Delia Owens creates ecology fellowship at University of Georgia

Delia Owens, author of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” recently made a $50,000 commitment to the University of Georgia to establish the Delia Owens Fellowship in Ecology.

For Owens, creating support for graduate students—specifically, doctoral students in Ecology or Integrative Conservation and Ecology in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology—is something that hits close to home.

“I remember what it’s like to be a graduate student,” said Owens, who received a bachelor’s of science in zoology from UGA in 1971. “I had been working for seven years, doing research for zero salary, when I decided to go to graduate school. I was basically broke, wondering how I was going to pay for it, when someone came along with a scholarship, and I’ve never forgotten that. So, I thought ‘well, I can do the same thing for other people.’”

The Thomasville native’s $50,000 pledge will be matched by the UGA Foundation to establish a $100,000 fund that will create the Odum School’s first doctoral student scholarship. Initially, the scholarship will prioritize summer stipends for Ph.D. students, who often go without support while performing field work in remote locations during the summer months, or for the development of research projects separate from those funded by students’ faculty mentors.

“I thank Dr. Owens for her generosity and express my gratitude to the UGA Foundation for their ongoing support of student scholars,” said Sonia Altizer, interim dean of the Odum School. “Scholarships like this one are crucial for recruiting and retaining outstanding, diverse graduate students to the Odum School, to produce the next generation of leaders in the field of ecology.”

The idea to create a fellowship came after UGA Libraries proposed that Owens donate her papers—manuscripts, records, field notes, research papers, and more—to the university’s Special Collections Libraries.

“I was so honored by that,” said Owens. “Just a couple of months into the publication of ‘Crawdads,’ they asked me to donate my archives. It’s something I hadn’t even thought about, but now it’s wonderful to know that my notes and so forth will be preserved.”

With her archives secured in a place where they could be of use to generations of students, it didn’t take long for Owens to consider other ways she could help UGA students. Owens chose ecology as her fund’s focus not just because it’s been at the center of her career—she co-wrote three non-fiction natural history books before “Where the Crawdads Sing”—but because she feels supporting the study of ecology is of the utmost importance.

Doctoral students from the Odum School of Ecology observe the landscape of Sapelo Island, Georgia, as part of an ecology course in 2022.

Doctoral students from the Odum School of Ecology observe the landscape of Sapelo Island, Georgia, as part of an ecology course in 2022.

“Ecology has always been important, but right now it’s critical,” said Owens. “We’re down at our own one-yard line. We’re not where we want to be right now with Earth. So, we have to do everything we can to keep our first-string in there, and hopefully this fellowship helps us do that.”

Owens becoming a graduate student may have seemed unlikely before she went to UGA—“In high school, my friends never thought of me as a good student”—but she credits a liberating experience in Athens for opening a world of possibilities to her.

“Just opening the catalog and seeing all the courses I could take was eye-opening,” said Owens. “I knew I loved nature, but I had never seen all the details of how I could explore that. And I had a great professor, Dr. Murray Blum, who made me realize how connected all the different sciences are. It felt like he really brought me into the field of science more than just teaching me as a student.”

That feeling is one she hopes her fellowship can help students experience: realizing that they can be a valuable part of the scientific community, even as a student.

“That was an important part of the process,” said Owens. “A lot of people fail when they perceive this huge line between student and scientist. But if you have the right help, you realize ‘I can do this,’ and you can start passing that line early on in your career.”

Owens currently lives in North Carolina, where she is working on her next novel, a story of mystery, romance and nature that weaves an ecological message into the narrative.

More information on UGA Graduate School scholarship and fellowship opportunities can be found at

Oh, Danny Boy!

Ireland-born Daniel Harris’s environmental work is all about making the world … green

Daniel Harris has a fond childhood memory. He’s a toddler on a shoreline near Sligo, his Irish birthplace. Bundled in oilskins, he’s helping his parents gather periwinkles, a tidal shellfish, to sell in town.

“It’s pretty clear from this memory,” Harris says, “that my career traipsing through intertidal waters and the natural world began at an early age.”

Daniel locating a puffin

As a kid, Daniel found a puffin nest on Skellig Michael. His dad would go on to see that same marked puffin every year for more than a decade.

The traipsing never stopped. Harris is currently polishing his dissertation for a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Georgia.

Harris came to the United States in 2006, after completing his undergraduate studies in geology and zoology from the National University of Ireland, Galway. After absorbing Southern culture from Georgia family members, he fell into a job in coastal waters almost by chance.

Or maybe it was the luck o’ the Irish.

“My aunt got jury duty, and another juror had a son who worked for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources,” Harris says. “They talked, and I learned about a job opening with UGA’s Marine Extension Service (MAREX). I applied and then found out my boss was also Irish and a NUIG alum.”

