Michelle Quillin BLaST Scientist of the Month for February, 2021

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By Amy Topkok

Quillin is a third-year BLaST scholar and a University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) senior due to graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s of science degree in wildlife biology and conservation. Quillin, a Koyukon Athabascan, grew up in Fairbanks and is from the Interior village of Hughes, Alaska. She hopes to become a wildlife biologist and eventually a wildlife manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She enjoys fishing, beading, sewing, painting and being outdoors.

Quillin is working in the UAF Department of Biology and Wildlife with faculty researcher Todd Brinkman on using remote sensing satellites to help assess climate change impacts on moose habitat and subsistence food security around Hughes, her home village. She is excited to tie her research to her culture and her village.

“I’ve always been passionate about wildlife conservation,” she said. “I grew up with a unique perspective and valuable understanding of how the land and the food that we gather and hunt are all connected. Being Alaska Native gives me the ability to combine traditional knowledge and scientific research. I’m hoping to inspire more Alaska Natives to get involved in the wildlife field.”

Her previous research included working under UAF faculty Lorrie Rea and research professionals Stephanie Crawford and Maggie Castellini from 2018 to 2020 in the Marine Ecotoxicology and Trophic Assessment Laboratory. In this lab, she investigated the bioaccumulation of mercury in northern fur seals from St. Paul Island, Alaska. She traveled to St. Paul in fall 2019 as a visiting scientist to participate in Bering Sea Days and was also a teaching assistant in St. Paul for a college course that investigated mercury in Alaskan ecosystems.

Quillin said this experience holds a special place in her heart. “I helped build that trust and form a wonderful relationship with the Aleut people of St. Paul. It’s a place like none other. People are so welcoming and I really got to know some awesome people. I talked with Elders who shared how they harvested seals. It was valuable information to my research project.”

Quillin also worked on another UAF research project. Erik Schoen’s juvenile Chinook salmon project on the Chena River in Fairbanks examined the effects of forest fires on prey abundance and feeding conditions. Both projects with Brinkman and Schoen are an effort connected with Tanana Chiefs Conference, a nonprofit regional tribal organization, to advocate for the interests of co-producing research with Interior villages.

Quillin’s research experience in her student career includes being a judge for the Effie Kokrine and Early College high school’s science fair, and worked as a wildlife toxicology lab teaching assistant at the 2018 Sitka Whalefest lab, where she taught salmon dissections and seal necropsies with other presenters. She also worked as a fish and wildlife technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and as a biological science technician in the Denali National Park and Preserve, where she assisted with Canada jay surveys. Throughout her BLaST career, Quillin has been mentored by BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP) Lori Gildehaus.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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