The Butterfly Researcher

SRQ Story Project Partner Spotlight


After she graduated from New College of Florida in 1999, Emily Saarinen traveled and worked all over the world: conducting wildlife surveys in Alaska, teaching rock climbing in Thailand, getting her doctorate at University of Florida and teaching at colleges in Oregon and Michigan.

Now she’s back where her academic career began, teaching biology and conducting research on endangered butterflies at New College of Florida.

 “The students have retained the same passionate drive as they did when I was a student,” Saarinen says. “Students continue to encourage each other to be their academic best, while fostering a sense of community that allows for creativity and innovation.”

Those qualities are on display in her lab at New College, where freezers maintain hundreds of samples of butterfly DNA. She uses non-lethal sampling and molecular techniques to extract the insects’ genetic coding. Then she provides that information to zoos and agencies working to prevent the extinction of species like the Miami Blue butterfly.

Establishing a colony of the Miami Blue butterfly is emblematic of her concept of teaching: giving students a foundation in scientific theory and training them to use it in the world.

 “I am a product of New College's supportive, but not restrictive, academic structure,” Saarinen says, “and I am honored to continue that tradition today with the next generation of innovators.”

New College of Florida

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