Dr. Erin Lehmer (r) is the 2012-13 Fort Lewis College Featured Scholar.
|Dr. Erin Lehmer
DURANGO, CO - Dr. Erin Lehmer, assistant professor in the Fort Lewis College Biology Department and the recently named 2012-13 FLC Featured Scholar, will be honored at a reception on Thursday, October 4 from 4:30-6 p.m. in the FLC President’s Office foyer in Berndt Hall. The reception is free and open to everyone.
The Featured Scholar award recognizes a FLC faculty member’s exceptional accomplishments in research and scholarship. Dr. Lehmer’s research into wildlife diseases, particularly Sin Nombre virus, has earned her national renown. Her recent work has been published in scientific journals and written about in media outlets such as ScienceNews, US News & World Report, and the New York Times.
More and more, human-caused changes to wildlife habitat are affecting changes in, not only the animal populations, but also in the diseases they carry and that are often transmitted to people. Studying wildlife diseases is a field that is becoming increasingly important because most of the diseases that infect humans originate in wild animals.
“Novel infectious diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate, but vaccines and treatments are not keeping up,” she says. “The consensus in both the scientific and medical communities is that prevention is our only viable option. The most practical way to prevent human infection with wildlife disease is to first understand the ecology of wildlife, then to understand how alterations in wildlife habitats could change the ways in which wildlife interact with humans, creating opportunities for the emergence of novel infectious diseases.”
Sin Nombre virus, a deadly hantavirus, is carried by deer mice and spread through their waste. Once shed from the mouse, the virus can live and remain dangerous to humans for years in the proper conditions. Sin Nombre virus is of particular importance to the Southwest.
“The Four Corners has, by far, the greatest number of human hantavirus infections compared to any other states, almost as many as all of the other 46 states put together.”
Dr. Lehmer integrates her research heavily into her teaching to give her students the chance to do graduate-level work while getting the personal attention of an undergraduate. She counts herself lucky that she’s been able to work with undergraduate students who possess the smarts and work ethic that allows them to do graduate student-level research.
What’s more is that the research questions these students are working to answer are not questions designed strictly for teaching to which the professor, or anyone for that matter, already knows the answer. The answers to these questions are valuable knowledge that the scientific community is deeply interested in discovering and FLC students are routinely the ones who get to present the findings at national scientific conventions and meetings. This kind of learning-by-doing is indispensible and is a central focus of a Fort Lewis College education.
“When our students present their research at national meetings they become colleagues of people who are Ph.D.s, professors, grad students and post docs,” Dr. Lehmer says. “Our students are the experts. For them, that is the big moment where they think, ‘Oh my gosh! All of these years of college were worth it.’”