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In 2004 I started my Northern Arizona University doctorate research in West Africa. One of the components of the work was using ants as indicators of land use, forest type, and as general measures of biodiversity. I was familiar with ant taxonomy after working with ants in Arizona during my master’s program. I’m a self-professed ant geek. The diversity of ants I was collecting in Africa was at least tenfold more than the diversity of ants in Arizona, with more morphospecies and genera than I had seen. While I was collecting the few and generally very old taxonomic works on African ants, I came across the work of Dr. Brian Taylor. He was working on a compilation of ant taxonomy keys for African. I corresponded with him and was able to get beta versions of the key, which are now available on the internet for use in Africa. We kept in touch, and I often sent him specimens of ants or digital photos of ants. In summer 2007, when returning to Arizona from Ghana, I spent ten days working with Dr. Taylor at the Natural History Museum in Oxford improving my ant taxonomy skills. I should mention that he’s a charming chap, as they’d say in England, and we enjoyed several local pubs while talking ants.
Fast-forward to February 2010. I came in to work one morning and found this message in my inbox:
The long time lag for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) consideration of the inevitable recognition of the Web as a true form of publican and on-going developments in ant taxonomy led me to give formal names and a set date to the one new genus and 34 new species that I believe to be sound and have posted on my Ants of Africa website (www.antbase.org). A number of you will find I have given new species your name in appreciation of your efforts in collecting and sending specimens to me to try to identify. If you object in any way to this please let me know. With Best Regards, Brian Taylor
“I looked at the link, and under the list of new species in 2010 there was a Pheidole stephensi. When I clicked on the link, there it was—named in recognition of me! I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so ridiculously flattered. I did the happy entomologist dance in my office. The irony of this story is that the Pheidole genus is one of my least favorites. They’re a great group of ants, but the taxonomy is a complete bear. So, Pheidole stephensi might not be the most impressive ant on the block, with no crazy spines or stylish hairs, but it does have a strong median tooth and ‘Appears to be completely unique in having the frontal carinac excavated so as to expose the base of the scape and the torus, also in having quite distinct antennal scrobes,’ All of that was complete ant geek speak.”
For pictures of the specimen she collected and other information on the ant you can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/24pdcwz
I double majored in Conservation Bio (Environmental Studies) and Chemistry.
Lou Weber was one of my advisors and a great mentor during my time at WWC and afterwards. She continues to be an inspiration to me. Dean Kahl and Vicki Collins were also instrumental in my time at WWC. I worked on the Computing Services team all four years, David Harper was my supervisor for two or three of those years and we are still in
touch periodically. I can't believe his girls are so grown up now. It often doesn't seem like I left WWC almost 10 years ago!
I am the oldest of five children. I grew up on a farm in central Oklahoma and moved to rural Missouri when I was in high school. I had always wanted to go to college and my high school years were pretty disappointing (rural Missouri didn't really think education was that important and opportunities, especially for girls were slim). Living in Missouri was kind of like reverse cultural shock after living outside of a university town in OK. Leaving the family farm wasn't easy but I saw college as a way to see more of the world and find a way to make something for my future.
I choose WWC for a few reasons: 1) small student body, I didn't want to be one in 20,000-40,000 students; 2) work/study program and generous financial aid made it financially possible, I didn't have any monetary support from home so I knew I'd have to make it on my own; 3) I visited WWC in the spring time and it was beautiful, and I didn't
get to visit many of the colleges I had applied (and been accepted too) and I was worried I might not like their locations etc. I did however, visit on spring break so the student demographic when I started in the fall was not quite what I had seen over break!
I lived in Vining (ick) and Dorland (yeah!). My freshman year was a little chaotic. Roommate roulette and making friends and navigating the newest chapter of life. All in all my four years were full of learning and friendship, with a dash of too much fun and a sprinkling of heartbreak. I am still fast friends with many people that I meet during my time at WWC and despite our often drastically different journeys pre and post WWC we always seem to pick up right where we left off.
One of my fondest memories of WWC was completing a homework assignment for Lou Weber at the last possible minute. My friend Erin Fletcher and I were supposed to be mapping a route from the pond to the river from the perspective of a turtle. It got dark before we finished and Erin still has a scar on her forearm.
I participated in theatre at WWC and was in several productions. On all but one occasion I was cast as a male role. I also worked off campus at a horse boarding farm across the river and did lots of house sitting, baby sitting and odd jobs for people in the Asheville, Swannanoa, Black Mountain area.
