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Elizabeth Cieniewicz ’14 Researches Algal Blooms at the University of Delaware
07.22.13 |

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Many LVC students are conducting research in the Neidig-Garber Science Center this summer, but Elizabeth Cieniewicz ’14 is spending her summer at the beach. The senior biology student is researching algal blooms in the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. With only 10 students admitted and a 3 percent acceptance rate, it is one of the most competitive undergraduate research programs in the country.

“I'm working in a molecular ecology lab that specializes in harmful algal blooms, like red tide. I get to participate a mixture of lab work and field work,” Cieniewicz said. “I collect environmental water and sediment samples, and then analyze them in the lab. The main goal of my project is to examine the population dynamics of a strain of bacteria which has shown to have algicidal effects on dinoflagellates, which are a major group of harmful algae in aquatic systems.”

The REU program that Cieniewicz is working with began in 1987 and was designed to provide graduate-level experience in both the field and lab to the country’s most qualified students. This year’s research group includes students from Brigham Young University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley, Villanova University and more top institutions. The topics covered in the program span chemistry, physical and biological oceanography, marine biology, marine geology, and marine biochemistry.

The experience supplements Cieniewicz’s research last summer at Cornell University, where she worked with the Plant Pathology Department and was inspired to pursue her Ph.D. in the plant sciences.

“I gained very valuable experience and met some really great people,” Cieniewicz said. “I also got to experience living in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York for the summer. I have Dr. [Dale] Erskine to thank for that experience. He and the rest of the biology faculty have been incredibly helpful in preparing me for this experience- writing letters of recommendation, sending information about internships to apply for, and always having their doors open for when I need advice.”

The summer before, immediately after her freshman year, Cieniewicz did summer research with Dr. Kristen Boeshore, assistant professor of biology, looking at the effects of polyamines on neurite development and regeneration.

“Working with Dr. Boeshore gave me great experience with cell culturing, microscopy, and using computer programs for data analysis,” Cieniewicz said.

Cieniewicz was well prepared for these research experiences because of a solid foundation built in the classroom. “Ecology and Plant Diversity with Dr. [Rebecca] Urban gave me a great background for the environmental work I'm doing. Genetics and Microbiology with Dr. [Robert] Carey gave me a great background for the molecular work I'm doing. I also am doing some microscopy this summer, which makes me thankful for all of those long days in Dr. [Allan] Wolfe's histology lab. The classes at LVC have given me the background and confidence that I need to excel in a research environment.”

According to LVC’s Biology Department faculty members, Cieniewicz is on the right track to her Ph.D. aspirations. One of the keys to acceptance to a Ph.D. program in biology is experience with undergraduate research. Dr. Allan Wolfe, professor of biology, describes a Ph.D. as a research degree, where students design and carry out experiments. Undergraduate research experience, especially using up to date equipment, is crucial to show that candidates for a program are comfortable in the laboratory setting.

Cieniewicz will spend her senior year at Lebanon Valley studying neurobiology, presenting in the biology senior seminar course and interning in the Admissions Office. To prepare for graduate school, she will be taking the GRE and finalizing her Ph.D. program applications. She is considering programs in plant science and ecology at Penn State, Cornell, Texas A&M, and the University of Delaware.

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