Environmental science major Sarabeth Brockley '10 is learning to be comfortable working in high places. Her research at the Lehigh Gap, conducted in collaboration with Professor Diane Husic and others, routinely takes her to the steep, elevated terrain of a local Superfund site that is gradually returning to life. Last week, her research took her to the Hill of Washington, D.C., where she presented her poster "Analysis of Plant Succession at the Lehigh Gap—a Superfund Site Undergoing Restoration" at the Posters on the Hill session conducted by the Council on Undergraduate Research, held May 4-5, 2009.
"CUR received 447 proposals and only 60 were selected, so this is an incredible honor," said Professor Husic, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, who accompanied Brockley to the event. "To my knowledge, this is the first time a Moravian student has been selected for this."
Besides participating in the poster session, student researchers had the opportunity to meet individually with legislators and lobbyists. Brockley, along with Professor Husic, met with U.S. Representative Charles Dent (PA-15) and his senior legislative assistant Collin Long, as well as Kate McMahon, an aide to Representative Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11). "Presenting a poster at this event certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment, but meeting and speaking with legislators to promote your work—and the importance of all undergraduate research—is truly thrilling," Brockley said. "Representative Dent, who was instrumental in obtaining early funding for the Lehigh Gap site, was very interested in our research and in our views as his constituents."
Learning through Research
The College's partnership with the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge began in 2005 through a National Science Foundation grant and plant science consortium co-directed by Professor Husic. Since then, Husic has supervised three Moravian students whose research has focused on the site. Together with researchers from several other local colleges and organizations, such as LGWR, they have begun to re-vegetate the area with grasses, the first step in habitat restoration.
"Legislators love to hear about the work of those in their area who are engaged in solving problems like this one," said Professor Husic. "Restoring the Lehigh Gap site is important to the community because of its impact on recreation, tourism, the watershed, and much more."
Participating in the CUR poster session raises the visibility of Moravian College, while demonstrating the ability of a small liberal arts college to foster research of national significance. "It reinforces the message that research and education need not be separate endeavors," said Husic, who will take office as CUR president next month. "Students do not learn science best in the classroom—they learn best by doing. Legislators need to understand that institutions of higher education can and should be engaged in education, research, and community outreach simultaneously." The SOAR program, funded by the Rokke Endowment, is one way students and professors collaborate on educational research at Moravian.
This summer Brockley will participate in two summer SOAR projects. Besides continuing the work at the Lehigh Gap site, she will help research mutualisms between Cecropia species and Azteca guard ants in Peru, under the direction of John Bevington, professor of biological sciences.
"I love learning, and I can see myself doing academic research, such as this, in the years ahead," she said. "Dr. Husic has opened so many doors for me … the connections and opportunities available to students at a school like Moravian really can last a lifetime."
InCommon is Moravian's internal newsletter, produced every two weeks during the academic year by the public relations office.