College of Natural Resources and Environment: What have you been doing since you graduated?

Charisa Morris: Working hard for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Working with this bureau was my undergrad dream, and I got in by signing up for a student internship program. I started in a field office as a biological technician working with endangered species. I wanted to be a field research biologist but needed a master’s to build stronger statistics skills in order to publish, so I came back to Virginia Tech after about five years (ironically, I ended up going the “paper biologist” track by securing a staff biologist job at headquarters). I thoroughly enjoyed using my new skills to build innovative conservation approaches that were embraced as national policy. My work took me all over the country to tackle endangered species issues, and I am now the national science advisor in the office of the director. 

I have always been family oriented, but only just recently met and married the love of my life, Anthony. We just had our son, Tai Gibran, this past summer. As a driven and committed professional, I am heartened and proud to be an example of the growing trend to merge family and career paths a little later in the timeline

CNRE: What is your fondest memory?

Morris: As an undergraduate, my fondest memories were racing up to the third floor of Cheatham Hall to share whatever GREAT news I had with Suzie Leslie and Cathy Barker in Student Support Services. As a minority female, I always felt like the odd one out in a sea of blaze orange caps, camouflage, and overalls. These women were my home base in a strange land, and I cherish having had them and other kind faculty around to share in my excitement and new ideas.

CNRE: What is the most amazing thing that you did or learned?

Morris: Every wildlife lesson I learned was magical and has stuck with me throughout my career. The most amazing thing I ever did was work with Chris Ryan (’97 M.S.) trapping bears; this was my first real wildlife experience outside of a field lab setting, and Chris was an incredible mentor. The mind-blowing opportunity to handle live bears, coupled with the fact I was matched with one of the most knowledgeable, generous, and wildlife-savvy research leads I’ve ever encountered, made for an absolutely amazing summer.

CNRE: What professors inspired you?

Morris: As an undergrad, Roy Kirkpatrick’s warm and steady guidance opened my eyes and mind to embracing the world of wildlife with confidence, clarity, and excitement. I keep a squirrel he whittled for me on my desktop and think of him every day. When I returned for graduate school, I chose Dean Stauffer as an advisor because he had the most impressive stats chops and I had enjoyed his teaching style. He has become an incredibly dear friend and colleague, and I have several times sought his guidance on sticky wildlife challenges I’ve encountered.

CNRE: If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would tell your undergraduate self?

Morris: My number one piece of advice for all people pursuing a career is “Don’t take it personally.” Maintaining an objective outlook at work helps you keep a clear head, fresh perspective, and positive attitude.