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Highlighting Diversity though Graduate Education and Research

We attract and recruit diverse students and train the current and future conservation workforce. Students receive education at a major university and they work with potential employers. We are committed to diversity at all levels of our organization. Below we highlight our Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Cohort (pre-2022).

Ambar Torres Molinari and Clayton Lynch, North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at North Carolina State University 

Ambar Torres Molinari with her Master’s thesis subject species, the American Eel
Ambar Torres Molinari is a current Master of Science graduate student at the USGS North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, advised by the late Tom J. Kwak, Professor, NC State.  Ambar is researching American Eel biology and ecology in Puerto Rico rivers.

Ambar Torres Molinari is an M.S. student at the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Ambar is Puerto Rican, English is her second language, and coming to graduate school at the North Carolina Unit was her first resi­dential venture away from her island home. She is researching American eel biology and ecology in Puerto Rico rivers for her thesis. Her study includes dissecting eels to identify sex, parasites, and other anomalies.

Ambar produced an instructional video with the help of research technician Clayton Lynch, who joined her for field sampling in Puerto Rico. Clayton is Native American, a mem­ber of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe in North Carolina. The video is targeted at middle- and high-school students, as a substitute for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic, for a popular North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences environmental educational program. Ambar and Clayton bring cultural diversity, novel ideas, and talent to the CRU program. The benefits to the program, students, and science are mutual and valuable.

Clayton Lynch, Research Technician, at the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, with a Common Snook in Puerto Rico.

Clayton Lynch (R) with a Common Snook, both sampled from their Puerto Rico river study sites.
Clayton Lynch work with Ambar in Puerto Rico and co-created a video about American eel for middle- and high-school students.

"Each year, CRU program graduate students mentor undergraduates from the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) who have a passion for fish and wildlife conservation and for increasing diversity in the conservation field. CRU program faculty, graduate students and agency partners provide unique opportunities for these young motivated scholars to gain valuable field experience by contributing to conservation projects, conducting independent research, and presenting scientific data to varied audiences. This two-year experiential training program empowers future conservation leaders, fosters professional development, and promotes diversity, equity and inclusion in the fish and wildlife sciences. The CRU program is proud to be a part of the DDCSP in mentoring this next generation of diverse conservation professionals.” —Anne Yen, graduate student, Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Idaho

Phoenix Aguilar McFarlane is an alum of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program where she majored in Environmental Science at the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources at the USGS Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Program.

Graduate student researching food preferences of northern Idaho ground squirrels
Phoenix Aguilar McFarlane working with the northern Idaho ground squirrel.

Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Idaho

Phoenix Aguilar McFarlane is an alum of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, where she majored in environmental science at the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources. She entered the DDCSP with a can-do attitude and a passion for volunteering in community service and sustainability projects. Through the DDCSP, Phoenix gained a broad array of professional skills in the wildlife field. During her first summer with the DDCSP, she worked with a field crew and a graduate student mentor in Bear, Idaho, studying the northern Idaho ground squirrel, a threatened mammalian species endemic to only two counties in the State. She researched whether food preferences of northern Idaho ground squirrels were based on availability or nutrient quality within their environment, and she presented her poster at the annual Ecological Society of America conference. For her second summer in the DDCSP program, she completed an internship at the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University as an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar. During her senior year, Phoenix served as a College of Natural Resources Student Ambassador engaging current, incoming, and prospective students to the college and all it has to offer. Phoenix was also elected President of the Conservation and Environment Club at the University of Idaho and played an instrumental role connecting fellow students to environmental conservation through service and learning.

Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Owen Blacker and Anjali Shukla are Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) juniors in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This past summer, Owen and Anjali worked with a graduate student in the Massachusetts Unit (Andrew Gordon, MS student and former DDCSP scholar as an undergraduate at Cornell from 2019-2020) studying eastern box turtles at Joint Base Cape Cod. For nine weeks, Blacker and Shukla monitored the impact of wound myiasis by sarcophagid flies on the turtle population. Using radio telemetry, they were able to track the movement of individual turtles, identify fly infections, and record habitat qualities at the point of recapture. The DDCSP students will use the data they collected to produce a poster presentation for the annual 2023 Ecological Society of America Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Malvika Someshar is a second year DDCSP student who worked on river herring research. Malvika is from India and currently resides in New York City (Manhattan). She grew up working at a veterinary and traveled back to India in 2018 to volunteer at a cow rescue. This experience really changed the way I view the interactions between people and animals. I saw that wildlife conservation needed to be addressed and their situation improved. Malvika is focused on wildlife behavioral studies.

Top and Bottom of an eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle shell

Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Florida

Second-year scholar Maya Encinosa (she/her) is a senior majoring in wildlife ecology and conservation (pre-veterinary) and minoring in pathogenesis at the University of Florida. She entered the DDCSP with a deep interest in wildlife diseases and policy along with discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. During her first summer with the DDCSP, she worked alongside a graduate student mentor in Picayune Strand State Forest in Naples, Florida. Maya researched the impact of roadway proximity and type on habitat use by the Florida bonneted bat and presented her poster at The Wildlife Society annual conference.

