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Assistant professor of biology shares his love of nature

Dr. Scott Jones, UNF assistant professor of biologyDr. Scott F. Jones, assistant professor in the department of biology, dedicates his research to the study of coastal and wetland ecosystems. An avid nature lover, the Minnesota native, who began teaching at UNF in fall 2022, says he has a "soft spot for plants." In addition to his teaching duties, he serves as principal investigator of WE ~ ECO, a group of UNF researchers investigating the impact of environmental changes on coastal ecosystems.

What were your career aspirations as a child?
In elementary school, I wanted to be a scientist so I could go to the rainforest and find 'the cure' for cancer. This idea was almost certainly inspired by watching "The Magic School Bus" and generally being fascinated by nature and the outdoors.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in biology?
I've always been interested in science and trying to understand how things work. As I grew up, I realized I enjoyed being out in nature and was particularly fascinated with plants, so I majored in biology as an undergraduate. I was lucky to get an opportunity to conduct a summer research project doing field botany after my sophomore year. I was hooked forever on field biology. Both biology and ecology allow me to lean into my curiosity about the world around us and there's always another string to pull on or a question to ask. As I learned more about the current human-caused climate crisis, studying how living things respond to environmental change, felt timely and pressing.
What courses do you currently teach?
I currently teach General Biology II, Plant Anatomy & Physiology and Coastal Ecosystem Ecology, with a few other courses in the works.
Describe your teaching style and how you engage with your students
I am always developing my teaching style and learning how best to engage each group of students, but I would generally describe my style as more of a guide/facilitator than an orator/sage. I try to clearly communicate expectations to students so they can focus less on reading my mind and more on mastering concepts. I'm a big believer that less (content) is more (conceptual understanding). In the classroom, I sprinkle in more active approaches to engage students in the learning process, having them wrestle with questions and discuss together. Ultimately, I believe learning is up to the student, so I try to provide all the resources and support they need to do the work necessary for growth. My weak dad jokes and abysmal meme game also give students something to groan about, keeping morale high.
What are your current research interests/previous interests?
The WE ~ ECO lab focuses on how coastal and wetland ecosystems respond to environmental change. I’m particularly interested in how to quantify ecological resilience, rare plant species conservation and wetland greenhouse gas fluxes. Much of our work investigates how coastal systems are coping with climate change stressors like sea-level rise and salinity intrusion. In general, I enjoy collaborative research and would like to be a bridge to connect people so we can tackle big issues in ecology.
What fascinates you about the field of botany and wetland and coastal ecosystem ecology?
So many things! The more I study the plants that make up the foundation of coastal and wetland ecosystems, the more amazed I am at their adaptation to living in very harsh places. Coastal wetlands in particular are incredibly complex, making them fascinating and frustrating systems to try to understand. They are a meeting place of land and water, terrestrial and aquatic and integrate entire watersheds. This challenge keeps me engaged and interested. There's so much we still don’t know about how these systems work, how they are changing and how we might be able to best manage and conserve them for future generations. 
What do you like best about teaching at UNF?
The students at UNF make teaching and research a joy. Students know what hard work looks like and I’m consistently learning new things from my students. They aren’t afraid to get uncomfortable or dirty, which makes teaching lab courses and conducting field research easier. Being able to mentor students and help them parse out what the next right step is for their careers is incredibly rewarding and often humbling. Of course, my colleagues in Biology and beyond make working at UNF great — from meeting other new faculty to being mentored by folks who have been here for decades, the people at UNF are kind and passionate. 
What jobs have you had before teaching at UNF?
Before coming to UNF, I worked at a nonprofit land conservancy in West Michigan doing land management/restoration. Also, I was a post-doc at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in the marshes south of New Orleans and was a federal scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's (UGSS) Western Ecological Research Center in Davis, California. USGS was my most recent job before UNF, where I primarily focused on conducting management-relevant ecological research in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. My first paid job was delivering papers with my dad before I could drive. 
What book(s) are you currently reading or recently read?
I mostly read scientific journal articles (ok, I skim the abstracts), but recently I read "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry with my partner and thoroughly enjoyed it. I generally like dark comedy or fantasy/sci-fi for fiction and re-visionary history for nonfiction. I also read a lot of children's books with my kids; Mo Willems, the Magic Tree House series and anything illustrated by Dan Santat are favorites. 
Who/what inspires you?
My partner and kids inspire me in ways big and small. 
What do you like to do in your free time (hobbies)?
I enjoy getting outdoors with my family whenever possible — from hiking around local trails to tent-camping trips on state/national conservation lands. I also enjoy listening to and attempting to play music and I am unlikely to turn down a good craft beer. 
What is one thing your colleagues may not know about you?
I’m a tenor and have been singing off and on since being a grade-school choirboy. I'm a bit rusty now since it’s been a few years.