Student Spotlight: Emily Card

Growing up in a little town in Michigan north of Detroit, Emily Card knew from a young age that she wanted a career working with animals.

“Every summer we went to our family cabin and I would run around the woods with my little sister,” she said. “We loved watching the birds and wildlife and I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Emily earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at Michigan State.

“I didn’t want to work at a zoo, but I thought that pursuing a degree in zoology was the best pathway to learn about animals. I knew that I wanted to do research with wild animals. At the time, I didn’t even know you could get a degree in fisheries and wildlife, which would have probably been more up my alley.”

Her zoology degree paved the way for a job as an ecology intern at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, where she worked with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and Gunnison’s prairie dogs. That experience led to her next job experience, as a grassland ecology technician in Montana.

“That’s where I fell in love with grassland birds. We worked with long-billed curlews: doing nest searches, trapping them and banding them with GPS tags to track their movements.”

That experience qualified her for a field technician position on a winter marsh bird monitoring project in Biloxi, Mississippi, followed by another job at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee, Florida, working with the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow.

“I met a former grad student from the Borderlands Research Institute while I was working in Florida. I found out about the work BRI is doing with grassland birds, and that’s how I ended up here in Texas.”

Scientists have documented that grassland birds that winter in the Chihuahuan Desert are declining twice as fast as birds that winter elsewhere in the United States. Emily and another graduate student, Alejandro Chávez-Treviño, are exploring research questions to determine why that is happening. Emily’s research study is exploring whether habitat that has been encroached upon by woody shrubs can be treated to restore grassland habitat to see if bird populations can be boosted.

Her mom and dad have encouraged her academic journey. Emily’s mom taught elementary school for 21 years, and earned her own master’s degree while Emily was young. Recently, her mom earned an EdD and now serves as principal at the school where she used to teach.

“My mom taught me to take school very seriously and to pursue my passions. She has always been an inspiration because that’s what she did, she followed her career dreams. She’s a huge role model in my life. I look up to her and she still inspires me to this day.”

Emily has another year of data gathering before she can write up her findings. She hopes to graduate in 2022.

“After that, I would be interested in working for a federal or state agency monitoring birds or other animals. And like my mom, I would also like to go back to school and get my PhD at some point. I want to continue studying grassland birds. I really love them!”