James Cheak:Bio

Slide02Ever since I was a child I dreamed of being a scientist. I grew up in a little town in southern Illinois on a 10-acre property right on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest. I spent the majority of my younger years exploring the great outdoors, catching critters, and scanning stream beds for Indian artifacts.

Although Illinois seems an unlikely place to find undulating streams, rolling hills, Bald Cyprus swamps, and limestone blSlide04uffs, my exposure to these wild places allowed me to familiarize myself to the Florida ecosystems with relative ease when I moved here in 2011. In January, 2012, having attended Valencia College for a semester, I Studied Abroad in Southern India for a field biology course, and again in Guyana in 2013 for a Neotropical Ecology course under the supervision of Professor Steve Myers. I immediately found console in Professor Myers, for he too shares my passion for Biology, and he has been a mentor and inspiration to me ever since. Although traditionally trained as a herpetologist, Myers has an affinity for plants, especially those that serve a useful purpose. In the summer of 2012, having been inspired by my trip abroad, I began exploring the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area as often as I could, taking photographs and systematically identifying my findings to the best of my ability.

jim_ElephantThis eventually blossomed into a yearlong independent study on the wildflowers of Tosohatchee under the supervision of Professor Myers and permission by Lynn Dorn, Dean of Science. With the help of Richard P. Wunderlin and Bruce F. Hansen, Director and Curator of the USF Herbarium, and leading authorities on the vascular plants of Florida, I conducted a site-inventory of wildflowers of Tosohatchee. I drew inspiration from an old friend of Professor Myers, Dr. Walter Kingsley Taylor, Professor Emeritus at UCF, who spent a lot of time at Tosohatchee taking photographs for his book “Guide to the Wildflowers of Florida”. Myers once quoted Dr. Taylor, imitating IMG_0329his signature Kentucky drawl “I can learn these plants”, pointing out that Dr. Taylor wasn’t a Florida native or traditionally trained as a
botanist, which fueled my fire even more. In the spring of 2013, with the semester coming to a close I gave a multimedia presentation for the Science Department showcasing my results. Thanks to Professor Myers, Dr. Hansen, and Dr. Wunderlin, the Tosohatchee project is on-going, and I will continue to add to the site-inventory for years to come.


James Cheak