February, 2018

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Spending a summer gauging water quality at Washington County lake and hypothesizing why it might be changing was an eye-opening opportunity for two Hamline University undergraduates. Included in this month’s Private College Scholars at the Capitol poster session event, the students learned a lot about themselves — as well as water degradation.

“Working with students and faculty so closely helped me learn how to communicate and how not to communicate,” said Anna Ries, junior biology major at Hamline. She was joined in the project by Michael Gilray, a senior biology major; together they worked with Leif Hembre, professor of biology.

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“For me, talking in class wasn’t something I did a lot,” Gilray said. “Having opportunities to speak up and present ideas during the research project taught me a lot. It also led to other opportunities like being a lab technician and connecting to other faculty in the department.”

Their research this past summer focused on the effects rainbow trout have on water quality. “The water quality of Square Lake has decreased and the cause of this change is unknown,” Hembre said. “Since the 1980s, the DNR has been stocking rainbow trout in the lake. Our hypothesis is that the trout eat small crustaceans which feed on algae and so by introducing rainbow trout the algae levels build up.”

“Working closely with students is something I’m really passionate about,” Hembre said. “Working at a small private college we’re able to do research and make important connections with our students.”

This research has gone well enough that both Gilray and Ries have been selected for honors research projects to go deeper in certain elements of the project.

This type of research couldn’t be done without institutional backing. Part of Ries’ research was funded by an institutional grant, which included an interdisciplinary undergraduate research cohort. “In my group we had students and faculty who were from all different departments,” Ries said. “It was a great opportunity to bring issues we had to this group and see how different disciplines might resolve them. It really expanded how I thought.”

Gilray and Ries were selected to present their research at Private College Scholars at the Capitol — an event celebrating undergraduate research in Minnesota. Along with this opportunity and opportunities on campus, Ries and Gilray also have been selected to present their research at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research.

For more examples of undergraduate research check out our Scholars at the Capitol abstract booklet.

By Tom Lancaster