Featured Alum: Matt Strausser and…Space Cows?
Hello again, FES Blog readers! Emily again with latest from the Admissions Office.
Applications are trickling in, just before the dam breaks and the flood of just-before-the-deadline applications hits us. Looking forward to the reading season—cozying up with a cup of tea (maybe some hot chocolate?) and some applications, it’s almost like a good book.
This week, I’ve brought another recent alum to the spotlight, Matt Strausser, MEM ’12. We sat down to talk about his time at FES and what he’s doing now, which, like many of our alums, is pretty awesome.
Emily: So, Matt, what do you do these days?
Matt: I am the wildlife biologist on NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.
Emily: Why would a space center need a wildlife biologist?
Matt: Excellent question. Surrounding the dozens of buildings, laboratories, rockets, testing facilities, and control centers, NASA has hundreds of acres of forest and coastal prairie within the Center’s gates. Those acres support hundreds of species of plants and animals. My job is to make sure those ecosystems are preserved as well as to ensure that wildlife do not impact the Center’s operations.
Matt: The JSC is an amazing place to work, and although I never imagined I would end up working on such an area, it’s a very exciting place to be. Not only is the JSC an amazing place for space exploration, research, and invention. It is also an amazing ecosystem. In addition, JSC has its own herd of Texas longhorns and serves as a captive breeding center for the critically endangered Attwater’s prairie chickens, a bird native to Texas.
Emily: Who would have thought that a space center would serve as a breeding program for, well, terrestrial animals? What projects have you been working on there?
Matt: A big project that I’m undertaking this year is the restoration of around 500 acres of Texas Coastal Prairie. Coastal prairie is a critically endangered ecosystem. There is less than 1% of that ecosystem left in the world. Agriculture, urbanization, and overgrazing can all take some blame for driving coastal prairie to the brink of extinction, but for me, the main threat now comes from invasive species. Exotic grasses and Chinese tallow trees have decimated millions of acres across Texas. On the Johnson, I’ll be removing as much of these species as possible and replacing them with native species that have historically occurred in the area. Native species will decrease maintenance cost, improve wildlife populations, increase wildflower shows, and preserve an important part of the state’s history. When the first astronauts arrived on the Space Center in the 1960’s, they didn’t drive through a city of 2 million people; they drove across oilfields and cattle ranches covered with wildflowers and native grasses. I’d like to preserve the parts of that ecosystem that are left.
Emily: Sounds lovely. Can you tell me about your background? The blog-o-readers out there want to know.
Matt: I did my undergraduate work at Cal Berkeley. After graduating with degrees in forestry and biology, I worked on whooping crane reintroduction on the eastern flyway until I started at Yale in the fall of 2010. At Yale, I was very active in the Society for Conservation Biology, which I co-led with my partner in crime, Sarah Wyatt.
Emily: Maybe I’ll talk to Sarah about her work sometime on this here blog. Anyway, how do you think FES helped you to get to such a neat job? What did you do at FES that you’re stoked you did, now that you’ve got a real job?
Matt: Although I took many great classes at FES, now I’m particularly benefiting from my Management Plans class as well as the many analysis classes. Multivariate analysis, regression analysis, and geographic information systems (GIS) classes really benefit the work I’m doing now. I spent my summer with US Fish and Wildlife on the Kenai Wilderness in south-central Alaska. I had an amazing experience with that organization and learned a great deal.
Emily: Quick editorial note, Management Plans is one of the classes I mentioned that works as a capstone course, wherein you are paired with an external client. Anyway, any last words for our readers, Matt?
Matt: I’d certainly be happy to chat with anyone who wants to talk about my work, my time at FES, or dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There you have it, folks! Space and animals—little kids’ dreams really do come true.
That’s it from me for now. Stay tuned for another Featured Alum post next week. And as always, feel free to email me if you have any questions, comments, or theories on the nature of life, the universe and everything.
Until next time,