External Outreach Opportunities

  • Skype a Scientist connects scientists with students and the public to engage in real life work. They run livestream events that allow public Q&A forums, making everyday science more accessible. For more information see: https://www.skypeascientist.com/
  • Champaign County Forest Preserve has opened a couple of their interpretive centers for anyone looking to get some volunteer action. They have opportunities to work with school groups, public programs, and museum tours and collections. For more information see: https://www.ccfpd.org/Museum-Education/Education-Volunteers
  • Urbana Park District runs school programs that rely on volunteers to lead nature activities and encourage appreciation of the outdoors. For more information see: https://www.urbanaparks.org/get-involved/volunteer/
  • Project READ is looking for new volunteers to help tutor with basic reading, basic math, or English as a second language. Introduction sessions and tutoring opportunities are currently being run via Zoom. For more information see: https://cuvolunteer.org/opportunities/2387
  • Sci Fund is offering free, online, self-guided classes to improve scientific outreach skills, including social media presence, video storytelling, and creating academic posters. For more information see: https://scifundchallenge.org/scifund-classes/
  • Anyone who is currently working with children and needs assistance explaining the intricacies of Covid19, ACM has provided a list of resources here: https://childrensmuseums.org/about/covid-19

Check out the Outreach Opportunities sub-tab for an updated list! https://www.life.illinois.edu/geeb/opportunities/

A Week in the Life- Sara Johnson

A portrait of Sara and her study species Macbridea alba during her first field season in 2018 at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve, FL.

Sara is a third year MS student in NRES, working at the Illinois Natural History Survey in the Molano-Flores lab. Her research focuses on rare plant conservation, species distribution modeling, and conservation horticulture. Currently, she is working on a species distribution model and reintroduction / conservation plan for a rare Florida endemic mint, Macbridea alba. Additionally she has worked with Thuja occidentalis (Northern White Cedar) in the Chicago region.

What I’ve been up to this past week:

This past week I have started the analysis and writing stage of my thesis! I was unable to do field work this past summer/fall due to the pandemic, so I am going through a bit of a restructuring of questions and goals. I also am trying to keep some Macbridea seedlings alive that I grew from seed during germination trials earlier this year. I have been working on a collaboration to get them in an ex-situ collection at a botanic garden next summer.  Lastly, I have been working on a manuscript for a lab project on the decline of a Thuja occidentalis population up in the Chicago region. This is my first manuscript so I am starting early and taking my time with writing.

Macbridea alba seedling grown in the greenhouse from field collected seed. Look at those roots!

Most importantly, I have been trying to savor the last bits of summer. Matt and I went to one of our favorite botanizing spots, Henry Allan Gleason Nature Preserve last weekend. It’s a sand prairie created by glacial deposits and is home to a lot of unique flora as well as prairie kingsnakes and badgers!

Last weekend’s scene at Henry Allan Gleason. Solidago nemoralis and Liatris aspera in an expansive sand prairie on a gorgeous sunny day.

This past weekend, I went on a socially distant overnight camping trip with a couple of friends. We did some kayaking, which is one of my favorite things to do this time of year as the trees turn colors.

I love spending time near the water. It’s the thing I miss most about my hometown of Buffalo, New York.

Are you a member of other student organizations?

At UIUC, I serve as the President of the Society of Wetland Scientists chapter which I have been part of for the last year. We are currently trying to navigate programs in the time of COVID and plan some for the fall semester.

Check out our website publish.illinois.edu/societyofwetlandscientistsncc for more information on our upcoming events and how to get involved.

I also serve as the Vice President for the Champaign County Audubon Society of which I have been very active for the past 5 years. I am so proud of all of the work we have done as a group, to provide funds for ornithological research and conservation projects, as well as provide an outlet for the community to get outside and learn about birds. So many people take for granted the nature around them and it’s been a great way for me to become a part of this community during my time here.

Pre-COVID, I led many programs for CCAS and currently still coordinate our monthly programs. Birding is a great way to get outside and meet new people.

How do you unwind after a long day of work?

I spend a lot of time photographing and putzing around in my garden where I grow lots of native plant species, vegetables, and flowers. I love watching the diversity of wildlife – birds and insects – that we’ve seen expand incredibly in the 5 years we have lived here.

Mammoth sunflower I grew last summer in my backyard garden
An abundance of Monarchs feeding on our Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii this past week as they move through the area on the way to Mexico. I have counted 18 on the most abundant days!
Fall color in the front pollinator patch of native plants

I also am trying to make sure I squeeze in time to bird as the fall migrants come through town. This is a perfect time to get out into natural areas as the fall-blooming asters are starting to go off. I love the palette of the season. Purples and yellows and all the neutral tones of grasses and decaying plants. Its cliché, but my garden is my sanctuary, and I’m not sure what I would have done without it this past year.

