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How WEC Works Mel Moreno

Mel Moreno (WEC BS ’17) is a very recently-graduated WEC alumna. She plans to continue her education, and is planning on pursuing an MS program under the advisement of Dr. Bill Pine next fall.

Work

What are you planning to research for your masters?

I currently assist Dr. Bill Pine with the oyster restoration project in Cedar Key. I’m planning on starting graduate school in Fall 2018, and though I’m not completely certain what my project will be yet, I think it will relate to environmental factors determining oyster health. I just read a paper concerning sediment levels, and how different amounts of sediment and ratios of sediment types in the water can contribute to a healthy oyster bed. There are a lot of things I could do in relation to this project, I just haven’t selected one topic yet. I’m in the process of working on that, and will probably settle on something in the next few months.

Tell me more about the oyster restoration project.

Right now, the focus is on the Lone Cabbage Reef. We have some historic maps that show how it was back in the 1800’s. Now, it’s basically nonexistent. We’re going to restore the reef by adding material to allow oysters to form on it.

We’re not planting oysters there, we’re building the structure and hoping that they will come and recolonize it.

This project won’t just benefit oysters. Once established, they will help reduce storm surges in the area and will filter the water.

When did you know you wanted to work in ecology? What’s your origin story?

I am originally from Miami, and was going to school there for business administration at first. Then I switched to a pre-vet track in animal sciences, but I didn’t like the idea of only helping one animal at a time. I wanted to see if I could conserve and protect wildlife on a population or landscape level.

My husband actually went to UF for a music degree, a long time ago. He has another degree now, too. He said, “I really liked UF, and you should apply!”

I liked what I had read about Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I’m not so much of a “wildlifer”, but I like the conservation aspect. I know that involves a lot of management and preparation. I liked that aspect of the degree. Then I got into this oyster project with Dr. Bill Pine.

What I like about this oyster project is that I get to learn a lot of technical skills like data analysis.

I feel like I’m probably never going to be an expert on oysters, but I’m going to know a lot of foundational level stuff about oysters and marine environments. So I like the learning aspect of this project.

I’m a transfer student from Miami Dade Community College and FIU, so I’ve been here for two years and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of really good opportunities here.

Hippo skull!

What’s your go-to tool?

I do a lot of coding on R, so I would say that’s my go-to tool right now. I’m also learning Python, so that will probably be my new go-to tool once I become more proficient.

If I was working in the field, I guess I would say binoculars. I love birdwatching.

Do you work with a lot of other people, or just a few?

I work directly with our new project manager Steven Beck, and a WEC undergrad named Steven Longmire is helping develop some graphs. We work under the direct supervision of Dr. Bill Pine and Dr. Peter Frederick. So just a couple of us.

What’s your favorite organism you’ve studied and why?

I haven’t really gone into the field and worked directly with any organisms. I do particularly like mesomammals like ferrets and weasels. They’re my thing!

I have a little ferret tattoo on my wrist. I really like ferrets, weasels, and little skunks.

I went into WEC with the intention to work with them, but sometimes you’ll find any one group of animals to be such a niche kind of thing. I wouldn’t deny any opportunity to learn just to focus on one thing.

I don’t think I want to be a specialist on a specific species, but have a broad set of skills that I can transfer into any specific job. Technical skills, management skills, etc.

Lifestyle

Go gators!

How do you manage your time?

Before I moved to Gainesville, I was a professional server, so I have extensive training on serving in general. I think, “This is how much time I have, for this.” So when I wake up every morning, I think, ‘I have this much time for this, this much time for that, and this much time for that.” I don’t write anything down, I just know what I need to do for that day, and every day is like that. I kind of just remember.

And you got that skill working as a server?

Right, because it’s very fast-paced, and you have to know everything that is going on all the time without writing it down. You had to know which table needs what, immediately, and it was a fine dining restaurant, so everything had to be perfect.

I’ve transferred those skills to here, managing homework and coding. I hardly ever write any of it down.

Because you’ve had to do it on the fly for so long.

Right, I just know. Sometimes I put reminders on my phone of an event, but I mostly allocate my time and remember it.

Mel accepting the MINRC Teddy Roosevelt Award

What was your favorite class while you were at UF?

Wildlife Techniques with Dr. Christina Romagosa. Like I said, I’m not really a “wildlifer”, but I liked to see all the different trapping techniques.

Have you got a great wildlife joke or humor to share?

The videos of the little gopher shouting “Allan! Allan!” are so funny. And the bird that says “Night time, DAY TIME! Night time, DAY TIME!”

My husband and I reference those all the time.

What are you currently reading?

In school, I’ve only been reading textbooks, but I want to build my vocabulary and the only way to do that is to read more literary books, so I want to reread The Picture of Dorian Gray. I read that in high school. Maybe also Cloud Atlas. I saw the movie and really liked it.

What have you liked about living in Gainesville?

I like that everything is close by and that there is no traffic. In Miami there is a ton of traffic and everything is very far apart. I also like that there are many natural, wildlife aspects to Gainesville, like springs and trails. I also like that it gets a little cold during the winter; I like the weather we are having now!

In Closing

If you could go back in time and speak with yourself when you were in high school, what advice would you give yourself?

So much advice! I would tell myself to be more confident. When I worked on the serving job, I was dealing with high-end clientele. Celebrities, politicians. My confidence was low in general before that job, and now I feel like I can do anything. I feel like nothing is unobtainable to me. In high school I didn’t have the confidence to reach for what I wanted, so I would tell myself that I can do it, and to stop listening to family members or other people that weren’t helping. So: have more confidence and be yourself.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?

Jess Kessler. She’s also a graduating WEC major, now working for FWC with Florida Panthers.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people?

Grades aren’t everything, and experience is very important. When an opportunity comes your way, make sure to consider it. You might be surprised to find out that you’re more adaptable to projects or internships or volunteering than you thought you would be. I know a lot of people want to work on very specific things, but sometimes those things aren’t readily available.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities this year, and they were just because I was very persistent. I was surprised by them, actually!

At Wildlife Conclave
Before graduation

This interview is by Rhett Barker, and has been lightly edited by Rhett Barker and Claire Williams for clarity.

Thanks to Mel Moreno for sitting down with us (and congrats for graduating!).

Click here to learn more about majoring in WEC

The concept for this interview is based on an interview series by the University of Washington called How UW Works, which is in turn based on a series called How I Work by LifeHacker magazine.

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