Two Shenandoah University environmental studies students will participate in prestigious Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs backed by the National Science Foundation this summer.
Josephine Saikali ’23, who will graduate in December, will travel to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to study “The Socio-Ecological Role of Greenways in Urban Systems – An Interdisciplinary Approach,” and biology/environmental studies major Mackenzie Plowman ’24 will head to Cocodrie, Louisiana, for the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) “Interdisciplinary Research Experiences in Louisiana’s Changing Coastal Environments” program.
“The NSF-funded REU programs are extremely competitive,” said Assistant Professor Environmental Studies and Biology Allyson L. Degrassi, Ph.D., who is also the Assistant Dean for Academic Innovation and Development for the College of Arts and Sciences. “Hundreds of students apply for a minimum number of spots across the nation. That fact alone sadly deters many students from even applying for the program. I always teach my students to not give up and to seize every opportunity that they can. I love seeing our SU students putting themselves out there to try something new even when the notion of ‘rejection’ is scary. Josephine and Mackenize both worked very hard on their applications knowing that their hard work might not pan out. Their bravery and willingness to be vulnerable to learn are skills I think we at SU teach in addition to discipline-specific knowledge.”
The students learned about internship possibilities in Dr. Degrassi’s Environmental and Sustainability Research Seminar course. Plowman said the REU she’ll participate in meshes well with her future interests – while she’s open to a wide variety of career paths, she is looking into pursuing marine biology and conservation or wildlife rehabilitation. Saikali, who loves interdisciplinary learning, said that her REU combines sociology and environmental science. “It’s the perfect blend for me.”
“It was not luck that these students were selected out of the hundreds of applicants,” Degrassi said. “They are hardworking, intelligent, and willing to take chances to get the fullest undergrad experience! In my opinion, they have already demonstrated what skills they learned as biology and environmental studies majors at SU. I have no doubt that they will go as far in life as they choose with the education and skills they learned at SU.”
Photo: Mackenzie Plowman ’24, left, and Josephine Saikali ’23, right.