What I did last summer: Biology

As part of the S3 program, we have events designed to expose students who are interested in STEM to the kinds of opportunities that are available to them in different fields and disciplines.  Three students from the natural sciences presented recent research projects as part of our lunchtime talk series open to all students.

Senior biology major Dalton Stewart did a research project at the University of Oregon

Dalton worked on a project that seeks to explain the mechanism that zebrafish use to regenerate fins.

Dalton Stewart spent the summer at the University of Oregon in the Research Experience for Undergraduates Site program in Molecular Biosciences.  Dalton worked on a project that seeks to identify molecular mechanisms that enable zebrafish to regenerate fins by editing the genome.  Dalton’s group is using a brand new technique that is still being studied called  CRISPR/Cas9 Genome editing.  Dalton’s work was particularly important  because this technology is so new that protocols for best practices have not yet been developed, so he was able to try different techniques and assess their effectiveness.

Dalton credited the faculty at Maryville College, and specifically Dr. Jennifer Brigati,  and Dr. Jerilyn Swann for helping him find and apply for a summer research position.

Mary Feely received a Ledford Grant from the Appalachian College Association to perform research related to her senior study.  Mary’s research is part of the same project Maryville College alumnus David Lee Haskins worked on in the summer of 2013.

Marten! 073

Mary Feely displays one of the small mammals she captured in the Manistee National Forest

The collaboration with Grand Valley State University involves research on the density of American Marten prey in the Manistee National Forest.   The American Marten was extirpated from the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in the early 1900’s and was reintroduced in the 1980’s, but the current state of the population is not well understood.  As studies have shown that carnivores follow their prey base, Mary’s work strove to examine the available prey base in four different habitat types marten were known rest in. Mary’s work included trapping small mammals that serve as prey for the martens.  By using a variety of traps, she was able to show that there is high species richness of prey animals.  She found that deciduous habitats were the highest in diversity and density in small mammals and thus should be one to conserve by the parks service.

Mary credited her Maryville College course in Ecology and Evolution taught by Dr. Dave Unger for preparing her for some of the techniques she employed during her work including GPS and ground telemetry. This work will continue through the year as Mary completes her senior study and presents her results at the Appalachian College Association Summit and the American Wildlife Society conference.

The Bonaire whiptail lizard

The Bonaire whiptail lizard

Senior biology major Lauren Bonee’s work was also funded by a Ledford grant from the ACA and began during the travel study course to Bonaire led by Dr. Unger.   As the island undergoes changes due to human development, it will be important to study the effects of those changes on endemic species like the Bonaire whiptail lizard.

Lauren Bonee collects data on the island of Bonaire.

Lauren Bonee collects data on the island of Bonaire.

These lizards regulate their body temperature through the environment and specifically by basking in different locations. Lauren was interested in whether these lizards have preferred basking substrate.  To determine the answer, Lauren spent hours observing the animals and employed an infrared laser thermometer to measure their body temperatures as they basked on a variety of substrates.  She will spend this semester working on data analysis to finish up her senior study.

She expressed her appreciation for the opportunities that Maryville College biology had given her to learn, travel, and be inspired to pursue research in ecology.

Throughout the semester, we will be hearing from more MC students about their summer experiences, both in research projects and internships.

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Overcoming obstacles – tower climb

On the 4th day of the 2014 S3 program all 17 of the S3 students were introduced to the Alpine tower by our Mountain Challenge instructor, Bruce Guillaume. While he spoke about the tower, I observed the tower and all its glory. I thought to myself, “how on earth could a human being possibly climb such a piece of equipment?”

Walking upon a 60 foot tall tower can be very intimidating. There are so many thoughts and emotions going through your mind at once. The fears, the doubts, and the what-ifs all consume you. Yet the idea of standing on top of the Alpine tower looking down to see how far you’d come outweighs any possible fear.


Bruce explains the ropes, explaining how the equipment is engineered. Redundancy is built in everywhere, so that there is always a backup available.

But before anyone could climb the tower Bruce went over the ropes, literally. He showed us every important instrument and all the equipment that would be assisting us to our success. Bruce, along with other Mountain Challenge workers, displayed examples of what was expected during this activity and the proper procedure for an exciting and safe time.


Jades belay team, Henry and Amanda


Bruce divided  all the S3 students into groups of three. My group consisted of Henry Daniels, Amanda Smith and myself. I went first while Henry was my belayer, he was in charge of my overall safety. It is the belayer’s job to take and give rope to the climber as she moves up the tower; additionally, the belayer gives positive feedback and helps navigate from the ground. Amanda was my rope collector she took up the excess rope that Henry would take from my rope line.



Obstacles on the tower include creepy spiders.

I was very skeptical about going up the tower due to my partners’ inexperience and giving full responsibility for my personal safety to someone else. Climbing the Alpine tower not only took physical ability but mental ability. You had to continue to tell yourself that you could go as far as you wanted to.

While some made it to the very top and others didn’t. I feel as if we all set our own personal goals and were happy with what we accomplished. This activity, while it was meant to be a recreational activity gave me a lot of insight on what life and college would be like for the next four years.




Climbing the tower is a team effort.

I have always known that I had confidence but never have I encountered such a challenge. I used that confidence to face the tower, it pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and try new things. There were times I wanted to give up but I was able to persevere and continue on with the support that I was given from my group from the ground. Like the ropes and harness that was used for safety, this activity assured me of the safety and support of the staff and students at Maryville College.


Submitted by Jade Robinson, 2014 Scots Science Scholar

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