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Cold-blooded Friends

During four years at Earlham, Rachel Riggs ’18 developed strong friendships with her peers. A few reptiles at Earlham’s Joseph Moore Museum might want to call her a friend as well.

As animal caretaker at JMM, Riggs oversaw the feeding and care of three lizards, five snakes, one salamander and eight turtles.

“Knowing that I helped to create the best life possible for these animals is important and satisfying,” she says. “It’s been interesting getting to know their personalities. We formed close bonds over the years.” Her depth of knowledge increased, as did her responsibilities. It’s no small deal, for example, to clip an iguana’s nails.

“She doesn’t know she has knives for fingers,” Riggs says.

The experiences have also given her direction. She wants to study ecology, specifically snakes.

Riggs plans to research herpetology in graduate school and the impact climate change has on snake populations.

“Snakes are moving north and toward higher altitudes,” she says. “We now have snakes where there weren’t snakes before, and with a new species moving in, there’s the potential to change other species.”

Riggs, who grew up in rural Appalachia in southeastern Ohio where snakes were common, says snakes are part of the natural world that people should find interesting, but many find them scary.

“There’s a stigma against snakes,” she says. Contrary to what many believe, snakes tend to be gentle and docile, not scary. Her work at JMM has helps debunk the misunderstandings.

“Working in the museum, I was able to help educate people about snakes to reduce the stigma. It’s been really cool to help with that.”

She says her work at the museum also helped her develop important skills including communications, group management and public speaking. “I have a better understanding of physiology, which will be imperative with the research I want to do.”

Also at Earlham, Riggs completed an Integrated Pathway in outdoor education and has participated in backpacking and led mountain wilderness courses.  

“I grew up canoeing, backpacking, a whole slew of outdoorsy things since I was a kid,” she says. “I’m drawn to experiential and alternative education because I’ve seen how effective it is and how engaging you can get people to be with learning when it’s not in an academic setting.”

She’s was active in theater at Earlham and and a member of the rugby team, a club sport at the College.

“Rugby is a rough sport,” she says. “It’s a contact sport that is demanding and requires coordination and team work. It’s safer than football because there is no padding. We learn better how to protect ourselves and how to tackle properly.

“It was lovely to be able to participate in the physically demanding sport with a group of women who are passionate about what they do.”

Rachel Riggs

Rachel Riggs 2018, Graduate Student

Major at Earlham: Biology

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