Biology with a Track in Botany
Tar Heel, NC
Hello, my name is Whitney Pittman. I am a senior here at UNC Pembroke, working on my bachelor degree in biology with a botany track. I have lived in North Carolina my whole life near the small town of Tar Heel in Bladen County. I was taken out of public school in third grade because of bullying. My family has worked in farming and construction as long as anyone can remember, and I assumed I would follow suit, so I started working at a young age. That is until I got very sick when I was 18 and lost my vision for six months. I was diagnosed with Idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and it changed my life. After regaining my sight, though now I wear glasses, I decided I would live my life to the fullest, not letting people tell me what to be, and to follow my dreams to travel the world and to work in research. I acquired my GED and my associate’s degree in science at Robeson Community College. There I met teachers who encouraged me to go further, and with their guidance I applied for UNCP. Since then I have traveled all over the continental United States. I have seen the Pacific Ocean, seen mountains and deserts, and it’s all because of the kindness of others, and a little self-determination.
Why did you choose to attend UNCP?
The main reason I chose to attend UNCP is because it offers a degree with a botany track, and it has a wonderful program for those who transfer with an associate’s degree. I was also the first person in my family to go to college, so I relied heavy on advice from teachers and staff at the Robeson Community College, and Miss Courtney Kilgore, a professor who I respect greatly, encouraged me to go further than an associate degree. She suggested UNCP, where she attended, and she knew some of the staff. Lastly, when I told my family that’s where I wanted to attend, they told me about how much UNCP has helped bring new life to the town of Pembroke, and how it was helping the area. With that said, UNCP was my first choice for college.
What do you like best about UNCP?
It’s the diversity of students and faculty and the small “hometown” feel the college has. You get lots of attention from faculty and staff, and the students are pretty friendly. The college also offers lots of opportunities for those who are interested and who apply themselves to what they love.
What are your post-graduation plans?
After I graduate I plan to apply to graduate school and to get a PhD degree in plant pathology. I’m currently looking at NC State University, Purdue, and the University of Georgia. My goal is to work doing research for the government under the USDA to help control the spread of crop pests and disease, and to work on ways of controlling invasive insects that are harming our forests.
Please comment on your research experiences on and off campus:
I have had a lot of amazing opportunities since I got my associate’s degree. I have been to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas to meet the staff and to look around the departments. I have done internship work for the US Department of Energy at the Office of River Protection in Washington state, dealing with management of the remediation operation at the Hanford site. Last summer, I started an NSF REU internship at Miami University in Ohio, where I worked with Dr. Bruce Steinly, doing research on native pollinator populations in urban environments. We are working on publishing the data in a peer-reviewed journal with the help of Dr. Kaitlin Campbell here at UNCP. As for what I am doing now, I am doing research on native Lumbee plants and their effects as bacterial inhibitors. The results are mixed so far, but I am going to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in November.
Biology with a Track in Botany
Fayetteville, North Carolina
I am a medically retired, Army 7th Special Forces Group veteran pursuing a degree in Biology with a track in Botany. I became interested in science at an early age, living in the hills of southwest Missouri. I joined the Army after graduating high school and volunteered for the Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion, where I spent many hours in the woods honing the needed skills. I later volunteered for the Army Special Forces and attended the second ever class of the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Upon graduation of SFAS, I was assigned to Okinawa, Japan, with 1st Special Forces Group and was later assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During my time in the Army, I managed to travel to most parts of the globe. The two areas that stick out in my mind for their beauty was Malaysia, because of its untouched jungles, and Guatemala, because of the simple way of life and the friendly locals. The mountains of Guatemala will always have a special place in my heart. When I left the military, I worked on and built motorcycles for a few years until I started to further my education, which brings me to the present day.
Why did you choose to attend UNCP?
When I started researching universities to attend, I was looking for three specific things. It had to be within driving distance of Fayetteville, it had to have a botany program, and it had to have smaller class sizes. These were important to me as I am established in Fayetteville, and I had attended other university classes in which I had never uttered a word to the professor. I felt I needed to be able to reach out to my professors and to ask questions and seek guidance. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has not disappointed me. The level of instruction, research opportunities, and attentiveness of the facility and staff is of the highest caliber.
What do you like best about UNCP?
I have always liked to be challenged and have found that most challenges can be accomplished with the right approach and mentorship. There is no way that I could finish my degree in Biology without the guidance and support offered to me at UNCP. My lecture and lab questions were always explained in a manner I could understand with as much time as needed. Never rushed. Chemistry I, II and Organic Chemistry were extremely hard for me to grasp. The Chemistry Department professors worked with me and set up tutors as needed. This comes back to my original statement of “most challenges can be accomplished with the right approach and mentorship.” This was afforded to me at UNCP on many levels; that is what I like the most!
What are your post-graduation plans?
