Make The Connection

December 29, 2022

Josie Fornara ’23 points out a Black-throated Sparrow nest as part of OWU Connection grant-supported research conducted with Lily Hambric ’24 at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. (Photos courtesy of Josie Fornara)

Graduate-School Ready

Ohio Wesleyan Senior’s OWU Connection Work Prepares Her to Pursue Ph.D.

By Marcos Crespo ’23

Lily Hambric (left) and Josie Fornara ’23 examine the Black-throated Sparrows they studied as part of a songbird-predator summer research project.

Name: Josie Fornara ’23
Hometown: Coshocton, Ohio
Majors: Pre-Professional Zoology and Environmental Science
Minor: Chemistry
High school: River View High School
OWU Connection Experience: A six-week field season studying the relationship between songbird nest microhabitats and predation in a desert environment

Fornara earned an OWU Connection grant to support a research project titled “Caught in the Act: Using Trail Cameras to Investigate the Relationship Between Nest Microhabitat and Predation in the Desert Southwest.” The study was completed at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro County, New Mexico.

“I had a ton of help from my friend and sorority sister, Lily Hambric ’24,” Fornara said. “She spent six weeks with me in New Mexico collecting nest predation data, and her help finding sparrow nests was invaluable.”

Why I Chose this Experience

“I chose to write a Theory-to-Practice Grant (TPG) because I knew that I wanted to conduct independent research as part of my senior thesis through the OWU Honors Program.

“The grant covered all of my travel and housing expenses, as well as the cost of equipment for my research project. Without the TPG program, I never would have had the resources or funding to plan such an ambitious project.”

My Favorite Moment

Josie Fornara (kneeling) and Lily Hambric install a trail camera to help study the relationship between ‘nest microhabitat and predation in the Desert Southwest.’

“My favorite part of this experience was getting to meet other scientists who were also living at the Sevilleta Biological Station! I had conversations with other undergraduates who were doing summer research internships through the University of New Mexico, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who were monitoring populations of endangered Mexican wolves on the refuge, and a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Toledo who invited me to spend a day in the field with them learning about their research.

“There is a stereotype that scientists are intimidating and unapproachable, but all of the biologists I met were so friendly, and several even helped me find sparrow nests for my research project!”

Lessons Learned

“For me, the most important takeaway from my experience was that research is hard, and things rarely go the way that you expect them to – and that’s totally normal!

“It is so rare to get to conceptualize, plan, and execute a research project from start to finish as an undergraduate, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to face the challenges of conducting independent research so early in my academic career.

“My OWU Connection experience helped solidify my desire to pursue a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and having grant-writing and research experience under my belt has definitely prepared me for the rigor of graduate school.”

Challenged to Grow

“My TPG experience not only gave me the opportunity to get hands-on experience in field biology and desert ecology outside the scope of what would be covered in a typical lab course at OWU, but coordinating a research project with three other collaborators also challenged me to grow as a leader and mentor in a way that I had not experienced with any on-campus experience.”

OWU Faculty Mentors

“My project was co-advised by Dr. Dustin Reichard and Dr. Laurel Anderson in the Department of Biological Sciences. While planning my project, I was able to draw on Dr. Reichard’s experience as an ornithologist (someone who studies birds) and Dr. Anderson’s expertise as a plant community ecologist.

“Dr. Anderson actually flew to New Mexico for a few days to teach my co-researcher and me how to measure different vegetation characteristics, and she also helped us search for sparrow nests while Dr. Reichard advised us remotely from Ohio.”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“I am a third-generation OWU student, but my decision to attend Ohio Wesleyan was primarily driven by the small, supportive OWU campus community and the abundance of hands-on academic and extracurricular experiences that are offered here.

“I knew that I wanted to attend a college where I could develop meaningful relationships with my professors and peers, and I knew that I wanted to incorporate travel into my college experience as much as possible.”

Plans After Graduation

“After graduating in May, I plan to earn my Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with the hope of eventually becoming a college biology professor. I had never considered attending graduate school before I came to OWU, but participating in OWU’s Summer Science Research Program (SSRP) helped me realize that I have a strong passion for research, teaching, and public outreach.

“I would like to thank Dr. Reichard for encouraging me to pursue an advanced degree and guiding me through the graduate school application process – without his mentorship and support, I would not be where I am today!”