Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2003-04 | ESF Science | Experiential Learning & Outreach | SUNY ESF
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Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2003-04The ESF Science Corps

Back row: Amy Dechen, Emily Cloyd, Laura Schmidt, Emmett Cheshire, Jeremy Boley, Heather Golden. Front row: Melissa Lucash, Becky Jarrell, Sara Scanga

Back row: Amy Dechen, Emily Cloyd, Laura Schmidt, Emmett Cheshire, Jeremy Boley, Heather Golden. Front row: Melissa Lucash, Becky Jarrell, Sara Scanga

Jeremy Boley

My first experience with natural resources management was not in the classroom, unfortunately, but through an exchange program with the Student Conservation Association. I was a few months out of high school and in the midst of my transition to college. I volunteered to work in Mexico on a reforestation and then a sea turtle conservation project. Even though the experience was more vivid and inspiring than anything I had seen on an overhead projector in the past, I still went on to study psychology at Grinnell College for my undergraduate degree. There I was able to take a wide variety of courses that ranged from neuroscience to music, religion to chemistry. I participated in a research project with my major professor on the common hearing impairment tinnitus.

Armed with knowledge and ready to take on the world, I embarked upon my second journey overseas that involved natural resource management. This time, I was to be a Peace Corps volunteer working with agro-forestry in rural El Salvador. As a volunteer I learned to speak Spanish and make hand-made tortillas while experiencing the challenges and frustrations of managing a pine forest for timber extraction. I extended my service into Bolivia for a third year of service and worked further with reforestation and community nurseries.

While living and working in Latin America I witnessed the extensiveness of deforestation and mismanagement of natural resources. The desire to become more knowledgeable with respect to these issues fueled my decision to study for a masters degree in Forest and Natural Resources Management at SUNY ESF. My coursework and thesis are focused on tropical applications on the subject matter. My research makes a comparison between various tree species in reforesting abandoned pasturelands in Central America. Specifically, I am focusing on the changes in soil characteristics between native and exotic plantations and their ability to recruit native understorey species.

With the National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship I have been working with Nottingham High School, one of the four city high schools in Syracuse, New York. I have been assisting a local teacher with a Global Environment course by bringing science into the classroom. So far the students have worked with one independent guided project that involved developing a hypothesis, experimental design, collecting data, analyzing data, and then presenting their experiment in written and oral form. They are now engaged in their second exploration of the scientific method where they are developing their own experiment independently after performing literature reviews. Development and implementation of their projects will involve utilizing the ESF laboratories and faculty as resources. The class will also apply the information that they have learned over the year by competing in the local New York State Envirothon. Overall, my goal in the classroom has been to present the students with the excitement of scientific research and discovery that I have learned through my own experiences.

Emmett Cheshire

Hello, my name is Emmett Cheshire, but please call me Shane. I have gone by Shane all my life.

I am a 39-year-old Michigan native who now lives near Sodus Point with my wife, our dogs and cats. I moved here from California twelve years ago, and we have been in our house the past eight. We wish we were closer to school, but love the area where we live. We have only one neighbor and are surrounded by orchards and woods.

Most of my life had been spent in the landscaping business until returning to school six years ago. I was raised on an evergreen nursery in MI and my father is a landscape architect so I was raised into the business. For the last five years of my landscape career I almost exclusively installed ponds, waterfalls, and stonework. I also was an irrigation specialist and built decks and gazebos, with the occasional design thrown in.

I returned to school due to an auto accident but have not regretted it at all. I began at Finger Lakes Comm. College where I received my A S with a chemistry concentration. I continued on to SUNY ESF in the Paper Science Engineering department where I received my B S in December 2001. I was recruited to stay on for an advanced degree and agreed to work under Dr. B V Ramarao towards a Ph D.

My research work is in the area of moisture transport phenomena in porous media, specifically paper for my research, though the work that I perform is fundamental such that it will be applicable to all porous media. I hope to finish up my studies in less than three years and then become a professor.

My major non-academic interest, when we have time and money to allow it, is travel. My wife and I love to travel, especially in Latin America. We love the peoples and their diverse cultures, (and the variety of foods gets me off the couch). Thus far we have traveled to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. We hope to experience all South and Central America before we stop. My wife, who is also a graduate student at ESF, will be doing her research work in the Northern Amazon Basin studying jaguars. My other hobbies include gardening and reading for pleasure when time permits.

