Family and personal tragedy affected the timeline and trajectory of Tabitha Mantia’s higher education, but she emerged a successful honor student at the Weatherford College commencement ceremony held June 20 at Kangaroo Stadium.
Mantia first attended WC as an ambitious 16-year-old in 2009, but the death of her older brother brought her college career to a halt. She returned in 2018 and, even after completing her Associate of Science degree this spring, she is continuing online classes through the summer that will apply to her bachelor’s degree.
Her passion is the study of fungi, an interest that developed following a concussion she suffered while skating at age 23.
“The medication that was administered by the doctors to cure my symptoms only brought on an additional wave of problems,” Mantia said. “The medication had an interaction with my heart and resulted in me being on heart medication for the next 18 months.
“It was through medicinal mushrooms like Ganoderma Lucidum, Hericium Erinaceus and Trametes Versicolor that I was able to regain my health. Since being off of heart medication, I knew I had an obligation to aid others.”
Mantia formed the Texas Mushroom Company and returned to the world of academia to explore her interest.
She said biology instructor Dr. Bishnu Twanabasu had the biggest impact on her education at WC with the inclusion of hands-on field experience and his instruction in correct fungal identification procedures.
Twanabasu described Mantia as a responsible and reliable student.
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“Her interest in fungi was so deep that I found her, as a research student, wanting to do not only business in mushrooms but also a real science in fungi,” Twanabasu said. “She instantly joined my research team and learned the research techniques so quickly within a semester.”
Her quick study allowed her to assume the role of lead research student in the lab and for three semesters she trained her classmates on the details of the ongoing fungi research.
Mantia and her research peers studied the ecological roles of below-ground mycorrhizal fungi—a group of symbiotic fungi helping plants to absorb nutrients from the soil—in the restoration of urban prairies in collaboration with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas at their prairie restoration site in Fort Worth, Twanabasu said.
The professor’s research team is also studying the soil fungi and their relationship with the cover crops at the WC Agricultural Center, approximately 300 acres in Weatherford.
While attending WC, Mantia presented at three academic conferences and is in the process of having her research published. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, she would have presented her research this July in Alaska.
“I plan to focus on the concentration of the different components of Hericium Erinaceus to reverse neurodegenerative diseases,” she said about her future research. “I believe fungi is the future in granting people their quality of life back.”
Mantia hopes to attend TCU in the fall, contingent on a scholarship, where she will work towards a bachelor's degree in neuroscience.
“Tabitha knows how to do the science and apply it to the real world,” Twanabasu said. “I see her as a future scientist in the world of fungi. Weatherford College is not a large institution, but it does have big resources. I would like to encourage all of our students to grab the opportunities that WC has to offer in doing science by utilizing those resources.”
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