Category: Undergraduate

Deep Work, Deep Snow, and Deep Commitment: Emily Taylor’s Dedications to Bioinformatics, the UP, and Tech

Emily Taylor by Lake Superior
All smiles in the UP. Taylor explores the edges of Lake Superior in the Keweenaw. (Photo by Sebastian Adams)

Deciding on a major can sometimes be a confusing and circuitous path. Junior Emily Taylor describes how she ultimately committed to her degree programs, while reflecting on her personal and professional journeys at Tech and tracing her academic history all the way back to middle school. 

A Math Problem

Emily Taylor is double-majoring in biological sciences and computational biology, with minors in computer science and mathematics, yet she jokes she wasn’t great at math in high school. I lean in to her comment. As a person who truly was bad at math in high school (I read Stephen King novels in Algebra II class while quietly failing it) I’m intrigued. On her LinkedIn profile Taylor states, “Through middle and high school, my education was haunted by long nights at my desk staring blindly at algebraic equations that made absolutely no sense. I was constantly plagued with hard drive errors, system crashes, and the Blue Screen of Death from my school loaner laptop. It seemed as if everything pointed towards the notion that mathematics and computing were NOT for me. Then, in my senior year of high school, I took my first computer science class. Everything clicked.” 

Taylor’s revelation about the intersection of math, computer science, and biology further solidified when she came to Michigan Tech. With a plan to major in biological sciences, she was disappointed when she realized this degree might restrict her newfound interests in math and computing. But then she discovered bioinformatics, which Taylor describes as a “conglomerate of data science, computational thinking skills, coding, biology, and biochemistry.” Taylor says she is enthralled by the flow between math and biology, noticing that “biology needs a stronger background in statistics, data analysis, and computer skills.” Bioinformatics and computational biology, she asserts, may be the response to that need. “Michigan Tech has a great computing program with many varied research opportunities in the bio field,” she says, “so Tech checked many boxes for my degree program needs.” 

Emily Taylor by a mountain lake
Free For Fall! Taylor at Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains (Photo by Sebastian Adams)

Tech Helps Students Find Answers

Taylor sits across from me at my desk for our interview. She is an earnest student, donning a windbreaker emblazoned with the Alpha Sigma Tau insignia. I ask her about Greek Life before we dive into the deeper and dicey-er realms of computational biology, bioinformatics, and genomes. (All terminologies she will soon explain to this “non-math” person with the clarity of a science writer and the patience of a Kindergarten teacher.) Her passions, however, are clearly not restricted to academics: she lights up as she describes her sorority experience. Emily joined Alpha Sigma Tau as a sophomore. She said it was one of the best decisions she made at Tech. Through her membership she has made great friends, learned networking skills, and been offered leadership opportunities, as she is currently the Director of Academic Success for Alpha Sigma Tau and the Technology Lead for the MTU Rowing Club’s executive board. Since only 10% of Tech students take part in Greek Life, Taylor encourages more Tech students to join. When asked what students’ reluctance may be, she speculates that perhaps a fear of hazing or the typical stereotypes deter them. However, she maintains that it’s “such a supportive environment and a great way to make long-lasting relationships.” After learning how to ski on Mont Ripley in her freshman year, she and some of her friends (sorority sisters themselves) traveled to Quebec to go skiing. It was Taylor’s first time abroad, and yet another personal growth experience as she learned how to navigate and communicate in a Francophone province. 

So, why Tech? Taylor ultimately comes to Tech from Washington state, but her father is a Tech alum. Upon high school graduation, her family moved to Wisconsin during the upheaval of COVID, so she applied to colleges both in the Midwest and West. But after seriously considering the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Washington, Taylor committed to Tech. The deciding factor? Funding. Tech offered her the most scholarships, and she has never looked back on her decision. Taylor lights up again as she describes what she loves about Tech. BroomballWinter Carnival. The Keweenaw. She loves how broomball can be an “all or nothing” experience. With so many different leagues and levels, she said you can play as much or as little as you want. And in learning how to build snow statues, she said she has “learned to embrace the winter and use the snow as a medium for fun.” As a serious student, she loves Tech’s “work-hard, play-hard culture.” 

