Assistant Professor of Biology Alexandria Pivovaroff comes to Occidental from Glendale Community College, where she was a tenure-track biology instructor. Pivovaroff is a global change biologist who specializes in plant water relations, hydraulics, and functional traits to understand how forests are responding to changes in the environment. During her postdoc with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, she examined how tropical forests respond to increasing soil drought and atmospheric dryness and employed models to understand and forecast future responses. As a postdoc at UCLA’s La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science and in collaboration with the National Park Service, she studied how chaparral and coastal sage scrub shrublands respond to heat waves, drought, and fire. Pivovaroff holds a Ph.D. in plant biology from UC Riverside, where as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow she studied chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and desert responses to environmental change. She also has a B.A. in biology from Whittier College.
What attracted you to Occidental?
My interest in Occidental actually goes back to my undergraduate years. I went to Whittier College, another small liberal arts college less than an hour away, where I had the chance to do undergraduate research. My research adviser, Cheryl Swift, was an Oxy alum. Doing undergraduate research was such a pivotal experience for me. No one in my family had ever gone to college—so to be doing research in college was never something I expected to do, but I loved it! When I started looking for faculty positions, I kept an eye out for liberal arts colleges. I wanted to be at a place where I could mentor students on their own science, education, and research journeys. Oxy turned out to be the perfect fit for that!
Midway through your first semester, what are your impressions of Oxy students?
Oxy students are great! It seems like most students have a variety of interests, from social justice and environmental stewardship to crochet and sports. To see how these different interests and perspectives come together in the classroom is really neat. Every student I’ve interacted with, both in and out of the classroom, has been both passionate and respectful.
Where does your interest in plant ecophysiology come from?
In high school and for my first two years of college, I actually hated biology. I was originally a chemistry major. But in ‘Ecology and Evolution of Organisms,’ there was a lecture on plant water transport and I was riveted! I walked out of that lecture and down the hall to knock on the door of the professor who happened to be doing research on that. She immediately let me join her lab and I’ll never forget my first fieldwork experience. We did some work in the wetlands along the Gulf Coast, and one morning we were up before dawn, waist-deep in swamp water, and someone ended up with a leech on their back. I loved it, and here I am today!
Do you have a favorite class that you are teaching, and why?
I’m teaching Biostats with Amanda Zellmer, and I’m really enjoying it! My favorite part is teaching students how to use R. It’s such a marketable and transferable skill. I’m also developing my own course, Global Change Biology, which I’ll be teaching in the spring.