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Alumni and Friends

Message from the chair

Patricia Wittkopp

Dear Friends,

Season’s greetings from Ann Arbor! This is the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology’s 18th edition of Natural Selections, and my first as its new department chair. Taking on this role during a pandemic and amid great social unrest has brought many challenges, but it has also created opportunities (ok, demands) to reimagine “business as usual.” Faculty, students and staff alike have been remarkably creative and resilient meeting one unexpected challenge after another, and it has been a great time to reflect on how research in EEB informs our understanding of pandemics and disease ecology more broadly, as highlighted in our cover story and profile of graduate student Giorgia Auteri on page 4. 

I am grateful to my predecessor, Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, for his outstanding leadership of EEB these last six years, including through the tumultuous early months of the pandemic when classes were shifted online and research labs were shut down with little notice. But, change was actually a constant during his term as chair, as our two museum units moved into the renovated Research Museums Center, the entire department relocated into the new Biological Sciences Building, and we saw a greater than 50 percent turnover of EEB tenure-track faculty that also made us a much more diverse group. 

As part of this faculty turnover, we are excited to welcome four new faculty to EEB in the last year. Dr. André Green, who we’ve had the pleasure to work with as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow since January 2018, was hired as an assistant professor in January 2020. You can learn more about Professor Green and his work on butterfly migration on page 3. Drs. Aimée Classen and Nathan Sanders joined us this fall as professors, with Professor Classen also serving as director of the U-M Biological Station and Professor Sanders serving as director of the E.S. George Reserve. Profiles more fully introducing them will be in the next issue of Natural Selections. Finally, Dr. Carly Nowicki joined us as a new lecturer and has been busy redesigning and teaching our foundational Introductory Biology lab course. On the other side of these faculty transitions are the retirements of Professors Knute Nadelhoffer and Mark Hunter. 

Professor Nadelhoffer was director of the U-M Biological Station from 2003 to 2020. He transformed the station’s research, education and outreach, expanding the diversity of courses offered and the diversity of students who participate in those courses. His interactions with the indigenous peoples of the Little Traverse Bay area have helped to build and solidify relationships between UMBS and local Native American communities. Professor Nadelhoffer is a Fellow of AAAS and the Ecological Society of America (ESA), recognizing his seminal work in ecosystem ecology. 

Professor Hunter’s many contributions to the U-M and the field of ecology have been recognized with a Distinguished University Professorship – a top U-M honor. He is a world expert in plant-animal interactions, ecosystem ecology, and population dynamics, as recognized by his election as an ESA Fellow and 30+ years of continuous NSF funding. He is a passionate and effective teacher as well as an outstanding mentor – impacting not only his own students, but also many others in the department – particularly as the founding Frontiers Program director. Watch for more on these two notable retirees in website news. 

The EEB alum profile on page 6 features Dr. Ash Zemenick, director and co-creator of Project Biodiversify, which seeks to help educators update teaching materials to feature more diverse scientists, enhancing the inclusivity of biology. Increasing inclusivity is also a goal within EEB, and our own diversity committee is working on a project called Coloring Science in coordination with Ash. As part of this project, EEB graduate students Nia Johnson and Nikesh Dahal have developed PowerPoint slides highlighting research by scientists of color that can easily be incorporated into a variety of biology classes. 

Looking ahead to next semester, nearly all classes will still be taught remotely, and we are planning for our Early Career Scientists Symposium (Natural History Collections: Drivers of Innovation) to be virtual as well. But, with the first doses of what appears to be a very effective vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 administered on campus last week, and thousands more expected to be administered over the upcoming weeks and months, I cautiously anticipate that in-person interactions will slowly begin to return to normal this spring, and am optimistic that fall 2021 will look much more like a conventional academic semester. In the meantime, I send my best wishes to each of you for a happy and healthy holiday season and new year. 

 

Patricia Wittkopp
Professor & Chair

Read the Fall/Winter 2020 Natural Selections online