Anne Marie Galus and Brad Baker, both rising seniors at Albion College, agree that spending their summer researching the microbe community in areas of the Kalamazoo River near campus is far better than anything they would be doing at home during a ‘traditional’ summer break.
“I would be babysitting and job shadowing for dental school,” Galus, a Saginaw native, said when asked what she would likely be doing this summer if not for the opportunity to earn real-world research experience under the guidance of biology professor Ola Olapade and supported by the college’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity.
A biology major from Ann Arbor, Baker added, “If I were not doing research this summer I would most likely be volunteering at the VA hospital since I volunteered there last summer in the eye clinic and I would also be job shadowing multiple doctors in Ann Arbor.”
Galus and Baker collect water samples from three sites one day each week. The remainder of the week the students are in the lab, with Baker counting the bacteria and Galus working to determine the types of enzymes being used by the microbes.
“The research is valuable because the Kalamazoo River is used for recreational purposes,” Galus said of the waterway used for canoeing and fishing among other activities.
While the students have enjoyed the opportunity to focus solely on research in the summer, it sets up a busy fall semester for them. The collection and observation of samples will continue in the fall and Galus mused when they will find time for the work as they balance the demands of coursework and intercollegiate athletics. Galus has been named one of the co-captains of the women’s soccer team, while Baker is one of the leaders on the men’s cross country squad that has designs on challenging the best teams in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Great Lakes region.
“Maybe Sundays (we’ll find time to collect samples),” Galus said when looking ahead to the fall. “All of the sampling will be done by the end of fall semester and we’ll be analyzing results continuously over the break between semesters.”
Baker added, “I believe that continuing research in the fall will be difficult, but doable. I have a pretty loaded class schedule during the week, plus cross country practice and meets on Saturdays so Sunday is really the only viable option. I also have added responsibility of being a cross country captain, president of Albion’s chapter of Tri-Beta (the national biology honor society) and teammate Don Strite and I are hoping to do more service projects with Cosby Sweaters Mondays so my time will definitely be limited.”
A presentation at the Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium in April and a thesis reporting any trends in the data are the anticipated results of the work. In preparation for writing, Galus has become familiar with a couple of enzymes that are believed to be most active in the Kalamazoo River.
“(Environmental research is challenging) because you don’t know what’s going to turn up,” she added. “You can’t come into the project with a preconceived notion. There is a real possibility that I may have to report the results were inconclusive and there is a need for further testing.”
While the experience of living independently and having access to fitness equipment to be in shape for the upcoming fall sports season have been benefits to working on campus, Galus and Baker are looking ahead to using the data collection and laboratory experience to boost their credentials when applying for medical schools.
“I will emphasize the microbial aspect (in application materials for dental school),” Galus, a biochemistry major, said. “I expect to have the background research done by the time I get to the interviewing stage.”
Baker added, “Medical schools love for applicants to have first-hand research experience and that, combined with the thesis I plan to write based on this research will hopefully bolster my application.”