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James F. Scudday Scholarship Winners Announced

From the desk of Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

In a year of “many firsts,” Chihuanhuan Desert Research Institute (CDRI) is pleased to announce the first time it has broken tradition and awarded four scholarships, vs. the customary two. We’re always impressed with the quality of the applications and especially the applicants, and this year, it was virtually impossible to select only two recipients. With great pleasure, we awarded the four Scudday scholarships to the following Sul Ross State University (SRSU) graduate students: Rachel Bittner, Alex Chavez, Leah Bakewell and Jacob Locke.

The $1,000 grants are offered annually to SRSU graduate students conducting research in the Chihuahuan Desert region, with preference given to applicants conducting research in vertebrate biology. We trust you’ll be as impressed as we were by the following synopsis of this year’s winners and their research projects.

Rachel Bittner

Beginning her graduate studies at SRSU in August 2018, Rachel “hit the ground running” according to Ryan S. Luna, Ph.D., Committee Chair and Kelly R. Thompson Professor of Quail Research and Associate Professor of Wildlife Management, Chair of the Department of Natural Resource Management, Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) of SRSU. Luna went on to state, “Rachel’s current project is assessing eyeworm and cecal worm prevalence in scaled quail throughout the Trans-Pecos. Her project will help to determine areas that have a higher prevalence and also identify factors contributing to parasitic loads.” Dr. Luna concluded, “Ultimately, this research will aid in determining factors that are influencing the quail decline and identify areas where we might be able to make a difference to bolster current populations.”

In her application to CDRI, Rachel expressed her desire to communicate her findings though publishing her research in respective scientific journals and upon graduation to “ideally start a career with a state or federal agency where [she] may continue studying species of conservation concern impacted by diseases and/or parasites so that [she] can continue to make [her] contribution to conservation and natural resources management.”


Alejandro Chavez Trevino

Alejandro (“Alex”) Chavez is a graduate student at the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) a part of SRSU, studying the effect of grassland restoration to bird populations in the Chihuahuan Desert. Alex is completing his last year of graduate studies. To date, Alex has participated in and conducted ~270 walking transects on private ranches over two winter seasons to acquire accurate population data and the response to the restoration treatment.

Alex’s project coordinator, Mieke Titulaer, Ph.D., Research Scientist with BRI said of Alex’s coordinating winter grassland captures, “He showed outstanding leadership abilities and hard work, reflected by his performance of coordinating his field crew and a multitude of volunteers from both sides of the border.” Dr, Titulaer concluded, “[Alex] is an exceptional student…who can operate at an advanced theoretical level while keeping firmly rooted in practical field operations.”


Leah Bakewell

Leah is a two time Scudday Scholarship recipient. Leah’s research investigates the relationships between preferred body temperature, optimum body temperature and immune function in red-spotted toads, Anaxyrus punctatus. During her time at SRSU, Leah has discovered her love for teaching, with experience ranging from teaching zoology labs at SRSU to teaching fourth graders at CDRI’s “Herp Day” for the past two years. Leah plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program so that she can “expose others to the wonders of biology while still contributing to scientific research.”

Leah’s advising professor, Sean Graham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Curator of the Vertebrate Collection, SRSU, stated, “She is a talented, focused graduate student.”

Leah Bakewell

Jacob Locke

Jacob is also a two time Scudday Scholarship recipient. His thesis will focus on pronghorn-habitat relationships. With an interest in finding ways to improve the suitability of pronghorn habitat, Jacob is researching the effects of cattle grazing on forb production within a variety of grazing regimes. Jacob is a third year graduate student at SRSU.

Jacob’s advisor, Louis A. Harveson, Ph.D., Dan Allen Hughes Endowed Director, Borderlands Research Institute stated, “Jacob has a wealth of experience working on various wildlife projects across Texas. Jacob is an “up and comer” in our graduate program and will be successful as a wildlife biologist when he graduates.”


The Scholarship's Namesake

James F. Scudday, Ph.D. (1929-2009) was a CDRI co-founder and longtime professor of Biology at Sul Ross. Upon his retirement in 1995, he was named a Distinguished Professor Emeritus by the Board of Regents of the Texas State University System, the Board’s highest honor for retired educators.

In addition to a full teaching load, Dr. Scudday conducted significant research, published in scientific journals, and prepared numerous comprehensive vertebrate surveys for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the National Park Service. During his SRSU tenure, Dr. Scudday directed more than 100 students in graduate programs and thesis projects. Many of his former students remained in close contact with him during the course of his lifetime.

The Dr. James F. Scudday CDRI Endowed Scholarship Fund was established in 2010 in recognition of his many contributions to the field and his passion for teaching. Income from the fund supports scholarships, such as these four awards described herein, for Sul Ross graduate students.

These scholarships are but one way CDRI fulfills its commitment to nature based education and the support of research of the Chihuahuan Desert region, as well as demonstrating the nearly five-decade connection between CDRI and SRSU.