From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Degree Ph.D. 1989 (University of Tennessee)
Position Vice President and Technical Director
Department Risk Assessment
Organization AMEC Earth & Environmental
I’ve known since childhood that I wanted to become a biologist. This stemmed from participation in school science fairs and having had very good teachers and mentors who provided me with guidance and support throughout my education and training.
I received my B.S. in Biology from the University of Hawaii (1980). My courses in ecology and evolutionary biology fascinated me. What a wonderful place Hawaii was to study these subjects. Dr. John Stimson offered me a position to work with him to study the inheritance of color polymorphism in local monarch butterflies. This led to my first professional publication. Dr. Stimson and my advisor, Dr. Sid Townsley, were my mentors and helped open the world of opportunities for me.
Shortly before graduating, I chose to pursue an M.S. degree in wildlife biology. This was different from pure ecology as I was also interested in conservation. My graduate advisor, Dr. Al Wentz at South Dakota State University, appreciated my undergraduate minor in chemistry and offered me my own lab with the stipulation that I work on a project that involved wetlands and chemistry. What a deal! I focused on the composition and nutritional value of a plant-invertebrate community. After graduating in 1982, I ventured to the tropics.
Living and working on Barro Colorado Island, Panama (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) was an experience of a lifetime. I studied insect-seed predation interactions, led nature tours, and gave lectures on tropical forest ecology to local schools. After 4 months, I was suddenly hit with a debilitating bilateral arthritic condition of unknown origin. I remained on the island a few more months debating what to do with my future. During this time, I decided to make a change in my career from ecology to environmental toxicology. In this manner, I could adjust the amount of field work I did based on my illness.
I received my Ph.D. in 1989 in environmental toxicology from the University of Tennessee. My graduate research was performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and was on using freshwater turtles as biological monitors of chemical and radioactive contaminants. Dr. Barbara Walton, the first female president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry (SETAC), was my major advisor.
After receiving my Ph.D., I chose a career in environmental consulting. It is often difficult to adjust the working situation of a two career family. Because I was more marketable than my husband, a nuclear physicist who needed some mobility in his career, I elected a flexible career as a consultant over a more stable position with government or academia. Over the years, I’ve worked my way up through the ranks of various firms as an ecological risk assessor. I am now a Vice President and Technical Director for Risk Assessment at AMEC Earth & Environmental. I also serve on the company’s elite Technical Council. The world of consulting is both dynamic and challenging and I have especially enjoyed working on projects in the Pacific. These projects involve military sites on remote islands that provide important habitats for a large number of sea birds and, in some cases, threatened and endangered species. My technical areas of expertise are reptilian ecotoxicology, and radioecology.
One thing I have done throughout my career is remained active in the area of environmental education. It is very important for us as scientists to communicate to the outside world what we are doing. In the past, I served as SETAC’s Chair of the Education Committee. What a pleasure it was to help lead the development of outreach programs. Currently, I am actively involved with the Northwest New Mexico Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and the Desert Southwest SETAC regional chapter. When communicating ecology to a diverse audience, we should consider what the audience might want to hear. Perhaps a presentation geared towards a general audience focused on a regional topic supported by highlights of current research. A potential topic could be fire ecology in the southwest.
On a final note, my advice to students is to think about what you want to do, set your goal and go after it. Obstacles may come your way, and you may have to re-calibrate, but who is to say that this is necessarily a bad thing? Try to think how all obstacles (opportunities) can work to your advantage.