Alumni Profile: Delissa Padilla Nieves


Delissa Padilla Nieves

Padilla measures the active layer of permafrost in

Beaufort Lagoon,Alaska, a key site for long-term

coastal erosion analysis. The Arctic National Wildlife

Refuge has been measuring permafrost there

since the mid-1980s in order to determine how

rising greenhouse gas levels are affecting the region.


For Delissa Padilla Nieves (’08 Master of Natural Resources), the transition from academic to professional life came naturally. While a student at Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region, Padilla completed a groundbreaking capstone paper that used the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) to predict how wetland and coastal habitat would change in response to sea-level rise, specifically in two national wildlife refuges in Padilla’s native Puerto Rico. Her work caught the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) when Brian Czech, a professor on Padilla’s review committee, presented the paper to an audience of USFWS staff. Highly interested in exploring methods to assess climate change and sea-level rise in their refuges, the USFWS found Padilla’s approach to be a valuable tool, and her paper went through a review process that culminated in a job offer.

At first, Padilla’s job consisted primarily of completing sea-level rise analyses for USFWS refuges, work similar to the research she had done for her capstone paper. Now, in addition to her position as a coastal biologist for the National Wildlife Refuge System, Padilla is on a temporary assignment to the International Conservation Division as an international affairs specialist for the Mexico branch. In December, she traveled to Mexico, where she worked with government officials to select projects for funding and to coordinate these decisions with the USFWS and the Mexican government. Her position also takes her across the United States, including a trip to Alaska last summer to collaborate with employees at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “They wanted to learn more about the model that I use. I was presenting, using the model, and assessing what kind of gap in information they had,” explained Padilla.

Padilla speaks enthusiastically of her education at Virginia Tech. “I think one of the benefits of completing my master’s in the National Capital Region is that we had the opportunity for close interaction with the agencies and institutions here,” she reflected. The proximity to so many governmental and nonprofit organizations gave her insight into their operations and enabled her to interact with professors and classmates who had first-hand knowledge of the professional world. “Having that circle of people who had so much experience made me grow both personally and professionally,” said Padilla. She and her college classmates still keep in contact, gathering for informal meetings and attending noteworthy seminars and presentations on campus together.

To current natural resources students, Padilla emphasizes the value of participating in research. “Sometimes organizations do not know all of the different tools and research alternatives that are out there,” she observed. As her story proves, student research that fulfills an organization’s need can translate into something more than just a passing grade. And as students think about their future careers, Padilla strongly recommends working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I wake up in the morning and I want to come to work,” she said. “We have a great mission, and we do valuable work.”





Dana Keith
Assistant to Department Head
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Cheatham Hall, RM100, Virginia Tech
310 West Campus Drive (MC0321)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Phone: (540) 231-5573
Fax: (540) 231-7580


Dr. Sarah Karpanty 
Graduate Program Coordinator 

Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Cheatham Hall, RM150, Virginia Tech
310 West Campus Drive (MC0321)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Phone: (540) 231-4586
Fax: (540) 231-7580


Stephanie Hart, Director
The Advising Center
Cheatham Hall, RM138, Virginia Tech
310 West Campus Drive (MC0321)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Phone: (540) 231-5482 Email: