July 2017 Young Alum of the Month

Karin Jokela looks at a butterfly

Name: Karin Jokela

Title and company:

Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Farmer-Owner and Native Plant Producer, Sogn Valley Farm

Hometown: Plymouth, MN

Major and graduation date: ‘15 M.S. ecology and evolutionary biology

What are your position responsibilities?

As an employee with the Xerces Society, I am contracted as a partner biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I provide NRCS staff and farmers with conservation planning and training focused on the habitat needs of pollinators and other beneficial insects on farms. I help develop and implement conservation plans to create and restore habitat. I also assist with habitat evaluation and restoration efforts for the monarch butterfly, rusty-patched bumblebee and other declining species.

In addition, my husband, Dana, and I own and operate a 14-acre organic vegetable farm in Cannon Falls, Minn. While Dana (‘15 M.S. horticulture and sustainable agriculture) works full time on the farm, I also work part-time propagating and selling Minnesota native plants for use in pollinator gardens, rain gardens and habitat restoration projects.

How did you connect with the Xerces Society?

I have been a Xerces Society “groupie” for many years, and I often daydreamed about the possibility of working with them one day. I discovered the Xerces Society’s pollinator conservation programs while studying aquatic invertebrates as an undergraduate. These programs inspired me to research insect conservation and prairie restoration in graduate school. My graduate advisor, Diane Debinski, was an important mentor in my research and professional life, and she encouraged me to apply for the position I have today with Xerces.

Prior to working with the Xerces Society, I’ve worked on pollinator survey efforts in Minnesota through the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota. Most recently, I worked as a restoration ecologist for Great River Greening, a non-profit in St. Paul. This combination of experiences, plus my farming background and enthusiasm for the Xerces Society mission allow me to fit seamlessly into my current position.

 What is the highlight of your position?

I have one of those rare entomologist jobs that focuses on conservation rather than pest management. My job is to encourage farmers to admire, respect and promote the beneficial insects on their farms. It’s not a difficult task, as the farmers I tend to work with are committed to protecting the land and communities that sustain them. Working with conservation-minded farmers invigorates me to make our own farm as healthy and ecologically diverse as possible.

What was your favorite ISU course?

While I enjoyed my science and ecology coursework, the professional development and communications courses were essential in helping me to refine my career interests and clearly explain my research to a variety of audiences. A few of my favorite include Graduate Studies 529: Preparing Publishable Thesis Chapters, Plant Pathology 628X: Improving Your Professional Speaking Skills, and Graduate Studies 585: Preparing Future Faculty Seminar. I also really enjoyed teaching Biology 312: Ecology lab. Preparing each lesson was a great way for me to review and clarify ecological concepts. Plus, it was fun to get students excited about field biology!

How did your collegiate experience prepare you for the “real world”?

My mentors and colleagues at Iowa State University encouraged me to continue my habit of reaching out to professionals with intriguing careers. Our lab regularly met with visiting seminar speakers, and we were expected to attend and participate in conferences and symposiums. I also learned to juggle many responsibilities in graduate school, which has undoubtedly helped me in my post-collegiate life managing work, farm and family commitments.

What drives you?

The invertebrate world is endlessly fascinating to me, and I am privileged to spend my days learning and teaching about these amazing, diverse creatures.