Auburn to launch new geospatial and environmental informatics bachelor’s degree

geospatial and environmental informatics degree, launches in fall 2017Auburn University will begin offering a new geospatial and environmental informatics, or GSEI, undergraduate degree this fall within the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

The degree program will be collaboratively taught by faculty from the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Colleges of Agriculture, Sciences and Mathematics, Engineering and Business.

Geospatial technology refers to all of the software applications that are used to acquire, manipulate and store geographic information. Technologies such as geographic information systems, the global positioning system, satellite-based remote sensing and computer simulations are tools commonly used by all sectors of the economy for planning and decision-making.

Industry and government are increasingly reliant on geospatial technologies to manage the interface between human activity and the environment. These technologies are also employed for business purposes to forecast and analyze potential markets for retail and development.

With its diverse applications, the geographic information system industry is expected to experience continuous growth in the United States, requiring the number of geospatial workers to increase from its current 850,000 nationwide to around 1.2 million by 2018, according to GeoTech, a nonprofit coalition of educational institutions that supports geospatial technology education.

“GSEI graduates can anticipate a wide variety of career opportunities as planners, analysts, consultants, resource managers or developers within public agencies and government, private corporations, consulting firms, non-governmental and other international organizations,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

The degree program is designed to provide students rigorous training in fundamental theories, concepts, quantitative tools, analytical technologies and research skills that are used to acquire spatially referenced information and to analyze spatial processes.

Scott Enebak, associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said, “This interdisciplinary approach brings together information technology, spatial science, data analysis, natural resources and ecological modeling that enable us to apply science and new technologies toward the sustainable management of the natural world and the efficient use of resources.”

New faculty members Shufen Pan and Sanjiv Kumar, hired within the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences as part of Auburn’s Strategic Cluster Hire Initiative in Climate, Human and Earth System Sciences, will contribute their expertise to the degree curriculum.

The degree program has been aligned with the interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program of the National Science Foundation designed to enhance knowledge across multiple fields including ecology, agriculture, geosciences, climate science and civil engineering. This approach prepares students to be successful and competitive in this diverse and rapidly growing job market.

The new geospatial and environmental informatics bachelor’s degree was approved by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education in March and is available for fall 2017 student enrollment. For more information about the degree, go to or contact the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Office of Student Services at

Wildlife Sciences student, Seth Rankins, nominated for National Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences wildlife ecology and management undergraduate student, Seth Rankins, of Cusseta, Alabama, was recently nominated by the Auburn University Honors College as one of four Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship nominees.

The prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Program was established to provide scholarships to outstanding students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.

In awarding scholarships, the foundation of trustees considers the nominee’s field of study and career objectives along with the extent to which that individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to the field of science or engineering.

SFWS Professor Stephen Ditchkoff nominated Rankins in recognition of his outstanding commitment to his research with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Deer Lab.

“There are a large number of undergraduates that assist with our research in the Wildlife Program, but very few students are interested in conducting their own research,” said Ditchkoff. “Seth made it very clear at our initial meeting that he very much wanted to conduct his own research, in addition to publishing and presenting his findings.”

With the guidance of the Deer Lab research team, Rankin’s research project was designed to analyze the feeding patterns of white-tailed deer at baited sites, and examine whether sex or age may influence the time that individual deer spend at these sites. Because baited sites are the foundation for camera surveys that are used for estimating population parameters of white-tailed deer, these data have the potential to highlight biases and study design flaws that could undermine the validity of camera surveys.

Rankins has presented the findings in a professional setting at the Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the manuscript that was developed using the same data, where Seth is listed as second author, was recently accepted for publication by the Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

“Without question, it is a rare individual that is informed of acceptance of his first publication in a peer-reviewed outlet during the fall of his junior year,” stated Ditchkoff. “Given his intellectual ability, work ethic, and problem-solving skills, Seth has no ceiling regarding what he could accomplish in the future.”

More recently, Rankins has begun working with both Ditchkoff and SFWS Assistant Professor Sarah Zohdy to study tick borne diseases in white-tailed deer. This research includes extracting genomic DNA from over 200 white-tailed deer from a marked population of deer at the Auburn University Deer Lab in an effort to quickly diagnose anaplasmosis and erlichiosis and prevent its spread.

“I believe that this nomination is a reflection of the research professionals that I have had the opportunity to work with here at Auburn,” said Rankins. “Being awarded this scholarship will help me to achieve my goal of going to graduate school in wildlife biology.”

