Members in Action: Travis Sowards, Student Director
Monday, May 4, 2020
Posted by: Keith MacCallum
Travis Sowards is the newly-elected Student Director on SER's Board of Directors. His two-year term will begin in July. We reached out to him to learn more about how he got into the field of ecological restoration, and about some of his current experiences.
What’s your current job?
I am a PhD Graduate Research Assistant in the Madsen Seed Enhancement Lab at Brigham Young University (BYU) in the United States. Our work is focused on the development of novel seed coatings and enhancement technologies that can be used to address and overcome the limitations that lead to seeding failures in restoration.
What projects are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a number of dryland system restoration studies in the Great Basin, which include: 1) Comparing risks and benefits associated with the use of locally sourced versus commercially available native seed germplasms; 2) Developing and testing dormancy regulating seed coatings that utilize natural avoidance strategies to overcome biotic & abiotic limitations; and 3) studying the efficacy of a novel fungicide formula seed coating that targets seed and soil borne fungal pathogens that are detrimental to native seed and seedlings.
What do you find most rewarding about working for your organization?
During my time at BYU I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with top-tier professionals who are enthusiastic about their work in the fields of ecology, conservation, and restoration. These excellent mentors and role models have encouraged me to maintain a healthy balance of academia rigors, community involvement, and family life. In my experiences, this holistic and family centric approach is unique to BYU and it has helped me in my professional and personal development as a scientist, husband, and father.
How long have you been a member of SER? What’s your best experience thus far?
I joined SER in September 2018 and attended the SER-SW annual meeting in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was at this meeting that I was able to network with other students and participate in a foundational meeting for Northern Arizona University’s student SER association. That experience motivated me to establish a student association with BYU. During the Fall semester of 2019 I hosted the first meeting of BYU’s SER student association and have had the privilege to work with a remarkable group of students who exemplify environmental stewardship.
What was your childhood dream job?
I wanted to either be a medical doctor or lawyer until I later realized that I do not deal well with needles, blood, nor suits and ties.
What was your first real job?
Besides working for my dad in high school as a playground equipment installer, I was also a busser at a 50s themed diner, then as a pool boy I had a route where I maintained pool water chemistry. However, my first career was when I served from 1999 to 2009 on three US Navy submarines as nuclear power plant engine room supervisor.
What’s your favorite moment of your career so far?
While working as a research assistant with the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station I was able to spend a month collaborating with the America Samoa National Park Service on the islands of Tutuila and Ta’u. Working with these people, being immersed in their culture, and exploring their lands (not as a tourist) was one of the most compelling moments of my ecological career.
Why would you encourage others, particularly young people, to get involved in this field?
As the world population grows and expands, land and resources are becoming more limited. The need for highly qualified restoration practitioners is growing as is the need to preserve the historic and cultural practices that have promoted healthy ecosystems for millennia. Ecosystem restoration is a growing field that is unique in its inclusion and synthesis of cultural practices and modern scientific advancements. Growing and advancing the field of ecological restoration is the perfect selfless act because it is not an investment in our future but an investment in our children’s future.
Guilty pleasure: What can you not live without?
Beside to obvious answer of my wife and kids, I would have to say my guitar. While I am very much an amateur, I do enjoy a good family and friends jam session. When I am not able to play I prefer to listen to the sounds of David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia, and Joe Bonamassa.
What is your favourite piece of field equipment?
My Leatherman multi-tool. Equipped with plyers, wire-cutters, screwdriver, and a hammer, I have never had to deal with a forgotten tool when I have this thing with me.
Thank you for joining our Board of Directors, Travis!