I am looking forward to my second year as an NSF fellow and the opportunities it will afford me to learn how to learn, and to instruct. The students that I have been working with this past year at Henninger HS have reintroduced me to the joy of discovery and refueled my desire to pass on my life experiences. Even though I wish to be a professor in a research driven school I still feel that the number one priority of a professor is to inspire students to make the most of their abilities, seek out their strengths, and truly enjoy the life-long journey of learning. After all, when we stop learning, we are truly dead.

Emily Cloyd

My main research interests lie in how humans use their environment. I am particularly interested in the services that ecosystems provide and in the economic, aesthetic, and social benefits of these services. I am currently doing graduate work in conservation biology and environmental science at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, New York.

I received my bachelor in Plant Biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At U of M, I worked on several research projects, including cataloging collections at the U of M Fungus Herbarium, studying fish communities in the Les Cheneaux region of Michigan (along the northern shore of Lake Michigan), and exploring the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on soil, water, and plant chemistry.

During my freshman year at U of M, I participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). This program gave me the chance to take part in cutting edge research as soon as I entered college. I gained experience in many aspects of the research process through UROP, from developing a first draft of a research plan to presenting results at a conference. It was in part due to my UROP experience that I first became interested in and have continued to study environmental science.

Amy Dechen

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.

I arrived at SUNY-ESF to begin a doctoral research program during the summer of 2003. I joined the Environmental and Forest Biology department under the guidance of Dr. William Porter. It was my intent to deviate from the theoretical components of evolutionary animal behavior and investigate some aspect of behavioral ecology within the context of applied ecology, and the role of animal behavior in disease transmission and perpetuation immediately fascinated me.

Wildlife populations are a reservoir for several diseases that affect humans. There is concern because of the expanding array of diseases, the growing wildlife populations, and the increasing severity of the risks to human health and economic interests. West Nile virus and Lyme disease are the most recent additions to a list that includes rabies and Eastern Equine encephalitis. Chronic Wasting Disease has not arrived in New York, but poses what may be the greatest potential risk to the State’s economy. The disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) caused by a prion. It is highly contagious, currently untreatable, and unavoidably fatal. It affects both farmed and free-ranging populations of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk in several states throughout North America. CWD is closely related to Mad Cow Disease and while the transmission of the CWD from wild to domestic animals and ultimately humans is uncertain, there is grave concern. CWD is certain to cause severe damage to the recreation industry and, if it were to infect domestic livestock, could be devastating to the agricultural economy. Occurrence of CWD has not yet been detected in New York State, but the potentiality is great that it will be in the near future.

I hope to establish spatially explicit models utilizing current life history strategies and behavioral data of white-tailed deer in an effort to predict disease prevalence and transmission throughout New York State. This information will be invaluable to state and federal officials attempting to initiate protocol for control of Chronic Wasting Disease in New York and throughout North America.

Heather Golden

Current NSF Project Work and Career Goals

I am currently working with the SUNY-ESF EFB-120 (Global Environment) course at Skaneateles High School in Skaneateles, New York. My tasks include assisting with student research projects (i.e., building discussion-based activities on how to conduct scientific research) and designing inquiry-based activities related to the course subject matter.

My immediate career goals involve working with a non-profit consultant or government agency to continue refining research concerning the effects of land use change on terrestrial and aquatic nutrient cycling. I also have a keen interest in bridging the gap between research and real-world applications of research. I envision addressing this as part of my long-term career goals by teaching at a small four-year college or an international English language-based university. I plan to use my former experiences to provide students with real-world examples illustrating the relevancy of their studies. Eventually, I intend to package these experiences and work for an international NGO in a developing country.


