As he thinks about what kind of advice he would offer to his younger self, Larkin Powell – a 1986 Creston High School graduate – said he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“My advice to myself would still be to take advantage of different things because that’s a time of your life when you never know if something’s going to stick or if you’ll use it later or it’ll lead to something else,” he said.
Powell, now 51, said it was within the walls of CCHS where the seeds for his career in wildlife management and conservation biology were planted.
When he reminisces about his time in high school and those who’ve impacted him, he remembers keeping a plant collection for Chuck Eiler’s biology class and attributed much of his love for ecology and conservation biology to his time there. Prior to high school, it was Creston Middle School biology instructor Lyle Babberl who set the foundation in the sciences for Powell.
While his former science instructors heavily influenced his current line of work, Powell said other instructors and classes were as equally important.
“The other thing I do as part of my job is, I do a lot of writing and editing of other’s people writing. The English classes I had in high school and college were incredibly important to what I do now,” Powell said.
Powell also credits Dennis Kuyper, John Keller and Jim Lippold – his vocal, band and speech teachers – for giving him confidence.
“There’s so many ways high school wove together to help support what I went on to do,” he said.
Powell also pointed out how the achievements of the school as a whole can be incredibly rewarding.
“Mr. Keller was our band teacher, and I was in jazz band. I think it was our senior year; they reordered the classes of towns and cities so we joined class 4A … we were now competing in jazz band with all the Des Moines schools. We were just big enough to be put into this big school class. I remember how, at first, we were like, ‘oh gosh, we are going to get killed,’” he said.
Powell said Keller pushed his students to do their best and held a lot of early seven o’clock band practices.
“By the end of the year, in a couple of the competitions, we actually came in first place and had beat some of these Des Moines schools that had seemed kind of unbeatable. That was just a huge achievement for Creston at that time to be ranked above the Des Moines schools in competitions,” he said.
Today, Powell teaches courses in the University of Nebraska’s School of Natural Resources for students in the fisheries and wildlife management majors. Additionally, Powell has led field studies at the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, Namibia and Puerto Rico.
Powell’s areas of study attempt to explain how management of landscapes affect wildlife populations. Many of his research projects are focused on projects assessing grazing management, Farm Bill conservation programs, prescribed burning, and other management related issues.
Following graduation, Powell attended Graceland University, where he received a B.S. in biology in 1990. During his summers away from college, he worked at the Iowa 4-H Camp where he developed a passion for teaching campers about nature. Powell married a fellow Graceland biology major, Kelly Johnson in 1990 before moving to Ames, where they both received M.S. degrees in animal ecology and evolutionary biology. In 1993, Powell and his wife moved to Athens, Georgia, where their son Tristan was born in 1997. In 1998, Powell received a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Georgia after spending three years studying songbirds in the forests of central Georgia. At the university, Powell received the Stoddard-Burleigh-Sutton Award for Excellence in Ornithology.
In 1998, the Powell family moved to Dubuque, where Powell worked as a professor of zoology at the University of Dubuque. In 2000, the students of the University of Dubuque awarded Powell with Faculty of the Year.
Powell began his current tenure as professor of conservation biology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2001. There, he teaches courses in wildlife management and ecology, quantitative ecological methods and conducts research on habitat management and population ecology of wildlife in Nebraska, the Great Plains and around the world. Kelly Powell also teaches courses in the school and Tristan is a current student in journalism and film studies at the university in Lincoln.
In 2009, Powell was the recipient of a Fullbright Scholar award, which allowed his family to spend a year living in Windhoek, Namibia, where he taught courses for the Polytechnic University of Namibia. Throughout his career, Powell has led study abroad trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota/Canada, Puerto Rico and Namibia. He has also served as a visiting scientist for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in Fordinbridge, England and visiting instructor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok, Thailand.
Powell has published more than 120 scientific papers and four books. Powell was named a Fellow of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. He was twice selected for the Holling Family Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence. Powell received the Career Professional Award of the Nebraska Chapter of The Wildlife Society in 2014, and in 2019 he received the highest award in his professional teaching, The Wildlife Society Excellence in Wildlife Education Award. He has also published two books of poetry, “Cursed with Wings: and Other Frustrations” and “Dust and Mud: Perspectives from Namibia.”
Powell said it is a big honor to be selected for Creston Community High School’s 2019 Distinguished Alumni award
“You never think you’re going to be that person,” said Powell. “The list of people that have already been honored is impressive. There’s a lot of people I respect on there, so it’s a big honor to join that list.”
Powell, the son of Raymond and Nancy Powell of Creston, will be inducted in to the Creston Community High School Hall of Fame 11 a.m. Friday Oct. 11 in the high school auditorium.