Focus On Faculty

Susan Wilde

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

My Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois was an interdepartmental degree in ecology, ethology and evolution. I completed a master’s degree at the University of Georgia within the zoology department studying microbial ecology. I also earned my Ph.D. from the UGA, within the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources in fisheries and wildlife.

I am currently an assistant professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. I teach a First-Year Odyssey seminar on aquatic wildlife, a capstone senior project course in resource management, field/lab aquatics courses and a general curriculum course, “Natural Resource Conservation.”  I conduct research investigating effective restoration aquatic sites impaired with nutrient pollution, invasive species and harmful algal blooms.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

The weather! I came through Georgia on a spring break trip my senior year at the University of Illinois. We left in snowdrifts and when we stopped for gas in Atlanta, the sun was shining and it was so warm. I remember saying, “Why doesn’t everyone live in Georgia?”

Actually, I was drawn to UGA because of the impressive field ecology research programs within the Institute of Ecology (now the Odum School of Ecology), zoology department, marine sciences department and the Warnell School. After finishing my undergraduate degree (and a cross country bicycling trip), I moved to Athens and started working as a field technician on invasive plant and wildlife research for the Ecology Institute/National Park Service on Cumberland Island. The next fall, I started graduate school at UGA. I have moved to North and South Carolina for research positions, but I keep finding my way back to Athens.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I really like teaching “Georgia Fishes Field Class” and “Aquatic Biology” because the students are so engaged and we spend a lot of time in creeks, rivers, ponds and reservoirs.  We all gain more from exploring, and I am learning with my students as we share our collective natural history knowledge.

What interests you about your field?

Effective management of our valuable water resources, fish and wildlife requires diverse interdisciplinary collaborations. The brilliant, dedicated and collegial group of professors, scientists, resource managers and students that I get to work with at Georgia and beyond constantly enrich me.     

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Working with students and collaborators on field and laboratory research investigating a neurologic disease that is killing waterfowl, eagles and other aquatic wildlife has been a major highlight. We now know enough to initiate some management solutions, and I got the privilege of naming the new species of cyanobacteria growing on invasive aquatic plants that is responsible for producing the novel nerve toxin. We named it Aetokthonos hydrillicola; in cyanobacterial nomenclature the genus is Greek, and the species is Latin and it translates to “eagle killer, living on hydrilla.” 

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

For me teaching, research and service are not separate bins, but highly interrelated and complementary efforts. I think I teach effectively because I present compelling illustrations of concepts from dynamic, applied and interdisciplinary research.  Students in Warnell are challenged and intrigued by the immediacy of the “triage” ecology that motivates my search for optimal management for impaired aquatic systems we depend on for water, fisheries, wildlife and human health.  Outreach efforts where we work directly with water resource managers to listen and teach while researching effective solutions connect students to future employment opportunities.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

You are the future, find something you are passionate about and strive to be excellent at it. Think for yourself, but listen to others and work hard, but be willing to help others. Try to make a positive change to enhance the future for the next generation.

Describe your ideal student.

Enthusiastic about learning, ready to be challenged, unafraid to challenge others (including me!), and open to alternative viewpoints. 

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

I probably like the little turtle pond between Warnell and Ecology best; we eat lunch there, play with cute dogs and play music. We always admire the sweet pond sliders and fish, and often take water samples to look at under the microscope for algae and zooplankton.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

… hike with my family, run with my dogs, swim in a lake, river or ocean and sing and play guitar.

Community/civic involvement includes….

I like to participate in river cleanups, benefit races and local water quality monitoring. My favorite part of church is singing in the choir and playing with babies in the nursery. 

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

My favorite book is “Prince of Tides.” I have read many other books that I love, but this one still haunts me.  Pat Conroy’s description of the salt marsh is powerful and coupled with complex family drama and relationships.  I have to admit that my favorite movie is “Holes.” The movie is based on one of my favorite young adult mystery/comedy novels by Lewis Sachar. He weaves past and present in a story of a boy’s struggle in a harsh landscape with cruel people where kindness and courage prevail.

Proudest moment at UGA?

When I graduated with my Ph.D. from Warnell, I had a 2-year-old boy and baby girl in my arms. We moved to the coast for 12 years, where I worked as a marine scientist/professor at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Marine Lab in Charleston, while my husband, Dayton Wilde, conducted genetic research at Mead Westvaco and ArborGen. Now, Dayton is the Vince Dooley Professor of Horticulture, Ben will graduate in spring 2016 from the School of Public and International Affairs, and Martha is completing her sophomore year studying art history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. I look forward to another graduation with my fellow UGA faculty members watching our enthusiastic students graduate, and then seeing them as they progress through graduate school, law school, veterinary, medical, natural resource careers, and start their own families.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? (Other pertinent information to share)

I can ride a unicycle. I keep it in my office for stress release.
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