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Cathy Viverette

Cathy Viverette, Ph.D.

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Visit the VCU Rice Rivers Center website to learn more about our research projects, outreach and community engagement.

Assistant professor, Center for Environmental Studies
Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences

As a child, Cathy Viverette spent summers along Virginia’s Rappahannock River, which fostered a dream to pursue a career that connected her to the water. She grew up to become a raptor biologist, but still harbored a desire to study rivers.

While working for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Program, Viverette attended a talk on fresh tidal rivers given by Gregory C. Garman, Ph.D., then director of the Center for Environmental Studies at VCU, and presently director of VCU Rice Rivers Center.

“What struck me was that fresh tidal rivers were not as well-studied as I thought and there was still plenty of research to be done,” Viverette said.

After the event, she approached Garman and asked how she could begin doing this work. He told her to come to VCU.

Viverette arrived at VCU in 1998, and earned her master’s in environmental studies. She began working as research associate at the VCU Center for Environmental Studies and as field coordinator for VCU’s Prothonotary Warbler Monitoring Project. The project, begun in 1987, studies the breeding biology of prothonotary warblers, which had been experiencing a population decline throughout much of the U.S. The birds migrate from coastal Central and South America in the summer and winter.

In addition to her work with the prothonotary warblers at the VCU Rice Rivers Center, Viverette serves as a student adviser for undergraduates. She keeps them on track to graduation and encourages other educational experiences outside the classroom such as study abroad and undergraduate research opportunities.

At the same time, Viverette finished her Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences. She has returned to raptors, and her research on how environmental change has influenced demographic and genetic structure of fish-eating birds has expanded her horizons, she said.

“I’ve never done any genetic work so that has certainly been a challenge,” she said. “But I love all the research. It’s opened up all kinds of new things to look at with the prothonotary warblers.”

Now that Viverette completed her Ph.D., she has been able to participate more fully in the prothonotary warbler project. She knows that to answer the most recent questions her thesis raised, she need only ask her colleagues and students within VCU Life Sciences and the Center for Environmental Studies.

“Everything we do is so interdisciplinary,” she said. “That’s the way things get done. With the complex environmental problems we face today, we can’t solve them without bringing in all the stakeholders.”

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