- A biology major.
- From Mercer Island, Wash.
- An animal behaviorist.
- A Willamette Academy mentor.
- Eager to share.
Exploring the Natural World
Kaeli Swift turns bird watching into scientific discovery.
Kaeli Swift has spent much of her time on campus feeding the birds. In fact, it is tough to find her without peanuts in her pocket, ready to provide for the crows, ravens and scrub-jays.
The feeding is in the name of research. Fascinated by animal behavior, Kaeli studies a distinctive characteristic of crows — their ability to distinguish human faces — by seeing whether they are more likely to take peanuts from people they recognize versus strangers.
She developed her project with the help of her mentor, biology Professor David Craig, who also invited Kaeli to work with him on another bird research project on Caspian terns.
The two used the photo-sharing website Flickr to track banded terns, and they presented their findings at a meeting of the American Ornithology Union.
Why I Value Willamette
"Willamette has given me the one-on-one help that I need," Kaeli says. "I have built close relationships with my professors and tried different experiments to help me reach my ultimate goal of studying animal behavior.
"The liberal arts education at Willamette offers you a holistic experience. I am now a strong scientist, but I also am a better decision-maker, a better critical thinker and a better citizen."
Beyond the Classroom
Willamette also helped Kaeli discover an enthusiasm for public outreach.
She has mentored and taught science to younger students through Awesome Academic Adventures, a summer academic enrichment program for grade-schoolers, and Willamette Academy, the university's college access program for underrepresented youths.
In both cases, she has shared her science work while acting as a role model.
"I want to encourage young people to become as excited about the natural world as I am," she says. "At Willamette Academy, the goal is also to help the students get into college. I talk with them about what subjects they enjoy, and if they haven't considered biology, I give them many reasons why they should."
After graduation, Kaeli heads to Australia to gain more research experience by joining a field project observing the behavior of the stain bowerbird.
Then she plans to attend graduate school to continue with the passion her mentor helped her cultivate: investigating the natural world as a researcher.
"Professor Craig is great at catering his classes to each student's objectives," Kaeli says. "He recognized that I had a future in research, and he challenged me to work toward that goal."
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