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Meet Biologist Katy Gonder

June 25, 2014

Katy Gonder, PhD, comes to Drexel with nearly 20 years of research experience from Central Africa. The primate enthusiast specializes in African biodiversity and conservation strategies, and joins the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program — founded by bio prof Gail Hearn, PhD — as the principal investigator.

Katy Gonder

Katy Gonder, PhD
Associate Professor of Biology

Hometown: Viola, TN
Degree: PhD in biological anthropology, City University of New York
Research interests: Genomics, evolutionary processes, tropical biodiversity, conservation science

Q: What did you do before coming to Drexel?
A: I was a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Q: What’s your favorite book? Movie?
A: “Lord of the Rings”

Q: What’s your favorite food or restaurant?
A: Indian food

Q: If you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive) who would they be?
A: Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour and Jane Goodall

Q: What’s one thing you couldn't live without?
A: There are two things I could not live without: my children and chimpanzees. I don’t want my children to inherit a world without chimpanzees.

Q: When is the last time you did something “for the first time”?  What was it?
A: I do research in Africa’s tropical rainforests. It is challenging work and there are lots of “firsts” for me. The most interesting “first” for me recently was in July 2013. This was a trip to Lobéké National Park, which lies on the borders shared between Cameroon, Central African Republic and Congo. I took two students with me. We all left with the feeling that Lobéké is a magical place, rich with wildlife and home to the Baka. It is how I imagine much of Central Africa was like early during the last century.

Q: What was the most memorable class you took as an undergrad and why?
A: Primatology, it helped me choose my path in life and provided an opportunity to conduct research in Indonesia.

Q: Which current event/issue do you think students should know more about and why?
A: Underlying reasons for the catastrophic loss of the world’s biodiversity and what they can do to make a difference.

Q: What’s one thing every student who plans on taking one of your classes should know about you?
A: Please come to my classes well prepared, with an open mind and curious spirit.

Q: What made you want to become a professor?
A: I enjoy research and working with students, and being a professor allowed me to do both.

Q: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
A: I did the original scientific research that allowed the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) to be recognized as a subspecies of chimpanzees and made the observation that Cameroon is unique because it is home to two chimpanzee subspecies. This work has led to my involvement in a number of international conservation programs, including the development of regional conservation action for the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.

Q: What course would you be most excited to teach at Drexel and why?
A: I teach Human Population Genetics and Evolutionary Biology and Human Health. I am excited to teach both of these courses. Population genetics is a fundamental area that is important in all branches of the biological sciences. I am especially enthusiastic about teaching Evolutionary Biology and Human Health. This is a course designed for students in the middle of their undergraduate careers at Drexel. This course illustrates the importance and utility of evolutionary perspectives on human health. In addition to the "how" questions, like “How are flu vaccine cocktails developed each year using evolutionary principles?,” this course also introduces the "why" questions, such as “Why were the diseases of Europeans so devastating to Native Americans?”

Q: What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
A: I have an active research, education and conservation program focused on central African biodiversity, and joined Drexel to take a leadership role for the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. I hope to contribute to building the reputation of Drexel and CoAS as a global leader in Central African biodiversity research, conservation and education.