Despite the presence of the pandemic, Bailey Ross ’21 spent the summer researching desert animals that live in the southwestern United States. Supported by a Steinbrecher Fellowship, she was able to remotely track the animals to understand their role in the location of plants throughout the region. The environmental science major conducted her research as part of her work in the insect ecology lab of biology professor Kaitlyn Mathis.
To complete her project, Ross studied video recordings of rodents and ants spreading seeds throughout the Santa Rita Experimental Range in southern Arizona. The data she collected adds to existing knowledge on invasive grasses in this region, and informs future research about the role of animals in facilitating ecosystem shifts.
How did you secure your internship?
I spent last fall semester working in Professor Mathis’ lab, where I expressed my passion for research and my desire to pursue a career in the area after graduation. We collaborated on my interests and her areas of study, resulting in this project focusing on invasive species, native organism seed dispersal, ecosystem science, and myrmecochory, which is seed dispersal by ants.
How did the pandemic and social distancing impact your work?
Professor Mathis combined an original idea with this remote video project, making it possible to still complete biology research during a difficult time. The nature of this research makes it easy to work anywhere while still gathering extremely useful data to analyze later.
Using technology like Zoom and Google Drive, we were able to stay in touch throughout our workdays and communicate easily. The experience helped me shape skills in data extraction while I also completed robust literature reviews and worked with a research team toward a common goal — all remotely.
In what ways have faculty, staff, and/or alumni mentored or inspired you?
Professor Mathis provided so much encouragement and support while overseeing my project within the context of my Steinbrecher Fellowship. Additionally, both Professor Nancy Budwig and Steinbrecher alumna Toni Armstrong ’19 have been, and continue to be, helpful and frequently reach out to me and the other Fellows to ensure our projects are going well.
The Steinbrecher Fellowship Program also encouraged me to make the most of ClarkCONNECT, and over the summer I had the opportunity to reach out to multiple alumni and talk about post-undergrad research options.
How has Clark helped you develop your passions and interests?
I transferred to Clark from a bigger state school — I was looking for academic rigor and a close relationship with staff and faculty. I definitely found these things with my adviser, who introduced me to research, as well as other professors, who fueled my passion for ecology and Earth system science. These relationships and experiences, including my study abroad program SFS Panamá, all impacted my undergraduate trajectory and shaped me from an apprehensive and unsure student into a confident and aspiring researcher.
What do you hope to do after you graduate from Clark?
After I graduate with my bachelor’s in environmental science, I hope to take a year off to work and gain some experience in the research field. Then I want to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology after taking time to consider different programs around the world. I would love to continue working on ecosystem science and possibly include a social science element to my graduate degree, as I find topics such as tourism and natural resource management extremely important to consider when studying natural science.