Where are you now and what are you doing?
I am an assistant professor of biology and environmental studies at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. Hollins is a small, liberal arts, women’s college and also happens to be my undergraduate alma mater so I was elated when I secured the position here three years ago. At Hollins I teach a broad spectrum of courses including Ecology, Environmental Science, Conservation Biology, Wildlife Disease, Plant Biology, and One Health: Linking Human, Animal, and Environmental Health. I also have an active research program. To those of you who know me, it will come as no shock that the primary focus of my research is still tick-borne disease ecology with a broader focus on wildlife and disease ecology.
What is one way your work is having a positive impact on natural resources and conservation?
My work has a positive impact on natural resources and conservation in a few ways. One is that I have the opportunity to educate and mentor the next generation of wildlife biologists, research scientists, and conservationists. Hollins has a really robust environmental studies program and a sizable proportion of our biology majors pursue careers in some area of field biology. One of the things I love most about teaching at a small school is the opportunity to genuinely get to know my students and closely mentor them towards their career and life goals. It’s also been incredibly rewarding getting students out in the field who haven’t necessarily had those experiences before and/or giving students a better understanding and appreciation for the complex issues facing our natural resources.
The research I do also benefits natural resources and conservation. On the most basic level, it provides a better understanding of the impacts of wildlife and land management practices on disease dynamics and vice versa. In particular, a lot of my research has centered around the impacts of prescribed burning on tick-borne disease risk. It’s been especially fascinating moving a little further north here in Virginia where Lyme disease is common and prescribed fire isn’t as commonly used / used on the scale that it is in the Southeast. I’ve received a lot of interest and given a lot of talks to both local land managers and land managers in the northeastern U.S. who have been particularly interested in learning more about using prescribed fire as a tool for controlling tick populations.
Photo Credit Sharon Meador
How did your time at Ichauway help prepare you for your current job or career?
My time at Ichauway played such a huge role in shaping who I am as a scientist today. Ichauway was the first place I ever collected ticks, first place I ever did a necropsy, first place I ever had the opportunity to trap and handle mesomammals—a lot of “field firsts” so a lot of technical skill sets and knowledge gained that I still use today both in my courses and in my research. Something else that was so amazing about Ichauway were all of the scientists, students, technicians, and land managers that you have the opportunity to live, work with, and learn from. I made life-long friends and colleagues whom I still collaborate and work with to this day. I also had the opportunity to learn about land management practices and research outside of my own field which was wonderful. While I was at Ichauway I had colleagues working on everything from habitat preferences and impacts of prescribed fire on wild turkeys to mapping wetlands to the impacts of fire ants on seed recruitment; you gain a much broader perspective on natural resource management and research. I think that perspective has helped me better teach the broad spectrum of courses and topics that I teach today and has also shaped the interdisciplinary approach that I take with my research. It’s also given me a huge appreciation for collaborating with others outside of my field.
What is one fond memory you have of your time at Ichauway?
I was at Ichauway the summer of 2009 and then again for two years in January 2010 – December 2011 during which I was conducting all of the field work for my Ph.D. It’s impossible to narrow down just one memory so I’ll share the proverbial “reel of memories” that I think of when I think of Ichauway. In terms of my work, I fondly look back on the comradery of the many field technicians (many of whom became life-long friends) whom spent hours with me conducting field work and driving all over southwest Georgia (Ichauway included) to catch ticks. It was a special time from the amazing landscapes, the unexpected encounters with wildlife (which ranged from white-tailed deer fawns to rattlesnakes to gopher tortoises), and the thousands and thousands of miles and hours put in to collect thousands and thousands of ticks! In terms of living at Ichauway, there are just as many great memories be it the weekly potlucks & pick-up games of whatever the sport of the moment was (beach volleyball, basketball, softball, or 4-square), taking a dip at 4th of July Beach or the creek, the Ichauway 5K (and other runs on the endless dirt roads), porch-sitting, and the many cook-outs and bon fires.