Deirdre Conroy, of Arlington, Virginia, a junior wildlife conservation major in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, has received a 2018 Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.
Conroy has built much of her educational career around undergraduate research. During her first year at Virginia Tech, she worked with Professor Marcella Kelly of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, completing data entry for a camera-trapping project. As a result of working with graduate student mentors on the project, she learned about further research opportunities with the college’s Conservation Management Institute.
In the spring of her sophomore year, Conroy began an undergraduate research experience through the Conservation Management Institute, funded by the Morton and Spapperi Family Foundation. Conroy and three other students designed and implemented independent research projects under the supervision of research scientist Verl Emrick and other mentors.
“This project allowed me to become familiar with many different techniques and concepts for working in the field of natural resources,” she said. “My undergraduate colleagues and I spent the summer in the field collecting data for our various projects. Additionally, I gained experience doing literature reviews and analyzing and synthesizing data.”
Conroy’s research projects focused on bat composition and diversity on a privately owned property as well as the relative abundance of terrestrial woodland salamanders in varying habitat types. She said that working on these projects has inspired her to pursue more research opportunities to broaden her understanding of field techniques and the scientific method and to explore fascinating concepts in more detail.
“For this summer, I have been awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship grant through the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech to conduct a study on the influence of sustainable logging on jaguars in Belize under the supervision of Dr. Marcella Kelly,” she explained.
In addition to her research pursuits, Conroy has been a member of the VPI Cave Club and has led trips into and mapped subterranean cave systems throughout the Southeastern United States. She also serves as a member of the Blacksburg Cave Rescue Group of the Blacksburg Rescue Squad.
Next year, Conroy will take part in the Grand Canyon Semester program through Northern Arizona University, exploring the landscape, culture, and politics of the Grand Canyon and surrounding Colorado Plateau. Conroy hopes to learn more about the interactions between land managers, Native American tribes, and the public in the Southwest. When she completes her degree, she plans to pursue graduate study to investigate the socioeconomic factors that affect conservation in non-Western societies.
“We can’t do meaningful science if we ignore the human component. The conservation field is a global network that includes and affects people from different countries, origins, and backgrounds. You have to have a good understanding of ecology, policy, and socioeconomic issues in order to develop effective wildlife management programs,” she said.
The Morris K. Udall and Steward L. Udall Foundation, established in 1992 to honor Arizona Congressman Morris King Udall’s 30-year legacy of public service, was created to provide federally funded scholarships for college students pursuing careers related to the environment, as well as to Native American students pursuing tribal policy or health care careers.
Conroy is one of 50 students from 42 colleges and universities, and the only one from Virginia Tech, to receive a 2018 Udall Scholarship. Recipients are selected by a 16-member independent review committee on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, health care, or tribal public policy; leadership potential; and academic achievement. Conroy will travel to Tucson, Arizona, for a week in August to meet with fellow scholarship recipients as well as policymakers and community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care, and government.
“I was incredibly intimidated when I began reading the bios of the other scholars on the Udall website. The people awarded this scholarship are really engaged with the world and passionate about the work they do. I am excited to dig into the problems of today while working on case studies with them at the August conference. I’m excited to meet them and join their ranks,” Conroy said.