MA English '59, AB '58
When I stepped onto the quad for the first time since 1959, I gasped. The memories of those cherished years at Illinois flooded back. Meeting Katie that day was a real gift. I funded her dissertation research travel and was finally meeting her in person. Over lunch and through the afternoon, I was struck by how articulate she was and the ease with which she describes her work. Katie’s work required her to spend months in Mexico’s Palenque National Park, studying foraging behavior and gut bacteria in black wild howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). I believe her unique research may help us solve food shortages far into the future.
Our campus meeting was not our first communication. Through her web page, Katie kept me up to speed on the howlers. In fact, I was so inspired, I visited local howler monkeys in my own home area zoo in Santa Ana, California. Because of my connection with Katie’s work, this visit was mandatory and revelatory. She guided me as to how she conducted “focal observations” so that I could try it myself. Four hours later I could no longer focus—I don’t know how she does it!
Looking back on my own experience as a teacher for 38 years, I would not have had such an enjoyable career had I not had the benefits of a University of Illinois education. The wonderful Paul Landis, the meticulous Edward Nehls and a legion of others were inspirational. Back then, my education was virtually free. Not so today. I decided I should do something to give back—and what a meaningful experience it has been to work with the Graduate College to support one of Illinois’ academic stars.
Katherine R. Amato
PhD Candidate Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology
Recipient of Graduate College Dissertation Travel Grant and Illinois Distinguished Fellow.
For many of us, especially grad students who work internationally, project funding determines when we can start field investigations and how long those investigations will last. The Dissertation Travel Grant lessened my dependence on large, external grants by ensuring that I could travel back and forth to my field site when I needed to. Instead of wasting time waiting for decision letters, I was able to continue executing my research plan. The relationship that I developed with Roslyn, the donor responsible for my Travel Grant, has also been greatly rewarding.
It’s easy to feel isolated as a graduate student, but this friendship - and others I have made as a result of this grant - makes me feel that I truly am a part of the greater University of Illinois community.
My research combines molecular biology and field primatology to investigate the relationship between primate foraging behavior and beneficial gut microbial communities. I work with the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) in Palenque National Park, Mexico. The black howler is only found in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala and is associated with Mayan archeological sites throughout the region. It is listed as endangered (IUCN 2009).
Katherine R. Amato
Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology