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Alluvian sat down with John Confer, scholar in residence at Ithaca College, to discuss his research on golden-winged warblers, the future of conservation, and the importance of student connections.

Ryan Price: When did you first become attached to science or environmentalism in your own life?

John Confer: I had polio in the second grade. I missed the second grade. I stayed at home for 10-11 months and my parents had a bird feeder. I spent hours watching that bird feeder. Professionally, I’ve now written lots of papers based on watching creatures do things. I have thought about how to explain how it works for me, but in truth; it just is the truth.

RP: What does it mean to you to teach what you teach to students and work with them the way you have?

JC: To be realistic. I’m 78, I’m not going to live forever. Body’s deteriorating in every way you can imagine—eye sight, hearing, whatever you want to talk about. It has occurred to me that when I think of the things that I have done that have given me the greatest satisfaction. It has been to work with students who were not already highly motivated, who were not already disciplined, who did not come to me with a sense of purpose, and after working with me were all of the above.

RP: So, you’re here in this closet to a lab doing research, why are you still here?

JC: I’m still writing a paper. I just got a paper published yesterday. I talked to the editor yesterday afternoon. 22 hours ago…I’m 78 and interacting with young kids keeps me young. It keeps me in touch with the youthful culture, truly. My ego feeds off young kids who I interact with who seem to be better human beings for having done that. And I just like ideas. I’m still trying to find the data and the ways to express ideas. I love it.