A passion for all that the outdoors and nature offers is at the core of Todd Pierson’s existence. This Indianapolis, Indiana native relishes in his work in the Odum School of Ecology and his study abroad programs through UGA.
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School
B.S. in Ecology
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
The University of Georgia has provided me with numerous opportunities through various programs, including the UGA Foundation Fellowship and the CURO Program, in which I have conducted research on the recently discovered salamander, Urspelerpes brucei. In addition, I am a recipient of the Udall Scholarship, one of the top national awards in colleges and universities. I also serve as co-president of the Herpetological Society and am an executive board member of the UGA Gameday Recycling Program.
My greatest passion has been the study abroad programs at UGA. I have been fortunate enough to travel to England, Italy, Guatemala (twice), Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. In the near future, I plan to travel to South Korea, China and other countries.
Family Ties to UGA:
I am the first member of my family to attend UGA.
I chose to attend UGA because…
…UGA, through the Foundation Fellowship program, offered me what no other school could—free travel. I caught the travel bug early on, and I was really adamant about finding a program that would allow me to travel abroad. Furthermore, the University of Georgia has a rich history of herpetological research, and the Odum School of Ecology leads the way in many fields of ecological research. Finally, it helps that UGA is located just a short drive from the Appalachians—my favorite place (in the world) to be. It ended up being the perfect combination of everything I wanted, and I have never regretted the decision. It’s hard being so far from home, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunities that UGA offered.
My favorite things to do on campus are…
…to hang out in the ecology undergraduate lounge. No other place combines couches, friends, dogs and free food in quite the same way. There’s not a more welcoming place in the world. One minute, you can be discussing serious environmental problems, and the next, a dance party can spontaneously erupt.
When I have free time, I like…
…to get outside. If I can’t sneak away for longer than a few hours, I’ll go search for and photograph salamanders locally, but if it is at all possible, I head to the mountains. Northeast Georgia is one of the most beautiful (and biodiverse) places on Earth, and I like to recharge on mountain time. I’m happiest with a thin covering of mud, sweat and mosquito bites.
The craziest thing I’ve done is…
…pull off about a dozen or so consecutive nights of five hours of sleep while searching for rattlesnakes in Arizona this past summer. Delirium and hematoxins are not necessarily a good combination, but snakes were only active at night, and sleeping in my car during the day (110 degree highs) wasn’t really an option. We caught nine species, though, and it was totally worth it.
My favorite place to study is…
…dependent upon the situation. If I want to pretend to study but have a good time, the ecology lounge. If I want to study hardcore but feel depressed, the science library’s 4th floor. For a happy medium, I usually find an empty room in the ecology building.
My favorite professor is…
…Dr. Hoffer of the History Department. While I’ve had some great professors and courses throughout all of my science education, a class that I took the first semester of my freshman year—HIST 2100H—really resonates for me. As a Yankee, I was a bit suspicious about a pre-Civil War U.S. history course being taught in the South, but Dr. Hoffer was a great relief from my expectations. I had never (or have since) had a professor or teacher who was so passionate about what he taught and genuinely interested in the intellectual growth of his students. I went into the class with no interest in history and left with a growing love for the subject.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…
…Edward Abbey. Perhaps the greatest naturalist writer of the American West, Cactus Ed died in 1989. He loved un-grazed prairies, un-dammed rivers, and un-trod paths and despised anything that worked against them. A self-deprecating, unabashedly idealistic (yet truly aware of the way the world worked) naturalist, Ed Abbey brought nature to the common man like Muir, Thoreau and their kind couldn’t.
Cactus Ed represents much of what I hope to stand for: curiosity, selective vulgarity and moderate extremism. No one has changed the West like Abbey did, and I’d love to spend an afternoon floating down the river with him.
If I knew I could not fail, I would…
…give up pursuit of a traditional scientific career for something alternative. So often, natural history gets buried in the backwaters of biology when in reality, so much is based around it. I’d love a career free of restrictive hours and lacking the publish-or-perish ultimatum of academia. Check back with me in 10 years!
If money was not a consideration, I would love to…
…visit the moon. That is, until we can figure out how to get humans on a planet with water. So on second thought, if money was not a consideration, I would bring back more funding to NASA.
After graduation, I plan to…
…pursue a graduate program revolving around amphibian and reptile conservation. It’s likely that this will take me to Berkeley, California, where I hope both to study amphibians in the Pacific Northwest and expand my travel into more of Central America.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
…is my summer at Coweeta LTER. I spent six weeks of the summer of 2010 in the Southern Appalachians of North Carolina on a UGA-run Research Experience for Undergraduates. I got paid to catch salamanders, and I spent my free time cooking locally-grown vegetables, running and reading Carl Sagan. I think my blood pressure dropped to an all-time low, and my mental clarity grew under the big blue skies.