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From Alaska to Norway: My Five Years at UAS

How do you summarize the past five years of your life into a short few paragraphs? It’s not the easiest thing to do since so much has happened during my time as an undergraduate student here at UAS. I still remember day one when I got out of my taxi at University Housing, nervously grabbed my bags, and headed inside Banfield Hall to meet my new roommates and settle in to my new home. Luckily, I was welcomed with open arms and quickly made a few close friends that I still have today.

My freshman roommate and I instantly bonded. Vicki is still one of my best friends today!It was pretty easy to settle into UAS as a student. I quickly learned that the Marine Biology program, the one I had so excitingly entered, was not only one of the most popular programs, but actually lured in many out-of-state students that I could easily relate to. The program has definitely been a challenge with its chemistry, calculus, and physics requirements and there have been a few times when I’ve questioned whether I’m really cut out to be a scientist. My moment of greatest doubt came during my junior year after a course with the instructor we like to call the Evil Chem God. After many lectures (and especially after the brutal exams), I would often find myself in bed, hiding beneath my covers with my mother on the phone, demanding to know why I ever chose to major in marine biology.

Life as a biology major has been pretty amazing though. No other class has allowed me to spend so much time outside with my hand in a tidepool searching for tiny critters and calling it homework. The biology staff has also been pretty supportive about providing volunteer field work for undergraduates. During the fall of my freshman and sophomore years, I got to help a graduate student collect crab larvae from light traps in Echo Cove. Then shortly after my junior year, I got accepted into an NSF Biology Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in South Carolina to study fish genetics for the summer. It was an amazing experience that not only introduced me to the world of research, but paid me to road trip across the U.S. and spend a summer defrosting on the gorgeous Carolina beaches.

South Carolina is not the farthest I have ventured though during my time at UAS. At freshman orientation, I got inspired by Marsha Squires and ended up in her office during the fall semester of my first year, applying for a National Student Exchange. By the spring of my sophomore year, I was at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, a campus with 10,000 students and within 5 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. While there, I learned all about the Civil War, got scuba certified on a sunken ship, made some great friends, slept on a warm beach, played in a club softball team, and even got to travel to see the lighthouses on the Outer Banks with my fellow NSE students. And as soon as I returned to UAS, I was signing up for an international exchange.

Due to the scheduling of my program, I ended up having to go an extra semester, but the classes I needed were only offered in the spring. For the fall of my fifth year, I decided to go on exchange to Norway through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). It was both the worst and best four months of my life as I was thrown into a culture I didn’t know or quite understand. The first two months were spent feeling cultural shock and trying to figure out how to buy food from the store. The second half of my time was spent mostly traveling with the friends I made around Norway and to Poland, London, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. I got to see both the pros and cons of the world, see the tolls World War II had taken on the people and countryside, and learn all about some amazing cultures. My favorite part was the friends I made, most notably a particular group of Russian girls I was happy to call family.

My time traveling inspired me to start a travel blog which helped me express myself in so many ways. While I feel lucky to have traveled so much, my favorite part of UAS has actually been the research I’ve recently been introduced to. After my summer in South Carolina, I started a genetic and behavior study on small amphidromous fish called Coastrange sculpin (Cottus aleuticus). That same semester, I got awarded an undergraduate research grant from Alaska EPSCoR to pay for my research and to fund a trip to Portland, Oregon to present my research at ASIH. In July of 2009, I gave a talk at a professional meeting and am pretty sure my whole body was shaking the entire time even though there were only about 15 people in the room. The research also took me to Anchorage, helped me get an additional grant, took me to Fairbanks in the summer. This research may even be published in the near future. Looking back at it all, I can’t even begin to explain the ways that this little freshwater fish has changed my life.

Sculpin have changed my life!I am now in graduate school in Michigan to study the population ecology of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). I thank this little university nestled by Auke Lake and my friends for listening to my science geek jokes and supporting me when I doubted myself, my family for giving me support from afar, Professors Dave Tallmon and Carolyn Bergstrom for turning me into a researcher, Lisa Hoferkamp for always being my rock, and Marsha Squires for turning me into the world wanderer I've become. And thank you, UAS, for five awesome years!