And Taylor loves that Tech is hard. But she also says that while “Tech is academically challenging . . . anybody (students, professors, learning centers, and other faculty) is willing to help out and ensure that each student is performing to the best of their ability.” In addition to Greek Life, Taylor credits Pavlis Honors College for helping her grow as a young professional. She says the College has taught her how to “curate her career to align with her values and long-term interests” and that their seminars foster reflection, professional development, and ultimately, help students answer the question: “What’s your story?” This level of self-inquiry led Taylor to realize that her passion for biology “stood somewhere different than [her] peers.” She said that in realizing she truly enjoyed computer science, math, and statistics, she decided to add the second major in computational biology. But what exactly is computational biology? Or bioinformatics? Or a genome for that matter? 

Emily Taylor skiing
Taylor tackles her first double black diamond on Mount Bohemia (Photo by Sebastian Adams)

A Biological Question

Taylor sits up and leans forward as she starts to answer my questions. She looks up at the ceiling for a moment as she formulates her answer. She realizes she’s speaking to a layperson (again, someone who is probably bad at biology too) so she chooses her words carefully as she considers her audience. She explains that a genome is the complete set of genes in an organism. She references the Human Genome Project—an international research project that began in the 90s in an attempt to identify and map all of the genes in the human genome—as she provides greater context for her studies and research. She speaks of the importance of this research as it relates to the DREAM complex, “a group of important proteins that are expressed within cells that help to control the cell cycle. In other words, the DREAM complex plays a key role in development and growth.” 

Taylor is currently doing computational biology and evolutionary genomics research for Dr. Paul Goetsch. She describes her research as “gathering data on the varying number of mutations that exist within the DREAM complex’s genetic code across a wide variety of species.” This allows her to “learn how the DREAM complex’s genes have changed over the course of evolution, from species to species.” She says there isn’t a lot of research about the evolution of the proteins, and the way they appear to change throughout species is inconsistent with what the scientific community usually observes with highly essential proteins. Bioinformatics (the implementation of software engineering and computational tools to biology) coupled with computational biology (the use of statistics and data analysis to interpret massive sets of biological data) allows researchers like Taylor to develop pipelines to identify and learn how genes change as they evolve. This research is valuable because the development of these bioinformatic pipelines and tools can be used to study development and cancer.  

Taylor hopes to one day go into Proteomics or develop algorithms to help generate even more biological questions. She thinks her addition of computational biology as a major will allow her to offer an interdisciplinary approach to potential employers. She recommends a computational biology major to anyone who enjoys math, computer science, and biology. She says, “You could end up researching cancer biology, developing new DNA sequencing and annotation algorithms, or mining the rapid influx of biological data.” She distills these endless possibilities into a simple “math” problem: “Think of a biological question you want to answer and see if you can figure it out by playing with data!”

Even though Taylor only started her computational biology program studies this past summer, she says she has adopted the values of learning deeply and being open to challenges. “This research is hard,” she says, “especially when you’re doing something completely new to the scientific community and need to apply the most advanced concepts you’ve learned in the lecture hall.” And Taylor has also learned that failure is part of that process. She says she affords herself the space and “time to go down an unforeseen rabbit hole.” It’s all part of the adventure—in learning, in growing, in having fun–at Tech. 

About the Biological Sciences Department

Biological scientists at Michigan Technological University help students apply academic concepts to real-world issues: improving healthcare, conserving biodiversity, advancing agriculture, and unlocking the secrets of evolution and genetics. The Biological Sciences Department offers seven undergraduate degrees and three graduate degrees. Supercharge your biology skills to meet the demands of a technology-driven society at a flagship public research university powered by science, technology, engineering, and math. Graduate with the theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to solve real-world problems and succeed in academia, research, and tomorrow’s high-tech business landscape.

