Alum news: Adam Scheinkman ’02 joins USDA Foreign Agricultural Service


Adam Scheinkman (third from left, standing), near the summit of Mt. Washington on an ecology class field trip in the fall of 1998.

Adam Scheinkman (’02) visited Bennington this summer and reported that he has just taken a full-time position at the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA.  He’ll be based in Washington DC as an “International Agriculture Program Specialist” working with  the “Norman E Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program.”  The Program brings agricultural scientists and experts from developing and middle-income countries to the U.S. for fellowships at various research institutions; Adam will be working with Fellows from both Latin America and Asia. Adam’s work at Bennington focused on ecology and evolutionary biology.

After graduation from Bennington, Adam joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ecuador where he applied his ecological background to sustainable agricultural development.  Following his Peace Corps stint, Adam chose to do graduate work in agricultural ecology and policy and took a Master’s at Cornell University.

Over the last decade and more we’ve seen increasing student interest in sustainable agriculture and food systems.  Adam shows that such interests can lead to very interesting places.


Alum news: (Dr.) Catherine Ravenscroft ’2001, (Prof.) Daniel Levitis ’1999

Good news from two of our science alums:

Congratulations to Catherine Ravenscroft, class of 2001, who recently successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis in ecology at Syracuse University.  Her thesis title is “Local adaptation to climate change in a calcareous grassland system.”  Catherine’s advisor at Syracuse, Prof. Jason Fridley, is a Bennington alum himself. Catherine is second from left in photo at right (a field crew for a U.S. Forest Service-funded study of the vegetation of the Taconic Mts. from 2000).

And Dr. Daniel Levitis, class of 1999, recently took a position on the faculty at the University of Southern Denmark in the Institute of Biology and Max-Planck Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging.  Prior to that, Daniel earned his Ph.D. at UC-Berkeley and was a post-doctoral researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.  He has recently published several papers on the evolution of senescence and longevity in humans and other primates. (Daniel is at right in this photo from a 1999 field crew doing research in old-growth forests in Michigan).

Science Workshop, 19 April – Forest invasions of Eastern North America: a case of pre-adaptation?

Jason Fridley

Dr. Jason Fridley (Bennington class of ’97), Associate Prof. in the Biology Department at Syracuse University, has quickly established himself as an influential researcher on several of the ‘hot’ questions in ecological science, including the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem function, interactions between successional dynamics and climate change, and the ecology and biogeography of invasive species.  He’ll be presenting recent work on this last theme in his workshop talk at 1:00 pm, 19 April, in Dickinson 225.  You can find background material  here in an about-to-be-published article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Science.

Common garden experiment, with native and invasive shrubs, at Syracuse University — photo by Jason Fridley

Jason is a 2012 recipient of the Academy’s Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists). He also has the  unusual distinction of having papers published in both Nature and Science in 2012.  Also in 2012, two graduate students in Jason’s lab received prestigious National Science Foundation fellowships.  It was a good year.  (Another of Jason’s grad students, Catherine Ravenscroft, is also a Bennington alum.)

Science Workshop, 5 April: Before Animals: The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life in Deep Time

Fieldwork in the Neoproterozoic

Professor Phoebe Cohen of the Geology Department at Williams College will speak at Science Workshop on Friday, 5 April, at 1:00 pm in Dickinson 225.

Her work combines microscopic and microchemical techniques with field-based stratigraphy and sedimentology to reconstruct ancient organisms and ecosystems.  She will discuss her research in the context of our current knowledge about the evolution of life during the Neoproterozoic time period — the ~500 million years of Earth history before the rise of animals. While the sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record is dramatically demonstrated in the Cambrian radiation, the groundwork for animal evolution, and the co-occurring changes in marine ecosystems and ocean chemistry, were laid during the Neoproterozoic. Studies of the dynamic earth-life system in deep time present special challenges, but are transforming how we think about biology and geology.

Here are links for a) a paper for background on evolution in the Neoproterozoic, and b) a paper presenting some of Dr. Cohen’s research.

Students interested in having lunch with Dr. Cohen before her talk should be in touch with Kerry Woods.

