Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2004-05 | ESF Science | Experiential Learning & Outreach | SUNY ESF
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Meet our Graduate Teaching Fellows 2004-05The ESF Science Corps

Back Row: Kevin Shoemaker, Kelly Miller, Becky Jarrell, Sara Scanga,Emmett Cheshire  Front Row: Robert Barber, Peter Homyak, Amy Dechen ESF Graduate students Teaching Science Corps
Back Row: Kevin Shoemaker, Kelly Miller, Becky Jarrell, Sara Scanga,Emmett Cheshire
Front Row: Robert Barber, Peter Homyak, Amy Dechen

Abbreviated Biography of Bob Barber

I am a first-year graduate student in Environmental and Forest Biology at SUNY ESF. My major professor is Dr. Donald Stewart. My work concerns the spawning migrations of Pimelodid catfish in the Amazon River basin. Dr. Stewart and I are interested in using otolith chemistry to learn whether or not Pimelodid spawning migrations are river-specific. We are also interested in learning more about Pimelodid spawning locations, and identification of Pimelodid larvae.

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Yale University in 1998. My senior project was an assessment of glass eel harvest from National Marine Fisheries Service catch data. Glass eels are a life-stage of the American eel which are used as feedstock for European and Asian aquaculture operations. During the mid-1990s an extensive fishery for glass eels existed along the east coast of the United States. National Marine Fisheries Service catch statistics for the American eel do not discriminate between life stages of the eel, making identification of glass eel catch difficult. My project used month of catch, location, price, and weight to estimate what portion of the legally reported catch of American eels consisted of glass eels.

In 2003 I received a Masters degree in Marine Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies. My project compared the ratio of female to male silver-phase American eels migrating out of two Southern Delaware streams. Silver-phase American eels leave fresh and estuarine waters in the fall, swimming hundreds or thousands of miles to the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, where they breed. The relative production of male and female eels is a parameter of basic interest to fisheries biologists. The sex of eels is not under strict genetic control, but instead influenced by environmental factors, especially density. My project tested a hypothesis proposed by another eel investigator, Ken Oliveira, that lake and river habitat in watersheds containing eels can be used as proxies for low and high density of eels, and help to predict the sex distribution of out-migrating silver-phase eels.

I have had diverse teaching experience. I taught English for one year in Quito, Ecuador, at two private high schools as well as to adults at the Fulbright Commission. I taught first and second-year Spanish for one year at a public high school in Los Angeles. I taught SAT prep courses in Los Angeles at a private teaching institute. This past year I taught an introductory biology course and laboratory at the University of Delaware. I look forward as an NSF fellow to learning more about how to incorporate research science into inquiry learning at the high school level.

Abbreviated Biography of 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 eleven years ago, and we have been in our house the past nine. 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 seven 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 the upcoming year and the opportunities it will afford me to learn how to learn, and to instruct. 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.

Abbreviated Biography of Amy Dechen
State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry

This fall, I will begin my second 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. I am currently in the process of developing a descriptive, spatially explicit model to predict the potential impacts of a chronic wasting disease outbreak in naturally occurring white-tailed deer populations throughout New York State. I hope to incorporate an experimental field component that further enhances current data on white-tailed deer behavior, including dispersal, philopatry, predator pressure, and chemosensory communication, to assist in model development.

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 Peter M. Homyak


High school: Colegio De La Salle. Pereira, Colombia SA. Specialization in biological sciences. December 1996.

Associates of Arts. Broome Community College. May 2001.

Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies. Chemistry minor. Binghamton University. May 2004.

In progress:

Masters of Science in Watershed Management and Forest Hydrology. College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Expected completion May 2006.


My current research interests are on biogeochemical processes that affect stream water quality at a watershed scale. I am currently studying the cycling of limiting nutrients in aquatic ecosystems and researching methods to limit their input into rivers and streams.

Since a very young age, I have always been fascinated with rivers and lakes. I always thought of water as the most important substance on earth, and have always been interested in researching topics related to conserving its quality.


I spend most of my time (when not studying) playing volleyball at a competitive level. I also enjoy exercising with my dog, who loves to fetch his beloved frisbee.

The Abbreviated Biography of Becky Jarrell
State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry

As a student of science in my secondary education years, I certainly don’t think I stood out in anyone’s mind as someone who would one day go on to seek a doctorate in chemistry. Cookbook labs and a sterile classroom environment led me to believe that science was memorizing an endless series of facts. Contrast this with my passionate love of the outdoors, and my lukewarm response to science seems incongruous to me now. But as a teen, I could not juxtapose the two in my mind.

