Freshman Turns ‘Bird-Brain’ Into a Compliment For Local 7th Graders


posted April 12, 2018

Samantha Felix presents her program 'Bird Brains' to a Greater Johnstown Middle School seventh grade class

Aspiring high school biology freshman Samantha Felix met biology professor Dr. Christine Dahlin in her freshman year and learned of a shared love of birds, biology, and teaching students of all ages.

samantha felix

Samantha Felix with Yoko, a triton cockatoo (above), and a seventh-grader feeds Yoko a live worm while Yoko is held by Dr. Dahlin.


This led them to develop a non-traditional research assistantship, in which Samantha developed an education program for local students.

This spring, Samantha taught her program to 10 seventh-grade classes at Greater Johnstown Middle School (GJSD), courtesy of science teachers Brian Hockensmith and Seth Grant. 

Samantha developed a program on foraging (food-finding) and intelligence in birds, all from an evolutionary perspective.

Students learned about birds near and dear to our hearts, including black-capped chickadees, and their amazing ability to remember the seeds they “cache” or store for up to 28 days.

She also taught about birds from as far away as New Zealand, including the New Caledonian crow, a tool-making crow.

Students also did their own caching activity in which they had to act as birds and cache and remember the locations of candy in the classroom. 

Samantha also talked about her own path to becoming a college student, and both Dr. Dahlin and Samantha talked about life at Pitt-Johnstown.

Each day culminated in a presentation by Dr. Dahlin with her avian ambassador, Yoko the cockatoo, and a discussion on parrot life history and conservation.

Students screamed in delight as they fed Yoko live worms, and laughed as he swung through the air like a trapeze artist.

Teaching all 10 seventh-grade classes took two full days, but seeing so many student get excited about birds, biology and college was well worth it. 

This was Dr. Dahlin’s first year bringing an education programs to GJSD, but she hopes to make this an annual event with Pitt-Johnstown participation.