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Jodie Hearlson is kind of like the Verizon cell phone spokesperson in the turtle world.

During a recent research project as an intern at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, she spent her days asking turtles, “Can you hear me now?”

“I was part of an auditory research program that would test the frequency range sea turtles can hear,” said Hearlson, a 2007 graduate of the Field Biology program.  “The purpose of this project is to achieve a range of frequencies and apply the results to populations in the wild. This can let scientists know if offshore drilling, boat races or other noises impact the hearing of these turtles.  The turtles were trained to station at a target until they heard a sound.  Once hearing the sound they would then move to a separate target.  This process is similar to the hearing tests they give kids at school.”

Hearlson said she chose Friends University for its Zoo Science program.

“Friends has an amazing Zoo Science program, and I loved the small class sizes.  During my first year, I decided that I would rather work as a researcher, so I switched my major to Field Biology,” she said. “I really like the professors at Friends and the friendly atmosphere of the campus.  At Friends, I never felt like a number, which is how I felt at other schools I had visited.”

While attending the University, Hearlson said she particularly enjoyed her alpine ecology and marine ecology classes.

“These classes had a weeklong trip in the summer,” she said. “Students would go to Colorado and Texas to gain hands-on experiences working in the field.  The alpine ecology class trip was held at Rockcleft, while the marine ecology class was held at a beach house in Galveston, Texas. I really enjoyed these trips because it was like being in an outdoor classroom.  I felt as if I learned a lot and gained field experience that I could use later in future careers.”

After graduating, Hearlson spent two years at Mote Marine, working with two species of sea turtles on various projects, including monitoring nesting habits and analyzing National Geographic Crittercam footage.

The National Geographic project was a behavioral analysis on three female loggerhead turtles, and Hearlson said she discovered some interesting findings.

“My responsibility was to review the footage and make detailed notes of the behavior of the turtle, number of breaths taken, and dive time,” she said. “It is thought that turtles do not forage during the nesting season but the critter camera recorded a turtle eating urchins and moving rocks, looking for other types of food.  The data collected was shared with other turtle biologists at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in February of 2009.”

Hearlson’s education at Friends University and her internship at Mote Marine have awakened a lifelong love for turtles.

“Turtles are my passion,” she said, “and being able to work with them was truly the best thing ever.”

Hearlson is currently employed as a sales associate at PETCO Animal Supplies, where she has worked since she was a Friends University student.

“I wanted a job that dealt with animals and thought a pet store would be a great place to begin,” Hearlson said.  “I applied and was hired within the week, which was 5 years ago.  This has been a great job and I learned a lot from it. I gained manager skills, public speaking skills and animals knowledge.  My boss has been very supportive of my schooling and has allowed me to have a flexible schedule to accommodate for my class trips and study time.  This job has definitely been a good stepping stone for future jobs.”

Hearlson said she will begin graduate studies at Emporia State University in the fall of 2009, and she will be working toward a master’s degree in biology with an emphasis in environmental biology.

“My thesis will be centered on the biology and behavior of freshwater turtles,” Hearlson said. “I would like to establish a career as a turtle biologist either with freshwater or marine turtles.  Also, I want to travel and educate the public on conservation efforts, turtles and other reptiles.  I believe that knowledge is power, and conservation can flourish only if people are aware of their actions.”