Campus News Campus Spotlight

Academic advisor helps students find community and strive for sustainability

Misha Boyd is the undergraduate advisor for the Odum School of Ecology. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Misha Boyd creates spaces for undergraduate ecology students

As the undergraduate advisor for the Odum School of Ecology, Misha Boyd finds ways to enhance the student experience. With her inclination for the pursuit of fresh initiatives and hearing the perspectives of her students, Boyd works to evolve many aspects of campus life.

Before becoming the undergraduate advisor, Boyd began her career in theater. From Georgia, she moved to Virginia and obtained degrees in Spanish and theater from Sweet Briar College. Upon completing her undergraduate program, she moved to California to work in the industry. After some time, Boyd returned to Georgia, reminiscing on memories from her childhood.

“I never thought I’d live in Georgia once I moved away,” Boyd said. “But I had a sister who was going to school at the University of Georgia, and I grew up going to football games and tailgating and that sort of thing.”

She joined the university working for a lab. When the Institute of Ecology became the Odum School, Boyd stepped up to become its undergraduate advisor.

Though her theater background may seem to be a stark contrast for ecology, the school is certainly the place for Boyd.

“I grew up on a small farm in Georgia. We had sheep, goats, peacocks, dogs, donkeys and horses, so I grew up around animals and nature. Ecology was kind of a natural fit for me. I love anything to do with the environment and being outside in nature,” she said, gesturing to the many plants around her office and the large window facing the trees outside.

In her position, Boyd fulfills a wide range of duties while also starting new programs to further engage her students. Her favorite part of her job, she said, is meeting with students and ensuring that they have all the tools necessary to be successful.

“I love to interact with people,” Boyd said. “Everyone is interesting, different and unique, and it’s very exciting for me to get to know them. I see them all the way through the program, so I see a lot of growth and change.”

When she first began her position, the school had about 80 students. Now, Boyd advises almost 200 undergraduate students as well as prospective students who may have questions or wish to shadow a student ambassador. Even with the steady increase, she strives to maintain an open-door policy, making herself available for advising whenever possible.

Along with her usual responsibilities, Boyd has helped to start various initiatives in the school. For example, she worked with colleagues to create an undergraduate student lounge that has become a place for students to meet with each other and faculty members.

“When they’re sitting in the lounge, I may walk by and ask how their classes are going or how a chemistry test went,” she said.

It was at this lounge that several of UGA’s sustainability projects began. Boyd and many students would go to football games on campus to collect cans and bottles from the tailgating events and donate the money from recycling to Habitat for Humanity. Now, the UGA Athletic Association completes this task. However, the need for the work led students to push for a program dedicated to making the campus sustainable. That effort helped lead to the creation of the Office of Sustainability.

Misha Boyd, center, interacts with students during the weekly Waffle Wednesday event held outside her office at the Odum School of Ecology. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Boyd continues to provide opportunities for her students to feel a sense of community. In the student lounge, she helps host Waffle Wednesday, a day for students to meet in the lounge to make waffles and connect with one another. With the opening of the Science Learning Center in 2016, Boyd and colleagues used Waffle Wednesday to remind students of the community they can find in the undergraduate student lounge.

“A sense of place is so important,” Boyd said. “This is their place. This lounge is their place. It’s a place for them to land, to come together, to study together.”

The school’s Odum Cabin has also played a significant role in building connections between students and faculty. The school’s founder and namesake, Eugene Odum, left his cabin in Ila to the school. For the last 15 years, Boyd has led overnight undergraduate retreats at the cabin where student have campfires, take walks in the woods and play games.

“It’s been such a valuable community builder among our undergraduates,” Boyd said. “The cabin, like our undergrad lounge, has been instrumental in building that strong sense of community and place for our students.”

Outside of work, Boyd maintains her personal dedication to sustainability as she bikes to work on most days. She enjoys biking on all terrain, from gravel to the mountains. This year, Boyd plans to begin traveling again after taking a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the time being, Boyd carries on in her efforts to create community among ecology students.

“These things are critical to what we’ve built and continue to build in this program,” she said.