Have You Met Rutgers-Newark?

A Fateful Visit Altered Jessica’s Career Path

Jessica Schnell was a recent graduate from Cornell with a major in nutrition, but her budding interest in bird conservation was what led her to pursue graduate study at Rutgers-Newark. A connection to a fellow Cornell alum, Biology Professor Doug Morrision, led to her visit six years ago to the urban Rutgers campus on a “gorgeous” spring Open House. On that day she met an avid birder on the Rutgers biology faculty, Professor Claus Holzapfel.  A course in computational ecology with NJIT Biology Professor Gareth Russell set the course for what is now her research passion.

The focus of Jessica’s dissertation is a computational study of four areas around the world where bird species are threatened  -- the North Central American Highlands, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, the East Malagasy Wet Forests of Madagascar, and the Central Sichuan Mountains of China. Using data collected by collaborators at Rutgers, NJIT, Duke University and at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the research quantifies bird “fragmentation” (break up of a natural habitat) and will, Jessica notes, eventually be used to “assist in prioritizing what are the most valuable places to restore habitats.”

Jessica will be spending the next two years as a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell in rural southern Germany, her father’s native country.  It will be a world away from urban Newark, where she has enjoyed the campus’ proximity to New York City, as well as The Newark Museum, Branch Brook Park, and the culinary delights of the Ironbound.  And Professor Holzapfel and other campus environmental activists will miss Jessica’s regular volunteer work for Rutgers-Newark’s annual Earth Day activities.