Graduate STEM Fellow Profile
Initiating New Science Partnerships in Rural Education (INSPIRE)
Thesis: Patterns of Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) Across an Urban Landscape in Florida
College/University: Mississippi State University
Research Advisor: John Rodgers
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Earth and Atmospheric Science
Research Focus: Biogeography of invasive species (Australian pine)
Teaching Partner(s): Deb Pounders
Description of Research
Growing up in a rural town in northern Wyoming, right on foot of the Bighorn Mountain range, it was hard not to be inspired by raw nature. I knew when I was quite young that I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to be outside and study human/environment interactions. I was also encouraged by a high school science teacher, who had us up on the mountains to teach about the the geology and ecology of the mountain ecosystem. My research broadly encompasses both geosciences and biogeography. I study the invasive Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) and how it modifies the environment, in particular on San Salvador Island, in the Bahamas. However, currently for my dissertation, I am investigating where the Australian pine has propagated in Florida, and if spatial patterns exist in its establishment, and if its spread can potentially be predicted. As tools to help answer these research objectives, I plan on using both Geographical Information System (GIS) and remote sensing.
Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I work in a 7th grade science classroom to help encourage students to see how science will benefit them in better understanding our planet and foster their interest in science and engineering fields. To do this, I try to integrate the research I do at Mississippi State University into each lesson I teach. For example, in the chemistry lesson I integrated my research pertaining to how Australian pine change the pH of the soil, and had the students test various household substances like bleach and soda pop to get a better idea of what pH was. One student even had me help him with his science fair project testing the various soil pHs he had obtained from his back yard. Another example of how I integrated my research into the classroom was in a lesson teaching the students about the scientific method, in particular observations and data collection. They wrote in their hand-made field books what they might see, smell, hear, and touch in a forest ecosystem. They integrated math concepts like area and perimeter to find the dimensions of a field study plot. In pursuing my M.S. degree, and now my Ph.D, it has become more apparent how critical it is to have teachers who can inspire students. I have pursued geosciences degrees not only because of my interest in the subject, but because I had a high school teacher who was there to nurture and foster my interest.