato as well ask looking to start more “environmental part to it” and establish some local field sites here for future undergraduate research.