Ranging Far Afield

After spending summer 2011 doing research at Harvard, biology major Laura Hancock ('13) headed to Moscow the following summer. Moscow, Idaho, that is. Hancock undertook a Regional Approaches to Climate Change (REACCH) internship at the University of Idaho where she studied how a changing climate might affect aphids across the inland Pacific Northwest.

The REACCH project is coordinated by Idaho Entomology Professor Dr. Sanford Eigenbrode. He predicts that since aphids are especially sensitive to shifts in precipitation and temperature, their distribution across the region will likely change in response to climate factors. Much of Hancock's work on the project involved running computer models, but she also got her hands dirty in the lab sorting and identifying different species of aphids. "Laura's work was important in that it gave us a first look at the patterns and a baseline for observing changes among years throughout the life of the project," says Eigenbrode. "She was an ideal intern because of her hard work and enthusiasm for the entire experience."

Hancock gained a wealth of experience and opportunity at CNU, including her first summer trip to Harvard, where she tracked ragweed allergy hot spots and how changes in climate affect the proteins that cause allergic reactions in people. She credits CNU Biology Professors Dr. Lauren Ruane and Dr. Michael Meyer with helping her prepare for the REACCH internship. "Dr. Meyer showed me a lot of the field sampling methods I used out in Idaho a year before I went," says Hancock.

When she wasn’t busy in class or in the field, Hancock was co-president of the CNU Green Team and a member of the biology honor society, Beta Beta Beta. She worked with Ruane as a laboratory teaching assistant and as a peer tutor in biology at CNU's Center for Academic Success. "The research and teaching experience I got from working with professors exceeded anything I thought I would be able to get involved with as an undergraduate," says Hancock. She even published, as a co-author with Ruane, a paper in the American Journal of Botany about fungi and flax. "Laura constantly immersed herself in meaningful and productive activities. Her fascination with the intricacies of biology and her diligent work ethic helped her excel as a research student in my lab and in other labs across the country," Ruane says.

Hancock reserved much of her energy for her work with the Green Team. "Being a part of the Green Team gave me so many great opportunities and experiences," she says. "We started the Farmers Market on campus, and that gave me a way to get involved with agriculture and the food industry and to feel like I was making a difference." Indeed, CNU's Farmers Market has become a campus fixture, and was awarded a grant of $84,756 from the USDA. The award funds operations, establishes farm internships to increase the revenue of local farmers and producers, and educates students about farming. CNU was the only university in Virginia to receive such a grant. "Laura was instrumental in starting the sustainable food movement on our campus, an accomplishment that will positively affect the CNU community for years to come," says Ruane.

After graduating from CNU, Hancock was able to use these experiences and all she learned to find rewarding jobs. She first worked as a field technician for Biology Professor Dr. Rick Sherwin, where she helped track an endangered species of bats in New Mexico and Arizona. Hancock then took part in NASA’s DEVELOP internship program, researching and forecasting growth zones in Virginia and the Carolinas. She will soon begin a doctoral program in organismic and evolutionary biology at the University of Massachusetts.

Hancock is free with her praise for the CNU experience she had, but is quick to point out that her main takeaway was personal. "The biggest thing for me was the relationships I built with my professors," she says. "Almost every single professor I had was so caring and supportive. This made my college career so much more successful and enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. I'll stay close to these people for the rest of my life regardless of where I end up, and I know they will always be there for me." -- Brian McGuire



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