If awarded, Rankins will receive up to a maximum of $7,500 annually for undergraduate tuition, fees, books, and housing.



SFWS re-accredited by the Society of American Foresters

In the United States, programmatic accreditation is a non-governmental, peer-review process that assures the quality of the post-secondary education students receive and is voluntary. Academic programs volunteer to undergo this comprehensive review periodically to determine if certain criteria are being met. Accreditation is not a ranking system, it is simply assurance that a degree program meets quality standards established by the profession. Society of American Forester (SAF) accreditation applies to degree programs only, not departments, colleges, institutions, or individuals.  Institutions like the SFWS choose SAF accreditation because it offers several benefits, such as peer-review, recognition of the program’s commitment to quality, and practical insights from the working professionals who review the programs.  SAF is responsible for the accreditation of post-secondary degree-granting programs in forestry, urban forestry, natural resources and ecosystem management, and forest technology. When a degree program becomes SAF-accredited, it demonstrates to students, parents, and employers that the program:

  • Participates in a structured process to assess, evaluate, and improve quality.
  • Involves faculty, staff, and students in the self-assessment and continuous improvement process.
  • Focuses on learning outcomes.
  • Produces graduates who are well prepared for the profession.
  • Meets education standards for registration, licensing, and certification boards.

With the self-study initiated in the fall of 2015, a site visit in spring 2016 and final review in November at the annual SAF Convention, the SAF Committee on Accreditation approved the SFWS forestry-based degrees for accreditation in early 2017, which will be valid through December 31, 2026.



Auburn Deer Lab research the recent focus of the national television program, Destination Whitetail

The white-tailed deer research at the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Deer Lab was recently the highlight of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine’s national cable television program, Destination Whitetail, aired on December 21 on the Sportsman Channel.

Wildlife Professor, Stephen Ditchkoff, and his research team, showcased their efforts at the Auburn Deer Lab to better understand deer behavior, reproductive health, biology and genetics. Along with Ditchkoff, research associate, Chad Newbolt, and graduate student, Carolyn Moore, shared the Deer Lab’s goals and research techniques with viewers.

In addition to the regularly scheduled features, the Deer Lab research team also contributes monthly to Deer & Deer Hunting magazine. States Ditchkoff, “Hopefully insights from our research on white-tailed deer behavior and biology can be useful for both hunters and wildlife managers across the U.S.”

Auburn University’s Deer Lab facilitates its research at the Captive Research Facility located in Camp Hill, AL and on public and privately owned land throughout the southeastern U.S.

Founded in 1977, Deer & Deer Hunting was America’s first whitetail-only publication. The popular TV show is entering its 12th season, and airs on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET.

View the episode online at or via Facebook at

Learn more about the Auburn University Deer Lab at




2nd annual Career Fair a success for students and employers



The fall 2016 School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Career Fair, held on Nov. 30, hosted nearly 50 employers from 20 U.S.-based businesses and organizations. During the day long career fair, SFWS current and prospective students took the opportunity to network with company reps and participate in interviews with several groups. Also participating in the career fair were middle and high school students from Munford, Alabama, who came to learn about forestry, wildlife and natural resources management careers.







Thank you to all who made the day a success for our students, including:

Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Alabama Forestry Commission
ArborMetrics Solutions
Bartlett Tree Experts
Choctaw Land & Timber
IndusTREE Timber
International Paper
Larson & McGowin, LLC
Louisiana-Pacific Corporation
Regions Bank
The Westervelt Company
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Bloomington, MN)
U.S. Forest Service
West Fraser



Wildlife Sciences to offer students study abroad experience in Africa



img_1651Next summer, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences will for the first time in its history offer wildlife ecology and management and wildlife pre-vet majors an opportunity to gain exposure to wildlife management and conservation issues in southern Africa.

During the 15-day trip scheduled for early August 2017, eligible wildlife students will tour four parks/preserves in Swaziland and will spend two days in Kruger National Park in South Africa. The home base for most of the trip will be within the Mbuluzi Game Reserve located on the banks of the Mlawula River in Swaziland, where they will be conducting daily field activities in this conservation area.

Historical and cultural issues in the region, combined with an extremely unique assemblage of large mammals and other wildlife communities, have created a scenario where many large mammal species are threatened or even critically endangered.  The highly publicized conflict between conservation of wildlife and the value on the black market of body parts of some of these species is one example of the challenges that wildlife managers face in the region.

