Professor Spotlight: Dr. Erica Woodahl

black and white photo of woman with glasses looking straight at the camera

In this episode of Confluence, we hear from born and bred Missoulian Dr. Erica Woodahl, professor in UM’s College of Health, about partnering with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes to bring her research in pharmacogenomics, which tailors medical treatments to specific people and groups of people, to the Flathead Reservation. She also touches on her studies at Notre Dame, demystifying academia and why she decided to move back to her hometown.

Story Transcript

TIANNA LEITCH: I’ve really enjoyed getting to kind of watch her in so many different facets. So, as an educator, a speaker, a researcher and also just kind of an advocate for her profession. I think I’ve kind of gotten to see a lot of different sides of Erica and she doesn’t fail to impress me in every single one of them. 

SHAYNA KILLAM: She is someone who is an incredible role model to women in science and women in Montana and Missoula. She really cares about her community, and she really cares about teaching and she really cares about her students. I eventually want to be in the same position as her someday. 

SARAH LACHER: She is one of my dearest friends, and I’m just very thankful for her friendship and her mentorship. I really owe her all of my success. I owe – just beyond being a scientist just being the person, the woman that I am, my approach to teaching and interacting with people. I really try to model a lot of that after what I saw in her.  

ASHBY KINCH: This is Confluence where great ideas flow together, a podcast of the graduate school of the University of Montana. On Confluence, we travel down the tributaries of wisdom and beauty that enrich the soil of knowledge on our beautiful mountain campus. You just heard the voices of Shayna Killam, Tianna Leitch and Sarah Lacher, graduate students in UM’s programs in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Design and Toxicology talking about our guest on this week's episode, Dr. Erica Woodahl. Erica is a professor in UM’s College of Health where she directs the Precision Medicine Project, which aims to bring the insights of pharmacogenomics to diverse populations across the state and the region. I'm your host Ashby Kinch, associate dean of the graduate school. Every episode we ask our guests to read a poem or a short passage from literature about rivers. For this episode, we'll hear Erica reading a famous passage from Norman Mclean’s A River Runs Through It, the canonical river story from our region. Then we'll launch into the episode where we discuss her journey from Missoula and back, her research interests in pharmacogenomics, her work on delivering new health technologies to Montana tribes and rural communities, and her commitment to graduate education focused on research growth. Welcome to Confluence where we listen for the sound of water. Enjoy the float!  

ERICA WOODAHL: I'd like to read a passage from Norman McClean A River Runs Through It: 

As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other, I could feel patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books. But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water. And I sense that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit and quietness. 

KINCH: So, thank you for joining Confluence, Erica.  

WOODAHL: Thank you for having me. 

KINCH: So, you know, we waived our ordinary ban on passages from A River Runs Through It, but it's for a very specific reason. You're from Missoula. So, it's a kind of authentic story from our region, telling a river story. And, you know, I'm fascinated by, in Missoula you hear this story a lot actually, but you don't hear it at UM as much about people who leave, go to college, get professional credentials, move along, and then come back at some point to raise families or just to move back. So, tell us your Montana story and your Missoula story in particular. 

WOODAHL: Sure. Yeah. So, I grew up in Missoula up the Rattlesnake and, you know, as a typical 18-year-old couldn't wait to leave. And I went to college at University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which was a great experience. But I really missed the mountains. It was very flat. And actually, funny enough, the movie A River Runs Through It came out my freshman year of college. 

KINCH: Oh, that’s hysterical.   

WOODAHL: Yeah. So, you know, it just made me bawl my eyes out.  

KINCH: Yeah. Yeah. 

WOODAHL: So yeah, I like the Midwest, but it wasn't really where I wanted to live. And so, after graduation, I moved to Seattle. It was the late nineties and Seattle was all things grunge music and where you wanted to be as a young person. So… 

KINCH: Yeah. Yeah. 

WOODAHL: …went to Seattle, went to graduate school at the University of Washington, and that's where I first really learned about pharmacogenomics. So, in those days, it was very early on in the research in that field, and I was just really super excited about being able to work in that area.  