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Nursing Nuggets: Allison’s Advice for Nursing Newbies

Clinicals are a key component of any nursing program. students will spend as much as 180 hours in a healthcare setting like a hospital, urgent care, or long-term care facility, getting hands-on experience. We spoke with Allison Cooper, who talked about her clinical experience. She also discussed the benefits of academic families, a key way incoming nursing students are supported by their peers. Allison also offers advice to students interested in pursuing this degree.

Allison Cooper
Allison Cooper

Why did you choose to go into nursing? Was there a life experience you had?

My mother was a nurse before she got chronically sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) when I was about two years old. Originally I thought I wanted to go into nursing because of her being a nurse. However, that was not the case. What drew me to nursing was my love for science but with a human twist. I remember always looking up CFS to learn more about something that still does not have a cure. I also was able to watch my own surgery and thought that it was the coolest thing ever to see my tendons and how they move.

I also love the direct patient contact nursing has to offer. Nurses are one of the biggest support persons for patients who are, sometimes, at the lowest part of their lives because of being sick. For me specifically, I wanted to be able to give back to the men and women in the military and work as a nurse within the military.

The concept of an academic family enhances the learning experience. How did your academic family help you in your first years in the program?

The first year of the nursing program can be difficult because of learning how to balance school, work, and social life. My academic family was not only a mentor but a massive support system when figuring this out. I was able to go to them with any questions I had about classes and how to time manage everything. They were also my family away from home, and I was able to do non-nursing activities and build lasting friendships with them!

Two women in masks and blue shirts serving pancakes and sausage
Serving pancakes at the Student Nurses Association benefit breakfast for Omega House

In what way did the academic family concept help you as an upperclassman mentoring newer students?

I loved the academic family even more as an upperclassman. I actually found a passion for teaching, which is something I never saw myself doing. It was a great way to ease the sophomores’ nerves as they went through their first year in the program. It was also a great refresher for information as I began studying for the NCLEX!

Where did you complete the majority of your clinical hours?

We completed the majority of the clinical hours at the local hospitals- Portage and Aspirus. But, we had a lot of different experiences. We went to the local clinics. We went to Marquette for more specialty areas, such as psychiatric and neonatal intensive care nursing.

I had the opportunity to visit many settings. The majority of it was in the hospital setting between medical-surgical, emergency room, intensive care unit, surgery, and labor and delivery. But, I was able to go to Marquette for more critical care in their intensive care and emergency room. I also did a couple semesters with rotations in hospice, oncology, pediatrics clinic, and pediatric cardiology, and family practice clinics!

My favorite clinical experience was in the emergency room in Marquette. I was able to see a trauma in the ER which I always thought would be a setting I’d like. So, it was great to be able to be in the midst of it helping. It definitely solidified that as an area I could see myself in! I also really enjoyed labor and delivery because it was something that I didn’t think I’d have an interest in. But, with that rotation, I was able to see and do the nursing care for deliveries of newborns. That was when I realized that I also enjoyed that area of nursing as well.

Woman sitting on a Jeep with cloudy skies
Cliff Drive views during the color change in October

What are some of the things you did during nursing clinicals? What did you enjoy the most about the experience?

Throughout my three years of clinical experience, I was able to practice many nursing skills, like IV inserts, inserting Foley catheters, and suctioning! I feel going through the clinical rotations, a student learns the fundamentals of nursing and how to be a nurse. I learned how to effectively communicate with patients therapeutically and how to put into practice the concepts we learned in the classroom. What I enjoyed the most about my clinical experience was being able to physically be in the different specialties. This helped me narrow down the things that I liked and did not like. I also really enjoyed being able to practice my skills in a real-life setting.

What did you learn about yourself from the clinical experience?

