Jennifer Koop

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Jennifer Koop

From the NIU Newsroom, 10/30/2023
Jennifer Koop, NIU biological sciences professor awarded $1.2 million NSF grant to study invasive species

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Geneva, Illinois, is where I live now.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
University of Wisconsin-Madison (B.S. in zoology), University of Utah (Ph.D.), University of Arizona (postdoc), University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (assistant prof, four years), then NIU since 2019 (now tenured).

What do you like about working at NIU?
NIU has an amazing atmosphere for research and teaching. In the classroom, I feel like students want to be there and want to engage in the learning process. In my research, I feel supported by my colleagues and the students with whom I get to work. The energy is inspiring and rejuvenating.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
My advice to students currently at NIU would be to try everything! Take classes in subjects you've never heard of before, join a club just to see what it is they do, make friends who are not in your normal social circle. College is all about expanding your perspective through experience, so get out there and give everything a shot.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I have been fortunate to work with many student researchers in my time at NIU [in biological sciences]. Currently in my lab, I have two undergraduates who've designed really interesting projects. One is looking at how long an invasive parasite can survive following the death of its host (smelly, but really important work). The other student is trying to understand how colder temperatures affect the behavior of an invasive species spreading throughout North America.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?
I really enjoy watching students gain confidence through experience. Most students I mentor start with almost no experience doing scientific research. After a couple of semesters in the lab, they are capable of developing their own questions, designing experimental methods and interpreting the results. The confidence that comes with that growth goes far beyond the laboratory and is humbling to watch develop.

What do you hope students take away from their college experience?
Greater patience, tolerance and appreciation for one another.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
I just formed a new one when I took my ecology class outside to play a game akin to tag. We learned about optimal foraging theory and marginal value theorem by foraging for poker chips in kiddie pools of leaves. I have never seen students get so excited (and competitive) within a classroom context before. Watching students literally race and dive for "prey" was hilarious, and those candy prizes were well-earned.

What’s one thing about NIU that’s surprised you?
So. Much. Corn.

What fulfills you personally and professionally?
I want to feel like I'm making a difference and improving things for others.

Which of NIU’s core values align with your own?
Arguably, all of NIU's core values are important for doing high-quality, high-impact scientific research. Curiosity and creativity are essential to good science. Equity and inclusion ensure that diverse perspectives and interpretations are being heard and considered. Ethics and integrity guarantee that science remains objective. And finally, service and stewardship are how science leaves the four walls of a laboratory and makes an impact on the rest of the world.

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?
Yes, because I value the diversity and mission of student groups at NIU.

Who has influenced your professional path?
My teachers. Those who told me I was good at science, that I could be whatever I put my mind to and those who pushed me to go beyond my own expectations.

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 special education teacher for a long time. I worked as a special education assistant and a therapist for kiddos with autism for about five years before realizing it was not a career I could pursue in the long term. The emotional energy it required was not something I had in me. It was incredibly hard to admit that to myself, but it allowed me to pursue my other passions (science), and it gave me a new reverence for the folks who have chosen that career pathway.

Are you participating in or have you participated in any NIU shared governance or professional development groups? If so, how has your participation enhanced your experience as an employee?
I participated in the NIU Faculty Mentor Program and had world's best mentor, Dr. Holly Jones. I now get to serve as a mentor for our newest faculty hire, Dr. Mike Henson.

What community organizations are you involved in?
Most recently, I had the chance to work with Clinton-Rosette seventh graders as part of an outreach program funded by my NSF grant. It was such a wonderful experience, and I can't wait to do it again.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
I love being outdoors (hiking, running, biking). When I have to be indoors, I really enjoy reading (everything from fantasy to self-help books) and watching movies (comedies and action). My ticket to recharging is time with friends and family.

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