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Biology majors benefit from new undergraduate research experience

Photos of STEM studentsWhile many students used the summer months for some well-deserved rest and relaxation from the rigors of the academic year, biology majors Colin Rich '19 and Sophia Mayer-Mack '21 spent the time focusing on plant ecophysiology.

As participants in BW's new summer STEM faculty-student collaborative scholarship program, Rich and Mayer-Mack fully immersed themselves in research experiences outside the academic year and presented their findings at the Cleveland Botanical Garden Holden Forests and Gardens S.E.A.R.C.H. Undergraduate Research Symposium in August.

Investigating invasive impact

Colin Rich (r) with his faculty advisor and research mentor, Dr. Natalie Barratt (l)Rich's project was designed to compare the invasive bush honeysuckle to a native competitor's capacity to tolerate environmental stresses. He measured antioxidant levels in the leaves of both species with the hope that his findings will contribute to an understanding of the ways invasive plants might outcompete native species.

Rich cites the opportunity to apply his classroom learning to an independent project as integral to his decision to pursue a career in environmental or ecological management or conservation.

Student-faculty collaboration

Working with Dr. Natalie Barratt, who serves both as Rich's academic advisor and his supervisor in the greenhouse and botany lab, has been rewarding. Rich enjoys the challenge of searching out the answers to questions and problems with Barratt's expert guidance and advice.

"The best thing about BW is the people, both faculty and students," Rich shared. "The faculty get to know you and have a genuine interest in helping you succeed."

Exploring pollution and plants

Sophia Mayer-Mack Mayer-Mack's research focused on plant stress physiology to demonstrate human impact on the environment. As fuel stations are the leading contributor to air pollution in urban locations, she targeted her work in this area.

She conducted two tests to measure antioxidant levels in plants to determine the stress they were experiencing. The goal of her research is to highlight the need for sustainable resources to lessen the negative environmental impact of many of our everyday activities.

Early career stepping stone

Mayer-Mack stated that the summer STEM faculty-student collaborative experience allowed her to pursue her own interests and be challenged outside of the classroom. The research she engaged in enabled her to take the initial steps on her intended career in evolutionary biology.

"I love the small class sizes at Baldwin Wallace," Mayer-Mack said. "At a larger school, I may have never had the opportunity to conduct research as a first-year student. The fact that I was able to present at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens Symposium was something else I didn't imagine I'd have been able to do as a sophomore. The experience allowed me to begin planning future research I know will be beneficial to my career goals."

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