KINCH: Yeah. Well, and I want to loop back to your time at Notre Dame, and I'm just curious about that. That's an interesting choice. I mean, you know, you do hear about Missoula kids going there, but what'd you get from that educational experience because it is a kind of old school, liberal arts curriculum, right? They really push you around in a lot of different fields. Tell us a little bit about that and how that's influenced your growth. 

WOODAHL: Yeah, they really have a strong emphasis on liberal arts education at Notre Dame, which I was really happy to have. Some of my favorite classes in college were in the liberal arts classes I took. And obviously I enjoyed the science classes too, but I think it made me a well – a more well-rounded student and, you know, eventually professional. So, I learned, you know, I learned a lot about how to be a critical thinker, how to be a better writer. All of these things have really served me well as a scientist too. So, I really value that.  

KINCH: Yeah. Give me, give me an example, give me a kind of example of a class maybe that sticks with you. 

WOODAHL: Well, it was, it's a Catholic university. So, we had to take theology classes. And my second theology class I took was a bioethics class, which was really interesting. We talked about kind of different thinkings in areas in biology, which really appealed to me. I also took an interesting class. It was an anthropology class that talked a lot about the history of advertising and how advertisements can really change human behavior, which I thought – I just found that really fascinating. 

KINCH: Yeah. And I think, I mean, you know, obviously we're in the middle of a pandemic and there's a lot of questions in the air about public perception of science and how it interacts, but those kinds of skills of thinking from a different lens about why and how people are responding or reacting to the world, I think plays into your research. 

WOODAHL: Definitely. That kind of training and thinking of liberal arts and thinking about humanities and humanist perspectives has really served me well with my work with underserved communities.  

KINCH: Yeah. So, so kind of bring us back to the, the arc of the story that brought you back to Missoula from Seattle.  

WOODAHL: Sure. So, as I mentioned, when I started graduate school the field of pharmacogenomics was pretty new. But the long-term goal was always that it would have some impacts in choosing the most appropriate medications for patients. After I finished my Ph.D., I moved on to a post-doctoral fellowship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. And there I was able to do clinical research. So, I was working with patients, working with clinical staff and it really got me excited about actually working with people that would benefit from research. And so, when I was thinking about what I was going to do after my fellowship there was a position open here at the University of Montana and they wanted to develop pharmacogenomics as well. And the position I felt was just perfectly tailored to me both from my teaching perspective as well as my research. And it was an opportunity to think about pharmacogenomics in populations who have, who had at that time virtually been excluded from research.  

KINCH: So, so when you came to Montana, you were bringing this distinct specialty in pharmacogenomics. Tell us a little bit more detail about what pharmacogenomics is. And what its function is especially in terms of developing applied therapies.  

WOODAHL: Sure. Pharmacogenomics is a field where we can use a person's genetic information to tailor medicines to them. So, this could either mean changing the dose that a patient gets. Maybe they'll have a little bit more than average or less than average or maybe it's about picking an entirely different medication then plan for that patient. So really instead of a one size fits all way to treat patients and disease, it's really tailoring that to an individual.  

KINCH: Yeah. And, and so, I mean, just on a personal level and I'm sure a lot of listeners will have had this experience that we've been hearing more and more about cancer treatments that are tailored. And that seems like an area where that's taken off the fastest. Is there a reason for that?  

WOODAHL: Yeah, oncology really is one of the key fields where pharmacogenomics really, it really came about and has flourished, and that has to do with a lot of tumors are genetic in nature. And so, you can, if you can identify the mutation that is associated with that cancer, then you can treat it very specifically. In addition, cancer treatments, especially some of the older cytotoxic agents can be really hard on patient's bodies… 

KINCH: Yeah. 

WOODAHL: …and you really have to really manage the dose. So, you want to give the highest dose you can to kill a cancer, but not so high that you start to have really serious side effects for the patient. So, because you have to so tightly manage oncology meds, that was really a perfect opportunity to figure out if there was genetic reasons why some people were responding differently.  

