URI student wild for career as wildlife biologist

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South Kingstown resident to graduate May 18

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2008 – As a child, South Kingstown resident Samantha Petzold developed a strong appreciation for the natural world. But she had no idea that her interest in wildlife could lead to a career.

Now it has. The University of Rhode Island senior and former president of the URI Wildlife Society will graduate on May 18 and begin a career as a wildlife biologist.

“Some URI students came to my high school environmental biology class and talked to us about becoming a wildlife biologist, and the way they described it sounded so great,” said Petzold. “Before they visited, I didn’t even know you could have a job like that.”

During her years as an undergraduate student, Petzold took advantage of every opportunity to gain field experience studying wildlife. Last summer she worked as a field intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducting surveys of birds, amphibians and other wildlife at Rhode Island’s four national wildlife refuges.

In the summer of 2006 she spent five weeks in Costa Rica with a team of URI students comparing mammal diversity at shade-grown coffee plantations and sun-grown coffee plantations.

“We were looking at the environmental effects that growing coffee has on wildlife,” Petzold explained. “We found many more mammals and a wider diversity of mammals in the forest surrounding the shade-grown coffee plantations. In our small, have-a-heart mammal traps, we caught lots of mice, some shrews, opossums, and the quill of a porcupine. We even found a puppy in one trap!”

During a visit to a national park before starting the research project, Petzold and her fellow URI students saw sloths, howler monkeys, spider monkeys and many types of birds as well.

In addition to her field research, Petzold also helped start a student chapter of the Wildlife Society on campus, serving as both president and vice president during her tenure. In addition to sponsoring hikes and camping trips in the area, they participated in beach clean-ups, invasive species eradication projects, and helped prepare South Kingstown High School students for the statewide Envirothon competition. The club even competed in a college level quiz bowl event that the URI group won two years in a row.

With graduation approaching, Petzold is now focusing on her job search.

“I really want to get some additional wildlife field work experience, which probably means I’ll work a series of seasonal positions studying different types of wildlife in different places around the region,” Petzold said. “But then I’ll probably attend graduate school to become an environmental educator, maybe for a non-profit group or at the high school level. It was in high school that I got excited about wildlife biology, so that’s where I would love to end up – sharing my love of nature and wildlife with others.”