Holly Jones

Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy

Holly Jones

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., University of California, 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? If so, what advice would you offer to current first generation students?
Yes, I was. It's important to reach out, use campus resources and get plugged in to student groups to maximize your experience here. Go to office hours and get to know your professors, so you can get meaningful letters of recommendation.

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.
My restoration ecology students spend half the lecture time doing restoration projects around campus. They have been integral to many projects, including restoring wetland/prairie plants around the East Lagoon and along the creek between La Tourette and Montgomery halls, creating pollinator gardens under the Montgomery Hall auditorium under-hangs, and in clearing invasive shrubs from the woods near Montgomery and the psych building. The students have opportunities to hear from and connect with multiple local restoration professionals to help them get a jumpstart in the workforce. They also have the opportunity to take a one-credit fire course to get their National Wildfire Coordinating Group firefighter type two certification, which qualifies them to help with prescribed burns in our area. The course includes receiving training from the burn boss at the Nature Conservancy's Nachusa Grasslands to get hands-on experience before they're certified.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?
Mentoring is the best part of my job! I love watching students develop into confident scientists and reach their dreams. Students often progress from that first spark in their eyes when a topic of interest comes up in class to returning from an internship that gave them experiences they never thought were possible — that's where the magic happens.

What do you hope students take away from their college experience?
I hope they make connections with like-minded people that last a lifetime, learn how to educate themselves and come out of our major knowing how to evaluate science and contribute to solving complex environmental problems.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
I've always included team-based projects in my courses. In my Introduction to Environmental Studies Sustainable Ecosystems course, I have students imagine a hypothetical program that could make NIU more sustainable. But recently, a group of students went above and beyond and turned their proposal into a reality! They worked with our sustainability director to raise funds and restored 150 feet of the East Lagoon from turf grass back to wetland/prairie plants. Anyone can go see their amazing work along the East Lagoon — it's brought so much color and biodiversity back to that area. I was just so proud of these students for going beyond what was required and pushing to get this important work done.

What’s one thing about NIU that’s surprised you?
How much our faculty, staff and students get done with so little. I think a big part of our ethos is using collaboration and community to magnify our impact, and I see that so much in many of the students, faculty and staff I work with. Many of my colleagues and our students just adhere to resource, financial or other barriers — they blow right past them.

Which of NIU’s core values align with your own?
I love our equity and inclusion values. Ensuring increased representation is the right thing to do, and it's critical we get as many voices as possible to solve environmental problems because diverse teams do better science.

Have you contributed to any NIU Foundation fundraising campaigns such as the Day of Giving or Huskies United? If yes, why did you decided to support NIU?
Of course! I always donate to both my departments' student grant funds. Our students need the support and I love helping them as much as I can.

Do you keep in touch with any NIU alums? If so, are there any doing something interesting and exciting that we should know about? Please share some information with us and we’ll consider them for a future feature. 
Yes, I keep in touch with a lot of mentees! Angie Burke did her master's research in my lab and is now community engagement program manager at the Nature Conservancy Ohio. Ryan Blackburn did his undergrad and master's in my lab and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institute. Angelica Bautista was an undergrad in the lab and is now getting her Ph.D. at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Steph Kong did her master's in the lab and is now a project director of Elephants Africa. Pete Guiden was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab and is now an assistant professor at Hamilton College. I love seeing where their careers take them!

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 we can 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 or community 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 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.

What community organizations are you involved in?
I coach my daughter's basketball team and started a local book club.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Exercise and introvert time are key for me to recharge. I also enjoy yoga, cooking, travel and hanging out with our husky mutt, Polar.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your NIU Huskie story?
I was awarded the 2024 Exemplary Faculty Mentor Award and in 2022 I was awarded NIU's MAC Faculty Mentoring Award for Student Success. NIU has covered the projects the restoration ecology students have done. The Chicago Tribune highlighted our long-term research at Nachusa Grasslands, headed up by Erin, a Ph.D. candidate in my lab. Local news has also highlighted the expertise of another Ph.D. candidate in my lab, Andrew Dreelin, on climate change impacts on bird migration (minute 22 of video).

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