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Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2005-06
The ESF Science Corps

Back Row: Chris Spiese, Katherina Bendz, Amy Dechen, Kay Hajek - Front Row: Nate Anderson, Peter Homyak, Kevin Shoemaker, David Williams
Back Row: Chris Spiese, Katherina Bendz, Amy Dechen, Kay Hajek
Front Row: Nate Anderson, Peter Homyak, Kevin Shoemaker, David Williams

The ESF Science Corps is a key aspect of Enhancing Scientific Literacy Through Environmental Science project. Comprised of undergraduate, masters, and PhD students who receive NSF Fellowships, the ESF Science Corps links ESF research to the classroom, lab, and field experiences of ESF in the High School students and teachers by allowing Science Corps members to serve as resources to teachers.

Enhancing Scientific Literacy Through Environmental Science builds upon the ESF in the High School program, a collaboration between ESF and partnering urban, rural, and suburban school districts. ESF in the High School enables qualified high school students to earn college credit while still in high school and to prepare for a successful transition to college.

Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows

Abbreviated Biography of Nate Anderson
My name is Nate Anderson and I am very excited to begin my year as an NSF GK-12 Fellow.  My current research as a Ph.D. student is focused on examining landscape-level changes in forest cover related to forest ownership patterns, but my interest in forests began about 25 years ago in the mixed hardwood forests of central New England. I grew up in Keene, NH, and spent most of my free time camping, fishing, hiking, skiing and mountain biking in the forests of New Hampshire and Vermont.  My academic and professional interests in ecology, conservation and forestry grew directly out of my love of being outdoors.

At Bates College, I studied biology with a concentration in ecology and conservation.   As a junior, I spent a semester with Round River Conservation Studies in the backcountry of Arizona studying the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf. At the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was preparing to return this subspecies to a small part of its historic range.  While we took courses in conservation biology and field methods, the group was involved directly in outreach to ranchers and farmers in the area.  This experience with the human side of conservation broadened my interest from the purely scientific facets of the discipline and changed the course of my academic and professional pursuits. 

Though I continued to be involved in scientific research, including climate change research in the Canadian high Arctic, I also pursued my interest in the economic and social elements of human interactions with the environment.  In 1996, I received funding to travel to Costa Rica to study rainforest conservation and volunteer for local non-profit organizations, including a farming cooperative involved in small-scale timber harvesting.  Soon afterward, I began working as a Conservation Intern, then as a Program Coordinator, for the Student Conservation Association, organizing and implementing grassroots conservation projects on public and private lands throughout Massachusetts. In the summer of 2000, I began working as a logger and forestry assistant for Long View Forestry in Charlestown, New Hampshire. While the context of forest use varied dramatically between Costa Rica and the United States, these experiences fueled my interest in learning more about the relationships connecting human communities and forests, and germinated a fascination with forest management as a unique intersection of ecology and economics.

In 2001, I started an interdisciplinary M.S. program in conservation biology and sustainable development, including graduate coursework in biology, economics and public policy.  While at the University of Maryland, I worked on a variety of projects examining conservation and natural resources policy around the world. My master’s work culminated in a research project focused on enhancing the growth and economic viability of landowner cooperatives to improve sustainable forest management in the United States.  Upon graduation, I expanded this project while working as a Fellow for the Kinship Conservation Institute, then went on to work as the Program Manager for SCA’s California Wildfire Recovery Project in 2004, before arriving at SUNY-ESF last year.

Over the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time teaching science in classrooms, labs and field-based settings.  So far, I have worked as a teaching assistant in eight college courses, including Environmental Science at UMD. As an SCA AmeriCorps member, I taught biology and ecology in three different classes in a public high school in Massachussetts, and later worked for SCA leading crews of high school volunteers in the backcountry of Alaska.  I also taught ecology to high school seniors at the Advanced Studies Program at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and have worked as a substitute teacher in high schools in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. 

