Class of 2019: Erik Yanisko

McDaniel College senior Erik Yanisko
April 23, 2019

Erik Yanisko is an Environmental Studies major from Boyertown, Pennsylvania.

Professor who most influenced who I have become: The person who has had the largest effect by far on my development, both as a student and as a person, is Environmental Studies professor Jason Scullion. His lectures are always so exciting, and he really gets you excited about the content you’re learning. One of my first memories of him is the second lecture in the Sustainability course he teaches, and he was literally jumping up and down while describing the three pillars of sustainability. He has always been involved in my career development, from internships to research opportunities like the Cargill Grant. He has taught the courses that I also have found most interesting and helped me find my way to what I want to do after school.

Best class ever: Conservation Biology, taught by Dr. Scullion. This class was my favorite class for many reasons but at the top of the list is that it helped me figure out what I want to do as a career. Coming back from Peru right before the semester started helped me realize the need for specific conservation plans, and this class helped me understand the academic angle and the ecological processes that are going on behind the scenes.

Took me totally by surprise: One quarter of all the biomass in the Amazon rainforest is made up of ants.

My favorite spot on campus: Being on the quad in a hammock with my friends and a speaker on a nice day. The trees are the perfect distance away to comfortably string up a hammock, and amid the stress of senior year, it’s nice to have a spot to just chill out and not think about homework for a bit.

Real world experiences: I went to the Peruvian Amazon as part of a Jan Term study abroad trip titled, “The Forest Online.” A group of 15 or so students took the trip deep into the Amazon to create a multimedia research project consisting of interviews with indigenous people who have communities in the region, and researchers who are living there doing various projects.

Later that semester, through the Environmental Studies department, I secured a Cargill Grant to go back to the same region in Peru and participate in herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) research for a month after the semester concluded. This was my favorite experience during my four years at McDaniel due to my interest in the environment. It’s one thing learning about biodiversity in class, but it’s a step above to be in the most biodiverse place in the world and have the opportunity to participate in research that is pushing the boundaries of what is currently known in the scientific community.

During my junior year, I had the opportunity to travel abroad to Budapest at McDaniel’s campus there. During that semester, I also traveled to Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, as well as exploring the Lake Balaton region in Hungary.

My capstone: “Gold mining in Peru: A Case Study of the Pariamanu River”

What it’s about: Gold mining in Peru has been rapidly escalating since the 1970s near Puerto Maldonado, so I am using ArcGIS & ENVI software along with satellite imagery to look at the Pariamanu River as a case study. In my research, I will be determining why this watershed is unique and relatively untouched, and how much gold mining has increased by determining the hectares of deforestation that have increased since 2008.

What it’s really about: By using satellite imagery, I can zoom into the forest and analyze the area of land that has been deforested and lost due to gold mining. The Pariamanu watershed is different than current mining sites, and I will figure out why by using this analysis and also reading scientific literature.

What’s next: After graduation, I will be working with the U.S. Geological Survey doing plague ecology and population biology of prairie rodents in South Dakota and New Mexico for six months. Also, I want to get a certificate in Geographic Information Systems and a master’s degree in Conservation Biology or something similar.

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