Concordia Researchers Presented at National Wildlife Society Conference

Students learn valuable lessons on presenting projects.

Concordia had several students and two faculty members participate in The Wildlife Society (TWS) Virtual Annual Conference in November.

Founded in 1937, TWS’ mission is to inspire, empower, and enable wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation.

Concordia had four presentations at the event:

·      Kelly Lorenz ’23 – “Differentiation of White-Footed Mice from Deer Mice Using Salivary Amylase and Cellulose Acetate Electrophoresis”

·      Faith James ’21 – “Using Small Mammal Population Analysis to Examine Efficacy of Prairie Restoration”

·      Olivia Vergin ’21 – “Squirrels Going Nuts: Exploring the Interplay Between Squirrel Foraging Dynamics and Plastic Pollution”

·      Dr. Jennifer Sweatman (assistant professor of biology) – “Prevalence of Microplastics in North American Waterfowl”

The following co-authors also participated: Lauryn Petrich ’21, Vanessa Petrich ’21, Peyton Lehman ’21, Zachery Buchholtz ’21, and Dr. Joseph Whittaker, associate professor of biology and co-director of environmental and sustainability studies.

Lorenz, who just received a scholarship for her research (see story), said the online presenting went a lot smoother than she expected.

“It was a great experience and there were a lot of great projects and speakers that I learned from,” she said. “I enjoyed the experience and I’m excited for what the future holds. I would love to attend a convention in person in the future.”

Whittaker said the conference involves academic institutions but also state and federal wildlife management entities working together to share research and discuss, evaluate, and determine policy.

“It is a great venue for students to participate alongside people who are influencing national and international policies regarding wildlife management and conservation,” Whittaker said. “This is a terrific opportunity for students to observe and participate with working groups and to observe and potentially influence policy.”

“One of the best parts of the conference for me was when Kelly and I attended a discussion session with all the speakers from her topic section on Zoom,” Whittaker added. “Students were able to talk comfortably and freely with their peers and a few of us faculty about their projects, triumphs, and challenges. These kinds of networking opportunities are often lacking in remote meetings and are really crucial for making connections within the field.”

James said her favorite part of the TWS conference was hearing two of the plenary speakers, Dan Riskin and Carolyn Finney. Riskin is a biologist, journalist, and TV host. Finney is an author and cultural geographer.

“Finney and Riskin spoke about incorporating diversity into STEM,” James said. “Even though scientists highlight the benefits of natural biodiversity, there is an emphasis on removing the researcher themself from science (prohibiting first-person tone, using passive voice, etc.) and that really causes science to suffer.”

Although she’d prefer in-person conferences and networking, James was grateful to be able to present at the conference virtually considering health and safety concerns. One of the downsides was technical difficulties, but she also noted that there are ways that virtual formats allow for inclusion so a blended virtual-in-person format would be her preference in the future. A virtual conference is also more accessible, cheaper, safer, and allows for the opportunity to engage with a much broader audience.

James believes that in-person conferences are still important and being able to discuss things in person is a plus.

“Traveling to conferences with your cohort and hanging out with other students/professionals is super fun for social bonding,” James said, “and I can get a better understanding of other people when talking in person.”

“It is also a great place to network and potentially connect with future graduate school advisors or employers,” Whittaker added. “Students have the opportunity to observe what organizations are participating in discussions of policy and how policy decisions are being made. This offers a window into the professional world of wildlife and is a preview of potential career opportunities.”