meet our 32 coe summer research fellows!

This summer we’re funding 32 COE summer research fellows–here on campus, from coast to coast, and worldwide, from Connecticut and California to Costa Rica and Ghana. That’s more than $135K for undergrad research, regardless of major or class year.

This year’s COE summer research fellows represent the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022, and major in environmental studies, anthropology, government, East Asian studies, studio art, biology, Science in Society, philosophy, College of Letters, physics, earth & environmental sciences, neuroscience & behavior, chemistry, and American studies. Scroll down to read all about Andrei, Franny, Lizzie, Lilley, Reyna, Ezra, Miles, Christopher, Yuke, Gabe, Donglai, Tyler, Tamara, Leo, Anna Marie, Whiskey, Isabella, Claire, Daniel, Rowan, Isaac, Polly, Sabrina, Sterre, Emily, Asya, Sophie, Kate, Yu Kai, Alexander, Andrew and Andy!

Rowan Beaudoin-Friede ‘22
Biology & Science in Society Program

In the spring of 2019, I joined the Sultan Lab at Wesleyan to participate in their evolutionary ecology research on plant phenotypic plasticity. Usually, ecological differences between plant populations are interpreted as the result of evolutionary differentiation. However, it is not known whether local environmental conditions may also directly induce heritable effects on plant phenotypes.

This summer I will participate in a large-scale greenhouse experiment designed to test if light versus shade variation in the field influences patterns of phenotypic variation within and across populations via transgenerational plasticity. This experiment is designed to distinguish the genetic effects of different plant populations from potential heritable effects due to differing environmental conditions in the populations. 

Miles Brooks ’20
Environmental Studies, Earth & Enviro Sciences

This summer  I am working with San Bruno Mountain Watch—a grassroots community organization that protects and cares for the native environment through activism and education. Working with Mountain Watch, I am conducting field studies of the frequency of visits by the Mission Blue Butterfly and other native pollinators to native and non-native vegetation.

San Bruno Mountain has historically been covered in meadow. However with the lack of frequent disturbance (historically conducted by indigenous people through burning or cattle grazing), shrubs and tree encroachment has converted the meadow from a grassland to a heathland. I will monitor the success of meadow restoration projects as measured by pollinator population recovery by observing the pollinator species that visit native versus invasive non-native plants. This research ties into Wesleyan Professor Helen Poulos’s work examining plant-pollinator interactions in coastal heathland systems of the Northeast that have likewise experienced changes in the vegetation complex due to shifting land use and shrub encroachment.

Isabella Convertino ’20
Studio Art

I have spent many summers in Memphis, New York, at Cross Lake, a small body of water inhabited by a community of trailer parks, campsites, and cottages. This is the area in which my father grew up. In comparison to my suburban hometown in downstate New York, the agrarian familial structure observed in my father’s family posed some striking differences.

As a studio art major concentrating in photography, my research experience lies in methods of visual investigation and representation. Undergoing this summer research experience will allow me to integrate artistic concepts with new ideas related to ecofeminism and agrarian familial structures that I have been researching independently. I will be using Memphis as a field site for my research as a way of investigating the continued dominance of agricultural practice, and thus the persistency of the farm-family narrative.

Claire Coyle ‘20

During the academic year I work in Wesleyan Professor Barry Chernoff’s lab, studying aquatic ecology and conservation genetics in Connecticut watersheds. I am on a team that works with the DNA of Blacknose Dace. One of the critical issues for conservation of aquatic species is to determine what barriers exist to prevent migration among populations within a species. This is important because the fragmentation of populations threatens the genetic integrity of many native species, making them more prone to regional extinction. 

My study investigates the patterns of genomic differences among populations of Blacknose Dace living in a mercury-polluted environment. I seek to investigate if there is gene flow occurring among populations in different sites located in a river system with elevated levels of mercury.                              

Alexander De la Rosa ’20

In 2011, WILD Wes began its experimental project to transform the WestCo courtyard. The plan was twofold: to revive the land that had been facing sustainability problems and to create a long-lasting intelligent landscaping design system that would act as a special ecosystem in the center of Wesleyan’s campus.

