Joy Flowers: Wildlife Conservation through Microbiology
When Joy Flowers first transferred to Virginia Tech as a wildlife conservation major, she envisioned a career as a park ranger. However, through diversifying her hands-on learning experiences as an Honors student, Flowers discovered her passion for wildlife disease and how it affects evolutionary and physiological processes. Flowers graduated in Fall 2021 with a double major in wildlife conservation and biological sciences.
“The Honors College has been really beneficial to me,” Flowers said. “Pursuing the Honors Laureate Diploma has helped me step outside of my normal bounds.”
The Honors Laureate Diploma highly encourages Honors students to seek research and experiential learning experiences to foster students’ curiosity and self-directed educational trajectories. While at Virginia Tech, Flowers has been a research technician for the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, a biological technician in Massey Herbarium, conducted field and work studies for Dr. William Hopkins’ Lab, and completed undergraduate research for Dr. Luis Escobar's lab.
“It's important for students to get involved in the research and extracurricular opportunities available on campus. While here, students have the opportunity to be a part of so many different experiences that can have so many broad impacts on the world,” Flowers said. “Working in different labs and experiencing different opportunities broadens your skill set and gives you a better idea of what you would like to pursue in the future.”
“My main duties involve various microbiological lab work with pathogens such as Campylobacter spp. and Escherichia coli.,” she explained. “Basically, I culture, or grow, them up so we can optimize growth conditions for real water, human and animal fecal, and animal tissue samples taken from Botswana.”
The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of these bacteria to better inform animal and public health practices.
As a transfer and Honors student, Flowers additionally focused on completing a variety of Honors College Faculty-Student Agreements (FSAs) during her time at Tech. An FSA is a popular way that students earn honors credit because it allows students to turn any non-Honors course into a course for honors credit. It also offers students the opportunity to individualize their course experience and build a collegial relationship with their instructor.
Dr. Luis Escobar, an assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, was one of the first professors with whom Flowers worked on an FSA. As a result of compiling a literature review on the interactions of Bluetongue virus and its wildlife hosts with Dr. Escobar, Flowers was inspired to focus on the field of wildlife diseases, which forever changed her trajectory.
“Joy is an exemplary transfer student that has been taking advantage of all the academic and research opportunities available at Virginia Tech,” Dr. Escobar said. “Joy has scientific curiosity and has demonstrated the grit needed to succeed in science. I am sure her future will be full of exciting achievements as she finds her professional path.”
In her senior year, Flowers created the blog From Wildlife to Humans: Getting to Know the Zoonotic Microbes to explore various antagonistic interactions between pathogens and animals as an FSA for her General Microbiology class.
“I tried to be creative with the types of experiences I would do associated with each Faculty-Student Agreement and what experiences would be beneficial to me as a future professional,” Flowers explained.
She also proposed an Ecology field journal project for one FSA, where she would explore and then draw and document different species in a field journal. Flowers would then make iNaturalist entries about the many ecological interactions she encountered
“All of these FSA experiences were related to wildlife or, more specifically, wildlife disease. They have greatly added to my knowledge-base about this field and prepared me for a related graduate program,” Flowers said. “I am very thankful for being able to creatively come up with different Honors projects that were related to my passions.”
Flowers is now applying to graduate programs with a focus on bat disease ecology and zoonotic spillover of diseases similar to the ones that SARS-Cov-2 came from.
Written by Michelle Fleury
More about Joy Flowers
New Honors alumna Joy Flowers shares more about herself, including one of her favorite hobbies and other academic accomplishments.
- What made you choose Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech has the best program for Wildlife Conservation in Virginia and one of the best in the nation which is why it was a major deciding factor in my choice to go here.
- In your free time, what kind of hobbies do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy herping a lot! Herping is a terminology used to describe the act of going out in nature and looking for amphibians and reptiles. Sometimes I like to take photographs of the amphibians and reptiles I encounter too. Unrelated to my major, I also enjoy fashion quite a bit and try to go thrifting looking for nice pieces in my free time.
- As the president and co-founder of the Wildlife Disease Association Student Chapter at Virginia Tech, could you describe your involvement and the origin of the club?
In Fall 2018, Dr. Luis Escobar suggested that we could pursue a Student Chapter of the Wildlife Disease Association, and ever since then I have worked hard in establishing the organization here. My primary roles include gathering speakers, coming up with ideas for different meetings, leading officer meetings,making sure officers are performing their duties, and staying in contact with the Student Representative of the international Wildlife Disease Association. Because of my efforts, I was awarded a travel grant to go to the international conference in Madison, Wisconsin and have been asked to help set up workshops for the upcoming conference.
- What conferences have you presented at and how have those experiences affected you?
I presented at the Virginia State Chapter of the Wildlife Society conference and this opened my eyes to what professional conferences and presentations were like. It was a good way to help learn about presenting my research in a quick and concise manner.