Biology : Graduate Student Profiles

Aaron Ferraro

WCSU degree program: Master of Arts in biological and environmental sciences (2011)

Current position: Natural resource specialist, New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, Concord, N.H.

Aaron Ferraro’s career in natural resource management has opened a new chapter of fresh opportunities made possible by his return to college to pursue advanced studies in biology at Western.

Following his graduation in 1994 from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in forestry, Ferraro embarked on a successful career in applied resource management and civil engineering. After initial jobs as a construction firm field office manager and as an operations manager for an air treatment system manufacturer, he held positions as a project manager, land use planner and engineering technician at CCG Engineers and Surveyors in Milford from 1998 to 2006, and Arthur H. Howland and Associates of New Milford from 2006 to 2010.

Yet he realized as his career progressed that his deepening interest in conservation demanded further education and research in the field of ecology. He explained the graduate program at Western will strengthen his capacity to work effectively with land owners, land trusts, and other parties to promote efficient land use and protection of natural resources.

“My personal interest in the biological sciences has always been strong,” Ferraro said, “but my career goals have evolved over the past 15 years. Finding what I enjoy doing was easy, but matching it up with a satisfying career has been harder.

“Prior to enrolling at WCSU, I had the opportunity to interact with some practicing ecologists and foresters who work in land conservation,” he remarked. “I decided that I could accomplish much more in my career and be more satisfied if I added more ecology to my education and focused on conservation, where previously I had been more involved with land use planning.

“I appreciated the accessibility of the program at Western,” he added. Recalling his first meeting with Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Richard Halliburton to interview for the graduate program, he noted, “we discussed my career and future plans and commitment to going back to school. I got the impression that students who show ambition will be given a chance to prove they belong in the program.”

Now Ferraro is on track to earn a WCSU master’s degree this year in biological and environmental sciences. He has taken his education beyond the classroom as a research intern responsible for deployment and collection of water samples to monitor the impact of rainfall runoff on the degradation of water quality in Lake Kenosia in Danbury. As part of a research team headed by Associate Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Theodora Pinou and project manager Jack Kozuchowski, he also has participated in preparation of a quality assurance project plan for Lake Kenosia. A primary goal of current and future monitoring programs is to provide the foundation to guide future efforts to improve oxygen levels, contain invasive plant and algal bloom spread, and enhance species diversity in Lake Kenosia.

From his professional and academic experience, he has learned that “both academics and private industry want to see that money is well spent, and both are results-driven. Our research at WCSU is focused so that it will provide the foundation for potential improvement in water quality in Lake Kenosia. This is the tangible result that many parties are waiting to see.”

Ferraro has continued his WCSU studies and field research even as he has relocated over the past year to Brentwood, N.H., and taken a new direction in his professional work as natural resource specialist for the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program in Concord, N.H. In this role, he administers the state authority’s matching grant program for conservation and preservation of natural, cultural and historical resources in New Hampshire, working extensively in the field with all stakeholders in land resources under review and reporting to the authority’s board of directors.

“My ongoing education at Western gave me the confidence to pursue a job I would not have considered otherwise,” he said. “I have found my professors to be genuinely interested in my success outside the classroom. They understand the value of successful students and are interested in what you do, and will let you adapt your education to serve your existing career or your career goals.”

He credited Pinou, his faculty mentor in the Lake Kenosia study, with sharpening his research skills. “She has very high standards and is not shy about demanding your best performance in her classes and in anything you work with her on,” he said. “She consistently challenges students to achieve.”

During his studies at Western, Ferraro has observed a refreshing diversity among fellow students with career interests covering a range of fields such as science teaching, pharmaceutical laboratory research and private environmental consulting. The fact that WCSU’s faculty offers similar breadth of experience and academic specializations makes for a good match with students in the biology curriculum.

“WCSU has professors with excellent research pedigrees who will gladly work with a motivated individual to complete a challenging thesis,” he said. “You will also find professors here who are focused on public outreach, and who interact with the private sector, and they can help you tailor your studies to your existing work.

“I can recommend biological and environmental science studies at Western to anyone who is looking for a good foundation to work from,” he observed. “The diversity of students demonstrates that these classes are beneficial to pursue many different types of careers. The professors are a diverse group who can provide the graduate student experience you are looking for.”