ASU Army vet, father of four follows passion for rangeland management, conservation

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

ASU applied biological sciences graduate Keaton Davis has always loved the outdoors. 

“I grew up in a family that did a lot of camping and was active in scouting,” said Davis, who grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and served in the U.S. Army for six years before attending college.

“I first thought about pursuing conservation work when I left the Army in 2015,” he explained, “but set that aside and started coursework in electrical engineering. After my first year at Mesa Community College, I wasn’t feeling passion and interest in engineering, so I reevaluated my plan and decided to switch over to a career in natural resources.”

ASU’s natural resource management concentration at the Polytechnic campus was the obvious fit for him, with the easy transfer process from MCC and Poly’s location in the East Valley, said the College of Integrative Sciences graduate, who in addition to completing the degree in applied biological sciences has completed the Certificate in Wildlife Management.

Davis, though busy as a father to three young sons (and he has a baby due in early June), took advantage of the many opportunities he had at the ASU Polytechnic campus to do natural resource management, not just study it. That included many opportunities to engage with alumni and practitioners in the field.

This last year he served as president of ASU’s chapter of the Wildlife Restoration Student Association, and in January he was among the nearly 20 students who participated in the Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) of the Arizona and New Mexico Chapters of the Wildlife Society in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the annual conference of the Society in Range Management (SRM) in Minneapolis.

“We fielded two teams this year for the JAM Quiz Bowl and scored some pretty high point values; Sun Devils took home 40% of the photography awards, including Best in Show; a number of us took the Undergraduate Range Management Exam at SRM, and the five students who took the Plant ID test gave ASU a solid ninth-place finish among about 40 teams, ASU’s best finish so far,” he reported proudly.

Davis said having the chance to rub shoulders with Polytechnic campus alumni who are now well into their careers and to talk with hiring supervisors from federal and state agencies at these events was huge: “Everybody came back with new connections, ready to tweak their resumes.”

He highly recommends that students from any ASU campus or degree program who have an interest in plants, wildlife, fisheries, conservation or just being out in nature consider joining the WRSA club.

Though he’s just on the threshold of starting his career, having accepted a position with the U.S. Forest Service, Davis already speaks as an ambassador for his specialization: “They say that for every open job in wildlife ecology there are about 10 applicants; for every job in rangeland management that number is about 0.8.”

He recently shared with ASU Now some reflections on his ASU experience and dreams for the future.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective? 

Answer:  I learned to understand that every person I meet is unique and has personality traits and experiences that give them inherent value. I’ve also learned that I can be a positive influence on others with even the smallest gesture.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: I have had the most amazing group of professors, but if I had to pull an important lesson I learned while in the program it would be a conglomeration of lessons: There is no replacement for hard work; a common theme in biology and ecology is that there is an exception to every rule; and there are way more things that we don’t know than things we do know.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?  

A: Although grades are important, they can’t replace human interaction. Become involved in on- and off-campus organizations, network, volunteer and don’t be afraid to possibly embarrass yourself.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My on-campus job, in the Poly Bike Co-Op, was the source for some of my more valued experiences and fond memories. I do some of my best thinking and pondering while working with my hands and fixing things, so the hours of tinkering with bikes and longboards allowed me to keep a clear mind and contemplate solutions to life’s questions.

Q: Did you do an internship related to your major?  

A: I held a summer internship in 2017 related to wildlife conservation, working with small mammals for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Particularly, the internship worked with Gunnison prairie dogs on public and private land in Arizona. The program was an effort to measure colony size of prairie dogs to determine potential habitat areas to reintroduce the black-footed ferret, which is an endangered species native to Arizona.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?  

A: I received a job offer from the U.S. Forest Service, working on the Tonto National Forest. So, for the next year or so I anticipate living and working near Young, Arizona.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: I would devote it to establishing environmental education programs in developing and developed countries. Most people base their behavior and perspectives on what they know. Most people do not know how much humans influence the global landscape and climate. I believe the only way to change the course of human influence is for those that do know to educate those who are unaware. This education can be formal or informal; the voice of conservation needs to be heard.