The garden ecosystems are designed to mimic natural patterns, rather than appeal to conventional standards of beauty, which have proven to be disastrous for the environment. If WILD Wes is to fulfill its educational mission to spread awareness of and passion for sustainable landscape design, then it needs people to comprehend what is happening in the gardens. My summer research supports the continual care of our landscaping projects and allow for us to meet a variety of organizational and programmatic goals that will improve the educational value and institutional memory of our projects.

Christopher Desanges ’20
Studio Art with concentration in Photography

While walking in New Haven, Connecticut, one day, I took a photograph of a tree that was planted by a building. It looked cramped, isolated, and dreary. The process of personifying the plant through a photograph made me think about my experience living in a boarding program in high school, just outside of Boston. The dormitory where I stayed was surrounded by large trees shaded my fellow classmates and the trees would loom near any window you could find on campus. 

As more people are moving into cities and as the natural environment around us gets smaller and smaller, the differences between the “built environment” and the “natural environment” become blurred. This could affect the way we choose to deal with environmental issues in the future. I’m interested in photographing this new relationship that humans have with the environment. What happens when something that was once “natural” becomes “artificial”? At what lengths will humans go to preserve nature and at what lengths will we go to subdue it? What can these new relationships that we generate tell us about ourselves as human beings? These are the questions that I plan on answering through photography this summer.

Lilley Gallagher ’22 &
Tamara Rivera ’21
Environmental Studies and Biology

Last semester, Professor Chernoff invited Allison Orr and Gretchen LaMotte ’18 of Forklift Danceworks of Austin, Texas, to work with students from his Introduction to Environmental Studies class. During the semester, we job shadowed and created a project highlighting the daily work of Wesleyan Physical Plant.

This summer, we’ll be assisting with Forklift Danceworks’ third annual My Park, My Pool, My City performance at an Austin, Texas, neighborhood park pool. Professor Chernoff believes that art may be the instigator that makes all people feel inspired to save the environment. By engaging the community, Forklift Danceworks sheds light on the everyday hard work of community employees and builds relationships and respect. Art and performances like this will help to instigate change, alter mindsets, and increase civic engagement, all of the same components that environmentalists need for shaping habits that help the Earth.

Andrew Hennessy ’21
Biology and Earth & Environmental Sciences

Forest fragmentation is a direct impact of humans upon the environment, and it occurs when human infrastructure encroaches upon and splits what were once large forests into smaller isolated forests. This can have a large effect on the variety of interactions between species found in these ecosystems.

An overarching research question in the Singer Lab asks how forest fragmentation affects interactions among trees, caterpillars that eat those trees, and carnivores that eat those caterpillars (tri-trophic interactions). My project will specifically investigate the effect of forest fragmentation on bird predation of caterpillars in central and eastern Connecticut. Based on previous findings, I hypothesize that bird predation will target caterpillar species with broad diets, and that the magnitude of bird predation on dietary generalist caterpillars will decline as forest fragment size decreases. 

Sterre Hesseling ’22

This academic year, I worked in Professor Johan Varekam’s lab, assisting with the processing of samples from his previous summer research trips to the twin lakes in Oregon.  My lab work this summer will involve separation of sulfides (heavy liquids), XRD to determine the mineralogy, sending samples off for δ34S, and analyzing the separates for Hg. There is a possibility that barite occurs in the sediment as well, and I will use the SEM to search for BaSO4 grains.

During an August field trip to Newberry, I will work with the rest of the student team on the water sampling, the CO2 flux measurements, and I will collect fairly large grab samples of sediment in East Lake to continue my Hg-S investigations later on.

Gabe Hurlock ’20
College of Letters and Philosophy

Unity Ecovillage in Ghana is a sustainable farming project that teaches junior high school students methods of farming, music, and dance related initiatives. It’s motto is “Bridging cultures to build a better future.” This is a saying that I have lived by since childhood. It is the driving force behind why I pursue social justice with such passion. While there I will document comparative observations of practices that promote social justice through community agricultural projects & art.

After learning the fundamentals of sustainable organic farming from professional agronomists at Unity’s demonstration farm, I will work with students and teachers to maintain their garden. My goal in Ghana is not only to see a part of the world that I am forced to retrace towards in the history of my own identity, but also to gain knowledge I can use to take new approaches towards resolving modern slavery and poverty among Black people in America.

