Charles Nilon, Urban Wildlife Ecology

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2004.
Current: Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife at the University of Missouri–Columbia, MO


B.S. Biology, Morehouse College
M.F.S. Master of Forest Science with an emphasis on wildlife, Yale University
Ph.D. Ecology/Wildlife Ecology, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Dr. Nilon was awarded ESA’s Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award in 2014. He co-founded ESA’s Environmental Justice section and helped design the SEEDS program.

Portrait image of Charles Nilon with a yellow color backgroud.
Charles Nilon

Ecologist Profile

I was always interested in nature. My dad used to take me to look at the natural history of Colorado exhibit at the University of Colorado Museum. We did this EVERY Saturday for about 4 years. We also used to walk along an irrigation ditch near the house looking for snakes, frogs, tadpoles, etc. I liked to fish, was in Boy Scouts, and our church had a camp in the Rockies. But I didn’t connect any of this to “ecology” as a discipline. My sophomore year in college I saw an announcement for a graduate program in wildlife ecology and thought, “that’s what I want to do.” Three people were very influential Drs. Tom Norris, Judy Bender, and Frederick Mapp, all in the Biology Dept. at Morehouse College gave me lots of advice and encouragement about going pursuing my interest. None of them were ecologists, but I was fortunate to go to a Historically Black College that has always nurtured and mentored students.
The route: I started college as a biology major. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but wasn’t really sold on that as a career. In my sophomore year I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school in wildlife ecology. Where I went to college there was no ecology course, but a couple faculty members said get the best education you can in biology, get some experience and go to graduate school. Each summer after my sophomore, junior, and senior years I tried to get some experience. The first year I volunteered to work with a researcher at the University of Colorado, I spent a lot of time with a couple of his graduate students and learned a lot about ecology just by hanging out with them. I worked two summers in an REU program at Argonne National Laboratory where I got a lot of experience working on a small project of my own. Then I went to graduate school. However, for what I do now the best preparation has been the four years that I worked for state conservation agencies.
The route to what I do now: I was in a M.S. program that required a project and course work rather than a thesis. While I was at Yale I decided that I really wanted to do something that linked my interest in wildlife with my interest in cities and people. My project was a survey of New Haven residents’ wildlife-related attitudes, knowledge, and behavior. Doing the survey led me to talk with some human dimensions researchers working for the Missouri Department of Conservation, which led to my first job in an ecology related field. After working as a wildlife biologist for MDC I decided to go back to graduate school for a Ph.D. I picked a graduate program that had an emphasis on wildlife ecology in urban areas. I was at an institution that had a good program in wildlife, a strong ecological focus, and courses and faculty with an emphasis on ecology and conservation in cities.
The challenges:
As an undergraduate: “Why don’t you want to go to medical school. Everybody wants to go to medical school.”

  • Wildlife Biologist–Missouri Department of Conservation
  • Research Forester Trainee–USDA Forest Service Northeastern Forest Experiment Station (cooperative education position during my Ph.D. program)
  • Assistant Professor–Morehouse College
  • Urban Wildlife Program Coordinator–Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks
  • Assistant and Associate Professor–University of Missouri-Columbia

I learned about graduate school as the first step to a career in ecology by talking with graduate student during a summer job. I learned about jobs in ecology in graduate school when I was finishing my masters degree and when I started thinking about getting a job. My title is associate professor of urban wildlife management. I’m in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia. 50% of my time is devoted to teaching, 50% to research and outreach. My research and teaching focus on wildlife ecology and conservation in urban areas. I also work in an area called human dimensions of wildlife management which looks at how people perceive and interact with wildlife.

“Do well in your classes, get some experience, and don’t view ecology as something abstract and remote from the things that interest or concern you.”