The clinical experience allowed my passion for nursing and compassion for people to really shine through. It made me realize nursing was the best choice I could have chosen for myself! In addition, I learned that I am able to persevere through challenges and problem-solve.

How do you think the clinical experience has set you up for success in your after-graduation plans?

The program has us go through a detailed clinical. We spent 180 hours a semester at sites and had paperwork to fill out for the rotations. I feel this prepared me very well for life after graduation because of all the in-person time I had in a setting where I would be working while practicing my skills. The paperwork, although sometimes tedious, was well worth it. As I filled it out, it made me think about diseases and how it affects a person. It made me feel comfortable and confident going into my career.

Woman and dog sitting on rocks at the bottom of a waterfall
Allison and her dog, Whealer, Hiking Douglas Houghton Falls

What advice do you have for students getting ready to go through clinical?

The biggest advice I have for students going through clinicals is to always ask questions and get involved in as much as possible. This is the only way you will get the most out of your experience and benefit your education. It was what I did, and I felt I got more out of the clinicals, enhanced my knowledge bank, and practiced skills I know I will need when I graduate.

Allison, what advice do you have for high schoolers who are considering getting a bachelor’s of science in nursing?

Deciding whether or not you want to pursue a BSN can be difficult. I feel shadowing nurses or becoming a certified nursing assistant can really help you decide if it would be a good fit. I did both of these, and it really showed me that I had a passion for nursing and solidified my choice. If that isn’t a doable option if you really enjoy science and anatomy and physiology, this could be a great fit, and I would suggest you give it a try! A BSN also gives you many leadership experiences! It allows you to go into management and other avenues that nursing has to offer other than bedside in hospitals!

NOTE: Allison Cooper received her BSN from Finlandia University in May of 2023. Finlandia University closed in June 2023. The Nursing program (including most faculty and staff) moved to Michigan Technological University shortly thereafter. Tech will incorporate many of the same components Allison mentions in the interview, including clinicals, academic families, coursework, and NCLEX prep. As of the date of this post, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is in the process of obtaining accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and The Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The program has been approved by the Michigan State Board of Nursing. Check back this fall for more detailed information on this exciting new program coming to Michigan Tech.

In Print: Erika Hersch-Green and Angela Walczyk

Congratulations to Dr. Angela Walczyk (recent Ph.D. from Biological Sciences) and her advisor Dr. Erika Hersch-Green for their two new publications! You can access the papers here:

Erika Hersch-Green
Erika Hersch-Green

1. Exciting findings that genome size can affect resource requirements and genomic/transcriptomic functional trait trade-offs. 


Premise: Increased genome-material costs of N and P atoms inherent to organisms with larger genomes have been proposed to limit growth under nutrient scarcities and to promote growth under nutrient enrichments. Such responsiveness may reflect a nutrient-dependent diploid versus polyploid advantage that could have vast ecological and evolutionary implications, but direct evidence that material costs increase with ploidy level and/or influence cytotype-dependent growth, metabolic, and/or resource-use trade-offs is limited.

Methods: We grew diploid, autotetraploid, and autohexaploid Solidago gigantea plants with one of four ambient or enriched N:P ratios and measured traits related to material costs, primary and secondary metabolism, and resource-use.

Results: Relative to diploids, polyploids invested more N and P into cells, and tetraploids grew more with N enrichments, suggesting that material costs increase with ploidy level. Polyploids also generally exhibited strategies that could minimize material-cost constraints over both long (reduced monoploid genome size) and short (more extreme transcriptome downsizing, reduced photosynthesis rates and terpene concentrations, enhanced N-use efficiencies) evolutionary time periods. Furthermore, polyploids had lower transpiration rates but higher water-use efficiencies than diploids, both of which were more pronounced under nutrient-limiting conditions.

