The secret lives of our profs

Photo courtesy of Facebook
Naveed Islam

Photo courtesy of Facebook (Karl Hailperin)

Naveed Islam: How did you first become interested in your field?
Jodi Sedlock: Oh gosh! I actually started as an artist at the Center for Creative Studies: College of Art & Design in Detroit because I wanted to be a designer. Then I decided that I was going to be a “famous painter,” so I transferred to the school at the Art Institute in Chicago, where I spent a year. While I was there, I did a co-op program where I got credit for working at the Field Museum of Natural History as a scientific illustrator. I was drawing rat feet, bat skulls and chipmunk penis bones, which are called baculum. Actually, my first published illustration was of a baculum! I knew right then that it was “true love!” I thought to myself, “This biology thing is great!” and decided to take it up as a major. It was so fascinating to work at the Field Museum and open up drawers and drawers of animals from all over. There was so much diversity of form and color; it was very aesthetically pleasing. As an artist I was interested in form and the linear aspects of these different skulls and bones. “Here’s a bunch of cool dead things in a tray! Just imagine what they were like when they were alive! Oh my gosh!” Obviously, I had to leave the Art Institute and got a B.S. in biology from Loyola University. I also finished the art side of things and earned a B.A. in fine arts. I had a double degree and it took me six years to get it! I went on to the University of Illinois-Chicago for my Ph. D. in ecology and evolution. I stayed in Chicago so that I could be associated with the Field Museum and continue studying bats for my dissertation.
Islam: What brought you to Lawrence?
Sedlock: I had a tough decision to make. The two trajectories I was looking at were either working in an international conservation organization or teaching at a small liberal arts school. I had friends who went to Lawrence, so when I saw the job ad I already knew it was a good school. I’m very happy that I applied here. The draw for me is that I do have a lot of interests and I’m sort of interdisciplinary myself so I feel comfortable here.
Islam: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Sedlock: Oh gosh! I love the students here at Lawrence and how multifaceted they are. So many of you are double majors and have interests in the arts and sciences; you’re willing to try new and creative things. That makes it very fun for me and very different than if I had gone to a Research I school instead, where the students have a very narrow focus and are asked one very narrow question. It’s much more exciting to work with students who have broad interests. I have been enjoying teaching the environmental studies capstone course and I like that because I learn so much. I’m a biologist and I have students in that class who are coming from economics and geology, so while we’re all learning about modeling systems, they teach me so much about their own fields. Some people might find it scary or intimidating to teach a class where the students are creating models or doing projects which they don’t know much about but, I think it’s wonderful! I get to learn a lot and we’re teaching each other new things so it’s really great.
Islam: What did you do over summer?
Sedlock: I went to the Philippines. Brittany Olsen, who is a senior this year, went with me to the island of Cebu where we worked with the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation to survey bats in a small forest fragment. Cebu is actually the most deforested island in the Philippines. Some people would say “Why did you go there! How boring!” but from a conservationist’s perspective it is very interesting to know what does exist and what can persist in these very small fragments where it’s very dry. It was really a weird habitat. There was actually a typhoon there when we were doing our research. Very exciting! Luckily we were in a field station but it was just rain-rain-rain for eight days straight. Everything molded and even though we were inside, the humidity was still very high, which is typical of that area. It was very difficult to get our work done but we surveyed the bats there as best as we could. More species than I initially suspected there would be, given the size of the forest fragment, but nothing too exciting. I’m spoiled because we usually come home with a new species and this year we just got more individuals of a species. We did take a little vacation to visit the beach and go snorkling.
Islam: Do you have any memorable experiences from college?
Sedlock: I broke my wrist sometime in the winter of 1991 while I was still at the Art Institute. I was walking in Chicago and I slipped on the ice and broke my right wrist. I couldn’t paint or draw and my Professors loved this because they thought that I was too tight in my scientific illustrations. They wanted me to loosen up. It got me thinking about what would I do as an artist if I broke my hand. It propelled me to go to the university and get a broader education! I wound up taking a very haphazard route to come to where I’ve come and my message is that it can work out. I was the very definition of indecisive in college but now I have a job that I love and I changed schools three times in three years and that many majors as well – oh gosh, my poor parents! But I am better for it because I’m doing something that I love, and even though I might have been a little worried back then, it worked out great. I’m glad that I went with my gut and explored both art and science because now they are converging again.
Islam: What do you do in your free time?
Sedlock: I knit! I learned how to knit three years ago and fell in love with it even though it’s a very expensive hobby. I love the different plant and animal fibers since there’s a lot of biology in that and it’s very artistic. I like drawing and I still sketch a lot even though I haven’t done a lot of what you would call “big” art. I enjoy photography a lot and I have taken my bat photography much more seriously. These days I spend a lot of time trying to prove my macro-photography skills by taking pictures of orchids and things that look kind of like bats. Two of my bat photos are actually up in Wriston. I like to keep myself busy and not become overworked.
Islam: Do you have any advice for this year’s graduating class?
Sedlock: Think big but act where you are. Take action where you find yourself at the moment. Be kind and be useful wherever you can be and great things will come out of it.

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