Nomination Statement for Robert McCleery, recipient of the Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s 2017 Outstanding Educator Award
Dr. McCleery began working with wildlife in Florida as a master’s student at Texas A&M University. His research was focused on assessing the population status and habitat use and selection of the Key Largo woodrat. This endangered subspecies had declined precipitously and dramatically since the1980’s, and the results from his study fueled conservation and management actions that have directly prevented its extinction in the wild. During that time, and later as a Ph.D. student and visiting Assistant Professor, his roles extended to mentoring and advising students on projects such as examining how development, fragmentation, altered disturbance regimes, and raccoon populations influenced the recovery of the endangered lower keys marsh rabbit. Also in the Florida Keys, he helped evaluate the response of the endangered key deer to road building and alterations. Today, his efforts on the conservation and management of wildlife in Florida are directed primarily though his position as a tenured professor, where he strives to empower students and challenge them to become professionals as well as responsible, informed citizens.
In the classroom, Dr. McCleery uses both the traditional classroom approach and classes reinvented and designed for the ‘millennial generation.’ He uses a flipped-classroom design where students build their confidence and communication skills by discussing case studies from their perspectives. They are also tasked with a unique semester project where they identify information gaps for wildlife, develop potential solutions, and then present their projects in a formal poster session open to the department. Additionally, he blends field-intensive labs where students engage in hands-on activities and master wildlife techniques with modern analytical approaches demanded my today’s employers. A superb video showcasing one of his exhilarating and intensive weekend-long field trips can be found below. His unique teaching approach and efforts to mentor and involve undergraduate and graduate students in research (in Florida and abroad) have resulted in numerous publications in scientific journals.
During his brief tenure at the University of Florida, Dr. McCleery has already contributed to the education of 9 Masters students, 12 PhD students, 3 Postdoctoral researchers, and numerous undergraduate students, most who now work within agency and college/university positions. He has also developed a globally recognized research lab that fosters professional development, collaborations, and most importantly, measurable contributions to wildlife ecology and conservation. Within 5 years of completing his Ph.D. and 2 years after his hire at University of Florida, Popular Science recognized him for having one of “The 10 Most Awesome College Labs of 2013.” His students often work with uncharismatic species in Florida, including fox squirrels, eastern gray squirrels, cotton rats, rice rats, pocket gophers, salt marsh voles, round-tailed muskrats, bonneted bats, marsh rabbits, and black bears. The range of his research interests is enormous, and includes population genetics, population ecology, wildlife diseases, human dimensions, developing monitoring protocols for wildlife agencies, collecting baseline ecological data for understudied species, and reevaluating historic studies that provided the baseline information used to manage current wildlife populations.
His student-led research has been presented at multiple state, regional, and national conferences. In the past 3 years these have included 13 student presentations at the FLTWS annual meetings and one workshop, along with 9 presentations at national TWS meetings. This research has also been disseminated to the public through presentations given to the Audubon Society, the Florida Native Plant Society, and numerous state and federal agencies and outreach programs. Additionally, Dr. McCleery's research has been streamed into the homes of millions of Americans through main-stream media outlets. His research regarding the influence of Burmese pythons on Florida's native fauna was covered by over 100 media outlets, including the Today Show, LA Times, and Science Magazine. Dr. McCleery's contribution to the education of students and the general public, through direct and indirect channels, has been enormous, and promises to continue along a similar trajectory in the future.