Ranging Far Afield

After spending last summer doing research at Harvard, senior biology major Laura Hancock decided to head to Moscow for summer break this year. Moscow, Idaho, that is. Hancock did 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 computerized statistical 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 has accumulated a wealth of experience and opportunity during her time at CNU, including last summer's Harvard trip, where she tracked ragweed allergy hot spots and how changes in climate affect the proteins in the plant 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's not busy in class or in the field, Hancock is co-president of the CNU Green Team and a member of the biology honor society, Beta Beta Beta. She worked with Ruane and Dr. Russell Burke 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've gotten from working with professors exceeds anything I thought I would be able to get involved with as an undergraduate," says Hancock. She's even gotten her name in print, as a co-author with Ruane of a paper published in the September 2012 American Journal of Botany about fungi and flax. "Laura is constantly immersing herself in meaningful and productive activities. Her fascination with the intricacies of biology and her diligent work ethic have helped her excel as a research student in my lab and in other labs across the country," Ruane says.

Hancock reserves much of her energy for her work with the Green Team. "Being a part of the Green Team has given 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'm making a difference." Indeed, CNU's Farmers Market has become a campus fixture, and was recently awarded a $84,756 grant from the USDA. The award will be used to fund the market's operations, and to establish farm internships to increase the revenue of local farmers and producers, and educate 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.

Hancock is free with her praise for the CNU experience she's had, but is quick to point out that her main takeaway is personal. "The biggest thing for me is the relationships I've built with my professors," she says. "Almost every single professor I've had has been so caring and supportive. This has 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 these people will always be there for me." --Brian McGuire




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