My conviction to become a scientist and educator has been nurtured by several pivotal life experiences. I have always been captivated by the inner-workings of nature. Walks with my father through Minnesota forests introduced me to the names of different trees, including Tilia Americana, Acer saccharum and Quercus rubra, as well as challenged my young mind to consider how individual organisms function together to form an ecosystem.
In high school, I was lucky to spend summers at a camp outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. This set of experiences served to center my interest in ecology. In addition to the breath-taking landscape, the mountains brought into focus the dramatic impact humans can have on the vast environment around us.
As an environmental science major at the University of Michigan, I was formally introduced to aspects of ecology, learning to characterize the factors that structured the plant communities I loved so much as a child. My soil ecology class set me on my current career path, introducing me to the tremendous control that soil microbial communities have on terrestrial ecosystems. Furthering my interest in scientific inquiry, I completed an undergraduate honors thesis investigating the role that elevated carbon dioxide and atmospheric ozone have on microbial activity. This experience enhanced my knowledge of the potential impacts humans have on microbial communities and ecosystem cycling. I was hooked.
Following graduation, I joined Teach for America and spent two wonderful years teaching high school environmental science. I had the opportunity to build an Environmental Science curriculum from scratch, while helping my students cultivate an appreciation for the unique landscape of Louisiana. One of teaching highlights was traveling to an elementary school with my high schoolers for “Wetland Day.” In the blink of an eye, my students transformed themselves into teachers, educating third graders on the many goods and ecosystem services that wetlands have to offer.
In 2010, I returned to the University of Michigan to explore the ecological factors that structure the composition and function of the soil microbial community. Advised by Dr. Don Zak, I had the opportunity to blend my interest in ecology with fungal biology and computational bioinformatics. Also during my doctoral tenure, I had the joy to return to the mountains, this time to the Tetons, to teach Rocky Mountain ecology to University of Michigan undergraduates.
After receiving my Ph.D. in 2015, I moved to the University of Minnesota to work with Dr. Peter Kennedy in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Here, I have had the opportunity to delve deeper into the study of fungal ecology and mycorrhizal symbioses.
An activity with University of Michigan undergraduate students in the course Ecosystem Science in Rockies. This course was taught at Camp Davis, a field camp located just miles south of the breathtaking Tetons (pictured here).