Romi Lynn Burks

Notable Achievements

Professor of Biology Romi Burks participated in the first-ever Chocolate Conservatory, sponsored by the Fine Chocolate and Cacao Institute, held at Harvard University, Oct. 1112. The conference sought to link those academically interested in chocolate with industry professionals and producers from regions where they harvest cacao. Following the Conservatory, Burks gave an invited talk titled “Delicious Science” at the first New England Chocolate Festival. The First-Year Seminar Program provided support for these experiences, which Burks hopes will develop into case-study resources for teaching about chocolate across the liberal arts.

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Expertise

Aquatic ecology, wetland science, apple snails, invertebrate biology and CHOCOLATE

Hi! I’m @ProfRomi, an aquatic ecologist at Southwestern University. Visit my comprehensive webpage at www.profromi.com to learn more about my integration of research, teaching and life-long education in chocolate.

In my science life, I work as an aquatic ecologist interested in how ecological life histories influence behavior, diversity and distribution of freshwater invertebrates. My research at Southwestern focuses primarily on a group of large freshwater snails - commonly called apple snails because they can reach the size of an apple. In Texas, one species, Pomacea maculata (formerly P. insularum), occurs as a non-native, invasive species but has native populations in South America.  Besides apple snails, we have added another “mystery” to our investigations by examining the population genetics of Asian mysterysnails as well. My lab has adopted a number of applications of molecular ecology to study freshwater snails. In particular, I collaborate with colleagues and student researchers to investigate questions of diversity and distribution.

My research has included an international collaboration in Uruguay where native apple snails occur and current partnerships with Dr. Kenneth Hayes to study patterns of diversity and distribution of apple snails, with Dr. Matthew Barnes at Texas Tech to investigate applications of environmental DNA and with Dr. Russ Minton at Gannon University to tackle the mysterysnail questions..

I obtained by PhD from the University of Notre Dame in 2000 and my BS and BA from Loyola University Chicago in 1995.

How I seek to “Engage Minds and Transform Lives”

I teach because I never stopped being a student  The motto of my alma mater, Loyola University Chicago, states a dedication to preparing students to live extraordinary lives. Live beyond the ordinary. I have learned that the extraordinary aspect of living comes when we learn to function comfortably outside the norm, or ordinary. In The Courage to Teach, Education expert Parker Parmer writes of the courage necessary to take on this extraordinarily influential role of a teacher and states that students who learn are the finest fruits of teachers who teach. If I considered myself the fruit in that metaphor, I matured under close guidance of my professors. Now, I plant my own seeds, nourish them with 3 basic truths and watch them transform.

Truth 1: Teach who you are (Live the Teacher-Scholar Model):

I place much faith in the practice of teach who you are. I am a planner, a scientist, an English major, a systematic individual, a lover of rubrics, an animal lover and a pretty creative thinker, although the dominance of these personalities changes depending on the task. I am also intense (students sometimes unfortunately mistake this for intimidating). I prefer the terms dedicated, direct and passionate. I believe in the learning process. Teaching who I am translates into genuine enthusiasm for teaching that students clearly recognize. I think this goes a long way toward being a successful long-term Southwestern faculty member. My undergraduate experience at a liberal arts university shaped the way I see connections between teaching and disciplines. By willing to experiment with innovative approaches, extraordinary things happen.

Truth 2: Make your classroom another lab (enhancing the Teacher half of the model)

For me, part of engaging minds involves shifting the way students approach questions. I wear many different hats during any given day at Southwestern. However, my scientist hat feels permanently glued to my head and my approach to each class mirrors my scientific side. Through experimenting with different teaching strategies and pedagogies, I refine my approaches in small slices. Without frequent enough change, things get stale. Still, I try and resist changing too much at once. I try to see each class as a series of small-scale experiments. Somewhat literally, I hope that I routinely engage a lot of little wheels turning in the heads of my students when I stress that everything eventually connects to everything else and that the study of life does not occur in a vacuum but spans disciplines. Of the few hundred evaluations of Biodiversity, one in particular sticks in my mind. I don’t remember which year but one student wrote something like ‘Dr. Burks ruined me. I cannot watch TV, go shopping or to the movies or even relax without finding examples of biology everywhere.’ I do not know if the student meant that as a compliment but I take it as one.

