New Faculty Intro: Sarah Converse

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

This March, we were enormously pleased to welcome our newest faculty member, Sarah J. Converse, who joins us as an associate professor and the new leader of the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. The Cooperative Research Unit program was founded in the 1930s to enhance graduate education in fisheries and wildlife sciences, and to facilitate research between natural resource agencies and universities. In Washington the Coop is a partnership between federal and state government agencies, the University of Washington, and the Wildlife Management Institute. While Sarah’s position is technically funded through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), her role operates in all other ways as a non-tenured faculty member—with her home department in SEFS and a joint appointment with the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Sarah with a sandhill crane at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Sarah, who grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., brings tremendous experience as a quantitative population ecologist with a strong interest in decision analysis and decision science, conservation biology, demographic estimation, hierarchical modeling, integrated population modeling and reintroduction biology. “I build models of wildlife populations, and then I help land managers use those models to make management decisions,” she says.

That element of her research—working with land managers and seeing real-world applications of her models for different species—really clicked for her during graduate school.

Coming out of her bachelor’s in fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University, Sarah thought she’d probably end up being a lawyer. Then she went on to a master’s program in natural resource sciences at the University of Nebraska, where she got to work on a project she loved involving box turtles and the pet trade. “That really cemented it,” she says. “By the end of my master’s, I knew I would be continuing on and working as a research scientist.”

Her next move was to complete a Ph.D. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, where she got heavier training in quantitative methods, before accepting a postdoc position at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Two years later, she accepted a permanent position at Patuxent. For the next 10 years, Sarah worked there as a research ecologist with projects that stretched across the country from Washington to Florida, and also internationally. Most involved studying threatened species, including whooping crane recovery and conservation, management of avian reintroductions in New Zealand, and design and analysis methods for albatross population studies.

Sarah and her husband relocated from Washington, D.C., to Seattle in mid-March, and they have just moved into their new home in Green Lake. Here, she has her hands full with a waved albatross in the Galapagos.

“I really enjoyed my time at Patuxent—so many great people there, an amazing place to work—and 10 years went by really quickly,” she says.

Still, she always thought she’d end up back in academia, and this Coop faculty position struck her as a perfect fit and opportunity. “I like the environment and the energy of a university,” says Sarah, “and I love working with students. I also love the Northwest and always wanted to live here, so when this job came up, I was really excited.”

After the national-level focus of her time at Patuxent, Sarah is also excited to be a whole lot closer to some of her study areas and species in Washington. “For 10 years, my closest project, in terms of where I was working, was in Wisconsin, about 1,000 miles from my home,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know the state of Washington—ecologically, socially, politically, all those things—so I feel I’m working where I live. To be more immersed in a place is going to be great.”

As that immersion begins, we are thrilled to have Sarah as part of our community, and we encourage you to stop by her new office in Anderson 123A (at least part of the time) or introduce yourselves by email.

Welcome!

Photos © Sarah Converse.

Captured here working on a Florida manatee survey, Sarah will stay involved with a postdoc working on lesser prairie chickens, another with polar bears, and a new one working on marine birds in Europe—so even with her new home in the Pacific Northwest, she’ll have plenty of other national and international projects.