For me, education is a natural extension of my sincere interest in changing the way people view their relationship to the natural world. I look forward to helping science educators engage students in active learning and investigation of the world around them, and hope to put my own passion for science and conservation to good use over the next ten months.  As Rachel Carson put it, "if a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of a least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Abbreviated Biography of Katherina Bendz
I grew up in Vestal, NY, which is just about 70 miles south of Syracuse.  My house is located “in the country” on 70 wonderful acres that contain a creek, a pond and an array of wildlife.  This surrounding allowed me to have numerous pets and to become familiar with plants of all varieties, and so my love for fauna and flora began.  Growing up in this type of environment, as well as some field trips that I went on in middle school, inspired my interest in biology and environmental science. 

 During high school, I was extremely interested in science and so I took A.P. Biology and A.P. Chemistry.  Afterward, I attended the University at Buffalo, where I obtained a B.S. in Biology, a B.A. in Chemistry and a minor in Geology in 2003.  My curriculum involved a heavy emphasis on ecology and evolution.  I was a teaching assistant for evolutionary biology for two years.  In my sophomore year I began working in a marine biology lab, investigating the symbionts of coral, known as zooxanthellae.  I had worked in the Florida Keys for a summer to sample the coral populations and to set up an experiment there.  By the end of my senior year, I had completed an honors research project on this topic.  Simultaneously, during my undergraduate career, I worked as a volunteer and a docent at the Aquarium of Niagara.  There, I helped feed and maintain the habitats of many aquatic organisms ranging from sea anemones to sea lions.  Another important responsibility was to educate the public.  We would answer questions during and after each animal feeding and we would also assist with school field trips. 

After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I attempted to enter a graduate program investigating a debilitating disease in sea turtles, known as fibropapillomatosis.  However, funding at the various schools that had faculty interested in this disease was not available.  I then applied to Binghamton University, which is located in my hometown.  I met with one faculty member working largely on nitrogen cycling with an interest in invasive species and their impacts of nitrogen dynamics.  I was also interested in this topic so we began developing a Master’s project.  For my M.S.  I examined nutrient (nitrogen & phosphorous) allocation within the invasive wetland plant species, purple loosestrife, and compared that to the native broad-leaved cattail.  I also examined the effects of this particular invasive plant on wetland biogeochemistry. At Binghamton, I worked for another NSF GK-12 program that was geared toward promoting science education at the elementary, and sometimes, middle school level.  I worked with three different 3rd grade classrooms.  In this role, I co-taught science lessons based on the 5E (Engage-Explore-Explain-Elaborate-Evaluate) method with the primary instructor.  In this setting, my objective was to act as a supplementary scientific resource, as well as actively participating in the lesson planning and the enactment of those lessons. 

 This will be my first year at ESF.  I am working with Dr. Mark Lomolino, who works on biogeography and conservation biology.  I have just purchased a house in Syracuse that is close to the University and has a nice backyard.  I am extremely excited to move in and to begin a new school year. 

Abbreviated Biography of Amy Dechen
This fall, I will begin my third year as a doctoral student at SUNY-ESF.  I am in the Environmental and Forest Biology department, and my major professor is Dr. William Porter.  My interests lie in mammalian behavior, and it was my goal to investigate some aspect of the subject within the context of applied ecology.  My current research focuses on the role of white-tailed deer movement behavior in the spread of chronic wasting disease in New York State.  I plan to deploy 100 GPS collars during the next 2 years in order to obtain long term, high resolution data related to dispersal, philopatry, seasonal movement, etc.  These data will ultimately be incorporated into a systems-based computer simulation model that predicts the way animals encounter and navigate the landscape.  The model will then be able to identify areas of high risk for CWD spread, as well as likely direction and magnitude of spread from a point of first occurrence. 

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1998.  I first developed an interest in animal behavior during my undergraduate education, where I conducted an independent field research project focused on the vocalization behaviors of Eastern gray tree squirrels on the college campus.  After graduating from Albright, I completed an internship at the North American Wildlife Park Foundation’s Institute of Ethology, where I investigated the hierarchical social organization of a captive pack of gray wolf pups.   

