Alumni in Action

Shannon Barber-Meyer

Tiger Program Officer, World Wildlife Fund

Shannon Barber-Meyer
Class of 1996 | Major: Biology, Minors: Chemistry and Mathematics
Where are you now and what are you doing?

I'm currently in England. I'll have to come back though because I couldn't find time to cram in visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum while racing from Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Big Ben - and of course the Hard Rock Cafe London. The "official" reason I'm here is for a workshop to guide the creation of a global database focused on the illegal tiger trade. I travel quite a bit with my career, so depending on the day I answer this question I could be in Washington DC, Indonesia, China, Nepal, Cambodia, or a number of other countries where tigers persist in the wild. (Okay - so I know there aren't wild tigers in England but I'm not going to turn down a free trip to England!)

What does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?

Right now I'm working with the World Wildlife Fund as their Tiger Conservation Program Officer. Basically I go to countries where tigers live in the wild and help the local field teams set up rigorous monitoring programs for tigers and tiger prey so that after they do their surveys, they will have statistically defensible results. I also help with media and communications regarding tigers and also assist with field teams when they apply for tiger grants from US-based organizations.

My Eckerd experience really made the difference in my career. There's no doubt about it. Because I was able to complete a senior thesis of such high quality using cutting edge technology (a direct result of the support of the professors and the funding provided), I was able to skip a Master's degree and head straight into a funded PhD program at the University of Minnesota. I didn't have the usual background experience that most wildlife conservation students have because while at Eckerd I wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on, so I took a wide variety of science classes to prepare me best for whatever path I eventually took. My future PhD advisor said to me, "From the classes you took as an undergrad - I don't have any question that you can pick up the background courses you haven't yet taken because you've already done the hard stuff." My experience with multiple research opportunities at Eckerd and the demanding science courses proved to be enough to get my foot into a career where I had a lot of passion but not yet a lot of field experience. The rigor of Eckerd allowed me to bypass much of the ordinary "hoop jumping" that many beginning graduate students have to go through.

What opportunities have you had because of your Eckerd education and how have they impacted your life?

Because of my varied Eckerd education I was able to take a position as a math and science teacher (in Hawaii - aloha!) right after graduation and then work as a research chemist. Ultimately, I earned my PhD in Wildlife Conservation with a minor in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. Sometimes I seriously feel like I'm living a dream!

I've been able to study wolves in northern Minnesota with the world's most famous wolf biologist (and winner of the Wildlife Society's Aldo Leopold Award and co-founder of the International Wolf Center), Dr. L. David Mech of the University of Minnesota, and conduct my PhD research in Yellowstone National Park. Three years in Yellowstone while I'm actually getting paid to study predators and prey? It was incredible!

I've also been to Antarctica to study emperor penguins during my Postdoc with Dr. Gerald Kooyman of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (the inventor of the time-depth recorder and winner of the 1st Society for Marine Mammalogy's Lifetime Achievement Award - that's a really big deal in marine mammalogy).

After that I worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department as their Mexican Wolf Field Team Leader reintroducing the endangered Mexican wolf into southwestern US.

Now I'm working with tigers and getting to travel to so many amazing places! In the last 8 months I've visited 7 countries for the first time! I could never have imagined back in the day at Eckerd while I was studying the magnificent frigatebird in the Dry Tortugas aboard the Westwind sailing vessel (during a Winter Term) that ecology was to become my passion, my career, and so much fun!

My Eckerd experience opened doors for me and I haven't stopped stepping through them since!

Describe some of your best memories or favorite traditions from your time at Eckerd

I loved checking out the canoes from the waterfront and taking a paddle out to the mangroves to visit the quiet places where the pelicans rested. Visiting the "pub" and meeting with friends at all hours. Speaking of all hours - taking turns sleeping while working on a big chemistry report - studying for the big cell exam together - talk about bonding! - visiting the seashore - watching manatees while studying on the sea wall - night of joy at Disney World - taking the sailing class down at the waterfront - and passing!

What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college? What does it mean to you now that you have been away for awhile?

Eckerd for me has been the difference maker. I needed a place where I could get specialized one-on-one attention - and not just from a TA - but from the experts. If I had gone to a big college I could have easily been lost in the crowd or been just a number. But at Eckerd I had relationships with my professors and other students became like family. I still keep in touch with many of my professors and visit often with Eckerd students as well. Eckerd was a place of growing for me - a place that taught me to never stop growing. As I am farther and farther removed from Eckerd, I realize even more so what a very special place it was. The teachers are experts in their field and they expose you to the most up-to-date methods and techniques but challenge you to thoughtfully evaluate ideas and concepts in a way that highlights our place in the context of history. You aren't just taught a subject matter at Eckerd - you are taught to learn, explore, think and grow.

Describe some of the people who had a profound impact on your Eckerd experience

Oh goodness - where to start?!? There are too many!

Dr. William Roess was amazing! He was so inspirational - running around his classroom to demonstrate cellular respiration - doing the dance of joy when a particularly tricky experiment actually worked! He was such a warm person who listened and gave advice when sought. He was a keel for me (sailing people - you'll get that reference!).

Dr. Harry Ellis - what a joy to study Physics with him! He was such an encouraging and thought provoking professor! I loved his class and that is really saying something when you're talking about the 2nd semester of Physics! I know someone once referred to him as their greatest cheerleader - I think I could second that. He has great passion for students' success and that instills confidence in you - it rubs off - and suddenly you think - hey if this professor sees something great in me - he must be right!

Dr. John Reynolds - an expert in his field of marine mammalogy. It was an honor to study under him. His marine mammalogy course was an opportunity like no other. Truly we were sitting at the feet of a giant.

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