By Chris Gionta
Many people agree they would aspire to work professionally with something that has interested them for a very long time. Springfield College Associate Professor of Environmental Biology and Environmental Science program director, Justin Compton, has done this with his aspirations.
Compton took his childhood interests and developed them into a successful career in the ecological field. It came together even more for him when he was elected to serve on The Ecological Society of America Board of Professional Certification.
“I guess it starts, honestly, when I was a kid,” said Compton about his initial interest in ecology. “I grew up in Central California, and so, I always remember being outside as a kid. I was always interested, whether it was being in the ocean or climbing mountains and stuff like that, I just really enjoyed being outside. I really enjoyed trying to catch different animals, whether it’s snakes or lizards or you name it when I was a kid. So, I think that’s where it started, and I was able to foster it as I continued to grow up.”
He followed his interests into higher education, where he set his own path and made family history.
“I’m a first-generation college graduate — college student — in my family,” said Compton. “So I really honestly didn’t know much about college when I was growing up.”
Compton’s journey into the world of ecology continued into University of California – Davis, where he realized the possibilities of what he could do in the world of science. He went in as a biology major, then, within his first year, he switched to being a major in Wildlife Fisheries and Conservation Biology. This would be what he got his college degree in, which was a launching pad for his career.
Compton continued his experience in the field all the way to Springfield College, where he began teaching in 2014. He is currently in the Biology and Chemistry Department and teaches a wide range of courses.
“I teach things like ecology,” Compton said. “I teach a class called New England Flora and Fauna, I teach a class where we take students to Costa Rica over the winter break, I teach sustainability, and I also teach general bio.”
Despite the variety of classes he teaches at the school, it only scratches the surface of what Compton does. Along with his work in the classroom, he also contributes to research.
“My research is really focused on wildlife and really how wildlife can utilize different types of environments or habitats,” he said. “So I primarily use things like trail cameras.”
Trail cameras, as Compton described, are remote cameras that can be found in commercial stores and are used by many people to see what happens in their backyard. He also uses them to observe, but with more of a professional influence.
“I kind of use those, and I use them in different parts of southern New England, and just try to see what’s out there, and see if I can document different populations of certain species, and then how those species change depending on where I put the cameras and those sorts of things,” said Compton regarding trail cameras.
His findings in wildlife using this technology have led to accomplishments for him in the educational world.
“I’ve been doing [the trail cams] for quite a while,” said Compton. “And it’s gained some traction, kind of over the past three or four years. I’ve gotten a few papers published from it, so I’m just kind of cranking away on that.”
He is also currently building the environmental science program at Springfield College. It is still a relatively new program, with the upcoming graduating class being its third such class. He hopes to not only help students find their desire in the environmental field, but help create leaders for the benefit of our world.
“The idea is that the environment obviously is really important,” said Compton. “And kind of the whole mantra of Springfield College — that spirit, body, mind — we’re trying to create a new set of environmental leaders that can usher us into the 21st century and really tackle some important problems that we’re facing.”
Throughout his time in the field, Compton has been a member of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) for 18 years. His experience with the organization and his experience is wildlife and ecology earned him a high position within the ESA. Recently, he was elected to serve on their Board of Professional Certification.
“So, I was nominated for that board position,” said Compton. “And the president of the ESA reached out to me, asked me if I was interested in running for that position.”
He followed through on running for it along with three other nominees within the ESA. All of them answered questions on their experience, what they would bring to the board, and more. Eventually, it got out to a vote for ESA members, of which there are thousands. Compton ended up being elected through the vote, and he will be serving a three-year term starting in January 2022.
Going into the term, Compton knows what he is there to do and bring to the table.
“The idea behind it is that in a lot of different fields, you have to get some form of certification,” he said. “So, the ESA tries to document a certain level of expertise and knowledge.”
Compton has made himself decorated in the world of wildlife and ecology, and his election to this position exemplifies that. Springfield College certainly is privileged to have someone this prominent in their field teaching and doing research for them.
Photo Courtesy Justin Compton