Keep wins Brian Smith Outstanding Wildlife Student Award

Monica Keep holds a pair of African Side-necked turtles in Namibia.
Monica Keep holds a pair of African Side-necked turtles in Namibia.

Congratulations to Monica Keep, a senior majoring in fisheries and wildlife, who is the winner of the Brian Smith Outstanding Wildlife Student Award, presented at the UNL Wildlife Club banquet on April 14.

Monica has always loved animals, so the career advice she received growing up was, “Be a vet,” but once she got exposed to the fisheries and wildlife major at UNL’s School of Natural Resources, she realized that was her true calling. Her thesis, advised by Dennis Ferraro, was on parasites in ornate box turtles.

In her time at UNL, Monica seized every opportunity that she could to figure out what she likes. Her advice to incoming students is, “Try everything. You never know if you’re going to like it or not.” For example, “I love fish now,” she said, based on her experience collecting pallid sturgeon for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “I’d still take snakes over fish, but I learned so much.”

Her experimental approach is part of an appetite for adventure. After graduation, she plans to travel to South Africa in August for a month-long internship working with great white sharks, doing tracking and dorsal fin identification, as well as cage diving. In the long-term, she’d like to work with invasive herpetofauna in the Florida Everglades, extracting Burmese pythons.

“I’ve always loved the large animals, like big snakes and big crocodiles,” Monica said. “Working with stuff that can kill me excites me.”

In her time at UNL, Monica has been active in Wildlife Club, this year serving as one of the public relations officers, and has taken advantage of many related outreach opportunities. This year alone she volunteered for the Morrill Hall Fright Night, the Ponca Outdoor Expo, Weatherfest, Naturepalooza, the Western Student Conclave that was held in Moscow, Idaho, Study with a Scientist Day, Deer Check Station, and Natural Resource District Nights with educational outreach. She also participated in the Pallid Sturgeon Broodstock Collection for the second year in a row, and participated in intramural sports with the Wildlife Club, including softball and battleship.

Monica has received many scholarships and awards in her time at UNL, including the Wildwood Scholarship, the G.N. Baker Memorial Scholarship, the Ronald M. Case Scholarship, and the Holling Memorial Scholarship. She has been on the Dean’s List, was inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars for UNL, and was a finalist for the Janice Lee Fenske Memorial Award for Outstanding Students.
Last summer, Monica did a three-month internship at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, working with mammals and reptiles, and previously volunteered with the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. She has traveled with the School of Natural Resources to Australia and to Namibia.

Monica also had high praise for the people associated with the fisheries and wildlife major at the School of Natural Resources. “The faculty and staff are just the greatest people on earth,” she said. “They care about you.”