As a college freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle, I felt sure that veterinary science was going to be the path for me. I loved all living and growing things, and sought a connection to them. So I embarked on the usual pre-med onslaught of chemistry, calculus, and biology, and to my astonishment, I could not seem to get the chemistry out of my mind. The principles of chemistry dogged me even as I studied for other classes. A nagging hunch that somehow this field was the underlying principle to these other sciences guided me to take still more chemistry classes, and then more and more. Until one fateful afternoon, as I sat in my guidance councilor’s office, I was informed that I was only two classes away from a double major in women’s studies and biochemistry, an unlikely combination as one could hope to produce.

My next stop was Cornell University, where I initially intended to pursue a master’s degree in biochemistry. Whether it was the intensity of the Ivy League atmosphere or the timing was just not right for me, I never fully settled into my chosen major. A human element was somehow lacking, and I quickly became restless. I began exploring my options, and secondary science education was suggested to me by a friend who knew my propensity for working with young adults. I began envisioning a classroom very different from the one I had my first exposure to the sciences in. Taking a leap of faith, I switched my major to secondary science education.

For five years, I taught Regent’s and Honors chemistry at Liverpool High School. The experience I had there was fantastic. It shaped my beliefs about education; it afforded me the milieu to test these beliefs in. My classroom became a microcosm of experimental creativity, both for my students and for myself. Armed with the basic precepts of education, Gardner’s Seven Intelligences, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Piaget’s developmental stages, I tackled chemistry from as many different angles as I could imagine, learning more from my students’ responses then they probably ever did from me.

In those years of classroom experience, one overriding theme stood out to me: my students needed to take ownership and pride in a subject before they could love it. Art students felt passion about their works; music students were enthusiastic (to say the least) about upcoming productions. But who felt that way about science? There was no product, no creative endeavor, no exploration. Inquiry-based learning became the central idea behind my teaching. Of course, the Regent’s syllabus had to be incorporated, and the natural amalgam of the two became research projects that focused around core ideas from the New York State syllabus. I felt myself stretching as a teacher to answer the questions and meet the needs of my student’s intellectual curiosity. I saw them bury themselves in their projects with the enthusiasm and passion of a fine arts student. And I knew I had to up the ante. I needed more information, so I went back to school.

My original intention never seems to be the same as my final destination. A master’s degree at SUNY-ESF in environmental chemistry was going to be enough to sate my desire to blend the natural world with the sciences, as I first sought as a college freshman. A master’s would give me the science background I needed to develop true-to-life research projects. I asked Liverpool for a year’s leave in order to come back a better teacher. I did not know that I would fall under the throes of my own research project. After a year, I knew I could not walk away with a master’s degree. I applied and was accepted to the Ph.D. program just this spring. My new vision for myself is to teach chemistry with an environmental flair at a small university, where research programs are an integral part of the learning. I will always strive to maintain the connection that I feel with secondary science education although as yet I am not sure what form that will take. I do know that this program affords me the unique opportunity to share my own passion for research science with young people. And as always, I look forward to further developments.

Abbreviated Biography of Kelly Miller

Hi, I’m Kelly Miller. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology from Ohio University. No, not Ohio State University…Ohio State’s campus had too much concrete for me. I’m a nature girl and a photographer, and am always happiest in scenic places. I fell in love with Ohio U’s open greens and red brick architecture. Luckily for me, the school has a very good biology program. As a biology major, I had a huge variety of classes to choose from, and soon found my niche in wildlife ecology. I developed a strong interest in the ecology of small or declining wildlife populations.

After graduating in 2000, I set out to teach conservation biology. My first stop was the River Ridge Environmental Education Program in Tennessee, where I taught science and outdoor recreation classes to visiting campers. From there, I moved to the Santa Barbara Zoo to help run their summer camp. I really enjoyed teaching in a zoo setting with live animals, so when a full-time job opened up at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Kansas, I jumped at the opportunity. I spent two years there, teaching classes through interactive television. The LR zoo has a very active education program, and I soon found myself teaching outreach programs, leading tours, helping with special events, researching new animals, and being involved with almost everything else that happens at a zoo. It was an invaluable experience.

I am currently working on a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology. I am fascinated by birds, to the point where people are afraid to ride in my car because I watch birds when I should be watching the road. My thesis research will focus on bird communities in old-growth forests on the Olympic Peninsula. The forests there are becoming increasingly fragmented as patches are cut (usually clear-cut) to provide timber. We know very little about what space requirements the Peninsula’s bird species need, and how the fragmentation of the old-growth forests will affect them. I hope that my research will begin to shed some light on this issue.