The fall palette at Meadowbrook Park dominated by Sorghastrum nutans and Andropogon gerardi

Do you have any pets?

We are both allergic to most fuzzy creatures, but we do have 3 beloved dart frogs, Rorschach, Tripod, and Lil Dude, and a crested gecko named Broccoli. Lil Dude came all the way to IL with us in the back of my car over 5 years ago! I never thought I could love frogs so much but they are endlessly entertaining.

Lil Dude on top of some African Violets in their planted vivarium. They are Dendrobates tinctorius and the other two are all blue!

What are your hobbies?

Other than gardening, hiking, and birding, I switch to a lot of indoor hobbies during the winter like knitting, sewing, and carving. I picked up carving linocut again last winter for the first time since high school and love the entire process. I also find cooking very zen and like trying new techniques and recipes.

A handmade linocut I made for a friend over the winter. You use a sharp tool to carve out the relief of a print, leaving what gets printed behind.

This past summer, I started a gardening zine called “Midwest Explorer” as a creative outlet during the quarantine. I see a need and want for more information on science-based gardening in the community and local garden centers aren’t picking up the slack. People want to know more about how to create gardens for wildlife that are healthy for both people and the planet. The first issue was released in July. You can find more info on twitter and Facebook at @MidwestExplorer, Instagram: @sylvatica_midwestexplorer or on my website www.saraannjohnson.wordpress.com

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Working in Florida has been an amazing experience. Florida gets a bad reputation but is honestly one of the most diverse and beautiful parts of the country. It is a hotspot of biodiversity and the bits of nature that are protected are like a dream. The pine flatwoods are stunning and the proximity of forest to beach is unrivaled. I love exploring the tideflats in my off-time and have really fallen in love with the region.

Some of my colleagues and I goofin off on a day off at the Gulf Specimen lab in Panacea FL
A panoramic view of one of my favorite sites I call “Spider City” in Apalachicola National Forest for the way the spiderwebs glisten in the morning dew and sunshine. It is quintessential Macbridea habitat and an incredibly beautiful flatwoods sloping to a cypress dome.

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing actionable change. Often I feel like research in ecology can feel nebulous, but the cool part of working in applied ecology is that the questions and goals are often species and management specific. My thesis project is centered on the potential delisting of a threatened and endangered species, and it’s incredible to know that my findings can directly contribute to the management of areas where this species persists, and create future conservation of lands to protect it in the future. I also love how collaborative and multi-faceted it is. We are always working with multiple organizations to make the most informed decisions, and every day is different. I love that I spend equal parts in the field as I do in the office.

“Leaving Tates Hell State Forest” during field work pre-pandemic – assisting with my advisors work with rare Pinguicula species (Carnivorous Butterworts).

GEEB Membership Survey

Do you consider yourself a GEEB member (all UIUC students are welcome to join our membership– you don’t have to be an EEB student). We have created a survey to gauge interest in GEEB activities and emailed it to everyone on the listserv. If you are not a member of the listserv, but would like to be, please fill out the form under the “Join Our Listserv!” tab. If you are a new member and have not received the survey, please email Sarah Winnicki at sarahkw2(at)illinois.edu!

A Week in the Life – Nathan Alexander

Nathan is a 3rd year PhD student from NRES, working in the Schooley Lab while collaborating with a cross-country landscape genetics group. His research focuses on landscape genetics, species distribution modeling, and population genetics. Currently he is working on a historic-to-present species distribution model and population genetics of the Illinois plains pocket gopher. Nathan works predominantly with small mammals.

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A Week in the Life – Alida de Flamingh

Alida is a 4th year PhD Candidate from PEEC, working in the Roca Lab and collaborating with the Malhi Lab on ancient DNA projects. Her research focuses on the genetics and genomics of modern and ancient wildlife, including modern and ancient African elephants, 2000 year-old salmon from Alaska, the Tsavo man-eating lions from Kenya, ancient canids, and shipwreck ivory. Alida is especially passionate about wildlife conservation and the human-wildlife interface.  

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A Week in the Life – Halie Rando

Halie is a 6th year graduate student (4th year PhD) from the Illinois Informatics Institute working in the Kukekova Lab in the Department of Animal Sciences. Halie works on red foxes bred for tame and aggressive behavior during the Russian Farm Fox Experiment. Her research focuses on the development of the red fox genome and next-generation sequencing technologies to identify the genomic regions that have been under selection during the first phase of selection, when foxes adapted to living on farms, and then during selective breeding for extreme social behavioral phenotypes.

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