Childhood love of fishing kindles passion for ecology

Bill Ensign was only 4 years old when his father put a fishing rod in his hands for the first time. No one could have known it at the time‚ but that act kindled a passionate interest in aquatic wildlife that still burns today.

Georgia (Aug 4, 2004) — Bill Ensign was only 4 years old when his father put a fishing rod in his hands for the first time. No one could have known it at the time‚ but that act kindled a passionate interest in aquatic wildlife that still burns today.

“Even as a kid‚ I was trying to figure out where I could find fish‚” says Dr. Ensign‚ now an associate professor of biology in the College of Science and Mathematics. “What were the environmental factors that would let me see that bobber go under the water?”

Despite his lifelong interest in the outdoors‚ Ensign didn’t always see it as a career path‚ originally planning to be a lawyer instead. An undergraduate ecology course taught by Dr. Henry Merchant at George Washington University changed all that‚ however‚ opening his mind to a whole new world of possibilities.

“Suddenly‚ I realized that all this stuff that had been going through my mind was really a scientific discipline‚” Ensign recalls. “Dr. Merchant was a really dynamic instructor. I think he planted the seed for that; he was the one who helped me realize what understanding science was all about.”

Ensign’s career path was further defined during his graduate studies at the University of Tennessee. It was there that he first found himself making a connection with students — just as Merchant had done with him.

A KSU faculty member since 1997‚ Ensign still enjoys making that connection today‚ complementing his classroom lectures with field trips that illustrate the wonders of aquatic biodiversity in a way no textbook ever could.

“I really enjoy taking students out into the field‚” he explains. “The hands on side of it‚ the real interaction with the field of biology‚ is probably one of the most satisfying parts of it.”

For the last several years‚ Ensign has devoted part of each summer to a large−scale research project being spearheaded by the University of Georgia’s Institute of Ecology. Its aim is to develop a habitat conservation plan for the Etowah River basin — one of the most biologically diverse watersheds in the United States — thus allowing development to move forward without doing irreparable harm to the amazing array of wildlife that calls the area home.

“The Etowah River basin‚ above Lake Allatoona‚ is very unique‚” Ensign says. “If you look at that river system‚ it’s a center of aquatic biodiversity in the Southeast.”

Students often accompany Ensign on his summer research excursions‚ either as paid assistants or as part of the directed study program. The experience they gain in such real−world settings can prove critical as they look ahead to life after graduation.

“Research is really important‚ both for faculty and for students‚” Ensign said. “Particularly in the sciences‚ research is crucial; you don’t get an appreciation for it until you get your hands into it.”





A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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