Students earn summer fellowships for conservation projects with faculty mentors
Two Western Connecticut State University students are pursuing research work this summer that promises to contribute to understanding about species conservation thanks to the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program offered by the WCSU Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences.
Jasmine Grey, of Naugatuck, and Kayla Deguzman, of Norwalk, are currently working on research studies coordinated by faculty mentors in the Biological and Environmental Sciences Department. Grey is working with Dr. Hannah Reynolds on development of a new method to detect the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome in bats, whose populations have been decimated by the disease in the northeastern United States. Deguzman is collaborating with Dr. Theodora Pinou in studies to determine whether treatment to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles found in Long Island Sound affects their navigational mechanisms and behavior after release.
Grey and Deguzman competed successfully in a process open to applicants from WCSU and other colleges for the two SURF positions awarded by a department faculty review committee. Both recipients welcomed the opportunity to gain experience in field and laboratory research working closely with experienced mentors over a two-month period.
Grey said that her research project mentored by Reynolds seeks to “develop a sensitive and inexpensive method to detect the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome in bats. The method that we create will aid bat conservation efforts, which will be beneficial for the agricultural industry.” She explained that improved detection techniques to combat a disease that has killed millions of bats over the past decade offers an opportunity “to make a difference in the world,” not only in supporting bat conservation but also in preserving bat consumption of insects as a natural means of pest control that diminishes the agriculture industry’s dependence and expenditures on insecticide use.
She expressed gratitude to Reynolds for supporting her research interests and serving as her mentor in two separate studies. “This project will assist me in reaching my goal of attaining a Ph.D. in a field in microbiology,” Grey said. “Grades are important, but they aren’t everything. Gaining research experience will separate me from the crowd.”
Deguzman’s research work focuses on use of data generated from satellite GPS tracking of the movements of rehabilitated sea turtles released back into Long Island Sound. The objective of the project is to determine whether or not these turtles, which had washed ashore after suffering injuries and dangerous drops in body temperature, exhibit normal functioning of navigation mechanisms and capacity to withstand long migrations from Long Island Sound to warmer southern seas.
“I chose to pursue this research opportunity because I see the importance and the continuous need for conservation biology,” Deguzman observed. “This project will allow me to advance my research skill set and gain hands-on experience working with conservation biologists.
“This research project is much more than just an opportunity to gain new skills,” she added. “There are five species of Long Island sea turtles, and all of them are either threatened or endangered. I hope to contribute new information to ongoing research to preserve sea turtle populations and increase our understanding of these species.”
Deguzman noted that several Biological and Environmental Sciences Department faculty members have inspired her pursuit of conservation research. She cited Professor Dr. Frank Dye for motivating her interest in a future career in teaching biology, and Dr. Rayda Krell, study coordinator in the Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Laboratory at WCSU, for supporting her research interest and helping her “develop my scientific writing voice.” She credited Pinou with helping her to find focus in her academic pursuit of biology studies and inspiring her to apply for the SURF fellowship. “I’m very grateful to have had Dr. Pinou to challenge me to become a better biologist,” she said.
SURF programs are offered at universities nationwide for the purpose of stimulating student interest in research opportunities and careers in the STEM disciplines. Pinou observed that the SURF program in biology at WCSU provides “an intensive, hands-on research experience, offering a diversity of fields of research from which the student can choose. It’s a good way to determine if research is a field of activity that you wish to pursue in your career.”