SUST Major Allison Breeding Studies Agroecology this Summer in Southern IL

This guest post is from Roosevelt University Sustainability Studies major Allison Breeding, who was awarded a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) fellowship this summer at Southern IL University. This is the first installment of weekly blogs this summer from Allison on the work she is doing for her research fellowship.

SUST major Allison Breeding, at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, Feb. 2013

SUST major Allison Breeding, at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, Feb. 2013

I arrived in Carbondale last Tuesday, May 28th, during the afternoon. After settling into the residence hall, where the other nine ecology REU students and I are staying (we’re on the 17th floor–get spectacular views of the whole area!), we received a walking tour of the SIUC campus from grad assistant/program coordinator Ben Wodika, followed by a welcome dinner at the campus lake’s boat dock.

The campus environment is beautiful! The central quad area is connected by wooded trails and lots of green open spaces. There are also little hidden gems, like a Japanese garden and sculpture gardens, sprinkled here and there. A sizable lake is located on the west side of campus, where students can rent canoes, paddleboats, or just hike around the lake trails. The beach area, along with some other campus sections, are under construction for the summer, but there’s still no shortage of things to do!

SIU campus in Carbondale, IL (courtesy SIU website)

SIU campus in Carbondale, IL (courtesy SIU website)

There are communal parking lots near the academic buildings and student centers–so everything is accessible for auto users–but walking and biking are clearly the preferred mode of transportation for students and professors. I’m considering renting or buying a bike to get around. Two large concrete overpasses (exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists) run from the east residence halls to the main campus west of them, rising over route 51 and the train tracks. Using these overpasses, it’s about a 15-minute walk from our dorm to the academic buildings.

The rest of the week consisted mostly of SIUC tours, preliminary paperwork and meetings, discussing schedule logistics, etc. The other REU students are very nice, smart and fun. They come from as far away as NYC and New Orleans, but most are from Midwest schools. Each student has a different mentor depending on their research focus and interests. My mentor is Leslie Duram, Director of Environmental Studies at SIUC and professor of geography and environmental resources.

I met with Leslie on Thursday to discuss plans for my independent research project, and to get brought up to speed on LOGIC (the organic student garden project at SIUC). On Friday morning, myself and a few of the other girls visited LOGIC for the first time to help harvest for the Saturday farmer’s market. We harvested some beautiful bunches of romaine lettuce, cilantro, mint, parsley, chard, kale and beet greens, and then helped weed some of the beds. The LOGIC garden is just under two acres, and includes a permaculture site and some vermicomposting. On Saturday, I lent a hand at one of the local farmer’s markets, where LOGIC has a stand–it rained practically all morning, but it was great to see the bountiful variety brought in from several local farms, and the interest and appreciation of local residents.

I’ll likely be working at the garden a couple days a week, depending on LOGIC’s needs and my REU schedule, as well as helping them with promotional marketing and online presence. Otherwise, I and the other REU students will be working on our independent research projects, and also participating in group seminars, field trips and assignments. For this first week, we were assigned two research papers to read (on pseudoreplication in ecological experiments) and questions to answer for each one. We also completed a lab safety seminar in the Life Sciences building.

First overall impressions this week are very positive. The area provides endless opportunities for outdoor recreation and field studies, and all the REU students are gung-ho about exploring the area and diving into their research. One aspect I especially appreciate is how the coordinators have integrated the program. Each student is welcome to participate in any mentor’s research excursions or outings if he/she wishes, so we all have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in everything that’s offered: wildlife monitoring on the Cache River, plant identification, soil sampling, clearing invasive species, etc. Additionally, the shared assignments and field trips keep the group connected, and will ensure lots of collective (as well as individual) experiences throughout the summer.

Looking forward to everything the REU program has to offer!

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This NSF-funded Site REU offers a diverse array of research opportunities resulting from an extraordinary combination of ecological focal areas and processes studied by SIU Center for Ecology faculty in southern Illinois, a distinctive physiogeographic region where prairie, forest, wetland, floodplain, and river systems converge.

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This REU Program will provide research opportunities for up to 10 undergraduate students under the guidance of faculty mentors associated with SIU’s Center for Ecology.  The goal of this REU program is to provide students hands-on training with a variety of tools used to conduct ecological research across a spectrum of research areas (to include soil, plants, animals, and multiple ecosystems) and processes (ecological pattern and variability, ecological response to environmental degradation, ecological response to restoration, and conservation and management) made possible through the diverse research programs of faculty members affiliated with SIU’s Center for Ecology.

The program will immerse students in research and educational activities aimed to foster (1) hands-on scientific inquiry, (2) development of a diverse ecological skills-set through guided quantitative field and laboratory methods, (3) comprehension of and confidence in communicating science through weekly reading and discussion, (4) a broad awareness of ecological science through weekly seminars, and (5) a better understanding of biodiversity (to include human culture) through educational field trips to local natural and cultural areas.  The program will culminate with The Colloquium of Undergraduate Research in Ecology (The CURE).

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