National Science Foundation Spotlight: Julia Leone

Conservation Sciences graduate student Julia Leone was awarded a three-year Graduate Research Fellowships by the National Science Foundation. She is studying the impacts of grazing and fire management on prairie remnants in Minnesota and assessing how these different management regimes affect native plant species richness and diversity, as well as pollinating insects (bees and butterflies). She took a few moments for a CFANS Q&A:

With whom are you studying?

I am co-advised by Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Professor and Extension Specialist Karen Oberhauser and Diane Larson in the Conservation Sciences graduate program--both exceptional scientists as well as mentors and role-models.

Where do you call "home?"

I grew up on Washington Island, Wisconsin, a small town in Lake Michigan off the tip of Door County. I attribute much of my love of nature and conservation science to the freedom I had as a child to explore this island and the countless hours spent in the Washington Island Art and Nature Center with my family.

What does the NSF award make possible?

It is a great honor to be awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This fellowship will support me during the remainder of my graduate school career and will enable me to pursue research to determine possible mechanisms driving butterfly community composition in the Minnesota tallgrass prairie. During the next few years, I plan to study the effects of management on tallgrass prairie butterflies, identify (currently unknown) host plants for several key species of butterflies found in Minnesota prairie, and determine how site characteristics and management strategy interact with butterfly traits to impact availability of host plants and butterfly communities in Minnesota tallgrass prairie. With less than one percent of pre-European settlement prairie remaining in Minnesota today, understanding and communicating the drivers of prairie butterfly community composition relying on these prairies is vital. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is not just about research, however. Their goal is not only to support important research, but to support future leaders in the scientific community and the world. The freedom given to fellows is extensive, and this sign of trust, more than anything, is what I am particularly grateful and excited about moving forward. I look forward to contributing my findings to not only the scientific community, but beyond to land managers, conservation organizations, and the public.

What else should "we" know about you...in addition to what might be on the department website?

I was homeschooled until my senior year of high school, when I lived in Norwary through the American Field Service (AFS). After returning from Norway, I attended St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, where I graduated with a B.A. in 2012. At St. John's, I learned to challenge my own opinions, approach all disciplines with a keen and inquisitive mind, and pursue questions through discussion and critical examination. In a college with no majors and no secondary sources, where students immerse themselves equally in mathematics, science, language, and philosophy, personal motivation and accountability were paramount. I fell in love with an education that fostered independence and collaboration, encouraged thoughtful questions, and revolved around critical thinking and intellectual discussion. This approach to education, more than anything else, is what turned my eyes towards the possibility of a career in science. Science cannot continue without a solid foundation of good questions, thoughtful conversations, and thorough investigations.

And the big one...Why CFANS?

CFANS' commitment to top-notch research, education, and outreach can be seen in many aspects of its programs, not least in its exceptional faculty. I first became aware of CFANS through a Delta Airlines magazine that my mother sent me highlighting Professor Marla Spivak of the Entomology Department and her recent MacArthur award. This article lead me to an internship in the Entomology Department before my senior year of college, and to several subsequent technician jobs within CFANS following graduation. As a staff member I was very impressed with the CFANS community and the opportunities available. I also became aware of the research, outreach, and education coming from Karen Oberhauser's Monarch Lab. I learned that she and Diane Larson (whom I was working for at the time) had applied for an LCCMR grant together to study the effects of management on tallgrass prairie and were looking for graduate students. This project and the Conservation Sciences graduate program fit my interests well and I applied for graduate school. Since joining CFANS as a student, I have been continually impressed with the opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge through courses as well as through casual interactions within the CFANS community.