Conclusions: N and P material costs increase with ploidy level, but material-cost constraints might be lessened by resource allocation/investment mechanisms that can also alter ecological dynamics and selection. Our results enhance mechanistic understanding of how global increases in nutrients might provide a release from material-cost constraints in polyploids that could impact ploidy (or genome-size)-specific performances, cytogeographic patterning, and multispecies community structuring.

Angela Walczyk
Angela Walczyk

2. Finding that tetraploid Giant Goldenrods may be pre-adapted to be good invaders but that polyploidy per se does not increase phenotypic plasticity. 


Polyploidy commonly occurs in invasive species, and phenotypic plasticity (PP, the ability to alter one’s phenotype in different environments) is predicted to be enhanced in polyploids and to contribute to their invasive success. However, empirical support that increased PP is frequent in polyploids and/or confers invasive success is limited. Here, we investigated if polyploids are more pre-adapted to become invasive than diploids via the scaling of trait values and PP with ploidy level, and if post-introduction selection has led to a divergence in trait values and PP responses between native- and non-native cytotypes. We grew diploid, tetraploid (from both native North American and non-native European ranges), and hexaploid Solidago gigantea in pots outside with low, medium, and high soil nitrogen and phosphorus (NP) amendments, and measured traits related to growth, asexual reproduction, physiology, and insects/pathogen resistance. Overall, we found little evidence to suggest that polyploidy and post-introduction selection shaped mean trait and PP responses. When we compared diploids to tetraploids (as their introduction into Europe was more likely than hexaploids) we found that tetraploids had greater pathogen resistance, photosynthetic capacities, and water-use efficiencies and generally performed better under NP enrichments. Furthermore, tetraploids invested more into roots than shoots in low NP and more into shoots than roots in high NP, and this resource strategy is beneficial under variable NP conditions. Lastly, native tetraploids exhibited greater plasticity in biomass accumulation, clonal-ramet production, and water-use efficiency. Cumulatively, tetraploid S. gigantea possesses traits that might have predisposed and enabled them to become successful invaders. Our findings highlight that trait expression and invasive species dynamics are nuanced, while also providing insight into the invasion success and cyto-geographic patterning of S. gigantea that can be broadly applied to other invasive species with polyploid complexes.

New Funding: Amy Marcarelli and Michelle Kelly

Amy Marcarelli is the principal investigator (PI) on a project that has received a $300,000 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is titled “MSA: Quantifying whole-stream denitrification and nitrogen fixation with integrated modeling of N2 and O2 fluxes.”

Michelle Kelly is a co-PI on this potential two-year project.

Amy is an ecosystem ecologist with interests in energy and biogeochemical cycles in freshwaters. Her research program blends basic and applied research and integrates across aquatic habitats, including streams, rivers, wetlands, lake littoral zones, and the nearshore regions of the Great Lakes. Dr. Marcarelli’s past and future research trajectory is governed by an interest in understanding the role of small, poorly quantified fluxes or perturbations on ecosystem processes and in linking those ecosystem processes to the underlying structure of microbial, algal, macrophyte, and animal communities.

Congratulations Dr. Marcarelli and Michelle Kelly!

Amy Marcarelli
Amy Marcarelli
Michelle Kelly
Michelle Kelly

Nursing Student Advice from Sarah Kuiper

Baby on sled, Sarah holding a large dog
Exploring the Keweenaw winters!

Sarah Kuiper is a fourth-year nursing student, getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) who found that nursing is much more than taking vitals and giving shots. Sarah recounts her experiences as a BSN student and her advice for nursing students.

Why did you choose to go into nursing? Was there a life experience you had? Tell me about it.

I decided to go into nursing after the birth of my first child. Before that experience, I thought a nurse was just someone who gave shots and took vitals. After my daughter’s birth, I learned that nursing is really so much more than that. They are not only caregivers but teachers and advocates. That encounter not only taught me that nursing was in my future but also the significant positive impact that one person can have on the healthcare experience.

The concept of an academic family enhances the learning experience for nursing students. How did your academic family help you in your first years in the program?

