Diana Lafferty, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, will be the faculty keynote speaker for Northern Michigan University's Dec. 17 commencement. She was selected through a nomination process overseen by ASNMU, the student government organization.
“I'm shocked and incredibly humbled that the students selected me as their commencement speaker this semester,” Lafferty said. “It's such a wonderful privilege to celebrate their graduation with them in such a meaningful way.”
Lafferty was the 2021-2022 recipient of NMU's Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes faculty who have outstanding peer and student evaluations, are dedicated and enthusiastic, create safe and open learning environments, and experiment with innovative teaching and learning paradigms. She strives to make science more accessible to students from broader backgrounds.
“I approach teaching as a partnership with my students by establishing a reciprocal learning environment in which we all have so much to teach and to learn from each other,” Lafferty said in a previous story on the award. “I strive to create an empathetic environment in which students from diverse backgrounds feel supported and are comfortable to share their growing knowledge and understanding of the natural world, as well as their ideas and perspectives, with their classmates. By really listening to the diverse ideas each individual brings to class, we all gain greater insight into the relationships between people and the natural world.”
As a broadly trained interdisciplinary conservation ecologist, Lafferty synergizes her research, mentoring, teaching and outreach activities to advance understanding of how wildlife populations–and their associated communities and ecosystems–respond to global change. She leads students in hypothesis-driven research at the nexus of basic and applied ecology using a variety of taxonomic models that span myriad landscapes, both in her classrooms and lab.
By integrating authentic research into her curriculum, Lafferty trains NMU students to conduct ecological and conservation-focused research. She also fosters cross-institutional student collaborations and provides unique opportunities for all her students to engage in professional development activities.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is that I get to be the students' No. 1 cheerleader,” she said. “I really love playing a small part in helping students identify their academic and professional goals and creating a scaffolded framework to ensure they can achieve their goals in a timely manner.
"In this capacity, I push students to think creatively and critically while simultaneously encouraging them to engage in empathy and compassion, all intellectual tools critical for making a positive impact on our shared world. It's so exciting when students make their short and long-term dreams come true through hard work and dedication.”
Since joining the faculty at NMU in the fall of 2017, Lafferty's efforts have enabled more than 450 undergraduate students in her Principles of Ecology and Conservation Biology courses to present their class research projects at local and national symposia.
She and student researchers also contributed to Snapshot USA, the first coordinated nationwide mammal survey that consisted of 1,509 motion-activated camera traps from 110 sites across all 50 states. The data was published in the journal Ecology, and Lafferty and students have collaborated on other published articles based on related research using Snapshot USA data.
NMU's commencement is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, in the NMU Superior Dome. It will be broadcast live on WNMU-TV 13 and streamed online at nmu.edu/commencement.