Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
What year did you start working at NIU?
Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
My hometown is Norwalk, Iowa. I now live in Batavia, Illinois.
Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
B.S., UC Santa Cruz (double major in marine biology and ecology/evolution)
M.Ph., Yale University
Ph.D., Yale University
In which department(s) do you teach?
The Department of Biological Sciences and the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy.
Were you a first-generation college student?
What do you like about working at NIU?
NIU has this great culture of a strong community. We focus on experiential and engaged learning for students, and I love to be a part of creating that experience for students. I get so excited when there's a student who excels in my courses, then joins the lab to do research and goes on to pursue a higher degree or their dream job. It's happened a bunch of times since I started and it's what I'm most proud of.
What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Get involved! Once you find a subject you're passionate about, see if there are professors you can work with to get extra hands-on experience beyond what you do in the classroom. Also, keep looking until you find the subject that brings you passion. Work doesn't seem so much like work if you love what you do.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
We have a ton of research going on in the lab! I love the story of Angie Burke, who took my Conservation Biology course as a student-at-large. She was a staff member and could take courses through that connection. She excelled, and I ended up offering her an internship to help with lab and field work. She took to the small mammal research we have going on in a restored prairie so much that she ended up pursuing a master's degree with me, studying how bison reintroduction impacted small mammals. She graduated and then landed her dream job working as the conservation volunteer coordinator at the Nature Conservancy in Ohio.
What do you hope students take away from your class?
I focus strongly on team-based learning. Conservation and environmental science are team sports so much of the coursework is done together, in groups. It's super important for students to get experience working with people from all different walks of life, because that's what you have to do if you want to make a difference in conservation/environmental science. I also really strive for students to be able to identify a research question of interest, think about a testable hypothesis and create an experiment to test it. These types of critical thinking skills help to set students up for success in whatever future careers they pursue.
What is your favorite campus event?
I love the communiversity garden plant sale! There are lots of great plants, and the funds go to a great cause. I also love URAD (now known as the Conference on Undergraduate Research and Engagement). It's so awesome to see the research that our undergraduates throughout the university are doing.
What is your favorite memory of NIU?
The day after the Cubs won the World Series, I lectured in the morning. The campus was abuzz with excitement and so were the students in my classroom. One had stayed up all night celebrating at Wrigley but came home and showered and came to my class, and we talked about the joy it brought us all. And my colleague who was a Cleveland fan even brought me Cubs cupcakes, showing what a good sport he is. That was such a fun moment.
Who has influenced your professional path?
I had two teachers who really inspired me to pursue a career in science. In high school, I got to take a marine biology course at a vocation school because I'd taken all the science my high school had to offer. The professor for that course, Dr. Stiles, knew every single fish/invertebrate and what job they did when we went down to Florida for spring break. I really wanted that level of knowledge, too.
Dr. Don Croll was one of my most inspiring professors. He taught marine conservation and told us about the biodiversity crisis and how most species we've lost to extinction have been island species. That raised my interest in pursuing research on islands and how can we conserve them.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I wanted to be a veterinarian until I realized that I'd have to put animals to sleep. When I realized there were jobs where you could study animals and provide the scientific information necessary to conserve them, I never looked back.
Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am the lead editor of the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, which is published by the British Ecological Society. The journal is an exciting new venture. It is open access and is particularly focused on publishing any science that is relevant to the management of biological resources. We find that managers don't have access to science behind paywalls, so this helps that. We also have article types specifically for managers so we're encouraging a more vibrant dialogue between scientists and managers. This has raised my profile considerably. I gave a talk at the Ecology Live seminar series put on by the British Ecological Society that had over 500 attendees and was seen by hundreds more on YouTube. It's sparked new collaborations as well.
What community organizations are you involved in?
I am on the Science Steering Committee for Congresswoman Lauren Underwood's office, and I served as vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization at my daughter's school.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
Exercise and introvert time are key for me to recharge. Also yoga, cooking and travel.