In 2003, I received a Masters degree in Ecology from The Pennsylvania State University.  I conducted an observational study exploring maternal investment strategies of a captive herd of white-tailed deer.  By documenting suckling frequency and duration of neonatal white-tails, I attempted to elucidate and quantify the potentially differential costs to mothers of producing sons vs. daughters. 

Throughout my Masters program, I received funding through a teaching assistantship from the Penn State Biology department.  I taught the laboratory portion of two semesters of an introductory Biology course, as well as two semesters of a general Ecology course.  It was during this time that I developed an interest in university level instruction.  My impetus for Ph.D. pursuit is to obtain the credentials to be able to teach biological and ecological sciences at the college level.  As a returning NSF/GK-12 fellow, I hope to further refine my teaching skills and develop innovative lessons and activities to increase scientific literacy in the high school.

Abbreviated Biography of Kay Hajek
My name is Kay Hajek, and I grew up near Cleveland, OH where most of my family still lives.  In 1999, I earned a B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. I spent my free time rowing for XU’s crew team and working for a landscaping business, where I began to develop a strong interest in plants.  During the summer after my junior year, I volunteered on Isle Royale National Park, backpacking across the island to collect moose skeletons that were used in Rolf Peterson’s research at Michigan Tech on moose-wolf population dynamics. 

After graduation, I moved to Dubuque State Forest in Hawley, MA to participate in the Student Conservation Association’s Massachusetts Forest and Parks Americorps program.  I and twenty other members lived and worked together on the site of a former summer camp. The conditions were somewhat rustic but the setting within the Berkshire Mountains was beautiful.  In the summer we completed trail conservation projects in state and local parks throughout Massachusetts. During the winter months I was assigned to work at Heath Elementary School to act as a resource for teachers and broaden the students’ classroom experience.  I planed and presented lessons in environmental science and ecology, provided support in math, science and reading, coached the 3rd grade basketball team, and assisted in organizing a weeklong nature camp during the spring recess. I learned much and shared knowledge with a talented staff and student body, and consider my experience at Heath to be extremely valuable.

In the fall of 2000, I started an internship coordinating wildlife management in Delaware State Parks.  Following the internship, I worked as a field biologist for the Delaware Natural Areas Management program.  My responsibilities included developing and implementing a statewide invasive plant management program, monitoring wildlife populations, and preparing environmental reviews of proposed development. 

In 2003 I was chosen to be a team member with the Rotary International Group Exchange Program, a cultural and vocational exchange program designed to allow young professionals to observe their own vocations as practiced abroad.  My team spent four weeks traveling in southern Brazil, learning about Brazilian culture and developing personal and professional relationships.  I was touched and impressed by the Brazilian Rotarians’ commitment to community service, and their welcoming attitudes toward my teammates and me.  I hope someday to return to Brazil to work and spend time with new friends.

My work with Delaware State Parks was an excellent learning experience, and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology and conservation biology at SUNY-ESF.  I moved to Syracuse in 2003 and have worked as a graduate teaching assistant for Dendrology, Marine Ecology, and Plant Physiology.  The opportunity to work with gifted educators and enthusiastic students has made this an enjoyable experience.  I have also had the opportunity to serve as a Teaching Fellow, assisting in planning, organizing, and conducting the annual Graduate Assistant Colloquium on Teaching and Learning, an orientation seminar for new Graduate Assistants.  I am a member of Don Leopold’s research group in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, and am studying the effects of livestock grazing on plant diversity in spring-fed wetlands (fens).

 Abbreviated biography of Peter M. Homyak 
I grew up in Colombia, South America, where at a young age I discovered my interest in science.  In Colombia, I lived in a farm about 30 minutes from the City of Pereira.  At the farm, I was in constant contact with nature, and especially with a stream that intersected our land where I became interested in studying the environmental phenomena.

