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The communications office of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin provides media with timely, accurate information about the Wildflower Center. Below are recent press releases related to Center events and to staff expertise on conservation practices, native plant gardening, nature education, and native plant resources and research findings. For more information or photos beyond those on the newsroom site, please contact:

    Media Manager
Barbra Rodriguez

February 23, 2012

New Finance Director, Invasive Species Manager Named

A certified government financial manager with 30 years of experience has been selected as the chief financial officer of The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The center has also hired an ecologist to coordinate programs that address invasive, non-native plants and animals threatening Texas’ plants and wildlife.

Director of Finance and Operations Mike Abkowitz previously spent eight years overseeing   operations and field sales staff in Oklahoma and Texas for Great-West Retirement Services.  As a regional director for the retirement plan manager, he also coordinated investments and other services for public and non-profit sector clients representing more than 140,000 participants. Prior to that, Abkowitz worked in financial management  for the City of Austin, most notably as chief financial manager of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department from 1991-2002. 

His community service activities include serving more than seven years on the board of directors for Front Steps, Inc., which runs the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) and provides other services. Abkowitz was board president for three of those years, and more recently acted as Front Steps’ interim executive director from 2010 to 2011.

As manager of the Wildflower Center’s invasive species programs, Jessica Strickland will draw upon experience at a California environmental non-profit, as an ecologist at an Austin engineering firm, and doing environmental research in Mexico and Texas. She spent a year as a conservation associate with American Rivers in Nevada City, Calif., conducting biological and other studies related to invasive species and other concerns. She also taught river-related workshops and oversaw volunteers. 

At Feese and Nichols, Inc., she spent 10 months evaluating biological samples and assisting with environmental compliance documentation related to water resources. She previously helped lead a Chiapas, Mexico, field station focused on biological invasions for Cornell University and provided English and Spanish outreach about the station’s activities.

Abkowitz holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Syracuse University in New York. He also earned a master’s degree in public affairs from The University of Texas at Austin. Strickland received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries ecology from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and earned a master’s degree in aquatic resources from Texas State University – San Marcos.

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