At 4 or 5 years old, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) graduate student Matt Finzel remembers exploring the great outdoors, letting curiosity be his guide! From ‘bugs’ to botany, Matt was interested in all things natural history.
“I’ve always been a natural historian whether I realized it or not,” Matt explained. “I spent my youth flipping over rocks and logs in the yard to look for ‘bugs’ to put in my aquarium and study. I needed to have one of every kind that I found, and if I found something new my mom would never hear the end of my latest scientific discovery.”
He had an early connection to plants and working with the land, since his family were always vegetable gardeners, and Matt’s dad would often take him for walks in the woods near their house. “My dad would tell me the (wrong) names of plants, but what difference did I know when I was 8 years old?,” he said.
However, Matt really discovered his passion for plants and Midwest ecology while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the University of Minnesota.
“During my freshman year of undergraduate my policy internship fell through the cracks and they weren’t able to fund me anymore,” Matt explained. “So, I applied for a last minute internship at a local conservation agency in northern Illinois and became completely infatuated with ecological restoration and learning all of the plants.”
Now Matt is a master’s student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He recently answered a few questions about his graduate school experience so far and his research.
What do you love about attending U of I and working with INHS?
I love working with INHS because there seems to be an expert for anything you could possibly think of related to ecology in Illinois. The willingness to collaborate and the encouragement to grow together has been really refreshing so far. My curiosity has no limits here.
Tell us a little about your graduate research. What work are you most proud of?
My graduate research has me using large datasets from INHS to search for indicator plant species of high-quality wetlands in Illinois. This project is still in its early stages as this is my first semester, but so far I am proud of how deeply I have begun to think about quality control and organization, as well as the amount I have been able to read and comprehend.
How will your work impact future generations?
Wetlands are very important for a number of anthropogenic reasons and values. Clean water is a finite resource. Wetlands host some of the greatest biodiversity in the prairie state. Finding new and rapid ways to assess and identify high-quality wetlands will make prioritization and conservation efforts more efficient.