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Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2007-08ESF Science Corps


Megan Brady

After graduating from a small high school in rural Pennsylvania, I moved to the city of Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied environmental studies and urban education. Attending a university in urban Philadelphia provided me with the opportunity to get involved in the urban school systems of Philadelphia, particularly in the area of environmental education. Although I received my teaching certificate in elementary education while at Penn, I decided not to pursue this further upon graduation. Instead, I explored the field of instructional design through working for a government contractor just outside of Washington, D.C.

At the same time, I had plans to attend graduate school for landscape architecture in the near future, which is what brought me to ESF. I am now in my first year of ESF’s three year Master’s of Landscape Architecture program, and am excited about beginning my first year as an NSF fellow. I am working at Henninger High School with Nancy Martin, and am hoping to have the opportunity to incorporate some of what I am learning in my own study of landscape architecture into the classroom.


Virginia (Ginny) Collins

Hi Everyone! My name is Ginny Collins, and I am really excited to be a part of the NSF GK12 program this year. I have had the pleasure of being born and raised in Central New York. I have a sincere love and affinity to this place, and it is with much pleasure that I continue my education at SUNY ESF and undertake research that is directly tied to this area. I have 8 years of college education in the engineering field. Did I ever think I would stay in school this long when I left high school? Certainly not! But I love learning, and SUNY ESF is a great place to be for that.

I went to Cornell University for five years, completing my undergraduate degree in Biological and Environmental Engineering, and a Masters in agricultural and biological engineering with a focus on environmental engineering. I have done a number of interesting projects that look at how technology and design can better our built environment. During undergrad, I worked at the Soil and Water Engineering Laboratory assisting in a long term monitoring study on the impact of waste products as a fertilizer for plants. As a Masters student, I continued the work of previous graduate students, helping to identify hydrological tools used to statistically represent areas of increased runoff vulnerability. I came to ESF in 2004 to continue my studies in how the built environment can enhance the natural environment. I have done research on the long term susceptibility of infrastructure to innovative stormwater practices, as well as on the hydraulic and hyporheic impacts of stream restoration structures. As I continue on at ESF, my interest grows in the area of environmental education.

I am excited to share my passion for environmental science and engineering with high school students. I am equally excited about helping to assist my teacher to strengthen the inquiry and research process in the high school, and helping to assist in the future generation of excellent scientists!!


Lindsay Cray

A native of Rochester, NY, Lindsay Cray is returning to ESF this fall to start her first year as a masters student. After graduating in 2004 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies, she focused her work in Puerto Rico. For the last four years she has worked on the island as an arborist technician and research assistant for the US Forest Service. Her work has also included outdoor education, both in the in the Catskills and in Puerto Rico as an Ecotour Guide where she taught rappelling, canyoning, kayaking and team building. Lindsay uses her spare time to pursue whatever adventure sports are in season (climbing, rappelling, canyoning, mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding, soccer). Her current program of study at ESF is Environmental Systems and Risk Management. Her research focuses on the Interrelated Issues of Social Sciences, Ethicacy and Divergent Management Techniques in Association with Forest Ecosystem Health in Puerto Rico. It might also interest you to know that Lindsay is fluent in Spanish and you can feel free to test her on her Italian.


Neil Patterson

Neil Patterson Jr. is currently enrolled in a M.S. program in Forest and Natural Resources Management at ESF. He is founder and director of the Tuscarora Nation’s Environment Program and a member of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force since 1992. Patterson has a B.S. in Environmental Forest Biology from SUNY-ESF, 1996. His environmental research interests include the use of Geographic Information Systems for environmental decision making, incorporating indigenous knowledge, and biomass development. His personal interests include fishing, hunting and backpacking.


Yazmin Rivera

I was born in Cayey, a little town in the central-east region of Puerto Rico. I grew up among rainforests, rivers and little “coquies” (=cute but noisy little frogs). Since I was in school, I enjoyed being outdoors, hiking, camping, swimming, etc.

