Commencement 2017: URI senior aims to turn conservation biology and leadership studies into career protecting wildlife

Before he even enrolled at the University of Rhode Island to study wildlife and conservation biology, senior Tyler Bawden had already made important contributions to his chosen discipline

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Tyler Bawden
Tyler Bawden. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 10, 2017 – Before he even enrolled at the University of Rhode Island to study wildlife and conservation biology, senior Tyler Bawden had already made important contributions to his chosen discipline. The Point Pleasant, N.J., native who now lives in Hope Valley, R.I., co-authored a research paper on a rare turtle, the diamondback terrapin, and helped pass a state law to protect the species.

Now, as he prepares to graduate with a bachelor’s degree on May 21, he is looking back at four years of research and leadership success and looking forward to a career where he can continue studying wildlife.

Bawden’s interest in turtles and birds and other creatures emerged from a childhood enjoying the outdoors and getting his hands dirty. But he also likes his actions to make a difference in the world around him.

“I want to educate the public how they can get involved and not take wildlife and the environment for granted,” he said. “It’s as easy as making one change in your life to make a big impact.”

His most far-reaching impact during his URI career occurred last summer on a tiny island in Long Island Sound, where he spent six weeks studying the 12,000 pairs of seabirds that nest on the island. He conducted foraging studies, monitored nesting success, and banded many of the birds with scientists from the American Museum of Natural History.

“I didn’t really enjoy the sense of isolation, but I saw the true value of being out there,” Bawden said. “And I used every single topic and technique I had learned in my classes.”

Research was only one element of his college experience, however. He served as treasurer of the URI Scuba Club for three years, going on numerous local dive trips and attending dive conferences. He’s become a skilled underwater photographer to “show others that it’s a completely different world down there,” he said.

And he became involved with the URI SMILE program (Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences), developing lesson plans and educating children about the STEM disciplines. He lent his expertise to Ecology Day for fourth graders, the Engineering Challenge for middle schoolers, and Biotechnology Day for high school students.

“I tell people that whenever I work with the kids who choose to be in the program, I learn as much from them from the questions they ask and the way they view things,” Bawden said. “It’s a constant learning experience for me.”

His leadership positions in SMILE and the Scuba Club – and a leadership award he received this month from the URI Department of Natural Resources Science – are an outgrowth of his academic minor in leadership studies.

“Leadership is a lot more than being in charge or being the boss,” he said. “It starts by knowing yourself, which has helped me figure out who I am and overcome my own deficits. That also helps me to know others and discover what they need from me as a leader. I see the leadership minor as a seal of approval that I’m professional and competent when it comes to being hired.”

Bawden isn’t going far after he graduates. He will remain at URI next fall to earn a master’s degree in environmental science and management. After that, he’ll pursue his wildlife research goals – probably focusing on turtles or birds – and perhaps become a high school teacher or college professor.

But for now, he’s happy to be exactly where he is now, getting ready to receive that degree in wildlife and conservation biology.

“This line of work is a good incentive to travel,” he said. “My office is outside on a mountain or at the beach. It takes place anywhere in the world I want it to.”