Truth 3: Make your lab another classroom (enhancing the Scholar half of the model)

My experience has taught me that the extraordinary happens through the process of teaching students the art of doing ecological research. In the beginning, I found it hard to recruit students early enough to invest in the long-term nature of research. I also found that snails are not necessarily as sexy to students as something medically-related like cancer. It takes my enthusiasm for the crazy critters or the word from one of the already ecologically-converted to convince some students otherwise. Students make up my lab community and I consider them real contributors to the research. The practice of guiding students through the complete scientific process (i.e. where outcome results in some type of publication) serves as the best evidence of my teaching effectiveness. I look for every opportunity to combine teaching and research. I do not consider them separate or opposing pursuits. I teach research methods and I research teaching methods.

Awards & Honors

2016 - 2017:

  • SU, Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Works
  • International Chocolate Awards Worlds Final, Judge, London

2015 - 2016:

  • Fulbright Alternate
  • Speaker, Dallas Chocolate Festival and Northwest Chocolate Festival

2014 - 2015:

  • International Chocolate Awards, Judge, Americas Competition, NY

2013 - 2014:

  • Mentor: Women Evolving the Biological Sciences
  • Collaborator: American Museum of Natural History

2010-2012:

  • NSF-IRES Principal Investigaor
  • ECO-DAS Mentor
  • Texas Academy of Sciences President
  • Associate Editor, American Midland Naturalist

2009-2010:

  • Ph.D. Opponent, Lund University, Sweden
  • Section Chair, Ecologists at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, Ecological Society of America
  • Texas Academy of Sciences President-Elect and 2011 Program Chair
  • Editorial Board, Freshwater Biology

2008-2009:

  • Invited participant, Vision and Change: Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education conference
  • Panelist for IRES, National Science Foundation (NFS)
  • Texas Academy of Sciences Fellow
  • Guest Editor, Hydrobiologia, 2008 Shallow Lakes Meeting
  • Selected as BEN (BioEdNet) Scholar, AAAS
  • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award SU

2006-2007:

  • Southwestern University Nomination for Piper Professor
  • Finalist for Brown Junior Investigator Award
  • Panelist for NSF DDIG Review in Ecology
  • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award, SU
  • Recognized for work with disability issues, SU

2004-2005:

  • ACS Environmental Fellow
  • ACS Technology Fellow
  • Invited participant (16 chosen from 70 applicants) for SEEK
  • Invited panelist for NSF Grant Review in Ecology

Before Southwestern:

  • DIALOG IV in Bermuda
  • Kaneb Center Graduate Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • Fulbright Scholar
  • Denmark Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year Award
  • 1995 Presidential Medal Recipient, Loyola University Chicago
  • 1993 Phi Beta Kappa
  • Hi! I’m @ProfRomi, an aquatic ecologist at Southwestern University. Visit my comprehensive webpage at www.profromi.com to learn more about my integration of research, teaching and life-long education in chocolate.

    In my science life, I work as an aquatic ecologist interested in how ecological life histories influence behavior, diversity and distribution of freshwater invertebrates. My research at Southwestern focuses primarily on a group of large freshwater snails - commonly called apple snails because they can reach the size of an apple. In Texas, one species, Pomacea maculata (formerly P. insularum), occurs as a non-native, invasive species but has native populations in South America.  Besides apple snails, we have added another “mystery” to our investigations by examining the population genetics of Asian mysterysnails as well. My lab has adopted a number of applications of molecular ecology to study freshwater snails. In particular, I collaborate with colleagues and student researchers to investigate questions of diversity and distribution.

