May 20, 2012
“Most mathematicians never consider fieldwork, and most scientists in the field would rather be run over by a truck than use math as a conservation tool,” says Theresa Stratmann. She is proving that merging two fields is a winning concept as evident by her recent Goldwater and Udall scholarship awards.
B.S. in Ecology, Minor in Mathematics
University highlights, achievements and awards:
Most mathematicians never consider fieldwork, and most scientists who work in the field would rather be run over by a truck than use math as a conservation tool.
Drawn to fieldwork and math, I have spent my time at UGA trying to figure out how to combine these passions into a career in conservation biology. I spent my freshman year overcoming the fear that I would not be able to excel in both areas.
Usually the only ecology major in math class, I have worked hard to become a better mathematician. Math is not always easy for me, but its logic has always been a comfort in this world where there is rarely a black and white answer. I’m by no means brilliant at math now, but I do know I have the perseverance to keep at it.
I’ve also had plenty of opportunities to test my fieldwork abilities. It started the summer after my freshman year, when one of my childhood dreams came true: I got to work with an endangered species. That summer I was hired by Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources as a field technician to monitor bog turtle populations. It was an amazing experience that pushed all my comfort zones. I drove a four-wheel truck on windy, narrow mountain roads, built a barbed wire fence in the heat of July, braved hornet stings, and pulled snapping turtles out of traps on a daily basis.
Then came the day when—in two feet of oozing muck, alone, in pouring rain—I saw my first bog turtle. He took all my fears and discomfort and made them irrelevant. It did not matter that I had pulled 12-hour field days and that I was in a place where most males refused to acknowledge my competency. This turtle needed me. The culmination of a year of hard work, I realized I could face the challenges of saving it.
That summer gave me the knowledge to create a research project where I get to help conserve this endangered turtle. It’s a real dream come true for me.
Currently, my family lives in Irmo, S.C.
Dutch Fork High School
Dr. Maerz’s Herpetology Lab
Family Ties to UGA:
I’m the first in my family to attend an American university.
I chose to attend UGA because...
of the Odum School of Ecology. They are my family here. They support me in all my endeavors. They let students dream big. The professors truly care about us, and we have the best academic adviser.
My favorite things to do on campus are...
I love taking care of the outreach animals in the herpetology lab. We have 20 animals, all with their own unique personalities and quirks. It’s a lot of work, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
When I have free time, I like...
to explore the outdoors, run, hike, camp, read, draw, dance, float down a river and hang out with friends. When I’m in South Carolina, I always head to Riverbanks Zoo to volunteer in the herpetology department, which is especially tempting when you get to train crocodilians and take care of Galapagos tortoises—babies and 100-year-old adults.
The craziest thing I've done is...
look for rattlesnakes up in the Georgia mountains. This is saying a lot for someone who is not fond of heights and who used to be afraid of snakes. It’s quite a hike up, but the view off a mountain rock face is breathtaking, and the snakes are beautiful.
My favorite place to study is...
the herpetology lab….studying is so much easier with a snake around your wrist.
My favorite professor is...
I’ve had so much incredible support from so many professors. I must say Dr. Maerz from the Warnell School of Forestry and Dr. Drake from the Odum School of Ecology have been my biggest supporters. Their belief in me keeps me going. They’ve helped me learn what it really means to be a scientist.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with...
I would love to share it with Jane Goodall. I admire her strength, patience and persistence in carrying out her field studies. If it wasn’t for women like her who showed men that women are just as capable of working in the field as men, I would never been hired as a wildlife technician my freshman year. To me, she embodies what a true scientist should be—a researcher, an educator and a leader.
If I knew I could not fail, I would...
You’re talking to a girl who wants to study reptiles and amphibians! These animals are going extinct at an alarming rate, not to mention that they’re extremely misunderstood and feared, so people could care less. Let’s add to that the fact that we are seeing huge cuts in funding to research and a public that often does not trust scientists. The odds are against the conservation of these creatures, nonetheless I will dedicate my life to researching and conserving them. I won’t be rich. I might live in a box. Yet, I’m the kind of person who follows her dreams no matter what. We only have one life. If you don’t spend it following your passion, then what’s the point?
If money was not a consideration, I would love to...
visit my family in Germany every year.
After graduation, I plan to...
complete my masters in Germany and then return to the U.S. for a Ph.D. in conservation biology.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be...
is when I helped seine for diamondback terrapins. One of the students in Dr. Maerz lab gets to work with these amazing turtles and every year he needs help collecting turtles for his mark/recapture study. Cute turtles. Coastal marsh. Swimming. Glamorous, right? Ah, but you forget the marsh mud. First you’re hip deep in mud. Then you pull yourself out and are covered in it. Then you attempt to pull the seine through the mud while trying not to get mauled by the oyster beds. Sounds dramatic right? Actually, the mud recalls fond memories of my childhood, and it’s all worth it to see these turtles. They always look like they’re smiling and they have the prettiest speckled skin with a shell highlighted by brilliant orange hues.