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Mills visiting professor candidate for plant ecologist

(Photo by Octavia Sun)
(Photo by Octavia Sun)

On Feb. 20, Dr. Sarah Swope, a visiting assistant professor at Mills College, held a research lecture and a teaching seminar for the students and faculty of the Mills science department.

Swope is the last lecturer in the Biology Faculty Position Talks, which featured three candidates who each presented two lectures: a research and a teaching lecture. These talks are a part of the candidate search for the next tenure-track plant ecologist position at Mills.

The other candidates who were part of the lecture series were Dr. Anne Eschtruth from the University of California, Berkeley and Dr. Mike Wise from Roanoke College in Virginia.

Swope’s research lecture discussed the conservation of the endangered plant, the Tiburon Mariposa lily (“Cati”), and the controlling of an invasive plant, the yellow star-thistle.

According to Swope, the lectures were 10 years’ worth of research, with three years dedicated to the “Cati”.

“I showed the highlights of the research in the slides,” Swope said. “There’s a lot of other research, but I didn’t have time to talk about it.”

In her teaching lecture, where Swope taught a sample class, she distributed lecture handouts to the people in the room and encouraged the audience to ask her questions throughout.

At the end of each lecture, there were evaluation sheets for students and faculty to fill out. This is where they have a say in the choosing of the candidate for the plant ecologist position.

Junior Taylor Warmack, a biology major, thinks it’s a great idea for students to be a part of the hiring process for the next plant ecologist at Mills.

“It’s cool that we actually get to have some input because he or she will potentially get to teach at Mills,” Warmack said.

After Swope’s lecture, there was a lot of praise from the students and faculty about her teaching and lecture styles.

Senior Imani Russell, a biology (ecological practice track) major, found Swope’s passion inspiring.

“She’s serious on what she wants to talk about,” Russell said. “She makes it clear. The way she describes her work is how I want to do it.”  

Compared to the previous two lectures in the series, senior Kelly Wong, a biology major, felt Swope’s lecture was more engaging.

“I thought the first one [Dr. Eschtruth] was nice and engaging,” Wong said. “The difference is in the time spent in each lecture. I like how Dr. Swope incorporates data into the presentation and how it represents the topic of today’s lecture. The second lecturer made things easier to understand for me.”

Dr. Susan Spiller, an associate professor of biology, says she is not on the selection process but believes that any of the candidates have potential.

“I do believe all three of the candidates are all competent,” Spiller said.

The candidate search is being carried out due to former professor of biology, Dr. Bruce Pavlik’s departure in August 2012.

Dr. Lisa Urry, the head of the biology department, said the search process for the next tenure-track plant ecologist position is confidential and involves personal matters given that the search is currently in progress; therefore she was unable to comment. 

Spiller, who is retiring after this academic year, noted that Swope has proven herself to be exceptionally competent.

“I love the fact [that] Sarah Swope’s research projects are all based in California, and [that] the data will be used to establish forestry service standards for endemic but threatened species,” Spiller said.

Spiller also said that restoration projects on Mills’ campus are very close to her heart.

After teaching at Mills for more than two years, Swope is looking forward to potentially working even more at Mills.

“Mills is a wonderful institution, I could really value an all-women’s education and come to really love it here,” Swope said. “I enjoy working with students here because they’re so hard-working and motivated.”

To learn more about Swope’s credentials and her research, her website is at