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Feb. 3, 2016

Robert Montgomery: Diversity is a Difference Maker

Feb. 3, 2016

Robert Montgomery is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His laboratory intends to conserve carnivore species globally and to train students from backgrounds that are typically underrepresented in wildlife conservation.

My name is Robert Montgomery. I am a white male. I am an assistant professor of wildlife conservation. In my field, I am the norm. I am common. And the fact that I am common is a problem.

Bob Montgomery and grad students on a jeep in AfricaRobert Montgomery (left), MSU graduate student Tutilo Mudumba (center), and Sophia Jingo, RECaP research assistant, work in East Africa.

Wildlife conservation, like so many other fields, is a relatively homogenous discipline. This homogeneity contributes to asymmetries in conservation practice. In places like East Africa, for instance, wildlife are perhaps the most dominant, publically accessible and valuable resource in the region. And these valuable resources should be managed and conserved for the benefit of East African citizens. These citizens are ethnically, culturally and socially diverse. Thereby, homogeneity in leadership struggles to capably conserve these resources on behalf of the people. Diversity in leadership positions needs to be fostered for the development, implementation and administration of effective wildlife conservation practice. How then, as an inadvertent contributor to that homogeneity (i.e., a white male), can I make a difference?

The primary way that I can make a difference is by training students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in wildlife conservation. At MSU I am the director of the RECaP Laboratory, which conducts research on the ecology of carnivores and their prey.

My laboratory has two core pursuits. First, to research compelling aspects of animal ecology that have relevance to wildlife conservation. Second, to train underrepresented students so that the future of wildlife conservation leadership will be a more diverse one. In building this laboratory, I strive to maintain majority-minority student representation, where the majority of the students that I train come from underrepresented, or minority, backgrounds. By implementing my research projects in East Africa, for instance, I conduct targeted recruitments of students from the East African region.

Bob Montgomery and students looking over a vista in Africa

Montgomery, Mudumba and Jingo survey the African landscape.

My interest here is to create blended student cohorts of African and American students to help foster a globally engaged workforce. These students pursue research problems collaboratively, they publish together, they apply for grants together, and in these ways they are establishing dynamic and diverse professional networks across the globe.

I have seen the successes of these techniques. Students working in my laboratory publish papers in the most respected journals in this field, they win national and international prizes for their presentations at scientific conferences, they win African graduate student of the year awards from the American Society of Mammalogists, and they receive funding from a diverse platform of university, federal and foundation support.

But we can do so much more.

Funding international students is always a challenge. We have collaborated and will continue to collaborate with incredibly progressive foundations such as the MasterCard Foundation at MSU to nominate students from sub-Saharan Africa for master’s degree positions in RECaP. We are also creating an endowed graduate position here at MSU to annually fund a Ph.D. student from East Africa conducting wildlife conservation research in East Africa in perpetuity.

Via these mechanisms we can make a difference in Michigan, in the United States and across the global footprint of Spartan Nation. Who will protect wildlife and ensure a diverse future for conservation leadership? Spartans Will.

Top photo:Montgomery and Mudumba.