Alumni Spotlight: Christina Galitsky

Christina Galitsky

After nearly a decade as an engineer, Galitsky changed course and headed to graduate school to study wildlife ecology at SEFS.

“Ecology is so much harder than engineering, despite what the majority of the population might think,” says Christina Galitsky, who recently earned a Master of Science from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). She would know: After nearly a decade as an engineer, Galitsky moved to Seattle in 2009 to begin graduate study in wildlife ecology—trading factories for field work, and lab goggles for binoculars.

What prompted this turnabout was many years in the making, and it started with a simple desire to feel more energized by her work.

Originally from Allentown, Pa., Galitsky moved to California in 1996 to attend graduate school at Berkeley. She had always excelled at math and science and felt it was a natural fit to study chemical engineering. After school, she spent the next nine years as a full-time engineer, first with an environmental consulting firm in Oakland and then with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Her work involved solving basic engineering problems for some of the poorest people in the world. No question, she says, the projects were immensely important and rewarding. Yet she got to a point where she’d be in a meeting and watch her colleagues be giddy and raving about a tiny engineering tweak, like getting a minute increase in efficiency, and she realized she wanted to share that same pulse of excitement with her job someday—and it wasn’t going to happen as an engineer.

Christina Galitsky

In her free time, Galitsky is an accomplished rock climber, mountaineer, snowboarder and lover of all things outdoors.

Galitsky decided to take some time off work to figure out her next move. She spent a summer interning with the U.S. Geological Survey on the Olympic Peninsula and researched graduate programs and professors studying wildlife biology, conservation and related areas.

She soon discovered SEFS and was particularly attracted to the work Professor Josh Lawler was doing with climate change and landscape ecology. She wanted to be involved in research that would directly influence policy or on-the-ground management, and when she met Lawler and visited campus, she felt a strong connection. “At first it was his research, and then our conversations,” she says. “I really liked his lab and the way he has his students weigh in on potential next students, which I think is really unique and special. Josh was clearly passionate about what he does and wanted to make a difference in the world. I liked all of those things about him.”

After so many years in the workforce, Galitsky wasn’t eager to take out new student loans and debt, so she was relieved to find that Lawler had funding for another Master’s student. Plus, he was open to her doing field work, which became the heart of her graduate program.

For her thesis, “Effects of Local Vegetation and Landscape Patterns on Avian Biodiversity in the Threatened Oak Habitat of the Willamette Valley, Ore.,” she spent several field seasons meticulously documenting birds, learning to recognize species by sight and sound, patiently listening and watching for long hours.

Christina Galitsky

Galitsky out birding.

“I found field work really hard, frustrating and amazing, all at the same time, every day,” she says. “Getting to see the sunrise every day and hear the birds in the morning was great. But having to get up at 3 a.m., not so good.”

The stress of field work, too, was different from her previous office deadlines. If things don’t go right in a field season—if your research doesn’t come together, or you need to adjust your methods—you’re in school for another year. “There’s more urgency to figure out how to make it right,” she says.

Galitsky persevered, of course, and she credits her committee, which included SEFS Professors John Marzluff and Aaron Wirsing, for their critiques and encouragement in building her confidence as a researcher. Above all, she’s grateful for Lawler’s support as her advisor. “Working with Josh was the highlight for me,” she says. “He just blew me away with how understanding, helpful and encouraging he was. He always seemed to have time for me, and he really helped me through grad school, probably more than he knows.”

Now, her transition from engineer to ecologist is complete: As of May 1, 2013, Galitsky is the program coordinator for Tree Kangaroo Conservation at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Not quite two months into her new gig, she says she feels privileged to have found a home at the intersection of so many of her interests. “The tree kangaroo program has both a wildlife and a people component, which was exactly what I wanted,” she says. “I think that’s why this project hits home to me. It’s been really fun working in a place where everyone has the same passions about animals and conservation.”

Tree Kangaroo

This photo, taken by Bruce Beehler, captures an incontrovertible truth about tree kangaroos: their incredible stuffed-animal cuteness.

Tree kangaroos are found only in one small region of Papua New Guinea, and Galitsky hopes she’ll get a chance to travel there in the next year or two with her boss, Dr. Lisa Dabek. Her current position, though, is not as a field research biologist, and she’s been focusing on fundraising, program management and outreach. “I’m probably most excited about the outreach,” she says. “We scientists aren’t always the best communicators, and I enjoy the challenge of being the link between scientific research and the public.”

As she settles into her new role, Galitsky has no regrets about her past career. Her new work, she says, isn’t more worthwhile; it’s just more her. Unlike her years spent in cement plants or steel factories, where she felt invested if not inspired, these days she finally has her passions and profession in tune. How can she tell? This time, the line between work and play is awfully fuzzy.

“I still love going out and watching birds and trying to identify them, probably to the dismay of my boyfriend and everyone around me,” says Galitsky. “I can’t shut it off!”

Photos of Christina Galitsky © Matt Gerhart; photo of tree kangaroo © Bruce Beehler.

Tree Kangaroo (Photo by Bruce Beehler)

Thesis Defense: Kristen Richardson!

As part of the Wildlife Seminar this Monday, June 3, Kristen Richardson will be defending her Master’s Thesis, “Using non-invasive techniques to examine patterns of black bear (Ursus americanus) abundance in the  North Cascades Ecosystem.”

Her talk begins at 3:30 p.m. in Kane 130 and is open to the public, so come support the culmination of her research at SEFS!

And what will Richardson be talking about?