Yuke Kirana ’21
Environmental Studies and Earth & Enviro Sciences

The western region of Connecticut is strongly contaminated with mercury (Hg), largely as a result of the historic hat-making industry. Hat-making in Danbury started in 1780 and the use of Hg(NO3)2 as a felt-making additive was used right from the beginning. General spillage during the felt-making process, and during the forming of the hats, led to severe Hg pollution in Danbury.

Hat-making activity in Newtown and Bethel has not yet been researched. We intend to study cores from coves along the main streams in these two towns to document the hat-making history from Hg records in dated cores. Hopefully, this research will help us to better understand the environmental pollution issue that happened in the past and predict how mercury can affect the environment in the future.

Isaac Klimasmith ’20

With large population sizes, quick generation times, and asexual reproduction, bacteria provide intriguing models for studying speciation and ecological diversity. My proposed project will contribute to Dr. Fred Cohan’s ongoing research on the origins of bacterial diversity by testing models of speciation using both bioinformatics and soil-based experiments. Due to the difficulty of isolating Bacillus subtilis from Connecticut soil, previous research has used samples from Death Valley. However, B. subtilis can also be isolated from straw, providing an alternative method of acquiring bacterial samples.

I plan to introduce this method to the lab’s research in order to use bacterial and soil samples from a farm in Woodbury, CT, connecting the lab’s research with local biological and agricultural communities. These experiments will build on previous competition experiments performed by the Cohan Lab and will contribute new methods for conducting such experiments in local soil. 

Sabrina Koetter ’20
Earth & Enviro Sciences and Science in Society Program

This summer, I am working on the project to get further in reconstructing the dynamics of Paulina Lake, as well as better understand the ecosystem reaction to volcanic inputs. The goal of my research is to use ostracods (small arthropods) as my model organism to evaluate the resilience of a volcanic lake ecosystem over several thousands of years, under variable hot spring water input which can be reconstructed from stable isotope data on the ostracod shells.

My summer research project is part of ongoing research on the Newberry crater lakes that has been carried out by Wesleyan students since 2011 under the tutelage of Professors Johan Varekamp and Ellen Thomas: 4 undergraduate theses have been completed, one chapter has been published in a book, and two MA theses are ongoing. 

Ezra Kohn ’20
East Asian Studies

My summer research focuses on the influence of Lingzhi, a mushroom species that has been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners since 200 B.C.E. and is gradually being integrated into Western medical science. My research includes three distinct themes: to understand how Lingzhi is currently understood within TCM and modern mycological and botanical communities; to understand how knowledge concerning the Lingzhi is communicated to the Chinese public; and to understand how Lingzhi is cultivated, commodified, and internationally exported, in both China and the U.S. Through these approaches, I hope to begin unravelling the study of Lingzhi in Chinese history, its modern intersectional and international status, and its possible medicinal roles in the future.

This project relates to the ongoing research of Professor Ying Jia Tan, whose academic interests include Chinese environmental history and the ways in which this history is entwined with science and technology studies.

Daniel Kulick ’21
Neuroscience & Behavior and Chemistry

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative diseases whose onset is characterized by protein aggregation. Much of the research modeling ALS with iPSCs is done with cells obtained from familial ALS (fALS) patients, and thus a large bulk of ALS research is conducted based on ALS that has a hereditary origin. 90% of all ALS cases are sporadic (sALS), and thus likely have environmental origins.

The O’Neil Lab currently focuses on identifying the disease causing oligomeric states of SOD1, through characteristics such as N-terminal acetylation and post-translational modifications of the protein. This summer I will investigate the effects of environmental agents on proteostasis within healthy MNs to determine if environmental toxins cause MN specific cell death/perturbation via disruption of proteostasis.  In addition, I will investigate if ALS patient-derived MNs are more susceptible to environmental insult than MNs from healthy control patients. 

Emily Leggat ’21

Research in the Singer Lab is focused around tri-trophic interactions between plants, herbivorous insects, and their predators in Connecticut upland forests. More specifically, the lab investigates how forest fragmentation has affected those interactions. As a way of analyzing these nuanced relationships, my project in the lab looks in particular at the way phloem-feeding herbivores, such as treehoppers and scale insects, interact with plants, caterpillars, and predatory ants, and how forest fragmentation may alter those relationships.

