Welcome New CELS Faculty
The University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) is welcoming eight new faculty members this fall. With expertise in areas ranging from animal science and conservation biology to science communication and political science, the new hires will help advance CELS’ mission of providing exceptional education, research, and outreach to Rhode Island and beyond. Learn more about their areas of academic research, what classes they teach, and what excites them about CELS.
Dr. Brian Gerber: Assistant Professor, Department of Natural Resource Sciences
Prior to joining CELS, Dr. Brian Gerber was busy monitoring one of the most endangered mammals on Earth: the Javan Rhino. “I am interested in understanding where, why, and how to understand the abundance and distribution of species,” says Dr. Gerber, who previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University and the Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Dr. Gerber’s research focuses on animal and statistical ecology and conservation biology. “I look forward to working with researchers across the college and getting students excited about ‘learning through data,’” adds Gerber.
Dr. Elizabeth Mendenhall: Assistant Professor, Department of Marine Affairs
Dr. Elizabeth Mendenhall was first attracted to CELS because of its interdisciplinary approach, providing her with a unique opportunity to hold joint appointments in the Department of Marine Affairs and Political Science. She joins CELS from Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, specializing in international relations. Dr. Mendenhall’s work focuses on the challenges of global ocean governance, and explores the intersections between Earth system science and international policy-making. This fall, she will be teaching International Ocean Law, and looks forward to interacting with students focused on ocean issues.
Dr. Jon Puritz: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Whether he’s conducting research in the lab or peering through his camera lens, Dr. Jon Puritz has a keen eye for the minute. Using molecular tools, he investigates how natural and human processes affect the evolution of marine species through the spread and transport of larvae. “Where and how larvae swim determines how genetic diversity is shared across populations, and helps dictate how populations can evolve in response to stressors like global climate change,” explains Dr. Puritz, who most recently worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he specialized in ecology, evolutionary and conservation biology. “I am really excited to be part of a Biological Sciences department that has a large marine biology program but also has colleagues doing cool research in other systems,” says Dr. Puritz.
Dr. Maria Hoffman: Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences
When she’s not teaching the laboratory class for Introduction to Animal Science, Dr. Maria Hoffman runs a small family farm, raising cattle and sheep. Before joining CELS, Dr. Hoffman worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut, where she earned both a master’s and Ph.D. in Animal Science. Her research examines how maternal programming during pregnancy can impact the development of the offspring using sheep and cattle as a model. “By the year 2050, the agriculture industry is going to have to produce 70% more food to feed the world’s growing population,” explains Dr. Hoffman, whose work focuses on understanding the implications of poor maternal nutrition on pancreas development and function in lambs as well as determining the effects of high maternal milk production on calf health. “Maternal programming can have long lasting consequences on the offspring, which can negatively impact productivity and health; therefore, understanding how maternal programming affects the offspring of livestock species is key in order to improve food security.” Returning to her alma mater, Dr. Hoffman looks forward to working with students both in the classroom and laboratory. “I really liked the enthusiasm of the people that work in CELS…there is a genuine interest in helping the students learn and succeed.”
Dr. Sunshine Menezes: Executive Director of Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting and Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Communication, Department of Natural Resource Sciences
Dr. Sunshine Menezes has been leading the way on science communication at URI for over a decade as executive director of the Michael P. Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, originally established at the Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) in 1997. As part of Metcalf’s transition to CELS this year, Dr. Menezes will join the NRS faculty, teaching courses, such as a new course on environmental crisis communication, while still maintaining her leadership role at Metcalf. In addition to developing science training programs with the Metcalf Institute team, Dr. Menezes also studies the impact of these trainings on professional journalists and scientists. Dr. Menezes looks forward to new collaborations with CELS colleagues on science communication and engagement. “I want to help public audiences access accurate information about science and get more people engaged in thoughtful conversations about environmental challenges and solutions,” she says.
Dr. Michelle Peach: Post-Doctoral Researcher, Department of Natural Resource Sciences
Ever since she was a little girl, Dr. Michelle Peach has nurtured a love of nature and the outdoors, leading her to study biology and land resource management. Before returning to academia, Dr. Peach worked for several non-profit and governmental natural resource organizations, including The Nature Conservancy. She earned her Ph.D. in Ecology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where her research focused on studying the impact of climate and habitat changes on bird populations and biodiversity. At CELS, Dr. Peach will be teaching wetland and landscape ecology. “I’m excited to return to teaching and for the opportunity to work with and learn from so many talented people,” she adds.
Dr. Carlos Prada: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
“I study the most colorful, shape rich and beautiful places on the planet – coral reefs,” says Dr. Carlos Prada, whose research seeks to understand how marine organisms adapt to environmental changes, such as increased ocean temperature. After earning his Ph. D. in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University, Dr. Prada worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Huck Institute at Pennsylvania State University. Prior to joining CELS, he was an Earl S. Tupper Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where he worked to quantify the effects of climate change on threatened corals and sea urchins around the world. “I look forward to contributing to the development of a strong coral reef group at URI,” says Dr. Prada, who also plans to teach coral reef ecology and courses exploring the links between biological and social sciences.
Dr. Erin Davis: Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences
For nearly two decades Dr. Erin Davis has been inspiring young scientists by teaching students how the body works and leading animal dissections in the laboratory. She earned both her master’s and Ph.D. in Biology with a specialty in Physiology from Brown University. Her area of research focuses on studying an abundant red blood cell protein in little skates, a dominant fish species that lives near the bottom of the seas. For the past 9 years Dr. Davis has taught anatomy and physiology in the Department of Biology at Roger Williams University, and has served as the Coordinator of the Introductory Biology Labs. “I am looking forward to continuing my work with the Anatomy and Physiology transition team,” says Dr. Davis, who will be teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II as part of the new effort to merge both Human Anatomy and Human Physiology lectures and labs into a year-long combined class for students. “So far it has been a great collaboration.”