How did you discover Western?
I wanted to teach at a small college or university that emphasizes a broad education in the liberal arts. I can confidently say firsthand that becoming well-rounded intellectually and developing the ability to think and communicate are the best ways to prepare for our rapidly changing work environments. During my job search I discovered this unique liberal arts university in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been (and I’ve seen a lot around the world).
What are some of the highlights of your career?
Before my graduate training I restored trout and salmon habitat and populations as an environmental consultant, worked in biotech on breast cancer, led natural history kayak tours on Monterey Bay, and developed standardized biology exams for several different states.
My doctoral research and second postdoc focused on the visual ecology of cichlids, a colorful and charismatic group of fish that are evolving new species extremely rapidly in the African Great Lakes. In this work I examined how conspicuous or camouflaged cichlids appear to each other in their environment seen through their eyes, which differ in color (spectral) sensitivity from our eyes. To do this I characterized underwater light habitats in Lake Malawi and measured cichlid body and fin colors. Much of my research, which is ongoing, used molecular techniques to discover how spectral sensitivity and spatial resolution vary in the different regions of a cichlid retina that view different colored environmental backgrounds. Using modeling, I developed hypotheses to explain the function of these intraretinal variations in visual abilities.
As a Scientific Teaching Fellow, I am also committed to applying pedagogical research to continually improve student learning.
What most excites you about your field?
I’m fascinated by the idea that the world appears so different depending on the eyes that view it. The diversity of animal visual systems, the views they construct and their corresponding behavior are just amazing! Although most environments contain an immense amount of visual information, each animal has evolved to gather and process the specific information it needs to live its life: to find its way, find a meal, avoid being somebody else’s meal and find a suitable mate. To gain a glance of another’s view of the world, visual ecology brings together diverse disciplines and techniques from physics, genetics, molecular biology, anatomy, physiology, behavior, ecology and evolution. How can you not love that?!
What is your favorite thing about the Gunnison Valley?
Before living here, I would have expected my favorite thing about life in Gunnison to be the beautiful setting and all the outdoor opportunities it offers. My current list of outdoor activities include fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, kayaking, Nordic skiing and snowboarding. And the list is growing as I recently learned to hunt. But as it turns out, that comes in at No. 2.
Gunnison offers something much deeper that I didn’t even know I was missing: a real sense of community. People in Gunnison aren’t just courteous; they sincerely care about each other. My interactions with people in the valley, whether on campus or at a local business, are on a human level, even if they actually are just doing their job. And people in Gunnison will go out of their way to really help you. I wish everywhere could be like it is here.