Women in Science: Connecting with the Future
Tameka Dandridge built in LEGO. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.
East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office
East Lansing, Michigan
How long have you been working with the Service?
Nearly 14 years
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lots of things; however, most were focused around the natural world. As I became older I became more fascinated with animal behavior. I wanted to be like Jane Goodall or Diane Fossey, except working with wolves and other canids (members of the dog family, like wolves or coyotes).
What does a typical work day look like for you?
On a typical day, I’m actually in the office. Many people are surprised when I tell them that although I’m a wildlife biologist, I spend many hours in the office. While in the office, I’m usually working with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and consultants on ways to recover endangered and threatened species and to prevent further harm.
I also get to work with children, which is pretty exciting. I get to lead them on surveys for species, such as Pitcher’s thistle and Kirtland’s warbler, as well as exposing them to their habitat. In addition, I occasionally visit students in their classrooms and provide endangered species presentations.
What is your favorite part about your job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
I have two favorites: (1) Getting out in the field, especially on nice days, to see the species we are charged with protecting. (2) Taking children, parents and teachers on endangered species field trips. I’ve found that through this sort of exposure, they become more connected to the endangered and threatened species right in their backyards.
What is the coolest plant or animal that you protect, conserve, restore or educate about?
Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri). I became the lead biologist charged with heading up recovery efforts for this threatened plant shortly after I became a permanent employee, so I’m pretty attached to it. When I tell others about this Great Lakes dunes endemic, they think that because it’s a thistle, it must be a weed like many of our non-native thistles. Also, the life-history of this plant is pretty fascinating. It flowers only once in its lifetime after spending five to eight years as a juvenile. After it flowers, by sending up a tall flowering stalk with a flowerhead, it spreads its seeds and dies. The following year, you may see young seedlings in the vicinity of its dead and wilted parent plant. To me, that’s pretty special to see the next generation surrounding the remains of its parent. If you ever get a chance to see this plant, take a sniff of its flower. The fragrance is quite nice.
What advice would you give a young girl who dreams of working in a science field?
You can do it! Get yourself some field guides and practice identifying what you see or hear in your yard or in a natural area just for fun. Major in a science field in college and get a graduate degree. Before entering graduate school, participate in an internship with a graduate student and/or take a field course abroad. Get experience. Volunteering is always helpful.
This article is part of our Women in Science: Connecting with the Future series, inspired by LEGO’s recent “Research Institute” set featuring female scientists at work. Our goal is to connect future female scientists with real employees who make up our diverse science-based agency, inspiring them to follow their dreams.
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