My education began in the Colegio De La Salle, Pereira, Colombia where I obtained my high school degree with a specialization in biological sciences.  In 1998, I decided to return to the United States to obtain a college education.  I started my career at Broome Community College where my interest in science was strengthened.  I continued my education at Binghamton University were I completed a Bachelors of Science in environmental studies with a chemistry minor.  At Binghamton, I conducted an independent study on the water quality of the Whitney Point Reservoir and its tributaries.  The purpose of my undergraduate research was to become familiar with methods of environmental chemical analysis and with elementary statistical tools.  This research also allowed me to become familiar with biogeochemical processes that became the focus of my current research and interests.

My research interests are on biogeochemical processes that affect water quality at a watershed scale, linking biogeochemical cycles across the terrestrial-aquatic divide, and finding practical solutions to nutrient overloading in aquatic ecosystems.

 I am currently pursuing a Masters of Science in watershed management at SUNY-ESF.  The objective of my research is to mitigate the possible adverse effects of forest harvesting on stream water quality.  I am testing the effectiveness of woodchips to immobilize nitrogen in clear-cut soils, thus preventing the leaching of nitrate to rivers and streams.

It is my long-term goal to obtain a Ph.D. in my field of interest and to work as a researcher at a government institution.  It is an honor to be funded as an NSF-GK12 fellow for a second year.  It is a very rewarding experience in addition to being an excellent training tool for the communication of science.

 Abbreviated Biography of Kevin Shoemaker

Like many children growing up with a backyard, I was insatiably curious about the seemingly alien world of insects that thrived within the grass and under the stairwell and in the driveway cracks.  Although this love of nature remained during my school years, I tried on many disciplines for size like any good schoolchild should.  I developed a love of theater and history, as well as math and science.  When I graduated from Haverford College with a degree in biology and environmental science, my goals and ambitions were by no means set in stone.  It took two years of traveling, reading, and thinking for me to finally realize what I already knew: that my one passion big enough to fill a career was that exploration of the diversity of life on earth that began when I could not yet read. 

Re-equipped with this knowledge, I began volunteering for various non-profit land trusts, nature centers, universities, and environmental consultants, attempting to acquire some real-world experience.  Soon, I was offered a job as a field technician for a biologist studying rare reptiles and amphibians.  This biologist became my first mentor in the field of conservation biology.  Donning waders and telemetry equipment each and every day, I tramped into deep marsh habitat to study and protect rare turtles and salamanders.  I still look back with a great deal of fondness at those field seasons when my career began to take shape.

My academic adventure at ESF began with the most fortunate month in my adult life.  After accepting an offer of admission at my third-choice school with no tuition scholarship, I received an email from my first-choice advisor at my first-choice school, expressing interest in my application.  I was alerted to the NSF GK-12 fellowship program and in two short weeks I was informed that I was accepted as both an ESF student and a fellow.  Within the same month, although this is beside the point, I was offered roles in two plays for which I had not even auditioned.  As I finish up my first field season, and prepare for my second year as a fellow, I’m still in awe at my good fortune.

 At ESF, I work with rare reptile and amphibian species in order to understand what it takes to maximize their chances for long-term survival.  For my thesis project, I am studying the habitat factors that potentially limit massasauga rattlesnake populations in New York State.  As a masters student, I hope to become a better, more focused scientist and better naturalist.  I also hope to gain a greater understanding of how I can make a difference as a conservationist in the future.  I understand I am still at the beginning of a long journey at the intersection of science and values and public policy, and that my ESF experience will do much to set my course.  I am not certain of my future plans.  Once I complete my masters degree, I will likely look for short-term opportunities in conservation biology that will equip me to take my next major step.  

