Graduate student spotlight: Scott Leorna

Scott Leorna out in the field.
Graduate student Scott Leorna out in the field.

July 20, 2022

Scott Leorna, current Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences, has always had a strong passion for wildlife and the outdoors. In fact, it was this interest, coupled with Alaska’s extensive wilderness and opportunities for research, that led Scott to initially attend UAF to pursue his B.S. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation.

During his undergraduate studies, Scott worked with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to assess the effects of daily weather conditions on hunter harvest success of Dall’s sheep across Alaska. The overarching goal of the project was to inform how wildlife managers and users may respond to and adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

As a M.S. student, Scott's research continued to expound upon the human dimensions of the wildlife field. Using surveys and an app-based citizen science approach, Scott gathered hunters’ insights into caribou population dynamics and monitoring strategies, identified how they engage with other wildlife stakeholders, and solicited ideas to encourage more effective communication between hunters, wildlife users, managers, and decision-makers.

In his Ph.D. studies, Scott’s research focuses on strategies for the use of remotely triggered cameras (i.e. camera traps) to monitor changes to caribou and other wildlife. According to Scott, enhancing wildlife monitoring strategies is timely and desperately needed in the Arctic due to climate change and continued expansion of human development. “Gaining a more robust and comprehensive understanding of factors influencing wildlife populations will be imperative to making well-informed and responsible management and policy decisions,” he explains.

Scott says being a first-generation college student “made preparing for and navigating the college experience particularly unfamiliar and challenging.” He adds “balancing my roles and responsibilities as a student, spouse, and parent has been tremendously challenging”, and thanks his mentor Dr. Todd Brinkman for his support, motivation, and guidance. Scott’s advice to incoming or current students is to “surround yourself with people who inspire you to be your best self.”

After graduation, Scott plans to continue working in the human dimensions of the wildlife field which he explained “integrates what I am passionate about (e.g., wildlife and the outdoors) with a critically important and underrepresented factor influencing its conservation (e.g., human behavior).” More information about Scott and his research can be found here.

To learn more about graduate programs at UAF, email the Graduate School or visit the Graduate School website.