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My enthusiasm for research first took root when I traveled to Botswana for a wildlife monitoring internship during my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois. During the ten-week program, I was exposed to the intricately diverse world of wildlife conservation. I had the opportunity to work on a project which focused on monitoring herbivore populations in the Chobe Enclave - a hotspot for human-wildlife conflict. Seeing that my work benefited the communities and wildlife in the Chobe Enclave was personally rewarding and was the first step in shaping my future path towards graduate school.
From 2016 to 2018, I worked in a reproductive biology laboratory on campus as an undergraduate research assistant. In the lab we used mouse spermatogenesis as a model system for understanding the function of TAR DNA-binding of protein 43 (TDP-43) and its critical role in male infertility. I appreciated the opportunity to expand my reproductive physiology knowledge and develop critical laboratory skills during these years.
During the pursuit of my master’s degree, I had hoped to bridge my interests in wildlife conservation and reproduction. I had become fixated on the essentiality of reproduction for survival of endangered species and wanted to explore this relationship further. My search led me to the University of Nebraska at Omaha where I have had the benefit of working under the guidance of elephant endocrinologist and conservationist, Dr. Kari Morfeld.
My master’s thesis explored a variety of physiological, physical, social, behavioral, and environmental factors in zoo-managed African elephant bulls to determine which were most influential in predicting mean testosterone levels. This research revealed how little we currently know about the ideal conditions for elephant bulls as they begin to mature and breed. Most importantly, this information emphasized the need to continue studying zoo-managed bulls to improve fertility and slow the declining population.
I am currently pursuing my PhD while working with Dr. Morfeld and Dr. John Carroll in UNL’s school of natural resources to continue investigating African elephant reproduction and conservation.