Unlike most wildlife ecologists, I did not grow up hunting, fishing, or exploring the local woods. In fact, I did not know ecology was a career option until my second year at Elon University. Taught by Dr. Josh Kapfer, I took a course on wildlife conservation and was immediately drawn to it. Later that semester, Josh invited me to join him for field work, and that cemented my interest in the discipline.
From that point on, I pursued as many opportunities as I could t learn more about ecology, conservation, and management. Besides the many research projects that Josh and I worked on together, I also volunteered with many local organizations to gain experience. This included experience with land management through the Triangle Land Conservancy, natural history through the North Carolina Museum of Sciences, and endangered species monitoring with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. At this point in time I also became involved with the NC chapter of the Wildlife Society.
Through Josh mentoring me, and as part of the Elon University Honors Program, I was able to participate in all stages of a research project by the time I graduated in 2012: experimental design, grant writing, problem solving in the field, analysis, manuscript writing, and publication. In my final year at Elon, I secured a professional development grant to attend the National Wildlife Society conference, and while there, I was exposed to the full spectrum of wildlife research being done. Thus, even though I knew a graduate degree was in my future, I decided to work seasonal wildlife positions to learn more about career opportunities and to explore some of the concepts I learned about at the conference.Through my seasonal jobs, I became broadly trained in many wildlife and habitat management techniques. Additionally, I got to explore ecological and conservation concepts through many different perspectives such as federal management with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, large-scope research with a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) station, and applied forestry research through Ohio State.
These jobs helped me formulate my main research goal for graduate school: advance my quantitative skills to meaningfully test ecological hypotheses or inform effective management decisions in light of significant global change. This led me to where I am today, working with Dr. David Miller in his applied population ecology lab at Penn State.