Studying the role of infectious disease and perceptions of ecological change
Editor's Note: The following article orginially appeared on UC Santa Barbar's GradPost website in recognition of Andrea's selection as a Switzer Fellow.
by Patricia Marroquin, Communications Director
Fifth-year Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology Ph.D. student Andrea Adams has been named one of 20 recipients of a 2014 Switzer Environmental Fellowship, a program by the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation that recognizes the achievements of environmental leaders and their potential to enact positive change.
The Switzer Fellowship includes a $15,000 cash award to be used for academic study in master’s and doctoral programs; leadership training; access to a broad network of nearly 600 Switzer Fellowship alums; and opportunities for professional development during the fellowship year and beyond.
Andrea’s dissertation research involves the study of disappearing frogs in Southern California. “One species, the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) disappeared from the region during a short period of time in the mid-1960s to early 1970s,” Andrea explains. “One thing that can cause such rapid declines in amphibians is the pathogenic amphibian chytrid fungus. I study this fungus’s distribution and disease dynamics in different amphibian species in Southern California to see if it could have been a major contributing factor to the disappearance of the foothill yellow-legged frog in the region. To do this, I conduct molecular work in the laboratory, as well as field and museum work.”
The Switzer Foundation said that “Andrea’s interdisciplinary approach is aimed at better understanding the roles of infectious disease and perceptions of ecological change in conservation outcomes.”
Andrea, a native of Michigan, majored in Environmental Studies at Michigan State University for two years as an undergrad before transferring to Prescott College in Arizona, where in 2003 she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies with an Emphasis in Conservation Biology, and a Minor in Outdoor Adventure Education. She earned a Master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at UCSB in 2013. Andrea’s advisor is Dr. Sam Sweet, and co-advisor is Dr. Cherie Briggs.
Andrea is also a biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where, since 2008, she has applied her interest in conserving biodiversity through her work in endangered species management and recovery in Southern California.
Her conservation fieldwork has taken her all over the state, nation, and world – including the Channel Islands, the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, Boreal Forests of Canada, and urban-forest regions in Michigan. As an undergraduate, Andrea studied in Nepal through Michigan State University, and in Mexico, Scotland, and Norway while at Prescott College.
It was a field trip to a California condor release site that first sparked Andrea’s interest in conservation biology. She traveled to the site at the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona during her final year at Prescott. “I knew right away that I wanted to work in field biology and conservation,” she said.
Andrea learned of the Switzer fellowship from UCSB faculty member Tom Dudley of the Marine Science Institute, who recommended that she apply.
“The application process takes a lot of preparation,” said Andrea. “Along with a research statement, letters of recommendation, and transcripts, the required personal essay is the foundational portion of the application because it communicates to the reviewers your experience and aspirations. After my application was selected, I was invited to San Francisco for a fellowship interview, where I answered questions about my professional experience, goals, and leadership skills.”
The Switzer fellowship year includes two retreats. Last fall she and the other California-based Switzer Fellows from her cohort and previous cohorts met in Sausalito. “This served as an orientation for new fellows as well as a leadership training opportunity,” she said. “It included a day-long training on transformative leadership from the Rockwood Leadership Institute. The session was designed to help us in developing collaborative leadership skills and working across differences.”
In March of this year, Andrea and the other fellows will attend another retreat in Washington, D.C. The gathering will include two days of intensive science and policy communications training with COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and will conclude with meeting policy leaders in the fellows’ respective fields.
Another benefit of the fellowship is the mentorship opportunities it provides. Andrea has been paired with a Switzer Fellow alum, a wildlife toxicologist at UC Santa Cruz, who will offer help and advice to her throughout the fellowship year.
Andrea says she is grateful to her recommenders, Cherie Briggs and Rick Farris, for their support during the application process and beyond; as well as the Switzer Foundation, “for its optimistic investment in the future of environmental work.”
Andrea considers it “a significant honor” to have won the fellowship, “and I look forward to participating in the fellowship network throughout my career to support other environmental leaders in their work.”
After attaining her Ph.D., the Switzer Fellow’s career goals are to “continue doing research while working collaboratively with partners in other fields and in local communities on more applied aspects of conservation.”