Thanks to their generous contributions to the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, a retired professor and his wife continue to be an integral part of graduate studies in wildlife through the David and Catherine Samuel Wildlife Graduate Fund.
As a professor emeritus of wildlife and fisheries resources, David Samuel spent three decades teaching wildlife management classes at WVU. Now, along with his wife, Catherine, he is giving back to students who hope to one day join the ranks of wildlife professionals.
The Samuels established the fund in 2015 with an initial $25,000 endowed gift, which has annually provided research funding for selected students. Applicants must be graduate students in the wildlife and fisheries resources major, with first preference given to those studying wildlife. These funds have assisted students in complex research projects and travel fees for national conferences, among other exciting opportunities.
“As a former wildlife professor here, I know how important graduate research is. My wife and I are excited to provide assistance to students doing work that is so important to our natural resources,” Samuel said. “The neat thing is it will be helping graduate students long after we are gone.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, many graduate students were forced to reimagine what they wanted to do with their research.
Levi Brown came to WVU from the University of Vermont to study large, navigable water systems like the Monongahela and Kanawha rivers and how they influence populations of black bass. He originally planned to use his funds to travel to the American Fisheries Society conference in Columbus, Ohio, but he quickly rearranged his plans to use the funding in another innovative way.
"Luckily, I was able to pivot with my ideas, and I was able to use that funding to buy a microscope with a camera — which is going to be really important for me when I'm trying to accurately age these fish," he said.
Not only will Brown's microscope provide advanced technology to his studies, but it will also allow him to share photographs of his findings with colleagues for multiple age estimates. This limits the need for multiple researchers per microscope, which is crucial for staying safe during the pandemic.
L-R: WVU Davis College graduate research students Stephanie Augustine, Levi Brown and Darien Lozon
Stephanie Augustine majored in biodiversity and conservation biology during her undergraduate studies at Cedar Crest College. She found an opportunity to study at WVU after spending some time as a zookeeper at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, roughly 90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia.
Her graduate studies consist of observing the Canada Warbler, a small, neotropical migrant bird that breeds across Canada and down the Appalachian corridor. The species' population seems to be decreasing everywhere except West Virginia. Backed by her research funding to purchase new equipment, Augustine’s work is centered around tracking the birds' survival rate.
She said the funding not only helps graduate students pursue their interests, but it also aids in discovering new ideas that can be brought to a larger audience's attention.
"They take this research and share it with the scientific community through conferences. It can inform management plans for the state," Augustine said. "West Virginia University will have a copy of the data, the state will have access to the data and see if there's anything to change in terms of management plans.
Over the past two years, Darien Lozon used her funding to hire an undergraduate intern for her graduate research on heavy metal accumulation in freshwater turtles.
"It was really cool to teach them in the field all of the things they can learn, and just be able to fund them and help them have that foundational step in their career path," she said.
Lozon's interactions with undergraduate students inspired her to seek a future career in education, combining her passion for wildlife studies with her enjoyment of watching others learn to love the field.
"With my recent experience in education, I'm really interested in teaching elementary students — getting them outside, getting them interested in the field, showing them that this is a field they could pursue as a job and that it's really fun today because the outdoors is your field office," she said.
Being a part of the Davis College provides these students with a strong support system of faculty and fellow peers who are devoted to helping them reach their potential. The contributions made by the Samuels have allowed students to carry out detailed projects that continue to grow the program.
"Take a look at the really cool things we're doing, and the way that the funding has helped us execute these amazing research projects and find out entirely new things about wildlife species that were previously unknown, either for the state or at all," Augustine said.
Brown emphasized the impact financial support has on the graduate research community, as his grant is one of 16 offered within the Davis College.
"I think it's important to consider, as graduate students, we don't necessarily focus solely on our research," Brown said. "We may have side projects and other things going on that we're interested in. In the end, they will benefit us, so I think any help financially is super important."
Gifts to the Davis College are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. To explore giving options, contact Director of Development Andrew Barnes at 304-293-6962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.