Photograph taken by J. DiLoreto
It may not seem likely, but a direct line can be drawn between Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) and the safety of the nation's aviation industry. The link between the two is Carla Dove, research scientist/program manager for the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Lab at The National Museum of Natural History.
Dove, whose name also reveals her calling, is an ornithologist, or bird specialist. She describes her work as being kind of like "CSI for birds." As program manager for the museum's Feather Identification Lab, she identifies the types of birds that have struck military and civilian airplanes, otherwise known as "bird strikes." The data that Dove collects provides information about bird behavior - such as habitats and migration patterns - to aviation officials so bird strikes can be avoided. Wildlife strikes on aircraft cost the military an average of $44 million a year, and the costs for civil aviation are even higher at $600 million a year, she said. But without LFCC, she might have entered another line of work.
Dove, who graduated from LFCC in 1983 with an associate degree in applied science and natural resources management, transferred to LFCC from Blue Ridge Community College specifically for LFCC's natural resources program. Still, she was unsure about her future subject area focus within the discipline. Then she met Rob Simpson, associate professor of natural resources management at LFCC's Middletown Campus.
"He was the one instructor that really did give me the motivation to go on and continue my education," she said of Simpson, who she considers to be the first of her three primary career mentors. She fondly remembers getting field experience at least three days a week in Simpson's classes. He also introduced her to what would become her passion. "He just really excited me [about] birds. ... And I never looked back," she said.
Today, the first-generation college student is part of a team that handles about 3,500 bird-strike cases every year at a museum she visited with Simpson as part of an LFCC field trip. "He really did open my eyes as to what museums are all about," she said. Prior to the trip, she didn't know a behind-the-scenes research component existed. Now she works in that very arena.
Aside from providing her with new experiences and a career path, LFCC also allowed Dove to grow more independent without moving far away from her family. Dove said starting off at a community college was the best thing she could have done in her educational career. She's not sure how she would have fared by heading straight to a major university, but she knows her life worked out well based on the decisions she made.
Dove, who earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Montana and her master's degree and Ph.D. from George Mason University, said she really appreciated the personal attention she received at LFCC. "I'm very happy that I had that opportunity" to attend the College, Dove said.