Commencement 2023: Avian conservation research sent grad’s confidence soaring

Hannah Grushon grad feature 2

Hannah Grushon enrolled at Earlham College to play field hockey and become a forensic scientist, but her career ambitions started changing after the first week of classes.

“I signed up for a microbiology class not knowing you can’t sign up for 300-level classes as a first-year student,” said Grushon, a biology major from Dayton, Ohio. “My adviser recommended I take EcoBio with professor Wendy Tori instead. 

“I was not happy about that at first, but Wendy showed clear enthusiasm and love for the field of biology, and that inspired me to find out more about careers in wildlife conservation. Nearly every lab in class was spent outside learning about local ecosystems. After the first few days of classes, I said ‘OK, I’m going to scrap forensic science.’ Right away I became interested in ecology and conservation.”

Grushon will earn her biology degree as a member of the Class of 2023 on Saturday, May 13. She is among the 143 undergraduates and 24 graduate school students earning degrees. The commencement ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. on Chase Stage, weather permitting. The rain location is the Druley Performance Gymnasium in the Athletics and Wellness Center.

Grushon’s early enthusiasm for ecology and conservation only grew and afforded her opportunities to join a major avian research initiative in the grasslands of Iowa, home to some of the last remaining grassland bird populations. 

Tori, the Martha Sykes Hansen endowed chair in biology for ornithology, and Jaime Coon, assistant professor of biology and environmental sustainability, are co-leaders of the research excursion. The project is a part of an ongoing collaboration between Earlham and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, private landowners and researchers from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. A long-term goal of the project is to strengthen existing grasslands and rebuild habitats closer to Earlham.

“I love birds. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in the research for the last two summers,” Grushon said. “Each year we have a main question that guides our research. During the research, we think about different variables and collect data from different categories.”

Earlham College senior Hannah Grushon in the grasslands of Iowa.

A seminal moment in Grushon’s Earlham education was presenting on a faculty-student research project during the Ecological Society of America’s 2022 annual conference in Montreal, Canada. The presentation was called “Caught on camera: Effects of invasive grasses and brood parasitism on Dickcissel (Spiza americana) food provisioning and reproductive success.” 

“I’m a first-generation college student,” she said. “My parents couldn’t offer a lot of support in terms of knowledge and skills in higher education. I didn’t previously believe that I could communicate scientific information with the level of depth that I did at the Ecological Society of America conference—but I did.”

She felt the same about her ability to pursue graduate school after Earlham. “I didn’t think it was for me,” she remembers.

Not anymore. After graduating, Grushon will take a gap year before applying to graduate schools. Her first post-graduate role will be familiar. She is returning to the grasslands of Iowa in support of the research she started as an undergrad.

“I love birds and I want to continue doing avian conservation research,” Grushon said. “My experiences at Earlham really confirmed that this is the work I want to do for the rest of my life.”

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We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.