Meet graduate student Steven DiFalco

Steven DiFalco
Steven DiFalco

Steven DiFalco spent five years restoring parks and forests in New York, where he monitored vegetation, managed invasive species and sowed native plants before deciding to continue his education. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. Now focused on roadside vegetation management, he is using social science survey methods to learn more about Connecticut residents’ attitudes and beliefs about forests along roadways and utility corridors. His research seeks to find ways to reduce tree-related storm damage while creating visually appealing spaces. Here is what he said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz.

What was your major?

I received my bachelor’s degree in Organismal/Environmental Biology in 2013.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

I decided to go to graduate school because I felt it was the right next step for me. I worked at a state park in New York and a city park in New York City for about two years each and realized there were skills I would not gain while working. I also realized for me to move into higher management positions I would need to have a master’s degree.

Who is your advisor?

My advisor is Anita Morzillo.

What is your field of research?

I’m studying the human dimensions of roadside vegetation management using a mail-survey of Connecticut homeowners. This project is part of a larger project, Stormwise, which aims to create storm-resistant roadside forests. Stormwise is a collaboration between UConn and the Eversource Energy Center, which aims to reduce risk of tree-related power outages through forest vegetation management practices. The goal is to create healthy, storm resistant and aesthetically pleasing forest stands.

Human dimensions of natural resources is the study of why humans make the decisions that they do about natural resources and the characteristics of the people that influences their decisions. This information helps decision makers and managers make choices for natural resource management.

Name one aspect of your work that you like.

I’ve really enjoyed learning how to use different programs such as ArcGIS and RStudio, which have amazing capabilities. ArcGIS is a geographic information system for creating and working with maps, geographic data (like GPS points or satellite imagery) and analyzing mapped information. I utilize this program to understand the landscape characteristics, such as tree cover around a survey respondent’s home and how this may influence their responses. I use RStudio, which is a programming language used to compute statistics and create graphics of my data. I’ve honed my skills of these programs while at UConn. I really appreciate being able to spend time to explore how to use tools within these programs and find new applications for them in my research.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?

I would have to say having 960 responses from the survey I sent out, which is really incredible and gives a huge amount of data for me to use.  It was a lot of work getting everything together, so I’m glad to have so many responses.

What do you hope to do once you get your degree?

I hope to go back into working in another parks department or other environmental organization. I really enjoyed my previous work in restoration ecology and invasive species management, so I’d like to get back into doing that work.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

One of the best field days I’ve had here was with the UConn Wildlife Society and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to monitor a black bear den! I also enjoy hiking, biking and botanizing!

By Jason M. Sheldon