What was even more of a departure than taking classes remotely? Many summer research experiences were moved online this year as well. Fortunately, with creativity and an open mind, there are lots of opportunities to do important scientific research using online tools and data.

In summer 2020, the Environmental Science and Design Research Initiative (ESDRI) supported two undergraduates performing research through the “Summer Undergraduate Research Experience” program administered each summer by the Office of Student Research. ESDRI co-directors heard about the SURE experience in several interviews with each student, and this is what was learned.


Azure Fernsler, now a senior in Environmental Studies, worked with Dr. Anne Jefferson, Associate Professor in the Department of Geology.


Azure Fernsler - Summer 2020 SURE student

How did you become interested in this research project?

I was in Dr. Jefferson’s watershed hydrology class and she mentioned the research project opportunity and I thought, this sounds like something I would like. I am interested in this research experience because it is an opportunity to learn more about the research process and data analysis, with hopes that this experience can help to clarify my interests for the future!

What topics are you looking into as part of the project?

Dr. Jefferson and I are researching streams, especially in urban areas, and the impact of anthropogenic trash that is found within them. Due to Covid-19, we are adapting our work and looking into previous waterway clean-up data, the efficiency of volunteer clean-ups, and where data are lacking.

What have you learned?

I'm learning a lot, especially about using information available in databases like the Ocean Conservancy database. What we're focusing on right now is the difference between cleanups in creeks and rivers versus beach shoreline.

We also got to go into the field a little bit once summer three allowed research to open up a little more. It's kind of eye opening. I've seen a shopping cart in a stream, cement, lots of tires… even a tire that was cemented into the ground in the creek. You hear about it, but once you really see it firsthand, it's like - wow like this is a serious problem.

It's also been interesting learning about challenges working with datasets collected by lots of other people. For example, across the board, different sites use different categories for their data, which makes analysis difficult. But the work we are doing will help Dr. Jefferson create a protocol for urban stream cleanups that will improve data quality a lot.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

I play on the women’s field hockey team for Kent State and some of my hobbies include hiking, cycling and, participating in FCA/ Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I am very excited to be a part of this program this summer!


Anthony Pignatelli, now a senior in Environmental and Conservation Biology, worked with Dr. David Costello, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.


Anthony Pignatelli - Summer 2020 SURE student

Why are you interested in the research experience?

I am interested in the research experience because I love getting the opportunity to get to do field work and learn more about the environment. I am also interested in the SURE experience because I will get to expand my knowledge and skills within research and biology that will prepare me for graduate school in the future.

I eventually want to get a PhD and do research, so I feel like this is really important because it's introducing me to the nitty gritty stuff about research and the whole process behind it. I have appreciated the mentorship Dr. Costello and Dr. Kinsman-Costello have given me throughout this past year. I kind of want to, in a sense, eventually be able to give back and mentor students trying to figure out if research is right for them.

What is your topic of research this summer?

I looked at how land cover in the Atlanta Metro Area affects nutrient cycling in the local streams. The data were collected by the University of Georgia. I did a lot of work to map out the areas around where samples were taken, including whether the surrounding land use including, say, housing developments or commercial areas, and if this affects flow of nutrients into the streams.

I missed out on doing field work, but I got to do everything else – developing questions and hypotheses and then getting the data online to test for patterns we predicted. I felt like I did become more independent this summer, thinking up my own ideas to test. But that also means that we still have more work to do!

What have you learned about this summer?

It's been really nice to be able to spend literally every day just doing research I love, instead of having to worry about classes and all my extracurricular stuff.

One thing I really loved about this project was that I got to do a lot more GIS work. I took GIS in spring of my sophomore year. For this project I had to go out and find the data myself, put it into Arcmap, and rework data in ways I didn't necessarily learn in the classroom. Now I can do a lot more with GIS than what I'm used to doing.

It's broadening my horizons of like what you consider research, so that's been really cool. I met a history major who was helping a professor do research for a book and I was like - Oh, I didn't know that this was actually similar to biology research in many ways.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

At Kent State I am also a campus tour guide with the admissions office and I am a Student Ambassador. To show my love of Kent State, I even have a lightning bolt tattoo!

POSTED: Thursday, September 17, 2020 12:00 AM
Updated: Friday, September 25, 2020 07:26 AM