Meet Jera Dills, the Newest Member of the AUWRC Team

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Uncategorized, WRC Blog, WRC Staff Highlights


Mona looking at ag bmps installed as part of Rock Creek WMP.

Jera Dills testing water quality with an Alabama Water Watch testing kit

Tell us about your background and current position.

Current Position:

My current role with AWW/AUWRC is multifaceted, which I love. I look forward to helping with marketing and communications, event organizing, volunteer coordination, data collection and processing and more! I look forward to gaining field experience, especially administering the biomonitoring training sessions, connecting my entomology knowledge to what we find in the water! So far, I’ve gotten to come along for two water testing sessions and feel so lucky I get to call this work! 


I grew up in Auburn and stayed local for college, graduating in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Management. I remember feeling so inspired by my classes, professors, and research projects I volunteered for and couldn’t wait to see where my education would take me. Having grown up in a family that loves the outdoors truly planted the seed in me to become an environmentalist, I just needed to decide which direction I wanted to go!   

Following graduation, my main goal was to gain ample field work experience. This led me to meeting Dr. Katelyn Kesheimer, who at the time was leading an entomology research lab focusing on exploring Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies. I spent almost two years engulfed in a world of insects, row crop management, and research and I truly fell in love! I spent my summers in hemp and corn fields, collecting samples and data all throughout the state of Alabama, and the winters were spent caring for hemp propagations in our greenhouse, conducting laboratory studies, and identifying insects. I also had the chance to be involved in outreach programs and Extension efforts, giving me an opportunity to work closely with our community and share my excitement about insects.

In my second year, Dr. Kesheimer further encouraged me to conduct my own research project and supported me in presenting my findings at three conferences in Colorado, Maryland, and here in Auburn! These experiences are priceless to me, as I gained a confidence in myself that I didn’t have before. The time I spent under Katelyn’s wing was transformational for me and I grew in very necessary ways; she became not only a mentor to me professionally, but also personally.  


Jera presenting research findings at a conference while working in Dr. Kesheimer’s lab

Coupled with my time in Dr. Kesheimer’s Lab, I also worked in Auburn University’s Native Bee Lab from late 2022-2023. This position gave me another new perspective of the natural world, as I had always had a small fear of bees and wasps. However, after working with them closely, getting to focus on observing their behavior and even handling them, that fear was greatly diminished. I especially enjoyed learning about the native bees of Alabama, which are arguably one of the least researched topics, making my efforts in the lab feel very meaningful.  

Some of Jera’s work in the Auburn Bee Lab

What do you find most exciting about working in the world of water?

Having lifeguarded and taught swimming lessons for six years, I have a great affinity for being in and around waterbodies. This natural pull to water coupled with my education and entomology experience, I simply cannot wait to learn more about Alabama’s natural waterways. I am also interested in learning more about the water system of my hometown, connecting memories of streams that I spent my childhood playing in with a larger map of the watershed. 

Sydney instructs at her first Alabama Water Watch workshop.

Jera and some of her colleagues at the AU Water Resources Center

What advice would you give to others hoping to work in water resources?

I am still very new in my position, so this may be a broad statement, but my advice would be to always follow where your passions lead you! I feel very grateful that I’ve been given opportunities to turn my passions and hobbies into the start of my career as an environmentalist. I believe you can find your place in the world if you allow yourself to follow your heart and if environmental education is one of your passions, you’re already on the right path to work with water resources.   

Jera enjoying some time at the beach


Auburn University Water Resources Center
ALFA Agricultural Services and Research Building
961 S Donahue Drive
Auburn, AL 36840