I started my undergraduate education in 1999 at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey in Chemistry. As an undergraduate, I worked with Pepsi Co. at a sensory panel. Although I was having a great time, chemistry didn’t fulfilled my expectations. This is when I decided to change my career plans and started studying plant science. In 2001, I decided to study Agronomy with a minor in plant sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus. While being an undergraduate, I participated in several research projects in agriculture, plant physiology and environmental science. In 2001 I worked evaluating the use of artificial wetlands to remove contaminants from a dairy wastewater at the UPRLajas Experimental Sub-station. During the summer of 2002 I participated of an internship in Plant Physiology at Penn State University. During this summer I studied the effect of auxin on Phaseolus vulgaris lateral roots at different Phosphorus levels. Later in 2002, I started working with the USDA- ARS, Tropical Agriculture Research Station at Mayagüez, evaluating sorghum germplasm collections looking for resistance to different pathogens.

Fascinated by research, I obtained my bachelor’s in science in 2003 and started my master’s degree in science concentrating in plant breeding. For my thesis research, I evaluated the variation for sorghum anthracnose resistance within the sorghum germplasm collection from the Kayes region of Mali, West Africa. Still interested in plants and fungi, but wanting to focus on the ecology of them, I finished my master’s degree in 2006 and in the meantime started working in the rainforest as a research assistant. I worked under the Long Term Ecological Research, Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot in the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico. As a research assistant I was in charge of training volunteer groups on data collection, tree identification and database management.

I started my PhD in SUNY-ESF in Environmental and Forest Biology during the fall 2007. My research interests are forest fragmentation and how this affects population structure and genetic diversity of organisms, specifically fungi. I am currently working in the Adirondacks and the Catskills looking for sampling populations of Suillus pictus better known as “painted Suillus”. I am also interested in disturbance, biodiversity, land use history and the interactions between them. It is a pleasure for me to be part of the NSF GK-12 Fellowship, and it is my objective to share my knowledge and experiences with the students and engage them into the environmental sciences.


Katherina Searing

My name is Katherina Searing and I am extremely excited to begin my second year as a NSF GK-12 Fellow at ESF. I am beginning my third year as a doctoral student in the Environmental and Forest Biology department. My advisor is Mark Lomolino and my research focuses on responses of small mammals to recent climate change.

I grew up in Vestal, NY, about 70 miles south of Syracuse. My interest in science and nature began as a child and I took many science courses in high school. 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. In my junior and senior years, I was recruited to be a teaching assistant for an evolutionary biology course. Throughout my undergraduate career I worked in a marine biology lab, investigating the symbionts of coral, known as zooxanthellae. I also worked in the Florida Keys for a summer to sample the coral populations and set up an experiment there. By the end of my senior year, I completed an honors research project centering on my previous field work. While pursing my undergraduate degrees, I worked concurrently as a volunteer and a docent at the Aquarium of Niagara. There I assisted in the caring for many aquatic organisms ranging from sea anemones to sea lions.

Upon the culmination of my undergraduate studies I knew that I wanted to pursue further a career based on scientific research, so I enrolled in the Masters program at Binghamton University. 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. During my tenure at Binghamton, I was fortunate to be involved as a fellow with another NSF GK-12 program geared toward promoting science education at the elementary and 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 students’ primary instructor. In this setting, my objective was to act as a supplementary scientific resource, as well as to actively participate in the lesson planning and the enactment of those lessons.

I am tremendously thrilled to be participating again in such a positive, efficacious and rewarding educational experience, for the students, teachers and the fellows. It is my goal to convey to students my unbridled enthusiasm for scientific study, as well as to use my experiences, talents, and values to provide positive learning experiences. In addition, I look forward to continuing my science education in conjunction with my desired endeavor to teach others. Helping students to fortify their own foundations is our investment in the scientists and society of the future. I look forward to meeting and working with the new teachers and the new students.


Anna Stewart

Anna grew up in a rural suburb of Syracuse, NY, where her interest in the natural world developed at an early age. She attended Syracuse University from 2003 – 2007 and received a Bachelors of Science degree in Environmental Biology.

During this time Anna spent a summer at the Cornell Biological Field Station investigating the effects of the zebra mussel invasion on benthic primary production. She also spent six months working on a field crew in Yellowstone National Park studying the interactions between large, ungulate grazers and grassland primary production. This research became the basis of her honors thesis entitled, “Fine root production and Consumption in a Temperate Grassland in Yellowstone National Park.”

