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Protecting oaks, blazing trails

July 10, 2015
Shannon McCarragher

Shannon McCarragher

Shannon McCarragher is in a class of her own – literally.

Last month, the NIU doctoral student successfully completed her degree requirements and became the first Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Geography.

“It’s the culmination of an educational goal that I set for myself about 10 years ago as an undergraduate, so it feels a bit surreal now that I’ve achieved it,” McCarragher said. “I am honored to be the first in what I hope will become a long line of remarkable doctoral students to graduate from the Department of Geography at NIU.”

The Milwaukee native earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a master’s degree in geography from NIU, where she received an Outstanding Woman Student Award in 2008.

“At the master’s level, Shannon was someone we identified as exceptional,” said Andrew Krmenec, Department of Geography chair. “She is quite bright and a hard worker, and exactly the type of person we wanted as our first doctoral student.”

McCarragher began working on her Ph.D. in 2010, and during that time she earned the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award and Outstanding Graduate Student Award. In June, she defended her dissertation, titled “Ecological and Evolutionary Invasion Dynamics of Lonicera maackii (Amur Honeysuckle) in Relation to White Oak Savanna Restoration Management in Nachusa Grasslands, Illinois, USA.”

Amur Honeysuckle“My research investigated the spread and ecological impact of Amur honeysuckle, an invasive shrub, in relation to the conservation of native white oak trees,” McCarragher said. “It is important to study issues related to the impact and spread of invasive species as they damage local habitats.”

With the support of many NIU educators and fellow graduate students, McCarragher made history at NIU in the Department of Geography.

“My primary adviser and mentor, Lesley Rigg, provided invaluable assistance and guidance throughout every aspect of my research,” she said. “My committee members, David Goldblum, Michael Konen and Melvin Duvall were also instrumental to my success. I can only hope that one day I am half as good a mentor as they all were for me.”

McCarragher will be a visiting assistant professor in NIU’s Department of Geography in the fall, and is looking forward to taking the next step of her career.

“The opportunities, experiences, friendships, achievements and even the tribulations that I have had as a graduate student in the geography department at NIU have fostered my personal and professional growth,” McCarragher said. “For that I will be forever grateful.”

by Jane Donahue