Amazing Students

Kira McEntire

Kira McEntire says she has gained an understanding of how important individuality and context are to learning. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Kira McEntire, who is receiving her Ph.D. specializing in wildlife biology this summer, is passionate about learning and helping other people learn, and she is immediately taking those skills into a college classroom. But when she’s not in the classroom, there’s a good chance you’ll find her dancing somewhere.


Smithville, Texas

High school:

Smithville High School

Current employment:

Just completed a teaching assistantship through Discover Abroad.

Family ties to UGA:

None. I am the first in my family to attend UGA

Expected graduation:

Summer 2018

Degree objective:


Other degrees:

B.A. with Honors from Southwestern University

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

I started graduate study at UGA for a Ph.D. in forest resources (specializing in wildlife biology) immediately after graduating with my B.A. from Southwestern University in 2013. I just completed my fifth year and am graduating this summer. When I started graduate study at UGA, I was awarded a fellowship through the Graduate School for my first three years of study. The rest of my time at UGA was funded through research assistantships from the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Monitoring program, where I conducted my research.

On a whim, I became involved with the Ballroom Dance Club and Athens Swing Night shortly after moving to Georgia. It was one of the best, non-academic decisions I made at UGA and resulted in a better community than I could have ever asked for. Social dancing has become my primary creative outlet, my social network and my favorite form of physical activity. I also have had the privilege to teach dance at Athens Swing Night and through the Tango Club at UGA.

In 2017 I was accepted into the Future Faculty Fellows Program. In 2018 I was recognized as an Outstanding Teaching Assistant by UGA’s Office of Instruction and nominated for an Excellence in Teaching Award. I have had the privilege of co-teaching an ecology course, lead-teaching a graduate course, and assistant teaching a course abroad in New Zealand and Australia. In addition to teaching I have mentored several research students; most of them are currently working field jobs or in graduate school.

I received three competitive travel grants from the Graduate School to offset costs to attend science conferences and share my research. I attended one or two national science conferences every year including the Society for the Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting, the Ecological Society of America annual meeting, and the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. I also participated in two teaching conferences, the Innovations in Teaching Conference and the University System of Georgia Teaching and Learning Conference. During my time at UGA, I successfully authored or co-authored seven peer-reviewed publications, including a solo authored review paper published in a special issue of Copeia.

I chose to attend UGA because …

I wanted to work with Dr. John Maerz and I was excited to be a part of a herpetological community (which exists through the Herpetological Society at UGA).

My favorite things to do on campus are …

… to wander around, go to social dances and visit the turtle pond. The green spaces around campus make it nice to walk around. There are ballroom dances twice a month and tango lessons once a week.

When I have free time, I like …

… to dance! I spend most of my free time social dancing or driving to a social dances regionally. I make time for social dancing because it is my way of getting social time, physical activity and a creative outlet all at the same time.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

… dance until dawn; sometimes by driving to a late night dance and back home at 6 a.m. Some of the social dances I enjoy, like the Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing, have entire weekends of dancing and workshops. The dances run all night; once I danced from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. when the dance shut down. A couple of times I drove to a dance only for the late night portion. In all fairness this was only when I was on a nocturnal schedule anyway from doing field studies on salamanders.

My favorite place to study is …

… at home on the couch or floor. I like to spread out my notes when I study.

My favorite professor is …

… Fuad Elhage. Although I never took a university course with Fuad, I took tango lessons with him for a year and eventually taught tango lessons with him for two years. We built up a lasting relationship and I will always treasure that.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

… my dad. My dad passed away just before I graduated college from brain cancer. I would love to spend an afternoon with him and catch him up on all of the things I have been up to!

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… not do anything differently. The idea of failure doesn’t stop me from doing things, because when things do not go as expected is when you learn the most.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… dance my way across Europe! One of the amazing things about social dancing is some of the same styles are danced worldwide. It would be a lot of fun to travel around and dance in different countries. Dance acts as a universal language and I would love to experience all of the local “dialects” and styles.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

I am passionate about learning and helping other people learn. I have been pursuing this passion through courses and workshops about the science of learning and teaching strategies. I had the honor of participating in the Future Faculty Fellows Program, where I learned more about how people teach in other fields. My teaching experiences and time in FFFP contribute to my understanding of how important individuality and context are to learning. I have become especially passionate about recognizing, respecting and celebrating diversity in the classroom. I am committed to continue pursuing this passion through teaching, attending teaching workshops and continued conversations about diversity.

After graduation, I plan to …

… teach biology at a small liberal arts university. I accepted a job as a visiting assistant professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… Herp Day on the Lawn. Every year, the herpetology class and the Herpetological Society at UGA puts on an outreach event outside of Warnell. People wander by and the nursery classes all come by. It is such a fun event and I love seeing people’s faces light up when they touch a baby alligator or a snake for the first time.