This summer, Jesse Popp walked across the stage to receive her doctorate in biology, which she earned under the tutelage of Dr. Frank Mallory.
“My passion for environmental science started when I was a kid,” she said.
Growing up in small communities around Sudbury, Jesse would explore surrounding forests with her mom, who passed on her own knowledge about the local ecology. When she saw a documentary which featured biologists, she instantly knew what she wanted to do with her life.
“I want to do research that can contribute to the preservation of wildlife for future generations,” she said.
Her Ph.D. research focused on elk populations that were reintroduced to different parts of eastern North America, and what made some populations more successful than others.
Thanks to her hard work and perseverance she became our first Indigenous student to earn a doctorate in the natural sciences.
That fact still astounds her.
“I think that needs to change,” she said. “But it is changing. I think Laurentian is doing a great job at working towards attracting more Indigenous students.”
Armed with her newly minted Ph.D. Jesse is doing her part to give Indigenous students the same opportunities she had.
She is now an adjunct professor at Laurentian, and has incorporated Indigenous teachings in her third-year biology course, called “Indigenous Peoples: Ecology, Science and Technology”.
“First Nation culture and knowledge is very important to preserve and pass on,” she said. “I think Laurentian is paving the way, leading by example, really working very hard to attract Indigenous students and to incorporate Indigenous content into courses and programs.”
In addition to her new role at Laurentian, Jesse is also a wildlife specialist with the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre. She is working with Anishinabek communities to monitor local wildlife populations.
As a mother of two young children, her position as a role model for young Indigenous people is one she doesn’t take lightly. “I would hope that by my example I can contribute to inspiring people to follow their dreams,” she said.