Evan Gora, who is earning a doctoral degree in biology, is the scheduled student speaker as more than 1,300 UofL students graduate in a formal ceremony Dec. 14.
Gora, a Pennsylvania native, has spent years studying tropical rainforests and the impact of lightning on forests. His accolades and awards include a $138,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant. He has also received a National Geographic Young Explorer grant and a fellowship from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
During his graduation speech, Gora said he plans to encourage students to be unafraid to fail and take risks.
“I will urge students to apply that mentality both professionally and personally so that they can enact real change in their life and in their community,” he said.
Gora, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, chose to attend UofL for his graduate work so he could study with Steve Yanoviak, a biology professor and the Tom Wallace Endowed Chair of Conservation.
He said his most memorable experience at UofL was when he was in Panama studying tropical trees in the canopy with Dr. Yanoviak.
“Although you may expect the view from a treetop to be expansive, this tropical rainforest is so dense that it is generally impossible to see more than a few dozen feet,” he said. “One day in 2014, I climbed a large Jacaranda tree along a ridge in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument. I suddenly emerged into a completely open area of the canopy. This tree stood taller than all of its neighbors and I had a clear view from this high point on the ridge. The forest extended through valleys and over ridgetops in all directions and in the distance I could see the Panama Canal. The view was breathtaking and this experience is never too far from mind when I climb a tree to do my research.”
Gora’s research on how lightning affects the trees in the tropics is part of a relatively new direction that Yanoviak has been developing throughout the past three years. There’s still not an understanding of how lightning functions ecologically. Researchers like Yanoviak and Gora are learning that, in some instances, what is thought to be the death of a tree brought about by disease is actually caused by lightning – and lianas may act as natural lightning rods.
“Dr. Yanoviak is a classical tropical field biologist with an exceptional ability to perceive how life functions in nature,” Gora said. “The opportunity to develop my own research under his mentorship drew me to attend UofL for my doctorate … I have followed my passion for ecology and never looked back.”
Of the more than 1,300 students on track to graduate this semester, 875 plan to take part in the Dec. 14 ceremony, which is at 7 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center downtown. UofL President Neeli Bendapudi will preside. More information is available online.