This summer I will  sample oak tree branches for caterpillars and phloem-feeders along a transect running from the edge of the forest into the interior. These observational data will demonstrate if the correlation between phloem-feeders and biased caterpillar communities (more generalists than expected, and fewer specialists) is present in edge and interior locations

Elizabeth Edwards ’21
Environmental Studies and Anthropology
Anna Marie Rosenlieb ’20
Whiskey Liao ’22
& Aysa Vitko ’22

Long Lane Farm seeks to build relationships and foster a space not only for producing good food but also for learning about farming and community  Working at Long Lane farm over the summer provides students with comprehensive knowledge of the managerial and technical aspects of sustainable farming—skills that will be carried into the operations of the farm during the school year, allowing the students to work as experienced members of the collective and providing the knowledge needed to take on positions of leadership in the operations of the farm. Learning about farming in this way not only serves to make future work in sustainable agriculture possible, but also empowers students students as individuals with the capacity for leadership through collaboration in a way that is truly unique.

Frances Lin ’21
Environmental Studies and Earth & Enviro Sciences

This summer, I am working at Forest City Farms in Middletown, where I am gaining the skills and knowledge necessary for operating a small organic farm and building a network of food redistribution between farm and city. My work at Forest City enables me to take the initiative to minimize wasted food, maximize harvest efficiency, and strengthen relationships as part of a formal distribution network, particularly building on the connection between the farm and urban gardens.

I plan to continue working on Long Lane Farm for the remainder of my time at Wesleyan, and I hope to pursue jobs in agriculture after graduation. My summer work provides me with the freedom to focus my energy on pursuing not just a farming education but also to put into practice ideas of how environmental work and in particular agriculture play a role in the larger fight for a just food system.

Leo Miranda ’20
Environmental Studies and American Studies

This summer, I am working as part of a research team at Big Bend National Park as a field assistant to my faculty mentor, Helen Poulos, on her project “Quantifying long-term fuel treatment effects in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.” Increases in fire frequency and severity over the last century in response to mounting fuel loads due to continued fire suppression and an increasingly hotter and drier climate represents a major resources management concern across forests of the western United States.

Hazardous fuels reduction is a common management activity for reducing wildfire risk, but knowledge of the connection between severity, intensity and frequency of wildfires and current fire-suppression techniques is incomplete. This summer, Professor Poulos’s team will resample a network of 150 permanent monitoring plots that have been experienced different fuel treatment alternatives in 2010 in order to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of hazardous fuels reduction activities. 

Polly Pierone ’20

My summer project is a continuation of work I began in Professor Renee Sher’s lab last semester, characterizing a new class of potential solar cell materials called perovskites. These materials are promising because they absorb a wide spectrum of sunlight with efficiencies comparable to silicon solar cells currently on the market, and they are cheaper and require less energy to fabricate than silicon. However, the most efficient perovskite materials are lead containing and are easily degraded under exposure to water, heat, and even light. 

Using time-resolved terahertz spectroscopy, we are studying the solar cell properties of a variety of alternative perovskite materials. By better understanding how the substitution of various elements and molecules into these perovskites affects their solar cell properties, we can move toward a future where solar panels are cheaper, more energy efficient, and more accessible to all.

Andrei Pinkus ’21
Environmental Studies and Government

This summer I am a communications intern for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). C2ES is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create and implement practical solutions to climate change. This experience has opened my eyes to the numerous ways NGOs, corporations, governments on all levels, and individuals can work with one another to achieve effective solutions to the gravest problem our world faces today. My internship has provided me with incredible workplace experience and the fundamental tools to continue developing my career as an environmentalist interested in bringing about positive change for the rest of my life. 

Reyna Schedler ’21
Science in Society Program

The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is known for its incredible biodiversity, which, like many other places in the world, is being threatened by human actions and climate change. Conservation of the area is extremely important, not only for its major contribution to global environmental health, but also because of the ecosystems present on the peninsula and throughout the country that provide important services for the people who depend on them for clean water and air, food, jobs, and cultural resources.

