Teaching and outreach


Students in my field botany class investigate a wild peony population in southern Oregon (2010)

I enjoy teaching a range of topics related to ecology, lichenology, botany, science communication, and data analysis and visualization. As an educator, I strive to help all my students think critically, solve problems, and communicate effectively with diverse groups.

I help students develop as independent scientists by emphasizing skills for scientific inference, particularly study design and analysis methods. I also encourage students of ecology to gain inspiration and ideas by spending time observing the natural world.

jespon buildlings
Exploring urban lichen communities on the edge of campus — lichenology workshop for the UC Berkeley Jepson Herbarium (2018)

Taking students in the field is one of my favorite parts of teaching, and I love the unique opportunities for learning that occur hiking along a trail, where examples of connections between plant communities and landscape context are in panoramic abundance.

At Stanford, I designed an inquiry-based course where students learn by conducting ecological research, which I have now taught twice. As a group, we collect data on lichen microbiomes, lichen functional traits, environmental variables, and air pollution patterns in the vicinity of the Stanford campus. Students then develop independent projects using whatever parts of this dataset they find most interesting. Students learn to analyze their data using R, write final papers following the format of the journal Ecology, and make short videos for a general audience to communicate their findings. The course has received excellent student evaluations.

During my time as a postdoc at UC Davis, I designed and taught a three-credit lichenology course with lecture, lab and field components in UCD’s Environmental Science and Policy Department. Designing a course on one of my favorite topics was both a lot of fun and a great learning experience, and the course was attended by a group of motivated and enthusiastic students. California has a remarkably low ratio of lichenologists to lichen species, so I am pleased to note that almost a third of the students from my class engaged in independent research involving lichens after the course ended.

For more information on my teaching experience, please see my CV.

Students from my UC Davis Lichenology course try on Ramalina menziesii  (California’s state lichen) wigs on one of our field trips at the UCD Quail Ridge Reserve – a veritable lichen diversity hot-spot! See some of the creative outreach materials the students created.


I believe that connecting and communicating with diverse groups outside of academia is a key part of being a scientist. To this end, I build relationships with land managers, members of the conservation community, and the general public through collaborative projects, outreach events, and citizen science projects.

I particularly enjoy leading plant and lichen identification workshops for people of all experience levels, and usually do a few of these every year–see my twitter page for upcoming events. Please contact me if you’re interested in having me speak or lead a workshop at an event.

Presenting my research results to land managers at the Missouri Department of Conservation