Many of my biology classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara influenced my inquisitiveness about scientific research, but it was my parasitology course that had the greatest impact in my academic career. The world of parasites fascinated me and I developed a curiosity for understanding the parasites’ highly-developed technique of manipulating their hosts’ immune system for their own reproductive success. By applying knowledge from my parasitology and other biology courses, I began to question the evolutionary life-history of crocodilians, and the possible role parasites had in influencing this taxon’s evolution. I wondered if the antagonizing co-evolutionary race between parasites and crocodiles over millions of years contributed to the hosts’ potent immune system. And if so, could this knowledge be utilized in medical sciences to determine how to neutralize or eradicate virulent human parasitic diseases? Furthermore, I pondered the idea of a unique symbiotic relationship between crocodilians and parasites that has allowed the host to adapt to changing environments over evolutionary time. I was able to expand my ideas while taking a graduate parasitology course. Discussing in depth theories of evolution, host manipulation, and interacting with graduate students and their research illustrated a higher level of scientific knowledge and thought process to me. When I graduated, I felt I had gained the knowledge and confidence to pursue the scientific questions that generated my devout passion.
My parasitic zeal continued after college, and I enthusiastically used my parasitology background while working at a wildlife sanctuary as a reptile keeper. I quickly learned the reptiles did not appreciate mite and tick examinations, or the daily enclosure intrusion to search for fecal samples. At the same time taking care of these reptiles, they were also my special guests while teaching wildlife classes to local school children. As a wildlife teacher, I encouraged students to interact safely with the animals that I had brought to class that day to build their courage and respect for nature. Witnessing the admiration in their eyes after holding or touching a creature that was first perceived as daunting made me realize how important it was to re-establish the relationship between man and nature in order to save what is being lost. I realized it was necessary not to only teach about the animal I brought to class that day, but also about the challenges of conservation that species faced in relation to human-induced alterations in the environment.