Gabriella Ripa, a wildlife ecology and management major, has been selected as the 2019-2020 School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences recipient of the prestigious President’s Award.
The President’s Award was created to recognize one outstanding graduating student in each school or college who has completed at least three semesters at Auburn University with a minimum scholastic average of 3.40, including the transfer record, and who possess outstanding qualities of leadership, citizenship, character and promise of professional ability.
In recognition of her distinguished services within the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Ripa was also chosen to lead her peers as the graduation student marshal in the 2020 spring commencement ceremony to be held in August.
“Gabrielle’s selection for the President’s award and position of Student Marshal is a reflection of her commitment to academic success and leadership within our school,” said School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Dean Janaki Alavalapati.
During her time at Auburn, Ripa undertook several internship experiences that grew her interest in wildlife conservation and research. In the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she interned at EcoVivarium, a reptile and amphibian sanctuary and teaching facility in her hometown of Escondido, California.
“At EcoVivarium I learned animal handling and educational presentation skills. This amazing experience led me to become interested in working with herpetofauna,” said Ripa.
In the summer before her junior year, Ripa interned at Allegany State Park in New York as a naturalist.
“I lead nature hikes and educational programs for children in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Additionally, I learned species identification and helped with trail maintenance in the park.”
At Allegany, Ripa became fascinated with salamanders and began to seek out professors at Auburn whose research aligned with her interests.
She found an opportunity with Jamie Oaks, a professor in the College of Science of Mathematics. With Oaks supervision, Ripa began collaborating on a research project with a graduate student to measure salamander specimens to determine how body size might have changed over time.
“That fall, I also started as a research technician in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences with Professor Christopher Anderson’s lab assisting James Cash and Jimmy Stiles with their research on the efficacy of fire in controlling Chinese privet, an invasive species of the southeastern United States,” said Ripa.
In the spring of her junior year, Ripa received an undergraduate research fellowship through Auburn University and began her own research in conjunction with Jimmy Stiles, focusing on how the presence of Chinese privet impacts ground-dwelling herpetofauna species who live within the understory micro habitat.
After graduation, Ripa plans to attend graduate school and is currently in the process of applying for assistantships. She hopes to obtain a master’s degree in wildlife science and possibly earn a doctorate as well.
“Once I finish school, it is my goal to either work as a research scientist or to be a state or federal wildlife biologist, focusing on non-game species. I am especially interested in conservation necessitated by habitat loss or degradation, associated with climate change and increasing urbanization.”
Ripa is thankful for the honor of being selected for the President’s Award and the role of Student Marshal and to all those that assisted her during her time at Auburn.
“I am so honored to have been chosen for this prestigious role. I am grateful for all of the professors, peers, and mentors who have helped me throughout my undergraduate career. Without them, I would not have been challenged or encouraged to seek out opportunities and broaden my horizons.”
(Written by Avanelle Elmore)