My academic family helped me during the first few years by providing study tips, a listening ear, and by giving me a great understanding of what it would take to be successful. They checked in on us to see how we were doing and were always our biggest cheerleaders.

In what way did the academic family concept help you as an upperclassman mentoring and giving advice to newer nursing students?

By providing tutoring and helping our “kids” in the skills lab, I gained confidence in my own skills and knowledge. It also helped me retain what I learned during the first years in the program.

Sarah Kuiper standing with a camera next to a river
Sarah Kuiper, Senior

Where did/will you complete the majority of your clinical hours?

We have a huge variety of clinical locations. I spent a significant amount of time at both hospitals, as well as various local clinics, schools, long-term care, and hospice facilities. Our mental health clinicals included hours at a residential substance abuse house. We also helped to teach life skills to those with developmental disabilities. My most memorable experiences have been when we traveled to Marquette for clinical rotations in intensive care, NICU, and behavioral health units. Each clinical site has a different focus, and the places we are sent depend on what classes we are taking that semester.

What are some of the things you do during clinicals? What do you enjoy the most about the experience?

The things we get to do in clinical progress throughout the program. Only once we have been checked off on a skill in the lab can we do it in the clinical setting. We started doing basic care such as providing hygiene, transfers, and taking vitals. We do patient assessments and learn to document according to the facility that we are at. Skills progress to the point where we start IVs, insert catheters and NG tubes, and even pass medications alongside an RN. In addition to skills, I have gotten to observe multiple surgeries and even a few births! The part I enjoy most is working alongside nurses in our community.

What have you learned about yourself from the clinical experience?

Sarah with baby on her back walking outside in the winter
Sarah enjoying the outdoors

I’ve learned I will never stop learning. Nursing education goes far beyond the classroom, and I have only scratched the surface of all there is to know. Clinicals keep me humble and focused on the main goal of providing the best care possible. Also, the great variety of clinical locations helped me learn where I love to be and want to work in the future.

How do you think the clinical experience has set you up for success in your after-graduation plans?

The clinical experience gives me the opportunity to practice skills in a real nursing setting. As someone who plans to work locally after graduation, each clinical site could be a future place of employment. In addition to getting a basic understanding of the job at that facility, clinical is a chance to network with future co-workers and employers.

What advice do you have for nursing students getting ready to go through clinical?

Study up for your clinical day in order to come prepared. If you know you are going to work with a particular diagnosis, see a specific procedure, or pass a certain medication, look up everything you can on it the night before. Write your self notes on the topic and write down any questions you may have. Be prepared to DO things, seek out opportunities to practice skills, and take the initiative to give yourself the best possible learning experience.

What advice do you have for high schoolers who are considering getting a BSN?

Remember WHY you want to be a nurse and be prepared to work hard. Use all the resources available to you, and reach out for help when you need it.

Swift Strides of Science: Human Biology Student Outpaces Opponents in the Canal Run

Ingrid Seagren
Ingrid Seagren, Canal Run Winner and Human Bio Major

Ingrid Seagren competed in the Canal Run 5K, winning the women’s category and finishing 5th overall. She is going into her sophomore year pursuing a major in Human Biology with minors in pre-health and German. After she graduates, she plans to go to medical school and eventually become a physician. Plus, Ingrid is very active in the local community: 2023 Strawberry Fest Queen candidate, Michigan Tech Cross Country and Track and Field runner, and outdoor enthusiast.

Ingrid has volunteered with the Let’s Eat Community Meals through her church. As a high school student, she was a member of the Interact Club and was involved in numerous service activities, such as making Veteran’s Day Baskets and hosting Fun Days for elementary school students.

Ingrid is also a good student. She was named to Michigan Tech’s Dean’s List in both the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters and was recognized as a member of the Fall 2022 GLIAC Academic All-Excellence Team. As a high school student, she was a member of the National Honor Society.

