Heather Kopsco ‘19 Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Plant Sciences and Entomology Heather Kopsco’s passion for science comes from her own experience with tick-borne illness, and a desire to challenge herself led her to pursue a master’s degree in ecology, studying the transmission of Lyme disease bacteria among migratory birds. URI is the perfect place for her doctoral research, Professor Thomas Mather is known as “The Tick Guy.” “He proposed looking at tick-borne disease from the health communications standpoint. I’m sort of out my wheelhouse here, as an ecologist, asking public health communication questions,” she says. “But this exercise in interdisciplinary study is incredibly important to understand how to better communicate science overall.” Kopsco, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in biological and environmental sciences, plays an essential role in Mather’s TickSpotters operation that identifies ticks in photos people submit. The operation aims to assess the risk of the tick to the individual and help people prevent future encounters with ticks. Kopsco also evaluates the effectiveness of the program as an education tool for people to learn about ticks, and to determine if it is a cost effective and efficient way of tracking ticks. She looks at how data received from TickSpotters corresponds to areas of known tick populations or the detection of new tick outbreaks. “Can we use this digital surveillance as a proxy for humans out collecting ticks, and is it a more precise way to detect ticks across the country because you’re getting greater coverage and a broader picture of what’s going on?” she says of her research. Kopsco, encouraged by teamwork, works alongside researchers from various disciplines including communications, statistics, public health and entomology. “What I’ve observed at URI is an eagerness to collaborate and it’s been really inspiring,” she says. “I think it’s awesome that people are willing to cross into other disciplines and be exposed to something they’re not fully comfortable with to help someone answer complex questions.”

| 14 | The University of Rhode Island { Momentum: Research & Innovation }

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