OCC Grad Dr. Jody Stallings, Conservation Biologist
Dr. Jody Stallings, Conservation Biologist
Worldwide Travels Began at OCC
As a conservation biologist, Dr. Jody Stallings has traveled the world. In his 32-year career the Fairfield native has done everything from helping to establish national parks among Mayan ruins in South America to creating an ecotourism project in East Africa.
It’s an amazing journey that began at Olney Central College.
“Little did I know when I was attending OCC that I would end up traipsing around the globe,” Stallings said. “But, I was always interested in natural resources and wildlife.”
Growing up Stallings spent a great deal of time outdoors with his father, Ray Stallings, and his grandfather, Troy Stallings. These frequent excursions and his paternal family’s love of nature instilled in him his lifelong passion to study the living planet and to protect its biological diversity.
Following his graduation from Fairfield Community High School in 1972, Stallings chose to enroll at Olney Central College.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college and OCC was close to home,” Stallings said. “At that time, OCC was growing and the new campus was just being built. OCC offered good science and math classes and affordability.”
Stallings recalls his time at OCC fondly. The college’s close-knit atmosphere enabled him to reunite with high school classmates and cultivate new friendships as well. During his sophomore year, Stallings honed his leadership skills serving as the Student Senate President.
Stallings completed his associate’s degree in 1974, but extended his studies at OCC for another year. “I worked part-time and continued taking the additional math, chemistry and science classes I needed before going to Murray State University,” he added.
Stallings earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology at MSU and completed an internship at Land Between the Lakes, a conservation area in Kentucky and Tennessee. Stallings, who had been interested in the Peace Corps since high school, then applied to the Smithsonian Institution/Peace Corps. The Smithsonian created the program for volunteers who would focus more on scientific and environmental projects. Stallings’ acceptance into the agency eventually led to 24 years of overseas service in five countries.
Assigned to Paraguay in 1978, Stallings spent 3 ½ years assisting the Smithsonian’s top scientists in cataloging the South American country’s vast species. That work eventually led to the founding of a museum of natural history, which remains in operation. “While I was working in Paraguay, my interest in conservation grew in intensity,” Stallings added.
After completing his assignment, Stallings and his family returned to the United States so he could begin graduate work. He earned both a master’s degree in tropical conservation and a doctorate degree in forest resources and conservation from the University of Florida. During this time, Stallings returned to Paraguay to study primates for his master’s thesis and then traveled to Brazil, where the family resided in the Rio Doce State Forestry Park while he conducted his dissertation research. “This was a very remote area and it was fantastic to experience those conditions,” he said.
Stallings later completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the Smithsonian and the World Wildlife Fund conducting ecological research at the Golden Lion Tamarin Poco das Antas Reserve and creating a master’s program at the Federal University of Belo Horizonte.
In 1991, Stallings moved to Ecuador where he spent 10 years overseeing a large environmental conservation program for the humanitarian organization CARE International. He then worked for two years in Guatemala managing the Maya Biosphere Reserve for the U.S. government.
In 2004, Stallings was able to realize his lifelong dream of going to Africa. He served as a foreign-service officer with the U.S. Embassy in Uganda managing conservation projects focusing on gorillas, chimpanzees, lions and elephants. His efforts resulted in the creation of ecotourism programs, which help to protect endangered species and their habitat while bringing tourism to the location and generating economic opportunities for the area.
While in Uganda, Stallings also participated in an elephant study designed to track the animals’ movements and provide some management guidelines to avoid the loss of crops. The project included fitting the pachyderms with radio collars.
During his stay in the East African nation, Stallings even had the chance to meet world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, who was involved in a project Stallings oversaw.
Stallings returned to the U.S. in 2008, joining the faculty of Young Harris College in Georgia. He currently serves as the Chair of the Biology Department and as a biology professor at the private four-year institution. Stallings recently brought Goodall to Young Harris College for an evening lecture.
While Stallings is content to remain in the U.S. for now, he doesn’t rule out the possibility of future travel. In the meantime, he continues to enjoy sharing his experiences with his students.