In his youth, Rick Golightly would rather spend his time camping and enjoying nature than sitting in a classroom. He never thought he could enjoy both on a daily basis.
"I had no intention in going for a Ph.D. after getting my bachelors degree," he says. "One thing led me to another."
Rick has been learning about, teaching and conserving wildlife for roughly 40 years. He's helped restore seabird populations to their native nesting grounds. He's done research to help inform wildlife managers, such as park rangers. And, even after all of his experience, he's still fascinated by how different–yet similar–all forms of life are.
"When you break a milkweed and you have responses of that plant to a broken limb on it you have to examine your definitions, like the definition of pain, and you realize things aren't that far apart," he says. "From butterflies and bees to black bears, lions and tigers, really its all one continuum."
For Rick, studying and appreciating Wildlife means more than going bird watching. And although his work concerns wildlife, people and their interactions with nature play a big role in his field.
The research that Rick conducts, often with the help of both graduate and undergraduate students, helps to inform the ways professionals, such as park rangers, think about and implement measures to conserve and restore nature and its animal populations.
"It all starts with being a biologist," Rick says. "And ultimately, the biggest parts of wildlife management have to do with people. The more we can teach the public, the more likely that we'll get positive outcomes in terms of solving the problem."
Coming up with solutions to problems of wildlife conservation and restoration means really studying the situation. Whether he's looking at forest carnivore ecology or the nesting habits of marbled murrelets, the right technology can provide better insight.
"Technology is so crucial for biologists. The job is about conservation and ecology of the species and you need to use the best tools that you can."
But his definition of technology isn't restricted to high-tech recording equipment and expensive microscopes. One of his most valuable tools might be as simple as a wrench or the ability to drive a stick shift vehicle.
"If you can't drive a stick shift, you might have a project you can't work on. If people want to study marine systems, they better get to know their equipment. You're not going to have a boat driver; you're going to have a biologist. That biologist better know how to drive a boat."
And although Rick doesn't offer boating classes, he does offer students access to participate in his research.
"An undergraduate who comes here in our program, who really wants to take what they're doing seriously can get involved in the faculty research. That research dovetails into their learning experiences and they actually become participants in that project," he says. "It is a marriage of research and teaching. It inspires them. And if we're successful, they're no longer the student, they're our colleague."
"That's the goal," he says. "Even if you only get 10 percent to go there, you help 90 percent come a long way."