Monday, September 14, 2015

New undergraduates join the lab

We are pleased to welcome Maria Del Mar Gracia-Hernandez and Zachary Tatum to the Verble Fire Ecology Laboratory.

Maria is a Cell and Molecular Biology junior, and Zac is a sophomore majoring in Mathematics.  Both will be working on post-wildfire ant community responses.  They'll be sharing their experiences as the semester progresses!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Back to School!

The beginning of the fall semester is always a time of anticipation, new beginnings, and general excitement on a college campus.  New freshman arrived last week, and the rest of the undergraduates are arriving now.  Courses start on Monday.  Parking lots are filling up.  The rec center and gym are packed.  The copier is running nearly non-stop with syllabi and handouts, and faculty are murmuring about getting ready for their classes.  Local businesses are offering "back to school" promotions on everything from binders to beer.  There is a predictable energy to it all, and it is one of my favorite times of the year.

I am starting my fourth year at Texas Tech... I have been here long enough to not be considered "new" anymore, but I am still learning the ropes and figuring out my role in the Department, University, and profession.  This is the midpoint on my track to tenure, and as such, I am being reviewed by the department to evaluate my progress and offer helpful suggestions..  In preparation for this review, I have taken some time to reflect on my accomplishments and goals.  Below, I share a few things of which I am particularly proud and some items that I want to improve over the next few years.

A quick disclaimer-- This list is in no way exhaustive and does not reflect official conversations or advice from my committee or department chair.  The statements listed below are personal and not endorsed by TTU.

"Yay! List"

1-- I feel like I have found my voice in the classroom.  Undergraduate teaching has become a part of my career that I highly value and that brings me great joy.  I am impressed with the quality of undergraduate students at Texas Tech, their enthusiasm and motivation, and their genuine desire to learn.

2-- I have found a role in the Texas fire community.  My students and I have assisted on almost 10,000 acres of fire since 2012, and we are establishing ourselves as a useful and reliable resource for prescribed fire in the Texas Panhandle region.

3--  I am starting to see the fruits of my labor.  Students that have I have mentored are graduating and getting jobs, using the skills I taught them, and making an impact in their professional fields.  This is the best!!

"Try Harder! List"

1-- I want to be a more active participant in my professional societies.  This means getting involved in organizing, serving on committees, and getting to know the people who are leading the charge.

2-- I want to find ways to grow the TTU undergraduate fire program, provide fire internship opportunities, and get students more hands-on skills and experience.

3-- I want to develop and foster a (possibly student-led.. I'm looking at you TTU SAFE students!) fire outreach program for local schools and communities.

Happy Back-to-School everyone!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer Updates

This summer has been exceptionally rainy and green in Lubbock.  I barely recognize the place!  It has been amazing to watch all of the local flora come alive and to see the diversity of animals that can thrive here in a rainy year.

Seriously, just look at that beautiful weather!

A few updates from the lab:

Britt has spent the summer collecting data on the prescribed burns that were conducted this spring.  He has been filling the labs with samples from pitfall traps and still has more work to go!

Nick has submitted his thesis to the Graduate School and will be officially graduating in August 2015.

I am working on revamping courses and gearing up for two new projects with the National Park Service.  More details on those later!

Clara Frasconi-Wendt and I had a paper accepted to the Southwestern Naturalist.

Finally, I am excited to announce that Neil Estes will be joining the lab in August 2015.  Neil is pursuing an M.S. in Natural Resources Management.  He will be working at the Valles Caldera National Preserve on exotic and invasive plant ecology.  More on this soon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spring 2015 Round-Up

The Spring 2015 semester has come to a close at Texas Tech.  This semester was markedly different for me, since I spent most of it on maternity leave.  While I have enjoyed spending time with my new kiddo, I am excited to get back to work full time.  But, it turns out, the old adage about the cat being away and the mice playing didn't hold true for my lab.  They've been busy doing all kinds of cool stuff!

Rachel Granberg was featured in a cool documentary on the Texas horned lizard.  Check it out!

Rachel, Gad Perry and I recently had a paper accepted in the Post Oaks and Prairies Journal.

Nick Goforth successfully defended his M.S. thesis on wildfires and bats.

Additionally, Seth Pearson and I recently had a paper accepted in the Natural Areas Journal.

I was profiled by Great Plains Fire Science.  Interview, here.

Britt Smith and undergraduate volunteers participated in prescribed burns to improve quail habitat with Global Frontline Solutions.

In total, this spring, the TTU Fire Lab assisted with just under 4,000 acres of prescribed fire.

And, finally, a couple of great undergraduate fire guys got their diplomas:

Neil Estes and Anton Gereau have both been enthusiastic and highly competent prescribed burners and leaders in our undergraduate fire program.  While I wish each of them the absolute best of luck in the their future endeavors, I am sure going to miss having them around!  Congratulations, guys!!

Anton Gereau (right) with Derrick Holdstock (TX Parks and Wildlife, left) burning at Lubbock Lake Landmark in 2014

Neil Estes on his first burn at Lubbock Lake Landmark, January 2014

Monday, May 4, 2015

Alumni Spotlight-- Cameron Ward

This is the second in a recurring series of posts about TTU Fire alumni and their current positions.

Cameron Ward graduated from Texas Tech's Department of Natural Resources in December 2013.  Since graduation, he has been a seasonal employee with the USDA Forest Service.  
Below he discusses his current position.

I am a seasonal biological technician working for the USDA Forest Service. I have worked for the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon and now work for the Cimarron National Grassland in Kansas. In Oregon I worked on noxious weed control to helped restore habitat after logging operations are done. I also surveys on prey of the spotted owl and I helped with the fire crew sometimes on the weekend. Now I’m doing Lesser Prairie Chicken surveys and assessing habitat quality for them on the grassland.

My time with the Forest Service has been great-- I’ve been able to meet new people and learn many new skills. It’s amazing being able to work in these beautiful places and see new things.

His advice for future new graduates:

"To get a job like this I’d recommend being persistent on applying and being patient. My advice on the job is to seize all opportunities for experience. Most of the people have been in your shoes and want to help you get more experience."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Alumni Spotlight-- Bradley Barker

This is the first in a recurring series of posts about TTU Fire alumni and their current positions.

Brad Barker graduated from Texas Tech's Department of Natural Resources in May 2014.  Since graduation, he has been employed with The Nature Conservancy's Arkansas Field Office.  Below he discusses his current position.

I work on the burn crew for The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. We are responsible for burning TNC, private, state, and federal lands across Arkansas. TNC’s goals are to reintroduce fire back into the landscape, restore prairies, cut back on herbaceous and woody fuels, decrease invasive plant species, consume leaf and pine duff, and manage habitat for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.

Brad on an RXburn in pine

2015 TNC burn crew
This job has been a lot of fun-- my favorite part has been to burn in all types of fuel models and to see a variety of fire behavior. 

Working for TNC is a great way to gain experience and get a foot in the door with a variety of agencies. I have been lucky enough to make connections with hot shot crews, the Forest Service, and the Game and Fish Commission.
My advice for anyone trying to get into this field is to prepare to work hard; putting in fireline is not easy work. 

Fire jobs require a great deal of physical and mental strength, long hours, and working for multiple weeks with no days off. Also, I recommend being outgoing and outsourcing yourself; the fire world is a small community, and everyone knows somebody.