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Congratulations to Dr. Nicole Smolensky, Lead Biologist, out of our Austin office, on being named the Lawrence S. Semo Scientific Achievement award winner for the first quarter of 2024.

Since joining in 2015, Nicole has embodied SWCA core values through her dedication to scientific excellence, academic achievement, and building partnerships. Her expertise in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology has led to significant contributions across nearly all service lines and ten states, cementing numerous trusted partnerships.



Nicole’s academic journey in ecology, evolutionary biology, herpetology, and a keen interest in applied ecology and conservation biology laid the groundwork for her influential role at SWCA. Her graduate research honed her focus, which she seamlessly transitioned into her career, notably as a Lead Biologist specializing in threatened and endangered species.

A recognized authority on complex ESA (Endangered Species Act) section 7 consultations for linear projects and habitat conservation plans, Nicole stands out as a technical expert within the South region. She significantly contributes to the Biology Practice Group, enhancing SWCA’s scientific methodologies.

A highlight of Nicole’s career is her work with the dunes sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus), a species she studied at Texas A&M University. Nicole’s efforts have led to the development of new survey protocols for the lizard, influencing local regulations and conservation agreements.

“Few of us get the opportunity to apply our degrees to our work, I feel like one of the lucky ones. Through this one species and its proposed federal listing under the ESA, I have been able to collaborate with academic partners, clients, and several SWCA teams (e.g., mining, water, air, data acquisition, modelers, data scientists, and statisticians),” said Nicole.  



Beyond her scientific contributions, Nicole is a dynamic leader in the Women of Color in Science employee resource group (ERG) and a founding member of the Biology Practice Group. Her leadership has been instrumental in evolving these groups into key platforms for promoting sound science and fostering a strong community.

Amanda Glen notes, “Nicole and her advocacy have made the ERG a vital community that supports the career growth of women of color scientists within SWCA.”

Nicole encourages others in technical fields to engage actively in technical practice groups and to always consider the intersections of technical work with project issues.  



Nicole’s influence extends to her technical and peer-reviewed publications, with contributions to more than twenty-three scientific meetings. Notable publications include Distance Sampling Underestimates Population Densities of Dune-Dwelling Lizards in the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Journal of Herpetology, and a study on Population Variation in Dune-Dwelling Lizards in Response to Patch Size, Patch Quality, and Oil and Gas Development published by the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, addressing impacts of patch size, quality, and oil and gas development.

Through her comprehensive work and leadership, Nicole exemplifies the #NeverSettle ethos, continually advancing SWCA’s commitment to sound science and creative solutions.


The quarterly Lawrence S. Semo Scientific Achievement Award rewards individuals for demonstrating passion, creativity, and scientific excellence in a manner that advances SWCA’s purpose, mission, vision, and values. The award is in honor of Larry Semo, who began working as a biologist for SWCA in Austin in 1993 and transferred to Denver in 1999. A respected and widely published ornithologist and all-around naturalist, Larry had an insatiable desire to learn and a great love for the outdoors until his untimely passing in 2011.