Hilary Brumberg’s (’17) project, Rios Saludables de Osa (Healthy Rivers of the Osa), is working on improving watershed ecosystem health by increasing local conservation leadership through education, monitoring, and restoration. I will be working with her to support this project by doing riparian restoration, bioremediation, water quality monitoring, studies of mosquito populations and tropical disease transmission, and environmental education.

Sophie Scobell ’22

This summer I am working in Professor Barry Chernoff’s Lab, where we are using Eastern Blacknose Dace, Rhinichthys atratulus, a freshwater fish from the Still River Watershed in Connecticut, to investigate population fragmentation and species evolution as well as the effects of mercury pollutant on these factors. I am working this summer to increase our sample sizes of some of the fish populations from various sites. We are catching the fish through electrofishing, extracting DNA from these individuals, running PCRs, amplifying the DNA, running gels to ensure that our samples can correctly be read/analyzed, and shipping our samples to other labs for more intricate testing. Ultimately this research project will give us a better idea of the effects of mercury on fish population fragmentation along with the genetic homogeneity and gene flow between blacknose dace populations. On a larger scale, our research could have implications for past evolutionary events.

Kate Sundberg ’20
Environmental Studies and Biology

My research project is organic synthesis of a lignin probe to use for the identification of lignin depolymerization. The ultimate goal is to find non-sugar and non-food based compounds that can be efficiently used for biofuel production. Lignin, which is present in waste from timberland, agricultural, and biofuel industries, would have a smaller environmental impact than other possible biofuel sources like corn, sugarcane, and soy.

In Professor Erika Taylor‘s lab, I am working on building a probe using organic synthesis that can be used to identify the existence of lignin breakdown in vivo. The probe will allow for detection of lignin breakdown inside the guts of larval insects and shipworms, possibly leading to the discovery of new lignin degrading enzymes, which would be important for developing an efficient process for converting lignin into secondary material that can be used as biofuel. 

Yukai Tan ’20
Biology, Earth & Enviro Sciences and Anthropology
Andy Tan ’21
Biology and Earth & Environmental Sciences

This summer, we will be interning at the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca, New York, which houses the tenth-largest natural history collection in the U.S. Our day-to-day jobs entail sorting through collection of marine invertebrates, and developing exhibits on conserving bees and pollinators, and climate change—aligning closely with the vision of the College of the Environment.

The experience will directly enrich our skill sets in our curatorial roles under our faculty mentors in the Joe Webb Peoples Museum, in more effectively generating and communicating ideas and research in conservation sciences, biodiversity and climate change using museum collections.

Tyler Wyatt ’20
Biology and Neuroscience & Behavior

The overarching focus of the Singer Lab is currently centered around the effects of anthropogenic forest fragmentation on species interactions. Moreover, the project that I will explore is how forest fragmentation affects trophic cascades. A trophic cascade can shape community structure based on direct and indirect interactions that occur at multiple feeding levels. For example, a carnivore eats a herbivore and creates a direct negative effect on the herbivore. The decrease in herbivore abundance then has a positive indirect effect on a primary producer.

The specific design of the project will use ant and bird species as predators, caterpillars of various diet breath as herbivores, and Witch Hazel and Red Maple tree species as producers. The interactions amongst these species in various forest fragments across Connecticut will allow us to measure leaf area losses that correlate to a given mechanism of control. 

Donglai Yang ’21
Earth & Environmental Sciences

The first continental-scale ice sheet on East Antarctica  (EAIS) began to form around ∼34 million years ago. This datum comes from a global marine benthic foraminiferal isotope record.  This global record, however, does not describe what happened on Antarctica itself. To learn what happened on Antarctica we need to investigate the sediment record near the continent to look for evidence of climatic change. Did the ice sheet grow and shrink in a stepwise fashion or was the transition from initial to full glaciation a gradual and smooth process?

This summer I am working with Professor Suzanne O’Connell and others to examine sediment samples from an Ocean Drilling Program core taken close to Antarctica that range in age from ~33 to 10 million years. To do so, we will conduct a full suite of analyses to monitor the source of sediment, both geographically and depositionally.