Early Career

A simple nest of Polistes exclamans

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I started my career at age 19 when I was field assistant to famous entomologist and sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson in Panama. He sent me again the next year. Upon completing my Bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 1981, I went to study under the world’s expert on wild bees, Charles D. Michener, at the University of Kansas, finishing my Ph.D. in 1988. During this time, I studied in Costa Rica and went to Madagascar twice to collect bees and wasps.

My doctoral dissertation focused on how paper wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, and their relatives build their nests. As a group, these insects are the best animal architects on Earth. The early taxonomy of these wasps was based as much on nest forms as on adult morphology. My studies included behavioral work on live animals in the field and synthetic perspectives on the evolution of nest forms world-wide. Also coming out of this work was a strong foundation in how to use behavioral data in calculating evolutionary trees (systematics and phylogenetics).

For the next five years, I had a series of postdoctoral research positions at the University of Kansas (with Dr. Norman Slade, databasing mammals), the University of Georgia (John Pickering, population models in agriculture), Harvard University (James M. Carpenter, taxonomy and systematics of wasps of the family Vespidae), the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris (Janine Casevitz-Weulersse, study of Vespidae), and the American Museum of Natural History, New York (James M. Carpenter and systematics of Vespidae again).

The Ohio State University

In 1994, I joined the Ohio State University, Department of Entomology. For 17 years I taught across the curriculum, from large-enrollment introductory classes to advanced graduate courses of my own design. I received three recognitions for my teaching and, in 1998, I was awarded the highest award OSU gives for teaching. I was Director of the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity for 10 years. During this time, I established a graduate workshop in phylogenetic methods that was taught at OSU from 2007–2010, taught in Mexico in 2011, and in Brazil from 2008–2017. I also traveled extensively and served in leadership roles in several professional societies (Chair, Entomological Society of America, section on Systematics and Evolution, 2003; President, Willi Hennig Society, 2000–2002; President, North American Section, International Union for the Study of Social Insects, 2010).

Students with professor outside looking at insects

Teaching OSU students about wild bees on campus

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As a professor at OSU, I deeply enjoyed mentoring graduate students. Those who completed their degrees as my graduate students were Miguel Archangelsky, Ph.D., 1996; Kurt Pickett, M.Sc., 1998, Ph.D., 2003; Sibyl Bucheli, M. Sc., 1999, Ph.D., 2005; Todd Blackledge, Ph.D., 2000; Cheol-Min Kim, Ph.D., 2001; Marc Branham Ph.D., 2002; Hojun Song, M.Sc., 2002, Ph.D., 2006; David Rosenthal, M.Sc., 2003; Laurie Vroman, M.Sc., 2006; Todd Gilligan, M.Sc., 2007; Sarah Mominee, M.Sc., 2008; Joseph Raczkowski, Ph.D., 2008; Glene Mynhardt, Ph.D., 2011; Ryan Caesar, Ph.D., 2012. My postdoctoral research students were Istvan Karsai (Hungary), 1996–1998; Fernando Noll (Brazil), 2000–2001; Mariam Lekveishvili (Republic of Georgia), 2006–2007; and Gloria Luque (Spain), 2006–2008.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Furnace Run, Powdermill Nature Reserve

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In 2011, I joined the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where I served as Director of Powdermill Nature Reserve for 10 years. Powdermill is well-known as a migratory bird-banding station. I built research and education programs to complement our strength in avian biology. I sponsored, hosted, and helped organize the First International Symposium on Salvage Logging in May 2015 (50 participants from 10 nations) and the Forest Dynamics Symposium, November 2016 (50 participants). 

I also initiated (jointly with the Instituto de Ecologia, Xalapa, Mexico) the “Temperate Ecology for Tropical Students” two-week field course at Powdermill, 2011–2018. This course was without cost to the students, and won the coveted Human Diversity Award from the Organization for Tropical Field Stations in 2015. In 2019, we focused on ornithology for advanced students and recruited from across the New World tropics. Students from throughout Latin America have taken these courses.

In addition to research and education programs, I expanded the physical facilities, building two public trails, a stand-alone DNA lab, and planned and funded a new avian research laboratory and a mine reclamation project that will be completed by my successor. Jointly with many external partners, I established or amplified several lines of research in forest ecology. In just the last five years of my term at Powdermill, collaborating scientists using Powdermill facilities or data published 56 papers, demonstrating the strength of these partnerships. Throughout this time, the avian research group flourished, and established Powdermill as the US leader in the modern MOTUS radiotelemetry technology and network. I also developed a number of other technological programs, such as the gigapixel insect teaching collection, the Virtual Reality wildflower project, and drone imagery to capture forest stands on the level of thousands of trees at once. Links to these projects can be found in “Research.”

Administrative Accomplishments

As Director of Powdermill Nature Reserve

Fully responsible for annual expenditures of about $1.2M, of which about $300K is provided by central operating funds and the remainder is from grants, contracts, gifts, and endowment.


Established four teaching gardens; planting 200 species of native plants and producing four guiding brochures for the general public; introduced several workshops serving from high school students to international scientists. Joint training programs initiated with St. Vincent College, Juniata College, PA Department of Environmental Protection, and Instituto de Ecologia, Xalapa, Mexico.

New Construction:

Two-mile trail and overlook platform; Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trail for viewing woodland wildflowers; 1,288 sq ft DNA laboratory; 2,900 sq ft avian research laboratory; passive mitigation system for abandoned mine discharge, and rehabilitation of strip mine to natural habitat.

Donor Relations:

Re-established donor relationships after several years of decline, resumed targeted fundraising. Strong bonds are reflected in the fact that in both 2020 and 2021 we raised nearly the same amount of support as in 2019, despite the ban on events and general COVID shutdown.


Replaced four roofs, upgraded five fireplaces, replaced 36 mattresses, improved 2 miles of dirt road twice, replaced seven oil furnaces with gas heat, demolished two derelict buildings, replaced one septic system. Restored and maintained as “old field” 80+ acres of habitat.


Grew staff from 4.5 ornithologists, one maintenance, one educator, one operations coordinator to 5.5 ornithologists, two maintenance, 2.5 educators, one GIS scientist, one entomologist/botanist, one operations coordinator. Seasonal hires include about a dozen college and graduate students annually, and one graduate research fellow.

New Technologies:

Introduced 3D photogrammetry models of standing forests, 10 acres at a time. GIS-assisted public database on hydrofracked wells in PA. GIS-assisted public database on plant surveys of 5,280 plots of 20m diameter at Powdermill. Animated garden timeline for Powdermill teaching gardens. Augmented Reality app for smart phones to learn about woodland flowers.

Cypripedium orchid with thomisid crab spider

Foreign Research Experience

My young guides and helpers in Peru, 1990

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My dedication to international partnerships is evident in a partial list of nations I have visited over the course of my career: Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; Bolivia; Canada; Central African Republic; Costa Rica; Czech Republic; Denmark; Finland; France; French Guiana; Germany; Hungary; India; Italy; Japan; Madagascar; Malaysia; Mauritius; Mexico; Netherlands; Panama; Peru; Spain; Switzerland; Thailand; United Kingdom. Some of these efforts were close collaborations across many years involving several colleagues and their students.