Finally, I cannot introduce myself without mentioning my artistic endeavors.  I was singing, playing music, and even writing songs long before I knew what science was, and though these are no more than avocations, they are as necessary to my sense of well-being as my vocational interests.  I sing, play guitar and piano and I’m learning the banjo.  I will not tell you I’m exceptionally talented, but I enjoy it immensely.  I have also acted in many theatrical productions, although I’ve been unable to fit this into my life at ESF.

I am proud and excited to be a part of the NSF-funded Graduate Teaching Fellowship program for a second year.  I am eager to continue sharing my excitement about environmental science with high school students, and to engage students in scientific inquiry and research.  And finally, I look forward to a productive and synergistic relationship with my partner teacher.   

 Abbreviated Biography of Christopher Spiese
I am a second-year graduate student in the chemistry department, and I work for Dr. David Kieber.  My research focuses on antioxidant systems in marine phytoplankton and how cellular oxidative stress affects production/consumption of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP).  DMSP and its breakdown product, dimethyl sulfide (DMS) are thought to have potential implications for global climate change.

I received my Bachelor of Science degree (cum laude) in Chemistry from Juniata College, where I also minored in physics.  As an undergraduate, I worked on a number of different projects, including synthesizing novel biochemical probes, laser-induced fluorescence, and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).  For my senior thesis, I worked on analyzing abandoned mine drainage using LIBS, under the tutelage of Drs. Richard Hark and Paula Martin.

Eventually, my goal is to secure a teaching position at a small college, preferably in Pennsylvania, and primarily focus on teaching.  Some research interests I have include inhaled heavy metal toxicity (especially Pb), abandoned mine drainage, and novel instrumentation for environmental chemical analysis.  I also enjoy hiking and cooking, and have even won a few cooking competitions.

Abbreviated Biography of David Williams 
It is with some difficulty that I answer the oft asked question of where I am from. The easy answer is Ohio, which is where I was born and where my parents now reside. However I lived eleven years in Illinois, and most recently spent ten years in Rhode Island compared to a cumulative seven years in Ohio. I live with my wife of nearly nine years, our two daughters (ages 3 and 6 months), and two dogs.

I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA. While studying there I focused on organismal and marine biology. During that time I worked as a teaching assistant for introductory level biology courses and also served as a volunteer scientist aboard a National Marine Fisheries Service vessel out of Wood’s Hole, MA.

In 1998 I completed an M.S. in Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island. My primary research there involved evaluating and modeling the operation of inshore fish pots and the behavior of fish in and around those pots. Additionally I was integrally involved in projects including: oyster aquaculture, oil spill impact assessment, impact of fishing gear on habitat, and estimations of the tractive force of right whales in an effort to minimize impacts of fishing gear on that species.  In addition to research I worked as a youth outreach coordinator, delivering marine science lessons to students grades K-12 at schools throughout the state, and as a teaching assistant for an introductory zoology course at the university.

After completing my degree at URI, I accepted a science teaching/department chair position at Ocean Tides in Providence, Rhode Island. Ocean Tides is an alternative high school for adjudicated and at-risk boys. Through my tenure at Ocean Tides I taught biology, chemistry, oceanography I & II, astronomy, earth science, general science, marine fisheries, and computers I & II. Despite the many challenges of working with this population, I thoroughly enjoyed my six years there, and it was with some difficulty that I decided to return to school.

Currently I am turning the pages of a new chapter in my life, just beginning to scale this mountain that is a Ph.D. I am working in the Environmental & Forest Biology Department here at ESF under the direction of Dr. William Porter. My interests lie in large scale spatial analysis of habitat use and diversity.

Outside of academic and career history I have several interests. I enjoy nature photography as both a hobby and a business.  Our family loves the outdoors. We spend much of our vacation time camping and backpacking around the country. My wife and I have summited forty-one of the forty-eight peaks above 4000 ft. in New Hampshire. As time and finances allow we enjoy traveling both internationally and within the states.

Finally, I am very excited about returning to academics and research, and especially the opportunity to work with this project. I enjoy sharing my experiences, knowledge, and love for the natural world with students and I look forward to returning to the high school classroom.


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