  • Ph. D. candidate, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York
  • M.A., 1998, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
  • B.S., 1995, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, Maryland

Recent Work Experience

  • NSF/ESF GK-12 Fellowship, Syracuse, New York, June 2003-Present
  • Research Assistant, New York City Watershed, Watershed Agricultural Council, Syracuse, New York, August 2002-May 2003
  • Watershed Planning Specialist, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 2002-July 2002
  • Environmental Scientist, Mackin Engineering Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 2000-December 2001
  • Watershed Coordinator, Canaan Valley Institute, Davis, West Virginia, July 1999-Februrary 2000
  • Assistant, Bakari Editions Art Publishing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 1999-June 1999
  • Research Assistant, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Greenville, North Carolina, January 1997-May 1999

Research Focus

Human activities have approximately doubled the rate of nitrogen (N) inputs to terrestrial ecosystems. It is now clear that one-third of the world’s largest drinking water supplies rely partially or fully on well-managed forests, and any disruption to N cycling in these systems is often a primary concern. The overall objectives of my research include investigating the role of two disturbances - forest harvesting and atmospheric N deposition - on N cycling across the major watersheds of New York State. Some of the subprojects within this framework include (1) measuring the effects of forest harvesting on N sinks and inter-watershed transfers of N stored in harvested woody biomass across watersheds covering a range of areas and (2) measuring and analyzing the amount and variability of dry atmospheric N deposition. The research is a work in progress and new subprojects will continue to be developed.

Becky A Jarrell

When I was little, my mom couldn’t keep me out of the woods, out of the branches of trees or in clean clothes. I was forever coming home with a cool rock, twigs in my hair, or some forest animal in need of nursing. Things have not changed for me much. I still spend every “spare” weekend in the mountains. But my approach to perceiving and understanding the environment I love has changed to some degree. I majored in Biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle. I felt like every question I asked led to more questions, until I peeled away the layers of how things worked, and wound up in biochemistry almost by default. For two years, I worked as a laboratory technician at Cornell University, interested in my work with retroviruses, but feeling somewhat stymied by my lack of human contact. It seemed only natural to me that if I had this admiration for the natural world, that I would want to share it with others. So the next step in my development was to obtain a Master’s of Arts in Teaching, and apply these new skills at Liverpool High School in the high school chemistry classroom.

I cannot say enough about how those five years of teaching shaped me and helped me develop professionally and personally. I found my voice in the classroom, and discovered a passion for education in me that was heretofore untapped. The direction that my teaching techniques were taking, however, soon had me pushing the limits of my knowledge of research and science. When students took ownership and pride in the science that they were doing, I saw a dramatic increase in their enthusiasm and consequently their grades. And so I geared class projects to take on more depth, more natural exploration, and include the personal twists and quirks that a student might bring to the field. As soon I realized that my knowledge base was lacking, I went back to school again, this time for a Master’s of Science in environmental chemistry. If I was to teach research, I reasoned, I must also do it.

While I knew that ownership and pride were critical ingredients in my students’ learning, I was not expecting it to play so major a role in my own. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I found my research here at SUNY-ESF to be an extremely fulfilling and satisfying experience. In fact, when I saw that my tenure here as a master’s student was drawing to a close, I found myself considering the improbable, a doctorate in chemistry. I wanted to take my passion for education and love of science to the next level, to teach at the university level to students with a whole new degree of motivation. So I applied and was accepted to the doctoral program having finished my master’s in December of 2003. In whatever capacity I teach, I am hoping to always stay connected to the high school classroom since I see the development of interest in science at that age to be a critical piece of pursuing it as a career. At the very least, an appreciation and understanding of science in its fundamental form, research, will be a requisite for creating an informed citizen, capable of staying abreast of technology and current issues. ESF in the High School has provided an excellent format to further develop teaching techniques that will enable this connection in the future. 

Melissa Lucash

As a child, I became fascinated with the natural environment during family camping trips. Eventually this grew into a desire to study ecology and I enrolled in the environmental and forest biology program at SUNY-ESF in 1989. During my junior year, I became interested in the study of plant physiology since it focused on how plants grow and reproduce. After graduating from ESF in 1993, I enrolled in a MS program at Oregon State University (OSU) and spent 3 years teaching general biology labs and studying the effects of elevated CO2 on range plants. While at OSU, I realized I wanted to become an ecology professor but wanted more experience before committing to a PhD program. After completing my MS, I taught chemistry labs at Willamette University and supervised a program in which college students designed and implemented hands-on science activities for 4th and 5th grade students at a local elementary school. I also worked at the US-EPA lab as a research technician and plant physiologist on numerous laboratory and field projects. After working at the EPA for 4 years, I enrolled in a PhD program at SUNY-ESF to realize my goal of becoming a college professor. While at ESF, I’ve taught introductory soils and conducted research on developing better ways to measure nutrient uptake of trees. I’m looking forward to completing my degree, starting a post-doctoral research project and eventually working at a small university where I can teach and conduct research with undergraduates