KINCH: Yeah. That's what I was kind of thinking. The stakes are very high with cancer also, right? 

WOODAHL: Right. 

KINCH: And so, so patients who are, especially at late stages might be, and their families might be, willing to take chances on a new treatment as well, right? And that there might be real reasons why you would want to do that. So, there's a kind of a constellation of factors that made that area kind of a high target for pharmacogenomics early on.  

WOODAHL: Definitely.  

KINCH: But now is it moving around? I mean, you know, what are, what are the new breakthroughs that are kind of pushing it into other health areas? 

WOODAHL: Yeah. So, in addition to cancer, pharmacogenomics can be used in many therapeutic areas including mental health. So, in the treatment of depression and anxiety particularly. In cardiovascular care, in pain and infectious disease and others. So, it's really quite broad now at this point.  

KINCH: So, anytime you can identify a genetic determinant somewhere in there you can kind of get in there and at least think about how modulating the medicines for that particular treatment would, would work. 

WOODAHL: Exactly. With the goal to, you know, improve responses in patients then also diminish side effects.  

KINCH: And, and one of the things that really is fascinating to me about your work is that you're highly attentive to, you know, you refer to this earlier that you've done outreach and work with tribal and rural communities. And, you know, it's a well-known problem obviously in healthcare that there are health disparities that track onto wealth disparities. You know, that, that this kind of treatment is very technical and very expensive, I'm presuming. And so, your field is kind of trying to think about how you deliver that in communities that don't have that infrastructure in place. Talk a little bit more about where you are with that because you have some exciting new work in that area.  

WOODAHL: So, we are at the time now where pharmacogenomics is being used in clinical care, but it's mostly limited to large academic medical centers. You know, people living in big metropolitan areas and people who are generally probably more well off because as you mentioned, it is, it is at a cost although the cost is coming down. Genetic testing is not nearly as expensive as it used to be, but it's still, you know, a burden. And so, one thing that I'm really passionate about is how that, how can we ensure that these exciting innovations, like pharmacogenomics, can reach everybody and not just people who live in urban environments who are probably more well off. 

KINCH: Yeah. And so, talk a little bit about this, this breakthrough publication on – that you developed in collaboration with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.  

WOODAHL: The, the project with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes started in the area of cancer. There was interest in whether patients who were from the Flathead were responding differently to breast cancer medication and particularly one called Tamoxifen. And the physician on the Flathead, who was our primary clinical partner, was really excited about pharmacogenomics and saw that at one day this could be used in the clinic, and she could use it for her patients. But there was concern that without research she wasn't sure if the tests would be applicable to the patients that she treated. So, one of the first things that we did was to look at the genetic sequence of a particular handful of genes that are predictive of how a person may respond to certain medications.  

WOODAHL: So, the liver breaks down most medications we take in our body, and there are particular proteins in the liver that do that. And those proteins can have associated genetic changes that make them work faster than you'd expect or slower than you'd expect, which can then translate into how patients respond to medications.  

KINCH: Yeah. And so, and so what did you discover in this case and how did that kind of play out? 

WOODAHL: So, what we found, we actually published the first paper in a tribal community in the United States about genetic variation in these really important pathways for drug response. And so, you know, what we found we hope will be useful for physicians treating tribal health patients and that, that the test that is used will be comprehensive enough to be useful for tribal patients as well as non-tribal patients. 

KINCH: Yeah. And, and I, but I think too, the part of the story there is the collaborative work, you know? That you work directly with tribal partners. And I think that's such an important sort of thing to say in general about the ethics of doing work with tribes in Montana that they need to have agency and they need to have a, you know, a sense that they're not being colonized by a medical system and, you know, that they're partners in the process. 

