Dr. Maggie Sporck is currently the Hawaii State Botanist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources and an affiliated researcher with the University of Hawaii’s Botany Department. Dr. Sporck’s passion for plant study began during her time at Northwestern Michigan College, a passion that altered her career path.
Both of my parents went to NMC and my dad (Karl Sporck) was a ceramics instructor at NMC for over 30 years. He retired a few years ago but having him teaching there was a huge influence on my choice to attend. Also, I dual enrolled at NMC while a student at Suttons Bay High and that experience got me hooked on the small class sizes and wonderful instructors.
Did you have a positive NMC experience?
I have nothing but good things to say about my time at NMC. I absolutely loved my instructors and the quality of education I received. I started out there as a fine arts major, earning my AA degree in fine arts in 2002. I would even love to teach there someday if the opportunity presented itself!
Were there any particular faculty/staff that were memorable during your time at NMC?
At that time (2002), some of my favorite instructors were Jackie Shinners and Doug Domine. I think of them both as encouraging, intelligent, and good at teaching the concepts that they were experts in.
After I completed my AA from NMC, I decided to switch gears to what I thought at the time was a ‘more practical’ career and I continued taking classes at NMC while pursuing a double major in English and biology education from Ferris State University through the University Center in Traverse City (2002-2005). While working toward my BS degree I was taking many biology classes at NMC to fulfill my biology education requirements. I had two instructors in the biology department that had life and career changing influence on me–Laura Jaquish and Greg LaCross.
While completing Laura Jaquish’s Plant Physiology course and her Field Botany course I absolutely fell in love with the study of plants. I knew I had to learn more but I wasn’t yet sure how or where I would do that. Greg’s ecology and natural history of vertebrates courses were amazing and eye-opening. I couldn’t get enough and I could feel myself gravitating more and more toward a science career during my time studying under Laura and Greg. Both of them encouraged me to look into and apply for graduate school and they happily wrote letters of recommendation for my next educational step.
“Going to NMC was an experience that I cherish and I never forget the importance of my years spent there in getting me to the next steps of my career.”
How did you get from NMC to Hawaii?
I was particularly interested in studying in a true botany department (there are few of these left in the U.S. as many have dissolved into other overarching departments such as “ecology and evolutionary biology” or “integrative biology” type departments). Even though I absolutely love where I grew up (Leelanau County) I was also interested in going somewhere very different and experiencing new things.
I applied to, and was accepted to, the University of Hawaii (UH) Botany Department and starting my studies there in fall of 2005. My original plan was to complete an MS degree in botany and then come back to Michigan but plans such as these often change… I ended up completing a PhD in botany with a specialization in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology in spring of 2011. Since then I have been a lecturer at UH and Honolulu Community College and landed a job with the State of Hawaii working as the State Botanist. My botanical areas of specialization are plant anatomy and physiology and issues surrounding rare and endangered plants. Though my current position as Hawaii State Botanist has steered me away from academia a bit, I am still interested in and involved with research projects and am constantly looking for opportunities to continue working as an educator as those are some of my greatest passions. One of the ways I do this is by volunteering for the international online mentoring program PlantingScience, where career scientists mentor young people with their science experiments.
Education has opened so many doors for me and I feel lucky and proud of all that I have been able to accomplish over the past decade.