Mai Phillips

Coordinator, Conservation and Environmental Sciences Program
 Lapham Hall 364D

Educational Background

PhD, Plant Genetic Resources, University of Hawaii
MA, Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado
BS, Mathematics, University of Iowa


Dr. Mai Morshidi Phillips was born and raised on the island of Borneo (Sarawak, Malaysia), one of the world’s greatest hot spots of biodiversity. Dr. Phillips came to the United States and earned a BS degree in mathematics at the University of Iowa, a MA in plant ecology at the University of Colorado. She then returned to Malaysia to work as an assistant professor of biology at Universiti Putra Malaysia, where she taught undergraduate general botany and zoology courses. Dr. Phillips was the recipient of an East-West Center doctoral scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Hawaii.

Dr. Phillips earned a PhD in plant genetic resources, which focused on genetic conservation and molecular systematic of papaya (Carica papaya), a commercially important crop of the tropics, and its wild relatives. Her dissertation research encompassed not only the native range of Carica papaya as a species but its related wild species in the area of greatest diversity in Central America and the Andean region.

After completing her PhD, an opportunity to expand her academic career interests in conservation of plant genetic resources, molecular genetics, systematic and conservation biology of tropical biodiversity occurred when she was recruited by the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) to teach and conduct plant genetic research in Borneo.

In Borneo, Dr. Phillips’ research focused on conservation biology and molecular genetics of endemic and economically important plants. She collaborated on a UNIMAS research grant to assess genetic variability in endemic hardwoods in tropical lowland rainforests and peat swamp wetlands to undergird conservation and restoration efforts underway in Borneo. Also, Dr. Phillips participated in a committee to advise federal and state planners on various policy matters including biodiversity conservation and the establishment of a biotechnology center in Sarawak.

Prior to joining the Conservation and Environmental Science (CES) Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dr. Phillips worked at the Global Environmental Management (GEM) Education Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as a Senior Scientist. At GEM, she trained HIV/AIDS communities in Kenya on small garden systems to augment nutrition for HIV/AIDS patient undergoing Anti-Retroviral Treatment; worked on building sustainable agriculture and agro-forestry of under served and Native American communities in northern Wisconsin; studied the benefits of polyculture and companion planting (e.g. The Three Sister’s Garden) versus monoculture of Native American heirloom seeds of corn, beans and squash. She continues to focus her research on breeding poplars for phytoremediation of atrazine in Wisconsin, understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms of invasive species such as purple loosestrife and reed canary grass; genecology and plant genetic resources conservation in Borneo (Malaysia) and the Americas.

As the CES Program Coordinator, Dr. Phillips will be involved in student academic and career advising; CES program administration, development and assessment; community building; internship development, placement and supervision; and teaching.