Where are you from, and what do you do (the quintessential DC introduction)?
I was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina (Go GAMECOCKS!). I went to the University of Georgia in Athens, GA for graduate school. I work as a fish and wildlife biologist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Branch of Aquatic Invasive Species. I mainly work on addressing invasive species threats through injurious species policy under the Lacey Act. I am working on listing regulations for 11 high-risk aquatic species that are not currently in the United States, but have a history of invasiveness and climate match to the United States. I also participate in briefings with senior leadership, assist with the development of outreach plans, represent the Branch on the DOI One Health Working Group, and am part of a team that is developing a model for assessing invasive species threats.
What were you doing before the fellowship?
I graduated in December 2012 with my Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of Georgia. For my dissertation, I compared the gut microbiome of 12 finfish and 3 shark species. I also assessed the effects of diet and water temperature on gut bacteria composition and whether the fish gut is a reservoir of potential pathogens to the environment.
What inspired you to get into your field?
For Kindergarten Career Day, I told my mother I was going to be a marine biologist. I wore a “scuba suit” created out of a bathing suit, tights, bright red jelly shoes, goggles, and an air tank made of a liter soda bottle and plastic piping. I even carried a field notebook complete with pictures, names, and weights of animals. And that interest in science and the environment has never wavered.
What do you wish you had known before the fellowship?
That’s a good question. I definitely wish I had better networking skills for events and receptions, especially those during Placement Week. I have been challenging myself to improve my networking skills and I think I am getting better.
What was your best free reception crashing experience?
Can I have two? I definitely enjoyed the AZA reception on the hill. I used to work at a zoo and loved seeing all the animals (penguins, echidnas, kookaburras!).
I also really enjoyed the Bat Conservation and Public Health event hosted by EcoHealth Alliance at the Cosmos Club. I am very interested in the One Health concept (connection between animal, environmental, and human health) and the event featured great talks on bat health, Ebola, Nipah Virus, White Nose syndrome, and pathogen spillover. The best image of the night – google “bats in a blanket.”
What is your favorite DC hangout?
United States Botanic Garden (make sure to go during the Holidays) and the Courtyard at the Smithsonian Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery
What is your favorite DC restaurant?
I don’t have a favorite yet. I like to try new places and have been to a lot of great places in DC and Arlington.
What has your favorite experience been so far this year?
I recently completed a 30-Day Detail with USFWS Region 4 (Southeast) assisting with environmental DNA (eDNA) field and lab work and aquatic invasive species field sampling and monitoring. It was an amazing experience that took me from Tampa to Gainesville, FL, to Atlanta, to Savannah, and several places in between.
I assisted USFWS and USGS geneticists with the collection and processing of water samples for environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis for invasive species monitoring, worked with the regional aquatic invasive species coordinator on a regional Asian Carp Management Plan, and assisted with quarterly invasive species sampling and fish inventory and monitoring at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. I met a lot of dedicated, knowledgeable scientists and managers and also assisted with the field and lab science that helps inform management and policy decisions.
Where do you see yourself going after the fellowship?
I would like to stay in DC and continue to work with invasive species policy and management. I am also very interested in One Health and the effects of invasive species as carriers of pathogens on wildlife health.
If you could be any ocean creature, what would it be and why?
A manta ray. If I had a super power, it would be the ability to fly. And manta rays fly through the water.