Alumni Profiles - Meet Adam Mitchell
Hometown: Newark, DE
Year of Graduation: 2011
Majors: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Entomology, Plant Protection, Wildlife Conservation
Undergraduate Campus Involvement:
Ag Ambassadors, Galadrim, Pagan Student Union, PISCES, The Wildlife Society (UD Student Chapter)
Current Position of Employment or Education:
Graduate Student in Fish and Wildlife Sciences (M.S.) in the Department of Ecology at Montana State University, Welder Wildlife Fellow
Describe your best Ag experience:
One of my favorite memories as an Aggie, strangely, occurred halfway across the world from campus. I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad to Ecuador and the Galapagos in the winter of 2009 as part of a mock expedition, following the trials and experiences of naturalists (Edwards, Humboldt, Wallace, and of course Darwin) and learning to catalog the diversity of flora and fauna we encountered. It was through our travels throughout the archipelago that I renewed my love for naturalism and to study the natural world, which has remained a large influence on my life since.
An experience that was closer to home at the UD campus would have to be the days spent collecting and sampling the diversity of fauna in the woodlot. Whether that was collecting point-count data and mist-netting songbirds that wandered by during Ornithology, the excitement of tagging a gray squirrel from the Wildlife Techniques course, or wandering about with our close cadre of Entomology classmates to complete our collections for Field Tax, it was all a memorable experience that I will always associate with the eastern deciduous forests on a sunny afternoon (and laugh at the days we were soaked from Delaware's unpredictable weather).
Which Ag course was your favorite and why?
I always enjoyed classes where I got to go outside and apply what I learned in the classroom, so as far as the ENWC classes went, that pretty much applied to all of them. Even our first introductory course (Intro to Wildlife Ecology, ENWC201) had us wander out into the local parks near south campus just to “get our feet wet” in our future profession. I had the chance to spend mornings bird-watching in Ornithology (ENWC418, which is how I like to spend my mornings), and by night wander around in vernal pools to catch bullfrogs for Herpetology (ENWC424). I was also an avid collector of insects for my Field Taxonomy (ENWC408) course, for which my classmates may remember my pockets filled with vials whenever we were out and about or in the field.
Honestly, my favorite class has always been the great outdoors, and I’m still learning more about it every day. But it is because of the professors and their enthusiasm, as well as the friendships I made with my fellow “wildlifers” and “bug guys”, that made me look on these courses with the same sense of wonder, awe, and content as I do here in the Greater Yellowstone area.
Tell us about your current position or program of study and what led you to that field.
My current position is studying as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Department of Ecology at Montana State University, and as a Welder Wildlife Fellow for the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation in Sinton, Texas. My research is in the coastal prairies, where I work on habitat restoration techniques to control invasive plant species in these grasslands, while trying to return the native plant and arthropod communities to healthy conditions. I had always had interest in invasive ecology, habitat management, and conserving our native species. I had taken courses in pest management, biological control, and habitat management, and I worked for many years as an undergraduate on invasive insects, such as the brown marmorated stink bug at the Beneficial Insects Lab (BIIRL) down the road from CANR. The continued support of the technicians at BIIRL, as well as the support from my professors, led me to pursue higher education and to never to give up. When I was accepted into MSU, I remember getting a high-five from one my wildlife professors, who was as excited as I was about the opportunity.
How did your College of Ag experiences prepare you for your current job or post-graduate education?
One of the benefits of CANR was the variety of courses that were available to its students that can broaden horizons. I had forgotten my passion for entomology as a child, until I took the introduction course (ENWC205) and the professor recommending me to the Beneficial Insects Lab as a field tech for my freshman year. That experience, probably stronger than all of them, propelled me to where I am now in terms of my career, as not a day has gone by when entomology isn't relevant to my life.
This is not to say that my other majors are not relevant either, and without the opportunity CANR gave me, I wouldn't have any of them to use in my work. I assess wildlife-habitat relationships, collect arthropods through innovative means, identify plant life in the field, and get to bird-watch in unique landscapes across America (Rio Grande Valley by Summer, Yellowstone by Fall to Spring). I never thought I would have the opportunity to use my soil science courses to analyze the soil profiles out here, and I don't regret taking those courses as a result. It goes to show you that there is a lot that you can offer to your job if you know how to apply it.
What advice do you have for students interested in your field?
One of my favorite explorers was Alfred Wallace Here was a man with no formal education for science but a passion for wildlife, and took a leap of faith one day to explore the world, and went to Amazonia. He returned to his home four years later in England after all his research (ironically) caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic. What resulted was a determination to continue on, and his future expeditions set fire to the scientific world as we know today, influencing Darwin's theory of evolution and becoming the father of biogeography.
The world is a frightening place, and we often worry about where our place will be in it, especially with a fragile economy. That is why we need to believe in what we are passionate about and take that leap of faith when an opportunity is presented. And if those opportunities catch fire, don't be dismayed; you never stop learning, and as long as you keep your passions and experiences to heart, you won't go down with the ship.