WOODAHL: Yeah, absolutely. And we started the research 14 years ago now. There was real concern about partnering with research, especially research in genomics and genetics. And so, it, it took a long time. We went to tribal council several times to propose this work and get approval for this work. So, yeah, it was actually six years from the start of those conversations to when we published that first paper. And in that intervening time, we really took the time to build relationships, to build trust. One of the things we did early on was establish a community advisory board and this group we met with monthly until the start of the pandemic. So, we would travel up to the Flathead reservation, have dinner, talk about the research, get input from our community partners on potential new research areas or how we should be recruiting for these studies to make sure that it was culturally appropriate. And unfortunately, the pandemic kind of put a halt on those meetings. But actually, we were really excited in the fall we were able to restart them virtually. So, our community partners were interested in having virtual Zoom calls for community engagement, which was awesome. One of the things that I've most valued in, in this research is the humanist and the humanities constructs that I need to be thinking about to conduct research with understudied and underserved populations. You know, thinking about historical contexts of why groups might not want to participate in research, thinking about ethical concerns, social implications. So that part of my work has I think been much more rewarding to me than, honestly, even the basic pharmacogenomics stuff that I've been doing for so long and, and has really been the key to our success.  

KINCH: So great to hear you say that and, of course, you were born in Missoula and, and raised in a state where tribal recognition and visibility is, is high and should be higher, right? And it should be a core ethical principle. But it is also one of the great strengths of University of Montana that we have Indigenous researchers and especially research in the humanities, but also in the sciences thinking hard about how to create a more productive interface for the production of knowledge, but also for a kind of ethical reciprocity with tribal communities.  

WOODAHL: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning, our work has really believed in the principles of community-based participatory research where the researchers and the community are equal stakeholders in this project and, you know, we're hopefully both going to have, see some benefit from this research. But yeah, that's – community engagement is really key and I agree there's so much, so many examples to look at the University of Montana and, and I've learned a lot in that area, and it wasn't something I had done previously. 

KINCH: Yeah. And you learned something that I'm, I’m you know, still learning about patience, you know. You refer to that six-year period in which it took to, to, to have that conversation unfold and evolve in a way that was going to be comfortable for both stakeholders. And I think that patience is often something that's missing. It's that, that I think some of the Western and scientific constructs are so efficiency driven, you know, they're about getting that next publication and the next output that it does take some time to really work out and, and of course, the historical framework is part of this that, that we all recognize there are real reasons why there is resistance to participate in research studies because there has been harm done to Native communities specifically by scientists. So, you know, I congratulate you for kind of working on that problem and thinking hard about what it means to be a true partner. 

WOODAHL: Yeah, thanks. And, you know, academics sometimes doesn't allow time for that, you know, with, with the tenure clock and push to publish, publish. And, you know, I feel really fortunate that I was able to have that time to build the relationships, you know, make sure that there was trust in and buy in in the work that we're doing even if it meant, you know, having a publication that came out much later than sometimes the scientific clock sort of demands. 

KINCH: Yeah.  

WOODAHL: Yeah.  

KINCH: Yeah. And you've had some recent developments in some of this outreach work, especially in the rural communities. Could you talk a little bit about that? 

WOODAHL: Sure. So, we've also partnered with Shodair Children's Hospital in Helena. It's a psychiatric children's hospital and it treats kids from all over Montana and a lot of their kids do come from rural communities and tribal communities. They're interested in pharmacogenomics. As I mentioned, pharmacogenomics can be used in mental health as well. So, we're really excited to partner with them and help implement pharmacogenetic testing for those kids.  

KINCH: And, you know, just by the nature of the work you're doing, you know, it has this technical feature, which is quite hard specific STEM. But just everything you've described actually pushes out into these social issues, and also kind of highlights the interdisciplinarity that's kind of necessary for this kind of work. And, you know, your programs in the College of Health, which is a kind of interesting history and has a lot of STEM fields kind of in different umbrellas. So, I'd like to segue, just sort of talk a little bit about what graduate training in the College of Health is like, and what your part has been in it. Especially in sort of pushing forward this Pharmacal Sciences and Drug Design Program, but at the same time working in other allied programs like the Toxicology Program.  

