Appalachian State University
Jessica Blackburn is a senior biology student at Appalachian State University. Her academic focus is on ecology, evolution, and environmental science with an interest in conservation and sustainability. Jessica has been passionate about the STEM field since middle school, but her interest in ecology and sustainability originates from her opportunities learning about biodiversity in the Appalachian Mountains.
Many of Jessica’s academic coursework has focused on endemic biota, their functionality within ecosystems, and the need for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. This interest in the natural world was contagious for Jessica, and she very quickly became passionate about ways to reduce personal impacts on the environment and how to understand environment-species interactions at a more sophisticated level. It is Jessica’s belief that “all citizens of the Earth should be educated on how living organisms interact with each other, the processes that allow these interactions, and the consequences of disturbing the environment in which these interactions occur”.
This past summer Jessica attended JCSU’s 2021 Summer Sustainability Camp which helped her “build personal critical thinking skills while also expanding my ecological knowledge”. Jessica’s main focus during camp was to develop a greater understanding of riparian zones in context to the regulating ecosystem services they provide. Jessica initiated a characterization of the riparian zones in the Irwin Creek watershed located in Charlotte, NC. Jessica is continuing to work with Dr. Dugo on this project and is helping him initiate environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling protocols as an innovative way to assess biological metrics of diversity and the occurrence of pathogens in relation to water quality. This work will serve as an important contribution to understanding the relationship between land-use and water quality.