About Me

My fascination with ecology started at a young age when my parents would take me hiking, exploring our local green spaces or out frog, snake or turtle hunting. My curiosity of how, where and why organisms live where they do started as the wonderment that children view the world, and continued to grow and mature. As I grew older, Staten Island underwent rapid development, and as I witnessed vast changes in the landscape, it lead me to consider questions such as how would the loss of natural areas affect the biodiversity in the remaining green spaces. I was fortunate to have these experiences, which have now lead me to pursuing a career in ecology.

My first job in the natural sciences was leading nature walks at a local park. Due to my interpretation skills and knowledge of local wildlife, I was asked to lead walks all around Staten Island, NY for Friends of Blue Heron Park, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and other local groups. Within a year, I was offered a job at the Staten Island Museum. November of 2001 marks the start of my professional career in natural history research, education and leadership.

During my early days of working with the natural science department, I often participated in many conversations about local natural history, in particular the birding opportunities and the chatter that sightings of rare or “good” birds brought.  These conversations inspired me to pick up a field guide and binoculars and see if I shared the excitement.  Indeed, I did! Perhaps the biggest achievement of my birding career so far has been calling attention to Staten Island as a regional birding hotspot. I was able to promote Staten Island 's birding opportunities by creating the SINaturaList-listserv (Yahoo group) to focus solely on the birds and natural history sightings taking place on Staten Island.  This e-mail list is now 8 years old and includes over 200 members with RSS feeds and archives publically available on the Internet. 

During my twelve-year career at the Staten Island Museum I was able to expand my knowledge of local biodiversity and develop my leadership qualities. Early in my tenure at the institution, I identified the need for greater public engagement in natural sciences. With the blessing of the administration, I began to bring many citizen sciences projects to Staten Island, such as the creation of a Yahoo Group (the SINaturaList) for discussion of local wildlife sighting and the first monitoring station of the New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network on Staten Island. Other events which I lead included the museum’s annual “NatureFest”, leading Earth Camp, the planning and coordination of the Staten Island Teen Environmental Club, restoration of the Lemon Creek Purple Martin Colony, leading nature walks, creating and producing the “Staten Island Know-It-All Bowl” - an annual group trivia contest about the history and natural history of Staten Island.  

To answer my own questions about local biodiversity, I designed my own citizen science project called the Staten Island Dragonfly Atlas.  The efforts have led to the discovery of over a dozen previous undocumented species in the county and a deepening of understanding of the seasonality and distribution of Staten Island’s dragonflies. Data from the atlas has been shared with NYS Natural Heritage Program, the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity Conservation, iNaturalist and additional conservation organizations. To cap this project, a field guide of Staten Island’s dragonflies and an article about dragonflies in urbanized habitats are in preparation.

While content with my work at the Staten Island Museum, I was ready to take the next step in my career to gain the knowledge and academic degree to enable me to have a greater impact.  During the spring semester of 2009, while still an undergrad I took a graduate level conservation biology class with Dr. Naro-Maciel.  Discussion revealed that both Dr. Naro-Maciel and I were interested in turtles and local conservation issues and we started to develop the initial plans for Freshkills Turtle Project.  After two years of fundraising and coordination with city agencies, we were able to commence field work in the summer of 2012.  With my life-long interest and experience in studying turtles and the ecology of Staten Island, I was already well versed in methodology and techniques for trapping, marking and collecting data from freshwater turtles. Coupled with my extensive knowledge of local natural history and previous work with the Freshkills Team, I was excited to begin a formal investigation at the site and other sites around Staten Island. With the support of Dr. Naro-Maciel, I applied to and was accepted into the Biology Doctoral Program –Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior subprogram – at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). This was the opportunity I was looking for to further my career!

Presentations based on my work at Freshkills has already been presented in various forums.  Notably, I presented a poster at the International Congress of Conservation Biologists in July 2013.  Also in the summer of 2013, NY1 (the local Time-Warner cable television channel) ran a story focusing on my research at Freshkills.  My project will also be featured in an upcoming article in Audubon Magazine. On the local level, I give presentations at NYC public and private schools and participate annually in “Sneak Peak at Freshkills”, a festival to celebrate the transformation of the landfill into a park.

For the last three summers, I have led a field team of between 4 and 12 high school and undergraduate students.  While in the lab, I mentor high school students taking part in the Urban Barcoding Research Project organized by the Cold Spring Harbors Laboratory. Mentoring for this program has involved planning projects, training students in DNA extraction and PCR techniques, data analyses and report and poster writing. In the fall of 2014, I was involved with sample collection and leading laboratory exercises to integrate Authentic Research Experience in Microbiology (AREM) activities into introduction biology classes at the College of Staten Island.

My career plan is to continue high quality research and bring natural science education to underserved populations with the goal of raising ecological awareness in the general public of our country and beyond.

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