Watson Fellow Tommy Shenoi ’24 Explores Mycology Globally

Tommy Shenoi holds up a large native oyster mushroom while standing in a lab. Shenoi has medium-length black hair and wears a backpack and a blue jacket.
Tommy Shenoi ’24 holds up a native oyster mushroom grown at the Redford Conservancy

Are mushrooms key to community well-being, regenerative food systems, and climate resilience? Tommy Shenoi ’24 has received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to find out. Shenoi is embarking on a globetrotting expedition to six countries to study mushrooms through the lens of agriculture, art, entrepreneurship, and science. 

The $40,000 one-year Watson Fellowship is awarded to graduating seniors to conduct independent study projects outside of the U.S. 

Shenoi’s project, “Cultivating Transformative Resilience with Global Mycology,” will take him to Italy, Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Netherlands, and Brazil. 

“Mushrooms and fungi play essential roles in environmental health, and they are often undervalued,” said Shenoi. “Through my project, I will observe the diversity of the microbial world ranging from bioluminescent mushrooms to fungi that thrive in marine environments. I will also contextualize the role of community participation within ongoing scientific efforts and explore applications of mycology relating to urban planning, culinary arts, and design.” 

Shenoi plans to start in Italy to observe how intensifying temperature changes and hydrological patterns are affecting mushroom and truffle fruiting seasons and the livelihoods of foragers and farmers. He will then explore connections between mycology and ecotourism, ceramics, and medicinal uses in Japan. In South Korea, Shenoi will compare cultivation modules between industrial and small-scale mushroom farms in order to examine agricultural resource intensity. 

Ceramic plates with mushrooms, long green peppers, and green onions are laid out on a table.
Homegrown mushrooms on Shenoi’s handmade ceramic pieces for his senior capstone project tasting menu

Traveling through Australia, Shenoi will draw comparisons between Australia and California’s fire seasons to look at the role of mushrooms in post-fire remediation.  

“It’s only within a couple of hours after an intensive fire, while the ground is still hot, that certain pyrophilous fire-loving fungi pop up and start to restore the health of ecosystems,” said Shenoi. 

In the Netherlands, Shenoi will visit startups to learn how mycelium (a root-like structure of a fungus) is being used as a biomaterial in plastic-free products. In Brazil, Shenoi hopes to partner with the Sustainable Favela Network, which recognizes and amplifies regenerative initiatives in working-class neighborhoods known as favelas.  

“Community-centered mushroom farms have the potential to utilize recycled materials to grow nutritious food, thereby contributing to entrepreneurship and empowerment,” he explained. 

Taking initiative in his educational journey 

Shenoi, who graduated from Pitzer in December, is an environmental analysis and self-designed food and agriculture studies double major. At Pitzer, Shenoi contributed to multiple on-campus initiatives including the Pitzer Student Garden and the Pitzer Outback seed bank. He was also a research fellow at Pitzer’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, where he launched the Conservancy’s Applied Mycology Research Lab. 

A silver fabric is peeled back to reveal mushrooms inside an AC Infinity unit. Bags of mushrooms sit on a metal shelf inside the unit and are bathed in pink and purple light.
The Applied Mycology Research Lab’s indoor mushroom fruiting room at the Redford Conservancy.

The lab connects the “vital and diverse roles fungi play in the environment to the Conservancy’s commitment to implement innovative and applicable climate solutions in Southern California,” said Shenoi.  

A key element of the lab includes using cardboard and coffee grounds from the Grove House student-run kitchen to grow native oyster mushrooms. 

“Working with the Conservancy was empowering,” said Shenoi. “It fostered my passion for mycology and supported me in collaborating with leading mycologists and local organizations to develop critical conservation strategies.” 

For Shenoi, the Watson Fellowship follows the trajectory that he forged while a student at Pitzer. “The cornerstone of my undergraduate studies has been Pitzer’s emphasis in pursuing self-directed, yet collaborative, paths,” said Shenoi. “Watson is an exciting continuation of that.” 

Professor of History Carina Johnson, who serves as the adviser for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, guided Shenoi through the application process. 

Since its inaugural class in 1969, more than 3,000 Watson Fellows have been selected nationwide. Watson Fellows are nominated by 41 colleges and university partners across the United States. Following their year of study, they join a diverse community of peers who provide a lifetime of support and inspiration. 

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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