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Jessica Young

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs


Ph.D., Purdue University, Population Biology and Behavioral Ecology
B.A., University of California San Diego, Ecology, Behavior and Evolution



Jessica Young, Ph.D. is a leader in science and an agent of change with a passion for educating. She has served Western as both a faculty member and in senior administrative roles since 1996 and was appointed by President Baca to the position of Provost beginning January 1, 2023.  The provost serves as the second-highest administrative position at Western, focused on internal operations, inclusive excellence, and academics. As provost, Young seeks to enable and support faculty and staff to deliver academic programs that meet all student’s needs, including those from marginalized groups whose inclusion in higher education enriches the institution and society.

Young first came to value Western in 1988 as a Purdue University graduate student studying Gunnison Sage Grouse which she ultimately helped identify as a new species with the help of Western undergraduates.  She holds a doctorate degree from Purdue University and her scientific work focuses on conservation genetics, behavioral ecology, endangered species recovery, and collaborative conservation.

During the past 25 years at Western, she has taught biology and environmental studies and served as the associate vice president for academic affairs and the interim vice president of academic affairs.  In all of these roles she brought her strong commitment to the liberal arts and aided in the return and establishment of graduate programs. Most recently, she helped launch the master’s in environmental management graduate program at Western where she has taught and mentored students since 2014. Her students help enable community and environmental transitions within ecosystems and organizations across the country and throughout the world.

Young has mentored faculty leaders and co-chaired session of the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ Project Kaleidoscope leadership institute following her initial participation in 1999. This Institute is designed to support and enable those engaged in leading initiatives and interventions aimed at transforming undergraduate STEM education in their classrooms, departments, and institutions based on evidence-based best practices. The institute participants learn about their own leadership styles and how to engage in systems and structures which influences power and privilege within higher education, equipping participants with the tools and skills needed to reform undergraduate education.

Dr. Young will bring these life experiences of professional and program development, community engagement, collaboration, and leadership to her position of provost at Western.

Young and her spouse, Sally Thode, raised a young man in the community and have lived in the Gunnison Valley for more than 30 years with occasional multi-year and months-long international travel interspersed.  They love the natural world and renew within it by hiking, camping and fishing.  They enjoy blockbuster science fiction and superhero movies and all things Harry Potter.

Q&A With Professor Young

How did you discover Western?

I was a graduate student from Purdue University conducting field research on sage grouse when I noticed the campus and introduced myself to the biology faculty and students. Those students became my field assistants for the next five years, making great contributions to our understanding of the ecology and behavior of the Gunnison Sage-grouse.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

While there have been many career highlights, including working with a team of Western students and scientists leading to the species designation of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, helping establish the ENVS major and MEM/MS graduate programs, working at a national level on STEM leadership and reform, and serving the campus as a senior academic administrator, the most significant highlights have been the success of students who have touched my life through classes, research and projects. It is the students that inspired me to teach and mentor in the Master in Environmental Management and Master’s in Ecology programs, and it is serving all students which has led me to take on senior administrative roles.

What most excites you about your field?

My field is applied ecology and sustainability where my students do projects that aid communities to create coexistence with wildlife and increase resilience and sustainability. I cannot imagine a more important endeavor given the challenges of climate change, population growth and land conversion. Being part of solutions and projects that students do around the world excites and challenges me as a lifelong learner. As a faculty member, I have had students working in the fields of human wildlife conflict in Kenya, California, Durango and Gunnison while others work in environmental communication, air quality, sustainable business and women empowerment in locations around the country and international locations such as Paraguay, Ethiopia and the Philippines. These solution-prone students bring forward a future more just, sustainable, and ecologically rich for all.

What is your favorite thing about the Gunnison Valley?

Gunnison is both an intellectual capital, a natural resource mecca and a warm, caring community. I love being intellectually and physically challenged by a place that has a supportive nurturing community of interesting people. I also love that in less than 30 minutes from my home, I can feel solitude and wilderness surround me and ground me as a person.

Graduate Students Advised

2014-2016 Cohort

Cassidy Brush: The Collaboration Connection; A project connecting conservation communities in Costa Rica to Colorado. Community Sponsor: Debra Hamilton, Director of the Monteverde Institute, Costa Rica.

