A Force for Innovation—Conducting Research with an Environmental Impact
For Honors College student Christopher Fernandez, research has been an integral part of the college experience. Over the past three years, he has studied at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, interned with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and traveled to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology.
In 2014 Christopher began working alongside his faculty mentor, Dr. David Luther, on a study of conservation efforts and endangered species . Christopher combed through documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop a database of recovery action plans.
This project led him to consider government funding of species conservation as an evaluation of the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, Christopher looked for correlations between government funding and the size of wildlife populations over time.
Christopher described his experience saying, "This research has introduced me to the complexity of manipulating large data sets and the effort put into compiling such data. This helped me to realize the problems encountered by a lot of scientists today: with so much data, what do we do? What can we do?"
Most recently, Christopher has been conducting research with the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). In this study, he has set out to examine the impact of landscape fragmentation on ground-nesting bird nests in the lowland humid forest of Costa Rica. To conduct this research, Christopher and his colleagues make use of innovative tools for scholarly inquiry including artificial nests and cameras to monitor their field site.
This past year, in recognition of his accomplishments in research Christopher was the recipient of the prestigious Udall Scholarship. This award is given to outstanding students for leadership, public service, and commitment to issues related to American Indian nations or to the environment.
For Christopher, choosing the Honors College was an important step toward making his research goals possible. He said: "When enrolling at Mason, I chose the Honors College because I desired to be challenged, because I recognized that the honors program was going to offer me the opportunity to pursue interests otherwise not offered to me as a science student and afford me the opportunity to explore and marry my interests through the lenses of multiple disciplines and perspectives." Moving forward in his studies, Christopher hopes to continue conducting research on plant-animal interactions, ecosystem health, and sustainable development.