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Caroline Zabinski in a field on Beaver Island.

Great Lakes summer program enhanced

National Science Foundation grant will broaden reach, add mentors, programs

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​The early morning fog was thick on Beaver Island as Caroline Zabinski waded into the cold Lake Michigan water with a hand net.

At about 50 feet out, the biology junior from Georgia Tech froze as a haunting sound pierced the haze.

"Oh, my God! I heard a loon!" she yelled in excitement.

"Oh, yes, I love the loon, too!" shouted Kevin Pangle, Central Michigan University biology faculty member. "This is the best!"

By the end of Zabinski's 10 weeks in the CMU Great Lakes Summer Research Program at the Biological Station on Beaver Island, she not only added research skills to her scientist's toolbox but mastered making a loon's call with her hands.

"It was one of the best summers I've ever had," said Zabinski, one of the five students in the program that brings five to seven students from around the country to work with CMU faculty members related to the Great Lakes ecosystems.

Funding for a greater, more diverse reach

Starting next summer, the program will be able to reach out to a broader and more diverse audience — particularly from Native American tribal colleges — and offer more detailed programs, more research mentors and more professional career development as it moves from being internally funded to beginning a three-year National Science Foundation grant of $288,273.

"We will be able to do everything a little bit better," said Deric Learman, biology faculty member and director of the grant program. "We planted the seed for the program three years ago and got it growing, but now we have the resources to expand it."

Learman and fellow biology faculty members Pangle; Daelyn Woolnough; and Don Uzarski, director of CMU's Institute for Great Lakes Research, pushed to become an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program to reach more undergraduates nationally, especially underrepresented students.

"A lot of young students don't see that science is an option for a job in the future," said Learman.

We want them to see it as attainable, he said. Mentors at the REU site will coach the students on how to find colleges that offer biology degrees, how to move on to a graduate program and how to get funding help.

The program also showcases CMU.

"Students come from other schools and then go back and spread positive impressions about CMU," Learman said.

Word of mouth is how Cheyenne Stratton, a senior at the University of Missouri majoring in fisheries and wildlife sciences, found out about the program.

She was looking to do lakes research to add to her work on crayfish, and a research scientist at Missouri's Department of Conservation, told her about the program.

"I got the completely new experience that I was hoping to get," she said. "It definitely was a challenge, but I enjoyed it."

She said the experience gave her the skills that will be valuable when she enters graduate school at Tennessee Tech in January.

"And I met some lifelong colleagues."

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