From Opportunity to Award

Monday, April 21, 2014
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Like many first year students, Shersingh Joseph Tumber-Davila ‘15 wasn’t sure what he wanted to study, but immersing himself in the plentiful research and leadership opportunities at the University of New Hampshire quickly revealed his passion for forest ecology. “Taking part in different activities like undergraduate research opportunities is life changing,” says Tumber-Davila who commends the University’s professors for providing work on research projects in their labs to facilitate valuable experiential learning. “I would recommend that new students consider what types of research interests them and to talk to their professors about helping in the lab,” says Tumber-Davila. “UNH professors have a great open door policy, which helps make possible these hands-on opportunities for students."

In fact, Tumber-Davila credits his experience as a research assistant in the Stable Isotope Laboratory and the Terrestrial Ecosystems Analysis Lab (TEAL) as a large part of his educational success in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at UNH. As a top-notch Environmental Conservation & Sustainability major in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Tumber-Davila became a McNair Scholar in his sophomore year and received a fellowship to measure how much carbon trees give to mycorrhyzal fungi. He will continue his research on this organism that lives symbiotically with trees throughout this semester. “I’m really grateful for the endless opportunities UNH gives to its students,” says Tumber-Davila who notes that being a part of research projects showed him just how much he enjoyed this aspect of science and how he would like to incorporate research into his future career as a university professor.

In addition to garnering both the McNair and Marble Scholarships, which underscore his academic merit, Tumber-Davila is also deeply committed to community service as president of the National Forestry Honor Society at UNH, Xi Sigma Pi; a member of the Greek Life Honor Society, Order of the Omega; and a volunteer educator for fourth grade students who participate in the student-led SciFri outreach program that generates an early interest in and excitement for STEM fields. However, it was through his work as an undergraduate teaching assistant for an Introduction to Plant Biology course that Tumber-Davila developed his interest in becoming a university professor.

Last fall, the Director of the Office of National Fellowships at UNH, Jeanne Sokolowski, encouraged Tumber-Davila to apply for a national Udall Scholarship. Established by the Morris K. Udall and Stuart L. Udall Foundation, the $5000 Udall Scholarship is awarded to 50 sophomore and junior level college students who are committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. In his application essay, Tumber-Davila wrote about his passion for the environment and how his various leadership roles at UNH have helped him to shape others’ perspectives on the natural world. That and his remarkable academic record were a winning combination, and Tumber-Davila was awarded the Udall Scholarship this spring. Professor of Forest Ecology Tom Lee knows first-hand how passionate his deserved student is about learning about forests. “Joe is one of those rare people who not only knows and understands the scientific details of minute forest processes, but at the same time never loses sight of how they relate to the system as a whole,” says Lee. “His enthusiasm, work ethic, and intelligence—not to mention his commitment to the common good—will serve him and others well far into the future."

“Now I have a jam-packed summer,” says Tumber-Davila with a grin. It kicks off with a visit to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he’ll be presenting the results of his mycorrhyzal fungi research at the McNair Research Conference. Following that, he’ll be conducting research on invasive species through an internship with the Nature Conservancy in Newmarket, NH, and then jetting off to California to attend Stanford University’s eight-week Summer Undergraduate Research In Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) program to study microbial nutrient cycling. Finally, Tumber-Davila will join the other Udall Scholarship recipients at an orientation in Tucson, AZ, where they’ll network with one another while training to become effective and influential leaders in their chosen fields.

Even though he’s still a junior, Tumber-Davila is investigating some of the country’s most renowned Ph.D. programs to prepare for his career as a professor of Forest Ecology—with hopes that he’ll land the job of his dreams at UNH. “It was Professor Tom Lee who helped me realize that I wanted to teach Forest Ecology, too,” says Tumber-Davila. “His phenomenal teaching style and the amount of time he devotes to students makes me want to be a professor like him some day.” In addition, Tumber-Davila cites Andrew Ouimette as an influential mentor, hiring the student as a freshman and taking him under his wing at the TEAL. “He worked closely with me, and then gave me great responsibilities,” says Tumber-Davila of gaining confidence in his independent work in the lab. “It made a difference that he trusted me with his projects and research.”

As a Marble Scholar, one of Tumber-Davila’s directives is to reach out to prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni as an ambassador of COLSA. “I want everyone to know about the outstanding research opportunities available here,” says Tumber-Davila who serves as a spokesperson for the college, avidly practicing what he preaches.