What is the Environmental Resources Center’s purpose?

The mission of the Environmental Resources Center, or ERC, is to promote the understanding and conservation of the natural resources of the region through scientific research, educational opportunities and outreach. The ERC is a venue for building research and education collaborations, providing scientifically sound information about environmental issues, and highlighting the many great things Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne has to offer the community.

How do you describe your role as the ERC’s director?

I strive to connect the community with intellectual resources at IPFW, build collaborations between IPFW faculty and students with community partners, and serve as a spokesperson and resource on environmental topics. I also engage in research with my students as co-conspirators and build my own collaborative relationships within the community.

When did you get involved with the ERC?

The ERC is an expansion of a previous Center of Excellence with a similar mission but focused on reptiles and amphibians. The Herpetology Center was founded in 2000 as one of the original centers of excellence on campus. I started that center in an effort to communicate my group’s research findings as directly as possible to those making management decisions and to inform the general public about wildlife.

I got approval to launch and direct the ERC in 2012, determined to focus more energy on local and regional issues and provide a larger umbrella under which to operate with my colleagues.

Why focus on researching turtles and snakes?

At this point, the ERC does not focus solely on reptiles, but it had its origins with my research, which was indeed focused on turtles and snakes. For some reason, I always found these animals fascinating, and my career has its roots in efforts to understand and protect them. Now they provide me with a new role, that of getting people’s attention so that we can speak more broadly about larger issues of the day such as water quality, habitat loss and extinction.

How are reptiles important to the area’s ecology?

Reptiles are probably most important ecologically as food for other animals. They eat the smaller stuff, then something else eats them. To me, they are worth preserving, not necessarily because of what they have to offer us economically, but because they are a part of nature. I feel that we should try to protect native wildlife so that it does not disappear.

Have you always been interested in pursuing biology and herpetology?

I am unusual in that indeed these fields have held my attention since I was very young. I wanted to be a university biology professor and herpetologist since elementary school, though my perceptions of such a career did not match reality. I imagined, for example, that universities would be free of politics. Ha!

Where are your favorite places to research?

Although in reality most of my time is spent in front of a computer, I do love the outdoors. I am particularly fascinated with water and am happiest in wetlands or along rivers and lakes. The wilder the better. I love mountains and deserts as well, but I will have to go on vacation for them.

I am inspired by the beauty of nature operating without our interference. I also find renewal in exercise, and enjoy riding my bicycles and running.

What would be the ERC’s priorities for riverfront development downtown?

I see us contributing to helping keep environmental issues woven in with economic development and recreational opportunity. Environmental protection is compatible with development and recreation. Indeed, the citizens of the region have expressed the desire to have environmental quality be a factor in development in and around Fort Wayne. As we work on developing quality of place for our city to attract and retain businesses and the talent to staff them, nature and opportunities to engage with it will have a place in that vision.

My ERC colleagues and I serve on various riverfront committees to help guide the development during its envisioning, development and implementation. Our principal role would seem to be to keep ecology and environmental quality in the conversation. I would be very happy to continue to serve in this capacity into the future.

Which is cooler: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or House Slytherin from “Harry Potter”?

I would be happy to be able to speak Parseltongue. Perhaps I belong in House Slytherin, though I fancy Gryffindor.

By Aimee Ambrose. To submit an article for “Career Path,” email aambrose@kpcmedia.com or call (260) 426-2640, ext. 3310.

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