In the fall of 2007 Anna began her graduate studies at SUNY ESF as a Masters degree student in the department of Environmental Forest Biology. She will be assessing the effect of climate change on the spread of infectious diseases in Ecuador and the socioeconomic factors that lead to an increased risk of infection. Anna is interested working at the intersection of natural and social sciences in tropical developing countries, and hopes to pursue a concurrent Masters of Public Administration degree.


Jason Townsend

Since receiving my bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology from the University of Vermont, I have been involved with many research projects focusing on the ecology of birds. My research interests include bird conservation, migration, energy of migration, and island endemism. I have worked in New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Malaysia, Thailand, and most recently in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. My Ph.D. research, which is supported by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), focuses on the winter ecology of the Bicknell’s Thrush, a rare migratory songbird. This species nests only in the high altitude spruce-fir forests of the Northeast and winters exclusively in the cloud and rain forests of the Greater Antilles. I am particularly interested in male-female competition on the winter grounds, and in collaboration with co-investigators at VCE, I am engaged in studies at 2 sites in the Dominican Republic. I have been fortunate to work with and help train several outstanding Dominican biologists. There are few opportunities for field biology training in the DR and this project provides a chance for Dominicans with an interest in avian conservation to gain new skills.

I am also working here in New York to asses levels of mercury in the blood of Bicknell’s Thrushes. New evidence suggests that their preferred high altitude forests are receiving elevated mercury deposition. I am focusing on sites in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Additional side-projects of mine include working with organic cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic to import their cocoa powder and encourage shade-tree agroforestry practices that support bird life and reduce erosion potential, and surveying Dominican households to assess Dominican citizens’ attitudes toward pet ownership and the illegal domestic trade in endangered Hispaniolan Parrots

My other interests include organic farming (I help manage a 200 member CSA in Ithaca, New York), hunting, fishing, woodwork, and spending time with my wife, 2 dogs and a baby due out in December.


Nicole Werner
My name is Nicole Werner, and I grew up in Torrington, CT, just minutes from the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. I began my undergraduate studies at University of New Hampshire in Durham where I studied conservation biology with an emphasis in plants. Outside of the classroom, I enjoyed exploring tide pools at NH beaches and backpacking in the White Mountains and Presidential Range. During the summer after my junior year, I volunteered at Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve in Lee Vining, CA as a participant in the Student Conservation Association. I worked as an Environmental Interpreter at this unique saline lake. Mono Lake was in terrible imbalance due to the redirection of water from it to Los Angeles and my involvement in public education was part of an outreach effort to promote awareness of the lake’s unique qualities. After more than twenty years of campaigning, the scientists and citizen groups were successful in passing a court order to cease the water diversions. The lake is now at a level that safely maintains the ecological processes of the ecosystem. I fell in love with the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and traveled throughout the northwest, taking a break from my formal studies. I soon decided that I should return to finish my degree and chose to do so at SUNY-ESF where I earned a B.S. in Environmental Biology. I spent my free time hiking in the Adirondack Mountains and practicing playing my cello. During my studies in EFB, I developed an interest in plant diseases and went on to gain an M.S. in Botany and Plant Pathology at Michigan State University.

After graduation, I worked as a research assistant studying the management of various diseases of ornamental and vegetable plants. I then took a position at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. I began researching the diseases of small fruit and berries with an emphasis on developing and testing a disease forecasting model for managing a fungal disease of strawberry. After a while I changed my focus to study the biological control of fire blight, a devastating bacterial disease of apple. I was fortunate enough to travel to Poland and Germany to present at international research conferences and meet with collaborators. I’ve enjoyed traveling many parts of the globe, but my favorites were New Zealand and Spain.

Recently, I decided to come back to graduate school to pursue a Ph. D. in Forest Ecology. I have a strong interest in forest health and the social and economic issues relating to invasive species and land use change. I’m currently in the process of learning GIS and spatial analysis skills to study the ecological patterns of introduced pests, pathogens and plants on forest ecosystems. I am a member of Ruth Yanai’s research group and spent part of my summer surveying sugar maple trees in New Hampshire to support the research we are conducting on the native pest, forest tent caterpillar. Now that I’m back in the Syracuse area, I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Adirondacks.