Alums Continue Animal Conservation Discussion Driven by Senior Design

By Elizabeth Ruf

NC State Wilson College of Textiles students Caryn Siggins and Samantha Jeffrey were both on Senior Design teams whose year-long research projects worked to solve the same real-world problem: how to prevent bull elephants from destroying African villages. Their solution? An elephant collar that transmits sounds and mimics vibrations similar to bees and ants, which elephants avoid. Siggins worked on the first iteration of the project in 2013-14, and Jeffrey’s team continued the research the following school year. Both had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to conduct field tests as part of their projects. Siggins remained on the continent to meet with other conservationists.

We had the chance to follow up with both of them to see what they’ve been up to since the their projects ended. As it turns out, they are still sharing what they learned.

Siggins and Jeffrey recently attended an anti-poaching conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa (right outside of Cape Town) where they were able to speak about their project and share some of their successes. Dr. Stephen Lee of the US Army Research Office, their Senior Design project sponsor, gave them the opportunity to share their work. Described as a meeting of the minds, everyone in attendance is dedicated to protecting the lives of the animal world through non-deadly means.

Reflecting on both the conference and project, Jeffrey now knows that, “There isn’t one ‘silver bullet’ that will solve the issue of poaching,” and is excited to continue thinking of ways textiles and textile-related technologies can make a difference in the world.

Looking back at their work, Siggins finds it immensely impactful, even today. “A lot of people ask me about it still, especially anyone who sees my resume. It gave me a first hand look at the real problems with poaching animals and how we need a variety of solutions, not just one solution.”

Not only was she able to make a real difference, but Siggins also discovered hidden passions along the way. “Conservation, especially in Africa, is important to me. Having this connection is great. I like to keep up with different conservation groups online and see what solutions are being invented or how people are trying to negate human-wildlife conflict.”

While both women remain passionate about animal conservation work, they are focusing on their careers for the time being. Siggins is now a solution consultant for PA group USA, where she implements Microsoft Dynamics AX. Jeffrey is continuing her education by pursuing a Master’s in Textile Engineering here at home in the Wilson College of Textiles. Both would love to continue their work if given the opportunity.