High School Student’s Research Into “Little Things” at Kent State Leads to Big Experience
Imagine being a 17-year-old high school student, and in your first semester of a geology research internship, your professor asks you to identify an extinct 300-million-year-old, tiny and unknown crustacean specimen.
While most high school students would likely feel intimidated, Megan Schinker, then an ambitious Stow-Munroe Falls High School junior, jumped right in and began comparing the cyclid specimen to anything she could find in literature and online sources in the lab of Kent State University Professor Emeritus of Geology Rodney Feldmann, Ph.D. They even requested samples and pictures of lost samples from all over the world and examined them closely, cataloging their physical and structural attributes.
“I don’t think this quite matches anything,” Ms. Schinker told Dr. Feldmann. He agreed, and they began to explore the morphology of these cyclids. Thus began a new research collaboration between the two and has led to not only several scientific publications and presentations on cyclids but also ignited Ms. Schinker’s passion for geology.
That passion drove Ms. Schinker, now a senior in high school, to choose Kent State as her undergraduate school where she will pursue a double major in geology and chemistry starting fall 2019 and continue her work in Dr. Feldmann’s lab. She said she has always wanted to study chemistry in college, but this College Credit Plus Science Experience Internship Program made her realize she really wants to pursue a career in geochemistry.
Their most recent journal article, co-authored with Kent State Geology Professor Carrie Schweitzer, Ph.D., solidifies the fact that the cyclid, a member of a group first reported around 200 years ago, is actually a unique species. Cyclids have been considered related to all kinds of different groups of arthropods including crabs. They are extinct marine crustaceans that lived from the Carboniferous Period, about 350 million years ago, through the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. Their fossil remains are rare and have not been well studied.
“They don’t fit into any of those other groups, so this is really pioneering work and could yield a whole new class of organisms,” Dr. Feldmann said. “Naming this species and getting more information about different types of cyclids is terribly important.”
Dr. Feldmann joined the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State in 1965. He teaches graduate-level courses in paleontology, directs graduate students and conducts grant-funded research. He has conducted field and museum research concentrating on fossil crabs, lobsters and shrimp at sites all over the world.
In November 2018, Ms. Schinker, Dr. Feldmann and Dr. Schweitzer presented their findings to colleagues at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Now in her third semester of the internship, Ms. Schinker reflects that she feels very lucky to have been placed in this particular geology internship and says she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“I’m sure that there are other students who work with a professor but are just doing things like cleaning up a lab and not getting to do real research like I get to do,” Ms. Schinker said. “This is absolutely fantastic!”