Tyler Grimes: The Nduru Sustainable Development: A partnership between Eco2librium and New Creations Self-Help Group, Kenya. Community Sponsor: Dr. Mark Lung, President Eco2librium

Dominique Naccarato: T4U: Transit Collective for the Upper Arkansas, Colorado. Community Sponsors: Wendell Pryor, Director of Economic Development, Chaffee County and County Commissioner Bob Christiansen

Ryan Wilbur Assessing Potential Bias in Black Bear Conflict Reporting; Community Sponsor: Stacy Lischka, Human Dimensions Researcher Colorado Parks and Wildlife

2015-2017 Cohort

Joe Acampora: Connecting the San Francisco Bay Area with its Wild Pumas : Courtney Coon, Wildlife Biologist, Felidae Conservation Fund. Please see his project video @ https://vimeo.com/213422358

Nell Jordan: Environmental Communications and Storytelling, Community Sponsor: Michelle Auerback. Please see her videos @ https://vimeo.com/user60398182

2016-2018 Cohort

Taylor Asao: Sustainable fisheries and marketing for social causes: Community Partner Loki and Local I’a. Sponsor Petra MacGowan.

Hedda Peterson: An analysis of the barriers and opportunities for impacting Southwestern Land Trust’s ability to implement climate-inclusive conservation. Community partner, Land Trust Alliance

Lance Kittel: Montevida Sustainability Center: using green building in environmental planning. Community partner, Cold Harbour.

Alison Yeates: Ranier Valley Nature Alliance: Urban Community Renewal and Engagement with an asset-based approach. Community Sponsor, Forterra.

Julie Russell: Peace Corps Master’s International student working in sustainable community development in Paraguay. Julie will be completing her MEM program abroad while serving in the Peace Corps.

2017-2019 Cohort

Aurora Flynn: Climate Resiliency: Enabling Transformation of the Human Social Infrastructure. Community Sponsor: Western’s Sustainability Action Committee.

Stephanie Lein: Particulate Matter Monitoring in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Community Sponsor Organization: JAJA, Inc. (Junte Ambiental Juvenil Arrecibo)

Ellen Ross: Solarize Gunnison County: A community solar group-purchase program. Community Sponsor: Solar Energy International.

Rachel Weakland: Building Bridges and empowering global leaders. Community Sponsor. BuildOn, Global Leaders, and Iracambi Rainforest Conservation.

Clarinda Wilson: Remote Identification Methods for Habitat of the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) in the Gunnison National Forest. Community Sponsor: US Forest Service, GMUG.

2018 – 2020 Cohort

Melissa Butynski: Corridors for Coexistence: Landscape Genetics as a Tool for Conservation in the Ewaso Ecosystem, Kenya. Community Sponsor associated with Yale Ph.D. Program.

Kelsie Dougherty: Large Landscape Conservation Initiative: Restoring Cross Boundary Wildlife Corridors Through Habitat Improvement and Community Engagement. Community Sponsor Organization: Northern Rockies Regional Office, National Parks Conservation Association.

Timon Keller: Global Forest Conservation & Restoration. Community Sponsor Organizations: Adventure Unlimited Ranches and and Iracambi, Atlantic Rainforest, Brazil

Will Tucker: Project Pickup. Community Sponsor Organization: Downtown Wichita Falls Development.

Pete Wampler: The Masai Regenerative Building Project. Community Sponsor: Regenerative Systems.

2019 – 2021 Cohort

Tim Albares (MEM) – Environmental education and environmental literacy in Nepal.

Chloe Beaupre (MEM) – Summer Recreational Trail Influence on Ungulates in the Gunnison Basin. Community Partner: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Courtney King (MS) – Snowcats and Snow-Adapted Cats: Examining Canada Lynx Prey Abundance and Habitat in Relation to Winter Recreation within the Gunnison National Forest. Community Partners: United States Forest Service and Vail Resorts.

Cassandra Mendoza (MS) – Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts: Researching Factors Influencing Past Conflicts and Creating a Gunnison City Conflict Management Plan. Community Sponsor Organization: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Gillian Steininger (MEM) – Sister Cities: Connecting climate change action in Panama, Colorado and India. Community Sponsor: Mountain Resilience Corps

2020 – 2022 Cohort

Chloe Beaupré (MS) Animal Sample Size Guidelines for Mapping Migration and Range Extent with GPS Collars.

Kathia Gonzalez (MEM) Developing Sustainable Financial and Social Capital for the Frontera Land Alliance.

Eileen McCafferty (MEM) Using Deliberative Dialogue to Promote Coexistence.

Erin Mercado (MEM) Dirt and Flower: An Exploration of Menstrual Health Management in Rural Ethiopia.

Heather Reineking (MEM) Scientific Communication: The Tails of the American Beaver and Gunnison Sage Grouse.

Heather Reynolds (MS) Gunnison Sage Grouse use of wet meadow restoration sites.

Anjanette Wilson (MEM) Growing Communities, Saving Seeds: Nonprofit Operations and Storytelling of Seed Sovereignty Movements in the Philippines.

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