Passion for conservation drives student’s impactful initiatives – AgriLife Today

April 10, 2024 | by magnews24.com

Skyler Nix, a sophomore in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, is a passionate advocate for conservation and biodiversity. Nix’s decision to study at the College was based on a deep-rooted love for nature established at a young age and his desire to immerse himself in a culture where his love for the environment could grow.

Head and shoulders of Skyler Nix. He is wearing a maroon shirt with that has a ATM with the words Texas A&M University Ecology & Conservation Biology
Skyler Nix, a sophomore in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, grew up with a passion for nature and is now living his dream of studying at the College. (Kaitlyn Perkins/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Nix’s commitment to conserving Texas’ natural resources has intensified over time, stemming from his cherished memories of childhood adventures in the outdoors with his family to his experience working at the Houston Zoo.

“Since I became a student at Texas A&M University, I knew this was where I was meant to be and where I needed to be,” Nix said. “I knew what direction I wanted to take my career, and being a student here has affirmed my decision. This College has allowed me to participate in bigger statewide initiatives.”

Since enrolling in the College, Nix has been able to take his passions and turn them into reality. He sat down to share with us his hands-on student experiences through his involvement in the Innovation X team within the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, BRTC, his involvement with the Lights Out, College Station! program, and his plans for a future in preserving Texas wildlife.

What was it about the department that drew you to study here?

Conservation and nature have always been at the core of who I am. Growing up, my family played a huge role in nurturing my love for the outdoors, instilling in me a deep appreciation for wildlife and the beauty of natural spaces. They got me outside, fostering my deep connection to wildlife and wild places. It’s a bond that guides me every day.

With that, I came to recognize the department’s role in conservation efforts and how they can reach far beyond our state borders. It struck me that the university system is involved in nearly every aspect of conservation. Enrolling here felt like stepping into the heart of these statewide projects and initiatives.

What has your experience been like being involved in your department so far?

My experiences have helped me find my place in the department, and that sense of belonging has become my favorite part. I feel like I am right where I was meant to be studying.

I found myself amongst similar, like-minded student leaders at the College. I feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself and am becoming a leader amongst leaders.

Tell us about the Lights Out, College Station! initiative and your involvement

Lights Out, College Station! is part of a statewide initiative, Lights Out, Texas! This campaign focuses on educating, raising awareness and taking action to mitigate the adverse effects of light pollution on migratory birds, particularly in preventing bird collisions with man-made structures. It’s a simple yet impactful approach: by turning off your lights from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., you can create a darker and safer passage for migratory birds travelling through Texas.

Several people standing and kneeling together while being presented a proclamation.
Nix had the opportunity to accept the City of College Station’s Lights Out Nights Proclamation at City Hall with statewide partners. (Courtesy photo)

Major community outreach and downtown collision monitoring efforts surround this initiative in cities around the state, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Although College Station doesn’t have a traditional downtown area, our campus could be considered our city’s downtown populated area.

So, finding my place in this bigger-picture effort, I saw the opportunity to bring Lights Out! to College Station. In spring 2023, I initiated this effort as an intern for the Texas Conservation Alliance and in collaboration with the University’s Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections. Since launching Lights Out, College Station!, my involvement has put me in a unique position as a student at the university. In the early mornings before sunrise each spring and fall, I lead groups of students and community volunteers across our campus in what is now a muti-year long collision monitoring study. In addition to rescuing stunned and injured birds, we collect hundreds of collision fatalities and valuable collision data that are used by a plethora of avian researchers.

What goals do you hope to accomplish with Lights Out, College Station!?

My ultimate goal for Lights Out, College Station! is to establish bird-friendly standards throughout our campus. We’ve made significant strides toward this goal already, particularly with the existing infrastructure, such as native plants and natural habitat that support our local bird population.

We hope the program will set a precedent for our campus and other campuses around Texas, creating a statewide bird-friendly campus initiative. It would be a great feeling if our university became a catalyst for widespread participation in this statewide effort as we continue to get the word out and inspire action. I worked with the city of College Station to pass a “Lights Out Nights” Proclamation last fall to ensure Lights Out commitments from the city and to spread awareness in town. I want to see our university make similar strides.

Tell us about your involvement within the Innovation X academic excellence program.

Innovation X is an academic excellence program that stems from the idea that multidisciplinary collaboration is essential to solving real-world problems.

My involvement in Innovation X at the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, the statewide Lights Out repository, centers around the preparation of specimens for preservation. I’m part of the prep team that sees thousands of Lights Out collision specimens from across the state that come in every spring and fall migration. I’m also part of the team that taxonomically and taxidermically prepares them.

Being part of Innovation X and the BRTC is not only humbling but also an incredible opportunity to learn from others. I enjoy being here and gaining the full-circle perspective that I now have. One day, I’m out collecting birds; the next day, they’re at my prep table, getting turned into a preserved specimen that will serve the scientific community and students here.

Since working on the Innovation X team, I was hired as a student research assistant this semester to organize and prepare the Lights Out collision data centralized at the BRTC. We’re working on a multi-institutional publication and integrating these statewide efforts into the global university research arena.

Do you have any upcoming internship plans for the summer?

I’ve recently been accepted into the Yale Conservation Scholars – Early Leadership Initiative program in the Yale School of the Environment. This two-year program pairs scholars with summer internships at esteemed organizations and agencies on the East Coast. This summer, I’ll be a conservation intern with the National Audubon Society at the Sharon Audubon Center in Connecticut.

What are your plans after graduation?

I want to pursue a graduate degree as a researcher. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and a crucial step for advancing my career. Ultimately, I hope to work with a nonprofit conservation organization in Texas, contributing to the preservation of our natural environment.

Is there a person at the university who has stood out to you during your college career?

Heather Prestridge, the curator of the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, has made a significant impression on me. Even before my first day of classes, she took the time to introduce me to the valuable work being done at the collections.

Her support has made me feel like an integral part of the important initiatives from the very start of my academic journey. From securing funding to launching the Lights Out program, she’s been an unwavering advocate and mentor, guiding me every step of the way.

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