Butler Fellows

Since its establishment in 2006, the Butler Fellowship program has provided support for seven exceptional graduate students in the Odum School of Ecology studying aquatic ecology, water quality, land use or related issues in Georgia and surrounding states. Butler Fellowships have allowed these students to conduct applied research and policy analysis with real-world impact while pursuing their master’s degrees. Those impacts continue to spread as Butler Fellow alumni have moved into careers beyond academia. 

Inaugural Butler Fellow Rachel Katz received her master’s degree in ecology in 2009 and doctorate in 2014. Her master’s thesis, “Abundance and survival of common benthic biota in a river affected by water diversion during an historic drought,” focused on the effects of naturally low streamflows coupled with water withdrawals in the Middle Oconee River in Athens. Her doctoral dissertation, “Evaluating the relations between fish population dynamics, streamflow, and geomorphic characteristics at multiple spatial scales,” explored how aquatic populations respond to environmental variability—essential knowledge for informing effective conservation of stream ecosystems and biodiversity.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and U.S.G.S., she accepted a position at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System in Hadley, Mass. As a biometrician, Rachel designs inventory and monitoring plans to estimate the abundance and occurrence of wildlife populations and factors influencing their dynamics over time. She supports a range of refuge biologists and resource managers in the development of decision models that integrate multiple—and sometimes conflicting—objectives and sources of ecological uncertainty to identify robust management strategies and future research needs.  

Laura Keys, Butler Fellow from 2014-2015, received her master’s degree in conservation ecology and sustainable development in 2015. Her thesis, “Monitoring and modeling impacts of a rain garden on the University of Georgia campus,” explored the effectiveness of rain gardens for managing and treating stormwater, the barriers preventing their widespread use, and policies that could promote them. 

Laura is currently a research associate for Louisiana State University’s Freshwater Ecology research group, where she monitors water quality for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Atchafalaya River basin. Laura and her colleagues track the ecological impacts of the Army Corps’s modifications to the river, measuring dissolved oxygen levels and identifying fish to study habitat and species assemblage and investigating how the fish community has changed. Laura also mentors an undergraduate who is conducting research comparing the effects of different types of tree harvesting techniques on the local stream. 

For her master’s research in conservation ecology and sustainable development, 2015-2016 Butler Fellow Laura Early, who received her degree 2016, analyzed how different growth and land use scenarios for the Satilla watershed could affect ecosystem services there. Her thesis, “Using InVEST to examine impacts of land use change on ecosystem services to inform planning in Georgia’s Satilla River watershed,” describes how this kind of ecosystem services analysis, which uses open-source software and existing data, can support land use planning decisions in coastal Georgia. 

Laura also received a NOAA Knauss Marine Fellowship, which took her to Washington, D.C. for a year, where she worked in the national Sea Grant office assisting with strategic planning for the National Sea Grant College Program, synthesizing Sea Grant coastal resilience projects and identifying and pursuing key interagency, intergovernmental, and other partnerships.

In 2017, Laura returned to Georgia as the Satilla Riverkeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring the river while educating the public about its ecological significance. 

A 2016-2017 Butler Fellow from Hanover, Germany, Philipp Nussbaum received his master’s degree in conservation ecology and sustainable development in 2017. For his thesis, “Building public confidence in constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment and reuse,” Philipp developed and implemented a public education and community engagement campaign to help the Sewanee, Tenn., Utility District build public awareness of and confidence in its new wastewater treatment wetlands facility. The experimental wetlands were designed by the UGA River Basin Center in collaboration with the University of the South with the goal of treating wastewater to a high enough standard that it can be reused. 

Philipp next created and managed branding and social media for TenneSwim, a public education and outreach project led by chemistry professor and endurance swimmer Andreas Fath in 2017. Fath swam the entire 652 miles of the Tennessee River over 34 days, taking daily water samples that were tested for more than 600 substances; the project brought significant media attention to water quality in the Tennessee River. Philipp is currently deciding between a position with a German nonprofit or a return to the Odum School to pursue a doctorate.  

Richard Bauer, 2017-2018 Butler Fellow, is pursuing a master’s degree in conservation ecology and sustainable development. He is studying levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in aquatic reptiles, both endangered and species of concern, at one of the four EPA Superfund sites in Brunswick, Ga. Rick, who graduated from Davidson College in 2012, already has extensive experience working with reptiles and amphibians. He assisted Prof. Mike Dorcas of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory with a study of invasive pythons in the Florida Everglades and worked on Jekyll Island researching how box turtles hatched in captivity can supplement declining populations in the wild. He has also tagged and monitored American alligators as part of an ongoing study of their spatial ecology.