Kristen Richardson

Kristen Richardson removing survey sites on her last trip to the field.

From 2008 to 2011 a large, multi-agency project deployed barbed-wire hair-snag corrals to collect DNA samples from black bears (Ursus americanus) in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) of Washington State. Using the genetic and detection data, Richardson examined the influence of human activities and habitat characteristics on bear abundance across heterogeneous landscapes of the NCE.

No other research to date in Washington State has examined the influence of habitat and anthropogenic variables on black bears across such a large geographic expanse, and the results of her study should help guide management of black bear populations in the NCE. This research is especially important given the challenge of maintaining viable populations of a long-lived species with relatively low fecundity.

Richardson’s committee chair is Professor Aaron Wirsing, and the other members are Bill Gaines and Josh Lawler.

Photo © Kristen Richardson.

Dissertation Defense: Ailene Ettinger!

In case you’re seeing Megan McPhaden’s defense this morning, the best way to keep your neurons firing when she’s done is to join Ailene Ettinger in the Forest Club at 12:30 p.m. as she defends her dissertation, “Testing the Limits: Understanding How Climate and Competition Affect Species Ranges in a Warming World.”

Mount RainierRising temperatures could result in tree range shifts. Indeed, scientists have already observed that many species ranges have moved upward in latitude and altitude as global temperatures have increased during the past century. However, competition with neighboring trees can also affect species distributions, which means that global warming may not always result in range shifts. Ettinger’s dissertation research investigates these issues by examining how climate (including temperature, rain and snow) interacts with competition to determine the performance of common tree species at Mount Rainier National Park.

Her committee chair is Biology Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, and other members include Martha Groom, Joshua Tewksbury and SEFS Professors Josh Lawler and Tom Hinckley.

Your brain will be hungry, so feed it!

Photo © Ailene Ettinger.

Thesis Defense: Jesse Langdon!

Jesse Langdon

Species turnover hot/cold spots.

Nothing gets the nervous/excited juices flowing like more faces in the crowd, so come out and support Jesse Langdon tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, April 24, as he defends his thesis, “Forecasting the impacts of climate change on terrestrial species and protected areas in the Pacific Northwest!”

Part of the Landscape Ecology and Conservation Lab, Langdon’s faculty advisor is Professor Josh Lawler, and his other committee members are Professor Steve West and Elizabeth Gray. He will be giving his talk in the Forest Club Room from 1-2 p.m., with snacks and refreshments provided.

It’s a great opportunity to support a fellow colleague and student, and to help commemorate his years of research and contributions to the SEFS community!

SEFS Seminar Series: Spring Quarter Schedule!

SEFS Seminar SeriesFeeling uninspired on Wednesday afternoons lately? Craving intellectual stimulation—that first shiver of excitement when a brave new idea courses through you? Well, crave idly no more, as the SEFS Seminar Series is back for the 2013 Spring Quarter!

Starting tomorrow, April 3, the series kicks off with a scorcher: “The Second Solution to Climate Change: Mobilizing Nature to Reach Target 350 ppm.” For this talk, we’re especially pleased to welcome Rhys Roth and Patrick Mazza from Climate Solutions, and Amanda Stanley from the Wilburforce Foundation.

Held on Wednesdays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Anderson 223, the seminars are open to the public, and all faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend! (Graduate Students will get 3 credits registering SEFS 550C).

After the seminar, join your colleagues over in the Forest Club Room for a casual reception from 4:30-6 p.m. We’ll have snacks, and this spring we’ll be offering selections from the Fremont Brewing Company (for those of age)!

Check out the rest of the spring schedule below:

April 10
“Connections Between Environmental Science and Health”
Professor Susan Bolton, SEFS

April 17
“Ecological Restoration of Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand”
Mel Galbraith, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand

April 24
“Connectivity for the 21st Century: Planning for Climate-Driven Shifts in Biota.”
Professor Josh Lawler, SEFS

May 1
“Forest Health in Washington”
Professor Emeritus Bob Edmonds, SEFS

May 8
“The Dynamics of Photosynthesis and its Significance for Modeling Plant Growth”
Professor David Ford, SEFS

May 15
“Conservation Biology of the Endangered Huon Tree Kangaroo in Papua New Guinea: A Community-based Approach”
Lisa Dabek, Woodland Park Zoo

May 22
“Landscape-scale Effects of Fire Severity in Yosemite National Park from LiDAR and Landsat Data”
Van Kane, SEFS

May 29
“Reconciliation—A Personal Journey of a Nez Perce Trying to Manage Nature”
Jaime Pinkham, Native Nations

June 5
“SEFS Student Enrollment: Past, Future and National Trends”
Michelle Trudeau, SEFS

Wildlife Seminar Today: Barred Owls!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

For Week 5 of the Wildlife Science Seminar, Robin Bowen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore., will be presenting on the conservation challenges surrounding barred and spotted owls: “Killing one species to save another: Biology, ecology, ethics and the case of the barred owl.”

Hosted by Professor Ken Raedeke, the Wildlife Seminar is open to the public and meets from 3:30 to 4:40 p.m. in Kane Hall, Room 130. All are welcome, so come if you can!

Also, after today, only two more seminars are left in the Winter Quarter, so mark your calendars:

February 25
“Implementation of the wolf management plan in Washington State.”
Steve Pozzanghera, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Wash.

March 4
“Forecasting the impacts of land use and climate change at regional and continental scales.”
Josh Lawler, Wildlife Science Group, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences