Gaining a sense of oneness: Reflections from an undergraduate researcher

KBS summer undergraduate researcher Ivori Schley is majoring in laboratory animal science at North Carolina A&T. She wrote about her Research Experience for Undergraduates project working with KBS LTER & GLBRC Postdoctoral Research Associate Sarah Roley in Phil Robertson’s lab. Ivori was funded by an NSF REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station.


Hello All!

I am Ivori Schley, a rising sophomore from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T). During this eventful summer in the Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) program, I measured nitrogen content in switchgrass varieties, enhanced my appreciation for nature, and was influenced to change my major.

Ivori sieving switchgrass soil in the lab.

Ivori sieving switchgrass soil in the lab.

I worked closely with my mentor Dr. Sarah Roley, a Minnesota native and an MSU post-doc at the Kellogg Biological Station working in Dr. Phil Robertson’s lab. With her help, I became aware of switchgrass’s vast potential as a biofuel crop. Prior to this summer, I had no idea that switchgrass is common across—and native to—North America, ranging from Southern Canada to Mexico; can alleviate the environmental damage caused by our usage of fossil fuels; and is one of few non-leguminous plants that can fix atmospheric nitrogen—which is a vital component for all living things. My individual project focused on measuring the nitrogen content of various switchgrass varieties which can provide insight on which varieties to focus on for future research.

I tested switchgrass that had been growing on the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) plots since 2009. To measure the nitrogen content of these varieties, I collected leaf samples from flowering and post-senesced switchgrass and measured the amount of nitrogen from each stage. Switchgrass is generally categorized by region, via upland (northern) and lowland (southern) ecotypes. Since the experiment was conducted in a Northern climate, I hypothesized that the uplands would perform better than the lowlands. We found that climate does not significantly determine nitrogen uptake; save two, all varieties retained a similar amount of nitrogen.

Ivori, in the "jungle" collecting leaf samples from a Cave-in-Rock plot.

Ivori, in the “jungle” collecting leaf samples from a Cave-in-Rock plot.

Whether at Gull Lake or Muskegon Park, there were always opportunities to peacefully reflect and learn about nature over the summer. When collecting switchgrass samples, I quickly realized I was not as comfortable around insects as I thought I was. It took me a few visits in the jungles of switchgrass plots (these plants can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and grow in thick clusters) to stay calm near Japanese beetles, dragonflies, and grasshoppers. During the annual REU camping trip to Muskegon Park, I enjoyed pitching a tent, napping in a hammock, hiking, visiting Lake Michigan, and gazing at the stars late at night. Growing up in a suburban setting, I enjoyed taking a break from technology and being one with my surroundings.

All of my experiences here collectively influenced me to consider a different academic path. Formerly, I was a laboratory animal science who aspired to be a veterinary behaviorist. I applied for the KBS program to raise my awareness of environmental issues affecting everything. I yearned to better understand how we—humans, other animals, and the rest of nature—are all connected, and the commencement of this journey was achieved here. Although my interests in vet school have not diminished, I am confident to change my major to my passions.  I appreciate my summer here at KBS to help motivate this redirection.

Ivori and fellow KBS summer researchers having fun exploring Michigan.

Ivori and fellow KBS summer researchers having fun exploring Michigan.