Earthwatch Award Supports Pitzer Alumna’s Caterpillar Research in Her Hometown in Thailand

Chanchanok Sudta ’18 will work with young students and continue her international ecological research that was first inspired at Pitzer’s Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology

Chanchanok Sudta wears a backpack and blue jacket as she stands in a lush green forest and smiles at the camera. She has shoulder-length dark brown hair and wears glasses.
Chanchanok Sudta ’18 at Yanayacu Biological Station in Ecaudor.

Claremont, Calif. (October 10, 2022)—Pitzer College alumna Chanchanok Sudta ’18 has received the Neville Shulman Earthwatch Award to research the eating habits of Lepidoptera caterpillars and how environmental disturbances impact plant-insect networks.

“I am excited to start a caterpillar-host plant survey with impactful outreach activities in rural Thailand,” said Sudta.

The Neville Shulman Earthwatch Award provides funding to early career scientists to implement research, increase local community engagement in environmental projects, and tackle environmental challenges.

A tropical ecologist and a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), Sudta will be expanding her dissertation’s study site to the rural community in Thailand where she was raised. Sudta wants to give back to her hometown and involve the next generation in science by working with secondary or elementary students to collect caterpillars and learn about them.

“I want them to look at the full life cycle and how small things can make a huge change in the ecosystem,” said Sudta.

The Neville Shulman Earthwatch Award is not the first honor that Sudta has received. Sudta’s education at Pitzer and UNR has been supported by the Royal Thai Scholarship, a highly competitive governmental award that supports exceptional students’ undergraduate and graduate studies abroad before returning to Thailand to work.

Chanchanok Sudta touches the leaf of a plant as she stands in a large green forest. She wears a black hat and glasses and a long-sleeved brown plaid shirt and dark blue backpack with a plastic bag attached.
Chanchanok Sudta ’18 at the Amazonian forest of Ecuador.

Sudta is grateful to Pitzer for giving her research opportunities even as an undergraduate. In the summer after her sophomore year, she researched butterflies with Kenneth S. Pitzer Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Don McFarlane at Pitzer’s Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica.

The Firestone Center is a tropical ecological field station that is home to science, language, and international studies curricula and provides opportunities for faculty research and student engagement in an intercultural context. The experience sparked Sudta’s interest in tropical ecology, and she eventually wrote her senior thesis about plant-insect interactions.

“If I went to a big university, I might not have had the chance to do research for 10 weeks in another country,” said Sudta. “I got to interact closely with professors. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for grad school, and they showed me the path forward. Many of them influenced how I show up in the program I’m in now.”

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