Dean’s Corner, December 2022

Sonia Altizer


View from the platform at the University of Georgia’s commencement ceremony Dec. 16 in Stegeman Coliseum, during the keynote address by Chris Womack, president and CEO of Georgia Power.

As the fall semester closes and winter break begins, the Odum School of Ecology has much to celebrate. 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 during fall 2022. Looking back on the past semester, notable projects and initiatives include:

Faculty and staff hosted over 100 participants for the River Basin Center’s Policy Symposium and Celebration in September, featuring talks on equity in water policy, a keynote by emeritus professor Laurie Fowler, a networking session and workshops focused on the environmental law practicum at UGA.

The Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases brought together leading experts in animal pathogens, infection dynamics and the swine industry for a hybrid-format Japanese Encephalitis Virus Symposium in October.

Faculty made outstanding discoveries and landed new grants—to name a few highlights: Pej Rohani and John Drake are co-leading a new Pathogen Genomics center funded by the CDC, and a pandemic forecasting project funded by NSF. Jill Anderson received a million-dollar collaborative NSF grant to study plant evolution and movement in response to climate change. Multiple Odum research teams published high profile papers in top journals such as PNAS, Ecology Letters, and Journal of Animal Ecology.

The Odum School welcomed three new faculty members this fall semester: Sechindra Vallury (assistant professor and director of policy at the River Basin Center); Lewis Bartlett (assistant research scientist focused on honeybee health, jointly appointed with the Department of Entomology); and Charles van Rees (assistant research scientist, also affiliated with UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems).

Ecology hired the unit’s first Odum postdoctoral scholar, Robbie Richards, who is teaching courses in general ecology and ecological methods, and developing research in collaboration with faculty member Alex Strauss.

At the Holiday Gathering on Dec. 7, Alex Strauss (above) was one of six prize drawing winners.
Staff members (left to right) Jenna Jones, Ashley Weed, Lacey Botsford, Allyson Mann and Kathryn Juras enjoy hot chocolate and treats while celebrating the Odum School’s many accomplishments at the Holiday Gathering.

Service-learning courses taught during fall semester engaged undergraduate students in multiple Athens-area community projects aimed at habitat conservation and sustainability.

The Odum School launched its undergraduate Student Ambassador program in October, with an enthusiastic team of seven ecology AB and BS majors.

Ecology School dean poses with seven undergraduate students.
Interim Dean Altizer with the Odum School’s undergraduate student ambassadors: (from left) Paige Robinson, Isaac Wood, Sam Dilley, Margaret Xiao, Ethan Hackmeyer, Caroline Anscombe and Skye Remko.

Ecology welcomed 12 new graduate students in August, and graduated a total of 22 ecology M.S. and Ph.D. students during 2022.

Staff members navigated challenging territory as we worked to fill open staff lines, taking on additional work to cover mission-critical duties this fall.

Ecology recruited four new core staff members during October and November: communications director Allyson Mann, financial director Ashley Weed, development and alumni relations coordinator Melissa Lee, and business operations manager Lacey Botsford.

Lecturer Alli Injaian transitioned into the role of academic coordinator for the Odum School during the fall semester, to support Ecology’s academic programs.

The Odum School’s energetic and dedicated alumni board working group continued to meet throughout the fall months, with a campus visit in mid-September to connect with focus groups of students, faculty and administrators in the school.

Through all of these successes, the Odum School stayed true to our supportive, spirited and collegial culture, having fun while tackling critical ecological and environmental issues.

On Dec. 2, the Odum School continued the unit’s long-standing tradition of hosting the Great Ecology Chili Cookoff. Graduate student T.J. Odom organized the spicy and fragrant event, which brought faculty, staff and students together in the lobby and courtyard to enjoy food and refreshments in the presence of good company! The competition was tight, and this year’s winners include:

Best cornbread (cornbread captain): Katie Schroeder
Nontraditional chili (nonpareil): Anuja Mital
Traditional chili: (chili champion): Abby Bickle
Spicy (spicy savior): Anuja Mital
Vegan (vegan victor): Amanda Rugenski
Best in show (legume leader): Anuja Mital

Chili pots lined up for judging at the Great Ecology Chili Cookoff.
Judging the delicious and sometimes enigmatic chili was a tough task, aided by helpers Owen and Oz.

Looking ahead to spring 2023, exciting events are on the horizon, starting with the 29th annual Ecology Graduate Student Symposium. The 2023 GSS will take place on Jan. 27-28, featuring talks by M.S. and Ph.D. students, an undergraduate poster session, lunch and reception, and keynote lecture by alumnus Jake Allgeier (Ph.D. 2013). The symposium will be preceded by Ecology’s graduate student recruitment event on Jan. 26, when prospective graduate students visit the school to learn more about our research and mentoring. This year, GSS again coincides with the annual John K. Spencer Memorial 5K Run & Walk, which will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 8 a.m. at the Horseshoe Bend Ecological Research site on College Station Road. Thanks to GSS directors Supraja Rajapol and Eric Walther, and the entire GSS organizing committee, for planning this year’s event.

Other events on the spring 2023 line-up include the Georgia Water Resources Conference, hosted by the River Basin Center on March 30-31, and co-sponsored by the Odum School of Ecology. On April 4, the annual Odum Lecture will be delivered by distinguished ecologist Ivette Perfecto (University of Michigan), who studies biodiversity, food production and human livelihoods under a globalized economy.

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.