UCF Alumna Puts Conservation into Practice


UCF Biology alumna and former UCF Arboretum employee, Tina Richards, ’06, ’13, embraced her passion for the environment at UCF. From her instrumental role in the growth of the UCF Arboretum to becoming a full-time biologist, Richard’s path to success can be traced back to her time spent at UCF.

In 2006, Richards received her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in Biology and Behavior & Social Sciences. Soon after, Richards began working with the UCF Arboretum as a full time employee. Her time with the arboretum influenced Richards to pursue her Professional Science Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at UCF, graduating in 2013.

“In my academic studies and internship, I was able to learn valuable theoretical concepts and real-world skills that I used in my previous position at the UCF Arboretum,” said Richards.

At the arboretum, Richards was tasked with leading guided tours, developing the volunteer program, and event planning. In 2014, she was honored with the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course on behalf of her mentor, Rani Vajravelu, Ph.D., in Ethnobotany. Towards the end of her tenure, she facilitated the UCF Arboretum partnership with COS-IT to obtain a grant to fund Wi-Fi in the Timothy R. Newman Nature Pavilion.TinaRichards2

Today, Richards works as a biologist for the Water Sciences section of the Orange County Environmental Protection Division (OCEPD), monitoring water quality by collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates and plants from streams and lakes. She also serves as a certified trainer for the statewide University of Florida LAKEWATCH Program where she conducts sample collection trainings for volunteers within Orange County and coordinates transportation of samples to the Gainesville lab for processing. The program seeks to improve the efficiency of data collection across Florida’s lakes and rivers.

Richards maintains her involvement with the UCF Arboretum by partnering with them for events such as the OCEPD Jr. Naturalist program, a free environmental education program that aims to teach K-12 students about environmental topics. In January, the UCF Arboretum hosted a class on trees of Florida for the program. She also recently trained arboretum staff to collect water and bacteria samples from Lake Claire and Lake Lee. On top of these different initiatives, Richards mentors several interns, taking great pride in their success.

Richards discussed more on her time at UCF, the most memorable parts of her career, and some fun facts about herself in the spotlight responses below.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

I originally chose UCF for my undergraduate degree in 2002 because it seemed to offer a wide array of extracurricular activities and majors. As a student that had not yet decided on a career path, I thought that a diversity of opportunities would be valuable to me. In 2010 I chose UCF for my Professional Science Master’s degree in Conservation Biology because, as a full time employee of the UCF Arboretum, the program blended well with my interests.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?

 In my undergraduate degree I was involved in the environmental clubs, where I embraced my passion for the environment and met the love of my life. In my graduate degree I was very busy working full time and going to school, but was involved with the Simple Living Institute, an organization dedicated to organic gardening and sustainable living.

What is your best UCF memory?

Winning the 2013 UCF Graduate Research Forum Best in Category: Life and Health in Sciences, then proceeding to participate at the state level at the University of South Florida.

What is your most memorable experience on the job?

Being a part of the creation of the community garden at the UCF Arboretum and the garden at the UCF Creative School for Children gave me many great memories and experiences.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Exploring and observing nature.

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?

 A great woman taught me that kindness matters and she was right!

What do you do for fun?

I like to enjoy nature when I am not studying it. This May, my partner and I journeyed to the Ozarks for canoeing, boating, hiking and other fun outdoor activities.

What is that happiest and/or proudest moment of your life?

When my fiancé asked me to marry him. 

Where were you in life 10 years ago?

In 2006 I graduated from UCF with my undergraduate degree and headed to Andalucía, Spain to teach English to 11-17 year old students. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life and I recommend for all recent grads to travel prior to settling down.

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