Graduate education in ecology is rapidly changing. Long gone are the days when the typical ecology graduate student entered academics in order to pursue a career in research. Many mid-career ecologists entered academia under the traditional model of becoming academic ecologists, and ultimately yet found careers in agencies or in non-profit organizations focusing on biodiversity management. Now, however, we see a new generation of conservation scientists who emerge from graduate school with a career goal of contributing toward global biodiversity conservation and accomplish their goals by establishing their own professional framework.
Below are brief biographies of four young ecologists that have graduated from the Graduate Group in Ecology since 1999. Each founded an ecological organization focused on accomplishing difficult, and often unmet, conservation objectives. Each of these 21st century ecologists began their organizations on a belief in a mission and a belief in themselves. In each case, these young researchers have seen how taking an entrepreneurial approach to starting a non-profit business can help achieve their applied conservation objectives more effectively than working within the existing conservation structures. Starting out as small and modest conservation organizations, these entrepreneurs vary in whether they can swing these new start-ups as a career, or whether they need to "keep their day-job." Together they represent a group that inspires us toward higher achievement.
Peter Hodum (1991-1999) is an avian ecologist and conservation biologist who has worked primarily with seabirds. As a graduate student, Peter was honored in 1998 with the Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award. Since the time of his degree he has co-founded and become director of the Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy, a small organization dedicated to the conservation of the natural ecosystems of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, Chile. The Juan Fernández Islands are frequently referred to as the temperate counterpart to the Galapagos Islands, as they are rich in endemic species. Although there are only 15 native bird species, eight are species or subspecies endemic to the islands and two are endemic to Chile. The Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy aims to protect the long-term ecosystem functions and vitality of the Juan Fernández Archipelago through a combination of basic research, applied conservation, and environmental education in active collaboration with local residents.
Caitlin O'Connell (1995-2000) has a long-standing research project on communication among elephants in Namibia. Her work has resulted in a new understanding of how elephants may communicate across long distances by 'hearing' the seismic components of other elephant vocalizations through their feet. This work has been featured on National Public Radio, PBS/Nature, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, as well as a variety of other media outlets. Dr. O'Connell has a book, “The Elephant’s Secret Sense” which will be published by Simon and Schuster in March of 2007. She is currently working on her second book which highlights the importance of mentoring within elephant bull society. Caitlin, along with husband and fellow GGE alum, Dr. Tim Rodwell (MD/Ph.D) have established Utopia Scientific, a non-profit organization dedicated "to promote public awareness of the importance of science, public health and conservation through research, education and community development".
Jon Gelbard (1999-2003) is a plant ecologist specializing in invasions biology. Since the time of his degree he has founded and is the executive director of Conservation Value (CV), whose mission is to promote the benefits of sustainability by helping consumers, companies and government agencies find ways to simultaneously save the environment, save money and improve their health and quality of life. The organization has two main programs: (1) an online sustainability information engine (due to be launched in spring, 2007) that will connect consumers with green businesses (including sustainable land management operations), and provide green businesses with the necessary tools to access and engage consumers; and (2) ‘Ask a Sustainability Expert’ information tables - CV organizes multidisciplinary teams of experts to provide sustainability education at concerts, conferences, and festivals. A key goal is to provide ecologists and other sustainability experts with fun opportunities to practice communicating their knowledge to the general public. Dr. Gelbard is an expert in the science and management of biological invasions, as well as in the ecological effects of roads and livestock on natural systems. In addition to being a conservation biologist, Dr. Gelbard is also a management and communication specialist. He has close ties to the music industry, and in 2004 played a leading role in building and managing the award-winning voter registration organization, HeadCount, working with such artists as Dave Matthews Band, Santana, The Dead, and Phish.
Sarah Otterstrom (1997-2004) focused her dissertation research on the cultural and ecological role of fire in the tropical dry forest ecosystems of Nicaragua. Since the time of her doctorate Dr. Otterstrom has founded and serves as the executive director of Paso Pacifico, a California nonprofit organization that aims to restore and conserve the natural ecosystems of Central America’s Pacific Slope. Through her organization, she is currently working with Nicaraguan biologists to monitor forests and wildlife. Additionally, she provides leadership to private landowners, farmers, government officials and local nonprofit organizations to facilitate decision-making on how to protect wildlife habitats. Sarah was recently awarded the Emil Mrak International Award by the Cal Aggie Alumni Association.
UC Davis spotlight: http://www.ucdavis.edu/spotlight/1007/eco_entrepreneur.html