Research provides Vernon with the passion he was looking for

MINOT, N.D. – When Mark Vernon came to Minot State, he finally found the education track that best suited his passion.

“A lot of the time, animal biology is tracked into vet medicine, which isn’t what I was looking for. I really want to go into wildlife management and research, and I’ve been fortunate enough that professor Williamson (Chad Williamson, Minot State assistant biology professor) started working on building a wildlife biology track, so a lot of new classes focus on my desired education,” the biology major said.                                 

After high school, Vernon attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. Following a year off, Vernon decided to go back to school and enrolled in the zoo animal technology program at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville. There he was able to be hands on with the animals, as well as train them.

“I’ve trained Asian small-clawed otters, racoons, badgers, skunks, and wolverines,” said Vernon. “It was an amazing opportunity to work with some fantastic animals.”

With a degree in zookeeping and work experience in Washington state, Vernon decided he wanted to finish a four-year degree and see what the Midwest had to offer.

“I looked, decided that the Midwest was somewhere I hadn’t really been yet, and North Dakota seemed appealing in that sense,” said Vernon. “Professor Williamson and I came across a student fellowship research grant through the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

“I applied and gave a breakdown of the research we’ve done so far, gave them my background, and was lucky enough to receive the grant.”

With the help and mentorship of Williamson, Vernon was able to begin working on a research project relating to the weasel population in the area. Having received the research fellowship, Vernon is looking forward to continuing his academic career down this path.

“I was invited to participate in a nationwide collaborative research project focusing on detecting three species of weasel that we have in North Dakota,” said Williamson. “I reached out to students in my wildlife-focused courses and Mark was one of the first to respond.

“Mark really took initiative and was the one who applied for the fellowship.”

This fellowship provides Vernon with a $3,500 stipend, which allows him to focus on the research and not worry about income from work.

“Here in a few weeks, I’ll be submitting a progress report on how the research has been going and then giving the final update at the end of the semester,” Vernon said. “The fellowship is only for this semester, but the research project will continue through most of the year.”

With the research project lasting through most of the year, Vernon still looks forward to taking the new biology courses made available through Minot State and Williamson.

“With professor Williamson working on courses more suited for wildlife ecology, I get to take classes like mammalogy, ornithology, and wildlife management, stuff like that,” said Vernon.

With an impressive resume and work experience, Vernon plans to graduate in the fall of 2023 with a degree in biology and concentrations in physical science and chemistry.

“The classes I have already been able to take have opened new ideas, connections, and opportunities for positions in the fields of animal behavior research, wildlife management, and ecological conservation research that I would not have otherwise been able to explore on a traditional biology coursework path,” said Vernon. “I'm so grateful to be at MSU at a time when such a program is being developed and being a part of the groundwork in that development.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 04/26/23   

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