Four With A ’Dore: Garfield Tingyu Zhang

(@valderbiltu / Vanderbilt University)
In the Four With a ‘Dore series, we’re getting to know Vanderbilt students four questions at a time. In today’s installment, meet Garfield Tingyu Zhang, a member of the Class of 2023 from Shanghai and Singapore. Known on campus as the “Squirrel Whisperer,” Zhang is majoring in psychology and minoring in business.

Q: How did you start befriending squirrels?
A: During the second semester of my freshman year, Vanderbilt moved classes online at the beginning of the pandemic. I stayed on campus and took classes outside on the library lawn. One day I was in a Zoom class when a squirrel came up to me. I was shocked and watched it intently. Over time, more squirrels started approaching me and they began to recognize me.

Q: How many squirrels have you befriended?
A: I named and can recognize 19 squirrels. However, I have close relationships with seven of them.

Q: What do you want to do next in life, and how is Vanderbilt preparing you?
A: I hope to get into a PhD program studying the adaptive significance of animal behaviors through squirrels. At Vanderbilt, I have been given the opportunity to work in professors’ labs, take classes in a wide range of subjects and build connections with a lot of other students who have informed my learning.

Q: What do you wish more people knew about squirrels?
A: The eastern gray squirrel, the type of squirrel that resides at Vanderbilt, has a population of approximately 2 billion in the United States. Interestingly, a single squirrel can bury as many as 10,000 nuts annually, which have the potential of growing into trees. I want people to know that it is important to treat squirrels kindly as they have an important ecological role in our ecosystem through forest regeneration and seed dispersal.