So often we wear blinders thinking that our department and the classes it offers are all we need to be successful professionals. Taking classes in other subjects not only broadens your depth of knowledge; often it can highlight connections and change your perspective on what role you will play in your professional field.
Irving native Jennifer Zavaleta is fascinated with the natural world. As a master’s student in the Department of Natural Resources Management, Zavaleta says she benefited greatly from enrolling in classes outside her major, incorporating her knowledge from agricultural education, communications, and sociology into her scholarship. Among her research opportunities, Zavaleta received a grant for her paper that highlighted assumptions made by government agents and researchers in regard to land management, as well as created a literature review about lesser prairie chickens, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act—all through a collaboration with wildlife ecology Adjunct Professor David Haukos. Zavaleta’s thesis, which was based on data collected over thirteen years, evaluated the effect of tebuthiuron herbicide and rotational grazing on shinnery oak, a shrub that is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Since graduating last spring, Zavaleta has embarked on a journey taking her to Chile as part of her selection as a Student Fulbright Fellow. The first half of her fellowship consisted of a program evaluation of the country’s Long-Term Ecological Research Network, and the second half has involved assessing the land management plan for a community that lives in a national forest.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Jennifer Zavaleta in this question-and-answer session.
What courses are you taking this semester?
This semester I am working on a research project with Dr. Dave Haukos (former major adviser at Texas Tech). I am putting together a literature review over everything that has been written about lesser prairie chickens, a species that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
What is the most challenging course you've taken? How has it affected you?
The most challenging course I took at Texas Tech was Landscape Ecology taught by Dr. Nancy MacIntyre in the Department of Biological Sciences. The exciting and challenging part of the class was the “systems thinking” that it required. Landscape ecology focuses on how pattern can affect process, and vice versa, at different spatial and time scales. It broadened the way I thought about the natural world and highlighted how interconnected and multifaceted ecosystem processes can be. I also enjoyed taking classes in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications. The experience emphasized an element of the conservation puzzle that is so often overlooked—successful conservation management requires working with people. People have different histories, belief systems, and cultural norms. Becoming more aware of these differences and learning how to communicate to people is a challenge, but a necessary one.
Have you completed internships or had other work experience applicable to your field of study?
I worked with Ogallala Commons, a nonprofit with the goal of educating landowners and students about the importance of our aquifer and the playa system that exists throughout the panhandle. I conducted surveys and measured how successful their land management days and Playa Festivals were at improving knowledge, attitudes, and behavior in managing our water resources in West Texas.
Have you participated in research?
I had a number of mentors at Texas Tech. My major advisers were Dr. Haukos and Dr. Clint Boal in the Department of Natural Resources Management, and Dr. David Doerfert was my adviser while I was in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications my first semester. My thesis project was based on a thirteen-year data set that looked at how shinnery oak communities were affected by tebuthiuron herbicide and rotational grazing. The study looked at plant composition and structure as well as mammal, invertebrate, reptile, and amphibian abundance and diversity over time. While finishing my thesis, I received an external grant from the Prairie Biotic Institute to interview landowners about how they make management decisions on their land. After taking a methodologies class in the sociology department, taught by Dr. Patricia Maloney, I wrote a paper highlighting the five assumptions that government agents and researchers have about landowners and the decisions they make.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
One of the most influential service projects that I participated in was working as an English as a Second Language tutor with Literacy Lubbock. I have always enjoyed teaching and working with people with different backgrounds and worldviews. It was a rewarding challenge. Many of the students that I worked with were in some way affiliated with Texas Tech either because they were enrolled or their spouses were. Each week I designed lesson plans that taught vocabulary, but more importantly, gave them confidence.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
Time management is important for all students. Often people think to themselves, “Oh, that sounds nice, but I just don’t have the time.” Sorry to break the news, college students, but you have more time now than you ever will after college. This is the time to try something new and take a few hours a week to be a part of something bigger than yourself and your circle of friends. When you spend time with people outside of your community, you can gain a better perspective, learn more about yourself and who you want to be, and you improve the community around you.
What are your plans after graduation?
I received a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Valdivia, Chile, and work on two projects, both of which involve human dimensions and conservation science. The first project is a program evaluation of the Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) that was established in 2008 in Chile. The goal of the network is twofold: encourage collaboration with scientists and design community outreach and education. The second project will be to work with a community living in national forest. Five years ago a management plan was developed so that they would not clear cut surrounding forest, but remain profitable. I will get to go back and interview people to get their perspectives on the plan and see if changes to the management plan would be appropriate.
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
I really enjoyed the people and taking classes in different departments. So often we wear blinders thinking that our department and the classes it offers are all we need to be successful professionals. Taking classes in other subjects not only broadens your depth of knowledge; often it can highlight connections and change your perspective on what role you will play in your professional field. I enjoyed how many opportunities there were to broaden my academic horizons, and I am thankful.