Michigan was pretty cool after all: Reflections from an undergraduate researcher

KBS undergraduate summer researcher Rebekah Sanchez is a horticulture major at the University of Puerto Rico. She wrote about her Research Experience for Undergraduates project working with mentor Kate Glanville, an LTER and GLBRC graduate student in Phil Robertson’s lab. Rebekah was funded by an REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station and by an ESA SEEDS Fellowship.


One of the cool things about going to new places or engaging in different experiences is that they rarely turn out how you imagined. Sometimes an experience exceeds your expectations and other times you might have preferred another scenario. Lucky for me, this summer at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Michigan, was one of those “good times” experiences.

Setting up to sample the plots for my project

Setting up to sample the plots for my project.

I spent my summer undertaking research related to climate change. I learned that nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas 265 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2) and that agricultural soil management emits the majority of N2O. Therefore, with the guidance of my awesome mentor, Kate Glanville, I decided to research how N2O fluxes are affected by changing rainfall patterns at different topographical positions in soils under corn production. After collecting hundreds and thousands of gas samples throughout the whole summer, we found that, at depressions, more fluxes were emitted cumulatively in comparison to summits. This was expected because at depressions the soil conditions promote denitrification and subsequently N2O production. In addition, at summits, which tend to be dry, there were more pronounced fluxes after wetting events since these caused the soil moisture to increase significantly.  More data needs to be collected, but it is exciting to see these results and know someday, together with other data, these can be used to create more accurate models that can help inform policy makers about climate change.

This project allowed me to see the impact research can have, especially in agroecology, my area of interest. Also, being exposed to so many researchers, I learned about graduate studies and how exciting and adventurous they can be. This is why I can see myself perusing an M.S. and/or a Ph.D. in the near future.

Sanchez Gas sampling

Greenhouse gas sampling on the GLBRC experiment.

As you can see, I got a burst of new knowledge, skills and perspectives, but while those were some of my main objectives before going, something that lingered in my mind was the fact that I was going to miss a wonderful Puertorrican summer back home.

To think that I was going to miss out on all the nice beach days was a big con. That meant: no snorkeling, no sand castles, no paddle boarding, not to mention the hikes in the forest to end up in a beautiful hidden river with an astonishing waterfall (which my friends would then brag about with the pictures). Don’t get me wrong, I was super excited about being exposed to research and learning about agroecology, but I just thought that missing out on the joys of the island life was going to be the high cost of opportunity.

Boy, was I wrong… the lake life is pretty amazing too!

I lived right in front of Gull Lake. All I had to do was put my bathing suit on, walk a few steps and jump in the lake. That was priceless, especially after spending a few hours under the hot sun collecting samples. Oh, and don’t picture murky water, I’m talking about crystal clear fresh water. I used the canoes available as well as relaxed at the dock to watch the stunning sunsets.

A KBS sunset

A KBS sunset.

There is more though. KBS is full of huge beautiful trees and really nice trails. Some days instead of swimming, we went on bike rides and explored the forest. Fresh air, cool breeze and a variety of cute animals I don’t see back home…what more could I ask for?

Being in such a place full of nature, camping was bound to happen. So, we visited Muskegon Park on Lake Michigan. It’s not a beach, but the pictures can fool anyone. The sand was a pretty light color and the water was even more crystal clear than Gull Lake. Also it was really fun to climb the sand dunes and again watch a great sunset up there. We even played “beach” volleyball, one of my favorite hobbies.

Evidently my summer there was phenomenal and worth sacrificing a summer in Puerto Rico. Heck, I could easily sacrifice a few more there, in the future. This was truly a beyond-expectations-kind-of experience. My future path became clearer, I met amazing people and had a great time. There is so much more I could share about it like the adventures at Kalamazoo, the bonfire nights or the perfect hammock spots, but I guess I’ll leave some surprises for the next KBS visitors.

Exploring the trails

Exploring the trails in Michigan.