My graduation plans are to attend a graduate school where I can continue my studies in plant sciences. My research contributions to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have concentrated on plant communities of Sampson’s Landing, Robeson County, North Carolina. I have presented research posters at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists, North Carolina Academy of Science, State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, and numerous Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity symposia. My awards include the Robert Britt Memorial Scholarship presented by the Department of Biology, Summer USA Grant through Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity Center, and a Student Scholarship Support grant for materials and supplies used for Sampson’s Landing research.
Political Science and Public Administration
Dr. Robert O. Schneider is a professor of public administration at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He’s a recognized expert in emergency management and climate policy, and has authored two published books: Emergency Management and Sustainability: Defining a Profession and Managing the Climate Crisis: Assessing Our Risks, Options, and Prospects. In this interview, I discussed with him his upcoming third book: When Science and Politics Collide: The Public Interest at Risk, which comes out in March 2018.
The book represents more than 5 years of work, and builds heavily on Dr. Schneider’s previous research and publications. In setting out, he initially sought to answer one main question: why is there a disconnect between science and policy? In his words, he wanted to know “why is there a reluctance on the part of some people to accept what the science is telling us?” in relation to climate change. He says that while “our perceptions of science… have become very political” recently, the relationship has never been ideal, and climate change is hardly the first point of conflict between science and politics – it’s just the most obvious one today.
Ideally, Dr. Schneider says, science would guide policy decisions. Politicians would look at existing research and the conclusions reached, and then use the evidence to inform future laws and resolutions. In reality, however, policy decisions are made long before the decision-makers ever take so much as a glance at the scientific research. Once the decisions are made, existing research is then applied (or ignored) selectively to support whatever conclusion the politicians want. Dr. Schneider argues that this is because “politicians are most interested in winning the argument they need to win today,” the “minutiae of the moment,” rather than the answers to the “profound questions” that scientists are concerned with.
When evaluating how science and politics interact, Dr. Schneider emphasized that there are four different dynamics (cooperation, conflict, resistance, and crisis) at play. The dysfunctionality of the relationship between science and politics is observable in each of the four.
Cooperation is present only when those in power need something from scientists. The example highlighted by Dr. Schneider is the case of the Cold War and national security in the United States. The “space race” was an example of collaboration between politicians and scientists, and an example of the scientific advancement and achievement which can take place when interests are aligned. Of course, those situations rarely last for very long, and once the politicians had achieved their goals, interest in – and consequently, funding for – the space program was severely reduced. In the end, even when cooperation is present, it’s obvious that scientists and politicians have very different end goals.
The second (and most common) form of interaction between science and politics is conflict. This occurs when what the science indicates isn’t what politicians want to hear; this conflict is ultimately “driven by [the] material interests” of the politicians and their supporters, Dr. Schneider says. A good example from history is the “controversy” surrounding the dangers of smoking. Long after scientists knew with certainty that smoking was a serious health hazard, politicians – who were heavily supported by the tobacco industry – still argued that the science was “flawed” or “unsettled”, or that scientists were lying to the public. As we know, politicians eventually acknowledged the science. It took much debate and considerable time, but eventually everyone came to understand the hazards of smoking. We can see almost an exact parallel with how climate change is presented today: even though there is near-unanimous agreement among scientists that climate change is real and human-caused, politicians – who are today heavily supported by coal and petroleum industries, among other heavy polluters – argue that the science is not settled, or use disingenuous and fallacious arguments to “disprove” climate change, such as bringing a snowball onto the senate floor. Dr. Schneider argues that time is of the essence in this case, and the continued denial of the science may push us past the point of crisis with regards to the climate.
The third form of interaction is more to do with public opinion than with political interests: resistance. Dr. Schneider says that this is present when the science contradicts people’s personal beliefs. As opposed to the conflict model, which is a result of competing interests, resistance is more of an emotional reaction to science; it occurs when the consensus disagrees with a person’s fundamental personal beliefs. The clearest examples of this are when evidence conflicts with religious beliefs – for instance, in the case of anti-evolutionists or young-Earth creationists – but it can extend to philosophical objections and anecdotes from unauthoritative sources as well; for example, the relatively recent opposition to vaccines despite the complete lack of scientific evidence that they’re anything but beneficial.
The final form of interaction comes when a crisis occurs. At this point, the power structure is temporarily turned on its head: politicians become dependent on scientists and plead for their assistance and expert opinions in resolving an adverse event. Even this can be seen as highly dysfunctional; politicians are more than willing to ignore repeated warnings from scientists about potential disasters, but once one actually occurs, public opinion and sympathies shift enough to where those in power have to be seen trying to manage the situation. This could be seen as a short-term example of the “cooperation” dynamic, but it is a reactive dynamic when it really needs to be an anticipatory one. The horse is out of the barn before the cooperation begins.
Dr. Schneider’s conclusion is that these situations are all unacceptable, and a more consistent, cooperative dialogue needs to be established between scientists and politicians to ensure true progress. His book highlights both steps that may be taken to resolve the communication problems as well as the dire consequences we may face if science continues to be politicized. We’re on the clock, and time is quickly running out. “A day later,” he concludes, “may be a day too late.”
-By Jacob Newton