Focus on Faculty
Kamal Gandhi, an associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, says the best part of her job is watching her students grow as scientists and leaders.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I have three degrees from three different countries: B.S. in zoology from the University of Delhi, India; M.S. in environmental sciences from the University of Alberta, Canada; and a Ph.D. degree in entomology and forestry from the University of Minnesota. I am currently an associate professor of forest entomology at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I started my position in October 2008 as an assistant professor. The Warnell School was very attractive to me as it’s a top-notch forestry school that has an excellent reputation in teaching and research activities, a highly collegial and supportive environment, and a tight focus on creating the next generation of leaders in environmental sciences. When I interviewed for this position, I could sense that I would be able to thrive as a scientist in this positive environment. It certainly helped that Athens is a small town with an active arts and music scene, and we could live close to campus and still have a large wooded property.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite course is FORS 4210/6210, Forest Health and Protection. This course deals with forest entomology, forest pathology and fire ecology—the intersection of these topics is of great interest to me. The students learn how to identify, diagnose and provide management recommendations for major insects and diseases, especially in the Southeast. It has been gratifying to receive emails and postcards from students who took my course stating that they were able to correctly figure out insect/disease issues in the forests that they were working in. I also enjoyed teaching a First-Year Odyssey seminar course last fall on urban insects where we collected insects on campus trees and brought them back to make drawings of them. This nexus of art and science was very interesting.
What interests you about your field?
Insects are among the coolest and most beautiful organisms in the world! They are abundant, diverse and are important contributors to forest ecosystems at many trophic levels. As a scientist, I am intrigued by the ecology and biology of forest insects and how our current forest management practices affect them and vice versa. I conduct both basic and applied research to find solutions for real-life problems related to either insect conservation or pest management issues in our region.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
The best part of my job is watching my students grow as scientists and leaders in our field. I am proud of the achievements of my students and to be standing beside them when they receive awards for their research or teaching activities.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I was a researcher before I became a teacher. My research background heavily influenced what and how I taught as a teacher. However, as a teacher, I was forced to think about concepts a lot more clearly and cohesively so that I could teach effectively. This in turn had a very positive impact on my research and communication skills.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope the students get excited about forest insects and fungi and better appreciate their complexity and importance in forested landscapes. I want students to be critical thinkers, hungry for knowledge and to always ask questions and try hard to answer them.
Describe your ideal student.
An ideal student is someone who is a true intellect by thinking deeply about a problem and is conscientious, independent, honest, curious and a problem-solver by nature.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
During lunchtime, I like to go for a walk from the forestry building to North Campus and spend time at the Trial Gardens. Sometimes I bring my husband and 5-year-old daughter on the weekends to look at fish and turtles in the Mary Kahrs Garden next to the Warnell School.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Spend time with my family, garden and fix our old house. If my schedule allows, I also take dance, yoga and weight-lifting lessons at the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I sometimes volunteer at local parks, where I bring insect displays for kids and talk about the ecology and natural history of insects. As the official “bug doctor,” I also assist local landowners with their forest health issues.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I am a big John Steinbeck fan and have read most of his books. At night, we read a lot of Dr. Seuss’s books to our daughter, and I love the silly rhymes (as does our daughter).
Proudest moment at UGA?
Watching my students achieve their dreams. It is truly my privilege to serve as their academic mentor.
(Originally published on Aug. 11, 2014)