Science Workshop 29 March — Long-term studies, ecological baselines, and the way things ought to be:


A high-biomass old-growth stand of eastern hemlock in northern Michigan

After decades of studying ancient forests, we’re less confident of what we know about them than we were thirty-five years ago.  For the last 20+ years I’ve been working with long-term permanent study plots in old-growth forest in Michigan.  I began with the hope that an exceptionally deep data-record would allow me to test hypotheses about mechanisms behind equilibrial dynamics.  Now I’m convinced that our initial assumption — that these ecosystems represented a sort of steady-state, climax ‘baseline’ — was flawed, and the natural landscape is much more dynamic than we imagined.  If that’s the case, what are the implications for concepts of nature conservation and ecological restoration?  What is to be conserved or restored if there’s no detectable natural baseline condition?

I will review about the findings of my old-growth research with a focus on new results, talk about  some new work using new technologies to try to understand whether these forests are carbon sources or sinks, and wind up with some exploration of what this all means for forest conservation priorities under climate change, Pleistocene rewilding, and the cloning of extinct species.

Keeping Up With the Literature

I just added a new category to the ‘Resources’ tab — high-quality blogs and news sites focused on what’s current and new in science.  Most of these are digests and reflections on current research publications, and some are provided by the best science writers going.  Some are more ‘meta’ but sometimes surprisingly provocative:

Check out a few (and they’ll lead you to others).  If you find them engaging or amusing, then you know you might be a nerd.  Join the crowd.  Pick the ones that interest you most and subscribe to their feeds (I use google reader cause it’s easy…).  Do be careful, though; there are plenty of crank-blogs and conspiracy sites, too — amusing, but not to be taken seriously.  Maybe we should make a collection of those, too?

Here’s a blog by one of our alums — Daniel Levitis ’00.  What’s stopping you?

Biodiversity Research in Central America

Costa Rica’s National Institute for Biodiversity (INBio) is a much admired and imitated cooperative undertaking to document and understand that small country’s vast

 taxonomic diversity.  Mara McPartland, a 2012 grad, put her studies in ecology and Spanish to use in an internship with INBio’s arthropod collections (here she is with one of the arthropods, a stick insect. Mara is the one in back).  She’s just moved on to a volunteer position at a field station in Nicaragua at Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo.

From the Field: Butterfly Farming in Ecuador

Dircenna adina stenheili — a clearwing buttefly

Rothschildia lebeau — a giant saturniid moth

Senior Emily Mikucki  reports that she’s been working with an eco-tourism lodge in the cloud forests near Nanegal, Ecuador (check it out) to help develop a butterfly farm.

Emily has been obsessed with lepidopterans (moths and butteflies) for years, and hopes to turn that obsession into a career as  as a conservation biologist. At Bennington, she studies biology and Spanish (the latter to give her a head start doing conservation and field work in Latin America)  Meanwhile, she takes photos of them — these two are from Ecuador.

This isn’t the first time Emily has spent FWT in the tropics. In past years, she has worked with researchers in the Amazon basin of Peru and with butterfly conservationists in Costa Rica.

Climate Change and Allergies: Alum Research

Kristina Stinson (second from right) with Bennington field bio class in 1992

Alum, Dr. Kristina Stinson, ’92 (Harvard Forest and University of Massachusetts) is featured in a youtube video posted from Harvard University.  The spot features her research on how climate change is likely to interact with allergenic pollen production by ragweed in New England (it’s going to get worse!).  This research has been supported by a million-dollar grant from US-EPA.  Dr. Stinson is also well-known for her research on the ecological relationships of the invasive garlic mustard plant, and she was recently awarded a two-million-dollar grant from the Department of Defense to support extensions of this research. Kristina will be talking about the ragweed research in Science Workshop on 9 November.

Alum Jason Fridley’s Big Year

Jason coring trees as a research assistant in faculty member Kerry Woods’ research on Michigan old-growth forests

It’s been a good year for Jason Fridley (Bennington ’97, Ph.D. Univ. North Carolina ’02), a faculty member in Biology at Syracuse University.  He was awarded tenure earlier this year, and also received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists from the New York Academy of Sciences.  Among seven papers published this year (so far), he was first author for papers in BOTH Science and Nature (just one of these is worth noting).  And his good fortune seems to rub off; two of the graduate students in his lab received prestigious NSF graduate fellowships in 2012.

Downloading data from microclimate sensors at Great Smoky Mt. National Park (research recently published)


Jason’s research addresses, among multiple threads,  ecology of invasive species (the Nature paper) and the relationship between diversity and ecosystem function (the Science paper — and the subject of his undergrad thesis at Bennington).  Bennington connections remain strong; Jason will be returning for a talk next spring, and one of the grad students in his lab is Bennington alum Catherine Ravenscroft.