Senior Gusties Reflect on the First-Year Research Experience Program Posted on March 13th, 2020 by

Current seniors, Sarah Anderson ‘20 and Kylee Brimsek ‘20 spent the summer after their first year of college researching prairie carbon storage in the biology department through the First-Year Research Experience (FYRE) program. Under the advisement of Dr. Amy Kochsiek, visiting assistant professor in biology, Anderson and Brimsek researched the carbon storing capabilities of prairies in Southern Minnesota. The overall purpose of this project was to explore a possible relationship between prairie age and carbon storage, with the potential for prairies to mitigate climate change. 

This research, conducted in prairies located in Henderson, Minn., Madelia, Minn., and even the Linnaeus Arboretum at Gustavus, proved to be instrumental for both Anderson and Brimsek. “ I learned so much about the research experience: what conducting research is like, the preparation involved before starting your own research, and how to collect and analyze data,” said  Brimsek, a nursing major. Anderson’s and Brimsek’s warm summer days were spent collecting plant biomass and soil cores from prairies, while their rainy days were used to analyze data. 

The goal of the FYRE program is to provide opportunities for first-year students to spend the summer between their first and second year working with a Gustavus faculty mentor on a research project focused on the natural sciences and/or math. “The FYRE program allows students to get active in research early in order to determine if that is something they are truly interested in pursuing in the future,” said Kochsiek. “It is also an excellent resume builder, and demonstrates a students ability to contribute to scientific work, which is critical when they are applying for opportunities at other institutions.”  Dr. Dwight Stoll, professor of chemistry and current director of the FYRE program added that student experience in the program opens many doors professionally. “After more than a decade of watching first-year Gusties work through the program, one of the striking things we have seen is just how influential an early research experience can be. We see that these FYRE experiences are stepping stones to many other opportunities including other research opportunities at Gustavus, research opportunities at other institutions, internships, post-graduate programs, and ultimately employment.”

Anderson is a biology and environmental studies double major and attributes her early interest in the field to her research done in the FYRE program. “I learned a lot about myself and where my passions lie through the FYRE program which has definitely helped me in my upper level biology courses, given me a leg up when applying for jobs, and greatly shaped my future plans after Gustavus,” said Anderson. With plans to attend the University of Minnesota to obtain her master’s degree in Horticulture, Anderson is putting her FYRE program experience to good use. 

“Research experience is so important for any graduate or post-undergraduate education, as well as just being a great opportunity to experience in college,” said Brimsek. “We are so lucky as Gusties to have the opportunity to conduct research as first-year students, so I suggest everyone should seek out a research opportunity before they graduate.” 

Anderson and Brimsek had the opportunity to present their research at the Fall Research Symposium as well as the Celebration of Creative Inquiry.



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