Below are first person stories of life after HWS from recent graduates. Check back each Friday for a new profile.

Mike Ellis '10

Mike Ellis '10

Majors: Biology and Environmental Studies
Current Position: Resident Biologist with Third Millennium Alliance
Current Location: Reserva Ecologica Jama-Coaque, Provincia de Manabi, Ecuador
Age: 23

Coming into HWS, I knew that I wanted to study biology and that I liked the idea of someday playing a role in the conservation of our environment, but I didn't really have much more direction than that. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was my first year seminar, "Bird Obsessions" with Associate Professor of Biology Mark Deutschlander, that had the greatest impact on me. Before that class, I had never given birds a second thought, and I definitely never anticipated that one class about them would lay the groundwork for my current path in life, but here I am, studying birds in one of the most amazing places on earth!

After my first year at HWS, I more or less put my young interest in birds on the back-burner, finding new passions and expanding existing ones in restoration and conservation, evolution, sustainability, science education and environmental ethics, never really pausing to realize that these were all pieces of a larger puzzle. I also started to get involved in the research world, mostly through the Colleges' Summer Science internships, working on projects centered on everything from bush berries to plankton to the control of invasive aquatic plants. Throughout all of this, though, my interest in birds remained, and even grew slowly and quietly.

In my junior year, I got the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador and Peru with Professor of Biology Beth Newell and Professor of Economics Scott McKinney. This was a life-changer. I fell in love with the tropics, their beauty, their cultures, and their diversity of habitats and organisms. Thanks to HWS, I've since had many more opportunities to pursue these passions. Through an internship with Associate Professor of Education Jim MaKinster and Crossing Boundaries, I twice traveled to the Kenyan highlands to study conservation in the region and the impacts of livestock management on wildlife. Then, soon after graduating, I received an email from Professor Newell regarding a position as Resident Naturalist at a tourist lodge in the Amazon of Peru. I applied, was accepted, and happily returned to the country where I would monitor Giant River Otters, Black Caiman, and parrots and macaws, among other things. Of course, everywhere I went, I did a little more birding, and the amazing avifauna of the tropics repeatedly blew me away.

I'm certain that without any one of these experiences I wouldn't be where I am today, but I absolutely would not be here if it weren't for one last email, this time from Susan Cushman, the director of biology laboratories, who told me about an internship opportunity with an ecological reserve in Western Ecuador. Though I had applied and was soon accepted to grad school for secondary science education, I decided that my heart belonged to the equator, and I headed back down to 0° latitude. My position as an intern at the Jama-Coaque reserve soon evolved into something more, due in no small part to my education at HWS, my resulting passion for birds, and the fact that my professors at HWS have always seemed to know me better than I know myself!

Now, I'm a resident biologist with Third Millennium Alliance, which owns and operates the Jama-Coaque reserve, and I'm investigating several aspects of avian community ecology vital to the conservation of birds in the Pacific Equatorial Forests—some of the world's most critically threatened habitats. (Check them out at After just a few months of work, I've already made several exciting discoveries, including eight range extensions for birds that nobody knew were present in the area and the documentation of 11 at-risk and near-threatened species—one of the highest densities of these birds in the country, which has more than twice as many bird species as the U.S. despite the fact that Ecuador is 35 times smaller!

Though I can't be too sure where I'll be or what I'll be up to down the road (especially since South America has gone a long way toward teaching me to live life in the present), I'm hoping to use the data that I collect from my time here in Ecuador as a master's or doctoral thesis in ornithology or conservation. After that, well, wherever I end up, I'd be surprised if it doesn't involve conservation and birds!


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