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Incubation, hatching and fledging

'Super star' seabird biologist recognized with national mentoring award

Teaching and Learning

By Kelly Foss

Dr. Bill Montevecchi, a research professor with the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science, has received one of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists’ top honours.

The Jamie Smith Memorial Mentoring Award in Ornithology recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the mentoring of new generations of ornithologists.

“Dr. Montevecchi exemplifies the spirit of the Jamie Smith Memorial Mentoring Award, having mentored countless amateur naturalists and birders, as well as undergraduate and graduate students,” said Dr. Kyle Elliott, chair of the society’s award committee, regarding its decision to single the researcher out for recognition.

“We received numerous letters from across Canada as Bill’s academic “children and grandchildren” chimed in with their own “Bill stories.” Indeed, virtually every seabird biologist across Canada is “related” to Bill in some manner via their academic pedigree.”

Skilled and caring educator

Dr. Iain Stenhouse, senior science director and director of the marine bird program at the Biodiversity Research Institute, is a former graduate student of Dr. Montevecchi. He led the nomination and gathered the letters of support.

He says that he “quite honestly” cannot think of another Canadian ornithologist who is more deserving of the award.

“Bill is not only a world‐renowned seabird researcher, and a dedicated conservationist who works tirelessly for birds and other fauna from a global to a local scale, he is an exquisitely skilled and caring educator in every sense of the word,” he said.

“Bill was interdisciplinary long before the term became trendy, spanning the worlds of both biology and psychology from whence the field of animal behaviour was born. His enthusiasm for behavioural ecology never fails to influence his students and everyone that he encounters.”

The Jamie Smith Memorial Award honours established ornithologists for their displayed excellence in mentoring a new generation of professional or amateur biologists.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Clarity and understanding

With almost 400 publications, mentorship of 33 master of science and nine doctoral students, plus three post-doctoral fellows and 15 bachelor of science (honours) students, oversight of countless projects, including a long-term study at Funk Island and a laboratory that has been awarded more than $7 million in research funding, Dr. Elliott adds Dr. Montevecchi is “clearly a super star in marine ornithology.”

“He showed us that we were truly seen and valued.” — Dr. Iain Stenhouse

No matter how busy he is, many of his former students agree, Dr. Montevecchi is always there for his students. His open-door policy means no one is ever turned away.

“In some ways, Bill is like the classic absent‐minded professor, consistently late for faculty meetings and appointments because he was happily engaged in a broad and rambling discussion with a graduate student struggling with the minutiae of their research topic,” said Dr. Stenhouse.

“In those moments, he showed us that we were truly seen and valued, and I always walked away with boosted confidence and greater clarity and understanding.”

Lifelong support

Dr. Montevecchi is quick to return the praise, saying his award would not have been possible without the support he has received at Memorial and the many “brilliant” students who have matriculated through his faculty’s programs and his lab.

The award committee received numerous letters from across Canada as Dr. Montevecchi’s academic “children and grandchildren” chimed in with their own “Bill stories.”
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“In my case, the Jamie Smith Memorial Mentoring Award in Ornithology goes to the mentees,” he said.

“Students have provided the rationale and more basically the justification for this award. Without the opportunities and privileges provided by my lifelong institution – Memorial University of Newfoundland – this simply would not have been possible.”

Dr. Montevecchi’s laboratory environment provides the collegial incubation of questions and ideas, the hatching of insights and solutions and the fledging of competent problem-solving research scientists who focus on the behaviour and ecology of birds to understand the consequences of environmental change in order to generate and improve conservation initiatives.

“I have been fortunate to have had, and still have, an extraordinary group of brilliant young enthusiastic and committed behavioural ecologists progress through my lab,” he said.

“It is through their brilliance and efforts that I was able to succeed as well as I did. It is truly the crowning award of my career.”

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