Wednesday October 18, 2017

Alumni Profile: Jodie Jawor

A University of Dayton alumna recently named a National Science Foundation program director returned to campus last month to give a seminar and discuss career paths with graduate and undergraduate biology students.

Jodie Jawor earned her doctorate degree in biology from the University in 2002. Most recently, she served as both an affiliate research scientist at New Mexico State University and a temporary program director at the NSF. This summer, she accepted a permanent position as program director in the Behavioral Systems cluster in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems in the NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate.

Jawor spent two days on campus in September to present a seminar about her doctoral research on ornamental structures in northern cardinals and where that work led in terms of her post-doctoral research and academic career. She also gave a guest lecture in associate professor Ryan McEwan’s ecological restoration class, and met with faculty and students individually and in small groups.

“I thought the undergraduates were great,” Jawor said. “The group of young women who toured me around campus were asking me insightful questions and they had some very strong plans about what they would like to do after graduation.”

She was similarly impressed with the graduate students, who sought her advice about available career paths and how to prepare for future success.

As program director, Jawor manages research funded by her NSF cluster area, which includes animal behavior and its mechanisms. This includes managing existing awards, reviewing new research from award recipients and determining the best future use of federal funds.

She said the University of Dayton helped her develop a broad interest in scientific questions within the animal behavior area, beyond her specific research focus.

“That certainly helps when one is sitting there contemplating, ‘What is the research that is moving the field forward very strongly?’” she explained. “Having a broad interest helps you to be able to figure that out.”

Jawor’s doctoral research looked at the function of multiple sexually selected ornamental structures in northern cardinals. For example, a male bird’s tall crest, bright red body coloration and black mask all communicate something about itself to females of the species. While those traits are reduced in females because of natural selection, such as their coloration being muted to avoid attracting predators to their nests, she found females also use ornaments to communicate.

“It’s not the first work, but some of the very early work with female ornamentation was work that I had done,” Jawor said.

Biology professor Albert Burky served on Jawor’s graduate committee and witnessed many of her research progress presentations. They also had adjacent offices and became friends, enjoying social as well as scientific interactions.

“Jodie is an outstanding behavioral biologist and has made a career of her work on cardinals,” Burky said, citing her many research publications and awards. “She continues her field research and is giving back to others as a program officer at NSF. UD should be proud.”

Jawor’s seminar marked her first visit to campus in nearly 15 years. When she was last here, ground had just been broken for the Science Center connector between Sherman and Wohlleben halls.

“It was nice to see that in its finished form,” she said. “It was always a very pretty campus, but I think it is even more attractive now. There have been a lot of nice improvements.”

Her advice to students is to get outside and enjoy nature — not surprising, given that she did her cardinal research at Dayton’s Aullwood Audubon Center.

“If you’re an undergraduate and you’re stressed about finals, going for a walk outside is just going to calm you down and you never know what you’re going to see,” Jawor said. “Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll run across one of the graduate students who are doing research in the area you walk through and you can ask them questions and learn something new.”

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

 

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