photos by Jessica Curtis

"I find great joy in sharing my knowledge about the natural world and the issues about biodiversity we are facing today." - Ivana Mali

Dr. Ivana Mali, originally from Serbia, is an assistant professor of biology.

Before coming to ENMU she was a postdoctoral researcher at Texas State University.

She has a bachelor’s in biology from Henderson State University, a master’s in wildlife ecology and a doctorate in aquatic resources from Texas State University.

Dr. Mali enjoys spending time with her dogs. Long walks, play dates and camping are a few of the activities she likes to do with them.

"Outside of work they are my greatest joy," said Dr. Mali.

She chose her career because she has always liked being outside.

"As a little girl, I spent most of my time chasing critters around my grandparents’ farm. When I first came to the U.S. over 10 years ago, I got an opportunity to become a wildlife biologist. I was interested in a little bit of everything but my master’s project was on turtles back in 2008 and they have been my passion ever since," said Dr. Mali.

She explained that when she does field work, she feels like that same kid on her grandparents’ farm, "except that now it is my job and I love it."

Because turtles are Dr. Mali’s expertise is, she closely follows any research pertaining to them.

"There are several scientists in New Mexico that have recently shown interest in turtles. Last month, we held a turtle working group meeting and it is my hope to start some turtle research at ENMU soon," explained Dr. Mali.

Since her arrival she has become interested in the rodent diversity in this area and is currently getting into work that looks at small mammal communities, their ectoparasites (a parasite, such as a flea, that lives on the outside of its host) and how small animals act as disease vectors.

Two main factors for Dr. Mali being interested in her position at Eastern were that she would be teaching courses in wildlife biology that she is passionate about, including mammalogy, herpetology and landscape ecology. She found the geographical area itself interesting because it is home to many unique species that she has research interests in.

"I really enjoy it here, especially my department. People are friendly, my colleagues are helpful with any questions I have had thus far and I look forward to our future research and teaching collaborations," said Dr. Mali.

At the beginning of her Ph.D. career research was all she was interested in. However, once she began teaching labs she found teaching very rewarding and recognized that she was good at it. That’s when she realized that she wanted education to be the core of her professional career.

"I find great joy in sharing my knowledge about the natural world and the issues about biodiversity we are facing today. It is on us, teachers, to educate young minds so we and they can preserve natural resources for future generation," said Dr. Mali.

She firmly believes that education is the key in protecting natural world or at least slowing the rate of biodiversity loss. One of her favorite teaching tactics is taking students into the field.

"In wildlife biology, you cannot learn everything in the classroom. You have to go outside and get dirty. Showing my students how to trap and handle animals, and how to conduct field work with a purpose, I find most rewarding. It is a lot of work but also a lot of fun," explained Dr. Mali.

She has three people she considers mentors: her master thesis advisor Dr. Simpson, her Ph.D. advisor Dr. Forstner, and her Ph.D. advisor’s advisor Dr. Dixon.

"It is not because of their titles, but each one of them molded me into the scientist and teacher I am today. I often call Dr. Simpson a "walking library"; there is no vertebrate in Texas he cannot name," said Dr. Mali

According to Dr. Mali, he is an excellent teacher and everything she knows about wildlife management and conservation concepts she owes to him. He continues to be an inspiration to her while she is still developing her teaching techniques.

"Dr. Forstner and Dr. Dixon were both a great influence during my graduate education. They inspired me to work hard on the projects for days, months, years and, when I am really tired, to turn around and work some more.

She considers being where she is today as her greatest accomplishment. Dr. Mali was born and raised in a small village in Serbia.

"Serbia is a tiny country in southeast Europe, where political and economic instability made life difficult. I was lucky enough get an athletic scholarship and come to the U.S., and ever since I have taken advantage of every available opportunity. I would not be where I am today if not for my wonderful family, who is still in Serbia, and all the wonderful people I met here in the U.S.," explained Dr. Mali.

She has been playing volleyball since she was 10 and attributes that to what brought her to the United States.

"Growing up in Yugoslavia/Serbia was fun but it had its challenges. Trips to my grandparents’ farm were probably my most fond memories. Nonetheless, the Yugoslavia civil war of the early 1990s and then the bombings related to the Kosovo conflict of 1999, made living uneasy.

"I remember the country having electricity restrictions with eight hours on and eight hours off shifts which sometimes required studying under the candles with lots of layers of clothes. But what does not kill you makes you stronger, right?" said Dr. Mali.

Her family--mother and two older sisters--are still in Serbia. Her mother is a retired music teacher and all the family on her father’s side, including one of her sisters, went to law school.

"I definitely broke the tradition," said Dr. Mali.