Abbreviated Biography of Sara Scanga
State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry

I grew up in Pennsylvania. I attended college at Drew University in New Jersey, where I obtained a B.A. with a major in Biology and a minor in Women’s Studies. In the summer of 1995, I worked as a research assistant in the pine barrens of NJ, completing a survey of mycorrhizal (fungal-plant) associations, soil animals, and vegetation at three field plots.

In the fall semester of my junior year, I attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts on a Lemelson Fellowship. Hampshire does not use grades to evaluate student performance, and I discovered some of the benefits and challenges of this system. I also helped to design and carry out an experiment on treating sewage using artificial wetlands (we used cow manure from a local farm and large tanks planted with wetland flora).

In the spring semester of my junior year, I traveled to Belize. There, I learned about ecotourism and marine and tropical forest ecology in classes, and much about Belizean (and U.S.) culture outside of class. I also learned indirect lessons about group dynamics through spending concentrated time with my fellow students. Living in Belize for three months intensified my interest in ecology and environmental issues, and taught me things about myself and others that continue to influence the way I live.

Upon returning to the U.S., I immediately traveled to northern Minnesota to work as a research assistant with my professor, Sara Webb, on a project studying how treefalls caused by windstorms affect forest structure and dynamics. I continued to assist with this project until our results were published in 2001.

One week after graduating from Drew in 1997, I moved to northern Wisconsin to live on a field station. Although I was living in WI, I was actually working for two scientists at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies (IES) in New York. In WI, I participated in research that examined the movement of nutrients through food webs in lakes, from bacteria to the largest fish species. I worked out on the lakes as well as in the lab. In the fall, I traveled to IES to continue my work as a research assistant. As IES is a vibrant community of well-known scientists, I was exposed to many new research ideas and methods while working there. I continued the cycle of moving from WI to NY and back for three field seasons.

Then, in 1999, I took at job at the NYS Department of Health, where I worked as a lab tech, trying to genetically engineer mutant bacteria. The goal was to create a non-motile mutant that could be used as a vaccine for syphilis. My lab was also responsible for analyzing all potential anthrax samples during the anthrax scare in 2001, so I played a small role in helping with this public health issue.

In 2002, I began graduate school at ESF, and worked as a teaching assistant for three semesters. My favorite part of being a TA was teaching outdoor dendrology labs to my students. My Ph.D. research is on the ecology, conservation and management of a rare wetland wildflower, Trollius laxus (spreading globeflower) and its western counterpart, T. albiflorus. My main research interests lie in plant ecology, including moss ecology, forest ecology, and freshwater wetland ecology.

Abbreviated Biography of Kevin Shoemaker

As I write this short biography, I am sitting in my new apartment, mostly empty save for a chair and a computer. I am contemplating the ongoing journey that now takes me to upstate New York. I was born in Iowa City while my father earned a doctorate in molecular biology, but I left Iowa before I was two years old. I am not a Midwesterner. I have lived in the Boston area for as long as I can remember. I am a New Englander (Go Sox!). I attended Haverford College near Philadelphia for four years, graduating with a major in Biology and Environmental Studies in the year 2000.

Aside from my geographical journey, I have progressed personally as well. From a quiet youth with a love of creative self-expression and a fascination for nature, I have developed into...a quiet adult with a love of creative self-expression and a fascination for nature. Which is not to say I haven’t grown or changed since I was a child. I know myself better now. I’ve come to terms with my strengths and limitations for the most part. I have found some effective ways to harness my passions.

In Conservation Biology I have found a way to indulge my fascination for plant and animal life. As a volunteer, as a paid consultant, and now as a graduate student, I work with rare reptile and amphibian species in order to understand what it takes to ensure their long-term survival. Part of the joy I get out of the work comes from the pleasure and amusement of working with the animals themselves. But aside from that, I love science and the scientific process: especially when it addresses my interest in sustaining Earth’s biodiversity. At ESF, 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.

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 in some ways I feel it is the last thing I would give up in a hypothetical situation where I would have to make that choice. I play guitar and piano and I am trying to learn the banjo. I won’t tell you I’m good or talented, but I enjoy it immensely. Lately I have found another artistic side-interest in theater acting. I have been involved in four productions in the past year, and hope to become involved in some informal theater in Syracuse.

Finally, I can’t wait to begin school here in Syracuse after spending four years away from the academic world. I feel I have developed my passions and interests such that I know what I want to get out of school this time around. I am also proud and excited to be a part of the NSF-funded Graduate Teaching Fellowship program. I look forward to sharing my excitement about environmental science with high school students, and to gaining experience with inquiry learning. I know I will learn a great deal about teaching and about learning.