Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Spotlight 2019

Left to right: Marianela Robau, Anna Cobb, Maggie Flowers, Joe Pitti, Olivia Vought, Camya Robinson, Alberto Salazar, Sarah Moser, Ava Adler, Amanda Jackson Mojica, Corinne Johnson, Emmanuel Kotey, Marco Alvarez. Credit: Pamela Freeman. 

Cary Institute is home to one of the nation’s longest-running Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs. This National Science Foundation-supported program gives undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in rigorous independent research projects while working closely with scientist mentors.
 

Since welcoming our first undergrads in 1987, over 300 students have spent a summer immersed in ecological research alongside Cary scientists. Thirteen students – nine based at Cary Institute in Millbrook, New York, three at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center in Wisconsin, and one at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire – comprise the 2019 cohort.

We asked them to tell us about their projects, favorite research memories, inspiring moments, or words of wisdom picked up over the course of the summer. 

Meet Cary Institute’s 2019 REU students:

Sarah Moser
Bard College
Mentors: Kathie Weathers – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies,  Dave Richardson – SUNY New Paltz
Project: Diel distribution of zooplankton in the Sky Lakes
 
“Near the beginning of the summer, we were out in the field for what I think was the first time. I saw a snake and got really excited, and my mentor Dave said to me: ‘You should be a scientist. You can make a career out of that.’ That really stuck with me; I realized that my career can – and should – be something that makes me happy.”
 
Joe Pitti
Colorado State University
Mentor: Chris Solomon – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: Modeling policy aggregation and socio-ecological heterogeneity in Northern Wisconsin lakes
 
During a midnight population estimate trip, my electrofishing crew stumbled into the largest hatch of midges that I have ever seen. It almost felt like it was raining insects! We had a difficult, but incredibly enjoyable time catching fish that night.”
 
Marianela Robau
City College of New York
Mentor: Stuart Findlay – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: Consequences of thin layer deposition for Piermont Tidal marshes
 
“This is the best experience I have had as an intern so far since I moved to this country. The fieldwork I am doing is not easy; it requires a lot of effort, and sometimes I end up covered in mud, but it is very gratifying. I am fascinated by the staff at Cary and appreciate the great advice I have been receiving from my mentor.”
 
Left to right, top to bottom: Joe Pitti, Emmanuel Kotey, Ava Adler, Maggie Flowers.  
 
Camya Robinson
University of Florida
Mentor: Chris Johnson – Texas Tech University
Project: The effects of complementary information on avian behavior
 
“This summer has taught me a lot about patience and knowing when to switch gears. My original project on eavesdropping behavior in birds has not yielded the amount of data that I need to perform a valid statistical analysis. It never feels good to quit anything, but I understand the time constraints of the summer and don’t think of quitting this project as a failure on my part.”
 
Olivia Vought
University of Vermont
Mentors: Emma Rosi – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Steve Hamilton – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Emily Bernhardt – Duke University,  Audrey Thellman – Duke University
Project: Long term dynamics of aquatic moss at Hubbard Brook: A fifty-year study
 
“One of my favorite parts of my project has been hiking many of the streams at Hubbard Brook Research Forest in New Hampshire (where I’m based much of the summer) in order to survey aquatic moss. I’ve had to scramble up many waterfalls – while trying to quantify moss all the way up!”
 
Amanda Jackson Mojica 
University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus
Mentors: Stuart Findlay – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Samantha Epstein – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: Composition and efficiency of riparian zones along the Fall Kill Creek
 
“It’s exciting grabbing your samples from the field or helping your peers in their projects because you know how important it is to all of you, having your project in your hands. For me, the opportunity to see the high school students I mentor take that ownership in their projects has made for some of the best moments of this program.”
 
Corinne Johnson
Arizona State University
 
Mentors: Chris Solomon – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Marco Janssen – Arizona State University, Dane Whittaker – Arizona State University
Project: Decision-making factors behind aquatic invasive species control methods
 
“I am collecting my data through interviews with board members of lake organizations in Vilas County, Wisconsin. Sometimes, my team gets invited to do interviews in people’s homes, in coffee shops, or even on pontoons. One family even made us dinner! Hospitality is one of the perks of doing social science.”
 
Ava Adler
Oberlin College
Mentor: Sarah Batterman – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: Does herbivory present a major cost to temperate nitrogen fixing woody plants?
 
“This summer, I have been a mother to speckled alders – nitrogen-fixing trees native to the northern hemisphere. I’ve been watering them every day, providing nutrients for growth, and checking the temperature to make sure the leaves are not being cooked. In addition to studying the impact of herbivores on temperate nitrogen fixers, I’m analyzing a dataset of plants and their herbivory rates. It has been interesting to act as an herbivore as part of my experiment – cutting leaves and spraying an acid that plants secrete as a defense mechanism – to see how the alders respond to being ‘eaten’.” 
 
Marco Alvarez
Florida International University, Miami
Mentor: Sarah Batterman – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: The effects of herbivory on Alnus rugosa in different soil nitrogen levels
 
“My best field experience was finding root nodules in the wild to pot and grow for my experiment.  A valuable moment was when I learned how fun gardening can be through the use of pots. Some helpful advice: reminders to check my emails more often and know when I need to ask questions.”
 
Left to right, top to bottom: Alberto Salazar, Sarah Moser, Marianela Robau, Marco Alvarez.  

Anna Cobb
Tuskegee University
Mentor: Shannon LaDeau – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: The role of changing precipitation patterns in mosquito population dynamics
 
“I have grown in so many different ways this summer at Cary. Working with mosquitos has not only been challenging from a research perspective, but it’s also out of my personal comfort zone. For my project, I created mosquito migration chambers to watch their movement among three habitat options: a low-temperature habitat with anti-mosquito vegetation, a habitat with fluctuating temperatures and food resources, and a high-temperature, high-humidity habitat. Creating these different habitats has been my favorite part of my project. There have been so many inspiring and great moments here at Cary, but nothing compares to the many long talks with my mentor, Shannon LaDeau.”
 
Margaret Flowers
Simpson College
Mentors: Mike Fargione – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Josh Ginsberg – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, José Anadón – Queens College in the City University of New York (CUNY), Alexis Brewer – Queens College CUNY
Project: Competitive interactions between invertebrate and vertebrate scavenger guilds 
 
"This summer, I am investigating competitive dynamics among scavenger guilds at Cary. Carrion (dead animal flesh) is an essential yet limited food source for microbes, invertebrates, and vertebrates. My research focuses on how invertebrate and vertebrate scavengers impact each other’s scavenging success."
 
Emmanuel Kotey
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Mentor: Shannon LaDeau
Project: How rising temperature affects the size and developmental rates of mosquito larvae in high and low levels of competition
 
“This summer, I’ve learned so many surprising things about mosquitoes. The two main things: there are so many different species (over 25!), and each species has distinct preferences for their ideal habitat and optimal temperature.”
 
Alberto Salazar
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Mentor: Chris Solomon – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Project: Using GIS to measure quality of roads across various lakes
 
"This summer has been an amazing experience. I’ve worked and learned around some great people and have been exposed to many new things – like getting to see the sunrise while working, and getting to visit beautiful lakes. Being in this environment has been great because I am around so many great people."
 
Cary REU students celebrate after the final symposium. Credit: Pamela Freeman. 

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