This past summer, Maya followed her interest in veterinary pathology and coastal ecosystems to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. She interned with the pathology unit assisting and performing necropsies on pinnipeds and cetaceans. Her research project on the characterization of urinary tract infections in California sea lions will be presented at the 2023 Wildlife Disease Association conference. The research and networking opportunities with the DDCSP led Maya to be accepted to participate in a Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability program (SEEDS) with the Ecological Society of America. Equally devoted to her local community, Maya looks forward to leading the Florida student chapter of the Wildlife Disease Association as president in her final semester. 

Aerial view of coast of San Miguel Island, showing kelp and California sea lions
California sea lions,


Collaboration to Support Native American Graduate Students in Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana (UM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

The Wildlife Biology Program (WBIO) at University of Montana is among the top-ranked wildlife programs in North America. Students in WBIO come from 44 states and 9 countries. WBIO is committed to enhancing diversity through partnership with American Indian Tribes and other partners to expand graduate education opportunities.

In 2019, UM admitted three new American Indian students into its graduate program. Another American Indian student successfully defended her Thesis and graduated from the graduate program in 2020. UM is one of seven universities in the United States that are part of the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP). The purpose of SIGP is to strengthen and expand university initiatives to recruit, train, and graduate American Indian and Alaska Native students in STEM graduate programs.

Following initial conversations with the USFWS, UM admitted three Native American graduate students at the M.S. level in the Wildlife Biology Program. One student is assigned in three USFWS Regions: Region 1 (Pacific), Region 2 (Southwest), and Region 6 (Mountain-Prairie). 

Each student will conduct graduate research on species of greatest conservation need or species at risk.  Specific research projects will be identified in collaboration with the US FWS and potentially other partners (e.g., tribal and state fish and wildlife agencies) after the students have been admitted into UM’s graduate program.

USFWS Region 1 Graduate Project

Sattie Whitefoot Fisher from the Yakama Tribe will complete the graduate research project in the Pacific Region. Sattie completed her BS in wildlife and fisheries at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana in June 2020. Over the years, Sattie has worked for the USDA Forest Service, the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica, and in Alaska with the Sun’aq tribe of Kodiak in a variety of research and technician positions for threatened and endangered species. She has presented her research at the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society annual conferences and at SACNAS events. At SACNAS she received an award for the best student poster presentation. Sattie is a recipient of the Native Student Professional Development program offered by TWS in 2018 and 2019. Sattie is interested in a PhD and moving back to Yakama to help her people in managing natural resources, fisheries, wildlife and water.

Sattie has begun conducting field research on the Yakama Nation Reservation.  Her research is focused on addressing effects of wild/feral horses on elk and deer movements and landscape use. She is using cameras to document abundance and distribution of the three species across the Yakama Reservation. Sattie anticipates completing her thesis in spring or summer 2023. 

Bull elf standing in the forest looking right at the camera
Bull elk.

USFWS Region 2 Graduate Project

Xavier Lovato from Cochiti and Santo Domingo Pueblo will complete his graduate research project in the Southwest Region. Xavier completed his BS in wildlife sciences at New Mexico State University in 2019. He worked for the USDA Forest Service, NRCS and Purdue University focused on endangered species. Xavier participated in the NMSU Natural Resource Career Track program where he had numerous opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities like honors programs, AISES, SACNAS and local/national TWS meetings. Xavier is recognized as a Gates Millennium Scholar, a noteworthy accomplishment that provides academic support for life. He his excited to continue his education at University of Montana and his career goal is to become the first wildlife biologist for his tribe in New Mexico.

Xavier Lovato is studying use of acoustic monitoring devices for non-invasively and remotely monitoring spotted owl populations.  Xavier is working on both Mexican spotted owls at Apache Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico and northern spotted owls at Yakama Reservation in Washington. Xavier anticipates completing his MS Thesis in fall 2023.

Northern spotted owl
Northern spotted owl.

USFWS Region 6 Graduate Project

Kenneth Edmo from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will conduct graduate research project in the Mountain-Prairie Region.  Kenneth completed his BS in Wildlife and Fisheries at Salish Kootenai College (SKC), Pablo, Montana in 2017. He received an All Nations Alliance for Minority Participation Scholarship and an American Indian College Fund Scholarship. He was involved with numerous undergraduate research projects while attending SKC. He completed two summers of research for his senior thesis project, ‘Bridge structures as roosting habitats for bats on the Flathead Reservation’. He worked with Dr. Scott Mills on snowshoe hare research at the University of Montana, through the Native Fellows Program and as an intern with the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates internship, ‘Transforming Indigenous Geoscience Education and Research’. Kenneth also completed a project on agouti behavior at the Organization for Tropical Studies, Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica; assisted with Long-billed Curlew monitoring on the Flathead Reservation in a joint project with CSKT; worked on a fire history study with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy; compiled data on native plant phenology, and analyzed mosquitos for West Nile Virus through an internship at SKC. After graduation, he worked as a resource assistant with the U.S. Forest Service Research Station in Missoula, Montana. Kenneth grew up on the Flathead Reservation and is interested in conservation research that would benefit his community and future generations.