Harris guided oyster restoration projects and oyster shell recycling programs along Georgia’s rich Atlantic intertidal coastline.

Daniel Harris

Daniel is just one example of thousands of committed graduate students at the University of Georgia who are seeking to change the world through their research and service.

“I worked as program coordinator for G.E.O.R.G.I.A., which stands for Generating Enhanced Oyster Reefs in Georgia’s Inshore Areas,” Harris says. “I fell in love with the Georgia coast and its people.”

After praise for a presentation on his green work at “Restoring America’s Estuaries,” a big conference in Texas, Harris began to consider graduate studies in ecology.

He knew James Byers of UGA’s Odum School of Ecology, who conducted research on the coast not far from Harris’s MAREX office. Harris raised his profile with Byers, volunteering to help his team of researchers in various ways, including loaning expert boating skills. (Harris has thousands of hours of small craft piloting.)

Harris applied for the university’s doctoral program in 2012, and Byers gladly became his advisor.

“Daniel,” Byers says, “has used drone and airplane aerial photography, plus field and lab experiments, to study the relationship of two beneficial coastal organisms–the oyster and the smooth cordgrass growing everywhere in the Georgia estuary system. Daniel’s work has furthered our knowledge about how they interact.”

“Like the beaver,” Harris explains, “both species are ecosystem engineers, designing the environments around them. Our work mapped the distribution patterns of these two species, and we studied how those patterns might change with changes in climate and sea level.”

Harris says financial support from UGA has been fundamental, funding MAREX, where he worked six years, and relieving costs of his UGA studies and research.

“All of my work has been in Georgia,” Harris says gratefully, “and it’s been very much helped by people at UGA or affiliated with UGA.”

In 2020, Harris moved on to work with Katharyn Boyer at the Estuary and Ocean Science Center at San Francisco State University while finishing his dissertation. Harris and his researcher fiancée, Laura Hollander (BSFR ’09), share a tiny house a short walk from San Francisco Bay, where Harris designs innovative reef structures for oyster habitat in San Francisco Bay and researches habits of an endangered marsh bird.

The color green, to many Irishmen, means St. Patrick’s Day. Harris appreciates the holiday honoring Ireland’s patron saint, but he explains that the holiday is a much bigger occasion in the U.S. than it is in Ireland. He recalls colorful childhood parades, but nothing on the scale of holiday festivities like those in Savannah, where he lived five years during his Georgia coastal work.

Men in a St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland

A St. Patrick’s Day parade on Achill Island features gentlemen wearing the bushes of shamrock that are characteristic of the celebration in Ireland.

“Now that’s a spectacle,” Harris says. “For two of the years I was there, the Savannah parade was the best-attended St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world–bigger than Boston’s or New York’s.”

“Not many people in Ireland would put on those shamrock-embroidered green blazers they wear in Savannah,” he laughs. “But it sure is a sight to see.”

Young Daniel Harris on St. Patrick's Day

Daniel, shown here with his St. Patrick’s Day hat and badge, was always up to no good, he says. He’d charge the drunken men to use the pub toilets in his hometown.


A few notes:

  • Daniel’s father is publishing a book about life on Skellig Michael, an island off the west coast of Ireland. Read more about the book and peek at a photo of Daniel on the island … stalked by a puffin!
  • The Savannah Alumni Chapter will host a float in the 2022 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Follow their Instagram account for more details.

This profile was written by Charles McNair.


What do you really know about bats?

Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh BAT … WEEK! Not what you were expecting? Neither was I until the Odum School of Ecology launched their Bulldogs for Bats campaign. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about bats that has completely reshaped my opinion. Much like the beloved DC Comics superhero who saves Gotham, bats are saving local ecosystems in the night and are often misunderstood. From Australia to right here in Athens, Georgia, bats serve as natural pest control and are essential pollinators of many plants.

So what’s Bat Week, you ask? It’s an international, annual celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation. And it starts today! Did you know bats face risk of disease, habitat loss, pesticide use and wind energy, just to name a few? Diminishing numbers of bats pose a threat not only to the functioning of healthy ecosystems, but also to human well-being. Insect-eating bats, including the 16 species found in Georgia, save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year in pest control costs and crop damage. Bats also help control mosquito populations and may reduce the risk of emerging diseases, such as West Nile Virus, in the Southeast. This week, we’re spreading awareness about the vital role bats play, and how you can help save them.

Bulldogs for Bats is a campaign that’s been running the entire month of October to raise support for bat conservation efforts. All funds donated will provide local bats with a safe, sustainable environment while enhancing student learning and research opportunities. While many of our graduate students have conducted fieldwork research abroad, building bat houses in the community will provide students more chances for experiential learning and hands-on research right in our backyard.

So when you see some of these so-called “spooky” creatures on Halloween, think of the difference they’re making in our environment. And please consider saving the bats—what better time than during Bat Week?