Most of my service projects were outside projects like trail maintenance, but I also did several projects with youth, elderly and under-privileged people and computers. I meet one of my best friends working on Rattle Snake Ridge on a spring break service trip. I guess Pulaski’s make great conversation pieces. I'm not sure if we would have met if it hadn't been for that trip.
The summer of 2000 Erin Fletcher and I presented a poster at the Conservation Biology Society annual meeting in Missoula MT with some support from WWC. Erin and I spent a LONG time in my truck together. We visited 26 states on that trip and backpacked in some of the most beautiful backcountry ever.
I participated in a Worldwide program in the Bahamas and I went to Romania with Don Collins and another student to photograph the total solar eclipse. We were sponsored by a local group I think it was North Carolina Academy of Science - but I'd have to check.
After I graduated from WWC I moved to Flagstaff, AZ to pursue a masters in forestry at Northern Arizona University. That is when I first started working on ants. That work was domestic in the ponderosa pine forests of AZ. I got very interested in international work during those years as my mentor traveled extensively and after taking Forestry in Developing Countries I was hopelessly set on travel.
One of my graduate lab mates was from Ghana, West Africa and he, my major professor and I wrote a proposal to work on a sustainable tropical timber project in Ghana. When our proposal was funded by the International Tropical Timber Organization my major professor said 'so you want to do your PhD' I heard him say 'so you want to go to Africa' and my bags were packed! In hindsight there were times I thought I should have slept on it.
Living and working in Ghana changed me forever, in ways I will never have the grace of words to describe. I took three groups of students there for study abroad programs while at NAU and I hope to take my first group from Colorado State University this year. Ghana lives under my skin and I hope to keep going and working there. This is something that talking about would likely bring up more. My mind fills with stories and images and memories and I don't know where to start. Good times, bad times, hot days, starry nights... food, language, culture, music.....
Also during my time at NAU I was a coordinator/instructor for a program called International Seminar on Forest Administration and Management (ISFAM). For three years I worked with groups of foresters from around the world. Generally 20 foresters a year from 17-20 countries. I largely facilitated the exchange of information between
foresters from different backgrounds. It was one of the most rewarding efforts of my career to date. Day one - foresters from Israel and Jordan as just glaring at each other. Day four - they are talking about common problems. Day twenty - they are laughing together. Bringing perspectives from so many countries Bhutan, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Greece and dozens of others was unforgettable. I think I have somewhere to stay most anyplace I'd like to go.
After I gained my PhD I stayed on at NAU for almost a year teaching and working on international forestry programs. As the economy started to slide money starting disappearing for international work. I had been applying for jobs all over the world but many, even stateside, where being put on hold during the election and due to the 'economy'. It was a hard time to feel like all the time I put into my education for a
career was going to 'pay off'.
In June of 2009 I interviewed for and was offered a position with the Colorado State Forest Service as the forest entomologist. I am THE forest entomologist for the state of Colorado. While I do have some counterparts in the Federal Forest Service and in the extension community in many ways if it has to do with bugs and trees - I'm your gal. I sometimes tell my mother that perhaps I should have started with a smaller state - like Rhode Island.... or one with fewer trees -like Kansas.
My job is a healthy mix of research, academics and public outreach and education. Any given week I will likely have some programs that are continuing education programs for forestry/arborist professionals; public outreach/education programs on mountain pine beetle or thousand cankers disease; meetings with professional groups like the Colorado
Firewood Taskforce, the Continental Dialogue or the Emerging Pest Issues in Colorado group. I conduct a number of program in conjunction with federal partners like the USFS and aerial survey work (wow is that cool!) and APHIS monitoring and detection trapping for gypsy moth and emerald ash borer. I also write a quarterly insect and disease newsletter. It started as an interagency education piece to bring new research, literature, etc to people I work with on insects and diseases. It now reaches around 2000 readers which is more than I ever dreamed of when I started writing it Nov 2009.
I like what I do. It is diverse and generally satisfying and my association with CSU academically is letting me explore avenues for teaching, research and study abroad.
My WWC friends and I laugh that it seems that people today can't seem to manage one thing at a time - like going to school and working might just kill them. At WWC we all worked, we all studied, we all served. Lots of us worked additional jobs off
campus and frankly I don't think I ever said “no” to much of anything I wanted to do because of my schedule. Sometimes my friends and I wonder what we would have done with ourselves if we had not had so much to do. I think we would have been bored.