In her free time, Ingrid enjoys Nordic skiing, waterskiing, hiking, and spending time with friends and family. Congratulations to Ingrid on her running, community and academic accomplishments!

Amy Marcarelli is the recipient of MTU’s 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Associate Professor/Professor category 

Amy Marcarelli
Amy Marcarelli

Amy Marcarelli is a professor of biological sciences and an ecosystem ecologist with an interest in energy and biogeochemical cycles in freshwater bodies. She received her bachelor’s in biology from Colgate University and her Ph.D. in ecology from Utah State. She is the director of both the Ecosystem Science Center and the Aquatic Analysis (AQUA) shared facility at Michigan Tech. Her research applies across aquatic habitats, including streams, rivers, wetlands, lake littoral zones — the sloping area where sunlight reaches from the lake’s surface all the way to the sediment, located between the shore and deeper water — and the nearshore regions of the Great Lakes.

“Amy Marcarelli is a true example of the teacher-scholar model. She maintains an active research program studying ecology of aquatic ecosystems and has administrative duties as the director of our Ecosystem Science Center on campus. Yet she also devotes vast time and talent to doing an outstanding job in the classroom, introducing our students to the remarkable ecology of Lake Superior, involving them by the dozens in research in her laboratory, and preparing students for graduate school and careers. Michigan Tech is fortunate to have Dr. Marcarelli on our faculty.”

David Hemmer, Dean of the Michigan Tech College of Sciences and Arts

O-fish-ally Fin-tastic Research!

Tessa Tormoen is a fourth-year student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology with a minor in fish biology. She is one of the most adventurous people you’ll ever meet. You can often find her cross-country skiing on the Swedetown and Tech Trails. Not only is she a fan of heart-racing adventures, but her curiosity has also led to her getting involved in undergraduate research. Throughout Tessa’s classes, she learned the basic skills and processes needed in the lab. Her confidence grew. She was ready to put these skills into practice and take on an independent project. In the fall of 2021, she discussed her interest with Dr. Kristin Brzeski, assistant professor at Michigan Tech.

A picture of Tessa in the lab using a pipette to transfer a sample.
Tessa in the lab

Fishing for DNA

Dr. Brzeski put Tessa to work observing Golden and Blueline Tilefish. She extracted DNA from the digestive tracts of predator fish and constructed what the taxonomic group looks like by using a method called Metabarcoding, which is a process of DNA sequencing and identification. Using this technique she was able to characterize the dietary composition of the two different tilefish species to better determine the species’ niche breadth (or use of food resources in this case) and degree of similarity. This is one factor showing how the two species co-exist.

Like any craft, it’s a continual learning process. Working alongside graduate students and mentors, she developed her independent problem-solving and management technique. Learning the ins and outs of research was a steep learning curve, but Tessa was able to gain valuable skills and knowledge during her time as a researcher. “It’s a joy to have an undergraduate like Tessa in the lab. She brings passion, intelligence, and a genuine interest in research and natural resource conservation to every interaction,” said Dr. Brzeski.

Tessa exhibited her research at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium, winning the third place GLRC award. She also won a merit award at the Ecosystem Science Center poster session. And she presented her findings at the Wildlife Society National Conference in Spokane, Washington with others in her lab.

Tessa is presenting her research to an audience by referring to a poster. The audience is pictured from behind.
Tessa presents her research “Using DNA Metabarcoding to Evaluate Dietary Resource Partitioning Between Two Sympatric Tilefish” at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium

A Close-Net-Bunch

Tessa believes that her experiences in research have helped shape the future for the better. “I’m a lucky person. I’ve had an incredible four years. Jill Olin and Kristin Brzeski [have] built me into an independent scientist. They taught me how to solve problems, how to be independent and confident in my abilities,” she says. She credits both graduate and undergraduate colleagues in the lab with perpetuating the culture Drs Brzeski and Olin cultivated. “It was a welcoming and hopeful atmosphere.”

