Diana Rypkema

Class of 2013

Hometown: Lynnwood, Wash.

What was your College Scholar project?
As a College Scholar, I focused on quantitative marine ecology. I began my freshman year with a passion for the environment and a desire to help mitigate climate change. These interests led me to take a broad variety of science courses my first two years at Cornell, and my introductory ecology and conservation biology courses captured my focus. Throughout the next two years, I took as many natural resources classes as I could and along the way realized I could combine my love of mathematics and ecology! The marine focus of my degree predominately stemmed from my summer experiences when I participated in an internship at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Sciences and took a field animal behavior course at Shoals Marine Lab (operated by Cornell and the University of New Hampshire). Finally, my ecology and statistics coursework, and my summer experiences, collided in an internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Biogeography Branch. I worked on a project statistically modeling seabird group sizes in the Atlantic Ocean to help determine optimal placement of offshore wind turbines. An offshoot of this project became my senior honors thesis: "Modeling seabird group size: implications for ecological impact assessments."

What are you doing now?
After I graduated from Cornell, I began a PhD program in Biology at Stanford University. I am working with Dr. Shripad Tuljapurkar focusing on theoretical ecology. My thesis is a continuation of my interests as an undergrad; I'm using mathematical modeling and statistical tools to understand the combined impacts of land use change and climate change on wildlife populations.

How do you think your experience as a College Scholar has shaped your life or your career? Are there ways that you have applied the skills/knowledge/life lessons you learned as a College Scholar throughout your life?
My experience as a College Scholar shaped my life and my career by simultaneously teaching me the value of independence and of asking for help. The program gave me the freedom to choose my own intellectual path, completely driven by my specific interests; there was no one else doing exactly what I was doing, so I had to make decisions to forge my own best program of study. However, such independence comes with its own challenges, and I learned to ask for advice from my advisors in the College Scholar Program and my professors. At first, I was worried that my mentors would think less of me for struggling, but I was met with tremendous support, which made my studies and my mental health stronger. Professionally, these experiences prepared me well for graduate school--a journey that you have to strongly direct yourself, but also seek support to avoid complete isolation. Personally, I strive to take control of my life, making active decisions and self-reflecting, and I have consciously created a strong support system that I can lean on when needed.