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Studying Sea Life

Biological Science Students Engage in Marine Research
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Cal State Fullerton biological science majors spent their summer delving into marine research — exploring the ecological and environmental issues affecting ocean animal and plant life.

These students include: Joshua McKinley, who is researching how air exposure during low tide affects sea anemone feeding behavior; Prarthana Shankar, who is studying the reproduction of the California mussel; and Melanie Espino-Canche and Blake Miyamoto, who are focusing on understanding how environmental factors affect intertidal kelps.

“My research experience has been unique because I do not only work in the lab, but also in the field, so I get the best of both worlds. I learn from both experiences,” said McKinley, whose mentor is Jennifer L. Burnaford, assistant professor of biological science.

“Being out in the field is an adventure, where you make new discoveries and learn about the organisms that dwell there,” said the scholar who mentors early-career biology students and aspires to become a physician.

In addition to having won awards for his research, McKinley is a Biology Undergraduate Research Scholar Training (BURST) scholar, a STEM2 peer adviser and an officer of the Students United With Community Collaborators to Enhance Success in Science Club.

Shankar’s work to examine the impact of pollutants on the reproductive health of California mussels not only peaked her interest in this issue, it helped to shape her desire to become a scientist.

“Being a part of a research lab means that every day is another opportunity to learn something new,” said Shankar, who is mentored by Burnaford and Kristy Forsgren, assistant professor of biological science.

“Working in the intertidal means that I am at the mercy of the tides, and this has taught me how important it is to plan ahead and be on time,” she said. “My research experience has not only made me a better biologist, but also a better person.”

A scholar in the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program, Shankar plans to earn a graduate degree and one day teach. “I’m lucky to be under the guidance of faculty mentors who are always pushing me to be better and better at what I do.”

Espino-Canche and Miyamoto accompanied Burnaford on a research trip to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island. During the seven-week summer research experience, the undergraduates worked with researchers from around the world.

“Our research focus was to find out whether kelp exposed to harsh conditions is preferred by herbivores over healthy kelp,” Miyamoto explained. “It was an incredible experience because we were surrounded by so many well-respected researchers who were willing to answer questions and talk to us about their studies.”

Espino-Canche echoed the sentiment, calling the research rewarding and a tool for her academic success.

“I was able to relate the material I learned in class to the fieldwork,” she said. “By working in the intertidal on a daily basis, it helped me to develop a deeper knowledge. I also acquired new skills on how to develop and execute experiments.

“This experience also taught me resilience because not every experiment went as planned, and not every piece of data supports one’s initial prediction. But in any career one chooses, resilience is important.”