That feeling extends to the department. “Everyone is extremely kind, no matter who you talk to! All of my professors throughout my coursework have been very approachable and extremely passionate about what they study. I love that the biological sciences department is so personal and you can build relationships with the faculty. It truly makes the department’s environment so incredible. The support I have received from my advisor and my professors has been a valuable part of my education. I also love how the biological sciences department is a bit smaller compared to other departments like engineering. Each semester I recognize many familiar faces. I’ve been able to create great relationships with my peers through this,” Tessa said.

The Water is Just Right at Michigan Tech

Like many before her, Tessa chose to study ecology and evolutionary biology at Michigan Tech because she fell in love with this area. “I realized that I have a passion for understanding the world around me and this is a beautiful place to do that,” she said. “Plus, the experiences you’re able to have in this degree are fantastic, and I was compelled by the sheer amount of opportunities available to me.”

Tessa appreciated the flexibility the ecology and evolutionary biology degree program offered. “A lot of the coursework is electives that you get to choose from, so you can tailor your education to what you are most interested in. Thus, I was able to take courses like Mammalogy, Tropical Island Biology, Valuing the Great Lakes, Botany, and more!” Tessa said. “Sometimes you get to go outside for classes; one of my biggest memories from my degree is my Tropical Island Biology course, where we stayed in the Bahamas over Spring Break. This degree program has given me such a strong foundation and a whole list of interests that I can build upon with secondary education and post-education work experience.”

Tessa Tormoen
Tessa Tormoen enjoys the views of Portage Lake from the Biological Sciences Lounge

In addition to research and the degree program, Tessa took advantage of other opportunities on campus. She served as vice president of the Ski and Snowboard Club. Tessa also coordinated activities as part of the Women’s Leadership Council.

Leaving the School: Tessa’s Post-Graduation Plan

Following commencement this month, Tessa plans to “go with the flow.” This summer, you’ll find her on Isle Royale working as a fisheries technician, performing limnological assessments and fish surveys on their inland lakes. “I’m excited about this opportunity as it honestly feels like a dream job,” she said.

After taking one year to work in the field and gain more experience, Tessa wants to return to school for her master’s degree and potentially a Ph.D. “I think my experience at Michigan Tech has helped me greatly in understanding the opportunities available to me after graduation. I think that my education, research experience, and relationships at Tech have set me up for success once I leave,” she said.

We are certain her future will go swimmingly well!

29th Annual Student Leadership Awards: BioSci Recipients

Several students in our department were recipients of the 29th Annual Student Leadership Awards this year in recognition for their truly incredible accomplishments! Please join us in congratulating them!

Student Employee of the Year:
Enioluwa Wright
Human Biology with a Pre-Health minor

Rising Star of the Year:
Riley Stichter
Human Biology with Pre-Health and Public Health minors

Department Scholar:
Haley Marchese
Medical Laboratory Science with a Pre-Health minor

The keynote speaker, Dr. Jessica Thompson (Thoresen) ’12 (B.S., Biological Sciences), was also recognized as the recipient of the 2023 Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

More information about the awards and the recipients can be found on the Student Leadership Awards webpage. We also invite everyone to save the date for the 30th Annual Student Leadership Awards Ceremony, which will be held April 12, 2024, in the MUB Ballroom.

Enioluwa Wright
Enioluwa Wright
Riley Stichter
Riley Stichter
Haley Marchese
Haley Marchese

Call for Applications: 2023 Songer Research Award for Human Health

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition, the Songer Research Award for Human Health, for undergraduate and graduate students. Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students.

Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have a broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. The Songers’ gift and matching funds from the College will support two awards for undergraduate research ($4,000) and two for graduate research ($6,000), for research conducted over the Summer of 2023 and/or the following academic year.

Learn more about who is eligible to apply, how to apply, and how the funds may be used.

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 24, 2023. Applications may be emailed to Any questions may be directed to David Hemmer (