    My research has included an international collaboration in Uruguay where native apple snails occur and current partnerships with Dr. Kenneth Hayes to study patterns of diversity and distribution of apple snails, with Dr. Matthew Barnes at Texas Tech to investigate applications of environmental DNA and with Dr. Russ Minton at Gannon University to tackle the mysterysnail questions..

    I obtained by PhD from the University of Notre Dame in 2000 and my BS and BA from Loyola University Chicago in 1995.

    How I seek to “Engage Minds and Transform Lives”

    I teach because I never stopped being a student  The motto of my alma mater, Loyola University Chicago, states a dedication to preparing students to live extraordinary lives. Live beyond the ordinary. I have learned that the extraordinary aspect of living comes when we learn to function comfortably outside the norm, or ordinary. In The Courage to Teach, Education expert Parker Parmer writes of the courage necessary to take on this extraordinarily influential role of a teacher and states that students who learn are the finest fruits of teachers who teach. If I considered myself the fruit in that metaphor, I matured under close guidance of my professors. Now, I plant my own seeds, nourish them with 3 basic truths and watch them transform.

    Truth 1: Teach who you are (Live the Teacher-Scholar Model):

    I place much faith in the practice of teach who you are. I am a planner, a scientist, an English major, a systematic individual, a lover of rubrics, an animal lover and a pretty creative thinker, although the dominance of these personalities changes depending on the task. I am also intense (students sometimes unfortunately mistake this for intimidating). I prefer the terms dedicated, direct and passionate. I believe in the learning process. Teaching who I am translates into genuine enthusiasm for teaching that students clearly recognize. I think this goes a long way toward being a successful long-term Southwestern faculty member. My undergraduate experience at a liberal arts university shaped the way I see connections between teaching and disciplines. By willing to experiment with innovative approaches, extraordinary things happen.

    Truth 2: Make your classroom another lab (enhancing the Teacher half of the model)

    For me, part of engaging minds involves shifting the way students approach questions. I wear many different hats during any given day at Southwestern. However, my scientist hat feels permanently glued to my head and my approach to each class mirrors my scientific side. Through experimenting with different teaching strategies and pedagogies, I refine my approaches in small slices. Without frequent enough change, things get stale. Still, I try and resist changing too much at once. I try to see each class as a series of small-scale experiments. Somewhat literally, I hope that I routinely engage a lot of little wheels turning in the heads of my students when I stress that everything eventually connects to everything else and that the study of life does not occur in a vacuum but spans disciplines. Of the few hundred evaluations of Biodiversity, one in particular sticks in my mind. I don’t remember which year but one student wrote something like ‘Dr. Burks ruined me. I cannot watch TV, go shopping or to the movies or even relax without finding examples of biology everywhere.’ I do not know if the student meant that as a compliment but I take it as one.

    Truth 3: Make your lab another classroom (enhancing the Scholar half of the model)

    My experience has taught me that the extraordinary happens through the process of teaching students the art of doing ecological research. In the beginning, I found it hard to recruit students early enough to invest in the long-term nature of research. I also found that snails are not necessarily as sexy to students as something medically-related like cancer. It takes my enthusiasm for the crazy critters or the word from one of the already ecologically-converted to convince some students otherwise. Students make up my lab community and I consider them real contributors to the research. The practice of guiding students through the complete scientific process (i.e. where outcome results in some type of publication) serves as the best evidence of my teaching effectiveness. I look for every opportunity to combine teaching and research. I do not consider them separate or opposing pursuits. I teach research methods and I research teaching methods.