WOODAHL: Yeah, I think, you know, my work has really benefited from being interdisciplinary and not just even within the College of Health, but with my colleagues in the humanities. And I think it's really essential for graduate students to have broad training. A few years ago, we formed a molecular and biomedical sciences umbrella of six graduate programs to break down some of those silos between departments and between programs to give students more opportunities to do collaborative research and work in different labs across campus. 

KINCH: Yeah. So, so, you know, for people who wouldn’t know what that means, kind of walk through that. That means they're admitted, but they're actually moving through a number of different labs before they're kind of specializing or choosing an advisor that they work with.  

WOODAHL: Right. Typically, in those programs students do rotations in their first year to kind of find the lab that fits their research interests, find a mentor. So, with forming this umbrella program, what we hoped was that it'll give students an opportunity to really rotate in labs all across U of M regardless of program or department.  

KINCH: Yeah, yeah. And so that kind of seeds some interactions not just among the students, but also among the faculty. And it kind of keeps a robust discussion going on, on research input. So, it's something we're excited about. So, you've worked quite a bit with graduate students then in Toxicology and also Cellular and Molecular Biology. 

WOODAHL: Right. Yeah. So, I'm the Director of the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Design graduate program. And I sit on a lot of committees for that program. I have also served as a committee member on toxicology graduate program committees and in cellular, molecular and microbial biology.  

KINCH: So, when you're working in that role, you know, what are you looking for in graduate students? What are you, what kinds of skills and attributes and, you know, personality? I mean, obviously there's test scores, but there's an, other aspect of doing science? What are the kinds of things you're looking for? 

WOODAHL: I really look for students who are independent. We are a smaller university, and so a lot of our students might have to be able to, might have to reach out to other researchers not just at the University of Montana but at other universities as well. So, I really look for students who feel comfortable in engaging with other experts. Both from an academics perspective as well as with my research – a clinical perspective too. 

KINCH: Yeah, so building a certain confidence and being, you know, confident in interacting and engaging with a range of people. 

WOODAHL: Right. 

KINCH: Yeah. You, you've spoken to, you know, one of the big challenges especially, I mean it's, it’s actually widespread among graduate students – a sense of imposter syndrome. We, we talk about it a lot in graduate education. I felt it. A lot of people have felt it, you know, that you move into this new world and it's, it's weird. And especially if you don't have an academic background in your family, it kind of can be a little intimidating. But it's particularly intimidating for women in science. And, and I kind of am curious how that plays into your mentorship of female graduate students. 

WOODAHL: Sure. And I am one of those people. My – I'm the first one in my family to be a professor and, you know, so it wasn't something I was familiar with growing up. In fact, I never even really considered it as a career when I was younger. 

KINCH: Yeah. 

WOODAHL: As a possibility. So, when I talk with graduate students especially maybe ones who also came from a background where being a professor or being in academia was a little foreign, I try to demystify it a little bit and sort of, you know, just say we were, we were all there once too you know. 

KINCH: Yeah. 

WOODAHL: Like, you know, unsure of what we were doing and not quite an expert yet. But I try to sort of demystify academia a little bit because I think sometimes that can be a problem for students that they don't see themselves in these roles.  

KINCH: Yeah. That's a great word. We use it a lot on this podcast – “demystifying.” Because I think that's part of the reason why we ask this question about the CV of failures because I think it's important for graduate students to hear that story from their mentors. That our paths have not been these linear success stories. Most of us have run into obstacles and had to really rethink something deep, you know, by failing by, by, you know, getting a publication rejected. And so, you know, on that, on that specific thing about sort of the professionalization, what kind of advice are you giving graduate students on seeking publication and seeking to kind of jump up a level in their work? 

WOODAHL: You know, I really encourage students to take opportunities with traveling to meetings or in this case, you know, going to virtual meetings now. I think it really helps to see sort of the broader world whatever field you're in. But to see what other people are doing around the country and around the world. I think that really helps in the development of graduate students. Of course, publishing is important and yeah, like you said, you know, not being defeated when you get the bad reviews and the rejections it's just kind of part of the process and… 

KINCH: Yeah. 

