Jennifer Kovacs, Ph.D. Agnes Scott College


Data Intensive Ecology (Bio 303)

This course is a 4 credit (lab + lecture) course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) in ecological research and computational methods that allows students to gain hands-on experience using multiple publicly available ecological data sets to generate and answer authentic research questions in the fields of behavioral ecology, community ecology, biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability. During the semester students will be exposed to and gain experience using R, Python, and QGIS. All three of these languages/ programs are highly sought after in grad and professional students in a variety of STEMM fields and entry level positions in business, non-profits, and government. Additionally, by giving students an authentic research experience they will gain practice in data wrangling, statistical analysis, teamwork, and scientific communication.

Behavioral Ecology (Bio 310)

This case-study based course was taught virtually in Fall 2020 with a lab component. Lecture activities centered around weekly case studies that focused on developing strong hypotheses and testable predictions for a range of animal behaviors, as well as utilizing graphs and basic statistical analyses to evaluate their hypotheses and predictions. In lab, students designed and completed an independent research project investigating squirrel foraging behavior. This CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) was done in collaboration with a network of institutions through the NSF-sponsored Squirrel-Net CURE program. In Summer 2021, both I and a group of three students were invited to present about our squirrel research lab experience at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) as part of a Squirrel-Net symposium.

Bio 110 & Bio 111

Bio 110 is often the first science course that first year students planning on majoring in biology take and as such begins their journey as a STEM major. As we know, many students who enter college as biology majors often change their major, but my goal is that they leave my class with a better understanding of how science works and a better grasp of how to present and interpret real-world data. These are skills that I think serve all students, regardless of their final major. 

In both 110 and 111, I have chosen to keep the flipped classroom format which the department adopted prior to my arrival,  both in the virtual 2020 and in-person 2021 semesters in which I taught the Bio 110 course. In both courses, students were provided with short pre-recorded lectures to watch prior to class, and class time was dedicated to working through study guides in small groups. The study guides consist of case studies, short problem sets, and questions about a weekly primary literature reading assignment. In addition to these weekly study guides, students have a final project to complete. In our virtual 2020 Bio 110 course, students worked in their small groups to complete a Wikipedia-style article focused on a systems-biology level topic of their choosing. For our in-person 2021 Bio 110 and 111 courses, students worked individually to visual and interpret a real-world dataset of biologically relevant data taken from a publicly available database. Student projects focused on topics such as changes in lilac flowering over a 20 year period of time, the timing of chickadee nest building over the past decade, or changes in tuna fishing hauls over the past 100 years. For their final project, students created an interactive annotated graphical display of their data. An example from the Fall 2021 class is provided above.

Senior Seminar (Bio 491)

The topic of this course changes every semester. In Fall 2021, the course focus was on Climate Change and Microbial Ecology. Throughout the semester, students crafted their own NSF grant proposal in the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) format. Students began the semester with several short lectures on the interdisciplinary topic of the course and then designed and refined their own research questions.

Ecology (Bio 308)– Spring 2022

I taught this course for the first time in Spring 2022. Highlights of the course include a 2-week crash course live-coding introduction to coding in R at the beginning of the semester which is followed up throughout the semester by several newly designed case studies that feature data analysis and data visualization using R and R Shiny. Students will participate in a CURE semester-long lab project examining the impact of environment on shaping the microbiome of the bean beetle Callosobruchus maculatus.

Journeys Alaska: Decolonizing Conservation (GBL 102 & 103) — Spring 2022

I taught this course for the first time in Spring 2022. This course explores the history and future of conservation biology and ecology through the lens of decolonization. We study the often problematic history of conservation efforts, with a particular focus on the establishment of national parks in the United States. We contrast those historical efforts with more recent partnerships between government agencies, tribal councils, non-profit groups, indigenous communities, and other stakeholders especially in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Additionally, we spend time exploring the often complementary role that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can play in ecology and the sciences. And finally, students work to recognize the role they themselves can play in conservation projects through participation in a community science projects with a critical/constructive eye to the impacts of ecotourism on communities.