What is less highly publicized is the issue of land conversion for agriculture and development and the few natural areas that are suitable for populations of large mammals that require considerable space for their existence. SFWS students will be exposed to these management and conservation issues during the trip, which will help them to gain an appreciation for and understanding of the importance of working within economic, social, and cultural constraints when managing wildlife.

Additionally, students will gain considerable hands-on experience. As part of new research projects on impala and guinea fowl, they will have the opportunity to capture, handle, and radio-collar these species. They will also work with game cameras to conduct large mammal surveys in some of the conservation preserves in which they visit. These activities will allow the students to develop an understanding of the unique ecology of African large mammals and their environment.

“Students will trap large mammals, go on birding tours, and have the opportunity to view numerous species of large mammals in their natural environment,” said Wildlife Professor Stephen Ditchkoff, who toured the area this summer and will lead the group. He added that students can expect to see lion, leopard, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, impala, kudu, bushbuck, nyala, zebra, hippo, warthog, crocodile, baboons, and a large variety of unique bird species.

South Africa’s breadth of wildlife and expansive wilderness areas provide a unique environment where it is possible to observe natural behaviors associated with migration, feeding and social dynamics, free of human controls or influence. “This type of experience cannot be replicated in a classroom, zoo, or even on film,” said Ditchkoff.

The experiential knowledge gained through study abroad is widely known to offer students a host of benefits that contribute to personal growth, improved skills, and enhanced academic learning and performance. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, international experiences are pivotal for broadening a student’s aptitude for cross-cultural communications, understanding global challenges, and developing leadership skills that will equate to advanced career opportunities.

Rising wildlife juniors and seniors from Auburn and Louisiana State University have been issued an invitation to participate. Deposits for the next trip will be required by early spring 2017. Fees will include all airfare, lodging, park passes, supplies, food, and ground transportation. For more information about this opportunity, contact Stephen Ditchkoff at



SFWS to offer new electives for AU students


urban rural interfaceThe School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences will offer five new 3-credit hour courses for the spring 2017 semester that will be of interest to students who wish to explore concepts and decision making strategies for natural resources management and economics, land-use planning, and sustainability. Prerequisites are not required or are waived for the elective classes which are open to all Auburn University students.

Two of the classes offered are part of the school’s proposed new degree program, Geospatial and Environmental Informatics, which is anticipated to launch in the fall of 2017 pending approval by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. Course credit for Digital Earth and Introduction to Environmental Informatics will apply toward completion of the degree for students who later declare this major.

Digital Earth (GSEI 1200) will be taught by Assistant Professor Susan Pan and is scheduled Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:00 – 1:50 p.m. The course is designed to introduce students from all disciplines to geospatial technologies, spatial thinking, and evolving job markets in this area. Students will explore how innovative geospatial technologies are changing the world around us, including how we interact with the environment and each other.

Introduction to Environmental Informatics (GSEI 2070) will be taught by Assistant Professor Sanjiv Kumar (email: Dr. Susan Pan). The lecture and lab are offered Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. – 10: 45 a.m. and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The course will introduce students to the environment as a system of linked, interactive components where geographic information science, mathematical and statistical modeling, remote sensing, database management, knowledge integration, and science informs environmental decision-making.

Natural Resource Finance and Investment (FOWS 5620/6620), will be held Monday evenings from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. and is taught by Adjunct Professor Richard Hall. This course aims to provide students with an opportunity to gain a better understanding of corporate, real estate and project finance principles and  how these principles can be applied to various types of natural resources.

Frontiers for Sustainable Biomaterials (BIOP 2120) will be taught by Assistant Professor Maria Soledad Peresin on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:00 – 1:50 p.m. This course will introduce students to the concepts of sustainability, biomaterials and resource efficiency in the context of bio-economy. The definition of a bio economy is based on the implementation of sustainable resources to produce materials, food, energy and services, decreasing the dependency on traditionally petroleum based/derived products, while promoting economic development.

Conflict and Collaboration in Natural Resources (FOWS 5456) is offered as an online course that will be taught by Adjunct Professor Miriam Wyman. This senior level undergraduate/graduate level course will provide an overview of major issues, theories, and approaches related to conflict management and collaboration in natural resources.

The Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences offers courses and undergraduate and graduate degrees in forestry, wildlife ecology and management, wildlife sciences pre-vet, and natural resources management. For more information about the new electives, download the course syllabi or email or faculty via the addresses provided.