WOODAHL: Yeah, trying to encourage students that, you know, criticism of your work is – always makes it better, you know? 

KINCH: Yeah. Yeah. In, in my field we call it reader number two. It's the reader number two problem.  

WOODAHL: Yeah.  

KINCH: There's always a, there's always a kind of mean-spirited angry review bear and you can't take it personally.  

WOODAHL: Right. 

KINCH: You have to pull from it what is going to be – make the work better as opposed to feeling defeated. 

WOODAHL: Right. Yeah. Reviewer number two can always be a jerk. 

KINCH: A jerk. Yeah. Yeah. And there are jerks out there.  

WOODAHL: Yeah. Yeah.  

KINCH: And so, want do you want to see in terms of the growth of your graduate students and kind of their trajectories, you know, both, both within the program and beyond? And what do you see? What are, what are you seeing in terms of outcomes of your students? 

WOODAHL: I'm always really impressed when I see my graduate students really change from when they're giving a seminar in their early years, you know, to being not, not maybe not very confident, really nervous, you know, and then when they progress through the program and certainly through their defense, you know, they're just the experts and totally confident. I mean, maybe not totally confident, but you know, much more confidence and that's always just really – I don't know. It always just makes me a little bit sentimental, and I'm very happy for them. And you know, they're like my little babies growing up and… 

KINCH: Yeah, it's validating, right? I mean you can kind of see them make this whole growth trajectory.  

WOODAHL: Yeah.  

KINCH: Yeah. That's cool. Well, I think, you know, the success of your program and, and what your students do once they leave is one of the, one of the things we all take most pride in. What, what do you see in your students’ outcomes that's making you most proud? 

WOODAHL: I'm really proud of all of my students, and they have taken positions in different areas. I really try to encourage my students to think about careers in academia, think about careers in industry. I think that there's lots of opportunities for students and it doesn't have to be just being a professor. So, I've had students do internships at pharmaceutical and biotech companies to see if that's, you know, a career path of interest for them. Actually, my very first Ph.D. student – Sarah Lacher – she is now a professor at the University of Minnesota. And that just makes me really proud. And I actually went out there about a year and a half ago to give a talk and to see her in her element as a professor just made me really proud and happy.  

KINCH: That’s wonderful. 

WOODAHL: Yeah. 

KINCH: So, you were in the news recently for a new initiative that you're, you're working on with Hayley Blackburn and this is the Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation. Tell us a little bit more about that and particularly the role your graduate students are going to play and the kind of principles that underlie how you're kind of extending this work on trying to get pharmacogenomics out into broad communities. 

WOODAHL: Yeah, thanks. Yeah. We're really excited about this new institute. And one of the core missions, as you said, is how can we take pharmacogenomics and other health innovations and ensure that they are more broadly accessible to all Montanans and other people living in more rural areas. Really the institute is meant to be a hub for research, for education and for outreach in pharmacogenomics, in tele-health and in other types of health innovations. From graduate students’ perspective, I've had a couple of graduate students now – Shayna Killam and Tiana Leitch – who've been really actively involved in research to think about how we can help doctors and healthcare systems implement pharmacogenetic testing. So, they've done qualitative research studies to understand what are the needs and sometimes the barriers to getting this kind of stuff in the door. So how do you, you know, how, what are the barriers to adopting any new health technology and particularly questions in this area in pharmacogenomics. So, a great avenue for research for our students in qualitative research as well as graduate study is doing research in population health where we're collecting data on patients and how when we implement pharmacogenetic testing gathering data to see if that improves health outcomes. 

