This is our first quarterly departmental newsletter prepared by Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications. With this new service provided for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences departments, the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology’s Climate, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee will no longer prepare the departmental newsletter. Like all of you, I am extremely grateful for the work done by Miriam Catalan (editor), Marisa Collura, Alaya Keane, Daniel Spalink, Ph.D., and Jessica Light, Ph.D. (committee chair) to produce three issues of the inaugural volume of the ECCB newsletter. The newsletter provides a means for everyone to know people in our department better and stay informed about recent events and accomplishments, as well as upcoming events and opportunities.
ECCB is fast approaching its third anniversary as a new department, and I am very impressed with the accomplishments of our students, staff and faculty. When we came together to create a new department, we faced multiple challenges, some quite formidable and requiring considerable time and effort above and beyond our regular work. I am proud of how we met each challenge. We had to relocate people and labs, form new committees, create new bylaws and P&T guidelines, produce new degrees and curricula, work with RWFM and the Business Office to reallocate accounts and scholarships from two former departments, and perform other essential tasks. At the same time, we dealt with changes associated with the College/Texas A&M AgriLife’s centralization of Student Advising, Business, IT, and Marketing and Communications services. Add to that a 2020 budget reduction, administration leadership changes and a pandemic, and we really had our hands full! We managed, and I am thankful for everyone’s contributions. I’m especially grateful for our outstanding staff members, Dawn Miles and Lindsay Hutchins. I’m also very grateful for the expertise and tremendous work done by Kristi Smith through major changes over the past three years.
So, now we are the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, an impressive group dedicated to researching, learning, teaching and applying cutting-edge science to address some of the greatest challenges confronting our society and biosphere. We are up to the task described in our department’s mission statement. Over the past three years, several esteemed colleagues advanced to retirement or other professional opportunities, several staff positions were lost, and many outstanding students graduated and now pursue new opportunities and confront new challenges. Our group remains strong, and I foresee great things in our future. We greatly benefited from adding two new instructional faculty members, Leslie Winemiller, Ph.D., and Fay Belshe, Ph.D. Contributions from the Texas A&M Forest Service colleagues, Aaron Stottlemyer, Ph.D., Shruthi Srinivasan and Eric Taylor, Ph.D., help us maintain a strong forestry training program. Our staff curators, Toby Hibbitts, Ph.D., Dale Kruse and Heather Prestridge, also make essential contributions to our teaching mission.
ECCB is a relatively large department with high research productivity in diverse fields within ecology, environmental science, biological conservation and natural resource sciences. We conduct research throughout Texas and the world. When compared to peer programs, our department’s research metrics are excellent. The number of grant proposals, total dollars from new awards and annual research expenditures increased significantly from 2020 to 2021. ECCB has several Regents Professors, two University Distinguished Professors and two endowed chairs, and many of our faculty, staff and students have received important external recognition. Given our collective research expertise and obvious passion for creating new knowledge to help address current and future environmental challenges, greater accomplishments and recognition surely are in store for the department.
Now, more than any time in our college’s past, it will be important for departments to attract and retain undergraduate and graduate student majors. ECCB will be a very appealing undergraduate major that prepares students for graduate study in science, conservation or veterinary medicine as well as direct entry into diverse professions related to conservation, natural resources and environmental sciences. I thank the many members of the department who devoted extra time and effort to help organize and run events that recruit and serve students, including the ECCB Open House, TAMU Education Abroad World Fair and the ECCB Teaching Assistant’s Workshop, among others.
Finally, we are searching for a permanent department head. I’m confident we will get a leader who will help us achieve greater success. It has been a privilege for me to serve our new department during its formative years. I embraced the challenges, tried my best, and I think we are well-positioned for future success. I must acknowledge the tremendous help from our associate department heads, Jason West, Ph.D., and Masami Fujiwara, Ph.D., Georgianne Moore, Ph.D., and Sorin Popescu, Ph.D., committee chairs and staff. The success of an academic department depends on contributions from everyone.
Thank you all.