Research Statement

Most trees have a symbiotic relationship with fungi. The fungi live inside the plant roots, as well as create hyphae that extend into the soil. These fungi, called mycorrhizae, are important for nutrient uptake of plants and protection against root pathogens. In my PhD research, I’m developing a method to estimate nutrient uptake of trees. Many scientists measure uptake by cutting roots into small pieces, even though this does not represent realistic conditions. Others use intact roots but destroy mycorrhizal hyphae during measurements, despite countless studies that demonstrate that mycorrhizae are critical for nutrient uptake of trees. In my first three years of my PhD, I have developed a simple method to estimate nitrogen uptake of seedlings with intact roots and mycorrhizae. Next summer I plan to conduct a field study to measure uptake of mature trees.

NSF GK-12 Fellowship

In my first semester, I worked with students at Corcoran High School in Global Environment, a senior-level course dealing with global environmental issues. I primarily led hands-on activities, which reinforced material in the curriculum. I also conducted a research project with the student examining how Furnace Brook could be restored to a more natural ecosystem.

I am currently working with the New Vision Environmental Science and Engineering Program. In this program, high school students spend their senior year at ESF taking courses such as Global Environment, Economics, American Government and Writing. I will be guiding the students as they develop research projects and implementing inquiry-based activities.

Sara Scanga


  • Graduate student in Ecology. Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  • B. A. in Biology, 1993. Drew University, NJ. Graduated summa cum laude.

Research I’ve been involved with in the past:

  • New Jersey Pine Barrens Ecosystems
  • Artificial Ponds used in Treating Sewage
  • Windstorm Disturbance in a Northern Hardwood Forest
  • Trophic Cascades in Lakes
  • Creating Non-motile Mutant Spirochetes Through Genetic Engineering

Current research projects

  • The Effect of Forest Canopy Gaps on the Establishment and Vigor of the Rare Plant Trollius laxus (spreading globeflower)
  • Ecology and Conservation of Fens

I am generally interested in plant ecology, freshwater wetland ecology, biogeography, and rare plant conservation.

Laura Schmitt

Career Goals

The challenge of managing natural resources sustainably and equitably in the developing world has captured my passionate interest during my graduate school career. The overarching goal of my dissertation research and of my future career in development is to meet this multifaceted challenge by combining scientific research with an appreciation for the social and economic factors affecting local resource-managing populations. Upon obtaining my degree, I hope to begin a career with a development agency or nongovernmental organization that values the contributions of local communities to natural resource management solutions.

Educational Background

  • Ph. D. candidate at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  • Sc.B. from Brown University, 1999

Recent Work Experience

  • NSF GK12 Fellowship, January 2004 – Present
  • SUNY-ESF Teaching Assistantship, August 2001 – December 2003
  • Administrative assistant/substitute teacher at Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor – November 2000 – August 2001
  • Social forestry internship in Dumaguete, Philippines - August 1999 – August 2000
  • Department of Environmental Studies Coordinator, Brown University – Fall 1998 – Spring 1999
  • Intern at Harvard Forest research station – Summer 1998

Research Focus

Soil erosion is a threat to agricultural production and ecological health throughout the developing world, yet integrative approaches to this complex problem are rare. My research objective is to develop a dynamic, spatially distributed model of soil loss and deposition on Negros Island, Philippines, under current and proposed agricultural land distribution. Hypotheses to be tested are (1) The most highly erosive lands on the islands are cultivated by small-scale, relatively poor farmers; (2) Farmers make cropping and soil conservation decisions based on biophysical and economic characteristics of their farms; and (3) Negros’ proposed land redistribution scheme will result in increased erosion from the uplands if soil conservation programs are not promoted simultaneously with agrarian reform. The model will link biophysical and economic data collected on the ground with digital maps under the framework of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE), and will be validated with sediment loading data collected from three major waterways on the island.

This research will be of value to Negros’ rural communities and policymakers, as it will provide a quantified measure of the soil erosion problem on the island. This study also provides a uniquely in-depth and multidisciplinary approach to a complex rural development issue.The ESF in the High School