KINCH: That's so interesting. And I think your college in particular with its recent but ongoing kind of reconfigurations, you know, you have this act of public health group over there and, but then they also have this pharmacy practice group. And then you also have these really strong research groups. And so, you know, it's, it's really heartening again from the graduate school perspective to see how graduate students are getting training that allows them to kind of bring together these different perspectives and so much of what we've seen in the last year, to be honest, about COVID has, has taught us that it's not enough to have the right vaccine and it's not enough to even have the right vaccine delivery system. There is this human component, right? How do you get people to, you know, that's just a recent part of this, but, you know, going back to the beginning of the pandemic. So, I love that this project has this qualitative sense of, you know, how can we really think about the human needs side of this.  

WOODAHL: Right. Yeah. And you know, both the human needs and desires from the patient level as well as the practitioner and, yeah, it's been really fun for me. I think in the last ten years, my research has really evolved. Obviously, I'm still doing some of the more basic science aspects in the lab, you know, we're gathering samples, doing genetic testing that kind of thing. But my research has really expanded to include a lot more – it's really expanded to be more community focused, community engagement, qualitative research, and again, you know, relying on some of those liberal arts. I need to use those liberal arts skills that I learned in undergrad. So, it's been actually really rewarding to me that this work has really moved in in a direction that is a lot more humanist, and I really enjoy that.  

KINCH: Well, we end every episode with quick hitters. 

WOODAHL: Okay. 

KINCH: These are either-ors. Or just short answers. Morning or night person? 

WOODAHL: Night, for sure.  

KINCH: Western or Eastern Montana? 

WOODAHL: Western. 

KINCH: Favorite Montana river? 

WOODAHL: The Flathead.  

KINCH: Bitterroots or Pintlers? 

WOODAHL: Bitterroots 

KINCH: Missions or Swans?  

WOODAHL: Missions. 

KINCH: Yellowstone or Glacier? 

WOODAHL: Glacier. 

KINCH: Winter or summer? 

WOODAHL: Oh, probably summer.  

KINCH: Sunrise or sunset? 

WOODAHL: Sunset. 

KINCH: Best Zoom backdrop you've seen during the COVID pandemic? 

WOODAHL: That one with the lawyer who had himself as a cat and he kept saying, “I am not a cat.” It’s so funny.  

KINCH: That's a pretty good one.  

WOODAHL: Yeah. And the judge was like, “I know.” 

KINCH: Yeah, yeah. Last voice you hear in your head when you go to sleep at night?  

WOODAHL: Um, it's probably me wondering why I'm staying up so late when I have to wake up early the next, the next day. 

KINCH: Yeah. I'm familiar with that voice. And evidently, you would not mind listening in perpetuity to Africa's “Toto.” 

WOODAHL: Yeah.  

KINCH: You would bless the rains down in Africa... 

WOODAHL: Yeah, every day. 

KINCH: ...in perpetuity. And do you do it every day? 

WOODAHL: Lately, yeah. It has become kind of the, the song of my household lately.  

KINCH: Yeah. I mean is there any possible way we could get you to sing the chorus? 

WOODAHL: I think it’s always good for professors to embarrass themselves a little bit. 

KINCH: Absolutely. 

WOODAHL: …as if to say, hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you. 

KINCH: This is where we need you strong. 

WOODAHL: Gonna take a lot to get me away from you. 
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. 
I bless the rains down in Africa. 
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had… 

KINCH: You owned that. That was awesome. Thank you so much for joining us, Erica.  

WOODAHL: Yeah, you're welcome. It was really fun.  

KINCH: If you like what you've heard in this episode, you've got a great production team to thank. Jordan Unger, graduate student in UM’s environmental journalism program. And Charles Bolte, a recent graduate of that program. Confluence is brought to you by the graduate school of the University of Montana. Innovation, imagination, and intellect to serve the state, the region, and the world. We'd like to thank UM's School of Journalism and College of Business for their support. If you enjoyed this episode of Confluence, subscribe to our podcast feed at Apple, Google, Spotify, or Stitcher. Give us a like on SoundCloud and stop by the University of Montana grad school website at www.umt.edu/grad for more episodes and videos highlighting our amazing graduate students. Make sure to rate and review to support our enterprise of bringing you the voices of graduate education at the University of Montana. See you on the next float.