Kenneth is working on grizzly bear-human conflict in Montana with a focus on standardizing external communication to stakeholders regarding how regulations, recommendations, and resources vary across agencies and jurisdictions.  Kenneth anticipates completing his professional MS in December 2022. 

Grizzly bear sitting in a wetland
Grizzly bear soaking in a wetland at Yellowstone National Park.

Research and Education Outcomes

Each student have selected a graduate advisor and formed a graduate committee comprised of at least three UM faculty.  The advisor and graduate committee are mentoring the student throughout the degree program.  Responsibilities broadly include guidance on coursework, research, and professional development.  Students are additionally be supported and mentored by Jennifer Harrington (UM’s Native American Natural Resource Program Coordinator), Serra Hoagland (USFS Liaison Officer, SKC), and Janene Lichtenberg (SKC Wildlife and Fisheries Dept Head) and a robust Native American community at UM.  Students will further be supported through the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership at UM. 


. Christina conducted her own research project that summer examining the effects of soil properties on selection of winter hibernacula by these rare ground squirrels.
Christina Contreras is a undergraduate student at the Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
She's a senior majoring in Wildlife Sciences with a minor in Rangeland Ecology and Management at the University of Idaho. Christina conducted her own research project that summer examining the effects of soil properties on selection of winter hibernacula by these rare ground squirrels.

Christina grew up in the small mountain town of Hailey, Idaho where she helped her dad with his landscaping business. As a first-generation Hispanic student, Christina has worked incredibly hard to maintain her Hispanic roots and culture. Christina spent her first two years of college at a local community college and transferred to University of Idaho to pursue a bachelor of science degree.

Through the DDCSP, Christina gained a suite of professional skills. During her first summer with the DDCSP, she worked with a graduate student mentor studying the northern Idaho ground squirrel, a federally threatened species endemic to only two counties in Idaho. Christina conducted her own research project that summer examining the effects of soil properties on selection of winter hibernacula by these rare ground squirrels. She recently presented a poster on her research at the annual conference of The Wildlife Society.

This past summer, she completed an internship at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine where she worked with a variety of federally threatened endangered species. On her DDCSP application, Christina stated that there is nothing more important than having good communication skills and that she wanted to join the DDCSP to learn how to be a better leader in the wildlife profession. She hopes that the skills she has gained will allow her to make a difference in her community and in the conservation field. 


Keara Clancy is an alumna of the DDCSP.

Keara Clancy, Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Keara graduated cum laude from the University of Florida’s Wildlife Ecology and Conservation program in May 2020 and, in August 2020 , she began pursuing a master of science degree, also through the University of Florida. While a Duke scholar, Keara worked in four laboratories, assisted with three research projects, coauthored a paper looking at gender demographics in myrmecology, and carried out her own research project involving occupancy modeling across three species of wood-peckers. Keara’s master’s degree is focusing on invasion ecology. Keara is proud that through the Duke program she gained the experience necessary to design her own research—an independent project using occupancy modeling to determine how land management practices affect woodpecker species. She also was awarded a grant from the University of Florida’s University Scholars Program to research the historical presence of chytridiomy-cosis, an infectious disease of amphibians, within the State of Florida. Keara hopes to continue her work in ecology and that her research will better inform management practices and species survival plans in the future. Keara has been heavily involved with work in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, including as an officer for the Natural Resources Diversity Initiative, Youth Conservation Director for the Florida Wildlife Federation, and board member of the University of Florida Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Committee.

Kassandra Townsend, a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, is an alum of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and is now a PhD student at the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources.

Kassandra Townsend is an Ecology and Conservation Biology major at the University of Idaho

Kassandra is a first-year PhD student funded partially by the DDCSP and a “Bridge to Doctorate” graduate program fellowship at the University of Idaho to continue her exciting journey as a wildlife professional and conservation leader.

Kassandra gained real world employment experience in natural resources while balancing rigorous coursework at school and making contributions to her community. She worked with the University of Idaho Experimental Forest as an administrative assistant and wildlife program lead. During her junior year, Kassandra was a crew member assisting Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit graduate student Matt Nelson in conducting black bear research in northern Idaho. This work involved trapping and collaring black bears, using trail cameras, and collecting genetic samples.

During an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Maui, Hawai‘i, Kassandra reestablished a refuge nest monitoring program for endangered Hawaiian coots and Hawaiian stilts to determine occupancy and nest success and to conduct predator removal. Her presentation on this research earned her the Best Student Presentation award at The Wildlife Society—Idaho Chapter’s annual conference. Kassandra is proud to be an All Nations Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program Scholar and a Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program alumna. Kassandra was awarded a 2019 American Indian Services Scholarship and a 2019 Udall Foundation Scholarship Honorable Mention.