It’s not a stretch to call senior Steven Lamonde the ultimate Renaissance man at JSC. His varied interests and talents range from cross country running and athletics to science and geographic information systems (GIS), computer modeling, media art, disc golf (three-time JSC champ!), teaching, Ultimate Frisbee, and birds — especially birds.
A native of coastal Hingham, Mass., Steven came to JSC as a freshman in 2012 with his eyes set on a degree in outdoor education. “Johnson wasn’t too far from home, and it was in the mountains with many outdoor things to do — all the things I love — plus I got a tuition discount through the New England Award, which made college more affordable,” he says, explaining what initially attracted him to JSC. “After I spent a weekend on campus as part of an Admissions event and connected with the cross country team, it was easy to see that this was the place for me,” he adds.
Having finished in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Steven didn’t shy away from taking tough courses at JSC right off the bat. It wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of one of his science professors, who encouraged him to switch his major. “He helped me realize that I really enjoyed using the ‘science’ part of my brain, including field research and statistical analysis,” Steven says.
At the start of his sophomore year, Steven changed his major to Environmental Science and became a “JSC START Scholar,” which provided enhanced research opportunities and an annual grant, funded by the National Science Foundation, of up to $10,000 a year. He subsequently mastered biology, physics and other courses in the “hard sciences”; worked as a math and science tutor in Academic Support Services; and helped establish JSC’s new “Serious about Science” Club, serving as its first president. And in the spring of his junior year, Steven was inducted into Sigma XI — the international honor society of science and engineering that counts more than 200 Nobel Prize winners among its members.
Through it all, Steven has pursued his passions outside the classroom — most notably in bird watching and cross-country running — without missing a beat. A self-described “bird nerd,” Steven developed a love of ornithology as a young child. These days he tracks every bird and species he sees, where and when, in an Excel spreadsheet and online at eBird.org. (His tally in 2015: 9,000+ individual birds and 129 species – pretty impressive for a full-time student with a schedule as jam-packed as his.)
Steven sets high standards for himself as a runner as well. A top finisher on JSC’s cross country team, he was instrumental in establishing the college’s Track & Field Club — now morphed into a full-fledged varsity sport at JSC — during his sophomore year. And in fall 2015, the NCAA North Atlantic Conference honored Steven as its first ever men’s cross country “Senior Scholar Athlete of the Year.”
Of all the good fortune and achievements Steven has had at JSC, however, nothing beats his experience as a research assistant during the summers after his sophomore and junior years (for which he earned $9,500). The offer came after he took an advanced course in geographic information systems (GIS) taught by Dr. Kevin Johnston, an internationally recognized GIS expert and JSC faculty member. Under Johnston’s supervision, Steven used GIS “suitability modeling” and “cost-distance analysis” to model bobcat behavior and design wildlife corridors for them throughout Vermont.
“The goal is to identify where bobcats live in Vermont and how they travel — specifically, the most optimal, or ‘least-cost,’ route from point A to point B — so conservation organizations can determine where land should be protected in order to maintain biodiversity,” Steven explains.
This April, he attended the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in North Carolina, then flew back to Johnson to put the finishing touches on his senior thesis: an exploration of whether forest-interior birds are protected under conservation plans designed around bobcats. (He presented his thesis later that month both at JSC and at the Vermont Geospatial Forum.)
After he earns his JSC diploma in May, he’ll spend another summer as Dr. Johnston’s research assistant, then head off to Antioch University of New England to pursue a master’s degree in conservation biology, and later a Ph.D. with a unique focus on — what else? — birds and the use of GIS to study them.
Looking back on his four years at Johnson, Steven says it will bittersweet to graduate and move on. “I have so many wonderful memories. I will really, really miss it here,” he says, adding that JSC is a place where you can connect with faculty in ways that aren’t possible at larger institutions. “The classes are small, so professors are able to recognize your talents and guide you along. Before coming to JSC, I had no idea GIS existed, and here I was able to learn it from one of the world’s leading experts — how amazing is that? — and then, on top of that, apply it to my passion in ornithology.”
His advice to others considering JSC? “Seek out the amazing opportunities here — they’re here, even if they aren’t immediately apparent to you — and take advantage of them,” he counsels. He also has another tip for students like him who hail from warmer climes: make sure you have a good jacket for winter. “If I’ve learned one thing here, it’s that there’s no such thing as a bad weather day,” he says. “There’s only a bad clothing day.”