New faculty join the SFWS as part of Auburn’s Cluster Hire Initiative



peresinMaria Soledad Peresin joined the faculty as assistant professor in bioenergy and bioproducts as part of the hiring initiative to create the Institute for Scalable Energy Conversion Science and Technology. Peresin earned her bachelor’s degree in analytical chemistry in 2007 from Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Argentina, and a doctorate in forest biomaterials from North Carolina State University in 2011. Her past experience includes the completion of a three-year post-doctoral position with the Academy of Finland where she acted as coordinator and project manager of a WoodWisdom EraNet+ Project of the European Commission from 2014-2016.

Peresin currently acts as member at large at the Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division of the American Chemical Society, and is also a member of the Junior Executive Committee of the European Polysaccharides Network of Excellence, Chair of the Finnish Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry and scientific coordinator of the Network of Argentinian Scientist in Finland.

With a significant library of publications to her credit, Peresin is considered to be an accomplished scientist in forest biomaterials. In addition to her research, she will co-lead a new Sustainable Biomaterials and Packaging undergraduate degree program that is being developed within the school.





Pan CPRDSusan (Shufen) Pan joins the SFWS as assistant professor of Earth systems modeling as part of Auburn’s Climate, Human and Earth System Sciences Strategic Cluster Hire. Pan has an interdisciplinary educational background with a Master’s degree in economics and a doctorate in ecology. Her primary research interest is in understanding and quantifying dynamics of coupled natural-human systems at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Pan’s research has covered a range of topics including studies of climate impacts, mitigation and adaptation, social-ecological system dynamics, land use and land cover changes. She acts as the SFWS Director of the GIS and Remote Sensing Laboratory and will be a key lead in the Geospatial and Environmental Informatics undergraduate degree program that is planned to launch in the fall 2017.






SFWS graduate student Megan Bartholomew receives top presentation award at the Alabama Water Resources Conference


Bartholomew (center) pictured with Eve Brantley, Auburn associate professor, Extension specialist and AUWRC treasurer, on left, and fellow Forestry and Wildlife Sciences graduate student, Rasika Ramesh, to the right at the Alabama Water Resources Conference in Gulf Shores, Ala.

School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences natural resources Master’s student, Megan Bartholomew (Maj. Prof, Christopher Anderson), was recently selected as 1st place student presentation winner for her oral presentation, Long term vegetation response to hydrologic recovery in isolated wetlands, at the 2016 Alabama Water Resources Conference, held in Gulf Shores, Ala., Sept. 8-9.

Established in 1986, the Auburn University Water Resources Center conference provides a forum for showcasing emerging research, education and outreach in all aspects of water resources.

For student presenters, conferences are a great way to share their work and receive unique feedback and ideas from scholars, industry, and stakeholders.

“Conferences are always exciting to participate in and the Alabama Water Resources Conference was no exception,” stated Bartholomew. “I always return invigorated with new ideas and energy from the work presented.’

Bartholomew expects the results from the study will help natural resource managers develop reliable and science based wetland restoration milestones, establish more appropriate restoration timelines, and accurately determine when a restoration project has reached completion.

Student oral presentations were judged on several criteria, including presenter’s knowledge, logic, and understandability of the subject presented, significance and originality of material presented, effective use of audio-visual materials, presentation style and effectiveness as communicator, and quality of responses to questions.

For more information about the Auburn University Water Resources Center conference, visit





International Paper hosts gathering of Auburn alumni during recent meeting

ipforestrygradsInternational Paper (IP), a leading manufacturing company of renewable and recyclable packaging materials, recently hosted an employee meeting at their corporate office in Memphis, TN, where Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences graduates posed for a photo.

Shown in the photo provided by IP Regional Manager and AU graduate, David Helm are from left to right: Matt Meyerpeter, David Hand, Michael Walker, David Helm, Sarah Sibley, Jake Smith, Joe Twardy, Ted Crane. Other SFWS graduates missing from the photo include Ricky Everett, Grace Gregson, Wesley Peters, and Jenny Lightfoot, among others.

International Paper employs approximately 53,000 people worldwide and operates in more than 24 countries. Careers with IP include finance, manufacturing, supply chain, and information technology.

IP routinely hires Auburn graduates as fiber supply managers to facilitate the movement of lumber to its manufacturing facilities; many of whom are based in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

Students interested in internships and careers with IP can visit and interview with company representatives during the SFWS Career Fair scheduled on Nov. 30.

For more information about Auburn’s forestry degrees, visit



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