Biology Professor Follows in Footsteps of Late Mentor

by Elizabeth Jonson | Nov 01, 2018
Dr. Leesia C. Marshall uses grief of mentor to inspire her work.

As often stated by many LSUA students, one of the best things about this University is the relationship students can develop with their professors. These kinds of relationships exceed the classroom and maintain strong bonds as years and careers progress. LSUA professors have not always just assumed this role however; at one point, these teachers used to be students with great mentors. For Assistant Professor of Biology at LSUA, Dr. Leesia Marshall, her experience was no different.

Dr. Marshall, who has been on campus since Fall 2015, was recently named the Associate Editor of The Auk, the official peer-reviewed scientific publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union. Additionally, her manuscript “100 Years Ago in the American Ornithologists’ Union” was published in The Auk in September. While Marshall is extremely honored with the appointment and publication, they both come with an extremely heavy heart.

On April 9, 2018, Marshall received devastating news. Her mentor, friend and close colleague, Dr. Kimberly G. Smith, passed away suddenly. Smith, a professor at the University of Arkansas, was Marshall’s major professor and mentor during her postgraduate work. As Marshall began her master’s research under Smith’s guidance, Smith simultaneously began his tenure as the newest Editor of The Auk. She was able to observe Kim improve the journal through new innovations including introducing “100 Years Ago in the American Ornithologists’ Union” into the journal and maintaining its quarterly publication. As a result, their bond formed and Marshall observed a first-hand account of a love for the history of their profession as well as scientific literature. It did not take long for Smith to instill this in Marshall.

“Kim’s death came as a great blow,” she stated. “He instilled in me a curiosity, love, and respect for the history of my professions in ecology and ornithology. He taught me a great deal about our academic ancestors, and to treat each individual, past and present, with humor and generosity.”

Following the month after Smith’s death, Marshall was contacted by (then) Editor-In-Chief of The Auk and asked to carry on his article, “100 Years Ago in the American Ornithologists’ Union.” After wrestling with her grief, Marshall decided to take on the role as a way of honoring Smith.

Upon Marshall’s decision to fill the role, she decided to follow a similar format as Kim. The first manuscript to be published in a given year will provide an overview of the American Ornithologists’ Union’s annual meeting 100 years ago, a discussion of the fellows and membership of that time, and events that characterize that year. The following three quarterly manuscripts cover the science published in the four volumes of The Auk exactly 100 years ago as well as the events that led to the science being done and how that science has evolved since.

As this difficult year comes to a close for Marshall, her work in the LSUA classrooms continues. An instructor of Environmental Science, Ecology and Introductory Biology (among other courses), these are just a small part of her daily duties. Like her beloved Kim, Marshall also mentors undergraduates in research in Avian Behavioral Ecology and Aquatic Ecology. Most importantly, Marshall states, “I just hope Kim will continue to be seen through my work with students and at The Auk.”