Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences welcomes five new faculty members

Published: October 13, 2020
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Five new faculty members have joined the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences to expand its expertise and capacities. This new group of researchers and professors will propel the school’s increasing array of innovative programs, its size and standards of excellence.

“The School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences continues to build on the tremendous growth it has experienced in recent years,” said Dean Janaki Alavalapati.

He added that much of this growth has been propelled by a significant increase in students drawn to the school’s launch of new academic programs, several in partnership with other colleges.

The latest undergraduate majors—geospatial and environmental informatics; sustainable biomaterials and packaging; and wildlife enterprise management—along with several new online graduate programs spurred an increase of about 50 percent in undergraduate and graduate enrollment.

“This year, we have hired a group of highly esteemed faculty members whose expertise and experience will further sustain our burgeoning programs and make way for new academic, research and extension opportunities,” Alavalapati said. “Adding these new faculty members will both enhance the size and quality of our programs and further advance our land-grant mission.”

The faculty members joining the school in the 2020-21 academic year are:

Heather Alexander, assistant professor of forest ecology

Heather Alexander is a forest and fire ecologist whose research focuses on understanding ecosystem vulnerability in the face of climate change and altered disturbance regimes, especially fire.

Her research focus areas include the effects of wildfire severity on forestry structure and carbon dynamics in the Siberian Arctic and the implications of fire suppression and mesophication on oak forest of the eastern U.S.

Before coming to Auburn, she was an associate professor in the College of Forest Resources at Mississippi State University. She earned her doctorate in biology from the University of Kentucky and was a post-doctoral fellow of forest ecosystem ecology at the University of Florida.

“While at Auburn, my research program will continue to focus on how forests respond to fire disturbances, both wildfires and prescribed fires,” Alexander said. “My lab will also explore how traits of different forest trees influence forest flammability. This will help us better understand how changes in forest composition due to climate change, invasive species or other causes impact our ability to manage forests using fire.”

Alexander will also teach courses in forest fire and forest ecology.

Wesley Anderson, assistant professor of wildlife and Alabama Extension specialist

Wesley Anderson’s research interests include wildlife management in agricultural systems, wetland ecology and restoration, invasive species biology and control and non-game management and conservation.

Much of his current research involves the impact of wild pigs across Florida rangelands. He intends to expand this work with agricultural producers and other stakeholders in Alabama, in addition to using drone technology to address these issues.

For four years, Anderson worked as an environmental consultant, dealing primarily with wetland and endangered species projects, interests that will carry over to his current position.

“The opportunity for conservation through education is one of the primary reasons I pursued a career in wildlife biology. I see these opportunities not just as a chance to educate, but also to inspire the conservation leaders of tomorrow,” Anderson said.

Anderson earned a doctorate in wildlife ecology conservation from the University of Florida, where his work at the Range Cattle Research and Education Center exposed him to extension at the intersection of wildlife management and agricultural production, which will also be a focal area for his program at Auburn.

Mike Aspinwall, assistant professor of forest physiology/ecophysiology

Mike Aspinwall is a tree physiologist with expertise in carbon, water and nutrient uptake and use, genetic variation in growth and function of trees, in addition to the responses of plants and ecosystems to heat, drought and carbon dioxide.

Aspinwall said, at Auburn, he will perform basic research that also has implications for natural and managed microsystems, as well as modeling.

“My research will largely focus on studying how and why tree species and populations vary in their response to temperature variability, heat stress and drought,” Aspinwall said. “This research will inform conservation and sustainable management of forests.”

Before earning both his master’s degree and doctorate from North Carolina State University, Aspinwall received a bachelor’s degree in landscape horticulture from The Ohio State University.

He then spent two years as a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and five years as a research scientist at Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia.

Aspinwall plans to teach tree physiology and ecophysiology of forest trees.

Amy Counterman, professor of practice

Amy Counterman brings more than 15 years of experience in landscape design, community development and environmental compliance and safety to Auburn.

Counterman, who has aided and collaborated with clients in a wide variety of industries, earned dual degrees in environmental studies and law and policy from the University of California, Santa Barbara; she then earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Mississippi State University.

At Mississippi State, her research focused on green infrastructure and wildlife habitat use. While there, she led outreach activities, green roof demonstrations and pedagogy development centered on green roof habitats and human-wildlife interactions. She also taught courses in the Department of Landscape Architecture, focusing on design, plant system use and historical perspectives in landscape architecture.

A former director of Keep Starkville Beautiful, Counterman worked with community partners and volunteers to implement city beautification efforts through authoring and managing grants and associated projects that received both local support and national recognition.

Counterman will develop and teach courses related to urban forestry, sustainability and natural resources management.

Jessica Daniel, professor of practice, Online Graduate Programs

As professor of practice for Online Graduate Programs, Jessica Daniel will instruct and coordinate courses for the online Master of Natural Resources and three interdisciplinary online graduate certificate programs, in addition to other responsibilities.

"I will focus on strengthening, developing and promoting the online Masters of Natural Resources and certificate programs,” Daniel said. “My work will include teaching online graduate courses, being a point of contact for existing and current online graduate students and assisting with program marketing and promotion."

She will also coordinate with the school’s faculty and those from other colleges at Auburn, as well as faculty and professionals outside Auburn to help develop online graduate courses.

Daniel received a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation from Virginia Tech prior to earning a doctorate in water resources from the University of Idaho. Before coming to Auburn, she was an instructor in a college natural resource management program, where she taught with online, hybrid and in-person modalities. She has also assisted with program evaluation and accreditation processes.

Daniel has also worked for the National Park Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences is a flagship institution for natural resources-based degrees including natural resource management, geospatial and environmental informatics, and sustainable biomaterials and packaging. The school is also the backbone to Alabama’s $24 billion forest, wildlife, and natural resources industry. Its mission is to create future professionals and leaders, to develop new knowledge and science-based solutions, and share them with individuals, families, communities, and industries so that they can make informed decisions to advance their business and well-being.