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Senior studies local ecology

Bridget Feeney | Thursday, August 30, 2012

While many students interned with businesses to advance their careers or traveled to sunny beaches for vacation this summer, senior Allison Zandarski completed biological research and presented it at a conference in Alaska.  

Zandarski and Amy Gillan, assistant professor of teacher education, collaborated over the summer on research, experiments and investigations as part of their Student Independent Study and Research (SISTAR) grant. Awarded in the spring, the grant pairs a faculty member and a student to work on a scholarly or creative project together.

Zandarski said the SISTAR grant facilitated a great summer learning experience that will prove valuable beyond her time at Saint Mary’s.

“I learned that no matter how crazy or impossible your dream seems you have to be faithful and diligent in order to achieve it,” she said. “Dr. Gillan has helped me to understand that no matter the odds, you have to do what makes you happy or else you’re almost guaranteed to be the opposite.”

A biology major, Zandarski was awarded the grant to analyze and study the potential restoration of a freshwater lake near Saint Mary’s and document the pair’s collaborative efforts and findings.

“Allison studied a nearby lake from an ecological stance and I documented her work in order to create video-supported curricula to support a ‘flipped classroom’ model of science education,” said Gillan.

The grant, which stipulates the recipients must spend eight weeks during the summer between the student’s junior and senior year researching a scholarly project, also gave Zandarski and Gillan the opportunity to travel in June when the pair flew to Alaska to present their research at the National Marine Educators Conference.

Zandarski and Gillan said the trip to Alaska was the highlight of their SISTAR experience.

“Traveling to Alaska was definitely my favorite part,” Zandarski said. “Dr. Gillan and I got to see a lot of the Alaskan countryside and do a lot of fun stuff like hiking, biking and climbing glaciers. It was so great and I got to learn a lot about marine life and how we affect the environment.”

Gillan said the trip was a one-of-a-kind experience that strengthened her bond with Zandarski.

“Our trip to Alaska to present our research at the National Marine Educators Conference in June was the icing on the cake,” she said. “We started out with a great working relationship that morphed into a friendship that will last a lifetime.”

Despite their strong working relationship and productive trip to Alaska, Gillan and Zandarski both said the summer was not without its problems.

“The physical work at the lake was by far the most challenging aspect,” said Gillan. “It was hot and dirty work – shoveling the lake muck, siphoning lake water with a cantankerous gas-powered pump and hauling the 12 horse troughs that we used for the microcosms.”

But Zandarski said she refused to allow these setbacks to ruin her summer or negatively impact her work by maintaining a positive attitude.

“My motto for the summer was ‘Just keep testing,'” she said. “Truly the way I over came the many discouragements was just by staying positive and organized.”