One of Andrew Nagy’s favorite things to do is wade into a local creek, dip his trusty D-net into the water, and learn more about the creatures he pulls up. A John Spencer Fellow in the Odum School of Ecology and a graduate student researcher in UGA’s River Basin Center, Nagy spends much of his time learning more about the amazing diversity of aquatic life in the Southeast.

“One of the most important roles of an environmental scientist is to gather public support for conservation,” Nagy said. “An effective way to do this is to encourage people to foster relationships with local biodiversity. Many people don’t realize that you don’t need to go to an aquarium or the ocean to see beautiful aquatic organisms—even in our urban Athens streams, there are colorful fish such as the yellowfin shiner that rival anything you could see at a coral reef.”

Each year the Odum School, in cooperation with the River Basin Center, awards the Spencer Fellowship to an incoming master’s student interested in pursuing a career in management and conservation of freshwater ecosystems, including rivers, streams and wetlands. The fellowship was endowed by the family and friends of the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who studied urban streams and was passionate about freshwater ecology, conservation and ecological restoration.

“If we can inspire more people to look a little bit closer at the plants and animals that inhabit their streams, their parks, and even their backyards,” Nagy said, “they may realize that there’s a lot of beauty worth protecting.”