Ela S. Carpenter
Featured Graduate Student - September 2016
Name: Ela S. Carpenter
Graduate status: 2nd year Ph.D. Student
BES Committee Member: Dr. Charles Nilon
Schools for previous degrees: Hampton University (B.S. Biological Sciences), Christopher Newport University (M.S. Environmental Science, thesis research: Roosting affinities of Rafinesqueís big-eared bat in southeastern Virginia)
Major: Natural Resources, Fisheries & Wildlife Science emphasis
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?
- Iím studying the community ecology of bats in Baltimore City. There has been very little research on bats in this part of Maryland, and Iím interested in seeing what species are present here and if there are certain predictors or factors (ecological and social) that determine how many species are present in different parts of the city. During summer 2016 I studied how bat species composition varied along a rural-urban gradient (the Gwynns Falls watershed). In the future Iím interested in looking at what role legacy effects may have on bat species composition in Baltimore City.
What inspired you to go into this field of study?
- I know this sounds clichť, but I really have been interested in nature and wildlife since I was a child. My parents took me to many of the local parks (Leakin, Hanlon, Druid Hill and Cylburn) when I was growing up, and I spent a lot of time exploring these parks and looking for whatever wildlife I could find. I never outgrew that fascination with wildlife and wanting to understand why theyíre found in some places and not others.
Why did you become involved with BES?
- I initially started working with BES from 2013-2015 as a field technician for a PhD student (now Dr. Christine Brodsky) who was studying birds in Baltimore City vacant lots and doing bird point counts. After my first summer working as a technician, Christine and her advisor (Dr. Nilon) suggested I consider joining the PhD program in Natural Resources at University of Missouri and study bats as part of BES (they knew my previous research experience had been with bats in Virginia and Nevada). As both a city resident and former bat researcher, I jumped at the opportunity to study bats in my hometown.
What do you most enjoy about being involved with BES?
- As a technician I enjoyed discovering parts of the city that I hadnít really been to before, and discovering the variety of wildlife and greenspaces that are present around the city. I also really like BESí emphasis on the human aspect of urban ecology and that BES researchers do outreach and collaborate with local communities. I also think itís really cool that BES is one of the only two urban LTER sites in the country.
What types of outreach activities do you do to engage communities in your research? - My previous experience has been primarily with outreach. Iíve given a couple of public talks on bats over the past few years. This past summer (2016) I visited Carrie Murray Nature Centerís summer camp and talked to the kids about bats, and they seemed to really enjoy it. Since my research occurs at night, I havenít had much of a chance to engage with local communities around my research sites, but Iím hoping to be more involved in community engagement during my next field season (2017).
When you are not working on your research, what are some of the things you enjoy doing? - Nature photography, hiking, yoga, cooking, Netflix, and travelling.
- I love just riding through the city and looking at all the amazing murals in different neighborhoods. Iím in school in Missouri most of the year, but whenever Iím back in Baltimore I have to visit Italianoís for an eggplant parmesan sub and go for a walk in Leakin Park.
What are your plans for after graduate school?
- Iíd like to focus primarily on research. I havenít decided yet whether thatíll be in academia, government, private, or non-profit, but Iím open to all the possibilities. Iíd also like to be involved in education (either with k-12 environmental education or college level teaching) and if possible find ways to integrate nature photography into both research and education.
What is the most exciting/interesting thing you have ever done at work?
When I was a bird technician, I managed to get a great photo of a barred owl on a vacant land plot in northern Baltimore. Iíve only done one field season of my own PhD research, but it was pretty exciting to get recordings of little brown bats and tricolor bats. Both species are in decline due to white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has been killing hibernating bats at >90% rate since it appeared in 2006. So it was exciting to see these increasingly rare species were present in the summer in Baltimore City & County.
Do you have any advice that you would give to a new BES graduate student?
- Become familiar with Baltimore as much as possible -- not just in and around your research sites, but learn about the different neighborhoods, and Baltimoreís history and culture. Talk to other BES researchers to learn from their experiences with research in the city. Be able to explain your research to residents in a way that shows them how your research will help/ affect them and their neighborhood. And watch out for poison ivy!