Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Moskowitz

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

Shortly after graduating this spring, new SEFS alumna Olivia Moskowitz flew to Chicago to spend a week training for her Chicago Botanic Garden Conservation and Land Management Internship. Through a highly competitive application process, the program matches interns with federal agencies or nonprofit organizations involved in land management work. For Olivia, that meant heading to Idaho Falls, Idaho, earlier this month to begin a five-month assignment—as a full-time employee, paid by the Chicago Botanic Garden—with the U.S. Forest Service.

Olivia at the 2017 SEFS Graduation.

She’ll be working in four different national forests around the region (Caribou-Targhee, Sawtooth, Bridger-Teton and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache), and covering a big mix of projects, from collecting native seeds (like showy fleabane and horsemint) for sage-grouse habitat restoration, to conducting forest inventories, plant population scouting and GPS mapping. Some of her tasks will be completely new to her. Others will feel incredibly familiar, which isn’t surprising considering the number of lab and field experiences Olivia accumulated during her four years as an undergrad!

Olivia, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, wasted no time getting involved in university life when she arrived on campus. In her first year, in fact, she co-founded a student group, Conservation in Style, and organized a highly successful “Conservation Catwalk” to raise money to support wildlife conservation efforts for endangered species, including African elephants, through The Gabby Wild Foundation.

Though no longer involved with that group, she quickly filled her hours by exploring every opportunity as an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major. At the end of her sophomore year in 2015, she headed down to Pack Forest to take part in the Summer Crew, a foundational internship experience that entrenched and expanded her interest in forests and field work. “That’s what started it all,” says Olivia, who also minored in Quantitative Sciences. “[Working on that crew] puts you on the right track, and it’s a whole lot of fun.”

Working in Pack Forest with Stephen Calkins, a fellow intern on the 2015 Summer Crew.

Olivia came back energized in the fall and started working with SEFS doctoral student Matthew Aghai on his dissertation research. She had reached out to Matthew earlier in her sophomore year, and now he was able to bring her in as a lab tech. She started attending weekly lab meetings with Professor Greg Ettl and taking trips down to Pack Forest, the Cedar and Tolt River watersheds, and Cle Elum. She completed the rest of her research at the Center for Urban Horticulture overseeing and collecting data for Matthew’s greenhouse studies. “It was a lot of fun and really intense, but also probably the most valuable experience I’ve gotten,” she says. (Her research there would eventually lead to a sub-study for her capstone project this spring, “The effects of varying light and moisture levels on the growth and survival of 12 Pacific Northwest tree species.”)

Last summer, Olivia then got to work with Professor Charlie Halpern on his long-running Demonstration of Ecosystem Management Options (DEMO) study, looking at how different patterns of harvesting trees have long-term effects on the landscape. That study took her down to the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon, near Crater Lake, and also to parts of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southern Washington.

Most recently, this past quarter Olivia worked with Professor Ernesto Alvarado’s Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory doing a fire-risk assessment report for Washington State Parks out in Spokane. She got to spend several weekends out in the field, as well as plenty of time in the lab working on GIS, writing reports and data entry. “It was great to be a part of something directly useful, and hopefully applied,” she says. She also enjoyed the exposure to how state government works, and getting to meet stakeholders involved in the project at different levels.

Measuring leaf area of destructively sampled seedlings for her capstone project.

Those hands-on research experiences opened doors for Olivia to get some high-level presentation experience, as well. In spring 2016 she presented preliminary results of her capstone research at the 10th IUFRO International Workshop on Uneven-aged Silviculture in Little Rock, Ark., and this May, as part of her Mary Gates Research Scholarship, she gave an oral presentation at the 2017 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. She will also be presenting twice this summer—first in July at the Forest Regeneration In Changing Environments conference in Corvallis, Ore., and then in September at the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress in Freiburg, Germany.

Throughout these many side projects, of course, has been a steady stream of memorable classes. “I’ve made it a point to take as many ESRM classes as I can, which has resulted in very packed schedules,” she says. Among her favorites—and there are many, she says—were Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley’s Spring Comes to the Cascades, and then Professor Jerry Franklin’s ESRM 425 field trip down in Oregon, Fire-Prone Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.

Now, at the end of her four years at SEFS, Olivia has some advice and encouragement for other students getting started in the program. “Get involved, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” she says. “It was pretty scary to reach out to Matthew and Greg [Ettl] and know you want to get involved, but not what your role would be. But when you talk to the professors, they’ve been so helpful and encouraging, they take the whole scariness away from the process. I don’t think a lot of students realize that undergraduate research is available to them. I think it set the stage for the rest of my life, and my experience certainly wouldn’t have been as wonderful and fruitful as it’s been.”

Good luck, Olivia, and stay in touch!

Graduation photo © Karl Wirsing/SEFS; Pack Forest pic © Olivia Moskowitz; lab shot © Matthew Aghai.