The packed-down grassy patch surrounded by sagebrush seemed a long way from the operating rooms Molly Attell was used to working in.
Yet the surgical nurse—with "35 years in the operating room" including more than a dozen years as a clinical educator—had a passion for wild canines since she was little, and in spite of a nursing career that takes her around the world to places like Vietnam, Micronesia, Ecuador and most recently Nepal, she has found time to observe, understand, and advocate for the wild animals she is most interested in. So as a volunteer helping a YERC field crew process a live coyote captured for the Canid Ecology Project, Molly was amazed with just how much that real world experience mattered in this real life research situation.
"I thought, 'Wow, my skills as a nurse come in real handy,'" she said, describing the care for the pup and the sterile equipment. "Who knew my skills as an OR nurse could be helpful in Yellowstone?"
Molly's husband, Steve Attell, likewise brings his diverse background and skill set to YERC's Adaptive Ecology team.
"My goal was to choose a profession I was interested in and had a passion for," he said. "I wanted to make a contribution."
For eleven years, that contribution was as a Marine aviator, including a thirteen month combat tour in Vietnam. He then pursued architecture and design—"a challenging profession, but a lot of fun"—eventually following a career mentor to specialize in managing large construction projects from start to finish: B1 bomber and stealth aircraft facilities at desert airbases, clean rooms in Silicon Valley research labs, and eventually Stanford University where he oversaw the campus' infrastructure growth for more than twelve years. In spite of that busy career, like—and indeed with—Molly, Steve has become a valuable part of the YERC team, which has in itself proven to be his own gateway into Yellowstone and his personal connection to ecology.
. "In my lifetime, some of the most meaningful experiences I've had have been in the field of biology," he said, "and I'm not a biologist."
Carl Sagan said, "every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist." But Sagan went on to say, "and then we beat it out of them." Molly and Steve are proof that this does not have to be true: by reaching out to us, finding creative ways to apply their skills and talents to our needs, and following their passions for understanding and adventure even when it took them out of their usual professional box, Molly and Steve were able to make Yellowstone and YERC an important part of their lives as well as have a beneficial impact on our research.
So just how exactly did this surgical nurse and architect end up helping coyote researchers in Yellowstone? Molly described hearing YERC founder, Bob Crabtree, speak at an event in Yellowstone in the late 1990s, and how she approached him in the parking lot after the event.
. "I am kind of shy and usually wouldn't do that sort of thing," she said, but she wanted to tell Bob about her own ideas and experiences with coyotes, her willingness to volunteer in the field and experience the research for herself, her passion for the animals and their ecology and the landscape...
"'You just said the magic word,'" Bob told her. What? she asked. "Passion... would you like to come out this winter?"