Numerous undergraduate collaborative research projects well underway as fall semester begins

When it comes to student-faculty collaborative research, there is no such thing as a summer vacation


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Lillian Strehlow, a fifth-year economics and environmental policy and water resources student, has been working with Scott Clark, professor of geology, to initiate zero waste policies on campus. Part of this project involves waste audit data collection.

According to the homepage of its website, UW-Eau Claire is ranked No. 1 nationally for undergraduate collaborative research. As the fall semester begins, data from UW-Eau Claire’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs indicates that there are about 100 such projects from various departments already in full swing.

Student-faculty collaborative research, according to the ORSP website, can help students get into graduate school or get a job. Research, according to the ORSP website, gives students an opportunity to learn a subject in-depth, learn technical skills, network and make important connections, get to know their professors, try on different disciplines and travel.

One project active over the summer — led by David Lonzarich, professor of biology — involves a team of six students: Roseanne Nooren, a third-year biochemstry and molecular biology student; Ryan Pelle, a third-year biology and music student; Ray Larsen, a fourth-year psychology and biology student; Annika Kueng, a fourth-year ecology and environmental biology student; Samir Shaikh, a fourth-year ecology and environmental biology student; and Bradley Sabbar, a second-year biology and marine sciences student.

Nooren said she and her collaborators have been working to discover, document and compare the deep water moss — or moss that grows at 30 feet and below — found in various Wisconsin lakes. The researchers have been taking four or five samples from about 10 different spots at each lake they visit, Larsen said.

“Basically we use these metal clamps, which work like traps that snap shut and collect whatever they’re sitting in, and we dredge up the moss,” Nooren said. “We’re looking at water quality and how it’s related to if there’s moss or not. We take the moss samples that we find in different lakes and we go through DNA sequencing and PCR and basically we’re going to send it to a lab to see what the barcode gene is so we can clearly identify what species the moss is.”

Shaikh said the existence of these deep water mosses is a relatively new discovery. There isn’t a lot of understanding about what kinds of species exist or if and how they’re related to each other.

Participating in summer research has given Sabbar valuable experience in his desired career of field biology, he said.

Lillian Strehlow — a fifth-year economics and environmental policy and water resources student  — has been engaged in a different project with Scott Clark, professor of biology, that aims to initiate zero waste policies on campus.

“Zero waste sounds intimidating,” Strehlow said. “But because it is technically impossible to recycle or compost everything we consume due to the nature of materials, such as plastic, that most packaging and products are created with, we interpret it as sending as little waste to the landfill as possible.”

Strehlow said Zhi Teh and Keith Theodore, international students at UW-Eau Claire, will be helping with waste audit data collection  — a division of the overall project — this fall. The Student Office of Sustainability has also played a pivotal role in their research, Strehlow said.

“SOS, parallel to Dr. Clark’s campus waste investigations, has identified the gap in student knowledge and attentiveness when it comes to sorting their waste into compost, recycling or landfill bins on campus,” Strehlow said.

While UW-Eau Claire has a “great” waste infrastructure  — compost, e-waste recycling, plastic bag recycling, etc. — Strehlow said students still struggle when it comes to sorting their waste appropriately.

To educate students on proper waste disposal, Strehlow said she developed a game for first-year students to play during welcome week. Data collected from this activity will hopefully offer insight on how to best guide students towards consistently sustainable mindsets and habits.

Strehlow said her project with Clark is the fifth she has participated in at UW-Eau Claire, but the first she considers her own.

“I love research because you’re paid to learn the nuances of whatever you’re most passionate about,” Strehlow said. “You pick the direction of knowledge and gain insights textbooks and lectures lack and you remember it way better than the notes you took in class because it’s information you’re excited to know.”

Student-faculty collaborative research isn’t limited to the sciences. For example, Mai See Xiong — a fifth-year creative writing and Hmong studies student — and Kao Lee Lor  — a fourth-year linguistics student — have teamed up with Lynsey Wolter, an English professor, to compile the first-ever white Hmong word list for audiology testing.

Students interested in learning more about research opportunities at UW-Eau Claire can do so by visiting the ORSP website.

Reisdorf can be reached at [email protected]