YELLOW BAY, FLATHEAD LAKE – With a few seductive chords plucked on her web, the female Sierra Dome spider (Neriene litigiosa) hijacks the neuro response of potential suitors and makes them go into a trance. As she strums her love song, potential partners start battling to be her next groupie.
This exotic arachnid courtship never fails to intrigue University of Montana student Sebastian Driver, who has spent the past two summers at UM’s Flathead Lake Biological Station studying an array of different species.
“I’ve always been interested in behavioral ecology,” Driver said while observing the Sierra Dome dance. “I enjoy studying the natural behaviors of animals. You really get to know them.”
The biological station is an ecological research and education center in Northwest Montana. For over 100 years, students from a variety of academic backgrounds have come to the station to conduct research and take courses focused on the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. This ecosystem encompasses the Rocky Mountain region of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta.
Driver is enrolled in UM’s “Four Plus One” program, which is designed for students to complete an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology and a Master of Public Administration in five years instead of six.
“An MPA is a practical and flexible graduate degree that is relevant for individuals with a wide range of career interests,” said Dr. Shannon Vaughan, director of the Department of Public Administration and Policy at UM. “Earning an MPA through UM’s Four Plus One program helps students like Sebastian combine the specialized knowledge of their undergraduate major with the organizational management skills learned throughout the MPA program, in an accelerated timeframe.
“This reduces tuition costs and gives them a head start toward achieving successful careers in the public and nonprofit sectors,” she added.
For students like Driver, the program is a fast track to the workforce.
“I want to make an impact in the wildlife biology realm and saw the Four Plus One program as the quickest way to achieve this,” he said.
By pairing a hard science with an MPA from the Department of Public Administration and Policy, Driver feels he is becoming a more rounded person.
“I have learned how to interface with the public to better explain complex scientific datasets in ways more people can relate to,” he said. “This is a key skill in getting study results to the public in a way that is tangible.”
Driver finds that studying the behaviors of different species also helps him reflect on his own life.
“There is a lot of time for you to sit and think,” said Driver. “You get plenty of opportunity to sit in a calm place and be in nature.”
As he resumes watching a Sierra Dome spiderweb, Driver sees a bright future as a scientist and looks forward to a long career of sharing his love of the natural world.
“There she goes,” Driver marks another note in his observation book as he sits front row to the courtship dance. “Those guys don’t have a chance.”
Contact: Phil Stempin, director of events, marketing and communications, UM Alexander Blewett III School of Law, 406-243-6509, email@example.com.