Wildlife ecology & conservation student happy to push beyond her comfort zone

Jade Keehn working with snapping turtleThe word "scholar" typically brings to mind stacks of books or white coats and laboratories.

Jade Keehn is rocking that stereotype.

Her laboratories have included the tropical outdoors of Costa Rica, the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, Sheldon-Hart Mountain wildlife refuges, Great Basin National Park and the state of Wyoming. The common bond in these diverse environments: they're all part of her University of Nevada, Reno experience.

"I narrowed down my school search by looking for schools with either ‘wildlife' or ‘conservation biology' degrees; Nevada was perfect because it had both in one program," says Keehn, who will be finishing up her major in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation (WEC) with minors in Spanish and biology this fall.

"Once I visited the University of Nevada, I was struck by the friendliness and support of the faculty," she says. "I wanted to be in a place where I wasn't just another number, where I could readily find that support and build relationships."

Another tribute to her ability to succeed: Keehn was named a Randall Scholar - a four-year scholarship awarded to one student annually. She also received the National Smart Grant for students in the sciences; the Gilman International Scholarship; the Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Scholarship; the Honors Study Abroad Scholarship; the Honors Undergraduate Research Award; and the Nevada Association of Conservation Districts Scholarship.

"What sets her apart from other students is her willingness to continually venture out beyond her comfort zone with the intent of challenging herself and growing her diverse abilities," said Dr. Kelley Stewart, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources and Jade's undergraduate academic advisor.

From her first semester at the University, Keehn has been involved in natural resources and environmental science. Her freshman year, she worked with Dr. Stewart in the early founding of the UNR Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. That experience was beneficial to her long-term plans, and shaped her desire to pursue a career in wildlife ecology.

"The scope of this club amazes me," says Keehn. "We run recreational field trips, professional development activities, educational workshops and community and environmental service projects. Basically, it gives students experience so that they can be involved in the wildlife field and compete on a national level."

Keehn feels that the most important thing she is taking away from her experiences at UNR is "involvement."

"The more involved you are the easier it is when it comes to getting your foot in the door to employment opportunities and graduate schools. The wildlife and conservation fields are heavily reliant on recommendations and take note of your participation in community projects."

By participating in the UNR Chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS), Keehn feels that she gained both learning and professional experience. She was able to get first-hand experience with fundamental tools of the trade.

"The University and the WEC program have given me a ton of opportunities to not only develop my leadership and professional skills, but also build relationships with professionals in the field and my fellow students," she said.

Her professional summer experiences have been focused and complimentary. She served as a biologist for the U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Game and Fish, and as a field technician for both the National Parks Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She also just completed a semester study abroad in San Ramon, Costa Rica, where she worked with the University of Costa Rica, Sede de Occidente campus under Faculty Advisor Cindy Rodríguez Arias studying tropical ecology and conservation and conducting an independent research project.

"I feel that Jade is one of the best young conservation biology minds in the country and that she will make a significant difference in conservation biology over her career," says Dr. Chris Feldman, Jade's future graduate advisor. "I expect her research to contribute significantly to species conservation and thus to public policy."

"I want to enter the conservation field, because I am deeply concerned about the increasing loss of biodiversity on our planet," Keehn says. "I am of the mind that each plant and animal has its own niche and role to fill in the environment; if we lose too many of these key players, our ecosystems, and all the services they provide humanity, could come crashing down."

To future students, Keehn advocates "get involved!"

"It is such a competitive field now, when agencies look at your resume and see that all you did was take some class to earn a bachelor's degree, they lump you into the pile of hundreds of other applicants. You need to separate yourself from the herd by getting involved. Start helping out on community projects, which gets your face out there. Join the TWS, it helps make personal connections to leaders in the field."