ASU biology alum helping save the world's tigers

June 12, 2015

Around the world, the tiger is in critical danger. According to the World Wildlife Fund, fewer than 3,200 tigers are alive in the wild today. But one former Sun Devil’s love for the big cat has spurred her to take action to change that.

Robyn Barfoot, an Arizona State University class of '00 alumna, is traveling around the world to try to stop that number of tigers from falling further. To get to a position where she could do that, it took hard work, connections and a biology degree from ASU. Robyn Barfoot with baby tiger Barfoot oversees a root canal for a tiger named Bagheera. Photo by: Bill Barfoot Download Full Image

Barfoot is currently curator at the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, Washington. She hires staff, works with veterinarians, acquires animals for the collection and helps rear them. She also handles public relations, maintains zoo policies and assists with exhibit design.

“I didn’t expect to be curator when I first interviewed, but I was given the opportunity and happily accepted it,” Barfoot said. “Having an impact on the conservation world is my goal, and the zoo has let me do just that.”

Barfoot’s love affair with big cats started at age four. However, that interest was briefly supplanted by her first majors at ASU — anthropology and theater. Her fondness for tigers always remained, though, and a single zoo trip during college reminded her what really mattered.

“I had one of those epiphanies while visiting a tigress in a zoo, and I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing majoring in anthropology?’ ” Barfoot said. “I have always had a desire to work with tigers, and that moment reminded me of my heart’s passion — saving the tiger. I came back and instantly changed my major.”

The wildlife conservation biology program was tougher than she anticipated, though. Learning about endangered species was disheartening, she said. But Barfoot credits the honesty of her teachers with much of her success.

“ASU prepared me for post-graduation life by employing professors who didn’t sugarcoat things,” Barfoot said. “The topics were hard to digest and the outlook was usually bleak, but they told it how it honestly was and empowered us to do something about it.”

Both professors and the classes they taught had a tremendous effect on Barfoot that has lasted long past graduation. She still references what she learned in class to this day.

“The professors always assisted when asked and helped the students who were serious about succeeding,” Barfoot said. “Plus, in my career, having a university education puts you in a different group than those who are applying without a degree.”

In addition to her work at the zoo, Barfoot has actively participated in tiger conservation efforts worldwide since 2007. With the encouragement of a friend who was the former director of the World Wildlife Fund, Barfoot has helped the citizens of 17 villages in India understand the importance of protecting their tiger populations.

“It has been highly rewarding, and it makes my heart so happy,” Barfoot said. “I will continue to visit India and do everything I can to promote tiger conservation, continue to educate the people about the importance of tigers in the wild and support those who are doing the work on the ground.”

What’s more, she has shared her experience with college conservation students in Bangalore, India, and worked with Project Tiger and the Sundarbans Tiger Biosphere. Started by the Indian government in 1973, Project Tiger supports tiger conservation, and Sundarbans Tiger Biosphere is one of the largest reserves in the world for Bengal tigers.

Whether she’s in India or at home in Washington, Barfoot is doing everything she can to protect the animals she loves most, while educating others so they can do the same. 

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine


Exploring intersection of food, sustainability and culture in Italy

June 12, 2015

When ASU student Lynnsey Bogash decided to study abroad in Italy, she had her sights set on Florence or Rome. 

She never imagined that she would spend a semester studying food and sustainability at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, which ended up being the perfect place for this nutrition major with a passion for food. ASU student Lynnsey Bogash in Italy ASU student Lynnsey Bogash spent a semester studying food and sustainability at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy. Photo courtesy Lynnsey Bogash Download Full Image

“Perugia is exactly what I pictured when I thought of Italy. It is a town full of winding, narrow, cobblestone streets, full of family-owned businesses, the Italian language and gelato shops,” said Bogash, who pointed out that the three universities in the center of the city gave her the opportunity to meet students from a number of countries.

For Bogash, the interdisciplinary Food & Sustainability Studies Program at Umbra combined her desire to study in Italy and her love of food.  Three classes make up the bulk of Umbra’s program: History and Culture of Food in Italy, the Business and Study of Wine: Italy and Beyond, and Sustainability and Food Production in Italy.

The sustainability course focuses on the significant increase in food production over the past 50 years and the ecological and social problems it has created, as well as possible solutions.  Bogash learned about the organic movement, Slow Food, innovative food technologies, and the shift toward local food – a shift happening both in America and Italy.

The Umbra Institute also requires students to take an Italian language class or a class taught in Italian.  Bogash said learning the language was essential to her time in Italy.

“Very little English is spoken in Perugia, so if you don’t know the language you are kind of out of luck," she said. “I remember being in a restaurant at the beginning of the semester and I could not order my food correctly.”

During her wine studies class, Bogash and a team of classmates worked on a project to market wine from the sustainable Roccafiore Cellars to customers in the United States.  She said she enjoyed this project because it was her first time giving a professional presentation.

One of the biggest differences she noticed between the U.S. and Italy is how long it takes to finish a meal. In Italy, once patrons get a table at a restaurant they technically have that table for the entire night while in the U.S. restaurants work to turn tables quickly.

“The food culture in Italy is very different from the food culture in America,” she said. “In Italy, food is really valued and the time spent eating food is really valued as well.  Meals can take hours to complete because people spend a lot of time visiting with their company.  Here in America, we are always rushing with our food.”

Bogash’s biggest take away has been the cultural awareness she gained studying abroad.  Before living in Italy, she would be frustrated with someone if he or she could not communicate with her.  Now she understands what it’s like not being able to speak the native language.

“I want to go into the medical field, and there is probably going to be a time when I have trouble communicating with other people,” she said.  “After knowing how it feels to be on both sides of the communication ‘problem,’ I feel as if I have increased my cultural awareness.  I’m grateful that I had this eye-opening experience before heading out into the real world.”

Linda Vaughan, director and professor in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion in the College of Health Solutions, believes that Bogash’s experiences in Italy provide a great example of how ASU students can broaden their experiences beyond the traditional classroom. 

“As a total stranger upon her arrival in Italy navigating an unfamiliar place, Lynnsey has strengthened many important skills and will be a much more generous and supportive practitioner once she starts her professional life,” Vaughan said.  “Even if a student can’t afford to study abroad, volunteering or working with an immigrant population within their own hometown or community can offer many of the cultural opportunities describe by Lynnsey.”

Written by Kaly Nasiff

Media contact:
Denise Kronsteiner
(602) 496-0983