KINGSTON, R.I. – April 26, 2011 -- “It was sort of like Christmas every time I opened one of the bags to see what kind of bird is inside,” said University of Rhode Island senior Christina Knoll describing her research trapping and banding wild songbirds.
The Edison, N.J. resident spent last fall on Block Island, R.I., conducting research to learn about the dietary needs of birds during migration. With just weeks to go before graduation, Knoll is reminiscing about her URI career.
Her semester on Block Island was the culmination of four years of working on ornithological research with Professor Scott McWilliams. As a freshman and sophomore, she took care of temporarily captive birds, feeding them special diets, weighing them daily, and cleaning up after them. The fieldwork this year was the reward for the earlier dirty work.
“Block Island is a stopover point for young birds,” Knoll explained. “We were examining bird migration – how long they stay there, their movements while they’re there, how their body condition affects how long they stay. For some of them, we tracked their movements around the island after we released them.”
Knoll decided to study wildlife and conservation biology because of a childhood passion for birds, bugs and other wildlife. Once on campus, she quickly immersed herself in campus activities. She became a resident assistant, joined the Electronic Music Association, served as a DJ on radio station WRIU, and became president of the URI chapter of the Wildlife Society.
But these aren’t the only items on her personal agenda. “I also see myself as one who stands for equal rights for everyone,” Knoll said. “I care about people getting treated the way they should.”
She put that stance to the test last year when she became aware of increasing numbers of what she called hate crimes occurring on campus, including racial epithets, swastikas and anti-gay insults. It inspired her to organize a “Stop the Hate” rally on the quad last November.
“The simplest, truest, most honest thing is that it came from me wanting to do something, to say something, to give the students a voice collectively,” she explained. “I felt passionate about the things that were happening on campus. It upset me a lot.”
The event, which drew 1,000 people, made her a leading voice for diversity and harmony on campus. It got her and other students a place at the table when the University Equity Council discusses these issues, and it helped to establish a student equity group, I am U – URI Unity in Difference. As a result, Knoll was the 2010 recipient of the MLK Peacemaker Award from the University chaplains, and she received the New England regional Diversity Award from Students Organized Against Racism.
It also got her thinking more about her future. On one hand, she wants to follow her first passion – wildlife -- go to graduate school and ultimately work in Africa to help resolve conflicts between farmers and elephants. But she also wants to enter the Peace Corps to assist people in undeveloped countries. And she has other possibilities in mind as well.
“What I’ve learned about myself and my personality, though, is that I don’t know if I can be a person who can stay in one spot and do one job. I really want to be involved in so many things. I’ve even thought about working for the U.N. As long as I’m feeling like I’m contributing to society, I think I’ll be satisfied.”
URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Nora Lewis