As students pack and prepare for, and ponder the exciting adventures that lie ahead in, the 2012 Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates Program (SEE-U), Natalia Rossi, the Teaching Assistant for the Jordan field site, shares her enthusiasm for research, education, and conservation.
Can you please describe your professional background? What are you studying at Columbia University?
As Program Fellow at the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society and PhD student at Columbia University, I have coordinated crocodile research activities in Cuba since 2009. My research focuses on the genetic and ecological aspects relevant to crocodile conservation in the Caribbean. After obtaining my B.S. in Ecology at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, I worked for five years as a field manager on a bi-national sea turtle research and conservation project in Baja California Sur, Mexico. In 2007 I obtained a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue a Master degree in Conservation Biology at Columbia University, where I continued research on the impacts of bycatch in the critically endangered North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle population. Afterwards, I worked as Program Officer of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, where I helped advance conservation activities in the Latin American region and developed a great interest for crocodilians. With more than ten years on experience in ecological research focused on reptiles, my work aims to contribute with key information for the conservation of Cuban and American crocodiles, and the mangrove ecosystems they inhabit.
What is your role with the Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U)? I was the Teaching Assistant for SEE-U Dominican Republic in 2011, and will join the upcoming SEE-U Jordan program this year. As one of the most fulfilling teaching experiences I have ever had, my main activities have consisted in providing teaching and general support to SEE-U instructor Jenna Laurence. Among my tasks, I helped students develop their projects, taught classes on Sea Turtles and Crocodiles, and helped in water-based and terrestrial fieldwork activities.
What aspect of SEE-U are you most excited about?
I strongly believe that SEE-U offers one of the best learning platforms for introducing students not only to the theory, but to main practical aspects of ecological research. I am very excited about helping students develop their individual projects, share fieldwork and experience with the group another year of great work in a multi-cultural, ecologically diverse, environment.
What topic are you currently researching? What are your broader research interests goals?
My dissertation research focuses on the genetic and ecological aspects relevant to crocodile conservation in the Caribbean, particularly in Cuba. The species I work with, the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), is primarily a coastal crocodilian widely distributed along the coastal swamps, estuarine rivers, lakes and reservoirs of the Neotropical Region of the Americas. The species plays a critical ecologic role as top predator and “landscape engineer” of those wetland ecosystems. Thus, my research aims to help conserve and manage American crocodiles and the key remaining Caribbean mangrove ecosystems they inhabit, in close collaboration with local researchers and communities. All the conservation work I have done so far has shared the broader goal of connecting people with species that play an important ecologic and cultural role in the ecosystems they share. My passion has been helping deepen these connections through research and education.
Space and special fellowship funding is still available for SEE-U in the Dominican Republic. The application deadline is May 25, 2012. For more information, please visit our website or contact Desmond Beirne at 212-854-0149. We look forward to hearing from you.