Hello, my name is Avery Cook and I am a Senior at Purdue University participating in the mammals group of the REEU program. With this post I am going to share what got me interested in Wildlife, what I plan to do with my degrees, and how this program will help me achieve my goals.
Growing up I watched Steve Irwin on Animal Planet and I knew I wanted to be exactly like him. I grew up sheltered and, in the city, so I never got to go exploring through the woods or really do anything outside for that matter. When I chose a Wildlife degree, and then later added on my Forestry degree, everyone who knew me was quite surprised. Why would a city girl, raised in a concrete jungle, be interested in working in the woods? At first people didn’t think that I would last long in the program, they figured that once I found out I had to get my hands dirty I would quit. Then the summer after freshman year I volunteered for Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, where I spent all day out in the heat and mud working my butt off and loving every last second of it. After seeing pictures of me wrangling geese, covered in mud from caves, and in a river ripping beaver dams out with my bare hands, people finally started to see that this is what I wanted.
Now that I’m in my 4th year at Purdue people always ask me what I am going to do with my degrees and why I chose this path in the first place. When I answer I always remember back to my childhood hero Steve Irwin. I chose this field because nature and the environment are so much bigger than us and I want to ensure it will continue to thrive for future generations. A hundred years down the line when people walk through a forest they will have no idea that I managed it, that I planted the white oak that they currently sit under, or that a hundred years before it was a jungle of invasives and not the beautiful forest they enjoy today. And that’s okay. I don’t want to go into conservation and management for the glory, I don’t think anyone does, but I want to ensure that these precious resources will be there for all to enjoy long after I am gone. I also realized that if I wanted to help wildlife then creating a healthy ecosystem for them to thrive in was the best way.
One thing that is critical to managing land is research. To manage the land, you need to know how the different parts (i.e. the soil, trees, wildlife, water, etc.) interact with each other. All this information is gathered through research. This program is giving me experience in research that I will be able to pull from when I am pursuing a master’s degree in the future. I will understand how sound and reliable data is collected, how to analyze and understand that data, and how to share that data with the public. All of these skills are critical when managing large tracts of public land. This program is exposing me to all of those aspects early in my journey as a Wildlife Biologist, so in the future I can continue to build on the skills I have gained during these 8 weeks.