Ernie is a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Jeb Barrett in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences. He is studying the impacts of Rhododendron removals on soil microbial communities and nitrogen cycling in Appalachian forests. Ernie’s first experiences in research came while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia. As an undergrad, he worked as a laboratory assistant in a soil ecology lab and carried out an independent investigation looking at how leaf litter characteristics affect the abilities of microbial communities to decompose organic matter. Also as an undergraduate, Ernie worked in an insect disease ecology lab and was involved in numerous studies on the host-parasite interaction between monarch butterflies and a protozoan that infects them.
After graduating, Ernie decided to become a high school science teacher and subsequently completed his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree at the University of Georgia. After completing his MAT, Ernie began his teaching career at a high school in north Georgia. In his five years of teaching, Ernie taught courses in Biology, Environmental Science, Earth Systems, and Physical Science, and also served as science department chair for four years. In addition to his teaching and leadership responsibilities, Ernie spent two summers working at the University of Georgia’s Plant Genome Mapping Lab as a teacher-fellow through the Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT) Program.
Following his fifth year of high school teaching, Ernie decided to take a break from high school teaching and embarked on a southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hike. While on the trail, Ernie observed numerous human impacts on the forest around him, which inspired him to pursue a graduate research project relating to Appalachian forest ecology.
Ernie believes that addressing the environmental threats facing our forest environments will require collaboration across scientific disciplines and effective communication with policymakers and the public. Ernie hopes that the training provided by the Interfaces of Global Change graduate program will provide him with the communication and collaboration skills needed to begin solving some of these complex issues.