1. What was your path to UCCS and working with your faculty mentor?
I wandered into Dr. Mooney’s office hoping just to talk about bugs after hearing she did research along those lines. She invited me to join her team under the Undergraduate Research Academy grant over the summer and I was ecstatic. Though the deadline was that week, we made it work and I have continued working for her through this fall.
2. If you were describing your research/creative work to someone outside of your field, what would you say?
The work I did over the summer was based around conservation as we studied a local endangered butterfly. These days, Dr. Mooney is more of a mentor who is helping me learn key research skills. I collect and add to the department’s preserved and live collection and I very much enjoy just getting to be with bugs all day.
3. Which concept or discovery from your research/creative work most excites, invigorates or inspires you?
There are SO many invertebrates we don’t know about and they are disappearing the faster than any other members of the animal kingdom with climate change. I am determined to travel the world and help document and understand as many species as possible in my lifetime.
4. Describe how and why this research/creative work was started.
I have ALWAYS loved bugs. My family loves to tell stories of me as child wanting nothing more than to be with as many bugs as possible. I was blessed growing up to have both my grandpas invested in me learning about the sciences. My step-grandpa, Perry B. Hackett, is a geneticist at the University of Minnesota and he gave me excellent foundations for the central dogma of biology. Before I was even learning about what DNA was in school I could tell you about it! My other grandpa took me to the Science Museum of Minnesota every Saturday to the point where we knew all the staff. I was so thankful for my well-rounded foundations and ability to come into college knowing already knowing basic lab techniques like using a microscope and spreading agar plates!
5. What has the experience of working with your faculty mentor and fellow researchers been like?
It’s been an empowering experience to work in a lab with primarily women. I have felt so alone for so long as a woman obsessed with creepy crawly bugs. I finally found a bunch of lovely women who are just as weird and passionate as me.
6. How has this work helped prepare you for your future in graduate school or your career?
I had never thought doing research as an undergrad would be an option, but it has lead me down so many new paths. As someone looking to get her PhD in Entomology, I am trying to absorb as many tools as possible that will make me a more well-rounded and knowledgeable scientist. Getting practice leading my own studies and projects, learning preservation and pinning techniques, as well as learning to code in R, are invaluable skills I will carry with me through the rest of my academic life.
7. What has been the most memorable part of working on this project with your faculty mentor?
This past summer I got to spend a couple days up at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. Seeing a living lab for the first time was incredible, not to mention getting to help Dr. Mooney and another one of her students with their research. I am hoping to spend next summer there working and I can’t wait to see what other labs like that are out there!
8. What advice would you give first-year students who are interested in working with a faculty mentor?
It’s a lot of work but it’s some of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so sure I was on the right path and where I needed to be. Research with a faculty advisor is a great way to see if the field you’re interested in is right for you.
The Undergraduate Research Academy encourages UCCS students to expand their education beyond the classroom through participation in research and creative projects while engaging in mentorship with UCCS faculty. The yearlong collaborative research projects further students’ professional and academic development while furthering faculty members’ research program goals.
UCCS celebrates this year’s cohort of Undergraduate Research Academy student and faculty researchers. All those interested in participating should visit the Undergraduate Research Academy website for more information.