Dean’s Corner, December 2021

Sonia Altizer,
Seating area in the dean's office with comfortable chairs, plants, framed pictures, a butterfly throw pillow, and the view out the window.

At the start of this much-needed winter break, the Odum School of Ecology has much to celebrate. We resumed many traditions in Ecology, and returned our classrooms and research labs back to full operations, despite launching into the fall term under the shadow of Covid-19. Our faculty and students continued to shine—receiving grants, awards, and publishing their scholarly work. Ecology staff worked hard, often behind the scenes, to keep our business operations, facilities, academics, outreach and communications running smoothly. We can all take great pride in our achievements this year—I for one am amazed by the innovation, collaboration and resilience I witnessed in the Odum School of Ecology during 2021.

A few highlights from the fall term include:

Students in the Costa Rica fall semester program gather beneath a tree in the forest. Photo: Amanda Rugenski.
  • Ecology launched two faculty searches, for a Policy Director of the River Basin Center, and a Quantitative Disease Ecologist for the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases.
  • We welcomed 17 new Ecology graduate students in August 2021, and had 15 graduate students defend their theses or dissertations this past year.
  • We ran a successful fall semester study abroad in Costa Rica with three faculty, a graduate student teaching assistant, and eleven undergraduates.
  • Our undergraduate classes were in full swing this fall semester. Students and faculty were developing exciting ideas and learning new skills in the classroom and lab.
  • Students, faculty and staff welcomed the return of Waffle Wednesdays, Friday Morning Coffee Hour, First Fridays and our Annual Chili Cookoff, which brought us together in the courtyard to enjoy food and refreshments in the presence of good company!
  • The Ecology Building received some much-needed updates, including a new pergola, graduate student offices and study area, gallery space for Martha Odum’s watercolors in the reading room and an updated look for the lobby areas.
  • Our emeritus faculty gathered for a picnic lunch at Horseshoe Bend, to learn about new projects underway at the site and share their insights from past work.
  • We celebrated 11 of our graduating seniors, PhD, and MS students together with the Odum community and students’ families at Ecology’s Fall 2021 Convocation Celebration last week.
  • Throughout the fall term, the Ecology community showed great respect for each other’s safety by diligent use of face coverings and best public health practices.
Giving Tuesday graphic featuring line drawings of a butterfly, oak leaf, ginkgo leaf, flower, fountain, pine cone, and bird .

Ecology’s Giving Tuesday campaign on November 30 was a success! Our fall fundraising drive raised $14,000 for our undergraduates and graduate students, to support research, travel, study away, internships and experiential learning over the next two years. Odum School faculty and staff kicked things off by contributing nearly $7,000 during October and the early part of November, as a challenge to our friends and alumni. We welcomed many first-time donors to Ecology, and are grateful to everyone who contributed towards this initiative. We can’t wait to share future news on the programs and amazing students supported by Ecology’s generous donors.

Screenshot from Kyle McKay's seminar showing a slide titled "Application: Informing decisions on tight timelines" and with Dr. McKay in the upper right corner.

The Fall 2021 Ecology Seminar Series was filled with a mix of virtual and in-person talks that spanned pollinator conservation to stream ecosystem ecology to modelling approaches for environmental restoration. Speakers included Katja Poveda of Cornell University, Tiara Moore of the Nature Conservancy, Jenny Zambrano from Washington State, Pablo Gutiérrez-Fonseca, visiting professor, University of Costa Rica, and Ecology PhD alumnus Kyle McKay with the US Army U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center Environmental Laboratory. In-person seminars, including a talk on North American butterfly population dynamics (presented by Bill Snyder of UGA Entomology), were attended by a socially-distanced and masked audience in the Ecology Auditorium. We were pleased to make all of our seminars (both virtual and in-person) available by Zoom for Ecology alumni and friends to view remotely. Ecology’s spring seminars will follow a similar mix of in-person and virtual talks, with a schedule for spring 2022 available on our seminar webpage. Ecology seminars will take place at 4pm on Tuesdays throughout the spring 2022 semester.

I’m thankful for a lot this year, but the people I have had the pleasure of working with are a particular light. Their talent and perseverance are inspiring. I can’t possibly express enough gratitude for everyone’s efforts to make this year a success. I want to particularly thank Ecology’s administrative team for pulling a heavy load this year.

Dean Sonia Altizer with associate deans John Drake and Jeb Byers masked and wearing academic regalia at the Odum School's fall convocation.

At the end of December, our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, John Drake, will step down after serving for 4.5 years in this position. We are grateful for John’s leadership, experience and vision in shaping academic programs, chairing faculty meetings, and representing our unit to the senior leadership. In July, we welcomed Jeb Byers into the role of Associate Dean for Research and Operations to oversee facilities, research needs and awards. And starting January 1, 2022, we are excited to welcome Pej Rohani to the role of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

I hope all of you enjoy a well-deserved break over the holidays, and spend time engaging in activities that rejuvenate you. Please accept my very best wishes for a safe and peaceful holiday season, and a bright new year.

Ecology faculty in regalia tossing their caps in the air at the end of fall convocation.
December 2022: Ecology faculty finally exhaling after a long fall semester!