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Strong Stories: Jennifer Zettler

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B.S. – Entomology - University of Florida

M.S. – Entomology - Clemson University

Ph.D. – Zoology - Clemson University

Jennifer Zettler

Biology Professor and Entomology Curator Teaching since 2002

Armstrong Biology professor and Entomology Curator Jennifer Zettler, Ph.D., loves insects. 

Touting the role the six-legged creatures play in the food chain, pollination and decomposition, as well as their impact on human and animal medical studies, she takes pride in making the world of insects more accessible—and interesting—to sometimes squeamish students.

“I like to turn a subject that might be considered dry and make it come alive,” notes Zettler. “A lot of students who’ve taken entomology were scared of insects, but they all come out of it really enjoying the experience.” Armstrong’s size allows Zettler, who earned a B.S. in Entomology at the University of Florida and two graduate degrees at Clemson University, to interact with students in engaging ways.

“I enjoyed my experience at a larger university, but I really like the feel of the small campus,” she says. “When I was looking for a job, this was the type of school I was looking for.”

Access to year-round field sites in the coastal region is also an enormous plus for her coursework.

“Armstrong has an ideal location,” she says. “I can hop in a van and take a group of students down the road for field projects in the salt marsh. If you can get students outside and see what they’ve studied in textbooks, it’s a transformative experience.”

Zettler has also led students through the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest and Andes Mountains and co-hosts upper-level science class trips to the Florida Keys every other year.

This summer she’ll partner with Physics lecturer Donna Mullenax and Science Education professor Rebecca Wells to walk students through the North Georgia Mountains, coastal barrier islands and South Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.

“Some students have never left the Savannah area, so to sample for organisms in mountain streams and to actually see a waterfall, rather than just pictures of it, is important,” says Zettler. “We’ll look at all types of factors that might influence the different habitats we’re studying.”

However, nothing excites Zettler more than working with undergraduate research students. For years, she has taken students to South Florida’s Big Cypress eco-region to study invasive pests of rare orchids. Currently, students are classifying and organizing a teaching insect collection with the goal of creating permanent databases for public research use.

“Research is what students have to have in their pocket to go to graduate school,” she says. “Our department really encourages it. It’s a valuable resource.”