Johnston resident set to graduate as URI’s top conservation biology student

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KINGSTON, R.I. – May 10, 2010 – Johnston resident Cindy Maynard’s early interest in animals, hiking and camping naturally led her to a desire to study conservation biology. As she prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 23, she will also receive the President’s Excellence Award as the top wildlife and conservation biology student on campus.

“I always liked animals and the outdoors and knew that I wanted to go to college to study something along that career path,” she said. “Since I took a field ornithology class, I really enjoyed working with birds – the variety, their behavior, their intelligence. They’re fun to watch and learn about.”

Maynard took advantage of every opportunity to get hands-on experience working with wildlife. During the summer after her freshman year, she spent a month in Costa Rica with other URI students studying the diversity of mammals that live on coffee farms compared to those in the rainforest.

“After five years of studies, there’s clearly a difference,” Maynard explained. “But the farms are also affecting the wildlife in the rainforest. Most of the coffee plantations are on a hill with the rainforest below, and the pesticides and drainage from the farms seem to go right into the forest.”

The URI student spent the last year as an intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studying rare and threatened birds on Sandy Point Island, a small barrier beach in eastern Connecticut.

“I spent most of my time monitoring nesting oystercatchers, least terns and piping plovers and migratory roseate terns, common terns and red knots,” she said. “Most days I would walk around the area, check all the nests, adjust signs and roped off areas, and talk to the public about what we were doing and why it’s important. People were mostly supportive and appreciate it, but there’s always a small portion who want to take their dogs out and use the property however they want.”

Maynard has also used what she has learned to mentor other URI students and to teach elementary school students about science and the environment through the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program at the URI W. Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich.

“Most of the kids we work with had never had a hands-on science experience like that, so it’s a real eye-opening experience for them,” she said.

Next up for the new graduate is a return to URI to earn a master’s degree while continuing her work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She has been accepted into a special training program that will hopefully lead to a permanent position with Fish and Wildlife when her graduate degree is complete.

“I’m leaning toward becoming an endangered species biologist,” Maynard said of her eventual career goal. “That’s where the conservation need is greatest. It’s an immediate need, and time is a major issue for endangered species.”