Roth '07 uncovers wildlife smugglers

Research helped land first job as science educator

July  21, 2010

Biology major Jen Roth '07 submitted dozens of job applications after she graduated from Augustana. But it was Chicago's Shedd Aquarium that offered her a job as a science educator.

"What I did at Augie definitely made me a worthy candidate," Roth says. "They liked that I had spent time in Africa, was in Global Affect, had interned through my environmental studies minor and especially that I had done private butterfly research with a professor."

Jen Roth
(Photos/Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium)

Roth says she didn't share the extensive marine science background of her co-workers who went to state schools, but that didn't slow her down. "I love that I took music, and gym, and art and religion. It helps me be a well-rounded person, and my travels to Belize and Ghana helped me learn how to work with diverse groups of people."

As a science educator, Roth facilitated on-site programs for K-12 field trips and large-scale off-site programs for up to 250 students; conducted teacher professional development workshops; and worked as a science mentor in Chicago Public Schools.

"The craziest thing for me was stepping outside of my comfort zone," admits Roth, who grew up in Iowa City. "When I arrived, I knew very little about electronics, tools and robots. Then I started teaching students and teachers how to build underwater robots or remote-operated vehicles. I never thought I'd be able to build, wire and drive something that can explore the depths, similar to what they've used for the oil spill."

As if working at the Shedd wasn't exciting enough, Roth recently landed her "dream job." Since she was 8, she has felt it was her calling to work with endangered species. In late July, Roth started her career as a wildlife inspector for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement. Roth says she will be responsible for intercepting smugglers and endangered species products at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

Although wildlife inspectors spend most of their time processing commercial cargo shipments, they also keep tabs on international passenger traffic, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Unwary travelers all too often return from abroad with illegal souvenirs, including manufactured products such as boots, shoes and purses. Less processed wildlife items, such as furs and feathers, also are common. Many smuggling rings use human couriers; inspectors find protected animals hidden in clothing and stuffed in suitcases and handbags. High-volume "live" traffic includes exotic reptiles, tropical fish and primates, according to the DOI.

"It's all happening so fast and earlier in life than I thought it would, but it's very good news for me," Roth says.

A passion for music

Her job change, fortunately, will not affect one of Roth's other passions. After graduating from Augustana and living for a year in Chicago, she felt something was missing. She wasn't singing. Roth has been involved in music her entire life, including four years as a member of Augustana's Jenny Lind Choir. "I believe I was given a gift, a talent, and that it should be shared. But even more so, I selfishly just enjoy singing!"

A google search put her in touch with the Lutheran Choir of Chicago (LCC), a volunteer yet auditioned sacred choral ensemble that's been around for more than 60 years. Today she is not only a member of the a cappella choir but also its membership coordinator and encourages Augustana alumni who enjoy singing to contact her at "I'm proud to say we've added about eight new young members this year and are always looking for more singers in all voice parts," she says.

One of the LCC's sponsored events of the year, the Fall Festival of Song, will be Nov. 13 at Glenview Community Church, Glenview, Ill. The guest clinician at this year's festival is a familiar face to many Augustana alumni. Dr. Jon Hurty, the college's director of choral activities, will work with church choirs, their directors and individual singers during the all-day Fall Festival. Those interested in more details may contact Roth at the link listed above.

In addition to the Fall Festival, the LCC performs six concerts a year in the Chicago area. Roth says for her, singing as part of a group is relaxing, the ideal stress-reliever-which could come in handy after a day of sleuthing smugglers.

Contact Augustana Magazine editor Debbie Blaylock by email; by phone at (309) 794-8979; or by mail at Augustana College, 639 38th St., Rock Island, Ill., 61201.