University of Vermont

Mazeika Sullivan Earns Ohio State Teaching Award

Graduate alum profile

Mazeika Sullivan (far right) and his students at Ohio State University (OSU) conducting fieldwork. Photo credit: Ken Chamberlain OSU/CFAES Communications
Mazeika Sullivan (far right) and his students at Ohio State University (OSU) conducting fieldwork. Photo credit: Ken Chamberlain OSU/CFAES Communications

At Ohio State University (OSU), Assistant Professor Mazeika Sullivan (MS-UVM ’00; PhD-NR ’04) has an office that overlooks the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park in Columbus, Ohio, where he’ll probably conduct fieldwork later in the afternoon. The previous morning, a PhD candidate working with him from Zimbabwe successfully defended a dissertation. The previous afternoon, Mazeika participated in a teleconference for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board, on which he serves, related to the connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters, which has direct relevance to the Clean Water Act.

It’s the combination of these activities and the variety of ways in which he can practice his science that Mazeika finds so exciting. “The opportunity to conduct novel science that serves as the basis for important service, outreach, and teaching efforts is tremendous!” he admits.

And that is why his students, past students, and colleagues at OSU recently honored Mazeika with a distinguished teaching award  for his dedication to students; development of impactful, real world coursework; and inclusion of practical field experience in his classes. Mazeika has taught and conducted research on the ecology and conservation of aquatic and riparian ecosystems in OSU’s School of Environment and Natural Resources since 2008.

Mazeika honed his teaching and research skills from some of the best at UVM.  His doctoral research with Professor Mary Watzin focused on links between stream geomorphology and riparian ecology and how this connection can be applied to stream ecosystem conservation.

“Dr. Watzin was a fantastic advisor and I left [UVM] very well prepared for my work as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Idaho,” acknowledges Mazeika. “Dr. Cully Hession (now at Virginia Tech) was also instrumental in my work and in my development as a scientist. Dr. Allan Strong and Dr. Charles Goodnight (Biology) were also great mentors and meaningfully contributed to my graduate experience at UVM.”

The OSU teaching award was enormously rewarding to Mazeika who has worked tirelessly to bring his research into the classroom and involve his students in his research.

“I find the intersection of research and teaching to be very exciting, so this recognition was very meaningful for me,” shares Mazeika. “The opportunity to contribute to the development of future scientists and environmental stewards is a true pleasure and a part of my job that I highly value and enjoy.”

Mazeika’s research looks at the ecological, geomorphic, and biogeochemical aspects of stream and riparian ecosystems to address both basic science questions as well as applications to conservation and management.  His projects range from studies in remote areas, such as effects of fire on stream-riparian food webs in Yosemite National Park, to highly urban settings, where he and his students are investigating ecological impacts of dam removal and influences of artificial night lighting on stream-riparian biotic communities and ecosystem function.

The dam removal research, with colleague Assistant Professor Kristin Jaeger, was partially funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes on Water Resources. The co-investigators and their students are examining two recent dam removal sites, one on the Olentangy River that runs through OSU’s campus and one on the Scioto River five miles south.  The research team measures physical changes, such as channel shape, water flow, and sediment transport and contaminant build up and studies how these changes affect fish, birds, and insects that live in and along the rivers.  They intend for their findings to help guide future dam removals.

Mazeika also works on multiple international projects. For example, he leads a group of researchers to understand interactions among environmental alterations such as urbanization, biodiversity, and language change in Lithuania.

His courses in Stream Ecology, Aquatic Invertebrate Taxonomy and Behavior, and Methods in Aquatic Ecology are each intrinsically linked to his research. Nine graduate students (combination of MS and PhD) currently work in his laboratory, and a suite of undergraduates work throughout the academic year and during the summer on his research projects.

To strengthen the connection between his research and student mentoring, he founded the OSU Buckeye Subunit of the American Fisheries Society in 2009 to bring together undergraduates and graduate students with common interests in the aquatic sciences. As the unit’s advisor, Mazeika encourages activities that link students with aquatic professionals, research activities, and outreach and extension opportunities, such as the Passport to Fishing program for youth groups and natural history field days at local parks.

Mazeika lives on the west side of Columbus, Ohio with his wife Gabriela, who is in nursing school part-time working on her RN degree, and their three children, Adela Lucia and twins, Joaquin Aras and Santiago Adomas. Adela accompanies Mazeika to his field research sites and is in training to care for the family’s urban chicken flock, and all three children help in the family garden. Gabriela and Mazeika are active members of their local neighborhood civic association and local Hispanic and Lithuanian groups, which Mazeika finds provide great teaching opportunities and cultural and linguistic enrichment for his children.