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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

East Providence resident set to graduate URI as top wildlife biology student

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 10, 2006 -- Although Grace Lentini knew early on that she wanted a career working with animals, it took her a while to decide on a college major. She started out in marine biology, then shifted to animal veterinary science, and finally settled on wildlife and conservation biology. Now she is preparing to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 21 as the top wildlife biology student and recipient of the President’s Award for Student Excellence.

A resident of East Providence, Lentini is described by her faculty members as the consummate wildlife biologist who has taken full advantage of experiential learning opportunities through several research projects.

Following her sophomore year at URI, she interned at Roger Williams Park Zoo to learn about efforts to breed short-beaked echidnas – an egg laying mammal from Australia – in captivity. A year later she was named a Coastal Fellow and spent a summer scuba diving in the Caribbean to study a threatened snail.

“They’re easy to find and they’re a very tasty local dish, so people eat them quite frequently,” Lentini said. “That’s part of the reason why they’re threatened. We were trying to find out about their basic population dynamics to prevent their potential extinction.”

Last summer, the URI student learned to identify birds by song as a means to survey declining birds in grasslands and shrublands in Rhode Island. “We were surveying in particular fields that were going to be managed by the Department of Environmental Management, and we wanted to know what the bird and vegetation community would look like before and after the management.”

This research project convinced Lentini that wildlife biology was the right career choice for her. “I liked it because I was outside every single day and I was getting to know the wildlife and the nature around me. It’s cool to walk outside and look at something and be able to name it. And then you get to know their habitat, when they breed, their breeding plumage -- there’s just so many things to learn. That’s what really interests me.”

Lentini is completing her undergraduate college career with a semester at Humboldt State University in northern California to learn about ecosystems along the West Coast. “I love the mountains and the trees out here,” she said, “so I’m trying to be outside as much as possible.”

After graduation, the 22-year-old student plans to spend a few years taking seasonal field biology positions – perhaps conducting research on swift foxes in the Southwest or bats in Pennsylvania – before continuing on for a graduate degree.

“Over the next couple years I want to really narrow down what sort of species I’m most interested in working with and learning the techniques I’d need to use to study them,” said Lentini, who received a scholarship from the Weekapaug Foundation for Conservation in 2005.

Because she likes big mammals and big mountains, she hopes to spend at least some of that time in the Rocky Mountain States. “But being in California this semester has shown me that I’m definitely a New Englander, so eventually I’ll definitely settle back in New England, maybe to Maine or New Hampshire,” Lentini said.