    Awards & Honors

    2016 - 2017:

    • SU, Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Works
    • International Chocolate Awards Worlds Final, Judge, London

    2015 - 2016:

    • Fulbright Alternate
    • Speaker, Dallas Chocolate Festival and Northwest Chocolate Festival

    2014 - 2015:

    • International Chocolate Awards, Judge, Americas Competition, NY

    2013 - 2014:

    • Mentor: Women Evolving the Biological Sciences
    • Collaborator: American Museum of Natural History

    2010-2012:

    • NSF-IRES Principal Investigaor
    • ECO-DAS Mentor
    • Texas Academy of Sciences President
    • Associate Editor, American Midland Naturalist

    2009-2010:

    • Ph.D. Opponent, Lund University, Sweden
    • Section Chair, Ecologists at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, Ecological Society of America
    • Texas Academy of Sciences President-Elect and 2011 Program Chair
    • Editorial Board, Freshwater Biology

    2008-2009:

    • Invited participant, Vision and Change: Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education conference
    • Panelist for IRES, National Science Foundation (NFS)
    • Texas Academy of Sciences Fellow
    • Guest Editor, Hydrobiologia, 2008 Shallow Lakes Meeting
    • Selected as BEN (BioEdNet) Scholar, AAAS
    • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award SU

    2006-2007:

    • Southwestern University Nomination for Piper Professor
    • Finalist for Brown Junior Investigator Award
    • Panelist for NSF DDIG Review in Ecology
    • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award, SU
    • Recognized for work with disability issues, SU

    2004-2005:

    • ACS Environmental Fellow
    • ACS Technology Fellow
    • Invited participant (16 chosen from 70 applicants) for SEEK
    • Invited panelist for NSF Grant Review in Ecology

    Before Southwestern:

    • DIALOG IV in Bermuda
    • Kaneb Center Graduate Award for Excellence in Teaching
    • Fulbright Scholar
    • Denmark Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year Award
    • 1995 Presidential Medal Recipient, Loyola University Chicago
    • 1993 Phi Beta Kappa
  • Find out more about undergraduate research, project descriptions and collaborators on my website.

    Overall, we focus on:

    1. Examining the genetic diversity found in native and non-native populations of apple snails
    2. Investigating whether hybridization occurs among Pomacea spp.
    3. Using freshwater snails to understand the ecology of eDNA
    4. Uncovering patterns of cryptic diversity among apple snails in Uruguay
    5. Looking for morphological patterns to tell apart species
  • 2018

    2017

    • Perez, K. P., V. G. Gamboa, C. M. Schneider* and L. Burks. 2017. Resaca supports invasive apple snails (Pomacea maculata, Perry, 1810; Caenogastropoda: Ampullariidae) within the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. CheckList 13(3): https://doi.org/10.15560/13.3.2134
    • Glasheen, P. M.*, C. Clavo, M. Meerhoff, K. A. Hayes and L. Burks. 2017. Survival, recovery, and reproduction of apple snails (Pomacea spp.) following exposure to drought conditions. Freshwater Science 36(2): 316 - 324.
    • Burks, R. L., J. Bernatis, J. E. Byers, J. Carter, C. W. Martin, W. G. McDowell and J. van Dyke. 2017. Identity, reproductive potential, distribution, ecology and management of invasive Pomacea maculata in the southern United States. Pages 293-334. 2nd edition of Global Advances in Ecology and Management of Golden Apple Snails.

    2016

    • Sterling, E., A. Bravo, A. Porzecanski, Burks, J. Linder, T. A. Langen, D. S. Fernandez, D. Ruby and N. Bynum. 2016. Think before (and after) you speak: Practice and self-reflection build student confidence and bolster performance in oral communication skills in ecology and conservation biology classes. Journal of College Science Teaching 45(6): 87-99.
    • Burks, R. L., Miller* and A. Hill*. 2016. CABI Compendium project on Pomacea maculata. (Not traditional peer-review): http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/116486
    • Perez, B. J.*, A. H. Segrest*, S. R. Campos*, R. L. Minton and L. Burks. 2016. First record of Japanese Mystery Snail Cipangopaludina, CheckList 12(5): http://dx.doi.org/10.15560/12.5.1973.
  • Recent Ecological Society of America Presentation  - Wait, don’t leave me? How to maintain research productivity with undergraduates after they graduate